My wife was gone this weekend and I had to fend for myself. I don’t usually eat very well when she isn’t around. I have a bowl of Cheerios in the morning and the rest of the day is just picking here and there; maybe putting some leftovers in the microwave. Last evening I found three packs of M&M’s. Fascinating how much better things taste when one is hungry. That first pack of M&M’s was fantastic. So I went for two. Great eating. At this point I realized no one was home to chastise me for intemperance and so I ate the third pack. It took about thirty minutes before I started to feel strange. Wow. It was a bad thing to have done.
I heard a sermon once asking what kind of person would I be if I lived where no one knew me. I think I know the answer. Unless I developed some self-discipline I would be a physical wreck who dies young. It’s nice living with someone who watches over me. I never grew up. Really now, if I was smart I would always live the same way if someone or no one was watching because God only wants the best for me. It’s about the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Being a Christian and living like God wants us to live is about being SMART. If we live SMART we can always live like no one is watching, even God and my wife. Both of them will be very happy.
One of my favorite things to do for the state university where I teach is to supervise student teachers in our local public schools. This morning I was in a third grade with twenty students at the beginning of the school day. A voice came over the intercom from the principal’s office asking the children to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. Instantly the children rose to attention. We faced the flag, put our hands over our hearts and together we said those wonderful words. It was a good feeling.
I felt a bit sad for the children whose church forbids them from doing so. It is their loss. I do appreciate why their church takes that stand. They feel they are breaking the first commandment to take the pledge. However, the commandment reads, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Please note the words, “before me.” God is not saying we should not revere and honor other things. We just should not revere them above Him. God is to be first in our lives. We can have second and third and fourth and fifth things in our lives. While I pledged my allegiance to my country I was not disavowing that my God came first. The pledge, thanks to President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, contains the words “under God”. That means my pledge is under or lesser than my allegiance to God.
I wish the parents of the children who didn’t stand could understand that simple concept. It would make their lives so much richer. Then they could have that same wonderful feeling of belonging to a community larger than just the community where they worship. It’s great to belong. It is one of our fundamental human needs. We were not made to be alone.
It was cacophony. The sounds of rap music, if you can call it music, (Wow, am I ever old!) were coming from the speakers in the ceiling and some fast talking adman was hawking Golden Oldies CDs from Time/Life on a television in the corner. Since I was in a doctor’s office I was guessing someone was conducting research on patients, because no civilized doctor would or could have tolerated the noise. I tried my best to focus on just one but the other continued to be extremely annoying.
I should be used to this by now. All my life I have had two voices in my head competing for attention and loyalty. There are two small voices and they are not always so small for they sometimes roar for compliance. One promises immediate satisfaction not worrying about tomorrow and the other promises delaying gratification for a quieter but quality life. Sometimes temptation for the immediate looks so delicious.
When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness did He hear two voices or three? (His own, Satan and the Holy Spirit.) Did Jesus need the Holy Spirit or because He was 100 percent God was He strong enough on His own? I am going to assert because he was also 100 percent human He, like us, needed the Holy Spirit. (See Hebrews 4. Tempted such as we.)
If you also have a cacophony in your head claim the promise in James 1, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” That way you will be strong enough to make the right decision.
Old cigar boxes are wonderful because that’s where we can put all manner of useless stuff that’s too meaningful to throw away. We have one containing some old political campaign buttons. One says, “I like Ike.” There is an Adlai Stevenson button, two Nixon buttons along with a Kennedy.
I had quite a debate once with someone who thought our memories would be wiped clean in heaven. He based his position on Isaiah 65:17. “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” I thought he was a bit nutty. For what would be the use of this life and the lessons learned if we couldn’t remember anything? The whole point of growing up is to learn and become a better person because of the mistakes and avoided mistakes of life. If God was going to wipe our memories clean why not just start us out there and forget all this pain and suffering?
So what does Isaiah mean? Have you ever had a great week somewhere that was so wonderful and so busy that you never even thought about anything else? It didn’t mean you couldn’t remember. You could if you needed to. You just didn’t need to. I actually think we get to have some of our meaningful useless treasures with us in heaven. Cigar boxes filled with buttons and bows. (My wife has her mother’s hair bow. It means a lot.) But aren’t cigar boxes sinful? No. Things aren’t sinful. People are.
Life is made up of memories. The future hasn’t happened yet. Now is but an instant. 99.999 percent of life is memories. Without them we would be useless unprogrammed droids.
This afternoon at Denny’s I watched a man order a breakfast special. It came with a large stack of pancakes, a strip of bacon and a pile of scrambled eggs. He was in my natural range of vision so I could watch as he put syrup on his pancakes. Wow did he put on syrup. He poured and poured and then poured some more. He ended up with a little bit of pancake with his syrup. Then he picked up the salt shaker for his eggs after he scarfed down his bacon. He salted and salted and then salted some more. He looked to be about my age and I could not imagine how he had lived so long if he always ate like that. Then I thought maybe he is in his twenties and just looks my age.
When I pondered the definition of sin being anything that harms you or another, I had to conclude that I watched him sin. But he would have said, “I didn’t break any of the Ten Commandments.” And I would have said, “Yes, you did. You were in the process of killing yourself.” If we limit our definition of sin to the breaking of the Ten Commandments we have missed the principle undergirding the Commandments. The principle is to do no harm. He harmed.
So very piously I sat there mentally condemning this man while I thoroughly enjoyed my large chocolate milk shake down to the very last possible sip. I am such a hypocrite. Jesus would have said to me, “Judge not, that you be not judged. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Unless you live in New England or are an extremely well informed football fan you probably do not recognize the name Jimmy Garoppolo . This year he will make $1,103,744. He has a terrific seat at all New England Patriot’s games since he is quarterback Tom Brady’s backup. New England fans hope he never gets to play. But today he did play. He got to come into the game with just a few seconds on the game clock so he could take a snap and kneel down to run out the clock. I was going to say he gets his million dollars for doing nothing, but that’s not so. He has to be prepared at a moment’s notice to take over. He has to memorize the playbook. He has to stay physically conditioned. He has to have rapport with his teammates and has to practice as much as Brady. He is always just one play away from taking over. He just doesn’t know if or when.
Our lives are similar. We never know what challenges will come tomorrow. Sometimes students complain about taking a particular course in their required curriculum. They claim they will never need the information in those courses. Psalm 127:4 uses the metaphor that our children are arrows in our quiver. I tell my students that each class is an arrow in their quiver. They will never know when that particular skill or knowledge base will be needed because no one knows what will be needed tomorrow.
In our spiritual lives we should store away in our minds as much Scripture as possible just in case something happens where it would be needed. The Psalmist knew. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
Ringo Starr is 75. 75!! It was not the Beatles, but Peter, Paul and Mary who sang, “Where have all the flowers gone?” But I wonder if Ringo ever sings those words. “Long time passing.” And it was Paul McCartney who wrote, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay oh, I believe in yesterday. Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be. There’s a shadow hanging over me. Oh, yesterday came suddenly.” 75 came suddenly.
Many of us can remember watching, on our black and white TVs, four long-haired Englishmen getting off the plane and invading America with much greater success than King George III could ever have imagined. They appeared on the Ed Sullivan show singing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” We hadn’t seen such excitement since Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show (only from the waist up) singing “Hound Dog.”
America’s pulpits roared the next weekend with messages about such decadence. John Lennon declared they were more popular than Jesus. Maybe at the time he was right. But we can say this. Jesus is still alive and 75 is a blink of His eye. They sang, “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… 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… You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” How many people have been and are being slaughtered over misguided religions? I’m doubtful if God likes religions. I think instead He loves people. That is what Jesus died for. People.
Maybe they were Simon and Garfunkel’s “prophets writing on the subway walls.”
I currently have a graduate class that just sits and listens. I cannot get them to talk. One of the values of a graduate class is having a room full of mature adults who share the lessons and insights of having lived a few decades. They have much to share that undergrads and freshly graduated BA students do not have. Dutifully this particular class takes notes and turns in all their assignments. But that’s it. Either they totally believe everything I tell them so there is no need to add more or they think what I am saying is so useless there is no need to dignify it by speaking to it.
On the way home this evening I was wondering if God is ever frustrated by our silence. Do we talk to Him enough? He did say, “Come now, let us reason together.” Isaiah 1:18. In Exodus 32 we read, “Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt . . . So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” It is obvious from this passage that God is not opposed to our voicing our opinions and He listens and takes them into consideration. He is a good Father.
When we pray we don’t have to just say nice things. Prayer is for complaints as well as praise. Prayer is for dumping out all the pent up woes and frustrations we have. Prayer cleanses the soul better than going to a human counselor and paying $200 an hour. God listens for free and He is so much wiser. So talk to Him. He listens.
My dog doesn’t understand the time change from Daylight Saving to Standard Time. She eats at noon each day. She makes sure I do not forget. If I am late there is a lot of nose pushing and running back and forth to her dish. So far this week I have been getting the treatment at 11 instead of 12. I have tried to explain to her about GMT and our standard five hour difference but I just get a cocked head and then a nose push.
The truth is times as well as time are changing. The world is almost a different planet from just 25 years ago when we were asking, “What’s the Internet?” Tonight I saw an IKEA commercial with a same sex couple celebrating their first anniversary. That’s something we wouldn’t have seen just a year or so ago. Soon we will be taken from home to church in our self driving cars. Already mine stops and goes by itself when I am in stop and go traffic and it is a 2011 not a 2016. I just sit and steer.
The question is, “Is our faith still relevant in the new world that is rushing at us?” Times are changing. However, people aren’t. People are people and have been the same since Noah. We have the same needs. We need food, safety, love and self-esteem. We also have spiritual needs that cannot be satisfied with any material acquisition. The anchor in all of this is God is changeless. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8. Our hunger for righteousness is and always will be a basic need and Jesus will always be the bread and water of life no matter how much the times change.
We are having local elections and lawns along busy streets are strewn with a plethora of names from all over the world. Today I saw Greek names, Irish names, Jewish names, an Asian name and a vast variety of Italian names. This is America, land of immigrants. When I got home there were cards hanging from my front door knob urging me to vote for the person pictured. One of the reasons one of them gave was we need change. That was it! He apparently had no other qualifications other than being someone different.
Change is important if there is a reason to change. He didn’t tell me what was broken. If it isn’t broken we shouldn’t fix it. I try not to be a stick in the mud and be a bit adventurous. I try new things. But when it comes to my local government, I like what is happening here. We have great schools, etc.
Revelation 12 speaks of a war in heaven where someone was determined to take God’s place. There was nothing wrong. So the lies began. Lucifer said, “Vote for me. I will make things better.” Really? Lucifer must have been the first politician to tell a lie. Need I say he was not the last? Heaven needed fact checkers. Then Lucifer lied to Eve and told her she needed change. Some change. Just look at the mess that ensued.
Recently I saw a preacher who kept pointing his finger at us, telling us in a very loud voice that we needed to change. Frankly, I thought it was he who needed to change, his style. Yes, I do need to change. I will ask the Holy Spirit to do the pointing. Oh, by the way, He doesn’t shout. He speaks in a still small voice.