The Hit and Miss King

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” (Ephesians 4:22 NASB)

 

When I was a kid we played a lot of baseball. Not organized baseball. we didn’t have uniforms or sponsors. If you wanted  a snack after the game you went home and asked for one.  Oh we had organize baseball, everything from t-ball to little league. But it was common for a bunch of us to get together and simply play.  I don’t see much of that anymore. I’m all for organized sports and teaching proper mechanics. But I think there are some valuable lessons in learning how to get along and play as kids as well.

When we played, you couldn’t just play. ou had to be somebody. And as a kid growing up in the 70’s just 45 minutes to an hour north of Cincinnati, everyone wanted to be one of the Reds. After all, they were the Big Red Machine. The best in baseball. And we all wanted to be just like them.

Now we had enough sense to know everyone couldn’t be Johnny Bench, or Joe Morgan so you had to pick early. And you had to bat, field and run just like them.  Loyalties switched from game to game, but there was one  rule we always held to. Only the best player got to be Pete Rose. Nobody loved to hit and win like Pete Rose. You had to run to first and slide head first into every base.

This past weekend Pete Rose was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and had his number 14 retired. I watched with a lot of nostalgia as they played video over and over of Pete. Hitting running crushing Ray Fosse at the plate in an All Star game. Rose played as if a demon was chasing him. Which it turns out, it was.

Rose’s battles with gambling and major league baseball have been well documented, even by Rose himself. While it certainly seems that Rose has a gambling problem, it seems to me that his greatest addiction is to winning, to beating someone, of being better than another person.  During his playing days a  team charter flight hit a storm and major turbulence. Rose turned to his seatmate and said “If we die, I have a .303 lifetime batting average.  What do you have?”

In the end Rose has been his own worst enemy. He lied, continued to gamble and show up in Vegas for autograph signings. The desire to be the best, to win to have his own way, kept him from seeing that his life needed changing. He seems to assume that the world would eventually change to accept him, not the other way around.

And I get it. Transformation is hard. It’s why we in the church struggle so much with it. I read a poll recently that asked non-churched people to give their opinion of what Christians are like. Their number one answer: Hypocritical. Now before we get too defensive lets embrace the truth there.  The reason they world thinks the church is hypocritical is because they don’t see anything different in how we live our lives than how they live theirs. What they expect, but don’t see is a transformation.

It would seem there is more Pete Rose in us than we would care to admit.  All of us would rather God simply be satisfied with who we are rather than submit to being transformed by the Holy Spirit.  We like the old bumper sticker mentality “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” As if being forgiven is all that God has to offer us. We’d rather sheepishly admit we have some problems, but we’re still good people (just like good old Pete) than to face our sin head on, face the demons that pursue us and allow God to gain a victory for us.

Our Scripture reminds us that God has more to offer us than forgiveness. He wants to do more than pat us on the head, pat us on the back and say, “well I know you meant well.” God wants to transform us, vanquish the power of sin  and give us victory.

Transformation begins when we stop being hypocritical, ad admit our demons chase us and far too often has caught us. We must come to God and simply admit our powerlessness to defeat our demons on our own. We need to lay claim to the victory and transformation God promises us. And then settle in for the battle. Transformation isn’t easy. You’ll stumble. But God is faithful. God can change you. We can lay aside the old  life and be given a new one.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

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Ignored?

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

I have a love/hate relationship with air travel.  I love the short time it takes to get somewhere, and hate the long lines. I love the convenience, but hate the expense.   I also hate the ever changing schedules of flights. They can leave later or from a different gate than you were told.  Anything can happen.

because I hate missing a fight I’ve always tried to get to the airport early and build in a ridiculous amount of  time in a layover.  I’d rather have a two hour wait before I make a connecting flight than to worry  about missing a connection, losing luggage etc. And my limited experience has told me that  the ridiculous amount of time I allot for layovers  is not always so ridiculous. If you’ve flown, you know  how quickly that hour and a half lay over can melt away in front of  you.

Besides there is always something to do. Wander around.  read or people watch.  Airports are fascinating places to watch people as they travel to new places, or try to make their way home.  You see long lost friends a family reconnect and files say goodbye as  a teen steps onto the bridge of adulthood  on their own.

But while I enjoy people watching sometimes it can have a residual effect on us. A few years ago I sat in  the airport in Seattle,waiting to make a connection to Oregon the last leg of a long journey that day. I watched the people as they passed by when suddenly it hit me. As I watched these people no one was watching me.  In fact, I was ignored by every person who walked past. Which stands to reason. I was only passing through I’m not from that part of the country. Terre is  no reason why anyone  would have glanced my way.  But it  occurred to me that all the people who knew and loved me were  all the way across the country. I was utterly alone and passed by, unseen by the people in Seattle.

It passed quickly, of course. Most of us have had a similar experience at one time or another, usually when we are in a strange place, surrounded by strange people.  But once we are back amongst our friends and family, it passes.

But not always.   Some of us experience the pain of loneliness and being forgotten on a daily basis.  We feel as if not only does no one understand us, we feel as if the world simply passes us by. We may wonder if anyone cares about us. We may wonder if anyone sees the pain and loneliness we carry.  In our darker moments we might even wonder it anyone would notice if we were gone.

If you’ve ever felt that way, I’d ask that you sit down today and read  Psalm 68.  You’ll see a verse from it at the top of the page. In the Psalm, David says God  cares for the orphan, the widow, the poor (homeless) and  the prisoner.  In David’s society there were no more marginalized and potentially passed over people than the orphaned, the widow the homeless and the prisoner, because they had nothing to offer the world, the world passed them by.  No one to care for them, passed by unnoticed by the world.

But David says while the world may not see you, God does. why the world may not care about you,. God does. While the world may not have any solutions  to your problems, God does. We are  not ignored, we are not passed by. God loves and cares for those the world has passed by.

Can you imagine? A God who comes not just for the Kings of this world. Not just for the prosperous and popular, not just for the holy and the high, but for those who have been ignored by the world. God loves you when you have no money. God loves you when you’ve made bad choices. God loves you when you don’t fit in with the rest of the world.

God sees and loves you. You are not forgotten. He is the father to the fatherless, the protector of the widow and he loves you.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever”. (1 John 2:17 NIV)

 

Many of us woke, or became aware, yesterday morning of yet another  mass shooting.  My Sunday mornings tend to be a bit full, so I missed all of this until I arrived home from church in the early afternoon.

“50 dead, 50 wounded” At least that was the number I first heard.  Hopefully, as is often the case in situations like this, the numbers reported won’t be accurate. But I fear they will be close.  The loss of life is staggering. The emotional damage down to the survivors is more than one can grasp.   And we haven’t even addressed the ancillary pain of friends and family.

I’m disheartened not only by the loss of life, but by how frequent this has become for us. In order to deal with the tragedy, we develop coping mechanisms. We can become but hard and cynical.  How can we live in a world where mass loss of life, shootings, bombings, a man wildly swinging a machete in a neighborhood restaurant is as common in the news as the sports?

I’ve watched with interest how quickly everyone begins to point fingers at someone else as to the cause of the tragedy. I understand it. If we can point fingers at a group we give ourselves the false hope that we can end such violence and pain.  It doesn’t matter if the reasons make sense just give me  a group to blame. tell me we should all be able to see this coming.  I don’t want to live in a world where its possible for a person or a group to simply commit random violence.

So how do we as the church respond in times like this?  Does the church have any answers beyond a generic “we stand beside” posts we set up on social media?  Not only do I believe the church has an answer, I belve we have the only response that truly matters. How do we respond?

We respond with anger.  I know that might surprise you since we are taught as children Christians aren’t supposed to get angry.  But God gets angry. Jesus got angry. Anger is a healthy emotion that reflects a part of the image of God in our lives. Anger causes us to act,. It causes us to make a difference when we see injustice and pain.  Now anger isn’t hatred. It can easily become hatred so it must be tempered.  But it’s Ok to get angry at the loss of life and prayerfully decide how you can best respond to it.

We respond with Love. Powerful, life changing unconditional love. Love not just for the victim, but for everyone involved. Yes even the shooter. How can we love someone like that? We can’t. But Jesus can, and will love through us if we allow Him to do so. Just as in the depths of our sin, Jesus loves us, so ought we  love others.  In this case that love might need to extend beyond the crime and those involved and reach out to others around you at this moment.  The world needs a witness that evil is not always the response to evil. They need to see a church able to respond in love to everyone. This love leads to transformation. The love of Jesus ought not be confused with empathy. empathy is good. But the love of Jesus transforms and changes people. It breaks the power of sin and transforms our hearts.

We respond with hope. I love the verse at the top of this page. The church has hope not because we think people will eventually get better and be nicer. No we have hope because we know evil will not win. All the evil we witness in the world will one day pass away. It has no staying power. It will pass away. But those who do the will of God will last forever. I have hope, even in grief because I know evil will not last, But  Jesus, who sits on the throne, even in the darkest of days will redeem our world in the end.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

The Danger of the Middle

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30 NIV)

Doing something for the last time always brings with it a certain amount of poignancy.  The other day I sat in my chair in our sun room looking out at the street in front of our house. As I have done for the past eight years. It’s a nice view. Lovely neighborhood. But it’s no longer mine.

A year ago we were reappointed to a new church. But because we wanted to allow our daughter to finish High School before we moved, my family stayed behind in our home. I’d come up a few times a week and they would come down on the weekend.  There’s only a 45 minute, or so, distance between the two homes. So it was manageable. Not easy. Not without its difficulties, but manageable.

We are at the end of that journey now. My daughter has graduated and our old home is slowly dropping into boxes to complete a move that began a year ago.  While thought I officially moved a year ago, it occurs to me now that it hasn’t been complete until now.  In many ways I have been in the middle between two homes and two communities. Both at home and a stranger at the same time.

It occurs to me that my living in the middle ground this past year often reflects my spiritual heart at different times in my life. Living between two worlds, this one and the next. Living somewhere with one foot in the world of flesh and another in the world of the Spirit. We’ve all done that at times haven’t we? We’ve not completely submitted ourselves to Christ, yet we haven’t forsaken Him either.  I’d like to take just a few moments and share what I’ve learned about the dangerous middle ground this past year. Perhaps it will be a  either a reflection on your spirituality, or  something in your life.

1.  The Middle ground is a dangerous place to be. That’s where most animals get stuck by a vehicle. They get to the middle and freeze in the headlights. We fool ourselves into believing we can live in the middle ground of our hearts. Not only committed to Jesus, but not denying him. But when a crisis hits we tend to freeze and invariable the pressure of this world run us over.

2.  Living in the Middle Ground causes us to believe we can have two homes. We develop a bit of a chameleon like attitude so that when we are with our church friends we act a certain way, and when we are in the world we act another. Our faith becomes ambiguous and loses the ability to transform us or the world around us. Rather than becoming a transformational agent for God in the world around us, what ever that world may be,  conforms us to its designs.

3.  Because we live in the middle ground we fool ourselves into thinking we are at home no matter where we are. The truth is, the more we remain a stranger to Jesus, the less He is Home to us, the less we fully realize the joy of a life totally submitted to God.  So often we deny ourselves true joy because we content ourselves with being a stranger to Jesus, a guest rather than a resident.

4. Speaking from experience Living in the middle ground is just plain tiring. It becomes wearisome traveling back and forth.  have you ever considered how tiring it is to live between two world, this one and the one for which you were created?  Haven’t you ever longed for home.

Just as our journey is coming to an end, I pray that your heart will finally come to rest in the arms of Jesus. It’s where you belong. It’s home.  Yes making a new home isn’t always easy and it comes with its poignant moments.  But it is so good to be home.  It’s much better than living in the dangerous middle.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><