We took our walk this evening after sundown and darkness had settled in for the night. This is a great time of the year. Many of our neighbors have already decorated their homes for the holidays with a vast array of lights. We do not have street lights so the homes are extra beautiful with no competing light. One house has brightly lit angels in the yard.
As we walked along I thought of a passage in II Chronicles 3 talking about Solomon decorating the home He built for the Lord. “He decorated the house with precious stones for beauty, and the gold was gold from Parvaim. He also overlaid the house—the beams and doorposts, its walls and doors—with gold; and he carved cherubim on the walls.”
The luminosity in our neighborhood is beautiful. I also thought of something Paul wrote to Timothy about decorating our lives. Instead of lots of external gold he counseled us to decorate our lives with good works and modesty. Just think about how beautiful people are that are kind and unselfish. In college one of the guys had a large purple birthmark on his face. One year at Thanksgiving he announced that he was having it removed. We were dumbfounded. He was so kind and so Christ-like we saw no need for him to do that. We thought he was handsome because of the kind of person he was. We ceased to see the birthmark because he was so decorated with good works. He was a quality person.
This is the season for decorating. This is the season to be thankful, generous, forgiving and kind. This is the season to be beautiful.
Part of taking my dog for a walk each day is giving her a chance to socialize. In just a mile she gets to visit with Peanut, Bailey, Cora, Sebastian, and Annie. There is a lot of sniffing that goes on as greetings are exchanged. Then there are others that bark at us from the confines of their homes as we pass by. There are at least four of them. We don’t know their names. Just last week a new player arrived on the social scene. His name is Bruno. Believe me when I tell you that Bruno is big. Until now she has been the Big Dog. No longer is this so. Up until now she has played the big “I’ll take care you” role. She keeps between me and the others making sure I am safe. But since Bruno has arrived she makes sure she is behind me. Suddenly I am the “You’ll take care of me.” She doesn’t even put up her ruff. She does her best to hide.
How thankful I am that God is a bit more faithful as my shield and protector. David wrote, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18. Paul wrote, “If God be for us who can be against us?” Romans 8. Unfortunately bad things do happen to God’s children. Fortunately they are only temporary and God has the final say. If there are any adjustments to be made He will more than make up what will be needed. So don’t be afraid of the Brunos of this world. The REALLY BIG DOG is on our side.
I’m feeling very smug this evening. We just drove by our supermarket and because it is Thanksgiving Eve the place is packed. There are people driving around the parking lot looking for a spot. I can only imagine what it is like in the store. The reason for my smugness is we went at 8 a.m. and had the store to ourselves; one of the perks of being old and almost retired.
Don’t you just hate smug people? I do. Therefore, I should be experiencing self-loathing. But I’m not. Smugness isn’t nearly as offensive to me when it is I who is the smug one. So let me be very offensive to the rest of you who had to be at work this morning and were not able to go early to the grocery store. Here goes. My church is better than your church because Jesus loves my church more than He loves yours. We are going to heaven for sure and maybe you will get there. It depends on just how merciful God is. You see we had the “Truth” and you didn’t and that makes a huge difference. And even if you get there we will have bigger and better mansions than you. You will be on the other side of the tracks.
There. Have I offended you? As foolish as all of that was, it reflects how we sometimes act even if we give lip service to not being that way. I have had people knock on my door and tell me my baptism wasn’t any good because an elder from their church didn’t perform it. Wow. Talk about smug!
I know Jesus loves smug people. But He despises their smugness and saves them despite it.
When I was a small boy a man with a large grinding wheel came down our street. The wheel was on a wheelbarrow kind of pushcart with a treadle. His voice was loud and clear as he called out for us to bring him our dull knives. My mother hurried from the kitchen with two knives and a dime. It was wonderful to watch as sparks sprayed over his leather apron. I had never seen anything like this before and long after he had gone I thought how wonderful it would be to have such a job. I imagined the joy of honing knives to a keen edge as I made fireworks for the neighborhood children.
In a way I used to imagine being a preacher was a similar task. One could thunder in a pulpit producing light to hone the spiritual lives of the saints. I probably started off that way. But as the years passed by I learned to value the still small voice that moved across a congregation honing in a non-thunderous way. I learned the quieter the congregation the more they were listening. One does little pondering while making noise.
Perhaps the best moments producing the keenest edge to our spiritual intellect come not from gatherings of the masses but those one on one encounters with Jesus. I have come to appreciate the words to the hymn, “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses and the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses. And 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.”
November 24, 2015
Top Ten Reasons to Go to Heaven
When David Letterman retired new top ten lists ceased to be. We cannot let them totally disappear so I feel the need to write a top ten list of reasons for going to heaven.
1. Your dog will not die.
2. Your cat will not destroy your couch.
3. Leftovers in the fridge will not turn green.
4. Hair will not stop growing on top of your head and start coming out your ears.
5. No one will have bad breath.
6. Dandelions will only grow in dandelion gardens.
7. Spider webs will be cherished works of art.
8. No medicine chests in the bathrooms.
9. One’s spouse will never misunderstand you because she/he misheard you.
10. We get to live forever.
What a grand place it will be. Thank you Jesus.
When Jesus’ disciples saw Him walking to them over the stormy sea they were filled with horror thinking the specter of death was coming for them. Then above the roar of the wind they heard, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” Those words still echo in our ears. Paul wrote, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
After 9/11 we rushed to give away our liberty in exchange for safety. The very liberties paid for with the blood of patriots were signed away and today we have the specter of someone listening to our phone calls. Why have we done this? Because we forgot what Jesus said. We forgot what Paul said. Fear is worse than death. Death causes all thought to cease. But fear terrorizes us with unimaginable thoughts. The strength of our honor and our values are tested when faced with fear. The terrorists listened well to FDR when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” By the slaughter of hundreds they filled a billion with fear.
The bogeyman lives. He/she is real. But Jesus is stronger. Before his death by the people he was seeking to evangelize Jim Elliot wrote these famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” And David wrote, “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
We learned it as children let us remember it as adults.
There was a photo on the front page of our daily newspaper this morning that made me ashamed to be part of the human race. A lady (No, a women. She was no lady.) was holding a sign that read, “Feed our Kids – Not 10,000 Refugees”. When we allow our inner dark side to express itself in xenophobia or any other evil we allow those who despise our value system to win. By denying what makes us special (our Christian values) we are lowered to the same ignorance as those who would destroy us.
What makes us special isn’t that we are richer than others and have food. We are special because we believe our Bible that says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Furthermore refugees are 99.99% not our enemies. They are hungry people who have lost their homes and area fleeing for the same safety we enjoy.
When someone slaps me on the face and I slap them back, they win. Even if I slapped them harder than they slapped me, they win. They have reduced me to their level. They made me less like Jesus. If we can only remember what Jesus’ very own did to Him, perhaps we can (with His help) rise to be like Him. And just one more thought for the woman with the offensive sign, in America we have enough food for our kids and 10,000 refugees.
We are all born philosophers. Our children are philosophers. That’s why children delight in playing the Why Game. It is what philosophers do. Socrates spent his life playing the Why Game. The city fathers couldn’t take it anymore and finally sentenced him to death. Somewhere along the way most of us ceased asking why and changed it for what. Maybe it happens when we go to school. Teachers rarely ask children why. Often we ask for the information we have poured in and hope it can be poured back out. Thus children with good memories get good grades. Alas, good grades don’t always mean a child knows why.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He said in order for us to enter the Kingdom we have to remain as children. Maybe He wants us to keep asking why. Now that we have Google the answers to “what questions” are just a few keystrokes away. But Google doesn’t do as well when we ask why.
Why is there anything? Why are we loved? Why does life seem to need death? Why can’t we mature and maintain? Why has God redeemed us? Why do we have choice? When I was small and asked my Sabbath School teacher “why questions” he told me I wasn’t to ask such things. I guess he just didn’t know the answers. Maybe that’s one reason children stop being philosophers. We tell them not to ask such things.
Why do radicals believe God is pleased when they blow themselves up and take other lives with them? Why do they think they are pleasing God when they spread death and terror? Perhaps it is because they have chosen the easy way. It is easy to kill. It is easy to destroy. It is hard to build. It is hard to save humanity from disease, hunger and ourselves.
The air is filled with the sound of leaf blowers. It is the sound of now. There was no such sound when I was a boy. Then the air was filled with the smell of burning leaves. It was a fantastic smell. I realize why we cannot do it anymore but I still wish there was a law that said one day a year we could burn our leaves. The tang of it filling one’s nostrils was better than any fragrance at Macy’s. Nostalgia urges me to sneak into the backyard and burn just a tiny pile; just enough to once again savor the past. Surely I could make it small enough the local authorities would not catch me. It is then that the still small voice in my head says, “Remember Immanuel Kant.”
His Categorical Imperative is the ultimate moral code. He wrote, “It is a moral law that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any ulterior motive or end.” For my students I put it in my simple way of speaking. “It is morally wrong for me to do anything it is not permissible for everyone to do.”
When one ponders it, it becomes but a variation of the Golden Rule. Thus it is that sin can be anything that lessens the quality of my life and other’s lives. I cannot throw a paper cup out my car window. It is not for fear of the $200 fine, but for the fact that our world would look like a pig sty if everyone did so. Morality can at times be complicated but most often it is simple enough for a child to grasp.
Robert Frost wrote, “Not yesterday I learned to know the love of bare November days before the coming of the snow.” “The desolate, deserted trees, the faded earth, the heavy sky.” “These dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; She (my sorrow) loves the bare, the withered tree . . .”
I am so glad we live on a tilted earth. Without the tilt we would live without the seasons. For six years my wife and I lived almost on the equator at 4,000 feet of elevation. It was delightfully the same every day. We never saw it colder than 62 nor warmer than 82. I missed the crispness of 40 degree mornings. I missed the tang of winter on my nose. I missed scoping a thin sheet of ice from the birdbath and peering at the out-of-focus world on the other side.
There are those who describe heaven as a monotonous place of perfect everything. Will we never see the skeletons of maples reaching high above the earth against a gray sky? However, astronomers tell us there are thousands of Goldilocks planets in our galaxy. Surely some are tilted and some will have autumn for us to leaf peep and walk with our feet scuffling through noisy piles of brown leaves.
Eternity is filled with an endless variety for us to be endlessly mentally stimulated to learn and understand the beauty of life. How grand to see layer upon layer into its quarks, hadrons and leptons. God is a scientist and to be like Him is to quest the depth of how and what things are. We know why. That was answered at Calvary. All is for love. There is nothing more profound. Understanding love will be our most intriguing enigma.