Thursday, March 31, 2016

Uplifted by our Friends

As we drove back to the home, I was washed over by a wave of sorrow and an avalanche of "why's?"  Although the visits had all been great, I ached for my father. The memories of SSG Sam Jackson full of late 20's vigor and strength, a man who had no vices and though not perfect,  provided the best example of manhood a boy could ever hope for, was besieged by his own mind.  Dementia had limited his mind and expressions while his kidneys were sapping him of the physical strength needed to fight for even the slightest remnant of his own self.

I just felt sad. I didn't let Luz know exactly what I felt, but I could see concern in her face for the emotion that was raging through my soul and visible to the one who knows me so well. She suggested that we buy Dad a few treats. After picking up some of Dad's favorites,  we arrived at the home. Heavy-hearted, I  decided to haul the goodies in before we went in to see Dad.

As we headed down towards Dad's room, there was a man seated in the hallway.  It was Dad! This time, I didn't have to announce who I was! Dad grinned, grabbed me, and yanked down with such force, he almost flipped me over his chair! He was overjoyed to see Luz and Victoria. Seeing the goodies, Dad indicated that he wanted some, eating two servings of his favorite pudding!  Victoria then serenaded Dad with violin music as we were updated on his marvelous condition, including his strong apetite and extremely pleasant demeanor.  His condition is actually better than it was a year ago!

I couldn't help bit think of all of the friends and loved ones lifting Dad up and prayer! We receive Numerous messages weekly from friends reminding us of their prayers on Dad's behalf.  They are obviously being heard! Dad's strength is up. His apetite is solid and he is truly content and demonstrating real peace of mind and soul.

As somone dedicated and disciplined to pray for others,  it is such a blessing to experience the power of prayer from others! Thank you all for the encouragement and love.  It's been strong enough to impact Dad and to uplift me!

Grace, mercy and peace to you all!

Your Brother,
Sam



Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why?

Bob Priest, a professor at the Seminary from which I graduated, served as a missionary in an extremely remote part of the Peruvian Jungle among a tribal people group known as the Aguarunas. As Bob spent time learning the ways of the Aguarunas and built a foundation of friendship and understanding upon which he hoped to share the Good News about Jesus Christ, he would often find himself immersed in deep philosophical and theological conversations that would keep pace with any university setting on the planet. When he asked for the ultimate question the Aguarunas had about the nature of life, truth and beauty, the response he received struck him in its universality among all people. Those with whom he was speaking answered his philosophical probe with this question:
"Why do the wicked flourish as the Green Bay Tree and the good die young?"

It was a question for which there is no quick answer and one that led to hours and hours of discussion and that eventually opened the door for Bob to share the Message of hope about Jesus.

I heard this account almost 20 years ago, yet this week, after the sudden and incomprehensible deaths of two friends and the nationally reported murder of someone who shares my profession during a Sunday morning worship service, I find myself asking a similar question, "why do the wicked seem to flourish unscathed, while the good suffer and die?" 

About 2 weeks ago LTC Jeff White, a West Point classmate of mine and about as robust, fit and energetic specimen of a man as one could ever find, had been stateside for about a month just having returned from an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq. While singing in the choir during a Sunday service at his home church, Jeff collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. A good man, dedicated to his God, family and country and dedicated to selfless service that consistently put him in harm's way, died in the prime of life of a cause one generally attributes to someone much less fit and much much older. He was only 46.

Just this week, Paul Sorce, a very dear friend since my arrival in Detroit, and a top-notch Special Agent serving with the Federal Bureau of Investigation was on duty and traveling on a local road about half a mile from where we live, when he was struck by another vehicle and inflicted with injuries that led to his death a few hours later. Paul was an extraordinarily devoted family man, a tireless community volunteer, and a dedicated brother in the Lord. Yet, with all of the attributes we would like to think guarantee a long life and personal prosperity, Paul was cut down at the height of his powers all too soon at the age of 44. 

And then there's the murder of Pastor Fred Winters, who in the middle of his sermon, was interrupted by a man who stood up during the message and for what by all accounts appears to be no particular reason, shot Pastor Winters on the spot, killing him. After 20 years of faithful service to the Lord, his family, his church and his community, Fred Winters was silenced abruptly at the age of 45.

Practically everyone knows of tragedies like these, severe in their degree and shocking in their impact that cause us to ask much like the Aguaruna of Peru, "Why indeed do the wicked flourish and the good die young?" The answer I have is not profound, but it is simple: "I don't know." Yet, there are some things I do know and about which I am very certain. While I cannot tell you why these wonderful men died "before their time" or why it seems bad things happen to very good people, I address a much more important issue for you, which is why these men lived. 

Two passages of Scripture come to my mind at times like these. The first passage is from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians and says this:
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

These Brothers all lived for Christ and lived for others by putting themselves at risk time and time again and by throwing themselves vigorously into opportunities to serve others whether in a neighborhood sporting ministry, in ministries that strengthened of families or in being available to answer a cry for help in the wee hours of the morning. These men all realized that their lives were not truly their own, and that they were stewards of gifts, talents, abilities and moments that were God-given and for which they felt duty-bound to direct toward the benefit of others. These wonderful people never lived life as if it was all about them. They lived in the full knowledge that they had been given so much because their gifts desperately needed to be shared with others. Their lives were lived for Jesus Christ in obedience to Him, for His glory, and for the benefit and blessing of others. 

Yet they died. It is in their deaths, however, though painful, devastating and untimely for those who love them and are left behind, that they have gained an amazing reward. It is this reward that reminds me of the strains of a glorious hymn of old based on more words from the Apostle Paul. The verse of that hymn that comes to mind and the refrain which comes from the Scriptures are as follows:
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.


None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, whether good or bad, triumph or tragedy. The particulars of the future are simply unknowable. It is unknowable for us the living and it was unknowable for the loved ones who have passed into eternity ahead of us. Nevertheless, the three men whose memories we honor after their passing, provide strong and straightforward examples of what we can know and what we all must do in light of the unclear veil that obstructs our view of tomorrow. 

We must make sure that our lives count by serving others with all of our gifts and talents. We don't all have the same gifts, passions or calling, but we each have something that is useful to contribute to society. Don't waste your time or your gifts, saving them for a tomorrow that may not be your to use. While it is today, do good to those around you and do good for those who will carry on after you. Tomorrow or even this afternoon may by a mystery, but we each have a "right now" that is within our grasp and with which we can do tremendous good.

In addition, for those of us who know Christ and believe in the salvation He has made available through His death for our sins - not just ours but for the sins of the world - and the victory and hope that are ours to share through the power of His Resurrection , we can be confident in uncertain days that God will keep His Word and that there is a reward for those who hope and trust in Him. Jeff, Paul and Fred believed this and their lives produced an abundant crop of fruit even in their brevity. They are now experiencing the reality of their reward as humble servants who responded to God's wonderful grace with thanksgiving made manifest in a life of selfless service. I want to leave the last verse of the aforementioned hymn with you as we contemplate the unknown future and seek to diligently follow the clearly revealed call of God for all believers to all the good we can, as often as we can for as long as we can:

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.


Until next time,

Sam


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Day Is Not Enough!

Today is International Women’s Day.  A day is inadequate to duly honor half of the human population and borders on insulting considering the immense responsibilities they shoulder for the entirety of humanity, often under duress, pain and extreme challenge.  Nevertheless, a day can be useful in helping the rest of us to reflect on how to honor women not only on this day, but every minute of every other day we experience.

We can honor women by respecting them as our co-laborers on this planet, honoring their gifts, talents and abilities – encouraging and empowering them to reach as high as they can dream and as far as they desire to journey.  We can honor women in our speech, refusing to reward industries that promote misogyny and disrespect and punishing those who seek to abuse or enslave.


We can honor women by training the sons of the rising generations to value, respect and encourage their sisters, seeing them not as threats to their desired achievements, but as absolutely indispensable partners in the enterprise of life, without whom life itself would not be possible.

A day is not enough to honor the women of the world.  Spending a day committing ourselves anew to honor women daily, however, is a good start!



Sunday, March 6, 2016

Notes from the Hope Church Message: Insiders and Outsiders

Insiders and Outsiders
James 2:1- 13


BUT FIRST – A LITTLE BIBLIOLOGY AND SOME HERMNEUTICS

James and all the epistles were letters, meant to be read from front to back without versicular breaks or indicators. This means that the letters flow from thought to thought and those thoughts are not meant to be solely considered in isolation.

It is a benefit to us that we are studying a book of the Bible verse by verse, from beginning to end because we are approaching the book much like those who read it originally, just a bit slower.  With this is mind, we remember that when it comes to Bible Interpretation,

The First Rule is this:

Context is king!
The context of the verses we heard earlier is this:
JAMES 1

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

This phrase – to keep oneself from being polluted by the word - not only flavors the verses that preceded it, but the verses that follow.

The preceding point:
We are to help those who cannot help themselves or repay us because more is to be expected of us as followers of Jesus!

The Following point:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

The embracing of favoritism is a characteristic of the “kosmos” – the world system! To clarify what he means by favoritism, James paints a scenario.

2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.

The scenario is interesting because it tells us what types of people James expects to visit the church:

·       Those with means to afford an affluent lifestyle and opulence: Accessories and serious fashion – stylin’ and profilin’ - RICH!

·       Those in poverty who not only have little, they possess little ability to maintain what they have: Meager funds, no means to update or clean their wardrobe. POOR!

·       BOTH are expected to show up in the House of the Lord:

This tells us something we might miss in our rush to get to the main point of the verses. It is an important message because contemporary philosophies of how church is done would not advise establishing an atmosphere where such a comparison could take place:

The Homogenous Unit Principle for church growth states that People like to become Christians – and some would add continue to grow as Christians - without crossing racial, linguistic, social or economic barriers!

BUT James EXPECTS BOTH to be present in the life of the church! We, as a church, are serious about this expectation and have incorporated it into our church Vision Statement:

Hope Community Church Vision Statement:
It is Hope Community Church’s vision to establish and grow a multicultural community of Jesus Followers comprised of a mosaic of social, ethnic, economic, linguistic, generational and cultural backgrounds to the glory of God!

Passages for consideration:

Galatians 3:
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousnessis given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Note:
Apart from Christ – no difference
In Christ – No Difference!!

We who are one in Christ are called to demonstrate the power of God to break down walls:

Ephesians 2
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

What “Both?”  ALL BOTHS – including the rich and the poor!

Why? -  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 

THEREFORE, IT FOLLOWS:

JUDGEMENT FROM THE STANDARD OF UNITY

3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

WISDOM FROM EXPERIENCE:
·       Don’t Use Relationships To Gain Influence
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6
But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Some thoughts from the passage:

·       Get real – Chumming up at church trying to gain favor with the influential will not protect from legal actions.
·                   Preferential treatment is dishonorable conduct and only hurts those who are loyal and faithful.

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

TREATING PEOPLE DIFFERENTLY VIOLATES THE GREATEST COMMANDENT!  IT’S A BIG DEAL!

INSTEAD, GOD ASKS PEOPLE TO LIVE MERCIFULLY!

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

God’s mercy should create merciful hearts in us that are filled with compassion and lead us forth with the rallying cry:
“THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE!”