This is a special time of year for me. It was five years ago that I came back to the church after declaring myself an atheist in my youth. I spent almost 30 years stuck in unbelief before finding my way back.
Today, I want to talk, in general, about the journey. You see I believe that each of us as a “Damascus Road” experience, maybe not to the intense degree Saul had in the first century, but each of us has an undeniable encounter that changes the path of our lives. Mine happened on Interstate 8, between Phoenix and San Diego, but it could happen anywhere. The place of the encounter is not quite as important as the content of the encounter. It may set up future growth, or may give certain, permanent direction in life.
My encounter was a gentle nudge to open my mind from total disbelieving rebellion that there must be a God, something I had not admitted since 1982. My wife and I were separated by work and hobbies, and the country was coming to grips with the new political landscape under President Obama. I wondered if the truth found in the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution could have been mere men or inspired by a higher being. I was nudged in the direction of believing that God did take part in the creation of this country. It was like seeing an informational sign at the side of the road, saying “God was here.”
The key to these encounters is reading those signposts. The picture below shows a clear Tennessee morning with criss crossing jets taking people to work and play destinations.
What the picture doesn’t show what is going on with each person. Are they drifting along, listening to music secure in their salvation, or secure there is no salvation? Are they ready for an encounter? Could they recognize one if it happened? In scripture, we are given a picture of a father who was seeking and encounter to help his son. In Mark 9: 14-22 this father asked Jesus to heal his son, who has been possessed of a demonic spirit, if he can. Jesus replies, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” The father answers, “I do believe;” then you can hear his mind catch up with his mouth and says the best thing possible, “help me overcome my unbelief!”
Every now and then we have unbelief, either through trauma or apathy. We need to be open to those encounters along our “Damascus Road” to bring us back to alignment with Christ. It could be the first encounter or the 100th, anytime Jesus decides to touch you, is a time to hold dear and to listen to what he has to say. He won’t always use his voice to tell you. Sometimes he uses other people, the news, or your facebook feed to give you something to ponder, or to nudge you in a direction.
On that original Damascus Road, Saul became Paul, and changed from a hate-filled, murderous madman, to one of the most prolific advocates for Jesus Christ possible. Will you listen like he did?
Lord, help us with our unbelief, and give us signs, nudges, words or impulses to help us keep on your path. Give us opportunities to help each other. Let us be your light in this world. In Jesus name, Amen.
Bombings, shootings, knifings, melee attacks, car attacks.
Is this what our world is coming to?
If you add up all the worldwide terror attacks for 2016, as of Noon, March 22, 2016, there are more than 6000 dead and wounded. That’s not terror, that’s war. Most of these attacks take place in Africa or Asia, with the epicenter being the Middle East, but that only shows the global conflict taking place. With instant international communications, it’s easy to see the impact of highly motivated, suicidal, terrorists.
This new normal has roots that wind as deep in our society as the platforms of Social Media. It’s easy to come to dislike, categorize, diminish, and demean people if you don’t have to look them in the eye. Furthermore, if you are pre-disposed to be prejudicial, or hateful, Social Media makes it easy to both find people like you with the same likes and dislikes, but also to find targets, and victims to go after.
One thing that goes along with Social Media is a desire to spew Irresponsible Dialog. It’s illegal to go into a movie theatre and yell “Fire!” The reason for that is the people who lost their lives, jumping out of balconies and in front of cars when somebody had a good laugh. It’s the same thing happening now, if somebody draws the wrong cartoon or says something against this person’s idol, a blood feud erupts. The most vile things possible cross the wires and land in the news feed of thousands of people. Several of which feed on this angst.
There is a pronounced lack of a Moral Directive in today’s society. The overwhelming need is to say and do what is best for each individual, regardless of the repercussions. “All college should be free, we don’t care who pays for it.” People spout about who should be killed, who should be thrown out of the country, that property should be taken away. Where do these thoughts come from? None other than the entitlement lifestyle maintained by so many. When everyone gets a trophy, why shouldn’t everyone have a Ferrari or Porsche?
Our leaders have to take some responsibility too. Instead of standing for moral boundaries, they seek to appease different camps depending on the political winds. Our President will have a beer with a plumber, but shouts about bringing a gun to a knife fight when riots take place. This is not how responsible, moral leaders should act. This is not how responsible, moral people should act.
“The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
The above quote has been requoted a number of times. The reason is the simple truth it embodies. The United States finally (FINALLY!) declared the attacks and depredations on Christians in Iraq and Syria by ISIS a genocide. If you are being killed because of your race or beliefs, what else can it be? But instead of taking action to stop such things, the government of this country seeks to appease those factions. Remember the “deal” with Iran? That wasn’t a deal, that was capitulation.
At some point we have to turn off of the interstate of fear and loathing and take the more peaceful side roads that occupy the heartland of America. These “side roads” typically are lined with churches, farms, and kids playing regardless of attacks by madmen in far off lands. In those churches, one of the things that would be spoken would be this verse:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-2
The American in me demands action. The Christian demands in me demands peace and forgiveness. I’ll be honest, I don’t have the answers. I just feel we are at the brink of a new war that will require sacrifice of blood, treasure and a measure of our soul.
Every now and then I get a chuckle from a memory about the early 1990’s variety show, “In Living Color.” The show had a four year run, but still spawns punchline phrases in my everyday conversations. Phrases such as “Homey don’t play that,” and “Mo better butter,” make their way into the conversation when something comes up that I won’t engage in, or when I have the opportunity to choose a butter spread instead of margarine. The show and its reach was wide and long lasting.
When I go to sleep, or when I pray, there are times when I’ll get an image that is, or will be important. I have seen a backward Z several times now. It took me the longest time what the importance and message was behind this. I was driving to work one morning and saw a gate in a fence. Behind the fence were cattle and horses, but what caught my attention was the fence. There was a special construction next to the gate, in order to keep the fence tight and the gate upright. It was two posts with a backward Z between them. Two crossbars and a diagonal that was several lengths of wire twisted tight to keep it square.
Back when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the weakest part of the wall is the gate, because it has to move. So the wall (or fence) needs to be strongest next to the gate in order to handle the weight of the wall and the forces put on it due to the moving of the gate. This was the point of the Z formation.
God is calling to us to stand strong. There are great things moving in the world such as the miraculous dreams bringing people to Christ in the Middle East. At the same time evil and wickedness are also growing, evidenced by the growth and staying power of ISIS. There is good and evil in our own back yards, we need to stand and address it. We need to be strong at the gates, and not let evil into our own households, communities, or churches. We need to stand firm in our faith, proclaim the Good News, and withstand the attacks that are coming.
Lord, strengthen us. Help us be not only the watchmen on the walls, but the gatekeepers as well. Especially the men in the world. It is our job to protect the family economically, physically, and spiritually. It is our job to keep the darkness at bay. Help us turn up the light, and protect what has been entrusted to us. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.