Pictures of the Past; Visions of the Future

Pictures of the past

If your home is like mine, your walls are adorned with pictures of your family members.  Some of them are of family who died before I was born, like my mom’s mom, Fanny Stevenson. She was from Winnsboro, SC, and my father loved her as the mom he never had.  There are pictures of my parents after their marriage during World War II, reflecting a younger couple filled with hope, love and a future together.  There are wedding pictures of Steve and Vicki Mentzer and the joy of our marriage–Stefani.  These pictures represent the actions, intentions, and lives of God’s creation.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)
Believers often wonder why we cannot forgive and forget and instead we need to see is the forgetting refers to releasing others, including ourselves from punishment.

An image for today.

Why is it my sins are always before my face as David said in Psalm 51? (Psalm 51:3 NIV) I have a vivid memory of my past sins and their overwhelming weight until I remember they are gone from my back and laid upon Christ.  Now, these memories have a new purpose as they function like blinking caution lights of danger. These pictures stand as a memorial of the salvation power of Christ in my life and the leadership of the Holy Spirit down a new  path.  Isaiah says I should not dwell on the past because God is doing a new thing in me.  He is changing the desolate wilderness of my heart and the wasteland of my life.

Changing the pictures of the past into visions of my future

  • Daily renewing of my mind to forget my past
  • See God’s evidence by my resistance to the Flesh
  • Allow my changes as an influence to others for the Kingdom of God
  • Remember Jesus said he is coming back for me to be with him–what a promise.

Now that is a picture I can’t wait till it is fully developed.

Hands

Walking side by side

Last night as Stefani and I were at the Ohio Valley Mall finishing up our shopping for mommy, suddenly her hand slipped into mine.  I looked down at this beautiful gift from God and told her the story of how we taught her to hold mommy and daddy’s hands when she was just a toddler.  I would at first say the word, “hands”, and placed her hand into mine.  When this had been done for a while, it became normal to put my hand down beside me and soon find a tiny hand in mine.  So, as we walked in the mall, daddy and daughter walked hand in hand as if it was the most natural thing in our life.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands

Psalm 63:4

My hand safely in His

As an ordained baptist pastor attending a non-denominational church I was not accustomed to the raising of hands in public worship.  I have learned God desires his children to raise their hands toward him in prayer AND worship.  As a small child raises his/her hands to be picked up God desires his children to assume the same posture.  I want to place my hands purposefully into his as a sign of submission and obedience which is neither a harsh submission nor a mandatory obedience.  My desire to be in submission and obedience to him is from the love I have for him because of the greater love he has for me.

Examining the hands of Jesus

Jesus told his disciples to follow him and at times called them teknia, or little children.  I like the image of being a teknia of Jesus.  It is not the word used for a baby or newborn, but the word for a child under training and  I like the thought of placing my hand into his.  Stefani would at times take my hand to examine it.  She looked at my rings (wedding band and seminary class ring), my fingernails, or the hair on the back of them.  Why not?  She was placing hers in mine.  Likewise if I had the chance to see the hands of Jesus, like Thomas, I would stare at the hole in the center.  I would be amazed at the rough, calloused hands of the son of a carpenter.  Why not?  I was placing my life into his.

As I showed this post to one of the hospice nurses, she told me when her daughter Ashley had been born they needed a sign for her name because the dad’s side of the family was totally deaf.  Ashley’s deaf sign was a closed hand (letter A) in the palm of the hand (as it was placed in her mom’s soon after birth).  It is amazing what lessons newborns and toddlers can teach their grown-up parents.

Things Lost Amid the Packages and Paper

Five years ago our daughter Stefani came down the stairs to a beautiful tree, presents, and family and the look was priceless as her eyes glimmered in the cascade of the white lights on the tree.  The living room was filled with toys and clothes for an only child/grandchild, and dressed in her Christmas footie pajamas was accompanied by her favorite pillow, Po.  He had for five years taken up residence in her crib and big girl’s bed and had the Lord’s Prayer on his face.  It was a long term member of the family having been Nan-Nan’s mom’s pillow.  As has been our tradition since she was born, we read the Christmas story from scriptures, lit a birthday candle for Jesus,  and sang Happy Birthday.  At the end of the day, five bags of trash were taken to the curb for the trash truck to pick-up the next day.  Suddenly, we discoverd Po was MIA (Missing In Arms) of a sobbing five year old little girl.  Daddy walks outside in bare feet and a cold drizzling rain to nearly empty the bags looking for a beloved friend and companion.  After long minutes, a dad had to walk in and hold Stefani informing her he could not be found.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)

This past week my wife met face-to-face with a former student who lost everything in a house fire.  She and the children were safe but when Vicki offered prayer she said Vicki could pray but wasn’t sure she believed anymore.  She once went to church but then bad things started happening, and so…  However, we took the opportunity to seek aid for the woman in clothes and goods to give us the chance to remind her all things work to the good to those who love him.  Standing with her the other day with tears streaming down her face I could see why she might feel so lost.  The house two doors down the street was smoldering as two fire departments watered down the gutted home.

But there are others who may be facing major health, financial, or relational loses this season and they may be lost among the paper just like Po.  They might not be able to see the light of Christ from the darkness of their circumstances and it may need a light bearer to come into their life and their hearts.  Several years ago I did a sermon on the difference between a lighthouse keeper and a lamplighter.  The keeper lived and worked in the lighthouse and risked safety and comfort to charge into raging seas to rescue those who might be perishing.  Eventually the Coast Guard would reduce the job to a lamplighter who walked from town to make sure the lamp was lit without thought to those who might drown. We need to ask ourselves which we are: One who is willing to risk to bring the light or one who just keeps the light burning?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)

Is Christmas A Humbug?

Bah! Humbug!

In Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the principle character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is famous for the phrase, Bah, Humbug! The word is also immortalized in the Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow calls the revealed fake wizard a humbug.  The term means fake, false, deceptive or a hoax.  Ebenezer is rejected by his father after the death of his wife’s giving birth to him.  He fills his life with money that is powerless to reject him.  Like his father, he rejects all forms of love, companionship, and family; rejecting them before they can do it to him.  In one of the staves or segments of the book, the husband of Belle, Ebenezer’s former fiancee says he saw him in his counting house “all alone in the world.”  It is said of Dickens , “His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as “Christmas philosophy,” and he himself spoke of “ Carol philosophy” as the basis of a projected work. His “philosophy,” never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity.” (biography.com)  Christmas was a theme through many of Dickens stories and while his father was imprisoned for debt in England, Charles was forced out of school to work in a factory to help with the family and gained an understanding of the working class in England.  These events would find themselves as a basis for many of his characters and backdrops.
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?  (Mark 8:35-37 The Message)

Scrooge tried to save himself into prosperity and rejected mankind, even the least of man–the poor and destitute.  Scrooge is a picture of anyone who believes that self is more important than others.  Scrooge lost his way, perhaps because of his upbringing.  In contrast to the harshness of his father he was introduced to Fezziwig, who showed a young man the joy of fellowship and Christmas.  So who was the real fake–Fred, the nephew who continually welcomed his uncle to his home or Scrooge who saw everyone and everything Christmas related as a fraud?

Miniature Minstrels and the Message of Christmas

My first grade Christmas show

As the school year gets ready for Christmas break (yes, Christmas break and not holiday break or Winter solstice) children seem to sense with hopeful expectation the time off from school and the coming of the red-suited Mr. Claus.  School music teachers had worked hard for weeks to put together a choral event for the parents and a first grader at Pinelock Elementary. I remember attending in a red sweater vest knitted by my Aunt Frances and while I can’t remember I am sure it was  a mixture of religious and secular Christmas songs. Some children squirmed while others were so shy they mouthed the words hoping to blend in with the others. It made no difference to the parents because they loved watching their prodigy from the auditorium. 

Children no longer sing of Christ

I am sure over the decades since I sang in my red sweater vest the programs have shifted. From Christian to secular with the motivation of not offending anyone, secularists have changed the focus away from Christmas as the birth of Jesus. They would never think of tinkering with other religious holidays like Ramadan, Chanukah, Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah but have targeted the celebration of the birth of Christ to ridicule and derision. In 1965, A Charlie Brown’s Christmas debuted on CBS and amidst the activities of the other children, Charlie Brown yells out, and “Can anyone tell me the real meaning of Christmas?”  Linus tells Charlie Brown from Scriptures:           

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their  flock by  night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about  them:   and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you  good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a   multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
 (Luke  2:8-14 KJV)

One of the many secular songs which children sing is We Wish You A Merry Christmas.  This old song of Victorian England wishes good tidings from carolers who would receive a payment of figgy pudding  according to one source (ehow.com) much like American children get a treat on Halloween.  The angels pronounced a good tiding of great joy to the shepherds as well as to all of mankind. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see moms and dads hear these miniature minstrels sing the Message of Christ?

Are You Dead From No Faith or No Works?

Dealing with death

Years ago I was in the kitchen making dinner for my family thinking about a question Stefani had asked me. “Which do you prefer, being a pastor or a chaplain?”  I replied, “A chaplain.”  She said, “But you work with death!”  I had thought about that for a few days and then realized all pastors, counselors, chaplains, or missionaries work with death.

David said he was conceived into sin by his mother ( Psalm 51: 5) and the Bible says the wages of sin is death.  The sentence of death does not wait till a child is born. Going through training at Virginia Baptist Hospital, I learned to relate to parents of stillbirth, ectopic, and neonatal death and help families who lost a child grieve the loss.

Mankind is destined to die

Man begins to die from conception and whether we live a few hours or many years, the final verdict is death.  In hospice patients and their families, they know from the doctor the prognosis is grim but the rest of mankind rejects in their minds their future deaths.  However, for twenty-six years in pastoral ministry the other form of death was from those in the pews.  This may sound strange until we see what James says:

 “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
(James 2: 16-18 NIV)
and
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” 
(James 2:26 NIV)

Pastors deal with Death

Often times the role of a pastor is to encourage believers to put into practice what they confess.  Many times they are incapacitated by fear or immobilized by prejudice.   Fear makes us worry we may fail God and he may be angry or disappointed.  They forget God knew what would happen before your conception and he still chose to call you to faith.  In fear, seek him out for the strength to serve.
I am not talking about racial prejudice but the kind Paul reminds about being high-minded. They may have forgotten their pasts and that unless God had relented they might be in the same positions because none of us were born special.  We were born into sin with all of its trappings, pleasantries, and pains.  Some sins we practice and not others but this does not make us better than those not sitting in the pew with you.  Of the two of these, I think prejudice is the worst because it comes from an attitude of superiority.  Even Jesus came in the form of a servant and he is FAR SUPERIOR TO US!
The pierogi was delicious—I made hot sausage for me and spinach and ricotta cheese for Vicki.  A pierogi i a dough shaped like ravioli with potato and cheese, potato and kraut and many other fillings.   Depending upon which part of eastern Europe you come from some are boiled while others are fried.  Pierogis Plus has won the award for the “Best in Pittsburgh” (I did not receive any advertising revenue from this) but when I picked up the order the music in the store was on K-Love, a Christian station in Pittsburgh.  I remarked to the Slavic-lady who had been in this country for about forty years that I liked the music.  She immediately said, “I love the Lord!”  I told her I was a born-again believer and then she saw my chaplain’s badge.  She went back into the store and brought me a dozen more pierogis.
FAITH WITH WORKS IS A BLESSING—AND DELICIOUS.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Do people read my blog?

When I envisioned doing a daily blog taking daily events and combining scriptural teaching, I thought it would be rather easy.  Often times though I find myself stuck with writer’s block. Many events happen but I find myself glued to my keyboard and unable to write.  I begin to wonder if people really read or enjoy my blog or if the things I write really help others as they help me in my Christian walk.  I at times can be my own worst enemy.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1-2 NIV)
Sometimes as believers we find ourselves debasing, depreciating or destroying ourselves because of things in the past or fears of today and fail to live as if Christ set us free. It’s a set of tapes playing in our minds how bad we are.  I have a friend who for years had an older answering machine with a tape of George Burns reprising his role of God in the movie, “Oh God!”.  His wife worked for a Bell Company and I know could have them had their electronic voicemail, but for over twenty years since graduation it answered the phone’s thousands of calls until it finally broke.  The last time I called I commended him for FINALLY changing that tape.
We fail to fully understand the completeness of the Christ’s sacrifice.  The Law, which we once slaughtered by our rebellion against God, has a requirement of righteousness we could never fulfill.  His death pardoned us!  A presidential pardon can be arranged which removes the legal records of crime or crimes committed, but the person pardoned will remember it for the rest of their life.  For those who have been pardoned by Christ, we need to learn to renew our minds with the very words of Paul which states,
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  
                                                           (Romans 7:24-25a NIV)

No longer can my mind remind me of my past! Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” No longer can it tell me I am unworthy!  No longer do I need to worry about what others might remember of me or my deeds! Finally I have no right to depreciate, debase, or destroy that which Christ suffered and died!  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I may never be a writer like Frost or Hemingway and it’s O.K.  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Learning Faith at the Golden Arches.

Mornings Muses

I decided to get up at 4:30 weekday mornings to write my blog at my local McDonald’s restaurant with my Sausage McMuffin and unsweetened tea.  The one thing about McDonald’s is its consistency.  Ray Kroc bought the McDonald brothers’ business years ago and began the concept of franchising the name, products, and the famous “Golden Arches” to people who wanted in the restaurant business.  The guarded or proprietary secrets of the corporation are known only to a few people but they guarantee the Sausage McMuffin I am enjoying now will be exactly like one I would eat in Germany.  On my tray is a picture of the Big Mac and I know the sandwich’s “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” will taste the same in the over 1,000+ stores worldwide.  The success of McDonald’s is people can rely upon this consistency over and over again. 

 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Jesus, teacher of stories

Jesus used parables of everyday occurrences to teach people a lesson.  Far be it from me to think this blog is inspired and inerrant (just look at my punctuation and typos for proof) but people have a sort of “faith” McDonald’s will live up to its reputation of consistency and cleanliness.  It was Kroc who coined the phrase, “A time to lean is a time to clean.”  

Faith is called hypostasis which literally means “that which stands under” and is the basis for the Christian life. (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Hebrews, Leon Morris p 112) Another word Morris uses is the word, elenchus–a test or cross-examination in a legal sense.  Christians have faith as a base or platform by which they stand and this platform is also the way we examine all those things we do not see.  I believe in God (faith) and this same faith helps me to develop a trust in those things of God which I cannot see. 

Faith by God’s consistency

It is not whimsy or a passing fancy that faith is built by the consistency of God.  The sun rose this morning and will continue to do so till he ends it.  Even if it is overcast I know by the consistency of the sun’s rising for my fifty-five years that it will come again tomorrow. Watching the visible things of this world I can see the qualities of an unseen God.  I cannot see agape love, but I can see its effect because God sent his son.  I cannot see his justice or righteousness but by faith I can see it in the requirement of the Cross. 

As Kroc spread his message of consistency of McDonald’s products he would remove franchisees who tinkered with menu items and built an empire which continues after his death.  My senses of taste and smell will diminish as I age, but my faith will increase as I become more and more certain of what I do not see.