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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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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?

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A Real Winner

Dear Nathaniel,
Thank you for calling me to tell me about your ninth birthday party.

It seems you and your friends had a good time. When you told me that you placed only fourth out of ten in your contest, you seemed to suggest that you thought of yourself as less than a winner. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It is how you live life that counts. A winner makes the best of any situation. That means that all winners put forth their best effort regardless of their placement in any competition.

The real test of a person’s greatness is when he loves and cares for the non-winners. You will find in life that sometimes you will place first, fourth, eighth, and even in last place. That is O.K. as long as you put in your best effort and are a good person. Some winners think only of themselves and fail to help the needy. To me, they are selfish losers, not winners. Yet many winners are good people who do not seek self-glory or first place in everything. They are just putting forth their best effort.

Do you remember a few years ago when you were in Boston at Christmas time? You put all the money from your piggy bank into the Salvation Army’s bucket? To my way of thinking you were a winner then. You showed us a better way. You helped the needy out of the goodness of your heart.

God loves those people who do God’s will and who come to the aid of the poor and helpless. That is what Jesus taught us through his self-giving love. Winners have a grateful heart, a clear conscience, and a heart full of love. Their actions speak louder than words.

With my love to my winner,

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Spiritual Navigation

Years ago on a beautiful summer day, we set sail from Rye, NY, for Shelter Island in Long Island Sound. Near journey’s end, the fog rolled in, the wind died, visibility dropped, daylight gave way to darkness. My husband turned on the engine and slowly powered ahead. At that time our boat lacked radar and a GPS. But we did have two compasses and a depth finder which my husband used in conjunction with his charts to track our course. I stood on the bow of the boat away from the noise of the engine to listen and look for the entrance bell buoy to Shelter Island. If we couldn’t find it, we could land on the rocks or be hit by oncoming boats . . . Eventually I heard the bell buoy. We cautiously approached it. My relief and sense of safety made me want to circle this bell buoy until the fog lifted. But my husband, a fearless yet cautious man, refused . . . By carefully plotting our compass course and reading the soundings below, we made our way into the safety of the harbor . . . I view the Bible and its revelations about God as my compass, chart, depth finder, GPS, boat, and habitat for my voyage through life. They are like bell buoys and road signs that point us toward our destination. How we use them is our choice.
From Anita E. Keire’s Walking on Water
Think About It:
• What is your destination in life?
• How do you plan to reach it?
• Who or what will help you navigate the dangerous route ahead to an unknown future?
• Who will be your traveling companion?

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Light and Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)

A lot of people believe God doesn’t exist, that God is only a fanciful projection of our minds.  That is their choice. But their disbelief does not mean that God does not exist. Some Jews in hiding from the Nazis in World War II wrote on a cellar wall in Cologne the following inscription. “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when not feeling it. I believe in God, even when God is silent.”

When John says Jesus is the Light of the World, he refers to the divine illumination of a person’s mind and conscience. This light dispels human darkness and continues throughout time. The word Life refers to the function of the Holy Spirit that represents the positive aspects of life and existence. Life represents the authentic existence God wants us to have. Life and salvation are associated with light.

Darkness is symbolic of disbelief as well as total evil that cannot overcome the Word. Jesus comes into the world as a human being to have a flesh and blood relationship with us. Jesus partially reveals to us the mind of God. As the Word, Jesus brings light into our midst to dispel the darkness; but many turn their backs on the light.

Walking on Water: Skeptics and Believers Discuss Whether Jesus Matters, pages 148 & 47.

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Descent of the Holy Spirit on Mary

Six months after the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah announcing that his aged wife Elizabeth will conceive a son, Gabriel visits a Jewish peasant maiden named Mary. He tells her that she is favored and blessed among women and has been chosen by God to conceive and bear a son whom she will call Jesus. Gabriel’s visit to Mary is known as the Annunciation.

Of course, Mary wonders how this can occur as she is a virgin. Gabriel tells her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35) Mary then says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

The term overshadow does not refer to divine sexual activity as found in Greek myths of gods impregnating women. By using the Greek term for overshadow, Luke emphasizes the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ conception and removes any thoughts of sexual intercourse. The emphasis here is that Jesus has human and divine origins.

In other words, the entire birth story is not a matter of biology. It is a matter of religious truths and beliefs. Mary represents the faithful of Israel who respond to God’s call for humble loving service.

Whatever your belief or acceptance or rejection of these birth narratives, all gospels want to make it clear that Jesus is God who comes to us in the flesh. His incarnation is a new creative act and revelation by God.

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A Refugee’s Thanksgiving – My Husband’s Story

Click to enlarge

All my life, God has been with me. Sometimes I did not realize what God was doing; but as I grow older, I know God, God’s people, and our hard work carried us through some pretty tough times.

We left my home country of Latvia in late 1944. The Soviet bombers were dropping their bombs on certain parts of the capital city of Riga. We could see the smoke spiral upwards from the fires the bombs started. We understood the Soviet Army was about ten miles away.

Our Nazi German rulers for the past few years were retreating and taking all Germans with them. My father had died 10 years earlier. He and my uncles were well known and politically suspect by the Soviets. If we stayed, we would be either killed or sent to Siberia.

My mother decided we should leave while we could. Because she spoke German fluently and because of the chaos of the German retreat, the Germans did not ask to see our papers. We were allowed to board the last troop ship leaving Latvia. We each carried a couple of suitcases and that was it. Everything we owned was left behind.

As soon as we disembarked from the ship in Germany, the soldiers assigned us to work details. My mother, younger sister, and younger brothers were sent to work on a farm. I had to work in a shipyard. Within a year, World War II ended and all non-German people were put into Displaced Persons’ Camps by the American and British forces. We were put in the American camp with hundreds of other Displaced Persons.

We couldn’t return home to Latvia because we would be persecuted by the Soviets. Our family was on their wanted list. We decided to seek refuge in the United States and out West where everything was still new and opportunities existed.

We put in our application for permission to settle in the United States. It took about four years before we could emigrate. We had to have a sponsor. The United States’ Resettlement Office paid for our sea voyage, and the Lutheran Church paid for our train fare to the West.

Our hopes ran high as we entered New York harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty standing so tall. When we turned to the tall buildings in New York City, it was almost as if the Statue of Liberty said, “See what opportunities I have given immigrants like yourselves.”

We had finally reached the Promised Land, our new country. My younger brothers and sister were excited, too. But my mother was sad and anxious. Her English wasn’t very good. This was an unknown part of the world for her. What lay ahead for her family and her? Where was God leading her?

We were put on a passenger train to the West Coast and the state of Washington. We bought sandwiches or bread and peanut butter and jelly at every train stop because we could not afford to buy the food on the train. Day after day, our train kept moving west.

When my mother saw the vastness of the United States, with field after field of crops and no one to be seen and the empty vastness of the dry land, prairies, and even deserts, she began to wonder whether she had made the right decision to go to the West Coast. You see, my mother was a city woman.

Finally, our train reached Olympia, Washington. Our sponsor met us. He took us to his farm in Lacy, Washington, where we worked for three months. All of us had to work from dawn to dusk picking vegetables, broccoli, squash, and pumpkins. And at night all we had to live in was a converted railroad boxcar. My mother worried about what would happen to us when winter came. She knew we could not survive on what little money we had earned and live in a boxcar.

Pastor Milton Nesse from the Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, Washington, went to the local Resettlement Office to find an immigrant family that his church could sponsor. He met with us. My mother poured out her heart and her worries to him as best she could in her broken English. He told her not to worry, that he and his congregation would help us.

Soon thereafter, those Christians came to get us and took us to Aberdeen. They found us a small house in which to live and helped us to find jobs. I worked in a furniture factory for a few months. Then the Korean War broke out, and I was drafted into the Army. I had just turned 20 years old.

I served in the United States Army and was discharged in 1953. My service time gave me the opportunity to learn English and needed money to go to college with my G.I. Bill of Rights. I studied hard, learned to be proficient in the English language, and went through the University of Washington’s engineering school. During the summer, I earned money working on highway construction. After I graduated from college, I went to Washington, D.C. and worked in the Patent Office of the United States during the day. At night, I went to law school. Ever since I graduated from law school, I have made my living as an intellectual property/patent attorney.

I tell you this story for a couple of reasons. One, you cannot own possessions. You can use them, but you cannot really own them. Circumstances may and will cause you to abandon them as my family and I had to do if we wanted to live. Your most precious possessions are a good attitude, belief in and obedience to God, trust, love, a good education, and practical knowledge. These essentials are all you need to survive. No one, no government, no person can take these from you.

Good health and loved ones are needed also. But sometimes wars or divorces or illness and death take these from you. Faith and belief in God in Jesus Christ can help you survive these valleys of trouble.

Immigrants come to this country every day. They may be in your town. They may need your help. Would you do for them what Pastor Nesse and the Lutheran Church did for me? For my family and me, the help we received from God’s people is what Thanksgiving is all about.

My husband died in January 2011.