Thursday, March 20, 2014

God Loves Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps no doubt thought he was genuinely serving God by his actions.  He probably genuinely considered himself to be faithfully representing the Father by making GOD HATES FAGS and GOD HATES AMERICA well know phrases.

I have no reason to think Phelps was entirely sincere in his conviction that he was fulfilling the mission of God by picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers.

I suspect he thought he was training up the children of his extended family in the way they should go , by standing them on street corners and in cemeteries with sign proclaiming God's hatred.

What many don't know is that he was a respected church leader and lawyer for much of the first 40 years of his life.  According to his Wikipedia bio, he was known as a staunch defender of civil rights.  He received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP, for his work on behalf of black clients.

But sometime during the 1970s and '80s, the record shows that he became increasingly strident in his condemnation of sin, reacting strongly against sexual perversions especially.

From there, his life led down a path well known to us all, one that will be his legacy forever.

The Question of the Day for all Christians, for all of us who preach or teach or attempt to share our faith, is this:
Am I sure that my actions, my attitudes, are not on a slow, slippery slope toward excessive hatred and irrational "religious" actions?
Have I allowed my personal revulsion about certain sins to blind me to God's love for everyone?

Have I allowed a personal mission to express my doctrinal, political, or social opinions to hinder God's mission to seek and save the lost?

Am I willing to take a deep and honest look at my own heart and my actions, to make sure I'm not deluding myself into believing I'm doing the work God re-created me to do?

Perhaps you should ask someone if they think you're on the right track, if they see any indications of misdirected energies.  Don't ask your closest friend - they might be on the same blind path.  Ask someone who is a fellow Christian, but with whom you don't always agree.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Stay sharp, friends. And make sure the battle you're fighting is God's, not yours.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Choices of the Heart: Time's Person of the Year

USA Today: Pope gets nod over Miley Cyrus for 'Person of the Year'

Miley Cyrus: A pop star who was raised to be a person of faith, but she spent 2013 making a name for herself as an example of a heart given over to being as self-indulgent as she can.

Pope Francis: New leader of a religious organization that too often emphasizes ritual over grace, but he made a name for himself as an example of a heart given over to being as Christlike as he can.

We can learn some important lessons from both of these imperfect people.

And we should all make the choice to bow our hearts in prayer for them both.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tweeter Than Honey

I spent about 15 minutes today reading tweets that included the word "Bible". Along with a large number of Bible quotes, a fascinating and disturbing group of other references to "Bible" presented themselves, all from random people I've never met and likely will never meet.

I present the results of my "bible" study, which offers a window into the way the world sees the Bible.

Like much of twitter, there was plenty of tossed-off snark:

This one was sort of hopeful:
Reading "between the lines" of the Bible is just another way of describing what I hope they were really doing, which is reading deeply, going behind the words to the historical context, reading elsewhere int he Bible to other verses tat expanded on the truths told there, and even using god-given imagination to bring the scriptures to life in their world.

Or not. Reading her previous tweets isn't encouraging.

There are also some tweets from the "new atheists", with old complaints about the Bible.
And the obligatory political tweets:
And the expected misquotes:
And the just "wow" sort of tweets:

This tweetus interuptus doesn't really need to be completed to make me shake my head:
And my favorite:

Friday, July 12, 2013

All Nature Sings: Resurrection of the Cicadas

Photo by Lee Ruk
The almost machine-like racket produced by cicadas in the summer, rising and falling in pitch and volume, sings of the existence of a God with the audacious creativity to design an insect with a lifecycle that spends 17 years buried in the ground, only to be resurrected for a few weeks in the summer to saw out a song of praise to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Most Powerful Thing

Operation Crossroads
Photo by US Department of Defense
On the morning of July 25th, 1946, my father witnessed what he later described as the most powerful thing he ever saw. On that day, he stood on the deck of the USS Rockbridge, one of 175 support ships participating in Operation Crossroads, the U.S. government's atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific.

Bikini had been chosen because its roughly circular reefs would contain the worst of any tidal waves produced by the detonation. At least that was the hope. A "ghost fleet" of damaged and moth-balled ships, both American and Japanese, were gathered within the circle of the atoll, to test the effect of the bomb on large ships at sea.

As the countdown neared zero, my father and the other seamen, "safely" aboard their own vessels just a few short miles outside the barrier reef, watched with unshielded eyes as they listened to the final seconds of the countdown.

The bomb exploded with a force equal to 23,000 tons of TNT. An enormous surge of water exploded from beneath the surface of the sea, instantly creating a dome a mile high, lit like a million lightbulbs by the energy of the explosion within.

My father spoke in awe of seeing a ship carried aloft by the enormous water spout - probably the 203-foot amphibious landing craft that had anchored the underwater bomb - suspended atop the dome for what seemed an eternity.

An enormous shock wave rushed outward and upward at 3,500 miles per hour, tossing the test ships - battleships and destroyers - like toy boats in a child's bathtub. The Bikini atoll took and withstood the primary impact, allowing only a fraction of the surging sea to escape. This remnant wave carried enough residual force to toss the observation ships roughly about in the water.

The hot winds, emanating from a core hotter than the sun itself, blew past the watching navy, until finally the force of the bomb was spent.

At the epicenter of the blast, a vast crater had been formed in the sea by the sudden upthrust of waters. This cavity soon imploded, sucking the waters and the mangled test ships into its vortex. The resulting tidal waves, towering high over the target ships, rushed outward at a speed of over 60 miles per hour, engulfing everything in it's path, leaving a downpour of radioactive water covering everything.

My father never forgot the display of power he witnessed that day.

My mother, after one of my father's retelling of these memories, told of an experience of her own.

"The most powerful thing I've ever witnessed," she said, "was a man, several years ago - I can't recall his name - he came to church now and then at the invitation of several members. We all knew him, knew he was a basically good man, but obstinate against the church and against God. We had all tried talking to him, time and again, but he stubbornly refused to give in. He continued to show up now and then, but with no response."

"After several years of this, he came to a revival meeting. I think it was on about the third night, after a rousing sermon, the evangelist was winding down, introducing the invitation hymn.

"This man I'm talking about stood up and turned his back to the preacher. He marched briskly to the rear of the church. I thought, Oh, no, he's finally had enough. He's leaving.

"We stood to sing, and as we launched into the first verse, here he came, marching, ramrod straight, firm steps, directly toward the preacher at the front of the congregation, where he made his confession and was baptized that night."

"That," she concluded, a tear in her eye, "was the most powerful thing I've ever seen."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ray Lewis' Chase

It won't surprise anyone who knows me that I didn't watch the Super Bowl the other night.  My top ten favorite sports are college baseball.

But yesterday I did see a clip of Shannon Sharpe's interview with Ray Lewis during the Super Bowl pre-game show (see the video below).  I do watch The Daily Show, which is where I saw the clip.

The Baltimore Ravens' linebacker was involved with the wrong people in a bad situation in 2000, and found himself involved in some way with the murder of two people.  He pleased guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against others who were convicted of involvement in the murder.  Many people still think he was more involved than he admits, and literally got away with murder.  

I certainly don't know the truth, and neither do you. But questions remain, and Shannon Sharpe asked Ray Lewis about those allegations in his his pre-game interview with Lewis on Sunday.

Ray Lewis has since become a Christian and has been involved in many activities expressing his faith.  Like happens with a number of celebrity conversions, sometimes it seems like humility is the toughest spiritual battle Ray Lewis faces.

I can't come down on him too hard for that, since I have my own spiritual battles to fight.

I reacted with quick anger, however, to one of his statements in the interview. Part of Lewis' explanation of why we should believe he is innocent of the murders is because God is using him in so many great ways.  The quote, and the video:
"If you really knew the way God works, He don't use people who commits anything like that , for His glory.  No way. It's the total opposite."

I've been involved in prison ministry for the past 8 years, and I would very much like to introduce Ray Lewis to some of the murderers I've known.  I've changed their names.

He should meet Alice, who spent over three decades in prison for the murder of her husband.  For much of those 30+ years she quietly set an example of patient faith and endurance, and was responsible for bringing dozens of convicted women to a conviction about their sin and God's grace.

Among the women who followed Alice to God were Beth, another battered wife who killed her husband, and Charlotte, convicted for conspiracy to commit murder.  Both of them carried on Alice's ministry of bringing other women to the Lord.

I could introduce Ray Lewis to Martha and Nancy, both in prison for causing the death of their own children.  Both arrived in prison totally wrecked, consumed with guilt, and a bit mentally unhinged over their experiences.  Both found forgiveness in the arms of the Lord, and both have been used by God in very powerful ways as witnesses to other fallen women of the truth that God will forgive and can work in the life of any one, no matter how heinous their sins.

And Althea, the church lady, the grandmother, the Sunday School teacher, who found herself in a horrible situation and made the wrong choices, resulting in being sent to prison for conspiracy to commit murder. As soon as she landed in the county jail, she began reading her Bible every day, which drew attention from other women there.  She would read with them and explain what she was reading, and answer their questions.  

In the state prison, she opened her Bible again, starting with Day 1, and again drew interest and questions.  She spent her time in the prison as a spiritual mother, teaching dozens of younger women about the Bible, answering their questions, counseling them, helping them to get through their shared ordeal with faith and a heart of peace.

In the final 30 days of her sentence, she was moved back to the county jail back home, where she began reading her Bible as always.  there was one other young woman in the pod with her, and she asked Althea to read to her.  Over the next thirty days, other women came and went, and they all would sit and listen to Althea and pour their hearts out to her and to God.

On the day Althea was finally scheduled to be released to go home, the only woman left was that same young woman that was her first pod-mate a month earlier.  She asked Althea, "Who is going to read me the Bible when you're gone?"

Althea closed her bible and handed it to the young woman. "You keep this," she said.  "I can get another one."

The young woman thanked her, but said she wished Althea could stay and read with her.

"No," she answered, "it's time for me to go.  I know now why I ended up in prison all these years.  It was for you and all the other girls like you.  But I've done what He asked me to do, and now it's time for me to go home."

Ray Lewis says he wants his epitaph to say "A man chasing after God's own heart."  If he truly is that man, he'll learn that God can indeed use people who commit things like that, for His glory.

And he can use you and me, too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Doom's Day

Doomsday is only a prophecy of doom to those who don't know and aren't eager for what happens after the doom.  The day does not belong to the Doom, but to a Whom:  to Christ Jesus and to those of us who have heard His call..

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3