Archive for the ‘Meditations’ Category

Good News

Posted: October 6, 2020 in Meditations

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” Isaiah 52:7

Christians possess the best message on the planet.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16,17

Our world is a mess and the world knows it. Man’s cruelty churns unabated. Power institutions, economic systems, sacred values: all tremble at the threat of rebellion, spurred by dissatisfaction, a yearning for a better world, heaven on earth. Something is afoot, the world changes. A cacophony of dissonant messages distills to one question, “What is the meaning of life?”

If there is no God and if we must define our own significance, perhaps we take ourselves too seriously. We exist, we die, we cease to exist, nothing changes. Albert Camus said, The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” We cannot find adequate meaning for the ache in our being apart from the divine. The silence tortures us concurrent to to the buffets of life. Chekhov, in his play “The Three Sisters”, says, I think man ought to have faith, or else, his life is empty, empty…. You’ve got to know what you’re living for or else it’s all nonsense and waste.” Henrik Ibsen, the playwright, said, “If you take away the life illusion of the average man, you take away his happiness as well.”

“Most people, if they really learn how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips and so on; I am speaking of the best possible ones. There is always something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, that just fades away in the reality. The spouse may be a good spouse, the scenery has been excellent, it has turned out to be a good job, but “It” has evaded us.” C.S. Lewis

Why do we exist? For the Christian, we are created by and for God. We are not ends in ourselves. We do not define ourselves, he defines us. Our sin collectively defines the world’s mess. Our sin individually informs our ache, our dissatisfaction. Our good news offers reconciliation and redemption. It offers hope to meaning and purposed living. Our good news centers in the person, Jesus Christ, the incredible story of God taking on flesh, living and dying that we might be reconciled to the Great God, infinite goodness. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8 Tell your story. Why do you serve the risen Christ? He lives within your heart. Be his instrument. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

Max And Audrey

Posted: October 3, 2020 in Meditations

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”

Philippians 4:8,9

Max bent over the coffin to kiss his Audrey one last time. The lid closed. I heard a groan, the pained gasp of love separated, it was Max. I wept openly. I couldn’t bear the audible agony of my hero, Max Ephraim. It was tough enough saying goodbye to a woman who loved me like a son. The kindness, the gentleness, the generosity of these two giants in the kingdom of God never dims in my heart. How I loved them, words fail to describe the eternal benefit of their love to me. Their example buttresses my devotion to Christ, how I conduct my life.

Max and Audrey had nine children. I fell for number eight, a vivacious spitfire named Lois, Teddy to her friends. I’m sure the discerning eye of both fell on this invading rooster but I never felt it. It’s hard to describe the siblings. Each one lived bigger than life: brilliant, ebullient, ridiculously accepting. I never received a curt word from anyone except Lois. Isn’t that how it goes? After dating for eighteen months, the dating relationship ended. I’m from Wisconsin, the Ephraims from Illinois. Normally, that ends the story, but normal never described the Ephraims.

I felt the acute pain of love lost—she broke up with me, just the worst on so many levels. But life moves on and so did I. I worked every summer for my Uncle Richard who owned investment properties throughout the state of Wisconsin. I worked a project in Wittenburg when the phone rang, it was Audrey Ephraim. Her sixteen year old son was going through a difficult time. She asked, “If you have work for my son, would you consider taking him on for the summer?” The answer, “Yes, I would love to have James work with us.” James worked hard, a real joy; for me it was a blessing to return a small portion of the love Max and Audrey poured into me. That summer cemented my place in the Ephraim extended family for the rest of their lives.

Audrey never forgot that summer with her son James. Their interest in my life never abated. I remember my last encounter with Max and Audrey over a supper. Audrey hugged me and said, “The boy I wished was my son.” Those words meant everything to me. This godly woman, mother of nine, loved me.

Max, perhaps the most amazing man I ever met, went on to glory a few years later. I drove two hundred miles to pay my respects to a great man. Memories, so many memories swept over me. I remembered a moment at Maranatha Chapel in Evergreen Park. I just finished a lengthy discussion with a remorseful alcoholic man at the altar after church. Everybody but Max had gone home. Max put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Phil, that same man may come to the altar a hundred times and on the hundred and first time, the miracle will happen.” In short, Max taught me, “Never give up on anyone. With God, all things are possible.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. Max and Audrey, your legacy lives on in me. Until my dying breath, I will do my best to pass on the love and wisdom you invested in me.

Alliene

Posted: September 29, 2020 in Meditations

Alliene, I never knew her. My father and grandfather drove out to a flat open plain in western Kansas. I was a young boy, the significance of this afternoon would not strike me for a long time. The cemetery, stark by most standards, seemed out of place. Where were the trees, lush grass, grand markers, pithy epitaphs? Instead, the sun scorched dry grass in oppressive heat. The men talked, I didn’t listen, not until they stopped at a spot marked by a rock. For the first time I knew I had an aunt I would never meet, her name, Alliene.

My grandparents were young, Grandpa Brown, a tall handsome Methodist pastor, my grandmother, a godly mother of two boys and a girl. 1934 was tough times. The Dust Bowl ate up millions of acres across the Great Plains. The nation still reeled amidst the Great Depression. Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde: all met their end in 1934. But tough times also create opportunity for the gospel message, my grandpa faithfully preached hope to many who desperately needed it.

Glenn was six, Alliene four, John a mere six months. Alliene came into the house from play, she had a fierce headache. Grandma recalled that day in her journal, fevers spiked during the day, seemed like measles coming on. Grandma wrote, “About noon she asked, ‘Mama, aren’t you going to get any dinner, I’m hungry.’ So, I made her a cocoa eggnog and she drank several little glasses of that in the afternoon. Her fever seems to get higher. I wonder what she has? She got so sleepy and begged for me to put her to bed and let her go to sleep. She did go into a deep sleep right in my arms before I could get her to bed. She is real cold now and Bob has gone after the doctor. Presently she clenched her little teeth tightly together and her arms stiffened as tho she were going into a convulsion. I laid her back down, holding her in my arms. Just as Bob stepped back into the door, her sweet pure spirit left her. Ohh, my precious little darling. Gone, gone forever. So suddenly. It was just 8 PM. I can’t write how I feel.”

The journal remained silent for two months, no entries. I cannot imagine the grief of two young parents. How does anyone make sense of the death of a child? We don’t. In that moment all we can know is this, we belong to God. On May 26, 1934, Grandma picked up her pen and wrote, “As I left the empty house and walked in the yard, the most blessed peace, almost joy filled my heart as the thought came to me, ‘Yes, she is gone, she is gone forever to be with God, forever safe from danger and Satan’s snares. What a blessed assurance. Oh heavenly Father, grant that our loved ones may all leave as sweet a fragrance when they go as Alliene did.'”

My little girl is now twenty, her name, Elizabeth Alliene. She carries the name of a special little girl I never knew. Elizabeth belongs to God, each of us does. Whether we live to be a hundred or only stay upon this sod for four short years, our lives are not our own. And what shall we do with the gift of life while we have it? “Oh heavenly Father, grant that our loved ones may all leave as sweet a fragrance when they go as Alliene did.”

Integrity

Posted: September 25, 2020 in Meditations

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8,9

Jay Cooke, born in the frontier town of Sandusky, Ohio, 1821, excelled in life. At age 14, Jay served as head clerk at a Sandusky dry goods store. He comfortably supported himself at Seymour & Bool in St Louis at age 16. Cooke moved to Philadelphia at age 18 to take a position at an investment bank, E.W. Clarke & Co. He became a full partner in 1842 at the age of 21. The bank prospered on railroads and the Mexican War, experience that would benefit Cooke later in life. He retired in 1858 a rich man, just 37 years old.

Who was the man behind the banker? That is our story, Jay Cooke’s faith. Thomas H. Stockton, a Methodist minister in Philadelphia, profoundly influenced Cooke’s life. Jay spent thousands of dollars distributing Mr. Stockton’s sermons and tracts. The nation needed Jesus, the stripped down gospel, not a liturgical remote religion. Jay Cooke taught Bible classes, something he would continue to do the rest of his life. When the walk to Stockton’s church proved too far for his wife, Cooke joined a local Episcopalian church. From that point forward Cooke called himself a “low church” Episcopalian.

In 1861 Jason Cooke established his own financial house, Jay Cooke and Co.. Two months later the Civil War commenced. An avowed abolitionist, Cooke embraced the Union cause. When his friend Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, called on him to help raise support for the war effort, Cooke went all in. By the end of the Civil War, Jay Cooke & Co. transacted a staggering 3 billion dollars in war bonds. Jay Cooke & Co. stood tall, the most formidable banking force in the country.

Jay Cooke lived his life by the vow of Jacob in Genesis 28:22, “and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” When Cooke established his banking house, he instructed his clerk to create an OPJ account (old patriarch Jacob). One tenth of all commissions went into the account. Cooke tithed again off of his personal income. When people asked how he could give away so much money, Jay Cooke said, “It doesn’t cost me anything; it is the Lord’s money I give.”

In 1873 the unthinkable happened. Jay Cooke lost everything. Skyrocketing costs and delays on the North Pacific Railroad bankrupted Jay Cooke & Co. and himself. Cooke liquidated everything: the homes, furnishings, the vaunted art collection. He went back to work. In four years Cooke paid every creditor back in full. Through it all Jay Cooke never wavered. Integrity demanded the best out of him. He refused to shirk his creditors and his generous heart never abated. A shrewd investment in the Horn Silver Mine in Utah made Cooke a wealthy man again. He repurchased his old homes, a remarkable testament to a more remarkable man.

Jay Cooke died in 1905, a revered man. A century later churches up and down the East Coast stand, all built by Cooke money. A statue stands on the windswept hills of Duluth, Minnesota. Jay Cooke sits on a bench, the seat next to him empty. If a young person could sit in that empty spot and Jay could turn to talk, what would the mighty Jay Cooke say? I think I know. It would start this way, “Do you know my best friend Jesus?” And the conversation would close with these words, “In the end, Christ is all that matters.”

Who Am I?

Posted: September 21, 2020 in Meditations

“Religion is not the place where the problem of man’s egotism is automatically solved. Rather, it is there that the ultimate battle between human pride and God’s grace takes place. Insofar as human pride may win the battle, religion can and does become one of the instruments of human sin. But insofar as there the self does meet God and so can surrender to something beyond its own self-interest, religion may provide the one possibility for a much needed and very rare release from our common self-concern.”

Rienhold Niebuhr

“You have nothing to say in this family. Mom makes the money in this house. You don’t even have a job.” My heart sank. These words crushed me. Angry, my daughter went for the throat, my vulnerability obvious. I was unemployed, a meager disability check my only offering. My wife worked long hours, day after day, week after week: the financial burden sat squarely on her shoulders. “Who am I?”, I asked myself. “My own daughter loathes me.” Ego is a powerful force. Self-interest drives all of us for better and worse on this journey called life. My ego flattened, I retreated further into myself. “Is my family better off without me?” I really didn’t know. I clung to faith. Head injuries play wicked games with the ego. What do you do when you no longer trust your own sanity?

“Surely God is my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength, and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 I lived much of my life by my own wits. I was gifted, I worked hard. Pride motivated me, my successes reinforced the drive to cultivate my self-interest. God and faith remained an important part of my life with one caveat; faith was exercised on my terms. God and I were partners in life but I overstepped my junior role on a daily basis. Religion reinforced my ego, it justified my pursuits. But that was now all gone. I lost the facade built by pride. In the eyes of my daughter, I was a pathetic man no longer worthy of her admiration. “So who am I?”, I asked.

“Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” Psalm 89:8 I remember laying in bed alone, very sick. Fatigue, seizures, the fog of prescription drugs: I saw my life shrink to the size of a quarter. I sensed my life ebbing and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I looked up at the ceiling and quoted the words of Job, “Tho you slay me, yet will I hope in you.” Job 13:15 The Holy Spirit spoke these simple words to my heart, “As long as you have breath, you have purpose.” That simple truth rejuvenated my spirit. It transformed my thinking, my point of view. My worth, my identity, rested no longer upon self-interest but upon the purposes of God, the author of my life. Each day became a gift, each moment pregnant with divine purpose.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39 Who am I? My name is Phil and I am a child of the Most High God. He created me in love, by love, and for love. I partner each day with my senior partner, the Holy Spirit, to commit acts of righteousness. My role as husband and father? As uncle and friend? I love each one with the love of Christ. I choose to speak words of life rather than death. I pray, I invest. I choose the life of no regrets, the life that says no to self and yes to Christ. I savor those “rare releases from common self-concern”. And my daughter? She loves me and I love her, the wonderful dynamic of forgiveness and commitment reigns in our lives. We both know who I am. We both know, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Josiah, A Love Letter

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Meditations

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Psalm 119:9-11

Josiah, Uncle Phil marvels at you, the young man developing before my eyes. Your gentle spirit, your lively mind, your insatiable curiosity, your heart for God: my heart melts. I love you with a whole heart. I pray to our Lord, “Help me be the uncle you want me to be. May I always speak words of life into Josiah, your man, the man you breathed into existence before he ever found his mother’s womb, Show me how to love him, to encourage him. What can I pass on to Josiah that will live on in his heart long after I pass on to glory?”

“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 Josiah, if you haven’t figured it out already, you have special parents. They have tender hearts, an intense passion for the underdog. That is the heart of God. How did Jesus enter this world? The firstborn to an unwed mother, born into a poor family from a backwater village in a subjugated land: Jesus chose the station of the lowly to reveal the glorious love of God for mankind. Josiah, watch carefully and absorb the examples set by your parents. Never mistake your father’s gentleness for weakness. And never discount your Father’s weakness. In that weakness your father is made strong. Why? Dad leans hardest on God when he knows he is over-matched. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 Embrace that praying mother of yours. If anybody knows your heart, it is Mom. Nobody will pray harder, invest deeper, and love more intensely than your mother. Love her, honor her.

Live life with passion. Treat each day as a gift. Live each moment with purpose. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 Strive for excellence, give your best to every endeavor. Did you know that sports and recreation are worship unto God? Your schoolwork? Your friendships? Your vocation? God breathed these passions into you — embrace them. I remember a line from the movie “Chariots of Fire”, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” May you feel God’s pleasure in all that you do.

Never forget, the only real freedom you will truly experience is found in complete surrender to Jesus Christ. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25 The world offers much but delivers little. The world attempts to be God and fails miserably. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul.” Matthew 16:26 Listen to Uncle Phil. You are created in love, by love, for love. In the surrender, divine love explodes with creative force. We now exercise power in the service of others. There is no greater satisfaction on earth. Josiah, be that instrument of divine love.

In short, embrace your calling. Make each day count. Seek God with a whole heart. Trust and obey. “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” Psalm 119:36 You are never alone. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Love always, Uncle Phil

John Testrake, Hero, Man of God

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Meditations

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Psalm 8:9

I sang a song based on this scripture in the pitch of night before the dawn today. My mind drifted to precious memories of an old friend, John Testrake. John loved that song and I loved John. He passed away in 1996, age 68, too soon. I and so many others miss him but John’s legacy lives on in my heart.

John Testrake burst onto the international scene on June 14, 1985. He and Phyllis, his wife, were looking forward to a brief holiday in Rome. That morning John, an international pilot for TWA, took off on a Mediterranean junket. Shortly after takeoff, terrorists armed with pistols and grenades hijacked the plane. 17 days of terror ensued on the tarmac of Beirut. John witnessed the brutal murder of a young Navy man, Robert Dean Stethem, 23 years old. Most people recall the iconic picture of John leaning out the window of the cockpit, a gun to his head: calm, steady and strong. The whole world watched, John’s life changed forever.

I was on vacation in the Bahamas when this happened. I woke up to CNN, I saw a picture of John and Phyllis. Stunned, I woke Lynn up. “We need to get home immediately.” We packed up and headed to the airport and caught the first flight home. On our way to Richmond, Missouri, in the car, Phyllis called. She was under USA protection. I prayed with her and told her we were headed to the church. Our church family joined in prayer together over the course of two hours. John and Phyllis were family.

The world saw the pilot. I knew the man behind the spectacle. I cut firewood with John. I helped him build his deck. We shared life together as couples in a Bible study once a week. I squealed in terror every time John did loop to loops in John’s private plane — much to John’s delight! He was a man’s man, he was God’s man.

When John spoke, we listened. He was gracious but tough. This Korean War veteran stood steeled by life. He lost a wife and child in a horrific auto accident. He lost another son in the prime of life. John comforted his comforters one by one, at his son’s wake. Two words, Jesus Christ, were never far from his lips. The demonic threats and abuse of terrorists were not going to overwhelm John Testrake.

John became a coveted celebrity after the ordeal resolved itself. He used the platform to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. John flew his plane to speaking engagements around the country over the course of the next ten years. I last saw John at an event promoting missions aviation. In John Testrake, God bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. And the lyrics of that song?

O Lord, our Lord How majestic is your name in all the earth O Lord, we praise your name O Lord, we magnify your name Prince of peace, mighty God O Lord, God Almighty

John, I’ll see you soon. Soon, very soon.

Providence, Evermore

Posted: September 10, 2020 in Meditations

“Woe to the Assyrians, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath. I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and to snatch plunder, to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. ‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says. ‘Has not Kalno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria — shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?’ ” When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”

Isaiah 10:5-12

Mosul, Iraq, stands on the east bank of the Tigris River. My oldest son deployed here during the Iraq War. Across the river on the west bank lay the ruins of Ninevah, once the greatest city in the world, the capital of Assyria. For centuries nobody knew its location. She was lost, forgotten, nevermore.

Judgment is a terrible thing, the final act of God when all else fails. Samaria and Jerusalem turned their backs on the Great God. Leadership chose the favor of men and the indulgence of themselves over devotion, justice, and mercy. Assyria, an ascendant nation, boasted in their might. No God, no man, will thwart the power of Assyria. Nobody, victim and conqueror, acknowledged the Great God, nobody recognized the hand of God at work. But soon, the northern kingdom and Samaria cease to be a nation. Within a century, Assyria is nevermore.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 2700 years later, nations come and nations go. Generations fade, tombstones mark the unknown, their memories nevermore. The providence of God now tells a quaint story, its themes relegated to books on theology, its significance parsed in three point sermons, the hand of God to most, nevermore.

“Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” Job 11; 7-9 What man cannot see, God sees. What man cannot understand, God knows. Bertrand Russell declared, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” Lisa Randall, one of our premier theoretical physicists, asks, “Where are the energy traces of God?” Why does God hide himself so? The great minds reply, “God is nevermore.

No man escapes his conscience. Good and evil confound his existence. The imprint of God’s image remains despite the warp of sin. Paul says, “The Gentiles do not have the Law; but whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law, even though they do not have the Law. Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written on their hearts. Their consciences also show this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them.” Romans 2:14,15 God is, he waits, until the conscience is nevermore.

“What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation: sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too; the birds and the fish and the creatures in the seas. O Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!” Psalm 8:4-9 If we are willing to look beyond ourselves, if we are willing to shed self-imposed limits, what can we see? A. N. Wilson believed in God as a young man, he seriously considered a vocation in Christian ministry. A gifted mind and voracious curiosity walked him away from faith. But Wilson could not escape conscience, could not escape the goodness of Christian men and women. A. N. Wilson returned to faith. He listened, he saw. Wilson concluded,

“The Gospel would still be true even if no one believed it. The hopeful thing is that, where it is tried — where it is imperfectly and hesitantly followed — as it was in Northern Ireland (and South Africa) during the peace process(es), as it is in many a Salvation Army hostel this Christmas, as it flickers in countless unseen Christian lives, it works. And its palpable and remarkable power to transform human life takes us to the position of believing that something very wonderful indeed began with the birth of Christ into the world.”

I am a Christ follower, have been for nearly fifty years beyond my youth. I have seen much, experienced the bitter and sweet of life, and remain more convinced than ever, God is evermore.

What About The Heart?

Posted: September 8, 2020 in Meditations

All the people will know it — Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria — who say with pride and arrogance of heart, “The bricks have fallen down but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled but we will replace them with cedars.”

Isaiah 9:9,10

Lynn, my wife, received a text after the George Floyd riots broke out in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Barry, a friend and colleague at the Department of Education, wrote, “I was wrong, man is not evolving, he is not progressing. So disappointed. Is there any hope?” Barry, a practicing Catholic and a good man, pinned a forty year academic career on the assumption of progressive social evolution. Lynn always pushed back, “Barry, what about the sin problem? We must address the heart.”

God does not dominate social discourse on the internet. In fact, God rarely comes up, and if he does, God gets qualified with the catch phrase, “God and country”. In 2020, the God of the Bible has been replaced with the god of the State. From the left: end racism, get rid of Trump; heal division, get rid of Trump; the ills of our nation reside in the reconfiguration of the State. The right holds to traditional institutions. Many clothe themselves in God and country but rarely give attention to sin and the heart of man. We will make the State great again. Can any moral grievances be addressed without an address of the heart?

Pride and arrogance, the prophet Isaiah calls out the corporate sin of the State. How bad were they? 2 Chronicles 28 opens the window to their depravity. The northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim and Samaria) massacred 120,000 men, women, and children in the southern kingdom of Judah. 200,000 of their kinsmen were taken to Samaria as slaves. In a rare display of conscience, a prophet and civic leaders said, “This is a bridge too far for even us. Feed our kinsmen, clothe them, and take them back to their homes.” Even when they suffered loss to enemies to the east and west, Samarian leadership refused to reform their wicked ways. Injustice prevailed, the poor suffered, and the rich ruling class said, “We will build bigger and better.” Isaiah said, “God is done with your sinful hearts. Judgment is coming and the kingdom of Israel will be no more.”

Man’s cruelty spans the millennia. Why? He has a sin problem. I have a sin problem, it permeates my primal being. I recall a bible study in Richmond, Missouri. We visited after the study with drinks and snacks. I was conversing with a group of men when our host said, “Phil, if you won’t discipline your son, I will.” As the agitated man reached for my son, I said, “Stop, I’ll handle it. Sorry for not watching.” My three year old son was pouring soda from one glass into another. Nobody knew what just happened inside me, adrenaline coursed my system. My body was prepared to kill in order to protect my son. I’m wired to protect my own, to suspect strangers, to recognize kin. History confirms our nature. We kill, maim, and destroy in the interests of our own. Worse, we justify it. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Any resolution of moral issues confronting our families, our church, our communities, must begin with us. I must submit to Christ. I must pray like Christ, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 I must confess my sin like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12 Finally, I must obey, I act.,”And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The heart is stubborn. Apart from God, I will fail. Pursue God with a whole heart, listen to his voice. The works of righteousness must be his. Our call, our wisdom, our power: all follows out of a surrendered heart. The new heart of God initiates divine revolution, light confronts the violence of darkness.

“We need prayer that…shatters the status quo, drains us of every other interest, excites us by its immense possibilities, sees God as the One that rules on high, sees all things beneath his feet” Leonard Ravenhill

Phil, never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Norm

Posted: September 5, 2020 in Meditations

Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called “The Skull”, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.”

Luke 23:32,33,39-43

A man came into the vestibule of our church every Sunday morning. Never early, never quite on time, he came in after people had settled into their seats. He never went into the sanctuary. He stood alone, said nothing, then left before pastor dismissed the congregation. Over the weeks, I got a name, Norm. I always offered a seat. He politely said, “No, I’ll stand.” Norm was an older man, the crags in his face, the thick forearms, the leathery hands; they told the arc of his story, a life of toil. But the details of Norm’s life remained a mystery.

Each Sunday I watched the doors waiting for Norm to show up. I made a point to look him square in the eye, smile big, and grab hold of his hand, “Norm, great to see you.” When I got my first smile I knew I had him. He still refused to sit in the sanctuary but he now sat. I sat beside him, he no longer stood alone.

I asked Steve, our pastor, “What’s up with Norm? He won’t go into church. He comes late and leaves early.” Steve paused, chose his words carefully, “Norm has a story most people can’t handle. Every time he tells his story, churches ask him to leave and not return. His own family shuns him. He’s done prison time. He seeks redemption but fears it is too late. The reason he doesn’t go into the sanctuary? Norm is convinced he is unworthy.” My family moved to another community soon after. I often wondered, “How is Norm doing?”

Two years passed and we were in town for a family visit. I went to a Saturday morning men’s fellowship meeting at the church. To my delight, Norm was there. We gave each other a hug, the feeling mutual. A time of sharing commenced. Nothing dramatic, men spoke of the goodness of God. Norm sat silent, his arms crossed, he listened to each man talk. Norm then raised his hand. A pregnant pause, he panned the room of men with his eyes, “I think you are all full of shit.” Nervous laughter broke out but everyone got the message. That was Norm’s way of saying, “Stop playing church, get real. Don’t waste my time or yours with nonsense.” The meeting took on a refreshing honesty. That was pure Norm. Sunday morning I looked for Norm. He was already in the church sanctuary. I smiled. Norm found mercy, acceptance. He now lived in grace.

The last time I saw Norm was on a Sunday morning.. He stood with arms raised on the front row of the church. The man who dared not enter a sanctuary now stood lost in worship to his Great God, infinite goodness. Less than a month later, Norm passed away. He did not die alone. The men of his church loved Norm as much as he loved them. Sweet times passed in that hospital room. Norm knew where he was going. Like the thief on the cross, Jesus told Norm, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Weeks after the funeral, Norm’s wife brought a gift to Pastor Steve. “Norm wanted you to have this.” It was Norm’s bible. Pastor Steve saw beyond Norm’s horrific past. The warp of sin did not obliterate the divine investment in Norm’s life. The church took a broken defeated man into their lives and loved him as their own. Jesus did the rest. Norm’s last act, the gift of his bible. How precious, what a thank you, what a friend.