A Clean Windshield

Car passenger with seatbelt, view from backseat

As long as I’ve been driving I’ve been pretty much a fanatic about keeping my car clean.

My current car is silver in color. Thankfully, that color does not easily show road grime, dust, and dirt. As a matter of fact, the primary clue that it’s time to wash is a dirty windshield. I can’t stand a dirty windshield! It bugs me to have a dirty windshield! Pardon the pun.

So one option is to pull into a service station that appears to have decently clean windshield washing solution, a squeegee that’s new enough not to leave streaks, and paper towels to enhance the process. Finding a station that meets those three criteria is not an easy task.

If my schedule allows, I’ll usually skip that process and go straight to the car wash. I have a special deal at a local establishment that allows unlimited exterior washes for a reasonable fixed price. Terry can also wash her car for a slightly lower monthly fee. Such a deal!

One would think a freshly washed car would have a nice, clean windshield. Not so. The dudes at the car wash don’t seem to understand how important a clean windshield is to fanatics like me. So they wipe the windows with a grimy rag that leaves unacceptable streaks on the windshield.

Alas! What to do? Quit this place and find a new one? Not so easy. In addition to being a clean windshield fanatic, I’m also quite frugal. The price at other car wash establishments in our town is ridiculously ridiculous! So I suffer through streaky windshields and the frustration they bring.

Sort of reminds me of St. Paul’s words about present and future reality in 1 Cor. 13:12: “For we see now through a dim window obscurely, but then face to face; now I know partially, but then I shall know as I also have been known.”

I feel Paul’s pain every time I get behind a dirty windshield.

But then he writes these more familiar words of greater significance: “Right now three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I love a clean car and a spotless windshield. But that love fades into an insignificant speck on the window of life when compared to the love of God for us and the love we express to him in return.

Think about that love as the season of Advent arrives this Sunday. It marks the beginning of our spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. A blessed Advent to you!

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Whose Sin is the Greatest?

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Recent events in Charlottesville and other scenes of destruction and death have produced in our country conflict and division about the rightness or wrongness of harmful actions and of any response thereto. No rational person I know approves of willfully hurting or harming a human being. Yet there are some on both sides who justify their side’s violent behavior in Charlottesville.

Can anyone in his or her right mind condone extreme ideology that leads to violence, whether in the form of vicious demonstration, vitriolic protest, or, even worse, suicide bombing or driving a vehicle into a crowd, in Charlottesville or Barcelona, that results in injury or death of innocent bystanders?

The actions of racists, Neo-Nazis, anti-Semitists, white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, ISIS, and similar groups should be unequivocally condemned. The same condemnation is due any person or group who behaves violently for any reason other than genuine self-defense.

One related and causative issue that has developed into a highly emotional one is the endeavor to remove statues of Confederate heroes from the American landscape. The presenting reason is that these heroes condoned, endorsed, and practiced slavery and therefore their statues should be demolished or at least moved to a museum, out of sight of the majority of residents and tourists.

That begs a question. Where does one draw the line when determining whose statue to remove from public view, whose name to remove from a school building or street sign, and whose reputation to downgrade from hero to scoundrel on the basis of positions held or decisions implemented that now taint their historic heroic actions?

Is condoning and practicing the sin of racism in the form of slavery the only offense worthy of statue removal, school or street name change? What about other sins? Some United States presidents have had numerous extramarital affairs and children sired out of wedlock. Some were also involved in bribery, kickbacks, tax evasion, espionage, and gun-running scandals, to name a few less than godly activities.

So, whose sin is the greatest? The man who made his living on the backs of the slaves he owned or the man who found his pleasure in the bodies of the women he seduced?

Question: If statues of heroes are removed because they were racist, why we would not also remove any form of adulation of U.S. presidents who have committed adultery or any other grievous sin? Do we rename our nation’s capital because George Washington owned 317 slaves at the time of his death, even though he freed them through his will upon Martha’s death?

Whose sin is the greatest? Rom. 3:23 says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Jesus says: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7.

Last Words

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This week’s quotes are the seven last words of Jesus from the cross:

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
  2. To a thief on the cross: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
  3. To Mary: “Woman, behold your son.” To John: “Behold your mother.” John 19:26-27
  4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
  5. “I thirst.” John 19:28
  6. “It is finished.” John 19:30
  7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

As you contemplate these words and their meaning in your life, Terry and I express to each of you our prayers for a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

Reformation Courage

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-02-35-pmOctober 31 is the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, observed this Sunday. The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord. Here’s a brief summary:

  • In the late 15thcentury the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
  • The sale of “indulgences,” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
  • The sales slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
  • Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
  • Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by fears over unresolved sin and guilt.
  • In a thunderstorm during which his traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
  • He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
  • Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Also Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…The righteous shall live by faith.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by the truth Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke truth to power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
  • Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
  • He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
  • Asked to retract his words, Luther stated: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
  • Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his newfound beliefs.
  • Thus began what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

My Reformation question, to you and to myself, is this: If we were to conclude that a teaching or practice of the church was not based on clear passages of Scripture or was mandated by the church but not commanded by Holy Scripture or was not allowed by the church but not forbidden by Scripture, would we have the courage to speak our conviction?

Thank God for the Reformation courage Luther displayed in doing just that nearly 500 years ago!

Have Courage! Be Kind!

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.44.57 PMThere’s a very inexpensive movie theater fairly near our home. Tickets are $2.00 each. For seniors they’re $1.50. Sweet! On Wednesdays seniors get in for $1.00. Even sweeter!

Understandably, newly released movies don’t show up on the marquee right away. That’s OK. For that price, a guy like me who was raised during pretty tough economic times can wait.

So occasionally, when something interesting is being shown, I’ll meet Terry on my way home from my work day at Concordia University Texas. We’ll go to a late afternoon matinee, followed by a shared entrée at Hunan Lion, our favorite oriental restaurant.

Movie and dinner for two: Under $20. Time together with my wife of nearly 50 years: Priceless!

Last week we saw Cinderella. It wasn’t really in the same category as my favorites, like Indiana Jones or James Bond. But watching it was time well spent. Actually, it was a wonderful movie!

It’s probably not necessary to review here the plot of this classic fairy tale. Suffice it to say that the story portrays a mixture of the power of parental love, the pain of dysfunctional blended family abuse and the pleasure of romantic fantasy becoming reality.

Along with memorable scenes and remarkable animation, one of the most powerful highlights was the deathbed dialogue between Ella (later derogatorily named Cinderella by her evil stepsisters) and her biological mother. Mother asked daughter to forgive her for leaving so soon by dying. Ella obliged. Then mother advised daughter: “Have courage! Be kind!”

Good advice that Cinderella followed consistently. That included her parting words, late in the story, to her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine: “I forgive you.” Regardless of the reason for the pronouncement, in any context those words require both courage and kindness.

The Old Testament relates the advice of Moses to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” That encouragement was followed by this promise: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:7-8)

Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32)

Have courage! Be kind! Those wise and biblically based words for living are worth heeding. Even when the reminder to do so comes from a fairy tale!

A non-Mom speaks about Mother’s Day

Woman 1Late last night I saw this article. It’s worth sharing, even as a second Perspectives article on the same day: http://timewarpwife.com/open-letter-pastors-non-mom-speaks-mothers-day/

An Open Letter to Pastors (A non-Mom speaks about Mother’s Day) by Amy Young

Dear Pastor,

Tone can be tricky in writing. Picture me popping my head in your office door, smiling and asking if we could talk for five minutes. I’m sipping on my diet coke as I sit down.

You know that I’m not one to shy away from speaking my mind, part of the reason you love me (mostly!), so I’m guessing that internally you brace yourself wondering what might be next.

I set my can down and this is what I’d say.

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman.

Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Last year a friend from the States happened to visit on Mother’s Day and again the pastor (a different one) asked all mothers to stand. As a mother, she stood and I whispered to her, “I can’t take it, I’m standing.” She knows I’m not a mother yet she understood my standing / lie.

Here’s the thing, I believe we can honor mothers without alienating others. I want women to feel welcome, appreciated, seen, and needed here in our little neck of the body of Christ.

Do away with the standing. You mean well, but it’s just awkward. Does the woman who had a miscarriage stand? Does the mom whose children ran away stand? Does the single woman who is pregnant stand? A.w.k.w.a.r.d.

Acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering.

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

Commend mothering for the ways it reflects the Imago Dei (Image of God) by bringing forth new life, nurturing those on her path, and living with the tension of providing both freedom and a safety net.

I know I might be an unusual one to be speaking about Mother’s Day; but maybe that’s why so many talk to me about mothering. I’ve got the parts, just not the goods.  Thanks for listening and for continuing to mother us in a shepherding way. Even though I’m a bit nervous to come on Sunday, I will be here. But if you make us stand, I might just walk out.

Warmly and in your corner,

Amy

This article is a wonderful reminder of the importance of pastoral sensitivity at all times, especially on occasions that may not be as joyful to some as to others. Thank you, Amy! God bless you!

The Public Baptism of an Unwed Mother’s Child

Credit: Willam Mittelsteadt

Credit: Willam Mittelsteadt

Recently while traveling, Terry and I worshiped at a congregation of our church body. That’s a common practice for us when we’re away from home. That Sunday morning we experienced something that’s not very common at all: the public baptism of an unwed mother’s child.

We later learned that this young lady of 17 had left home at 16, had become pregnant and had subsequently returned home. After giving birth to her baby, with support from her family and pastor she decided to have her baby baptized on Sunday morning in a public worship service rather than in a private service at a different day and time.

As I watched this young lady, who is younger than both of our university student grandchildren, I wondered what her life as a very young single mother would be like in the years ahead. How does a teenaged mother support herself and her child? How does she deal with the judgmental attitude of friends and acquaintances? How does she pick up the pieces of a broken heart and spirit most likely resulting from a severed relationship with the father of her newborn child?

I know of other similar situations where the parents of a young unwed mother have openly embraced their daughter and her child, lovingly providing emotional, financial and spiritual support for both. While acknowledging the moral mistake that led to the reality they faced, they wisely knew that to forsake or abandon their daughter and grandchild would essentially constitute responding to one wrongful act with wrongful acts of their own. Thankfully for all concerned, they chose to emulate the actions of the father of the prodigal son in Holy Scripture and to receive mother and child with open arms and forgiving heart.

What struck me most about our experience that Sunday morning was the courage of the young mother to request the baptism of her child in a public, rather than private, worship service. That decision was particularly poignant in light of the fact that years ago young women in identical situations were required to endure the shame of personally standing before their Christian congregation, embarrassingly admitting their sin and receiving public chastisement for their wrongdoing before, at least in some cases, obtaining corporate forgiveness.

The young mother we saw had received forgiveness from pastor and parents. With their support she made the right decision not to terminate her pregnancy but to give birth to the life within her womb. She then chose to bring her baby to the waters of holy baptism in a public worship service.

There, in the presence of her fellow Christians, she quietly yet openly demonstrated a truth all of us would do well to remember and replicate. When we sin, which we do every day, we ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. Then we move forward in life, doing everything we can as forgiven children of God to transform the result of sin into a manifestation of the grace of God within us.

Terry and I were powerfully blessed by this young lady’s example of doing just that!