Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Good Change

Dear Friends,

Our money is changing. Five women pioneers of the women’s rights movement are being added to the back of the ten dollar bill and three Democrat social activists will be featured on the back of the revised five dollar bill. But the most contentious change is the revised twenty. Good ol’ Andrew Jackson is being sent to the back of the bill and Harriet Tubman will be showcased on the front. And if you are reading and hearing about her in the media, you are getting an edited and politically sanitized version of her life. Let me tell you what you’re not going to read about in the Times newspaper or Newsweek magazine. You won’t hear this on CNN or MSNBC. You will read and hear that she is a social justice icon. You will read about a fierce civil rights activist who lead slaves to freedom. But what you won’t read is that she did so, not because she was a female political activist, but because she was a Christian woman following the will of God.

Harriet was a Union spy during the Civil War and she was a Republican. Did you know that the Republican party was founded primarily to oppose slavery while the Democratic party fought to expand slavery? The 13th Amendment to abolish slavery passed with 100% of the Republicans voting for the Amendment and all except four of the Democrats voting against this Amendment to free the slaves. Not a single Democrat in Congress voted in favor of the 14th Amendment that declared former slaves to be full citizens. No surprise that Harriet was solidly aligned with the Republican party! 

In the 19th Century, the “Underground Railroad” was a loose network of abolitionist whites and free blacks who helped an estimated 100,000 slaves escape to freedom. Driven by their Christian faith and the scripture that says all people are created equal, Galatians 3:28 the “conductors” on the Underground Railroad risked their lives and the lives of their families to deliver slaves to freedom. Their most well-known leader was ex-slave Harriet Tubman who had escaped from her owners in 1849. She said later, “I looked at my hands to see if I was de same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory ober eberything, de sun came like gold through de trees and ober de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”

Known as the “Black Moses,” Harriet had received visions from God telling her that she needed to help her people and she lead many hundreds through the Underground Railroad to freedom. She told friends that her strength to protect slaves and set them free came from her faith in God. She said, “I always tole God, I’m gwince to hole stiddy (I’m going to hold steady) on you an’ you’ve got to see me through.” Harriet continued to receive visions from God and she’d hear His voice telling her what route to take the slaves to avoid capture. Harriet Tubman would today be described as an Evangelical Pentecostal Christian and she is the first unabashed Christian to appear on our currency. 

The slaveholders like Andrew Jackson offered $40,000 for the capture of Harriet but God protected her and she was never captured. Because the slave rescue missions were so dangerous, Harriet demanded strict obedience from the fugitives. Harriet was one tough woman. She carried a loaded gun and if a slave decided he wanted to return to the plantation, Harriet would threaten to shoot him if he tried. She knew that if he returned, he would be tortured and would eventually reveal the route of the Underground Railroad and identities of the abolitionists. She was asked once if she would have actually killed a man who wanted to turn back and she replied, “If he was weak enough to give out, he’d be weak enough to betray us all and I wouldn’t let so many die for just one man.”

Andrew Jackson, our seventh President is known as the founder of the Democratic Party. To those who bemoan his smack-down to the back of the bill: Please remember he owned over 300 slaves and is most known for signing the Indian Removal Act that resulted in the genocide of tens of thousands of American Indians. Although the Democratic party looks different today, Jackson’s Democracy left a powerful legacy that continued to subjugate women and minorities while presuming and fostering a white supremacy that’s still apparent in many southern States today. Isn’t it time for the slaveholder to be replaced by the one who followed in Jesus’ footsteps to set the captives free?

To my good conservative friends who are wondering why the white guy is being replaced by a black woman and who are thinking that this is just an example of liberal political-correctness: Please remember that Harriet was an Evangelical Christian, Republican, gun-totein’, renegade who was appointed and anointed by God to set her people free. Praise God for her! The presence of Harriet Tubman on the face of the twenty should remind us all of what we can accomplish for the glory of God, in the face of hardship and adversity, when we just “hole stiddy” on Him.  Amen?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Doest Thou Stinketh?

Dear Friends,

Every so often I’ll get an envelope in the mail that’s the size and shape of an invitation. The only thing on the envelope, other than my name and address, are these words printed in elegant script on the lower left hand corner: Free Cremation Offer ~Details Inside 

I’ve never read the details. I’m always too scared to open the envelope. Why am I being offered free cremation services? I feel okay, but their offer makes me suspicious because I’ve been wrong about my health before. Do they know something about my current state of being that I’m in denial about? I’m fearful they could be right. But then again, if I really was in immediate need of their cremation services, wouldn’t a loved one be telling me that I was starting to stink?

I don’t want what I’m about to say to sound harsh, so let me put this in Biblical language. Sometimes one of the most loving things a person can do for you is to tell you when thou doest stinketh!! Because even us best church-goin’ Christians can become a little odoriferous when we’ve stepped off the path of righteousness. When we mess up and something in our life starts to stink, we may need to hear what scripture calls a “fitly spoken word.” Proverbs 25:11 

May God give each one of us a loved one – family or friend – who is bold and loving enough to let us know when the smell of sin in our life becomes noticeable and to give us an opportunity to correct it before our stench becomes intolerable. Only an emotional masochist would actually enjoy hearing criticism about themselves, but a wise man or woman welcomes a word that gives them an opportunity for a needed correction. King Solomon said it like this: “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.” Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT

Solomon likens valid criticism to a precious gift but that may be a difficult gift to deliver lovingly if the sinful behavior was directed towards us or affected us personally.  When that happens, we can err in one of two directions. We can lash out in judgement or anger that either immediately closes the spirit of the person we are trying to reach or our harshness can escalate the issue into a hurtful argument. “Gentle words turn away anger but our harsh words make tempers flare up.” Proverbs 15:1 We all know how much worse we make things when we confront in anger.

We can also err when we turn away, get quiet, and withdraw. Our irritation/frustration/ annoyance at the other person is carefully packed away into that secret place where we stuff our anger and hurts. Each one of us has his/her own emotional cesspool, packed full of those things we don’t want to deal with, but those repressed feelings always seem to bubble back up to the surface and become “passive-aggressive anger.” And when a resentful, negative bitterness becomes hooked into our soul, we become sickened spiritually. Bitterness leads to unforgiveness and unforgiveness leads to the diminishment or loss of the relationship.

That’s why the Apostle Paul writes that mature believers should “speak the truth in love to each other in order that they may grow in every way more and more like Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 When a loved one’s behavior begins to stink, we need to be truthful and tell them that. And we also need to put a bow on it. We need to gift-wrap our words in such a loving, Christ-like manner that they receive our fitly spoken words as the precious gift that they are. When truth is told and received in love, then both giver and receiver grow in every way emotionally and spiritually. 

Let our prayer today be that our loved ones will always lovingly tell us when our behavior doest stinketh. And even when we are wounded by the truth about our behavior, let us know that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6 

And then when we detect the smell of sin in the lives of family and friends, Lord give us the courage, boldness and Christ-like love to speak the truth in love to them that we may both grow together to be more like Christ. Amen?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's Your Atmosphere Feel Like?

Dear Friends,

Walt Disney was a genius at creating an emotional environment in animated features. Using a palette of color, light, music and sound effects, he painted atmospheres for each scene that transformed “cartoons” into an art form. Disney was a master storyteller who knew that atmosphere can evoke emotions even better than words. Think of 101 Dalmatians – the original 1961 animated feature. Pongo and Perdita fall in love, get married and have a litter of fifteen dalmatian puppies. Villainess Cruella De Vil (get it? her name is cruel devil) sends her henchmen to kidnap the puppies because she is going to make a fur coat out of them. 

In scenes with Pongo and Perdita and the puppies, the background colors are restful shades of brown and blues. Both mom and dad dalmatians speak in gentle, caring tones. Soft, restful orchestral music fills the background and the sound effect of a crackling fire in the fireplace completes the atmosphere. It’s a place of quiet, warmth and love. It’s safe and inviting and we emotionally connect to this very human-like family of cute and cuddly dogs. 

Suddenly the scene changes. Cruella De Vil is frantically berating her henchmen. “YOU FOOLS!” she shrieks. Her huge mink coat swings wildly about her and her green, foul-smelling cigarette smoke follows her like an evil cloud. Background colors in scenes with Cruella De Vil are sharp and discordant with strong reds and purples or they are oppressive and nightmarish swirls of black and grey grunge. Her voice is shrill, strident and loud. Harsh, screeching music fills the background. Sound effects of cars skidding and doors slamming penetrate her scenes. Your pulse rate and respirations have noticeably increased. You are now feeling tense and on-edge.

As you watch 101 Dalmatians, your emotional response to the atmospheric sounds and images is being manipulated by the master mood-maker, Walt Disney. Pongo, Perdita and the puppies bring into each scene an atmosphere of love, warmth and caring. Cruella De Vil brings an on-screen atmosphere of danger and the tension we feel is from the rising adrenaline in our bodies that’s the normal and natural response to what we know as the “fight or flight syndrome.” We are responding emotionally just as Walt knew we would !

When you walk into a room, what’s the atmosphere that you bring with you? What are the feelings you evoke in people when you enter a room? We’ve all known people who can set your teeth on edge just by walking into a room. They may not say a word but you feel their anger, tension and unhappiness. The atmosphere changes. When they come into the room notice the expressions on the faces of others. People feel the negative atmosphere and their physical reaction is often an automatic defensive response. Eyes narrow and people look down or away. Words are strained. There’s an under-current of tension that arrived with the person and that will leave with the person. Sometimes you’re not aware of the atmospheric changes in the room until the person has left and you feel a sense of relief. 

And thank God for all the people that we know who bring a smile to faces just by walking into the room. People are happy to see them. We are relaxed and comfortable in their presence. You just want to hug them. They have brought with them an atmosphere of God’s grace, peace and harmony that seems to linger in the room long after they’ve gone. 

The atmosphere that you and I bring into a room is not created by music, colors and sound effects. It’s created by our attitude. If you need to change your “atmosphere,” you don’t need the advice of Walt Disney. You need the advice from St. Paul: “Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:9-18 NLT

When we are living the Christian life and following Jesus, we are living in His presence. Then when we walk into a room, we bring His presence with us and “in His presence there is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11 And, that’s the atmosphere that is welcomed by all. Amen?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Maze

Dear Friends,

I have Google Maps on my SmartPhone. Many of you do too. We know where we want to go, we just don’t know how to get there. So Google Maps shows us the way. It gives specific directions. It tells us how long it will take to reach our destination. It tells us when accidents or construction will delay our progress and shows detours to take to get us to where we are going. I don’t know about you, but I sure wish I could download a “LifeMap” application that would give me those same clear directions for my life! 

When I was sixteen, my grandmother, who was a teacher, took me to London to spend the summer. While she was taking classes at the University of London, I was left on my own to explore the city of my ancestors. When my grandmother wasn't in class she'd take me to the really cool places and one day we took a boat down the Thames River to a famous royal palace called Hampton Court. 

My grandmother loved the royal collection of art and  furnishings in the palace but to me the coolest thing was the maze. This covers about a third of an acre on the palace grounds and is the most famous maze in the world. It was designed and planted in 1700 and still looks today like it did then. For you horticultural types, the hedges are “English Yew.”

The maze is so difficult that there are little seats so that when you get tired you can rest. Every so often an attendant walks through, and if you've given up, you follow him and he will show you the way out. I told my grandmother to go ahead and have tea with her teacher friends because I was going to go into the maze. Of course, being a smart teenager, I knew it would only take me just a few minutes to figure it out! Yeah. It really wasn't that big but it was extremely disorientating. The hedges are so thick that you can't see through them. They are so high that you don't see anything that allows you to get your bearings. After awhile, you become not just physically tired but psychologically beat down, and I remember even starting to feel a little claustrophobic after walking endlessly on the narrow paths that lead only to dead-ends. That’s when you sit down and wait for an attendant to show you the way out.

Life can be like that too. We think we have it all figured out until we look around and find that we keep going down the same dead-end path. We turn around and try again. We're covering a lot of ground and taking a lot of steps but we're just not finding our way out to where we need to be. We keep getting stuck in the same places. The unexpected twists and turns of life can be disorienting and sometimes it's hard to get our bearings. If we get to the point of feeling hopelessly lost or trapped by life, we can even feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s overwhelming.

That’s when we need to just sit-a-spell and take a deep breath. When we’re lost and trapped in the circumstances of life, we need an attendant who knows the secret paths. We need someone who can help us and point us in the right direction. To navigate though the maze of life, we need to follow the Man who can show us the way.

It was in the Upper Room during that Passover Supper that Jesus had started talking about heaven and said that He was going there to prepare a place for His disciples. He told His disciples, “And where I go you know and the way you know.” One man was getting frustrated with Jesus for talking in vague, generalities. We know him as “Doubting Thomas” but we should call him “Inquisitive Thomas.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” John 14:5 And now Jesus was going to make it as forthright as it could be. No allegories, analogies, or metaphors. Nothing to translate, figure out or think about. For Inquisitive Thomas and for the entire world, Jesus stated the bottom line – the clear, direct and plain truth. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our eternal destination is established. But life itself can be a bewildering and confusing maze and when we keep running into the same dead-ends, it’s easy to become discouraged and even feel hopelessly lost at times. That’s why the Attendant is there to take us by the hand and guide us through the maze. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There is no other. Amen?