O Thou in whose Presence my soul takes delight

Are you suffering or grieving or just being overwhelmed by the stuff of life? Let me suggest a hymn which will nourish and comfort your soul. How do I know? Well, I don’t but it has been a great encouragement to me and that why I want to share it with you.

 May the Lord bless you with joy in his Presence even if you are facing the death of a loved one. Rest assured that if they belong to Christ they will soon experience unspeakable joy in his Presence. 

The Childrens Bible in a Nutshell

I posted this one awhile ago. Here it is again because a little humor is good medicine. (Prov 15:13, 15; 17:22) 

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas.  The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve.  Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham.  Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.  Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston.  Moses led the Israel Lights out of  Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people.  These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti.  Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies.  Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David.  He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot.  He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.  My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets.  One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament.  Jesus is the star of The New.  He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.

Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus.  Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man.  He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot.  Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus.  He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again.  He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum.  His return is foretold in the book of Revolution. I can’t wait, canoe?

 

 

July 4th: A Call for Concern 

A rewrite of an earlier blog post:

This is July 4th and I am re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” French historian Alexis de Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, as we have seen time and again in the political arena is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence (or getting things done)– not character.  

Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at our most recent presidential election (sorry to bring it up again) which basically boiled down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusted more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having a President who is a loose cannon with personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversarial forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Let us commit ourselves to pray for our country and for our President, regardless of your opinion (1 Timothy 2:2). And may God have mercy on America!

Do you see Giants?

I just read the account in Numbers 13 and 14 of the thirteen spies sent by Moses into the land that God had promised to lead them. This was after a miraculous deliverance from Egypt a year earlier. 

Read over these two chapters very slowly. They are filled with timely lessons for us. I want to briefly mention just one of those lessons that resonated with me at this time in my life. Notice the “bad report” of the eleven spies in 13:27-33 and compare it with the “good report” of Caleb and Joshua in 14:6-9. 

The eleven saw the giants, who kept getting bigger and bigger the more they told their story, inciting fear in the hearts of the people. The other two saw the Lord and His protection and presence,  encouraging the people not to fear and to claim God’s promise. 

So let me ask you a simple question as you look at your life and what you are facing or going to face. What do you see? Do you see the giants and are filled with fear or do you see the Lord who has delivered you from jaws of sin and death and will be with you to the end? 

It really does boil down to who do you trust: yourself and your ability (or lack thereof) to control your circumstances, or the Lord? The writer of Hebrews in chapters 3 and 4 would say it was the difference between “an unbelieving heart” and one who “holds fast to our assurance firm to the end.”

So I ask myself, “Dave, who do you see as you face your present circumstances and an uncertain future?”  I can honestly say, by God’s grace, that I see the Lord and am not afraid! How about you? 

Fear not little flock…

So, where is your anxiety level these days, level orange? Our culture of fear has provided lots of munchies to feed our fear monsters: terrorism, angry and unstable people (could be a neighbor who seems normal but keeps to himself) committing acts of violence, eratic North Korea, Russian involvement in the current administration, the confusion of our political system, the future of health care, the debt-ridden-no-budget economy of Illinois, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS… do you remember these last ones?

The world-wide fear over SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which originated in China in 2002-3 is a fascinating study of how an irrational fear properly fed, grows out of proportion to the danger of the crisis. SARS had infected over 5,000 people worldwide and killed over 300, which was a tragedy.  However, at the same time in the U.S. alone 700,000 people died from heart disease and 550,000 from cancer. In 2012, the West Nile virus infected 4100 in the U.S. and killed 286, again a tragedy. However, during the same period 71,000 people died of diabetes and 62,000 of pneumonia.

Mysterious diseases, political intrigue, acts of violence and terrorism make big stories and media hype tends to report the reality disproportionately.  If you still watch the evening news on tv, you almost need a sedative afterwards.  Such news feeds our fears and diverts our attention from dealing with present issues and concerns, as well as stepping out of our bubble and taking risks for the sake of the gospel.

In “Break Open the Sky” Stephan Bauman (former president of World Relief) says, Fear is popular today because it’s profitable. Producers of media in all its forms have become merchants of fear, stoking fires of controversy, threat, or anger in search of larger audiences. Politicians, both conservative and progressive, traffic in fear to secure support and shore up votes. Corporations employ fear to make us buy more of their products. Friends warn us of the latest health scare, food allergy, or crime epidemic. Even religion, as an enterprise, makes use of fear. 

We Americans are experts at trying to control our own lives. We are self-sufficient and we tend to provide for ourselves quite well, thank you! We reduce our risks to the minimum, fix all our own problems, and anticipate all eventualities- well, at least we try. When something comes along like a new strain of flu bug for which (we are told) no antedote yet exist, we feel helpless, frustrated, and out of control — a feeling that Americans hate.  We also start to connect our present fear to all the rest in our anxiety-arsenal and overwhelm ourselves with worry and precaution and a bit of paranoia –because it might be terrorist related.

Earlier Christians (and many in the third world today*) lived in unsafe and hostile societies which were vulnerable to constant war, natural disasters without warning, and real incurable diseases. They had little control over their lives and had little sense of a bright earthly future. However, they did have faith in a God who never forgets the cross and would never forget them.  Their antidote to fear was not an inoculation but trust in a sovereign and loving God who has all things under control.

When the prophet Habakkuk looked at his uncertain future he was overcome with fear. However, he did not allow this fear to paralyze him and he chose to do two things: focus on the character of God who never changes (1:12); listen to God’s counsel to quell his fear.  “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The antidote for fear is not courage but faith.

So if we really want to listen to a Sovereign God who never changes then we must begin by hearing the consistent message spoken to the people under the old covenant and to those of us under the new… DO NOT BE AFRAID!

I won’t list all these passages but will mention one found in Luke 12:32 where Jesus told his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” I wish I had a visual of Jesus speaking to this insigificant little band of wide-eyed men who were ready to be sent out into a violent world to spread the gospel, with little provisions and seemingly little hope of success. And yet Jesus said My little flock- those who are my special ones under my care whom I love- FEAR NOT! The reason not to fear is becuase your Father is absolutely delighted to give you a future, the very Kingdom that you are being sent out to share with others will be your eternal inheritance. And since he will bestow upon you a future glory that you cannot imagine, you do not need to worry that He will provide everything you need in this life as you risk it for His Kingdom.

“He who did not spare his own Son, how will he not also along with Him give us all things.” There is nothing that will come to you that does not first pass through the hand of your heavenly Father and is designed to make you more like Jesus. FEAR NOT…

 

 

*In an essay “The Epidemic of Worry,” David Brooks wrote, According to the World Health Organization, 18.2% of Americans report chronic anxiety while only 3.3% of Nigerians,

 

How can God carry the burden of this world? 

I am at a place in my life where I can hardly pray without my heart being so burdened with the weight of the requests that it really feels like it is breaking. I have a dear friend who just passed away, another who has cancer, another who is in recovery from a broken neck, another who is recovering from back surgery. In addition, prayer for  the suffering places of the world where hunger and deprivation reign and where innocents suffer from the greed of the powerful. Lastly, prayer for the victims of senseless acts of violence wrought by terrorists or those motivated by anger in the workplace or by road rage.

Who can bear the burden of prayer for these things? And yet there is God… He hears my requests and yours as well, and the cries of those who are suffering alone and forgotten– constantly and all at once! He is not limited by the boundaries of a finite nature, a changeable character, or the whims and oddities of emotions.

I have never before thought of the infinitude of God in relation to prayer.  There is no waiting list or pecking order to his attentiveness.  There is no favoritism to his love. His answers don’t always come immediately nor in the shape of our desires or passionate pleas, which any parent can understand, but they will come because he hears them all.

He does not hear us according to our worthiness, but according to his love for us in Christ. Nothing that comes from his hand is meant for evil nor for our punishment, though it may involve suffering and hurt like … There is no one so sinful that God will not hear his cry of repentance.  There is no one so prodigal that she will not have the Father’s embrace.

The only prayer that God rejects (at least that I know of) is the prayer of the self- righteous heart.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus compares the prayer of the Pharisee who is obsessed with his own virtue with the prayer of the despised tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. Jesus said,”I tell you this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

So my dear sister or brother, why do you hesitate to pray? Are you afraid that you are not worthy enough or that God has more important things to do than listen to you? Do you feel you have prayed and prayed and God has not answered? Do you feel that what you are facing is the punishment for the sins of the past? Do you no longer feel like praying? I have felt all of these deceptive hindrances to prayer and found only one solution; to just pray!  After all this is what faith does; it humbly acts on what it knows to be true even though everything in and around it screams the antithesis.  One Puritan preacher said that when Jesus cried out “my God, my God, what have you forsaken me” faith was evidenced not at the nadir of joy and peace but at the meridian of darkness.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense; but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774

So your life isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one you have…

I’m not sure why I titled this blog as I did, but perhaps it captures the feeling more than the content of what I am going to say. I finished reading through the Bible again. A wonderful discipline that I picked up by example from my dad. I have begun to read in Genesis again and, as is my custom, am using a different version to gain another perspective. It will take me a year and half, but who’s in a hurry?

Over half of Genesis is about Jacob; even the huge section about Joseph is about how God preserved Jacob (Israel) in famine and gave his people favor in the eyes of Pharaoh. However, the life of Jacob from beginning to end is about family dysfunction; favoritism, jealousy, abuse in all forms, rejection, hatred, incest, prostitution, to name just a few. Substance abuse is not specifically mentioned like it was with Noah and Lot, but it would not be much of an interpretive stretch to think that the fruit of the vine may have fermented and fomented much of what we see.

The point? Not much is hidden from us about the individual, familial, and generational sins of God’s Covenant people. And not much should surprise us about our own family history and the patterns of generational sin that we may have uncovered or even experienced. You don’t need to pay money to do an Ancestry,com DNA search to reveal that sin runs deep even in the people of God.

The point? The gospel of God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (God’s Son, but also a descendent of Jacob through Judah) is the only hope we have of dealing with our individual and generational sins. We cannot undo the things we have done or have been done to us, but we no longer need to be defined by these things and consigned to live a “plan B” life. Through a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (daily preaching the gospel to ourselves), we can end patterns of individual sin, forgive others who have sinned against us, and stop the cycle of sin from being passed on to our children and grandchildren. Some of us will need a little extra help in the process and should be encouraged to seek out a Christian counselor. No, our lives won’t be perfect and, yes, we will always have our past, but by God’s grace even our sinful past can be used for His glory and not our shame.

Perhaps a personal example will help clarify what I mean. My mom wrote out some of her painful family remembrances just a few years before she died. It was a 10-page, double-spaced, typewritten document titled, “Where Would I Be Without the Lord?” In this testament she shared about growing up in alcohol-infested family where her parents were in and out of separation so much that she was shipped off to live the first 8 or 9 years of her life with three different aunts. Finally, her mom divorced and remarried another alcoholic (a hotel and bar owner), and mom was brought home to live with 4 step-siblings she had never met. Her mom, my grandmother (Nanny), also had alcohol issues, and would often take her anger out on mom by beating her with a broom and locking her in closets. Unfortunately, Nanny got the same treatment from her husband when he was drunk. Mom described one incident where he dragged Nanny up the stairs by her hair and then threw her back down. I will spare you other awful details.

My mom became a nurse and married my dad when he got out of the Army. My dad had issues of his own, which were also alcohol related. My two sisters and brother were born, and four years before I was born my mom and dad came to believe the gospel applied to them and became followers of Christ; at 34 and 36 respectively. It did not change their past or the things done by them or to them, but it did change the way they interpreted those things and how they chose to respond to them. My mom, in particular, was the most kind and gentle person you could imagine. You would definitely want her for your nurse if you were sick. She was a wonderful mother who never laid a finger on me or any of my siblings. She reversed the curse and ended the cycle of abuse and rejection with which she had lived. She loved and respected her mom throughout the rest of Nanny’s life. Mom also had a chance to reconcile with her own father (who sold her crib for booze) when she requested to take care of him as his nurse in a convalescent home where he was dying. My dad also made a 180 with alcohol and became one of the most ardent evangelists (he was a cop) you would ever want to meet.

This was the family I grew up in. My sisters became believers and married godly men. They each have four children who love Jesus and they have in turn begotten twenty-three grand and great grandchildren. My brother who passed away many years ago chose not to embrace the faith and yet had seven wonderful children who have in turn produced thirteen grand and great grand kids. Finally, Gloria and I have five kids and seven grandchildren.

The point? Fifty-six people (this is not even including the spouses of the children /grandchildren who have married into the McDowell family) whose lives have been directly affected by my parents becoming believers in Jesus and choosing to follow a new direction in life not defined by their past; “to the third and fourth generation.”

So on this Memorial Day, let us remember those who have served our country by giving their lives in sacrifice. Perhaps you have someone in your own family who has paid that price. We would also do well to remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the price for redeeming us from sin. Our life may not be perfect, but it is the only one we have. By God’s grace let us learn to deal with our sin in the light of Christ’s forgiveness.  Let us also choose not to be defined by our past, but by how God can use it to help others and glorify himself.

I cannot change the past but I can learn from it… 

I will not fear the future because I cannot control it…

I will gladly live in the present, for that is the arena in which my trust in God is displayed and his glory through me is revealed.