Sparks

Like sparks drifting upward on eddies of heat

Nighttime specters of limited warmth

Joy to the eye and quickly forgotten

Is that all we are?

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“On Being Tolerant”

tolerance     My friend Ken and I have been talking about “Tolerance”. He believes that religious tolerance will smooth the way towards a one world religion. Maybe so; it could be he’s on to something there.

You have to admit, “Tolerance” is currently being trumpeted as a virtue in our society. On the other hand “Intolerance” is abhorred as evil. Of course, tolerance in itself is amoral; it is neither good nor bad. To tolerate something simply means to put up with it. Tolerance, like running, is neither good nor bad; it’s the context that turns it into something with moral significance. If a policeman chases a burglar on foot, and the burglar runs away to escape arrest, the same amoral act of running suddenly takes on a moral aspect. The running done by the officer was morally good and the running of the thief was morally evil and a felony. For Christians, we are to be tolerant (bear with) the weaknesses of others (Ephesians 4:2). We are also to be intolerant of evil and evildoers (Revelations 2:2,20).

So the next time someone accuses you of being “intolerant”, as if that was a bad thing, and assumes the moral high ground of “tolerance”, as if that was a good thing, ask a few simple clarifying questions. Ask them, “If I am intolerant, What exactly am I supposed to tolerate?” If you hear a generic answer such as, “You should be tolerant of homosexuals, or Muslims, or gun ownership.” Just keep asking the clarifying questions such as “What is it about Muslims that you want me to tolerate?” If the answer you receive is anything generic such as “You should tolerate them as a religion”, then keep asking the clarifying questions. Ask questions such as, “What exactly is it that you want me to tolerate about Islaam?” This questioning may also morph into asking about their own tolerance or intolerance. “Do you support the mandatory wearing of the burkah for all women, would you tolerate the “honor killing” of women accused of adultery, are you tolerant of sharia law having equal or higher authority as civil law and should you be tried by Islaamic courts?”

Don’t be intimidated by the fuzzy thinking of others. The question is not “Are you tolerant or intolerant?”  Everyone tolerates some things and no one tolerates everything. I would be surprised if Christians carrying a banner with …

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions … men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” Romans 1:21-28

… emblazoned on it, would be “tolerated” at a gay pride parade. You just have to know, from a biblical perspective, what you should tolerate and what you shouldn’t tolerate. Don’t let anyone accuse you of being intolerant as if that’s bad. Everyone is intolerant; just not of the same things.

 

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If this doesn’t make you furious, I don’t know what will!

“God And The Way of Our Day”

A few years ago, (30 maybe?), I read this statement, “The Word of God sits in judgment upon every culture.” I knew it was true; I knew it was true about other nations and I was aware that it applied to our culture as well. It’s easy to see some of the sins in the United States that the Bible speaks against, and as a rule, Christians stand in agreement. We know that drunkenness is spoken against as well as drug abuse. Sexual sin in all of its manifest forms is condemned, both homosexual and heterosexual. Greedy employers who underpay their workers are judged as well as slothful workers who don’t give “a day’s work for a day’s wages.” But, it’s the not so easily seen sins that concern me. It’s the subtle sins, of which I’m only faintly aware, that worry me. There are some behaviors that God hates but I won’t because they are culturally normative and acceptable. Take for instance “greed”:

 

Paul says that “… greed … amounts to idolatry.” Yet we live in a society that says, “Good enough is not good enough.” American culture promotes “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” as normative and desirable. How do you think new cars are sold? Just think how it would be if you had a new Jaguar XJ sitting in your driveway:

 

“The XJ redefines what a luxury car should be. A dramatic combination of beauty,

luxury and power, the XJ delivers a refreshingly dynamic driving experience.

No car looks, or feels, like the XJ.”

 

Isn’t the XJ a beautiful car? Don’t the rich leather seats feel good under your hand? Won’t it make your neighbors sick with envy when they see your pride parked in your driveway, not theirs? But it’s not “luxury” as the ideal that worries me currently; it is sin that is claimed as our “right” that has caught my attention.

 

God said to Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry” Jonah 4:4 And to every one of us the Father says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”Ephesians 4:31 Lately, I’ve been noticing that my “rights” seem to be at loggerheads with the Father’s expressed “will”. I have a right to be angry when I see how my country is being destroyed by those who are in authority. I have a right to be bitter when I see that justice, votes, and influence can all be bought and sold like goods and a poor man doesn’t stand a chance. I have a right to mock those who are in authority when I see how they have abused their office. “I have a right!” So that’s the problem I have. God says get rid of ALL those things, but still, I know my rights! I know my rights.

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Potlucks!

 

I have been attending the most totally awesome church ever. It’s not so much what happens in the sanctuary on Sundays; it’s what happens afterward. They have the most amazing potlucks.

 

The first time I went, they announced from the pulpit, “Remember, there’s a potluck right after the service.” I was a little bummed out since I didn’t bring anything, but after the service someone told me, “Don’t worry. Just come; there’s enough for everyone.” And was there ever!

 

The pastor barbequed tri-tip and made sandwiches with au jus for everyone. He made his own potato salad and even made homemade hand churned ice cream for desert. It was great. The people we sat with told Linda and I that they have a potluck every Sunday after the service.

 

The following Sunday I brought my salad extraordinaire to the potluck. (It consists of a bag of iceberg lettuce dumped together with a handful of grape tomatoes thrown in for color.) I asked a deacon where I should put it, and he said “Well I suppose you could put it over there by the pastor’s salad.” He made a Waldorf salad, to go with the Chateau Briand he made for everyone, along with the roasted baby potatoes basted with his own cilantro garlic butter.

 

The next Sunday was a Mexican fiesta potluck. I love Mexican food, and have a little layered tortilla, bean, hamburger, and grated cheese number I like to humbly call, “Carmi’s Delight.” When I got to church, I went in beforehand to see if there was room on the table to put my creation. There sort of was, but I would have had to move aside what the pastor brought. He made an authentic Mexican fiesta fit for el Rey. He whipped up Siete Mares seafood soup, along with some little tostada things that looked like they came from a Mercado in the Yucatán, hand made tortillas, (both maize and jarina), to go with Mazatlan style chilorio, and to top it off; tres leche cake for desert. I left my contribution to the meal in the car and then ate what was laid out before  us til I was stuffed from cabeza to los dedos. Man it was good.

 

On the following Sunday, I just came to enjoy the potluck that the pastor provided. As usual it was delicious. When I asked someone at the table, “Don’t you ever worry about what will happen if the pastor goes on vacation? Won’t you starve?” They just laughed and said “No, if he’s gone he either asks the youth pastor to cook, (but it’s not as good), or he invites a guest cook to come and prepare the meal, (and usually that’s pretty good.)”

 

So now, I know I don’t have to worry about bringing anything. I just come, and eat, and enjoy. Once in awhile I’ll slip the pastor a $10 to help pay for his expenses, but overall, my needs are met. It’s wonderful.

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The Five Gifts Of Jesus

Chapter 1: What are you?

With my face set like flint; my course was set. I was sailing towards “The Ministry”. While still in the Navy, I sent letters from Viet Nam to the bible college in Colorado that I sensed God wanted me to attend. I wanted to be admitted for the spring semester of 1974 because I would be released from active duty in November of 1973. That college rejected my application twice. (They kept encouraging me to attend a college of my own denomination, not realizing that my denomination was a warship!) But God kept telling me to try again. Then after three tries, in December of 1973, I found myself driving my elderly MGA from Chico California to Colorado Springs Colorado for my first semester of bible college. Hallelujah!

My history was laid out before me. I would graduate in three years from this denomination’s school for pastors. I applied for and received a local preacher’s license from their denomination and would soon pastor one of their little churches. Linda was diligently learning and daily practicing the piano since a pastor’s wife is oftentimes the only one in a small rural church who can play hymns. (She would, however, tell me every so often that she didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife. But I, in my wisdom, said very little but inwardly thought, “Nah. You’ll do fine.”) Then, after about a year and a half, the wheels of my prewritten history came off. I was asked to leave the college.

It wasn’t because of some evil done or tuition unpaid. I received a letter asking me to leave their college and suggested I attend a school of my own “denomination”. I assume this came about because of some scriptures which I read to one of my classes for an oral presentation (I Corinthians 12:8-10). These were scriptures I read as if they were for the “now” but the school relegated them as being for the “then”. Though I was ready to immediately drop out, one of my teachers counseled me to finish out the few weeks left in the semester. (Wise counsel!) His wife, another one of my teachers, said “I wish I could help you.” She didn’t mean “help you stay”; she meant “help you see the error of your thinking”. So after finishing the term in the late spring, we put everything we owned in a U-Haul cartop carrier on the roof of our Buick Skylark. We were headed for California and another school where I could finish preparing for the pastorate.

We never made it. We got to California alright. But we eventually ended up in a little town where I worked for my dad in his furniture store. Life was pleasant, our twins were born, I helped teach a Sunday school class for young adults, and the pastorate became just a fading dream: that is, until John showed up unexpected and uninvited. My friend, John, lived about four hours away and just happened to be passing through on that summer afternoon. He started asking me about what I was doing. “Well, I’m teaching Sunday school.” Then he became more pointed and asked me, “Why aren’t you preparing for the ministry?” I had no viable answer for that question. That’s when I began to rise up from my spiritual stupor. It was time to get back to the preparation.

My preparation began with part-time nights spent in a junior college in Redding. That soon progressed to a bachelor’s degree in Seattle and ended up with a master’s degree in theological studies in Portland. So in the summer of 1980 I was ready. I had my diploma in hand, my family in tow (including one more daughter), and my ministerial credentials vouching for my bona fides as a pastor registered with the district. In the middle of that summer I stood in front of a little church on the windy Oregon coast. It was my first pastorate and I was newly hired to be the senior pastor!

I loved it. I loved the whole thing. I liked preaching, teaching, counseling, and hanging out with the saints. It had its share of hard times, ordinary times, and great times: it was good. There was just one little burr that kept working its way under my saddle. It concerned a phrase that I heard on occasion. Perhaps you’ve heard it in reference to a pastor? “He sure has a shepherd’s heart.” For some reason, that phrase would cause my pharisaical “righteous indignation” to flare up. My heart would defiantly insist, “Show me in the bible where it says that!”And, academic that I am, I was correct; but none the less irritated. I studied for the “ministry”, I was credentialed as a “pastor”, and here I was in the “pastorate”; but something wasn’t quite right. I wasn’t actually a pastor.

“Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” Ephesians 4:8-12

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Introduction: “I Write To You Young Men”

“I Write To You Young Men…” I John 2:13

 

“I have been young and now I am old…” Psalms 37:25

 

 

Recently, I was reading a blog aptly enough titled, “How to write a good blog.” In it, the author encouraged budding writers, (filled with burning ideas that must be told), to consider the question: “Who is your target audience?” There is a book inside me that I would like to write into the light of day. As I considered my target audience, it became clearer to me not only who my target audience really should be, but also what my target thoughts ought to be. From experience I’ve learned that, if I aim at everything, I usually hit nothing. So I want you, dear reader, to know from the outset, for whom I intend to write this book. I simply want to have a little chat with young men who are about to “enter the ministry.” This book is especially for those who sense “a call of God on their lives.” (If this isn’t you, stick around at least until the end of the introduction. You may want to listen in anyway.)

 

Let me first of all tell you what Linda, my lovely young bride, told me as I was preparing for “the ministry” about 40 years ago. She said, “You’re not supposed to be a pastor. I can see you teaching in a seminary kind of setting. I can picture you teaching young men in our living room.” At the time my thoughts ran something along the lines of “No way! I know God has called me to the ministry and I’m not turning back!” So, to the young man who may be reading this book, (and to those who are leaning from behind and reading over their shoulder); welcome to my living room!

 

For starters, let me tell you how I ended up here writing to you from the far end of my life. When I was a young boy, perhaps just like you, I attended a small church with my parents and went to Sunday school. This church was housed in a pleasant whitewashed adobe style building, in a pleasant little California town, and pleasant respectable people came there on Sundays. On one particularly pretty spring day when I was about 10 years old, I remember walking out through the black wrought iron gate from inside the walled courtyard, and when I looked back from where I stood on the front sidewalk I remember thinking “It isn’t true. All that stuff about Jesus isn’t true.” I don’t know why I thought that. But, I can say without any doubt, I became firm in my disbelief. (It could be that my Sunday school teacher didn’t know Jesus yet and I was sensing that in my spirit.) I still firmly believed in the God of the Old Testament. I still went to church until I no longer had to. But I grew up with the continual feeling of “Well now what? I believe in God, I don’t believe in Jesus; so what am I?” Along with that smoldering question that was always just below the surface, I had a desire to know the truth. I just had no idea, at that point, who “the truth” was.

 

About the time I reached the end of my high school career (barely), I started seriously thinking about the question “What am I?” It seemed to me that the answer must lie somewhere near Judaism, since I believed in God but not Jesus. I wasn’t interested in what any of those religions that didn’t believe in the God of the Old Testament had to offer. And though Judaism seemed to be my only logical alternative, I wasn’t quite ready to explore that avenue yet. Somewhere in my spirit, I knew there had to be some pieces to the puzzle that must have fallen off the table and were lying on the floor because I couldn’t see the picture yet.

 

After graduation, I worked for my uncle for about 6 months delivering furniture for his store. On one fine summer day I got angry with him, (because he reprimanded me for doing something that he already told me not to do), and I decided I wouldn’t take his “abuse” anymore. That’s when I went downtown, saw a military recruiter, and signed up for the Navy.

 

During this time, I was still looking for the “truth”, but it was a passive search. It was more a form of actively listening for the truth rather than actively seeking the truth. On one weekend liberty, I came home from Alameda Naval Air Station and decided to go to church with my parents. I remember thinking, “Maybe now I will hear it.” Everything at church was OK. The people were friendly enough, the singing was sincere enough, and the sermon was good enough: but I didn’t hear “It”. I didn’t know what “It” was; I just remember thinking “keep looking.”

 

After a year of being stationed ashore about 25 miles from where I grew up, (whatever happened to “Join the Navy And See The World”?), I was sent to San Diego where I walked up the gangway to come aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard. A young sailor named Bob was sent down to the gangway to be my guide, he showed me around the critical areas of the ship, (i.e. mess deck, divisional office, berthing quarters), and helped me to get my gear stowed away. For the next 3 years, this aging World War II vintage aircraft carrier would be my home. On the very next day, we left port and sailed into the middle of the war that was then raging in Viet Nam.

 

From San Diego we made our way westward towards the Far East. When I went ashore at Pearl Harbor Hawaii I could still feel the ship rolling beneath my feet. A week or so later we pulled into Subic Bay that was nestled in the warmth of the Philippines. A few days later, we pulled out again and finally arrived at the Gulf of Tonkin where the ship began to commence daily air operations. That’s where I heard “It”.

 

It happened one night as Bob and I were below decks painting valves, pipes, and other assorted equipment with the bright pink paint that was the designated color for jet fuel lines. It was just the two of us working alone below decks in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, as we were talking, I said to him “I think I treat people well, but I don’t think I treat God well.” Without missing a beat Bob replied, “I know what you mean…” and he then shared the “Good News” with me. And I got “It”! I finally understood that Jesus died in my place for my sins and I got to go free. His life in exchange for mine and I was free. Amazing grace and a very sweet sound at that! I knew I had found “It”. I had stumbled on the truth and knew what it was the second I heard it. But now, I had a choice to make.

 

I was poised before a lifestyle of lust, drunkenness, and immorality that was not only expected of me as a sailor in foreign ports; it was encouraged. On the other hand, I had the truth which included the promise,

 

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart

that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”. Romans 10:9

 

As I thought about the choice that I had to make, lust or lordship, I knew what would happen if I chose wrongly. I knew if I let go of the truth I would never get it back. So one evening, after I returned to the ship from a day ashore in the Philippines, I went to the converted storage closet on our ship that was used as a prayer chapel, and asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. Simply done and simply answered: he saved me.

Now my life was set on a new heading with a new Captain at the helm. I started to grow in understanding as I prayed daily and read the word between incoming flights. A few weeks after becoming a Christian, like the disciples at Ephesus, I also received the Holy Spirit.(Acts 19:2) That experience accelerated my Christian walk greatly. Then, after about a year and a half of walking with Jesus, a new awareness started to arise in my spirit.

 

This new awareness is difficult to express well. I realized that I was something that others were not. It’s not that I felt I was somebody special. We are all special and when we come to Christ we begin to realize just how “wonderfully made” we are. So it wasn’t that. It wasn’t a sense of being better than others. I knew, and know now, that I am not. But the sense of being “something” that others were not did not leave me. I assumed that I was supposed to be a “pastor” and I began to make plans to prepare for “the ministry”.

 

Jesus, to whom I had handed the reins of my life, led on in the direction he wanted me to go. He directed me to the bible college that he wanted me to attend. (Even though I tried to persuade him about another one, he was insistent on his choice.) A few schools, and a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Philosophy later, he directed me to a seminary of his choosing. And when I wanted to slow my education down and invest more time in the youth ministry that I was involved in, he hurried me along so that I would finish my master’s degree and be ready in time for my first pastorate when it became available.

 

So, now we come to you instead of me. I’m writing this to the young man who is “preparing for the ministry”. I have four things that I want you to consider before you get started. I would encourage you to pray about the Father’s will for you concerning what I’m about to tell you. I also would encourage you to not dismiss out of hand what I’m about to say, but be “noble-minded” like the Jews in Berea who “… received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”(Acts 17:11) This may not be for you, but if it is, I want you to have it.

 

Finally, this book isn’t just for those who are preparing for the “pastorate”. It might also be helpful for those who have found that ministry is very different than what they supposed it would be, and may have left it altogether. This may explain why it didn’t go “as advertized”. Last, but not least, I’m in hopes that some individuals who aren’t in either of these categories, will go ahead and read what is here. May God grant you a useful “aha” as well.

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