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TV people and news personalities have never ending commentary about racism but it is unknown in my church and in my daily world. Of course my world is small. I probably speak to no more than 100 discrete individuals a year and writers spend most of their hours alone with their computers. So when this happened last summer it was a jolt.
My very good friend Pat from Texas came to visit with 3 of her four children. She had married a black man and raised her children entirely in private schools and colleges. The two girls were in their their 20’s and the 2 boys in their early teens. My goal was to get the boys to apply for a job at the white water rafting companies we have up here in the mountains.
That Sunday night we went to a small restaurant. At a table nearby sat an elderly couple in their 60’s eating dinner silently, but the woman, who was well dressed and carefully made up, kept staring at us with something of a smug smile on her face. I was uncomfortable. So was Pat’s 24-year-old daughter Molly, who made a remark that she was used to “this stuff.”
After working at a male juvenile prison I’ve noticed that boys react to events much differently from girls. They will be angry or disgusted, while girls are more often angry and sad. The boys had this “same ole, same ole” look on their faces. As a white woman I’ve been given racist treatment but I try to ignore it; after all, I can always buy the item somewhere else.
The woman’s staring continued through most of the meal. I was upset because these were my treasured guests. Finally the couple finished their meal but as they got up we noticed something unusual – the wife didn’t seem to react to her husband or to anyone else. She stared into the distance as before, smiling but almost dead-eyed.
I wondered, is she possibly blind? Her husband guided her to the cashier like a grocery cart, and then it became obvious to us all that she either had Alzheimer’s or was partly demented. At no time did she speak to anyone.
Then we all looked very sheepishly at each other! Here we had jumped to the conclusion that we were victims of racism. How quick we were to react when we did not have all the facts.
Maybe this is happening in the wider world too. Maybe it makes headlines and good photo ops to call it racism when it is something else. After all, a crime in a store can be simply a crime, not about the race and who is the criminal? It is far too easy to say people are criminals because of race or lack of income and education, but a large number of Islamic terrorists were well off financially and well educated. It is a foolish business to ascribe motives when we don’t really know what they are. The woman’s blank, sickly sweet smile looked like contempt. In actual fact her mind was far, far away from us and that restaurant.
The media has used our ignorance and our rush to judgment to stir up antagonism in our society. While we cannot know everyone’s motive we can turn off the TV news and discipline those who pander to public emotion. It’s not much but it is a start.
Poor ‘ole God gets blamed for so very many things He had nothing to do with. His plan for Man is that we live in our own way, our government, our decisions, and our culture. Those 70 years give us enough time to make up our minds to follow God’s principles or not. The results become ours. And because He does not interrupt our lives, our nations, our wars, unless we make a federal case out of it, we blame Him.
Not so fast. We can’t live in free will at one point and then insist that God step in. We can’t have it both ways. What God does is to listen to our honest prayers and then provide an impact on life wherever we have made ourselves available to His will. The result is that God is able to make something good come out of evil. He always does.
I would have preferred to have never lived through the 2nd World War. Millions of souls were lost, not to mention the awful loss of property, animals, destruction of families, and refugees. But God was able to make something good out of it all. He had promised the Jews (@ 2,000 B.C.E.) that He would restore their homeland (Isaiah 11:11) at some point in history. That war, and the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, sufficiently embarrassed the European nations to arrange for the Israelis to return. They’ve had a hard time keeping the peace but they are still holding on to their land.
No one was happy about the Korean War, cutely referred to as a “police action,” but the long range results were that South Korea is the strongest Christian nation in the Pacific Rim and the major missionary nation to the orient. South Korea is wildly prosperous, educated, westernized and hope-filled and when it is forced to revive North Korea, a nation that knows no equal for evil and loss, the nation will have the wherewithal to do it.
President George Bush gets a pile of grief for going into Iraq, but it is a strong and prosperous nation and will get on its feet as soon as ISIS is eliminated. They have money in the bank! We have the same hope for the Kurds in the North who have been treated badly for generations and yet are the best hope for any group stuck in a Muslim enclave of nations.
God’s plan for earth is that all men should be saved. That they are not is not God’s fault. God has set up a system of salvation hat man must follow, but in actual practice it is not all that hard. One single man thousands of years ago got it into his head that God was a personality who actually made the universe and everything in it. God was so impressed He visited him personally (Genesis 14) and the family of Israel, and God’s precious people began there. So if you, or some unsaved friend believe God is the creator, you are half way there.
God usually takes bad situations and bails them out. I was nearly killed as a child, removed from the home and sent to a private school. I received a scholarship to an Ivy League College and my life changed permanently and forever. I suspect nothing like this could have happened otherwise. God can take anything and reform it. And it all happened without me being any the wiser for the events that brought this on.
This isn’t Pollyanna stuff. We are not trying to make silk purses out of sows’ ears. But we must not assume that God is a “deist” off somewhere ignoring man and his systems. Nor is He under any compulsion to inform us ahead of time. He has a whole set of plans for you, me and our universe of which we as yet have not one hint.
A pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze.
I’m dancing around a problem these days. I have an acquaintance who is headed for hell. Furthermore he is ill and I suspect he doesn’t have that much time left. His background is completely non-Christian. His father was a Unitarian minister, the parents divorced and he attended Berkeley in California in the 1960s. He knocked around the world playing in bands, and he believes that as a Flower Child all will be rosy and happy when he dies.
He knows I wrote a book and I said I would print out a chapter for him because it is not yet ready for the presses. He asked for something on philosophy or psychology. He was not all that interested in religion or information about God.
So consider this portion of a verse. Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.
This man is not evil. He doesn’t rape, steal or murder at will. He does not beat up small children or march with rioters in the streets. He just has no place for God in his mind or his life. Yet he thinks that because he has committed no great sin heaven will be open to him where he can live a life of love, joy and peace with all his old buddies, playing the guitar and singing on the beach by a nice campfire. Something like that.
But the hard truth is that heaven is God’s hometown. If you end up there it is because God wants you and you want Him. You just don’t slip in unnoticed because you haven’t bombed a church somewhere or set fire to your neighbor’s laundry. Heaven, and by extension hell, is serious business.
Hell is not all torment, screaming, and flames. Parts of hell are in complete isolation where there is barely a scrap of light and not another single person, a place of total loneliness. If you want to hear something you’ll have to do your own screaming. There may not even be a single demon to contend with. Other parts are wastelands, like the burned out cities with sticks and rocks left from a firestorm. Or complete quiet. Or unremitting noise.
But most of all the decision about where you go after you die is not in your hands. You only have free will on this side of the grave. If you made the wrong choice here, it is too late after you die to change your mind. Everyone has everlasting existence; not everyone has everlasting life. The difference is in the decision we make for God now.
Free will lulls us to sleep, makes us comfortable in this life, allowing us to enjoy an uneasy peace. You may be saying to yourself, “Oh I’ll get saved before I die. NO problem. I just want to have some fun first.” But the truth about life is that it often ends without warning, not on your schedule but someone else’s.
Three thousand people entered the two towers in New York City for a normal work day on September 11, 2001 and nearly that many died before noon. The calming notion that you have any time left for decision making is a cruel ruse. Put God back in your mind, and back into your life while you still have a chance.
You have friends – I have friends who honestly believe that because they are of the generation of flower children and embrace love, joy and peace that they are headed off to heaven when they die. I puzzled about this because I noticed that no matter how cogent my arguments, how based in solid Biblical theology and the experience of the ages, they didn’t budge an inch.
I agonized about how to approach one such psychology graduate of Berkeley in the 60s, and then it hit me. This man believes, he really believes that after dies he will have free choice. He can choose his own heaven, he can choose to play rock music with his buddies in a comfy place surrounded by always blooming hydrangeas, rose bushes without thorns and cooling streams – a dream straight out of the Sierra Club brochure.
But – there’s always a but. The whole purpose of free will in this life is to prepare for the next. Free will is not needed in heaven because the essential decision was previously made. Of course we expect God will allow us to choose what to enjoy in heaven. I want to hit the books and talk to the authors from the ante-Nicene era. Hey – to each his own. You may want to talk to your ancestors from Europe, or Peru. You may choose to spend time with the animals or learn what happened to the lost colony at Jamestown.
But if you are in hell, choice is gone. On the contrary, God has many versions of hell from fiery flames to total isolation and blackness, without sound, without access to a single human voice. Your choice? No more.
No I’ve not spent any time on the other side but there are dozens of people who have gone and come back both to heaven and hell. Their stories are in books and online.
Make your choices here and live. God says always. “I put before you life and death. Choose life.”
Isn’t that neat. He gives you the question and then the right answer.
Several years ago a driver took me to a medical appointment deep into Dallas so we had a chance to chat. I always ask men how they like their job, knowing they’ll always respond, This fellow in his early 50s said he liked it now but he had spent years in half-hearted jobs where he never really finished anything.
I piped up. “You know I read somewhere about this. Were you criticized and abused early on like when you were 12?”
“Yes,” he answered quite surprised at my response. “I remember nothing but as a kid.”
“Here is what I learned,” I said. “People who are blamed for bad workmanship or inadequacies don’t want to finish a project so they don’t have to face the verbal abuse. I had that problem myself.”
Of course there are really lazy people too, those who don’t like the job they are doing, or perhaps have no aptitude for it. But if we kill motivation in people they won’t want to do well. That is why bad managers and bosses must pay higher wages to their employees. I wonder how much of the striking and negotiation for wage hikes is nothing more than hating the job?
The Bible has something to say about laziness, here called sloth,
I’ll be honest. I used to think you were a bimbo. I used to think you flaunted your big boobs, teased hair, tiny waist, and your syrupy-sweet southern accent just to sell yourself and your brand as a country singer. Granted, I was raised in the Midwest and lived as an adult for many years in the Northeast. I didn’t get you, much less the South.
For example, I’d heard about your origins as a poor girl from the hills of East Tennessee, and when I learned you’d created a theme park in your native Sevier County I rolled my eyes. “Really, a theme park?” I thought. “As if rollercoasters will really help the people of rural Appalachia. Why not create something truly useful to give back to your community, like a library.”
You have created a library, actually, and possibly in a bigger and more…
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One of the ways we know the Bible is being misinterpreted is when the theologians (and others) blame God for what is going on, or in the case of poor Cain and Abel, insist that one is saved by “good works” or simply, saved by works, period. St. Paul spent a good deal of time on this topic, even going so far as to say that those who return to a works-salvation are placing themselves under a curse. (Galatians 3:10-13)
The story of these two brothers comes early in Genesis because the rest of history will be about wars between brothers, and then non-brothers and on and on. God expects from all of us a portion of our “increase” that is the Biblical word, to honor Him as the generous God making all of life possible and profitable. Abel brought a present from his flock, but Cain was a farmer and brought some grain. (Genesis 4:1-16)
The redactors have us believe that it was all because God expected a blood sacrifice not a loaf of bread. But that does not match the holy book. God has instructed us to bring of our first fruits. Apparently Cain has no animal stock. and as a farmer and brought the best of that. There is no record that God condemned the offering from the field. In fact later on we read of a bread offering under the Law.
And he was rejected. No, God is not pulling a fast one here. He has not indicated that some form of gift is preferable to another. I would remind those of you reading this now that you may be an artist, or a housewife, or a parent, or an office worker. What you bring to the Lord’s table is the best job that you can do for your employer and for yourself Can you say to God – this is the very best that I can do? I sometimes wonder about people whose only gift to the church is some old clothes for the poor. Gee thanks.
The Bible says the poor need money not clothing, But that is for another day.
Genesis is full of tests. First Adam and Eve get sidetracked. Now these two brothers have a test. Will Abel gloat over his brother and say, “Nah Nah” God accepted my gift and not yours? Will Cain realize that his reaction to being rejected is on trial here?
I’ve had many successes in life but I learned lots more from my failures. I’ve been severely rejected a dozen times, all very painful and sometimes very costly. I’ve been lied about and slandered. One man even traveled to the West Coast to assure someone that I was a liar because the donor had $38000 for him. God remembers this by the way. He will repay.
But back to Cain. Here is his chance to examine what happened. He muses, “Did I do something wrong, or did I just not check thoroughly on what God wanted? Is this a test of my believing God?”
Look around you. Is not a lot of politics “murdering” another – their reputation, their home, their finances – in order to win public applause and recognition? Dan Rather allowed bitterness lead him into revenge which backfired and he was forced to retire.
The Bible says Cain failed this test. Instead of realizing this was his test, he believed it was a competition with Abel. No, God does not set up competitions between his people. We compete against ourselves. Paul speaks of going for a prize, but not against another person, but against his own call from God. Cain looked at his situation in envy and bitterness. The Bible says we are not to allow a root of bitterness, revenge and blame to arise among us. (Hebrews 12:15) But this happened and he murdered his brother.
He failed the Reaction Test. His lesson can be ours. We look at the Bible and think all our tests are what we do or fail to do – our actions. But God wants our reactions to be holy as well. What is yours?