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One morning as I was preparing my breakfast, I looked out of my kitchen window to see a doe and a fawn grazing on my lawn— a normal occurrence. Then out of nowhere, I noticed the doe’s other fawn near my neighbors’ 10’ deer fence which stretched along my property line. At first, I thought the fawn was on my property, but then I noticed it running from one end of the fence to the other trying to find an opening to join his mother and sibling on my property. Occasionally, the fawn wandered further into my neighbor’s property seeking another way out.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the doe and fawn wondered off my property and into the woods leaving behind the trapped fawn. Then I was distracted for a few minutes fixing my breakfast. The next time I looked out my window the fawn was gone, and I never saw it again. Did it escape by going to the front of my neighbor’s property even though it was gated? Will it die of exhaustion? Or did my neighbor shoot it with a bow and arrow? I will never know. Yet the doe and her fawn still graze on my property before sunrise and after sunset.

The fence, the doe and her fawns made me think of the US border wall and barriers in other countries that harm fellow human beings by excluding them. Unfortunately, history seems to repeat itself. Many people like the poor trapped fawn struggle to survive the brutalities and tyranny of war, dictators, autocrats, predators, human traffickers, slave holders, terrorists, etc. Most vulnerable people find it necessary to escape these life-threatening conditions in their home countries. Their hope is that the international community will open their doors and allow them a safe haven until such time as peace, justice, and stability are established in their home countries so they can return and rebuild their lives there. In the meantime, let us recognize the dignity of refugees and asylum seekers and give them the respect and equal rights they deserve. And let us live out Jesus’ great love commandment.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Mt. 22:37-40)

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Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:34)

Sexual predators you cannot hide from God. You strike vulnerable men, women, and children with impunity mostly behind closed doors. In the past, fear and shame kept victims silent. Now the #MeToo movement has emboldened women to speak out against sexual predators. Their bravery has helped to remove sexual predators from positions of power. Estimates run as high as one in six women have been sexually assaulted.  Many of these women have stepped out of the shadows to tell their story and the long-term emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual impact it has had upon them. Numbers are high for sexual assaults against men and children as well.

Historically and today, predators and sex offenders in positions of power try to discredit victims’ testimonies. These predators get away with it often based on lack of evidence. Think about why this happens. Sexual predators do not assault their victims in public. That way they can deny it ever happened. Predators choose places and opportunities that cannot be verified by eye witnesses. And women, for their part, do not want to be shamed and humiliated further by identifying their predator to law enforcement personnel knowing full well that their misfortune may not be believed.

The Brett Kavanaugh hearings have divided our nation along political and gender lines. Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times on September 29 about blackouts caused by too much drinking. It is possible that Brett Kavanaugh could have blacked out after assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and has no memory of his assault. A polygraph test regarding the alleged assault and whether he has ever blacked out from too much drinking would have helped clear the air. Also, drunkenness and doping of victims are no excuse for sexual predatory behavior.

When we get right down to it, sin and self-centeredness lies at the heart of sexual predatory behavior. So what is sin? Christians and Jews believe that apart from God sin has no meaning. I like Old Testament Professor Walter Brueggemann’s definition of God. He believes God is a holy power with a moral purpose that is non-negotiable.

In the Middle Ages, theologians identified and created a list of seven deadly sins they thought we needed to purge from our lives because they believed these sins entrap our souls and dehumanize us. These sins are (1) greed, (2) sloth or apathy or the avoidance of our obligations, (3) lust, (4) anger, (5) pride or self-centeredness, (6) envy, and (7) gluttony. How many of these sins possess today’s sexual predators?

Additionally, have these predators truly sought forgiveness? A trip to the confessional without true repentance is useless. The sinners are still separated from God. So what is repentance? True repentance is a turning away from sin and evil. It is a conversion and orientation to God. True repentance leads to a clean heart and a change in attitude and deeds.

Forgiveness for sins committed is conditional on the perpetrator

  • Naming the sin committed,
  • Accepting the blame for it,
  • Sincere repentance and remorse,
  • And, if possible, restitution for the victim.

There is no cheap grace before God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined this term in his book The Cost of Discipleship. He says “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”    

Lack of repentance determines whether our eternal lives will be with God or barred from God’s presence.

It is important for parents to gather as a family for extended educational discussions with their sons and daughters. For starters, young people need to be made aware of the dangerous effects of alcohol induced behavior and aggression, drug use, sex, peer pressure, the price for acceptance, and cliquish traditions and practices amongst peers as well as within fraternities and sororities. If you feel ill-prepared for such discussions, then find a professional who can discuss these issues with your children. Be open and available to your children. Remember that they have begun their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual journey and need all the guidance they can get.

If they have not already done so, schools and universities need to establish, discuss, educate, and enforce rules of proper contact among their students and faculty. And houses of worship need to step up to the plate as well. What does God demand of all of us regarding the use and misuse of our bodies? As 2 Timothy 2:22 advises us, “Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

As Edmund Burke once said,

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” 

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The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2

Are many of our religious organizations and institutions morally and spiritually corrupt and bankrupt? Are they only interested in protecting themselves from their misdeeds and a public outcry for accountability? If so, they should no longer be able to hide and coverup their evil deeds. Power, greed, and lust are the emotional center of predators. Because of their self-centeredness, they hurt others and themselves. Love of God and of humanity is absent in their lives even though they publicly pretend to be holy. To protect the vulnerable and the innocent, the hiddenness of predatory behavior needs to be exposed and legal measures be put in place so as to charge and convict all predators.

Predatory sexual abuse scandals within our churches and synagogues claim thousands of known and unknown broken lives. In the past, victims feared to complain and/or were shunned by their congregations if they brought any charges against their “beloved” clergy predators. This type of hypocrisy drives people away from religious institutions. The spiritual, emotional, and psychological damage done to victims, particularly children and congregants, is incalculable. I wonder whether sexual predators have ever truly repented of their behavior, whether they have ever sought forgiveness from their prey, and whether God will ever forgive them. Predatory clergy and their superiors are like the wolf and hireling in Jesus’ parable of the hireling and the good shepherd (John 10:11-15). Clergy predators scatter the sheep and fail to bring their flock to God.

Many worthy women and men have stepped up to tell predators that they will no longer be intimidated by those in positions of power. More people need to support them. As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

But we have a huge TRUST problem that everyone needs to deal with in our houses of worship, in our public, private, and governmental institutions, and with each other. How can we rebuild trust? For starters, let us:

  • Banish all predators from houses of worship and institutions and remand them to legal authorities.
  • Encourage good men and women of faith who live out their faith in love and service to be a positive role model for everyone. They should not succumb to the temptation of self-righteousness and/or narcissism.
  • Encourage guilty parties to admit their sin, to seek forgiveness from their victims and God, and repent. Wherever possible predators should provide financial restitution to their victims so that they can get psychological and spiritual help.
  • Seek God’s grace and forgiveness and live according to the will of God.
  • Fight the good fight.

In conclusion consider these words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruptions from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Gal. 6:7-10)

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As we stand at the foot of the cross, let us listen carefully to what Jesus is saying. His first words are “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Who is Jesus referring to when he says “them”? Is he referring to the religious/political leaders who rule through intimidation and fear? Or is he referring to most of his disciples who abandoned him or to the cruelty of the soldiers that enhance their deadly duties?

Jesus never harmed anyone. He healed the sick and the blind. He gave hope to the marginalized. He showed people a new way to live their lives.

Did you know that the Sanhedrin, which was the religious governing body, was not allowed to meet at night nor were they allowed to meet during the great feasts such as Passover? Both conditions they violated. Court was to be held within the Temple precincts. It was not. The passage of one night was required before the execution of the death penalty. It never happened. Since the court could not find two witnesses in agreement to testify against Jesus, the high priest does the forbidden and unthinkable by forcing Jesus to incriminate himself. He asked Jesus “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus responds, “I am”. The Sanhedrin then charged Jesus guilty of blasphemy and deserving of the death penalty. Jesus is cruelly mocked and beaten. He is taken before Pilate who washes his hands of the false religious leaders’ murderous intentions. Jesus is made to pick up his cross. The mindless crowd fail to stand up and challenge Jesus’ sentence. If they had, the Sanhedrin would have had to retry Jesus. The manipulated mob failed to come Jesus’ aid.

I don’t believe Jesus from the cross is forgiving the authorities and the mindless mob who embody and hide behind a heretical religious position. That would be like forgiving unrepentant murderers and governments that commit genocide in the name of God. Instead Jesus turns the matter over to God and asks God to decide whether to forgive them. I am sure their crime will not be forgiven without true repentance. True repentance leads to a clean heart and a change in attitude and deeds.

With God, there is no cheap grace. Forgiveness for sins committed is conditional on the perpetrator (1) naming the sin committed, (2) accepting the blame for it, (3) sincere repentance and remorse, and, (4) if possible restitution.

Today as in Jesus’ time, do we seek the safety of known places? Jesus’ mother, some women followers and John did not. But they knew they could not change the course of events at that time so they silently stood vigil at the crucifixion.

Will God forgive us if we fail to stand up to injustices and never repent? Where do we stand at the foot of the cross and what are the consequences?

Jesus challenges us to embrace His way of life.

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Theodicy— Why Does God Allow Evil to Exist?

Many good people commit evil by permitting it to exist. Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

Psalm 37 1-2

Because of our human limitations, God can only be partially known. And only that which God wishes to reveal to us. Christians and Jews believe God lacks physicality and is an eternal spirit or force and creator of all that exists both visible and invisible. God has no beginning and no end. God is beyond the physical universe yet somehow is present to us. God is all knowing and from whom we cannot hide. God rules the universe yet places limitations on Godself so that we may have the freedom to accept or reject God’s sovereignty and to work out our own salvation. God can and does change God’s mind. Nothing is programmed and nothing is pre-determined by God. God grants us self-determination and input into the way our universe is managed be it according to God’s moral order or grasping possessiveness, power grabs, and narcissistic hedonism.

Christians and Jews believe God is like a loving parent. God is good and desires us to be good. Because of God’s love for us, God desires a personal a relationship with us but will not force us into that relationship. God wants to occupy a place in our hearts. Unfortunately, humanity often has ideas and feelings of its own. Often we are disobedient and listen to the calling of the serpent who suggests that we can become like God thereby causing our separation from God. We come to know God’s attributes and God’s desires for us through God’s self-revelation through Moses, the prophets, Jesus, scripture, and other people. They teach us to seek forgiveness for our sins so that we might be restored to a right and healed relationship with God and each other.

We who struggle with the question of evil and the chaos it causes wonder why a good God allows evil to exist. Could it not be caused by the absence of God in people’s hearts? Could it not be that God wants us to rise up and do our part to overcome evil with good?

Should we allow the lords of chaos and evil to dominate our institutions and beliefs regarding private ownership, equality, discrimination, ecological deterioration, distorted religious beliefs, and businesses? Our time and space on earth is transitory. What we do or fail to do in our lives will determine our immortal existence with God or in separation from God. Divine justice is inevitable and determines our final destination.

Ask yourself. Where do you stand in this earthly drama? What role do you play?

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Dodging Responsibility

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Egoist and those who hold themselves in high esteem want the world to acknowledge their worthiness. Therefore, any flaws in their character or mistakes made by them are denied and blamed on another person, group, or tribe. This behavior existed in Jesus’ time and exists in our time. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin was the Jewish governing body dominated by Pharisees and Sadducees. They gained their power over the Jewish population because of their cooperation with Herod, Pilate, and Rome. Jesus’ mission statement of Luke 4:18-19 gave hope to the oppressed and posed a threat to the strongman politics of the establishment who wanted to maintain their wealth, power, and comfort at the expense of others. Jesus introduced a new way of freely living as God’s people. His followers stood up to the evils of their day even if it brought death. Jesus’ enemies manipulated a mindless mob. His enemies hated, rejected, and scorned Him. They had Him crucified as a traitor and insurrectionist. The danger here is that such mental tricks were used then and are used today to justify the mentality and behavior of hate groups that discriminate against people who are a perceived threat to their security, inflated self-esteem, and desired authority and power. The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day used the Law to hide behind their failed responsibilities to the Jewish people. Similar alignments exist today but have an even greater impact because of the use of mass media indoctrination that reinforces people’s prejudices and divisions.

On a lighter note, you might enjoy a few quips on this subject some taken or adapted from E.C. McKenzie’s 14,000 Quips & Quotes.

  • Those who have a right to boast don’t need to.
  • Folks who boast of being self-made usually have a few parts missing and relieves the Lord of a lot of responsibility.
  • The person who boasts of his open mind may only have a vacant one and should close it occasionally to think.
  • The fellow who blows his horn the loudest is usually in the biggest fog and needs to keep blowing his horn to ward off oncoming boats and possible collisions.
  • Flattery will get you nowhere. This is especially true when you give it to yourself.

It is absolutely necessary to teach your children of the inherent flaws in inflating their self-esteem at the expense of others. Instead help them develop greater knowledge of and a relationship with God. Teach them to defeat evil with good. Pray with them for God’s shalom which frees us from internal and external conflict and from unjust barriers between people. Shalom is the experience of God’s grace and tranquility of heart. Though wars and conflicts may not cease in our lifetime, God will help us withstand these distresses and will give us the peace that passes all understanding which the world can neither give to us nor take away.

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Insufficient Safeguards

A seedling from a Japanese red maple was carried by the wind and landed among a group of azaleas. The soil was rich and it took root. It grew for many years in this spot. The gardener thought she needed to transplant this beautiful little tree away from the foundation of the house into a special spot where a similar tree once grew.

In the spring, and believing that this little tree could become a beautiful tree one day, the gardener transplanted the tree near where the other tree once grew. Beautiful red leaves appeared. It began to thrive until a deer family began to eat its leaves.

Once a week, the gardener sprayed a deer repellant on the tree. This spray failed to repel the deer. Three times the young tree put forth new leaves only to be eaten by the deer. Then one spring the tree produced no leaves. The inner life of the tree had died over the cold winter. Saddened by the tree’s demise, the gardener reluctantly dug it up.

Our children are like the young seedling that needed protection from its predators. The questions for parents are “How do I monitor and protect my children from negative influences—be they certain books, social media, TV, child and internet predators, as well as unrestricted iPad and/or iPhone influences—that may destroy their innocence and security?”

It unrealistic to expect children to survive and thrive on their own. Yet many lost children live in bombed-out cities, refugee camps, and on the streets of our cities. The gardener learned that the tree was too young to leave its original, protected spot amongst the azaleas. So, too, children need the love and protection of family, home,  community, and government until they are old enough to fend off all negative influences and big enough to stand on their own two feet.

May God protect and help parents protect their children.

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Reading Books about God

When we read to young children an illustrated children’s book or Bible story, they are not so concerned about what we read as they are by the pictures they see. They see things in the illustrations that we would never observe. They will put their fingers on the pictures. If the book has a little fuzzy and/or anything tactile they will touch it. Vicariously, children will jump into the illustrations in order to explore that world on the page before them. Give them all the time in the world to wonder, wander, and use their imaginations in this way.

We are, in effect, teaching them how to combine right-brain with left-brain activity, how to associate what they are hearing with what they are seeing and feeling. It is important to have good illustrated children’s books on prayer and Bible stories.

Jesus lived when photographs did not exist and actual descriptions of what he looked like were unimportant next to his teachings. However, through the ages, each generation’s artists produced their own idea of his appearance. What we do know, however, that He was a man and was truly human. So different male images are acceptable so long as no one particular static image dominates in all the different picture books you read to children.

Likewise, artists have drawn their interpretation of God as an old man in the sky, as a dove, and/or sun rays in the sky. None of their illustrations can be substantiated and must remain symbolic as no one knows whether God has a body or form. Therefore, stay clear of bodily images of God.

We do not want children to have to unlearn the bad theology some illustrations teach.

It is good to let books on God, as made known to us through Jesus and the Bible, and on prayer be a natural part of their daily routine. These books, unlike television, are not aimed at making our children consumers in a market-driven economy. They are there to teach them about God. They plant moral values and a moral standard that can be built upon. God’s will becomes their standard for the way they make critical life decisions and the way they will live their lives. In this way, we honor God and nurture and cherish our children.

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Our Beautiful World

Children see things we cannot see. When they are young, they are closer to the ground and have not trained their minds as most adults have to shut out observations and appreciation of parts of the universe. Children, if they have not been anesthetized by television, iPad, iPhone, and other media, spend much of their time in wonder. They see their world as one big place for exploring, to roam through without any pressure of time, to jump from one interesting observation and thing to another. Their growing muscles keep their bodies on the move. They are in perpetual motion. Their minds are creating universes that exist partly in this world and partly in another world.

A good illustration of what could happen if we are not attentive to a child’s world happened on May 28, 2018, in Paris. A father had left his four-year old son alone in his fifth-story apartment while he went shopping as well as stopped to play Pokemon Go. Meanwhile, the boy had wander out onto the balcony of their apartment and had climbed over the railing and hung precariously from it. Below, a crowd quickly formed. Then a 22 year-old undocumented immigrant from Mali, Mamoudou Gassama, scaled in 30 seconds the building from balcony to balcony and rescued the boy. President Macron met with “Spiderman” and offered to begin his naturalization process as well as give him a job as a fireman.

As our children’s world opens up to them, explore it with them. Try to see their world through their eyes. Marvel with them at this wonder. Tell them how God made this world and how we should live in it and protect it. Keep everything we do and say simple and uncomplicated. Examine with them the beauty of a flower, a butterfly, a stone, a seashell, and other wonders. Then tell them that you thank God for giving us such treasures.

Children’s initial education is through their senses with the help of their motor muscles and nerves. They need to see, touch, hear, taste, smell, and sometimes put into their mouths or caress most everything in their environment. Encourage this education of their senses. It should be a life-long process. It is right-brain activity and an important part of learning about life. But do not leave them unattended.

Instead, share and enjoy these marvelous wonders and teachable moments with children.

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One day while getting ready to take a shower, my doorbell rang. Not dressed to go to the door, I opened my bathroom window to find out who was there. A man probably in his sixties appeared. He said he was lost and wanted to know how to get to a certain highway which wasn’t in the vicinity. I gave him instructions from my house on how to reach a nearby highway. From there I figured he could use his map or GPS on how to reach the highway he sought. He told me he had neither. So he got into his car and drove away. I doubt he ever reached his destination. Why?
Maybe he really wasn’t lost and wanted to get access into my home. Maybe he had dementia. I can’t imagine a person wanting to reach a certain unfamiliar destination without first checking a road map or using a GPS on how to get there. I wonder how many people live their lives without the wherewithal on how to travel the road of life. Instead they may listen to anyone who will keep them stuck in their comfort zone that encourages a closed mind and lack of purpose in life. Is it laziness and/or lack of initiative that causes people to get lost?