Am I Welcome Here?

August 26, 2014

Last Sunday Pastor Allen’s sermon centered around the question Jesus posed to his apostles: “Who do you say I am?” The answer, from Simon Peter, was “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Pastor then went on to ask how many of us would be willing to make that claim. Would we unhesitantly stand by that assertion if asked by a friend, neighbor, or family member? What would our answer be if asked by a total stranger?

Naturally, my mind wandered on to other (hopefully related) thoughts. Would I not only say the words… but would I openly demonstrate my belief? If so, how?

I decided that I should do something my good friend, Ed Terry, did whenever he facilitated Bible study sessions. He would always leave an empty chair reserved for Jesus. Ed wanted everyone to know his Lord and Savior was always welcome. In my case, I thought we should always set an extra place at our dining room table – complete with dinner plate, drinking glass, silverware, and napkin.

I then remembered my bride and I had invited about 25 people to join us for dinner on Sunday. We’d be lucky to have enough room for those folks without reserving a space for another invited guest who may or may not show up.

On the drive home I shared my thoughts with my bride. Before I give her response, let me add another thought.

I have always loved “Fiddler on the Roof”. I have been deeply touched by a number of the songs and have felt the joy and agony of raising a number of children who have made me extremely proud most of the time, and a few times left me extremely disappointed. Being bearded and a bit overweight, I also identified with Tevye as a man who strived to do the best for his family.

But the one thing that has always stuck in my mind was the closeness between Tevye and God. Was it the prayer belt that reminded him that God was always present? Or was it simply his firm belief in the Supreme Being?

Whatever the case, I always admired a man who could maintain a constant dialogue with God. As often as I have tried to constantly remind myself of God’s presence in my life, I fall short. I forget He is there until I find myself in a hopeless situation and need to quickly ask for His guidance and help.

So, when I suggested to my bride that we should do something to let God know He (or She) is always welcome to join us for dinner or any other occasion, she reminded me that we already do. We have Nativity sets throughout the house; we have religious paintings, crosses, and Bibles in almost every room; and our bookshelves are full of books dealing with religious topics and spiritualism. Guests do not have to sneak a peek anywhere to recognize that we are Christians.

So, I guess our answer to “Am I welcome here?” is a resounding “YES!” But now that I have put it in writing, there should be no doubt. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Sunrise in the Garden of Good

July 6, 2008

A few years ago my job took me to Savannah and I stumbled across a book entitled “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Although some sections of the book were humorous, most of the book dealt with the evil doings of the main characters.

After tossing around several ideas for something to write about, I decided to discuss gardening from the standpoint of the goodness.

Until Lu and I got married in 1999, I was living alone in a single-wide trailer and I told everyone that God was my gardener. My “lawn” consisted of dead leaves and pine straw. The assorted daffodils, tiger lilies, dogwoods, and azaleas were the result of efforts made by the former occupants of the property. Needless to say, my bride changed all that.

Now we have rock treatments, flowers galore, and a real lawn to aerate, mow, water, and fertilize. We also have a much larger home sitting in the midst of the beautiful gardens. The way I see it, God is still the Master Gardener. He simply found a way to get me to do some of the work.

It’s impossible to talk about God and gardens without thinking of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Personally, I don’t think God threw them out. I think they left on their own because they were ashamed – they had let God down. Although many wonderful things surrounded them, they couldn’t avoid the one thing from which God had asked them to stay away.

To this day, humanity seems drawn to that which has been labeled taboo. I think God knows that as well as we (if not better!) and loves us too much to inflict such a severe punishment when we fall to such temptations.

Consider the sequence of events after Adam and Eve fled the garden and struck out on their own. They bore children and suffered a parental nightmare – one of their children murdered his brother. As mankind spread, so did evil. Wars, famines, and all sorts of problems confronted the humans who refused to return to the love of God.

God decided to offer some guidance. He called Moses to meet with him on Mt. Sinai and sent him back down with a list of ten rules. While many people continued to ignore God and his guidelines, the leaders of the Jewish religion took those ten rules and added a few hundred of their own.

Considering how difficult the Jewish leaders made it for the people to be “Holy”, God probably threw up his hands in exasperation. He could have given up on us at that point, but instead, he decided to try something different. He sent his son.

Jesus came with the mission of healing the rift that had developed between God and humans. He tried to explain that the Law of Moses was all well and good, but people had to look beyond the law and do what was right for the sake of love. In fact, Jesus basically said, “If ten rules are too difficult for you to follow, try two: Love God and love one another.”

Think about that. If all of us acted out of love for each other and love for a loving God, how much sin would be left? Could a person steal from someone he or she truly loved? Could a person get extremely angry with someone he or she really loved? Could such a person kill that loved one?

How many rapes would occur? How many wars? How many prisons would we need?

Jesus came with a message and simpler commandments, but humans still couldn’t believe that God loved us enough to take us back to the Garden of Eden.

In one instance, Jesus specifically told us to ignore one of the Laws of Moses. He told us to forget “an eye for an eye”. Instead, we should “turn the other cheek.”

The “eye for an eye” business was an interesting Old Testament slant on restitution. To put it in modern terms, if someone accused me of stealing his car and I could prove that the car was never his, he would have to give me his car as retribution for his lying. An eye for an eye and a car for a car. Whatever the liar was trying to get from the defendant would be his penalty… if he were caught in the lie.

When the Jewish leaders told lies about Jesus, they wanted his death. Had Jesus spoken up and proved that they were lying, the Jewish leaders would have been put to death. Jesus had told his followers to “turn the other cheek”. He could do nothing less.

When he was hung on the cross to die, God experienced the same sort of horrendous grief that Adam and Eve must have felt when one of their children murdered his brother.

God loved the murderers just as much as he loved Jesus. Because He chose to give us free will when he created us, he could do nothing but watch in horror as Jesus died. And yet, he used his dying son to try once more to tell us how much he loves us.

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Over the centuries many men have used the name of God to commit countless atrocities. Senseless killings in the name of God, Allah, or whatever name the killers choose deny the true nature of the creator of our universe. It’s easy to blame the problems on religious leaders who either encourage the killings or do nothing to condemn them. But we all have a responsibility for our own actions. If we truly believe that God wants us to be a peaceful and loving people, we all have the duty of spreading the word.

May the sun rise over your garden of goodness as you come to recognize the love of God.

Pastor Tom & Sinkholes

July 5, 2008

Pastor Tom was talking about sinkholes. Most of us are familiar with sinkholes since we hear so much about them in downtown Atlanta. Those are the kinds that sometimes swallow trucks and buses. The sinkholes that cause city streets to collapse are usually caused by leaks in water or sewer lines. The water washes away the dirt until there’s nothing left to support the street. Then it all caves in.

During the sermon, Pastor Tom reminded us of the extra time and expense we went through prior to building our new education building. When the original church building was constructed, huge holes were dug and tree stumps and construction debris were buried to avoid the cost of having the stuff hauled away. To be sure our new building was built on solid ground, we had to find and remove the stuff that had been buried.

At that point, my mind wandered. Hopefully it went in the direction the sermon meant for it to go.

I realized that all that buried debris was decaying. Slowly but surely the wood from the tree stumps and scrap lumber was crumbling. If we had built our new foundation without removing the rotting material, it would’ve been just a matter of time before the ground began to sink. Decaying organic material doesn’t take as much space and the weight of everything above it would force a downward movement. Our new education building might have been spiritually built on the rock of faith, but physically, it would’ve been built on “shifting sand”.

My thought processes then moved on to my own soul. How much decaying material have I buried during my life? How much of my past is sitting there below the surface undermining everything I try to do to live a good life?

Short of making a public confession, suffice it to say that I’ve done my share of sinful things. The one thing I will publicly admit to is the mistreatment of my three sons. Rather than make that sort of statement and move on, let me present an explanation.

My first job out of college was as a first grade teacher working with emotionally disturbed youngsters in a mental institution. My class consisted of six children aged eight through fifteen. The typical first grader is six years old. These children were anything but typical.

When I studied the case histories of my children I discovered one common denominator… for whatever reason, their parents never disciplined them. From that moment on I determined that my children would not end up like the ones in the institution. My children would know and understand discipline. They would behave or else.

Well, my sons were well disciplined. They never got into trouble in school or out. They got good grades and became fine young men. So, that part of my plan worked extremely well.

Unfortunately, until the fall of 1984 they never really felt a father’s love. By then, my sons were seventeen, fifteen, and eleven. I changed dramatically as a result of a three-day Christian Renewal weekend, but the years of running roughshod over the boys was not easily forgotten. I’ve apologized to each of them repeatedly and I do so again – publicly.

It’s a shame we don’t get wisdom until it’s too late to avoid our mistakes. There are many other things I’ve said and done over the years that cannot be erased. In some cases I was able to go back to the person I offended and seek forgiveness. In other situations, I’ve totally lost track of the people involved. And I’m sure there are still more occasions where I’ve said or done something and didn’t even know it caused someone pain.

And all of that gets thrown into the pit beneath my soul to fester and molder and eventually create a huge sinkhole of rotten experiences.

Pretty depressing, isn’t it?

That’s when it’s nice to remember that God loves us unconditionally. Martin Luther began the Reformation when he came to realize that we are saved by the grace of God. We don’t need to do anything to earn it. God offers it to us with no strings attached. All we have to do is accept it.

So, that rotting sinkhole beneath my soul can do me no harm because my foundation is built on faith. But, just to be on the safe side, I’m trying not to add anything to the garbage that is already there.

Most likely Pastor Tom will eventually read this article. Hopefully I got the gist of his sermon even if my mind wandered in the middle of it. I’m sure he’ll set me straight if I got the message confused.