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Friday, July 24, 2015

Church of the Eighty Foot Parking Lot

                  Church of the Eighty Foot Parking Lot  

       Many people have different criteria for a church.  I drove a truck over the road for almost twenty years and had a pretty simple set of standards for a church.  It had to have a parking lot nearby that I could park an eighty foot long truck in.  This often did not allow the luxury of choosing a denomination.  If all Christians are seeking to follow Jesus Christ example in their lives then I should find Christ in any church professing to believe in Him and His Word.  I discovered in the course of my life that is not as easy as it sounds.

       It started for me when I was kid and my Mom took me to church.  She would have been ninety today.  She was a perfect example of a Christian, at least as close as I have seen in my travels around this world.  Not just because she was my Mom but, because she lived it.  She was always looking for the perfect church.  I have attended almost every denomination I know of.  That includes Christian Scientist, Pentecostal and Apostolic to name a few.  Almost every church had at least a couple people who believed and lived the Bible.  Sadly having attended hundreds and hundreds of churches I have only been in a few that I would call true Christian churches.

       If you go into a church you have never attended before most people will be friendly.  The first thing they want to know is what church do you normally attend.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Churches need to protect themselves from unbelievers and ones who cause dissension in churches and then move on. Often it is only so they can pigeon-hole you and put you in the appropriate box.  Many people are not comfortable with someone they can’t figure out.  They have opinions or views of most other denominations and once they can put you in a box they are comfortable.

       Sometimes I have been invited to an individual’s home for a meal, a shower or a place to sleep.  Only in a handful of churches in seventy years has that been the attitude of the majority of the congregation.  The more common practice is to break bread with you and share the cup of fellowship, but after leaving the building I have no use for you till next Sunday.  It is often hard to even find a person to go to a restaurant with.  It doesn’t even matter if you are offering to buy.

         Over my years out on the road I found exceptions to the above statements.
Many truck stops have an old trailer somewhere on the lot that has been converted into a chapel and usually it has a volunteer chaplain.  Christian truckers stuck out on the road tend to migrate to these locations in their off duty time.  It is an awesome experience to have several deeply religious people of different denominations come together to share fellowship.  It can make for some lively discussions and sometimes requires deciding what doctrines and principals are important to you.

       There are a lot more issues than most people would ever consider.  Communion is a big one for many people.  Tongues can start quite a few arguments.  Even whether a person should or should not have a beard can become a major issue to some people.  We tried to come into agreement using the Bible to establish our views.   If we couldn’t agree on an issue, we would lay the issue aside and let Jesus Christ rule.  Matthew 7:15 rules regardless of what our own views are.

       Caring for and sharing with each other and those who are lost is the overriding obligation as a Christian.  The example I had as a Mother gave up her home and most of what she owned to move half ways across the country and help my brother raise his daughter after his ex-wife died.  She often did without.  So they would have what they needed.  When I hear the story of the Widow’s Mites I automatically think of my Mother.  She was the most unselfish person I ever knew.  Her faith drove her life.

       Another person who made a deep impression on me was a lady named Geneva Kleinman.  She raised a ton of kids.  She ran a day care center and she took in many kids full time when their parents abandoned them or fell on hard times.  One of the churches I grew up in, which was her church, helped her with food and bills.  Many people also helped her by volunteering as they could.  She always had fifteen to twenty kids or more.  These were kids who fell through the cracks in the system back in the early sixties.  There were no programs to give her money.  She did it because she had a heart for God.  Those kids never went hungry and they never did without.  They may not have had what they wanted, but they had what they needed and they knew at least one person in the world loved them with all her heart.

       This world needs more Geneva’s.  More people like Mother Teresa.  Regardless of what one thinks of the Catholic Church she devoted her total life to caring for those with needs. The Bible says in Micah 6:8 “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?  James made it clear who Christ taught him to care for. 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, Too visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

        Faith is not about saying we believe the Bible.  It is about acting on that faith when we see a need.  It is about rising to supply that need if it is in our power.  I have seen a church in action that lived The Word as close as any church I have ever seen.  It is in Durant, Oklahoma a town of about 15,000 people.  Victory Life had an attendance of just over a thousand.   Their food bank fed almost 8,000 people a month when I last attended there before I had to quit trucking.  They also had a free tape ministry that gave away free tapes all over the country.  I used to haul boxes of them up to New England and other places.  The labeling and boxing of the tapes was all done by volunteers in the church.  The pastor’s goal was to give away a million tapes a year.  It was a fantastic church and the few times I have asked for tapes since I quit trucking they have been there for me.  It was one of those few churches where people invited me out to dinner or offered me a place to stay.

        There are churches walking the Christian walk.  They are the exception not the rule though.  The secret is that any church can choose to be a Bible and Christ centered church.  It is not about the length of the sermons.  It is about the hearts of the people.  One church I attended had a lady who said she was going to quit when we got a new pastor because he went over on his sermons sometimes.  It messed with her preset oven program.  In almost seventy years of life I have seen many churches, split, wither and die.  We are living in a nation that is following suite because we are not living what we profess.  There is almost a hatred of the poor among many of the wealthy in America today.  Their attitude is as if the poor are parasites who might want to take some of their blessing away from them.  They are forgetting where it came from.

       One pastor I like has a habit of saying.  “If the Lord knows he can get it from you.  He will get it to you.” In other words God blesses those who share their blessings.  The attitude of the wealthy is part of what is dragging America down. They would rather take America’s jobs overseas so they can get more and let the poor whose job they took fend for themselves.

       When I was trucking I used to see people all the time sitting on their bags in a truck stop.  My habit was to invite them to eat with me and let them know up front I was paying.  At least I would be able to feel the person out and know if I needed to help them.  If they needed help I gave them more than enough to pay for the meal and told them to pay the bill and keep the change.  It was not much but it was better than nothing.  At least I knew they were not going to be hungry for a while.

     The last ten years since my heart attack I have had a wood shop in the town where I live.  I would go to a local Amish auction and buy broken or cheap furniture and fix it and sell it cheaper than they would be able to buy it most places.  It is sure to have helped some people.  Recently I sold the building though and need to find a new way to help others.  I met a pastor in New Jersey who used to fix up used cars and plate and insure them and provide them to missionaries to use while they were back home in the states for a visit.  There are many ways we can help others.  Sometimes it just takes opening our eyes and looking around us.  People can reach out to the single mother with a couple of kids.  Why not give her a break to go shopping or do something she needs to do by volunteering to help with her kids.  Little things that cost nothing but your time and can help a bunch

        Sometimes just letting a person know you care and are willing to listen and not share their problems with the world allows them to vent.   That can really lift a person’s spirit.  Especially when they think there is no one who cares.  I have had people tell me they were not going to let me buy them a meal so I could feel good about myself.  That was fine and I honored their wishes, but they can’t stop me from praying that someone is able to touch their life in a good way.

       I have no delusions that I am an awesome Christian.  My wife can get rid of that thought in a couple of minutes.  She knows all my short comings.  She also knows I am trying to be a better person than I used to be.  I have made progress over the years, but it is a never ending challenge to grow and to be better.  We all can be if we just put our hearts and minds to it.

        Next Sunday take the time to get to know one of your church brothers or sisters.  In fact get to know your extended family and maybe take time to meet your neighbors.   That is an area I could use some practice in.  This sounds strange but I live on a road where seven out of twelve of us are truckers, or were.  I met most of my neighbors out on the road in another state from where we live, simply by striking up a conversation or talking on the CB radio.  Something I failed to do at home and having lived next to them for years.  So yes even I need practice at what I am preaching.  Oh yeah and a couple of my neighbors are preachers.  We have talked but I have not been invited to their churches.  Not lately anyhow.  I have attended their churches at least once to show I respect what they do.

       We may be singing out of the same hymnal, but we are not singing together. If we are going to fix America and get it back to where it used to be as a nation that has to change.  As an asocial person that puts the burden of changing on me. It is a step I am willing to try and take.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hope in the Face of Mayhem

                                     Hope Springs Eternal

     It is amazing to me that hope can spring forth from tragedy.  The recent shootings in Charleston, SC made me more aware than ever that hope does in fact spring eternal. It will defeat darkness in the end. The forgiveness offered by the victims and the coming together to remove the symbol of hate shows the power of good over evil. Jesus himself said in the end time it would be as “in the days of Noah.” If you take the time to read the 6th Chapter of Genesis it is a perfect description of the times we are living in today, just as Jesus warned us it would be.

   We all have unforgettable memories in our lives. The Kennedy assassinations, the Martin Luther King assassination, 9/11 and a couple of personal events have imbedded in my mind the fact that evil exists.  However, the events in Charleston made me realize that sometimes goodness can and will in fact defeat evil.

   The recent act of domestic terrorism that happened in Tennessee is definitely nothing new to America. In the course of my life there has been plenty of that.. Murder and mayhem are nothing new. Over 15,000 people are killed every year in America, 11,000 of them by gun violence.  That is equivalent to a small city every year. The media try to slant one event as more important than another. The only change is we now have people encouraged by outside sources to commit acts of terror. Sometimes people are even convinced to kill themselves in the name of religion. The Jim Jones massacre is a classic example.  Evil comes in many forms.  Serial killers take many lives.  It is America’s own unique contribution to evil, though I am sure it happens elsewhere also.

   Many people point to same sex marriage and homosexuality as the signs of our moral decay and weakness in America, but to me the Bible has several other things that God hates far worse than gays.  When God lists the seven evils he hates, gays and adultery don’t even make the list. In fact three out of the seven deal with issues of the tongue.  Reading Proverbs 6:16-20 is enlightening.  Obedience to our parents can keep us from evil.  That point is reinforced in Joshua 1:8. It makes clear that success and prosperity in life are dependent on knowing God and obeying His Word.

   Another place in the Bible it describes who will be punished in the “Day of the Lord’s sacrifice.”  It says all those who wear strange apparel will be judged. Great now what we wear can get us killed.  The question is what is strange apparel?  The only basis I know to figure that out is to look at the clothes they wore in Biblical times. If that is the standard most of mankind is doomed.  I pondered over this for years.  Then when reading a parable by Jesus in Matthew 22 the light came on for me.  The people bidden to the feast did not come and they were killed.  Then the king sent his servants to gather new guests off the street and bring them to the wedding. They bought both good and bad, that was the key that unlocked it to me. They were all brought off the street.  None had time to change into special apparel.  So what did the king see that upset him?.  The verse states that when the King showed up one of the guests was not wearing a wedding garment. That guest was cast into outer darkness. 

     I always thought that was unfair and then I figured out in my own mind what the wedding attire was.  The first people who did not come were the Jews.  The second group was those who followed and believed on Jesus. Their attire was washed in the blood of the lamb.  To me that meant baptism.  The reason I believe that is because he was cast into the outer darkness, which is hell.

   Later after much reading I found another verse in Revelation 11:18 that said the time of judgment of the nations had come. The last sentence kind of stunned me. It placed judgment on and destroyed those who had destroyed the earth. In this day of global warming it is easy to blame it on mankind.  When I read that verse as a semi-environmentalist I had to wonder if it meant all the roads, cities, canals and changes mankind has made to alter the earth to his needs.  The dams, the stripping of the forests from the land, the oil pollution, nuclear pollution, and oceans stripped of the fish and polluted with trash.

     Having found the solution to one threat of destruction in a parable I took another look at the parables in the Bible and came to the parable of the talents. The issue in that parable was stewardship of what the servant had been given. The final one was a bad steward and was cast into outer darkness.  It made it pretty clear to me that we are responsible to properly use what we are blessed with.

     If we want to keep digging we will find that getting tattoos is not permitted and puncturing our body to wear jewelry is not allowed.  Even trimming our beard is a sin.  How much greater is the sin of not even having a beard. We can get as far out there as we choose to do, but really it is pretty simple.  Micah 6:8 lays out the whole duty of man.  I am sure there were gays and every other form of  degenerate behavior at the time of Christ, but he did not rail on them.

   In James 1:27 it makes pretty clear what God does expect of us,’ Pure religion and undefiled before God  and the Father is this. “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”  That sounds pretty simple really.  The only problem is that we have fallen so far away from God many do not know what it means to be undefiled.  We have reached a point where if anything feels good we feel entitled to do it.  However many of the things that feel good in the moment, will destroy us and our lives in the end.

    Simply reading the first and second chapters of Romans makes it pretty clear what is wrong with the world today.  It says God will eventually give man over to evil choices and they will come into judgment for their actions.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see that we have reached that point.  A person who does not wish to be judged has only one option and that is to live a good life and pray God delivers us from the evil around us.

      God does not hide what is right and wrong from us.  Anyone who will take the time to read the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy can clearly see what God says he will do for those who follow him and those who don’t. While America may have been on the Blessing side of the page at one point, it is easy and clear to see that we have slid to the cursed side.  The sad part is that judgment is just around the corner and most do not realize it.

     Most of those living lives of corruption admit they are living wrong, but choose to continue doing so.  I have not pity on those people while I do pray for them. The ones I do have pity on and feel for are the children who will be swept up in it all. When a tsunami hits, or a Katrina,  or even a 9/11 situation children are swept up in the destruction,  but it is often because of the bad choices of their elders.  My heart goes out to them and my prayers that God will spare them.  God will do what is just and what is right, regardless of how we see it.  What befalls most of us is by the decisions and choices we make in life.

    My only purpose and hope in writing this is that someone who does not know what they are doing, or someone who does, will open their eyes and see they have the opportunity to make the choice that can change their life. It is solely up to each of us to do so.

     So what makes me think we are near the end?  In Luke 24 Jesus is laying out what will happen after he is gone. In verse 6 he says they will hear of this and that, yet when you get down to verse 33 he changes from hearing to seeing.  I do not think it was a grammatical error.  It was an intentional change that could clearly be seen by those willing to look.  Are you looking up.