In the Company of Men

Today I got together with a group of men from my church. We met for coffee. There was no agenda. There was no devotional. Unless it happened before I got there, there wasn’t even any prayer. It was just what I needed. We shared everyday problems and kicked around solutions, some helpful, some just silly.

In recent weeks my church participation has fallen off. Our “small group” stopped meeting before the holidays and has not started up again. I have lots of tough issues to deal with in my life, like everyone. It’s easy to begin to feel alone. It was great to spend some time with other men to relax and just to be in their company. Men don’t get together like they used to. There use to be male social clubs and lunch groups, hunting trips and sports road trips. Such gatherings have gone out of style and have even a hint of political incorrectness. I think it’s more than a societal change. I think it’s a spiritual attack.  We now speak of a man “cave” a place we can go to be alone and uninvolved.

Years ago the church  I attended had a wonderful annual men’s retreat. It was a “silent” retreat. One year we invited the women because we had a special speaker they were interested in. That was the end of the silence and, in fact, the end of the retreats.

In the latest issue of Covenant Spotlight, there is an interesting article by Vicky Branton. In part it reads:

“For too long we have spoken ill of the men in our lives, either to their faces or behind their backs. We have cursed them, demeaned them, contradicted them, humiliated them and emasculated them so much that we have lost a great number of gentlemen to the ways of the world. It has become so commonplace that we no longer notice the slander.

As women we have given into manipulation and lust for independence to the point that we deserve the female domination (and subsequent lack of male leadership) so often found in prayer groups, volunteer committees and social outings. That’s not to say that the men who are in the church are ineffective; I know some powerful men of God but there are just too few. ”

We may have once had a male dominated society and even a male dominated church. Not so any more. I am not saying that we need to send women back to the kitchen.  I am saying that being a man is something special; as special as being a woman. We have mutual interests which we should be allowed to share. We have perspective, experience and God-given attributes that are needed for balance. I think our presence and leadership is missed in family, church and society. Maybe it’s time to do something about that.

Things I Can’t Handle

I am concerned that too many of us are getting our theology from Facebook. It’s not the same as going to the original words of Scripture. For example, I am told that God will never give me more than I can handle. That’s just so wrong. God sends me lots of stuff I can’t handle. It’s not, I’m sure, that I’m a bad guy or that God doesn’t love me.

God allows bad stuff to afflict all those He loves. The goal is not that we be independent, but that we be God dependent. We were not created to handle stuff. We were created to rely on God. I am convinced that’s why it’s so tough for rich guys to make it. It’s why Donald Trump has never seen the need to seek forgiveness. He thinks he has enough money to handle anything. If, God forbid, he becomes president it might be fun to watch him try to handle a country buried in debt.

I face things every day that I can’t handle on my own. I marvel at those who think they are “handling” things on their own. If you are in doubt spend some time in the pages of the “Old” testament. Watch as Israel, God’s favored people, repeatedly try to “handle” things on their own. See them beg for a King. Watch them build idols and then try to worship them. Join them as they go into exile in Babylon. How’s that “handling things on your own” working out for you?

Maybe we should limit Facebook to recipes, videos of cats and political frustration and trust the Word for the Word.

Meaning in Life

I love Dr. Ravi Zaharias. He is one of the finest apologists for the Christian faith. He can be a bit difficult to follow because of his accent and because he’s just so darn smart. When his teachings are broken down they are powerful. For example. he teaches that for meaning in life, We need:
  • Wonder
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Security
The wisdom of this teaching is obvious when we consider what happens if focus is on less than all four of these aspects.
Wonder – It’s truly sad to see someone who no longer wonders at God’s creation. Having grand kids and great grands, helps us to appreciate the wonder of creation. Not only are these young creatures wonderful, but it’s inspiring to see them discover and appreciate the wonder of our world. The can spend what seems like hours amazed by their toes or a simple object.
Consider, however, the danger of being blessed with only a sense of wonder. Such  folks seem happy but wander around in wonder, accomplishing nothing. Their wonder is not grounded in the truth of who created it, the love that made it possible, and the security that makes it eternal.
Truth – These days folks seem to celebrate personal or subjective truth. That seems great but it’s fake. There is absolute truth. What good is wonder if we don’t appreciate it’s source? What good is love if it doesn’t mirror the perfect unselfish love of the creator. What protection is security, if it isn’t real or eternal.
On the other hand, we all know those who are all about truth, but they don’t understand wonder,  or love or security. They are judges without grace. They will pound others with truth even when it’s not necessary or helpful.
Love – The day after Valentine’s Day it seems it’s all about love. Look on Facebook and see how folks love their spouses, kids, and dogs. If you look at all their postings, you may quickly discover they don’t love those with views other than their own, or different colored skin, or the lost.
What good is loving, if we aren’t willing to share the truth. How narrow is love; if a sense of wonder doesn’t give us reason to love all of creation? How fleeting is love, if we don’t experience it securely and eternally?
Security – There are those who have spent their lives storing up things, trying to achieve security. Real security is in knowing and trusting the Creator. How empty is security that ends at death? How worthless is security that only loves self? How foolish is security that isn’t based on the truth of the divine, made alive in us by faith in Christ?
Wonder, truth, love and security. All elements are found in just one place: in Christ. Can man live without God? He can exist; he just can’t really live.

Nonpolitical

I am sitting in front of my television mourning the passing of Judge Scalia. I didn’t know him of course, but know he was a strong advocate of strict construction of the constitution and matched many of my views on political matters. I also mourn knowing that his death almost certainly will lead to a left shift of our Supreme Court. I think that would be bad. I know some think this is great and are partying over his death. That sure doesn’t seem right. (See what I did there? Right and right?) I am, however, not in a state of panic nor do I plan to lose much sleep over this.

I have no control over the makeup of the Supreme Court. It’s because I have over who is President of the United States. I watch the campaign with great interest but I can’t afford to waste much time or energy on it. Presidential elections decided on electoral votes state-by-state. I live in Louisiana. My state is not going to vote to choose a Hillary Clinton or a Bernie Sanders. I’m happy about that but my vote isn’t going to make any difference. There are plenty of states that won’t choose any Republican, even Donald Trump if he were really a Republican. The decision will be made by a handful of states that could go either way. These states are in the middle. In other words, they have no passion for the left or the right. I don’t know whether I should admire or hate them. Understand, I will vote. I fought for the right to do so and I will. I am just not going to fool myself into thinking I have any real control on this issue. If I wanted to make a difference I would have to move to Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida, the swing states. I have lived in Florida and all I got out of that was life as a Gator fan. Nobody in those states knows how to make a roux, so that ain’t happening.

Frankly I don’t think it’s going to make much difference who wins. I have read the book and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Bernie or Hillary or Donald as President should move us pretty quickly to  worse. Changing the government isn’t going to do much if there isn’t a massive change of hearts.

It seems everyone is looking to the government to make things right. My Christians friends on the left (Yes. I have some.) want to make sure that the government provides the means for mothers to kill their unborn children, and make sure everyone has healthcare, food, education, housing and smart phones. They believe the constitution guarantees such things. That footnote to the original document must have gotten smudged out over the years. My friends on the right think my friends on the left want to make America Godless. They forget that’s up to God not government, and that it’s pretty godless already. That’s “godless” in the sense that we don’t acknowledge Him. Believe it He’s still there and pretty soon we will all know it.

My right-wing Christian friends want to make sure the government permits them to make as much money as possible, doesn’t interfere with their right to have loaded gun cabinets, doesn’t give what they have earned to others, and makes sure that all sins, that they don’t struggle with, are punishable crimes. My friends on the left think my friends on the right want a theocracy. They don’t understand that “theocracy” has nothing to do with following Jesus. Anyway those on the right really don’t want a theocracy because some of their favorite sins might get outlawed. The only real theocracies are in the middle east and Allah isn’t really God so that doesn’t count. There I go being politically incorrect again.

Both sides think these contradictory rights are “god-given” but that somehow the government is necessary to insure and protect them. Seems like God could do that.

Consider if we would take all the time, energy and money being burned on politics and redirect it to matters that have eternal significance. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important that we elect the best possible person as President. Looking at the candidates from both parties I can say with confidence that’s not going to happen. Further,  individually our impact on that decision is minor. There are many things which each of us can make better. So I intend to devote myself to things through which I can really make a difference.

I will pray for my country and my world. I don’t have much power but I know someone who does.

I will tell others about that someone and highly recommend Him.

I will thank God for everything that I have, material and otherwise. I will acknowledge that I have these things because of His grace and not that I have a right to it.

I will try to remember we are all sinners, right and left and especially those in the middle. I will try to pray for all instead of hating them for sinning differently than I do.

I will try to do those things that it seems to me are “right and proper” for a Christ follower to do: like loving and caring for others, protecting the widow and orphan, keeping my eyes on Jesus as the model for my life. If more of us did that, maybe we wouldn’t be so political, but then what would we do every four years for entertainment.

 

Doubt and Fear

I am very proud of my family. It’s  full of some great folks. I am particularly proud of one of my nieces. She is an impressive young lady Christian. I was particularly impressed by a Facebook post of hers this week. She said, in part: “I do have moments of Doubt. Fear. Questions . And I’m so thankful to have wise friends that have helped get my thoughts back on the right track and lead me to God’s word. ” She went on to say, “The Lord spoke to me the other day saying ‘You of little faith… You may not see what I am doing now, but you will understand later. Just rest and be strong in my grace. ‘ “

Shari has done what, I believe, many more of us who call ourselves Followers of Christ, need to do. We need to be courageous enough to admit that we have doubts, fears and questions. We need to be brave enough to answer the “How are you?” inquiries honestly. We need to be real. We need to stop believing that an admission of weakness or vulnerability is a disclaimer of our faith and trust in Jesus.

Our current “I’m blessed” response to every inquiry is not always credible or helpful. The effect is that , particularly the young, can conclude that they are not Christians because they struggle with doubt, fear and questions. Let me be personal and clear. I have  doubt and fear. I have frequent questions. I haven’t been willing to admit that often enough. My decades long walk with Jesus hasn’t been straight up hill or stumble free. My anchor is that I can look back on decades of struggle and see the presence of Jesus all along the way.  I can see situations which were terrible then, but in the context of passing time, were for my good.

Those of us who have longer walks with Christ have a responsibility to share the truth of the walk. It’s a cross carrying, doubt battling, day by day struggle. We need to share the miracles we have seen, buy also the valleys we have travelled.

If a twenty-something can do it, us sixty-somethings can as well. Thanks Shari.

Lightening Strikes Twice

I saw a fascinating video today. The scene is a dark street. A couple passes by and shortly after a lone figure appears in apparent pursuit. The figure is struck by lightning and falls to the ground. He stays down for a few moments and then gets up and starts after the couple. He is struck again by lightning and this time says down. There is a note on the video that at the hospital the lightning “victim” admitted that he intended to rob the couple he was following.  I have seen some posts which assert that the video is fake. It still got me thinking.

How often does God send “lightning” into our lives, often more than once, to deter us from a self-destructive path? He obviously doesn’t intervene in every case. In fact, His interventions are rare. In a world, He created with free will, how significant is it when He intervenes to stop us from making, or continuing to make, mistakes. I believe He does this most often for those whose life mission is critical. He has called us to special work, yet we become distracted and drift. We often need a lightning bolt to set us back on tract.

Sometimes the bolt just distracts us and allows us to reconsider what we are up to. Other times we are temporarily laid up, maybe multiple times, before we come to our senses. God may be trying to protect those who would be injured by our misdirection. He may be also concerned about those who won’t be helped because we aren’t doing what we should be.

When lightning strikes, don’t blame circumstances or the weather. Consider that God may be trying to get our attention. Our drift may have become too dramatic. Our steps too far from the path He has called us to. We have important things to do and can’t be deterred by the petty distractions of life. God has a plan and we are his chosen instruments.

Not

I saw a fascinating video on Facebook today. Someone had placed a blackboard and chalk on a street in New York City. At the top they wrote: What do you regret? At the end of the day there was a commonality to the many regrets written on the board: the word, “Not.” It was much rarer to have a regret for something done, than for all the things left undone.

There is something sad about “not” doing something. It is likely the great mystery of wondering what might have been. For the things we’ve done, even the stupid things, at least we know how they turned out. Perhaps we learned how to do things better the next time. We know that we tried. For the things we never do, we don’t have that.  We give up that when we don’t do something.

“Not” is the product of fear. We don’t do because we are afraid.  Our current situation, no matter how dreadful, is at least known. We are somehow convinced that whatever else is out there has to be worse. I was in the Navy for eleven years. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great. There was a guaranteed paycheck every month, although not a big one. With each passing year there was the increased promise of an early retirement. Thankful my wife and I took the leap and left all that for the unsure future of law school.

What is your big “not”? Why not do it before the chance is lost and it becomes a regret?

 

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras caught me by surprise again this year. I realized it was upon us  when  the UL Basketball game was rescheduled to avoid conflict with Mardi Gras. Heaven forbid we have Mardi Gras conflicts.

I don’t do Mardi Gras. The reasons are many.

I don’t drink. My wife suffered through an alcoholic father and to honor her and to avoid bringing up painful memories, I don’t drink for Mardi Gras or anything else. I don’t find it fun anyway. From what I can see of Mardi Gras, drinking is a key part. I wonder if people would dress up like they do or act like they do during carnival if they were sober or if they could see what they look like to sober people.

I don’t dance. I never have. Seems dancing is an important part of the whole thing. Of course, many of those I see “dancing” can’t dance either, but don’t seem sober enough to realize it or care.

I’m not a Catholic. In case you don’t know, Mardi Gras is supposed to be an opportunity to let it all hang out before the austere days of lent. Funny thing is I see a lot more folks taking part in Mardi Gras than “get ashes” or observe lent in any real way.

I can’t afford to be in a Krewe or ride on a float. It’s amazing how much people pay for bags of plastic beads or for the privilege of riding on a float with a bunch of drunks. No wonder we don’t have anyone sane running of president. We wouldn’t know sanity if we saw it or were sober enough to see it.

I don’t see the value of plastic beads. I understand I don’t have to ride on a float or throw beads to take part. I could stand on the side and yell “Throw me something mister.” I never understood begging as a fun thing. I could bare my chest to get beads but that doesn’t seem appropriate or likely to be very successful in my case.

I understand that some folks celebrate Mardi Gras without drink and with minimum embarrassment. It’s just not for me. I don’t want my kids, grand kids or great grand kids seeing me doing the things that Mardi Gras folks do. I have limited opportunity to influence them and I prefer any influence to be positive. I guess that makes me a stick in the mud. So be it. I hope I have not diminished your enjoyment of carnival. No I’m lying. I hope I did. That’s just how us sticks in the mud are. Looking forward to seeing you in ashes on a Wednesday real soon.