Cat Food: The New Forbidden Fruit

Is this where we are headed in Obama’s America? Where all of us end up eating government supplied cat food as our dietary staple? Maybe it won’t be so bad …

The most sought after and fought over food on our farm is the food in the cat’s bowl!

We have sufficiently disciplined our dog to longer sneak around and steal it. But when Nathan and Allie’s dog stays with us, the cat gets little to eat – all this from a dog who rather hates eating dog food and actually eats very little of anything.

However, now our free-ranging chickens have decided they too want to eat the cat’s food. Some of them have begun to come right up on the back porch and eat it all in full view of the feline! As final evidence that the world is turned upside down in Obama’s America, the chickens today chased the cat off the porch and away from her bowl! She has to be thinking, “And this is the thanks I get for not eating you when you were the size of a chicken nugget?”

To desire to have what you are not supposed to have and possess as your own … that is a condition not limited to the animal kingdom. In fact, it goes back to the very first of human problems – the mother of all sorrows and sadness and sickness and death. Forbidden fruit.

Learning contentment within our circumstances is a great challenge. It may, in fact, be at the very center of the primary lesson that God would have us learn – to trust Him today, right NOW, and in spite of whatever is going on around us. Consider these biblical admonitions:

Philippians 4:11-12 … I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

1 Timothy 6:6 … But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Hebrews 13:5 … Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So Close, but So Far …

I recently had the occasion to go to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to visit someone from my church. I parked in a nearby deck and walked a couple of blocks to enter the front door of the facility. As I crossed the street to approach the entrance, lying there on the sidewalk was a man who had been rather obviously stricken with some critical medical emergency – so close to the door of the hospital that he was literally in the flower bed about 25 feet from the entrance.

At about the same time as I was walking up to this scene, from blocks away one could hear an emergency vehicle en route for the purpose of assisting this individual. By the time that the medical care arrived, he had been in that position for quite a while; and even then, he was going to be loaded into the vehicle and driven around to another side of the facility.

And so I thought – what an irony … that this man was so close to the care that he needed that he could have almost rolled over through the front door, and yet he was very, very far away from getting the assistance he so desperately required.

And I thought also – that is the spiritual condition of so many people whom I know and love. They are so close, but yet so far. They have some interests in things related to knowing God, but they really do not have a relationship with Him that is evidenced in any way by the patterns of their lives. They always intend to make this issue a matter of priority, but they never seem to bring it front and center and act upon it.

But here’s the point: rolling through the door of the hospital and being inside would do this man no good unless he also met a physician who could help him … but getting inside was a necessary first step. And likewise, getting into church is not going to really cure your disconnection from God unless you meet up with Him there – the Great Physician … but getting inside is a really good first step.

May I invite you my friends – so many of you being local people who read my writings – to come inside the doors at Tri-State Fellowship beginning this Sunday (9:30). We begin a new season of ministry with a new way of worshipping and gathering … and we begin also this Sunday in a new teaching series called “Belong.”

Do you “belong?”  Do you really know God and have a relationship with Him that informs the steps of your lives today and guarantees you an eternal future with Him? If you fear you may not “belong,” we can help you out!  Don’t just remain so close, but so far.

A physician named Luke, who wrote one of the Gospels quoted Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

And Jesus himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Talking to and Hearing from God

My 3-year-old granddaughter Bella – who is unusually verbal for her age – was recently asked by someone what she likes to do. Her answer was, “I like to talk to God. You can talk to him anywhere. He can hear you but he doesn’t talk back very loud.”

After a chuckle at the humor of such a little one saying something like this, I’m guessing that a lot of people quietly agree with the entire statement. Yes, it is true that God may be talked to at any place and any time. And I don’t think many folks really doubt that God hears them. It is the final part of it that is difficult – how does God talk back? And yes, it often does not seem to be very loud or clearly definitive.

How do we hear from God? Where do we find his guidance and his will? Of course we need to be praying and seeking his direction.

Certainly God uses our circumstances and life events to speak to us. There are times where even extraordinary events upon the pathways of life may open or close doors and thus provide guidance to us.

As well, there is what we often call “the witness of Spirit” – that inner sense of either peace or discomfort surrounding decisions and opportunities that grant some measure of leading.

But the primary method of God’s guidance is through Christ and his Word – the Scriptures. It says in Hebrews chapter1 that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  That would indeed be a way cool thing to hear from God through prophets and miraculous voices. But God’s truth has been revealed in the person of Christ, and of course all that we know of Christ is contained in the perfect written record of the Scriptures.

So to know God’s direction – to hear his voice a bit louder – one has to know the Bible. And that is the focus that we have at TSF – in our sermons and classes and small groups of all sorts. If you are not a part of these opportunities, now is the best time of year to jump in.

A Theology of the Beach

The Beach as Therapy

There is now scientific proof of something we have almost all sensed and known to be true – that there is something naturally therapeutic about the beach! Oh yes – here’s a topic that will preach! Eric Boutieller will shout an ecstatic “amen” to this one … he LOVES the beach! (I think it has something to do with the sun shining on his head!)

There was a research study done in Europe with 2750 people which found that time spent near the seaside – regardless of the weather – was better for emotional and physical health than time spent at any other place of leisure, such as a park. Some scientists speculate that the atmospheric turbulence caused by breaking waves releases charged ions into the air … producing mood boosting endorphins and serotonin – hormones that cause a sense of well-being. The same thing we know to be true of a good, hearty laugh, and even the Scriptures support such (Proverbs 17:22).

Could we find the same support for the beach?

The only three occasions of the word “beach” being used in the Bible are in the accounts of Paul’s journeys in the book of Acts – so not much to go on there. How about the word “waves?”  It is actually used 29 times, although to be honest, most of those occurrences present a concept of tumult, disarray, danger, and the angry power of nature.

But there is one very positive usage of “waves” as illustrating well-being … even though it is in the context of a rebuke of the nation of Israel for not trusting God and obeying Him. It says in Isaiah 48:17-18 “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”  

Well… that’s good enough for me to build a “beach theology!”  It is God’s will for us to spend time on the beach – the Bible as much as says so! Right?

So … I’m going to go for a couple of days of biblically-based well-being next week!

Simple Servants


Over the summer at Tri-State Fellowship we have continued our iGrow series (adult learning center classes that meet at 11:00). Tim Lester did a six-week series called “Guardrails.”  I have just begun a second series for four weeks called “Simple Servants.”  I’ve been putting some readings and questions as preparation for the week to come on our church Facebook page … but that means I’ve got to remember to do it each day. I was thinking about how much easier it is with the blogs I write – where postings can be scheduled (which explains why you might see my Orioles or Civil War blogs have articles that go online at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning).

So I thought I’d just put the whole series of questions, thoughts, and readings here on this blog for you to get at any time.

This four-week iGrow series of lessons focuses upon some of the lesser known characters of the early church – who served in supportive roles alongside those whom we more often remember. Together with star characters like Paul, Peter, Timothy and Luke, they established God’s program of abounding grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without doubt, these people had gifts and talents. But honestly, they were pretty ordinary – not a lot different than most of us. What made them special was their desire to partner deeply with God’s work. Their consistent attitude was a question of, “What may I do to help?”  The value of such simple servants is timeless and limitless.

We will look at the lives of:

  • Priscilla and Aquila (7/29)
  • Barnabas (8/5)
  • Silas (8/12)
  • Philemon (8/19)

WEEK ONE: Priscilla and Aquila (7/29/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 18:1-17.  Make a list of the types of experiences that Priscilla and Aquila must have had with the Apostle Paul during this time together.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 18:18-28.  What does this passage indicate about the probable skills and capabilities of this husband and wife?

Wednesday:  Read Romans 16:1-5a & 1 Corinthians 16:19.  What additional skills possessed by this couple do we see in this passage? What must this have been like in that time and that place (living in Rome)?

Thursday:  Read 2 Timothy chapter 4.  What does the mention of this couple by Paul in his final written words reveal of his thoughts about them?  (This is back in Ephesus)

Friday:  Read Acts 5:1-10.  What contrasts may be drawn between the husband/wife teams of Priscilla and Aquila, and Ananias and Sapphira?

Week 2: Barnabas (8/5/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 9:17-30.  What list of character traits of Barnabas may be generated from this account?

Tuesday:  Read Acts 11:19-30.  Continue to add character traits of Barnabas to your list. Are you beginning to get a mental picture of what it would be like to meet this man?

Wednesday:  Read Acts 13:1-12, 42-49.  In a word, what is the job Barnabas is called to perform? Where might he have had any idea how to accomplish this?

Thursday:  Read Acts chapter 14.  It is clear now that Paul is the leader of the team. What more does this say about the character of Barnabas and his attitudes?

Friday:  Read Acts 15:1-35, and Galatians 2:12-13.  Note here the bold and passionate interest within Barnabas for theological truth and for the central message of the Gospel.

Week 3: Silas (8/12/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 15:22-35.  Even as you review some of the same material as last week, begin to note the position of Silas in the early church community. See also at the end of the chapter that he is commissioned to missionary service with Paul.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 16:1-15.  What great experiences is Silas a witness of?  Make note of all who are travelling together (hint – one is not listed), and how this trip fits into the spread of the Gospel and western civilization.

Wednesday:  Read Acts 16:16-40.  Try to put yourself into Silas’ sandals and imagine the emotional highs and lows of being in this situation.

Thursday:  Read Acts 17:1-15.  Continue to catalogue what may be learned about Silas from this missionary journey, noting especially what happens in verse 14.

Friday:  Read Acts 18:1-8, 2 Cor. 11:9, Philippians 4:15-16 and tie together these passages. Look also at a final mention of Silas (Silvanus) in 1 Peter 5:12.

Week 4: Philemon (8/19/12)

Monday:  Read Philemon verses 1-7,22-25 & Colossians chapter 4, and note how these writings go together.

Tuesday:  Read Philemon 8-21 – Note how Paul has come across Philemon’s runaway slave named Onesimus in Rome, led him to Christ, and is now sending him back home.

Wednesday:  Read Philemon again. If you were a slave, would you return?  If you were the owner, would you receive him back? Make a mental list of the reasons why Paul is telling Philemon to take back Onesimus. Does Paul’s appeal begin to present a picture to you of the work of Christ? How so?

Thursday:  Read Philemon 15,16 // Col. 3:22-23 // Eph. 6:5-9 // 1 Tim. 6:1-3.  Ponder what it would be like to be in a New Testament church with both masters and slaves in the same family of faith.

Friday:  Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17-19.  What is the biblical admonition to the wealthier people of a church? What makes it difficult for poor people and wealthy people to serve well together in a church in our day? What would make it easier?

Just TOTALLY Annoying!

What is? Ugh!! The crazies of the world … who get some bizarre pleasure out of creating computer problems for someone else!

Yes, I got one of those stupid virus things – where someone is trying to sell you a fix for a problem that does not exist (a hard drive problem), or sometimes for an issue that they first gave you!

My trouble is likely a fixable problem without the loss of anything … so I’m thankful for that; and I’m even more thankful for my friend Rusty Claman – who is my hero. He came into the staff meeting today to pick up my sorry machine (I’m using an old one now), and I fell at his feet and worshipped! This is a good guy.

Selling a fix for a problem that does not exist – that is how a great many people look at the church and the evangelical gospel message. They deny the reality of the problem (that sin separates them from a relationship with God) and therefore they see the entire process of salvation/sanctification/service to be a sales job for an unneeded product. And they likely find the network of efforts of churches and organizations as about as annoying as I find these crooks who cooked up my computer glitch.

But honestly, to not sense a need for God and to deny the truths that even creation itself screams about this reality … well, it is like running through life without virus protection whatsoever, being fatally infected, and not believing it to be true.

Rusty walked out of church today saying that there will be no technology in heaven, as it is reserved for hell!  I can’t give you a Scripture reference for that, but I think Rusty is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known!

Who’s Your Daddy?

I’ve often heard it said that the dangerous thing about researching your family history is that you might not like what you find out!

As many of you know, I’ve got a bit of a convoluted background – having been adopted by my maternal grandparents. So I do know a lot of the family history on that side, and it is a mixed bag of some rather odd characters, along with an amazing history that traces back to the very founders of the Protestant Reformation.

However, I never met my biological father (who passed away in 1979), even though he lived very near to where I was for the first 22 years of my life. About 1977, I called him on the phone one day and asked to meet, but he said he did not want to. And that was my only conversation ever with him … took about 3 minutes. Though he was a leading personality in the community, I guess he had a boatload of personal problems and ghosts.

I have many times in the pursuit of my Civil War research and writing dug up original source material on various people, so I put some sleuthing skills to work recently on tracing my biological past. I’ve only made it back to 1855 and have already hit a dead end – not able to explain why my great-grandfather in 1860 was a five-year old who was living with people of a different last name.

It is all very weird to not know your father or where you’ve come from. Maybe that is why the concept of a “spiritual, heavenly family” means much to me and is such a part of my dialogue about the church family. We are related through our father God and our brother Christ – who has paid the price that we may be adopted into the Family – that organic body of faith which we get to begin to experience on earth, and will experience perfectly in the beyond. God does not hang up on our calls to him!

Concerning our adoption into God’s family, it says in Romans 8:14,15: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

Anyhow, in my research I found the following picture from a 1934 yearbook. See if any of you can ID which one is my natural father (I’ll give the answer under the picture). Haha – it sure is a happy looking group isn’t it?  It is a picture of the local chapter of the “Thesbian Society.”  My father was very involved in musical theatre over his whole life, and was often the leading actor in productions. The organization was very similar to our local Potomac Playmakers. If my mother had lived to see me play “Herr Victor Schwab” or one of my other Christmas Show roles, I know what she would have been thinking about my heritage.

OK… he is the guy in the front row. For this school year, he was the president of the society or the leading person or some such thing – I forget what the caption said. This was in a school in Easton, PA called Wilson High School.

The Frustration of Life Cycles

At the height of the hippie generation, I remember sitting in a high school class with a history teacher who was a World War 2 army veteran tank commander. Mr. Wilson had a crew cut, was still a chiseled figure, and oozed “duty, honor, country!” The several flower-child hippie students in the class were a total mystery to him. I recall him saying one day that life is full of cycles; and he then directed his remarks at the wire-rimmed, droopy-eyed, anti-war students who expressed their rebellion by sitting together at the rear of the class, “Someday, your kids are going to be pro-military, flag-waving Americans with short hair who look and think like me – just to annoy you!”  My guess is that this probably happened.

There are cycles to life, to values, to tastes, fashions and all manner of things. For example, the short hairstyles and clothing choices of my boys’ generation – wearing long shorts and black socks for example – would have gotten them beaten up at my high school as some sort of ….. well ….. I won’t use the word online. The heavy, thick plastic glasses that are common today were a thing of the 50s and 60s, were replaced by a series of wire-framed styles, and now are back again – thicker and larger than ever.

Things cycle in church ministry as well. In my 30 years of doing this, I’ve seen the adult Sunday morning education component switch back and forth at least 5-6 times between a.) topic-driven electives for whomever is interested, and b.) age- and life stage-related Adult Bible Fellowship groups. The pendulum keeps swinging.

But here is one that I did not see coming back around the corner behind me – an appreciation for the ambiance of the worship space. Younger generations have a renewed appreciation for the environment of the worship experience that engages all the senses. The contemporary-oriented groundbreakers of my generation must have been practical to a fault! We were not necessarily against a nice fixed-seat auditorium with artistic wall treatments, warm color schemes, and the best of lighting packages. But, we did not generally value this as a best use of Kingdom resources. When building TSF in the mid 90s, not only did we not have the finances to build a worship edifice, we chose not to … feeling that the space for meeting mattered little – the real ministry was people, relationships, communication of truth. Who cared what the room looked like? Even a warehouse would work! We’d use the savings for missions. And whatever space we built HAD TO, by our values systems, serve many multiple purposes for all ages and types of ministries. It was seen as a family room, not a living room. But times and preferences change – the pendulum swings, and this swing caught me in the back of the head!

Life does have cycles … but probably you need to be old to feel them as a frustration. And that makes sense, because when you are young, everything is still new. Hearing that anything you are now experiencing is but a repeat of the past is likely not much more than an observation you will weigh about whether to believe it or not – that maybe it is just the whining of an old generation – of people seeking to hang on to something they feel slipping from their grasp.

Solomon said, “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”



Low Esteem for Self-Esteem

I have several times recently read or heard stories of the failure of self-esteem ideology to grant people the fulfillment it was initiated to provide. Though none of this research is from a Christian perspective, it certainly squares totally with the teachings of Christ.

The first item to catch my attention was a Wall Street Journal article about “Gray Divorce” – the phenomenon of people over age 50 leaving marriages in record numbers. The divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled in the past two decades … at the same time that rates for the general population are actually slightly falling.

Why is this? The reasons vary, but a part of almost every explanation is some version of a self-fulfillment story. Baby Boomers of the “Me Generation” entered marriage with a different viewpoint from generations before. Not strongly endorsing the long-term values of fulfilling roles of spouse and parent, this generation entered with some high expectations for how the marriage would fulfill personal dreams and aspirations. And now, facing maybe 25-35 years more of life with someone they’ve found to be a personal disappointment, they are bailing out to go make it happen while it still can happen.

A second item that caught my ear was on a radio talk show – where the host was interviewing two secular researchers who found that those people who are religious are indeed far more often happy than those who do not have this life component. The researchers were very clear in saying that the religious people had a different world view – one more focused away from self and rather upon the helping of others and serving God, faith, etc.  For the secular folks, the writers came right out and blamed decades of self-esteem educational ideologies. The fact is that those folks who focus upon their own personal-centric universe are not fulfilled and hence carry a higher load of sadness and disappointment.

This should not surprise the biblically literate person, as we are able to know what Christ taught about the human condition – that life is not about us and our fulfillment, but about knowing Him and finding our pleasure in His service. Fulfillment is not a product; it is a by-product of something much bigger. Jesus said, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

There Really is Something in There!

There is a 13-year gap from our oldest to our youngest of five boys. So even though we have a couple of grandchildren, it is not really that long ago that we had little ones in the house. Along with also not being people to throw things away quickly, we still have quite a lot of the toys from our kids that the grandchildren can now enjoy when visiting.

One item that Bella (32 months old) really enjoys for some reason is a toy camera. In a way, it is odd that she actually understands it is a camera, as it is an old instamatic style with a “flash cube” that turns 90 degrees when you “take” a picture. If you look inside one of the holes, there are actually circulating pictures of different wild animals.

Bella does not seem to understand that there really are pictures of animals in there! Closing one eye is a serious kid challenge! We will say, “Look in here and you can see a picture of a bear” … and there really is.  But she thinks we are just pretending, and so plays along by saying, “No, I see a snake.”

A lot of folks are like that about faith. They play along with church and learning about the Bible and its teachings. Of course, these things are real and true. God has revealed Himself in Christ and the written Word, and many people play along like its real … not that they actually have considered it to be. But God’s work of redemption in this world through the life of Christ – this is the true reality.

March is here, the weather is warming, and the winds of Spring are blowing … we are headed toward Easter and the celebration of the central truth of the faith – the resurrection of Christ.

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”