Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Locked Out

A few years back I found myself in a situation that maybe you have found yourself in at some time in your life. I can’t remember exactly how the circumstance came about, but I found myself locked out of my own house. My keys were inside the house. I was outside. All windows and doors to the structure were locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I tried every possible avenue of entry, short of doing structural damage, and I couldn’t find a way in. Other than giving me some home security assurance, I sat frustrated at my situation. I did have my cell phone on me, though, and was able to contact my wife, who was about 15 miles away. She agreed to come home immediately and let me in. I had no remedy for my situation, but Teri could provide one. None of the strangers I watched driving up and down my street could help me either, only she had access to the house.

The situation I found myself in that day is similar to the situation mankind has been in since Adam and Eve fell before Satan’s trap in the garden. By allowing sin into the world through their disobedience to God, the original couple brought on a situation of which we can provide no remedy. Thus, we read in Romans 6:23 "...the wages of sin is death..." I might have been able to break into my house or pay a locksmith to open my doors, but no amount money or good deeds can access heaven’s gates as Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear by saying "by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works..." When Jesus said in John 14:6 that "No one comes to the Father except through me," He meant it quite literally.

I just read somewhere that 92% of Americans believe in God...92%. That’s a start, but I’ve also read that more than half of those people believe in some form of works based salvation, i.e., getting to heaven by being good. I believe it to be the biggest web of deceit Satan weaves today, that somehow you can earn your way to heaven. If that were so, Jesus’ death on the cross would be meaningless because we could circumvent it through our good deeds. The flipside of thinking that good people go to heaven is the thought that only people who end up in eternal damnation, i.e. hell, are those we consider "bad" people, the Hitlers and Timothy McVeighs of the world. Even Christians can fall into this way of thinking. We think that there’s no questioning the salvation of the Mother Teresa(s) of the world, as if the gates of heaven have never swung open wider. Mother Teresa entered heaven based solely on her calling on the name of the Lord, period. Christians are often accused of being intolerant of other beliefs, but pursuing salvation through any means but Calvary’s cross is as hopeless as I was sitting on my front porch, locked out of my own house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Come Home this Thanksgiving

My college basketball career was nothing to write home about. My freshman year I played for a small college in Salina, Kansas. I have few memories of that year. We traveled from school to school, playing other small schools in Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. One prevailing memory that came out of those games...I wasn’t home. I missed the cheer of the hometown crowd. These were meaningless games played in front of, to me, meaningless people. I longed for the times when my parents and friends were cheering me on. I realized I needed to go home.

The next year, I did just that. I signed a scholarship offer to play for Fort Scott Junior College, my hometown school. Now, at the time, I didn’t really realize the significance of what I’d done. You see, I was the only one on that team from Fort Scott. We played our games in the same gym where I’d played my high school games. The rest of the team was from places like North Carolina and Florida. Much like my freshman year, they were playing in front of strangers. But these were my people, my surroundings. That first game at home there was a fairly large crowd in attendance.

I started the game on the bench, being the team’s sixth man, or first substitute. About five minutes into the game, the coach called for me to enter the game. What happened next was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable college career. When the horn blew and I walked out on my home court, a rather large ovation came from the stands. I looked up in the crowd and many were standing, clapping. I have to admit, initially I had no idea what the commotion was about. But then, a tinge of emotion came over me as I realized the crowd was telling me "welcome home."

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of you will no doubt go to a place you call home. Maybe it’s a house you grew up in. Or perhaps it’s just going to be with the people that mean the most to you, wherever they might be. Quite possibly, like at our house this year, those people will be coming to see you. Home is not the structure you live in. A house provides shelter. A home provides warmth, love, togetherness. You could go to any house on Thanksgiving and sit down, eat, watch football, etc., but if it doesn’t feel like home, it will be a rather hollow experience. We tell new comers to our house to "make yourself at home," wanting them to feel welcome, a part of something.

In the Matthew 11:28, Jesus said "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Thanksgiving gives us that opportunity to come home. Come home to the loving arms of family, yes, but also come home to Jesus, refocusing on a spiritual relationship that perhaps we’ve disregarded lately. Take time to realize all the many things that we should truly feel thankful for...the bountiful life that God has provided...the riches of having loved ones gather near. And most importantly, recognize the incredible Love that provided our salvation...warmth beyond comparison.

Whether you are going somewhere else or staying where you live this Thanksgiving, may you feel the warmth of home.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling O sinner, come home.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To Our Veterans...

My father served our country in World War II, stationed in Guam, the Philippines, and Japan. I have a few old photos he took during his wartime service, but I have few, if any wartime stories from him. Like many of his generation, it wasn’t something that he talked about much. I do know that the day after Pearl Harbor, he and a friend drove directly to Kansas City to enlist in the military. There was a huge influx of enlistees after December 7, 1941, much like we experienced after September 11, 2001. Patriotic spirit never dies in our country, but incidents like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 rekindle our American resolve for freedom and justice.

One liberty that we enjoy is the freedom to worship in whatever manner we like. Our founding fathers thought it important enough to include it in our Bill of Rights, sort of the Ten Commandments of our nation. Veterans from the Revolutionary War on have fought and died for my right to openly go to church and worship God. It’s something that I take for granted much too much.

Just a quick search of the word worship in any Bible website will garner dozens of results of how we are to worship God. Here are just a few from Psalms:

Psalm 66:4 
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.

Psalm 95:6-7
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

Psalm 99:5
Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Praise, bow down, exalt. I really wonder if we do enough of any of those. I know I don’t. Worship time should be, well, worshipful. Full of excitement. I heard a preacher once say he sees far more excitement at a football game than he does for God, and it’s true. How often do we mark that big game on our mental calendar, make every preparation in the world, invite friends over to share the experience of our team taking the field against a hated rival. Maybe we should approach worship in a similar fashion. We should prepare for worship as if it’s a big event because, well, it is. Jesus told us plainly in Matthew 18:20, "...where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Encountering the Spirit of God IS a big deal, but we sometimes forget what our worship is all about.

There are many places in the world that Christians aren’t free to worship. On October 29, six Algerian Christians were arrested before their morning prayer service in an apartment not authorized as a legal place of worship. We can’t imagine this, yet this is a comparatively mild form of persecution. Emeal Zwayne, executive vice president of Living Waters, said that few Christians in the U.S. are even aware "that an estimated 176,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs from mid-2008 to mid-2009." You could say that it’s due to our own ignorance of the facts, or perhaps a lack of media reporting these atrocities, and you’d have a point. But you can’t ignore the fact that we have a wonderful freedom that has been defended with the service and often the lives of many an American Veteran and we all too often take that for granted.

At my father’s funeral, many touching things were said and done. But one of the most meaningful gestures was carried out by his Veterans of Foreign War colleagues. Dozens of veterans from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Gulf War stepped up one by one and saluted my father as he lay in repose. Remembering that simple act of respect and appreciation still moves me greatly. As we commemorate Veteran’s Day this Friday, may we always show our respect and appreciation for the men and women who’ve allowed us to keep our many freedoms, not the least of which, the wonderful freedom we have to worship our Almighty Father in a manner that He is worthy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What a Deal!

One day while crawling around in the attic of my house, I spotted a box that I didn’t recognize. The flaps of the cardboard box were folded shut so I couldn’t readily see its contents. From the amount of dust on the box, it was obvious the box had been up in the attic for years, many more years than I’d owned the house. My imagination immediately began to go into overdrive. What did the box contain? Some rare relic a past owner of my house had overlooked when he moved out? Maybe it would be like some of the treasures I’d seen people bring one of those shows like "Antiques Roadshow," and an expert would someday tell me it was worth a fortune. But then, what if it were a hidden treasure, could I keep it? Even if it was mine legally, would it be ethical to keep it or try to find its rightful owner?? There was only one thing to do...OPEN THE BOX! My heart skipped a beat or two as I blew some of the years of dust off the box. I opened the flaps of the box with one hand and held my flashlight with the other. Getting the box open, I slowly looked over the edge and saw a box nearly full of...old wallpaper. In fact, it was extra rolls of the same old dated wallpaper that my dear wife meticulously and mercifully tore off the walls when we moved in back in 2005. Wallpaper. I wouldn’t be visiting the Antiques Roadshow team anytime soon...

We all like the concept of hidden treasures. My father used to give me a dollar to buy a couple of Hot Wheels cars when I was a boy. Some of those same cars from the late 60's are worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Who would have thought it? I go to a lot of antique stores and flea markets, and I’m always seeing things that I remember from my childhood. Some are items that I owned at one time, now worth a small fortune. Now, I have to admit, when I go to an antique store or flea market, I’m a treasure hunter. I like to find the hidden gem. For instance, a month or so ago, I landed a practically new vacuum for a mere $15, and it was the famous eight-pound variety that Mr. Oreck is so proud of. I search and dig for bargains, more often than not finding something I happily take home, thinking I have a use for.

According to Webster, one of the definitions of the word bargain is "an advantageous purchase,"or getting something for less than its true value. 1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us that as Christians, we were "... bought at a price." And in Acts 20:28, we’re instructed to "...Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." Several other biblical references make it clear that Jesus bought and paid for our salvation with his death on the cross. Did Jesus get a bargain? No, but he wasn’t looking for a good buy, either. He was looking to do the will of his Father. He was looking to express his undeniable love for us. We are the ones that got the deal of a lifetime. For the price of saying yes to Christ, we receive an all-expense paid pathway to eternity with God. Have you claimed your treasure yet? What are you waiting for? The price has been paid, and this bargain can’t be beat.

I welcome your comments or questions at allterp@yahoo.com.