14 June 2016

What Jesus Does and Doesn't Do

In John 4:1-26, a woman encounters Jesus while going to a well to draw water. If you've attended to church services much, you probably know the story. Verses 27-42 tell us that because of her, many in her village come to meet Jesus and believe that He is the Christ. Another woman’s encounter with Jesus is described in John 8:1-11. This woman, who was caught in the act of adultery, was brought to Jesus by the religious elite. The law “on the books” would condemn her to death by stoning. Yet another woman seeks out Jesus for an encounter in Luke 7:36-50. She places herself in the middle of a situation she knows will be hostile just to encounter Jesus.

All three of these passages have been explained, taught, and preached by preachers and teachers with vastly more Bible knowledge and eloquence than me. There could be many lessons taken from each of these passages, and each could be beneficially taught to both believers and non-believers. Since I am not writing a book here, I will just focus on a few key points I feel are relevant to today. What is it that Jesus does and doesn’t do?

These three women have a common thread binding them together. 

They all encounter Jesus? They do, but they each do it quite differently. The John 4 woman acts out of habit and by choice and so encounters Jesus at a place she frequents. The John 8 woman was forcibly taken from one place to another and thrust into an encounter with Jesus. We don’t know if these two had even heard of Jesus before their encounters. The Luke 36 woman knew of Jesus and purposefully sought Him out. So, yes, they all met Jesus, but that’s not the common thread.

They were all sinners. This is the common thread. In each account, we see a woman who is publicly known to be a sinful woman. Ah, but isn’t that the common thread that binds all mankind? We’ll get to that.

All three woman met Jesus on different terms, under different circumstances. Yet Jesus' interaction with each is the same. This is the lesson I want to underscore. This is the lesson that needs to replace the vitriol being spewed in mainstream and social media. Jesus knew they were sinners, and He loved them. They each came to Him under different circumstances with differing levels of perceived guilt for their sins, and He loved them all the same. That’s what Jesus does. He loves.

Christians are to be reflectors, mirrors of Jesus to the world. From these stories, how do we reflect Jesus? We love. We are tender, compassionate, and merciful. When a sinner encounters us, how would they describe our reaction? How would they describe the Jesus we proclaim to be shining into a dark world? Is He a Jesus of fire and brimstone, full of disgust and disdain? Is that the Jesus I want to encounter? Remember, I, we, all are sinners. Do they see a Jesus who first loves and comforts someone who may feel they are beaten down, worthless, and unwanted? This is the Jesus Christians should be introducing to the world. (I know Jesus was harsh and stern and proclaimed judgement, too, but that was always to the religious elite, hypocrites who should have known better. Maybe that is a discussion for another time.)

Christians are to be reflectors, mirrors of Jesus to the world. In each situation, John 4 & 8 and Luke 7, Jesus loves, but He doesn’t leave. Jesus is holy, beyond our comprehension of holiness. He will not allow sin to remain in His presence. So, what does Jesus do? Does he start banging these sinners over the head with a scroll of scripture? No. He talks to them. To not AT. First he shows love and compassion, then He points out what separates them from His holiness. That’s what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t leave.

To the John 4 woman, He points out that the man she is currently with is not her husband. He lets her know that He knows. Regarding the John 8 woman, caught in the act, He tells the religious elite to go ahead and stone her, but only the one without sin could throw the first stone. They all left. The only one left to throw a stone was the only One without sin. What did He do? He acknowledged the sin, but gave her back her life, and He told her to quit the sin.

These two stories are perfect examples of non-believers who have yet to meet Jesus. People that may not know or care that they are sinning. Yet, Jesus loves and comforts. He exerts His holiness and asks for sin to be abandoned. He loves. He doesn’t leave.

I haven’t forgotten the Luke 7 woman. That’s me. That is the wretched, unworthy, unholy sinner who realizes that Jesus is Holy, that He is the Christ, and that only in Him can my sins be forgiven. This woman sought Jesus out. She placed herself in a position of vulnerability and humbled herself. She knew her broken state and sought out the One who could make her whole. And Jesus loved her. And He didn’t leave her. And He said the words that all that seek Him long to hear, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

A world divided by hate and judgement, needs to encounter this Jesus. Christians that have sought Him out and experienced His grace need to reflect this Jesus. The world needs to know what Jesus does and what He doesn’t do. He loves. He doesn’t leave.

10 June 2016

Not Everything that Happens is a Consequence

It has been a long time since I posted to this blog. The events of this week have really made me think so I am putting some thoughts "out there" as much for catharsis as for sharing.

Sometimes in life, you make a bad decision and suffer the consequences. Consequences can come in many different varieties, from a minor inconvenience to a life-altering, catastrophic event.

Sometimes, there was no bad decision, but you seem to suffer consequences. I think, no. I think there is a difference between consequence and events totally out of our control. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it isn't a punishment - it just is. For instance, if you've planned an outdoor wedding and it happens to be 102 degrees with a humidity of 98% in May, that is not a consequence, it just happened.

Some people seem to ignore their God-given ability to think things through. Actions that seem incredibly illogical in hindsight, are taken with no thought of repercussions or /consequence/. And when those consequences fall like Wile E. Coyote's anvil, they still seem surprised when it strikes them in the head. And sometimes, no consequences ever seem to befall them.

Some people are smart, level-headed, thoughtful people. Good plans are made with thoughtfulness and care, and yet the world may seem to crash around them, by no fault of their own.

A young man lost his life this week. He was a smart, level-headed, and thoughtful young man. Yet tragedy struck. This young man did nothing wrong, as far as can be told. Nothing. No bad decisions, unless I'm missing something. I cannot describe the fear and trepidation this has brought to my very core. Why? Because he was a smart, level-headed, and thoughtful young man - just like my son.

Lori and I have sometimes jokingly and sometimes seriously told our kids, "Don't do drugs" or "Always wear your seat belt" or "Don't ride with a driver who has been drinking" or "Don't have sex before marriage" or "Don't ..." (you can fill in the blank). I can't count the times my son has retorted (sometimes equally in jest, sometimes less than respectfully), "I'm not an idiot, Dad" or "I'm smart enough to make good choices." The truth is, he is not an idiot, and he is smart enough to make good choices. But sometimes it isn't about choices we make. Sometimes it is information we don't have. Sometimes it is the experience of an older/wiser person that hasn't been shared. Sometimes it is never saying out loud what we assume somebody already knows.

So, what? I'm not sure. I can't bear to imagine what someone else is going through right now that could just as easily be me. Maybe I'm just rambling. But I'll tell you one thing, I'm going to keep telling my son to not do drugs, or not play in traffic, or think before you act... because what if the one time I don't, it is the one time he needed it?

11 August 2015

What happens when you break the rules?

"Some rules are made to be broken." How many times have you heard that said? How many times have you said it? Some rules don't make sense to me. Some make sense but go too far. Some don't go far enough. Man-made rules will always have flaws.

The one argument I detest the most for the rationalization of breaking a rule is, "I'm not hurting anybody." It can be restated this way, the breaking of this rule will not have an impact on anyone other than myself, and it may not even impact me. How true is that? I believe that statement can never be true. We (the breakers of the rules) may or may not ever realize or see the impact the broken rule has on ourselves or others. That does not mean the impact does not exist.

Caveat: if you are not a Christian or believer in the God of the Christian/Hebrew Bible, you may as well not read the rest of my thoughts.

What was the first rule broken by humans? Someone looked at, took, and ate something they were told not to. As a matter of fact, at that point in time, that was the only rule in existence - and it was broken. Who did that breakage impact? I could either make a long list or just say: everyone. Everyone. From the first two humans on down to you, me, and those of us not yet born - that broken rule had an impact on all of us. Quite a large impact, too.

How about some other examples of broken rules that impacted you and me? These particular broken rules have a daily impact on you and me, here and now.

  1. Abram and Sarai use Hagar to have children. Abram and Sarai chose to: a) break God's ideal of marriage and b) more importantly, they chose not to rely on God and produce progeny on their own terms. How does this act from centuries ago matter in today's world? Enter Ishmael. Abram's first son (and only son as Abram), Ishmael is recognized by Muslims as the ancestor of several prominent Arab tribes and being the forefather of Muhammad (A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism;  Scott B. Noegel and Brannon M. Wheeler (authors)). Muslims also believe that Muhammad was the descendant of Ishmael that would establish a great nation, as promised by God in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:20). Do I need to go into how this broken rule has an impact on you, me, and the world today? Think ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, etc.    
  2. Israelites fail to dislodge/kill the inhabitants of the promised land. The first instance of this is again, self-reliance. When Joshua and the Israelites elders made peace with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). Even through the time of King Solomon the Israelites failed to drive out or kill all the inhabitants as God had commanded them. Some they made slaves; some they could not conquer. Why? They broke the rules of listening wholly to God and relying on Him instead of self. So? What does their failure have to do with you, me, and the world today? Have you heard or read about the turmoil in Israel and that region lately? Why is there turmoil; why not peace? Broken rules. The unrest in the Middle East has world-wide repercussions.

You might now be asking yourself, why is he bringing this up? I know the Old Testament Israelites made mistakes over and over again. How is that relevant to us today? First, let me point out that even though rules were broken and mistakes were made, God always brought them back to Him. He may have allowed captivity and war and hardships, but He never forsook them, never forgot them, never went back on His promises to them. That should give us hope for today.

There are many reasons I could bring this up. Maybe for a Bible Class on choices. Maybe for a discussion on politics. Maybe for a rant on a nation choosing to kick God out. None of those are the prompting for my thoughts today. Today I am saddened by the violence broken rules have caused the people of El Salvador and Central America. I'm no geo-social anthropologist, but I know the simple laws of cause and effect. The effect is violence - the daily assassination of workers and even children in a country I love dearly. The cause? Read on at your own risk.

I believe the United States of America is largely at fault for much of the gang violence in El Salvador and other parts of Central America.

Now, don't get your Stars and Stripes in a wad. Let me explain how rules the U.S. has broken has contributed to the violence there. Immigration laws exist. These immigration laws are rules about how to come to this country legally and what to do with someone who has not. There are some cities and states that thumb their collective noses at these rules. How does that spell violence in Central America? The bloodiest, most violent, and most ruthless gangs in El Salvador are Mara Salvatrucha (commonly known as MS-13) and 18th Street Gang (also called Barrio 18 or Calle 18), among others. Do you know where these gangs got their start? Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. - not El Salvador.

These gangs are actually originally U.S. exports! The terror being brought upon the citizenry of my beloved El Salvador is to some degree a result of my country of citizenship's failure to enforce immigration laws. Before you start screaming racism, please continue reading. There are some people, whom I love dearly, in this country that I know for a fact are "illegals". There are many of my friends trying to get to this country illegally; some using coyotes - putting them at serious risk for abuse, rape, slave-trade, and death. That does not change my friendship with them; that does not change my caring for them; that does not change my love for them. It does cause me a great deal of stress when I dwell on it.

Our immigration rules are not perfect. There are many people(s) who would build and develop and enhance the U.S. who cannot enter it legally. Maybe because of political relations with their country of nationality, or maybe because we have made the cost of legal citizenship so high. There are a number of reasons, those who want to come here legally, can't. But the truth is, we have immigration rules, and some of us choose to break them.

Because these rules were broken, some people that should not have been allowed here and some people that should not have been allowed to remain here were not removed from here. Some of these people(s) (NOT ALL) turned to crime and learned how to be criminals from our own criminals. Then, only after their "skills" were acquired, some of these were deported. Once deported, they did not abandon their new-found skills, but instead put them to use in a country even more ill-equipped to handle them then the United States. And they flourished. They began taking territory. They recruited. They intimidated and coerced and extorted. And yesterday (10 August 2015), they killed more than 20 people, including an 8 month old baby girl. Now, there is an average of 16 gang related murders in a country the size of New Jersey, with a population less than half the size of New York City, and about equal to Los Angeles, the city of angels. And that does not include the rising number of missing and mass graves being found.

So, Monte, what's your point?

My point, my call-to-action is two-fold.

  1. When not in contrast to the Word of God - don't break rules. Many rules may not make since, but God has told His people to live at peace within the authority of those over us - in a worldly fashion. Some rules need to be changed. I'm not overly political, and I don't relish the idea of activism, but I must stand for that in which I believe and work to make change when I believe it is necessary - even if it is the small and often taken for granted act of voting. I ask you to do the same.
  2. Pray for El Salvador. Pray often and regularly. Pray for peace. Pray for a good economy. Pray for good weather - the harsh floods and droughts and severely damaged the lives of many, which leads to unrest and more violence. Pray for the hearts of the gang members to be softened. Pray for the country's leaders. Pray for the expulsion of Satan and his forces. Pray for El Salvador.

If you are still reading at this point, I'd like to thank you for giving ear to my thoughts.


20 November 2013

People just love to play with words...

One of my favorite bands from the Eighties was Men at Work. Though hard to pick a favorite song of theirs, this particular one is somewhat relevant:

I'm not tryin' to impress you with my lines.
They don't mean nothin' at all.
It's just another expression of mine.
It don't mean nothin' at all.

Epiphany: e·piph·a·ny  [ih-pif-uh-nee]  noun - a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.

That is a word that would have made my older brother accuse me of being a sesquipedalian. Only he wouldn't have used that word, he would have just told me I was trying to use big words - which I did, often. 

In my previous blog post, I ended with these words, “Yet, I still feel like a fish out of water in this country. …  I still feel like I've only just come back to the States.”

And now here's my epiphany: I hope I always do. I hope I always feel like a fish out of water. A stranger in a foreign country. I still can't bring myself to call Jenks or Tulsa or my house "home". I hope I never do. 

I have decided that my words are important. I have always wanted to let my yes be yes and my no be no (James 5:12). But that is my word. Now I think more and more about my wordS.

Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36, 37. I believe that. 

In John 21, Jesus chooses His words carefully as He has a conversation with Peter. He calls him Simon instead of Cephas or Peter - a possible allusion to the rock having faltered in Peter's denials. He asks him almost the same question three times. Altering it slightly, as Peter's denials varied slightly to the same but slightly different accusations of knowing or being with Jesus. This is but one of many biblical examples of the words used being chosen carefully - deliberately. Why should my speech be chosen in any less a deliberate way?

There are phrases I use regularly which I have tried and continue to try to remove from use. Some are just redundant. Why say "Honestly,..." or "To tell you the truth,..." before saying what you really want to say? Does that mean if you don't start your sentences with this, you won't be honest or telling me the truth? I don't like that I still say, "Oh, my!" or "My word!" or "Good grief!" or (more recently for some reason) "Good gravy!" These expressions don't convey much meaning, if any. They can be misconstrued as substitutive for other phrases which profane God's name. That troubles me. 

The most offensive to myself is "Holy [blank]" where the blank for me is usually "cow". God has elected to call Himself "Holy" and name certain things "holy" and others things He does not. Though I still struggle with this, I find the use of this phrase (and its variants) as bad as the "big" curse words. After re-reading the Old Testament recently, I've firmly established my belief that "Holy" is God's word - who am I to take it for my own?

The next with which I still struggle is "home". I want to reserve the word "home" for the only home I have - heaven. This is a decision I have made to try and give to God what is His and not water down my words, and thus my life. When Nate is out playing and it is time for him to return, it is easy to just text him or call him and say, "Come home." Many of you (if you are still reading this) at this point are thinking to yourself, "He's crazy. This is just semantics. ... " Maybe so, but I would argue, if our vocabulary more accurately reflected our intentional decision to reflect our permanent and dedicated (consecrated) life and relationship with Jesus, our life will also reflect that.

A few other words or phrases I cannot adopt (possibly just showing age or aged mentality), from today's vernacular are: "love on" (just slightly creepy to me, no big issue with it); "get my [blank] on" (A currently popular song uses this in reference to preparing for worship: "get my worship on" to which I say, where is the line we cross from reverent to irreverent? I realize I may be in the minority with this one, too, but I just can't do that in relation to the Maker of the Universe.); and "tribes" (When used referring to differing religious organizations under the same general banner, i.e. Christianity. This is a modern version of the once popular "I'm OK, you're OK" from when I was a child. Maybe that is a discussion for another time.) 

Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36, 37. I believe that. Do you? How do I, in my own life, show that I believe this? How do I guard my tongue? It isn't easy, but I think it is necessary.

19 November 2013

Life Since Then

I started this blog to post updates about our work during our time in El Salvador and Honduras. I stopped writing in this blog for reasons that escape me now. I feel like posting again. Maybe it is a bit of longing to be back amongst my family in Central America, but today I feel compelled to post.

So, I guess I should do a short recap:
In January of 2010, Lori and I decided we might want to be missionaries in El Salvador for a year. In March of that year we visited El Salvador for several days, just the two of us. We were hooked. We moved there in July of 2010 bringing Ruth Erin and Nate with us. We worked primarily with the La Palma congregation for most of our stay, though we worked some with the San Ignacio congregation, and more and more with the Ocotepeque congregation, in Honduras, as our time there came closer to an end. We returned to the U.S. in July of 2011. Lots happened between those two Julys. Wonderful, marvelous, dreadful, spiteful, happy, joyous things.

Now, it is more than two years after returning to the United States. So from recap, to catch-up:
I interviewed over the phone with a company in Tulsa, OK while still living in El Salvador. I applied for a position within their company, but was interviewed for a different position. After two face-to-face interviews, I was hired. After nearly two years, they and I both realized that the position for which I had applied would have been a better fit for both of us, but that ship had sailed, so they parted our ways. I harbor no ill-will towards them, they made the right decision, but I still feel guilty for not living up to their expectations. Since June of this year (2013), I've been looking for my next career opportunity.

That's it. That is the recap of my life back in the States. Hollow isn't it?

Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of other things going on during that time.

Lori: Lori got reacquainted with one of her best friends. Through that association, she became friends with her friend's friend. That new friend hired her, and Lori is now enjoying a wonderful job with a wonderful company who has wonderful owners! One of Lori's sisters has given us a new niece and very recently a new nephew - both by adoption.

Ruth: Ruth returned to using her first name - but I still go back and forth calling her Ruth and Erin. She has completed her sophomore and junior years of high school. She got a job in the gift shop at the Jenks Aquarium. She has learned to drive and has her driver's license. She has had her senior pictures taken. She has applied for and been accepted to Oklahoma Christian University, though hasn't yet made a definitive decision to attend there.

Nathan: Nate is a full-on teenage boy. He has developed an interest in baseball, cross country, and airsoft. He is a decent outfielder, great behind the plate as catcher, and to his surprise and ours - turns out he is a really good first baseman. He is doing well in school, too, and followed in his sister's footsteps and joined the band. He plays the euphonium/baritone - first chair. This summer, Nate became much more than my son; he became my brother, accepting Jesus as his savior in baptism.

So, yeah, life has continued, chock full of events and happenings. Yet, I still feel like a fish out of water in this country. It is hard to explain, but even though I've made new friends, put down some roots with my new church family here, and even become a part of a civic organization (on the board of directors two years now)  - I still feel like I've only just come back to the States. For more "wordy" thoughts, read my next blog post.