I found your book, A Night in Gaza, a very captive read. I felt a close connection to the lead character bearing my name. For me, there were several parellels between this character and my own life. Initially in the book I felt as if you must have known me. Then I became engrossed in the journey printed out for the "Dan Hayden" in the novel. You captured so much of each individual involved in the book that I felt as if I really had ties with each one. I reached a point where I couldn't put this book down. There were a few places where I found myself weeping and other times other emotions took over. It was a very thought provoking read. I have just ordered more copies to send to friends.
I wish you well . . .
- Dan Hayden
Author's note: The name "Dan Hayden" was selected at random because I just liked the sound of the name ... strong and meaningful. Later, through a mutual friend, I was put in contact with a real "Dan Hayden." I look forward to meeting him and becoming personal friends.
COEXIST OR PERISH
It seems that every time we turn the news on, there is yet another report of a suicide bomber who has blown himself to bits along with as many other people as possible in a crowded area.
When we hear this, we have our own personal responses: Indifference ... it doesn't effect me, so why should I worry? Anger ... why can't someone do something about these nuts? Fear ... could something like this happen to me or someone in my family while shopping at the Piggly Wiggly down at the corner? Ignorance ... I don't understand why these things happen anyway? Concern ... what can be done to stop this craziness?
The fact is, it can be stopped. The underlying reason it happens is because of intolerance. And have you thought how you may be a part of sowing seeds of intolerance?
Much of the violence in the world has to do with extremist who take our own attitudes of intolerance to the highest radical degree. No, we wouldn't strap a bomb to our body and blow up people in another church we don't agree with theologically but unfortunately, there are those who will do just this. But we do express our prejudices in more subtle ways.
We are content to quietly harbor our own thoughts of how misguided and wrong these other religions are. And so, we don't bomb them physically, but emotionally we discard them and refuse to accept them because they are heretics, pagans, heathen, godless, or whatever else we can silently attribute to them.
From a practical standpoint, not even theological, we have got to come to the place we can tolerate the differences we have with others. Our world is growing smaller and smaller because of communication and ability to travel. Either we learn to live on the same planet in peace with those who are different from us or else we are headed to a great explosion and meltdown of global civilization as we know it.
What should we NOT tolerate? Violence in any form. When we tacitly stand by and watch our country invade other countries, we contribute to world violence. And why do we invade other countries? One major underlying reason is simple greed. There are great reserves of oil and other treasures under the earth, such as diamonds, copper, gold, and other precious minerals that we either need or desire. And so when we go into Iraq and Kuwait and other places of the world with military force, the hidden agenda is to protect or even sieze those valuable resources.
Another reason we invade is to "Westernize" and even "Christianize" the rest of the world. We call it a missionary effort to save the lost, but simply put, it is to convert other cultures to our way of thinking and even worship.
What we fail to realize is that those cultures have us outdated by centuries. We will not change them. All we do is stir up the hornets nest and cause them to become hostile and beligerant and in return, the fanatic element among them are willing to give their lives in order to protect their culture.
And so we spout the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. What we really mean is to go into all the world and convert them to our religion and our way of thinking.
Do we need to go into all the world? By all mean YES. But we should go with a different approach and message. And yes, we preach Christ. But the message is that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for ALL men, everywhere ... of every nation and tongue and color and even theological pursuasion. What Christ did at the foundation of the world was a FINISHED work, once and for all. He died to reconcile man and God. Now, our message is to make people aware that the blood of Christ was shed for them as well as for us Christians and they too have been reconciled to God.
There is but ONE God. We may all take a different path on our journey to find Him but He is God of all. You don't have to take off your burka or tear down your Mosque or Synagogue. All you have to to is become aware that The Christ is Lord of all. We need to go beyond the historical Jesus that Christians revere. That was God's way of showing in person that in the fullness of time God showed what Christ did so mortal minds can comprehend. The Spirit of The Christ transcends the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, Jesus is our way to God. Others have found others with the same purpose of reconciliation of God and man.
It sounds presumptious and almost an impossible task, but I say that Inclusion is the ultimate message that can and will save the planet. I'm not talking about us all becoming Hindus or Muslims or changing our way of worship. I'm talking about tolerating others with different theologies without condemning them to hell as heretics and heathen and pagans and sinners because they don't worship as we do.
I know what I'm saying will fall mostly on the deaf ears of religious minds. I've been there, done that. Raised in a church that believed that if you weren't a part of them that you were going to hell in a handbasket. I can feel you seething at my heresy.
That's alright. But the day will come, and not in the too far future, when violent terrorism will reach our communities, our markets, our streets. The feeling is that we came and invaded their homeland and now it's payback time. Let's go to the Piggly Wiggly and get some of their families like they got ours.
Or, we can begin to cultivate seeds of tolerance and acceptance of others and stop spewing out the hate. America is truly a melting pot. Your ancestors immigrated here from all over the world. Immigration is not going to stop. We are a land of promise and freedom. People around the world want that. And when they come, they are not going to be absorbed and assimilated into our culture overnight. Be patient and extend a friendly hand to a neighbor who attends a differert church and sings a different song. He is searching for God in his own way. Respect that. Christ died for him as well as for you. Your mission is simply to make him aware of that ... not convert him to your religion.
I can hear the naysayers now ... "compromise" ... "diluted message" ... "Forgetting our true heritage" ... "doing away with Jesus" ... and on and on.
I'm just saying as one who has been an observer that there has got to be changes or we are on the road to self-destruction.
Selah . . .
* * * * *
This page was last updated: May 4, 2011
AND IT CAME TO PASS . . .
And in the year of our Lord 2010 it came to pass that the people rose up and did throw many of the people of the Democrat race out of office. The people had long murmured their complaints against King Barack and many in his court. The Prophetess Pelosi seemed to be one of the worst offenders and was a target of the archers who traded in Tea. And these traders, some of who were witches and warlocks, did stir up great anger among the people.
It seems at the time there was much sickness in the land and many of the people could not afford the herbs and poultices that the physicians did have. And so the King did order a snake to be lifted up in the wilderness so that if the people turned their eyes upon it, they would be healed. And the name of the snake was healthcare, which came to be known as Obamacare.
And the people rose up and said, "No, we would rather remain sick than look at the snake," for they feared that some among them might look upon the snake and be healed who could not afford to pay the required tax and would receive their healing without any cost to them. Better they should die than receive their healing free. Everyman should be taxed alike. That is, with the exception of the richest among them. Because they had proven they could increase their talents to great sums of money, and they then should not be required to pay the same taxes that the ordinary and poor people were forced to pay.
And the people were also vexed greatly because some among them wished to marry others of varied races and sexes. And so the King was petitioned to set forth a decree that would keep marriage between men and maidens of the peoples choosing, rather than their own. Was it not the within the power of the people to demand who others could and should marry?
And the people were also greatly disturbed that the aliens from other countries were passing over their borders and into the land God had given to them and them alone. Was not this holy land that the Lord God had given to them alone? Strangers were to be ignored and banished back to their homelands where famines had ravaged their fields and lands. They would not be allowed to enjoy the fat of the land that they did not deserve. Better they should perish. And so the people did shut their bowels of compassion.
But at this same time, the people had sent their sons and daughters to other foreign lands to kill the people of those lands saying aloud, "These have plotted to come and kill us in our homelands," but it was really because it was thought they had oil and other treasures that could be brought back and added to their own coffers. But sadly, many of the sons and daughters were killed as they raided the foreign lands.
And so, it came to pass in the month of November that the people rose up and cast their ballots against the king and his court saying, we can do a much better job ourselves. We will have no more taxes and the power of the king will be dissolved. And the government will be small and much more powerless, allowing each man in his own household and community to decide what he will do. The children will be taught that there is only one religion and they will pray to only one god in their class rooms. People who worship other gods will be expelled and rejected and returned to their native soil.
But the defense of the country was still of utmost importance and the young warriors would remain in the East battling with the men, women and children of those countries while we maintain our own borders secure from the plagues from the South who do come to overwhelm us and poison our food with tacos.
And so, the people exulted that they did succeed in overthrowing the kings court. Now they would become a law unto themselves. They would throw off the shackles of taxation. They would provide their own herbs and poultices while many of the feeble and helpless among them would die of pestilence and disease without help from the king.
Now they would dictate to the people who they could marry and who they could not marry. They would tell the people that it was a great sin if they did not have the right color of eyes or were left-handed or wore mixed fabrics as the law in Leviticus demanded. And according to the Levitical law they wanted to uphold, they could be forced to marry their rapists.
But the people rejoiced greatly and said among themselves, "Now we will rejoice and be exceedingly glad for we have taken our country back."
And so, the country returned to the days of the burning Bush, when all the surpluses were squandered and the people were cast into a great time of depression. And the people would again begin to murmer and complain because their houses were being taken from them and there were no jobs for the people to work and the elephant sat upon the head of the king where he could do nothing to help the people.
And so, it came to pass.
Selah . . .
* * * * * * * * *
THE FRACTURED BODY OF CHRIST
America has just endured the nastiest and most divisive political election I have seen in my 72 years. To listen to the candidates, those they ran against were not only unfit for public office but were everything from witches to terrorists to child molesters to out-right crooks. I was downright ashamed at times to be a citizen of this country. Where has the civility gone?
But that's the "political" world. We've come to expect that from "politicians." It's a shame that these are the people who make the decisions that govern us. There seems to be little concern about you and me, John Q. Public. It's all about special interest and partisan politics these days.
But for some reason, I would like to think that the church and the religious world operates at a higher standard of civility. Sadly, not so.
I recall years ago as my brother and I and our church stood at the forefront of preaching the "message of the Kingdom." It was a rude awakening to have our fellow ministers and church leaders label us as everything from heretics to apostates to wolves in sheep's clothing to out-right devils. Now, many of those same people are preaching the very same message of the Kingdom or a variation thereof.
Now, comes along the Message of Inclusion, which is the next logical step of the Kingdom Message. It is a simple message. It merely says that God is love and accepts all of His creation as His children. And we as His followers and devotees should do the same thing ... include all of God's children into His family.
I don't watch "Christian TV" as a rule for obvious reasons. All it does is provide a platform for the religious snipers to take pot shots at others who don't preach the same doctrines, follow the same liturgies, sing the same songs, dress the same ways, carry the same citizenship papers, pray to the same Jesus, and have the same theology.
I turned on my TV the other Sunday and heard one of the most prominent Christian ministers in Atlanta attacking those who didn't believe as he did calling them "terrorists hijacking the Christian faith." And according to him, just what great act of spiritual treason are these people committing? For starters, they don't believe in hell and the devil. Their god isn't as judgmental as his is, who sends most of the world to a burning hell simply because they happen to be born in the wrong part of the world and worship a god dissimilar to his. His god is one who is slightly stronger than the devil and relegates His own creation to hell who doesn't follow His particular edicts.
Now let me get this straight: His god tells us to forgive our enemies 70 X 7 everyday if need be, turn our other cheek, give our coat and our cloak, pray for those who despitefully use us, go the second mile and yet when it comes to his actions, he arbitrarily condemns His "enemies" to an eternal lake of fire. In other words, we are to do something He won't do Himself. His god expects us to love unconditionally yet his love is totally conditional.
"But the Bible says ..." is liberally thrown at us. Whose version of the bible? Usually King James' version seems to be the weapon of choice. The great protectors of the faith and "the Word" ought to really go back and study the original writings in Hebrew and Aramaic and see what Jesus really said. Most of the time it is nothing like the present day "bible scholars" interpret it to say.
In the first place, most of these present day conservative defenders of the faith are "gay bashers." Do they realize their precious King James was gay and lived with a man for 14 years referring to him as his husband?
The church of today is an extension of the medieval church which was built upon the use of fear to subjugate the people. The mere word of a priest to a peasant telling him he would burn in hell was often enough to send that person into actual cardiac arrest! You could be hung for many offenses, most of them relating to religious edicts but the most heinous sin was to steal from the church. For this sin you were skinned alive and your hide nailed to the door of the cathedral to warn other would-be thieves from stealing from the church. (I wonder if this practice would keep thieves today from stealing the A/C units from our church? Hmmm)
It seems many today don't want to be deprived of the blessed hope of a hell and the existence of a devil that roams among us seeking to devour us.
You would think that people would rejoice and be exceedingly glad at the thought that Christ had already reconciled all His creation when He was slain at the foundation of the world. But we don't want to believe that. We want to exclude those we don't like. Let's start with the Muslims and the Buddhists and the Jews and those who don't "call on the name of Jesus."
Many of us call on the name of the historical Jesus. I do. But my salvation was guaranteed long before I fell into a mourners bench.
That was when I became aware that God through Christ had already reconciled me.
Now you have it your way if you must. Continue to grovel and beg and be a "worm such as I," unworthy of God's mercies.
But I choose to believe that I am born a child of God, created by Him in His image. I bear the DNA of the creator. I didn't have to beg for it no more than I had to request the DNA of my earthly father, Earl P. Paulk, Sr. I was recognized by God from my mothers womb. Even the KJV verifies this!
But now we bear the label given us by our Christian brothers ... "terrorists hijacking the Christian faith." But, to quote my Elder Brother Jesus Christ, I forgive them for they know not what they do.
And that's the crux of the Inclusion Gospel ... the good news that God loves and accepts all of us ... red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
And God accepts those who don't accept us as brothers. He accepts all the bible-thumpers who relegate God's creation to hell simply because they are different. He accepts the one who turns his back on his Father and says "I have no father." He can't deny his DNA as God's child. He may disown his Father but his Father will not deny him. He accepts the one who worships with a zither or chants a different mantra. He accepts the American ... and the German and the Mexican and the Eskimo and the African. And wonder of wonders ... He accepted me. And because of that, I accept you. That's what it's all about.
Selah . . .
* * * * * *
THE GOLDEN YEARS
A few days ago, Clariece and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, widely known as the Golden Anniversary. When that happens, people begin to ask you the secret of staying married to one person that long, as if there is some mystical, magical potion one takes to accomplish this feat. So, I will try to give you some reasons I think we made it 50 years. Mind you, these are my conclusions, not something I read in REDBOOK magazine. This is the way we did it. I won't try to sugarcoat it but I'll tell you exactly how it has happened. Settle in, we may be here a few minutes . . .
First of all, there has to be a little luck in the whole thing. I know, many say that it is the providential will of God that some people find that predestined other person. That may be but I still think there is some luck involved. What would be the chances that out of millions of girls on this planet, I would find Clariece? We did live a couple of doors from each other when I was 6 years old and she came to one of my birthday parties which frankly, I don't recall, but then I moved to another state, and another and another and so on until we had both graduated from high school. There was no contact during those years. We never heard of each other again. I guess it did narrow the chances that both our families were members of the same church denomination and we were bound to attend the same conclaves at some point. And it is fact that I rediscovered Clariece at one of these conclaves in Memphis on the sidewalk in front of the Claridge Hotel with some mutual friends she was with. And as they say, the rest is history. We ended up at the same college, went through the mating rituals and became married in 1960 after we had both graduated from college.
Back to reasons we stayed together 50 big ones. Firstly, we had similar family backgrounds. As I said, our families were members of the same church denomination but not the same local church. Daddy was a preacher and we made the circuit ... South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, which is where Clariece hailed from. So. when we married, our religious backgrounds were compatible. We knew many of the same people, understood the same theology, had the same disagreements with that theology and had basically the same concepts about God. So that was the first hurdle we made it over. Had I married a Jewish or Muslim or Hindu girl, there would have to have been a great adjustment on both parts.
Secondly, we had about the same socioeconomic background. Her daddy was a builder, mine a preacher. Neither family was rich but neither were we poor. We both had the necessities of life without a great struggle. So when we married, we had about the same expectations as to material goods.
Another hurdle achieved.
Thirdly, we had the same educational background. We were both college graduates. She was a music major, I was a Christian Education major. They were compatible. The race continues.
And we had basically the same political views. We are both moderates, middle of the road pragmatist. We usually agree on the same candidates to vote on. That can be big in a marriage!
Now comes the fun part ... learning to live together. This is also where luck comes in. I had dated her off and on for 5 years, yet when we married, we both realized we had married a stranger. There just might be some practical advantages for people to live together before they married. Not condoning it, you see, just saying there are some relationship aspects that are already dealt with. At least some intimate areas covered in that arrangement can dispense with later great surprises! When we married, Clariece and I were both legitimate virgins. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Clariece having dated her for 5 years. Guess again! After marriage, there were many surprises on both sides. She didn't want a 24 hour romance with a touchy, feely relationship and I wasn't the errand boy she had seen running errands for his mother. After marriage, she quickly realized I wouldn't hop to her every command. As I explained to her, I did what Mama ordered because Daddy would see to it that I did. After I got married, Daddy wouldn't tell me I had to run to the store to satisfy Clariece's every whim. And as far as the touchy, feely stuff, after marriage there were other things she had to do other than stroking me every waking hour. We both had to adjust.
And so, there were adjustments that had to be made if we were to survive. Marriage is a 2 way street. It is compromise. It is give and take.
We decided early on that we should decide who was good at what and each do what
we were good at doing. She was very good at managing money so I told her she was to handle our family finances. The only conditions were no bounced checks and no bill collectors calling the house. Otherwise, she had everything I made to work with. And that has worked rather well all these year. Won't work for everyone but it did for us. Plus, she enjoys shopping. I never have to shop for a gift for anything. She does it and does a great job. I don't even buy gifts for her. After having to return a few gifts early in our marriage, I learned it was better to tell her to go buy what she wanted and to please herself. That has worked also. It's been interesting to see her act surprised when she opens a gift that she has bought for herself!
Then the kids came along. We agreed that if there were ever any disagreements about how to discipline them, we would work it out between us behind closed doors, not in front of the kids. And that worked rather well. Only one time did I order her out of the house when I was going to deal with DE and she thought I was too rough. I was called Conan the Barbarian because of that episode but we made it through and the proof is in the pudding. Check him out today!
Clariece is one of the most talented, creative people I have ever known. I learned my role was to support her in that. I spent many hours ferrying her places in order for her to accomplish her projects. But when I see the results, it was worth it.
Working with your brother isn't as easy as it looks. There can't be 2 heads ... as he reminded me often, saying anything with 2 heads is a monster. I either had to submit or hit the road. I submitted. Clariece was often a peace-maker and a go-between. I really appreciated that. Otherwise, we might have killed each other!
So Clariece and I agreed on money, on religion, on how to raise the kids and most things in life. What did we disagree on? That's the interesting part of the story.
For one thing, as I matured and grew older, I came to the conclusion that it had better be darned important before I would fight about it. I learned to choose my battles well and not expend energy on trivial things. When we first married, I would fight at the drop of a hat. As I grew older, I found I didn't have the energy or the time to fight about insignificant things. That has worked rather well also.
Now allow me to be very candid about something so important in marriage, and especially in ours.
Infidelity. Now that I have your attention, I'll move on. Many marriages are broken up and dissolved because of infidelity. And please know that I don't condone it. But it happens. Let me tell you how I think it ought to be handled in a marriage where there is true love and a desire to sustain the marriage.
The easy way out is to say, "That's it. It's over. You have been unfaithful and I want out." And then the kids suffer. The family suffers. Friends suffer. It is messy and it creates more problems than it solves.
Please know that I've been in the ministry for over 50 years and I've seen a lot. There are reasons some people should not try to live together. It just doesn't work. They make each other live in hell. There is abuse ... mental, emotional and sometimes physical. But this often happens even where there is no infidelity. In those cases, the marriage needs to be ended as peaceably as possible.
Clariece had every right "scripturally" put me away. But she chose the better route. She knew that I loved her though there were circumstances that caused me to stray. It was never because of my lack of a deep love for her. Some of you will never understand this but I'm telling you how it worked in bringing us to 50 years together. I take full responsibilities for my actions but allow me to say that it was NEVER without the full cooperation of others who readily yielded and often precipitated the tryst. But she took me in her arms, forgave me and we moved ahead. That is the true "Christian" way.
And I fully realize that Clariece was not without pressures. She was a very pretty, desirable woman. I knew that. I had an uncle who married one of the ugliest women I've ever seen and said he did so in order that other men wouldn't want "his woman." I guess it worked for him. But I was always complimented that people knew I had a pretty wife.
One of the saddest stories I ever knew was about a woman I knew who was attacked, along with a friend of hers, as they were eating lunch in a park. Both women were raped and one was killed. The surviving woman returned to her husband who spurned her physically and emotionally because she had been "soiled" by other men. If ever she needed love and reassurance of love and acceptance, this was the time.
So, what do Clariece and I fight about? Strangely enough, it's my driving. Now I know I'm a decent driver. Check my record over 56 years of driving. Less than half dozen tickets and they were for things like running amber lights with a seat full of letters to be mailed that I didn't want to be thrown in the floor. And I saw one of Atlanta's finest watching me so I just voluntarily pulled over. Or making a smart remark in a restaurant about cops who drive "80 miles an hour" and being overheard by cops in the next booth who followed me out and stopped me doing about 55 and charged me with going "80 miles an hour." The point is, I know how to drive, contrary to Clariece's belief.
She won't even drive on an expressway, has depth perception problems, yet begins yelling about my driving often before we are out of the driveway! Occasionally I tell her that the day will come when I will refuse to ride in the same car with her, much less drive her anyplace.
Other than that, we rarely have any disagreements. We have really become best friends. We give each other space. We are not jealous of each other. We don't question or interrogate each other. If I don't want to do something, I just calmly tell her that I'm not going to do it (though I mostly relent) and she makes it clear what she will and won't do. And we don't harangue each other over it.
Another thing that enhanced our marriage was having separate sleeping quarters. Oh, I know there are macho men who don't understand this and say they will sleep with their wives regardless. But my snoring disturbs Clariece and then she disturbs me. So, I maintain visitation rights but when time comes to snore, I'm outta there. And she breathes heavily as well when she is sleeping! So we greet each other in the morning with a kiss and all is well.
She's the "inside boss" concerning all things inside the house and I'm the "outside boss" about grass and plants and all things outdoors. And that seems to have worked rather well as well.
So, we've made it 50 years. It's been a fun ride. No, it wasn't without problems but together we worked them out. Perhaps we came from a different time when divorce just wasn't an option. We might not make it 50 years if we started today.
Would I remarry if something happened to her? I doubt it. Most people my age are so set in their ways that it would be inviting tragedy to try to get used to living up close with another person. I'd just maintain good friendships! Would she remarry? She says only if he had plenty of money and worshipped the ground she walked on. Pretty big order!
But in the meantime, we are working on our 51st year. We've learned from the past. We know where the pitfalls are. We know how to push the right and the wrong buttons and mostly choose to push just the right ones!
If I had it to go over again would I marry her? In a heartbeat . . .
Selah . . .
* * * * * * *
SO, WHO IS GOING TO HELL?
From time to time I get remarks from people who don't understand what the message of "Inclusion" is all about. It's really very simple.
"Religion" is simply about doing things over and over, the same way, the way we learned it. Hence we speak of doing something "religiously." On the face of it, "religion" tends to be exclusive. Religion can become a habit, a form, a ritual, a liturgy. And that can be good as well as dangerous. Going to church, giving to the poor, being kind to our neighbors ... all these are good "habits."
But religion is dangerous when we choose to use our dogma, our particular brand of theology, our ideologies, our bible, as weapons against others. Or, we cloister ourselves behind our convictions to the extent that we exclude others. We become closed minded and refuse to see there may well be some truth in other peoples' ideas.
You see, we have a real tendency to make our God as small as our own minds are able to think. We Christians are taught that there is "no other name given among men, whereby we can be saved than the name of Jesus." We fail to see that there is a vast difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ slain from the foundation of the world. Yes indeed, Jesus, the man, became The Christ but the Spirit of Christ has always been in the world as a part of the "Godhead", the "Trinity" or whatever term you may want to use. That spirit of The Christ was present with the children of Israel even in the Old Testament according to scripture.
I said that to say this. We have a real tendency as Christians to assume our way is the only way to God. Have you ever had a friend, neighbor, acquaintance who was not a Christian but perhaps a Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion who exhibited "Christlike" characteristics and you mourned the fact that they were going to hell because they had not come to God as you did?
Is there any doubt that Mahatma Gandhi showed the characteristics of a Christian? Yet many "Christians" assign him to an eternal burning hell because he did not come to God through the name "Jesus."
Jesus is the path I came to God through. I love and revere Him as the embodiment of my "savior." But roughly 80% of God's creation on the face of this planet do not even comprehend that concept. Are we then to believe that a loving, forgiving God, who told us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek and go the second mile and give them our cloak also is going to refuse to forgive about 80% of His own creation and send them to an eternal, burning lake of fire to be tormented for all eternity? I can't love or serve a God like that!
And so, we (Inclusionist, Reconciliationist, Universal Salvationisit, Heretics, Kooks. whatever you wish to call us) choose to believe that God includes all men, everywhere who are all on a journey to find Him, regardless of what path they travel.
I know, there are many who refuse to give up their blessed hope of hell. There has to be a hell for all those who trespass against us. There just has to be a place of eternal torment for all our enemies who have hurt us or our families. There has to be an eternal lake of fire yawning to swallow up the billions of people who don't believe as we do. And so, the religion of exclusion flourishes and we get to retain our blessed hope of hell, fire, and brimstone.
But as for me, I'm glad that after over 70 years of fearing hell, that fear has been taken from me. Punishment for the wicked? I don't believe it's in the nature and character of God to "punish." I choose to believe that He purges and corrects and teaches us. For some it may take a lifetime. But God never gives up on us. His mercies endure forever and ever.
Too long have we limited the love and mercy and forgiveness of God. And we too long have tried to keep our God exclusively to ourselves who just were fortunate enough to have been born here in America or in the Bible Belt or in a denomination that was willing to relegate all other faiths and people to a burning hell.
Is there a hell? Oh yes, I've lived through it for several years! I made it for myself. But God in His infinite mercy has lifted me from the depths of hell and has translated me into the joys of His love and mercy and forgiveness.
Won't you come and go with me on this path where all are welcome?
Selah . . .
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TRUTH AND FREEDOM
Truth has a liberating quality. We are told that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Why is it then, that we are so resistant to learning "new" truth? Why do we insist on making prisons of our own thinking and convictions? Why are we afraid of new truth when it challenges what we have set in our minds as "truth".
Indeed, we have to be very cautious about labeling another's ideas and concepts as erroneous simply because they may be different from ours. Truth is relative. Facts and truth are not the same. Facts tell only what we can see, what is visible. Truth takes into consideration all the circumstances and conditions. The fact is, a man is seen carrying a liquor box out of a package store. Obviously, he has a box filled with liquor. The truth is, the man has a ham in the empty liquor box that was given to him by the proprietor.
We people of "faith" often take great pride in establishing a "truth" and holding on to it regardless of any new information that may arise. To do otherwise is considered "compromise" and that is considered akin to heresy. We know our "truth" and will "stand" on it come hell or high water! We swear to our own hurt and change not.
I've come to the conclusion in my own life that everyone is on a path that ultimately leads us back to our Creator ... God. Some people are even unknowingly on their path back to God. The fact remains that at sometime in our lives, in the wee hours of the morning when we lie awake pondering our lives, we all wonder what it's all about. Is there a God? Is there really a heaven? Is there really a hell? Why am I even here on this earth?
To many, the bible is the absolute truth without variance. Every word, every jot, every tittle is true and there can be no compromise. I don't want to burst your bubble but you need to do more research to find out what the bible really is and really isn't.
There is a vast difference in the Word of God that proceeds from His mouth and His heart and His purposes and in recorded history that was written by man with all his cultural, tribal, racial and all the other contributing factors in his life. "Holy men of old"? Yes. But still men with human foibles and idiosyncrasies to factor in.
The bible is not one book ... it is a collection of 66 books (from the Greek word ta biblia, which means "the scrolls" or "the books"), written by 40 different authors (including shepherds, fishermen, kings, farmers, scribes, poets, priests, and prophets) in different languages over a period of 1,500 years to different people groups who spoke different languages, in different generations, and for different reasons.
The bible is "divinely inspired" but penned and communicated by humans. We should honor the divine and human aspects of the bible in the same way that we revere Jesus as Son of God (divine) but also as son of man (human). The bible, therefore, is both divine and human, Spirit and flesh, Supernatural and natural. The bible is both God's Word to man and man's word about God. The bible is not to be worshipped as God, but to be revered as a guide.
The purpose of the bible is to bring revelation. The bible is a guide leading us to a greater understanding of the nature of God and God's relationship to all of creation.
Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God's nature. He holds everything together by what he says -powerful words!
Hebrews 1:1-3 - The Message Bible
And so, let us always be open and willing to hear the ongoing and proceeding Word of God.
I was born and raised in an environment that felt it had accomplished the whole truth, forever, without change. There was a literal hell with burning flames to torment those who didn't believe what we believed ... eternally! There was also a heaven with streets of gold and pearly gates and mansions for all of us. We, like the Muslims awaiting their seven virgins in paradise, looked forward to that place "over yonder" somewhere. The truth is, we don't know what eternity will be like. I choose to believe that wherever the Presence of God is, that will be "heaven" for me. I haven't met anyone yet who has returned with pictures of the place (aside from those who have seen "bright lights")!
And as for hell, I don't want to deprive you of your blessed hope of hell, but I can't conceive of the God of love we expound on sending the greatest majority of His creation to such a place. But since none of us know for sure, I won't argue the point.
I choose to believe that Christ was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world and it was then and there that my redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, salvation was secured forever. Period. No ongoing groveling and begging for mercy. No "worm such as I" mentality. When He publicly declared from the cross, "It Is Finished," He didn't mince His words ... it really was finished, a completed work for ALL mankind for all eternity. All flesh shall see Him.
The problem is, we all feel we have a corner on the truth. The Jews have the truth. The Muslims have the truth. The Hindus have the truth. The Buddhists have the truth. And the Christians for sure have the real truth. And the truth is, we ALL have the truth as we all know it. But the fact is, we all "know in part." We all see through a glass dimly.
And so, we end up fighting wars over our differences in perceived truth. When will we wake up and decide that we all are right. And we all are wrong. We are just what I would describe as children ... lost, frightened, confused children looking for home. And that's what I call the "path" we all travel looking for God.
Let us stop throwing stones at one another as we all travel this path of life. The stones have become rockets and bombs, racial slurs, wild accusations of other races and cultures, wars and rumors of wars, acts of terrorism, prejudices, segregation, apartheid, political partisanship ... things that separate people from one another. We are ALL God's children ... red and yellow, black and white, Jew and Gentile, male and female, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, American and foreigner. When will the insanity that divides us stop???
And sadly, the greatest division on the face of the earth is over our religion. People kill each other over concepts of God. Who has the right God? The truth is, there is but ONE God. Some may call Him by another name. We call Him Jesus. Others call Him Buddha. Some say He is Krishna. The fact is, God is God. He must laugh at His children arguing over what we will call him. A person born in India knows nothing but his God and so he calls him Buddha. We were born here and we know about Jesus, so we call him Jesus. Then we proceed to go to India and Africa and the uttermost regions of the earth to prove to others that our Jesus is the only one. And, likewise, they come to America and try to convince us that their god is the right one. And then we end up fighting each other because we can't convert one another.
Let's try to get beyond ourselves and see the big, global picture. Every person on the face of the earth has the same Creator. He loves everyone of us. He makes no distinction between us. So, why should we? Let us love one another, even as God, for Christ's sake has loved us and given His Son from the very foundation of the world to reconcile us.
And that, my friends, is the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Selah . . .
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THINGS I'VE LEARNED IN 50 YEARS OF MINISTRY
... THE HARD WAY!
I've actually been in the ministry over 50 years, having started preaching while a junior in college (1958). In these 50 + years, here are a few things I have learned, most of them the hard way ... by personal experience!
* Never greet some people with, "How are you today?" You must learn which people to never say this to. This generic greeting will turn into a counseling session in which they will tell you exactly how they feel and you will be told every ache and pain they have experienced in the last 20 years. With these people, substitute something like, "Good to see you today."
* When performing a wedding, always be sure you know the names of the people involved. When you come to the part about "Do you _____ take _____ to be your wedded mate?" be sure you have the correct names to insert verbally into the blanks. It can be awkward if you suddenly draw a blank yourself! This often occurs when you are called upon to perform the ceremony of a cousin twice removed of a member who only comes to church on Easter and you don't even know their name! Also, you are not required by law to actually ask the question, "If anyone can show just cause why these two may not be lawfully married let them speak now or forever hold their peace." There is always the possibility someone may be there for just that purpose ... like a pregnant former girl friend!
* Same thing about funerals. Learn the pertinent facts, like name, gender, age, what they died of (execution by the state, suicide, murdered), spiritual condition at time of death, prison inmate, several present and former (hostile) wives in attendance to the service, (make sure they check their weapons at the door) and other bits of key information about the deceased before you stand before their coffin trying to bring comfort to the bereaved family. This too, often happens when called upon to funeralize a friend/relative of a member who has no other church home to call upon in their moment of distress. Otherwise, you will be using a lot of things like, "Our dearly departed loved one," during the eulogy.
* Always make sure you have your current sermon notes when entering the pulpit. Last Sunday's notes tend to be monotonous being heard the second Sunday in a row.
*Make sure these current sermon notes have page numbers on them. If they get out of chronological order, it may be confusing to the listener (and to you).
* Go to the bathroom BEFORE the service begins. Enough said! If you don't, it may lead to a very short sermon.
* Be very careful NOT to use phrases like, "If a person had one eye and half sense" because you may then look down on the second row and see a person sitting there who only has one eye. An eye patch can be a dead give-away.
* Never ask a chubby woman when her baby is due. You may learn too late that she gave birth 6 months before.
* Never compliment a member on a piece of wearing apparel, like a gaudy neck tie, unless you want to receive it as a gift and be expected to wear it publicly.
* Be cautious at homecoming dinner-on-the-ground events. Everyone wants the pastor to sample their favorite dish they have brought. Depending on the quality of the item(s), you can end up having your stomach pumped or weighing 400 pounds in a few years. Learn to claim or feign diabetes, allergies or some eating disorder to protect yourself.
* If you double as the minister of music or lead the songs, be sure to have a hymnal or printed words of the song you are going to sing/lead. You can't always get away with suddenly having the Holy Spirit take over and breaking into glossalalia to cover your lack of knowledge of the words.
* In the event the audio person puts your lapel microphone on and turns it on, BE CAREFUL what you say from that point on or you may be heard over the speaker system over the entire church building. This can be especially embarrassing if you make a trip to the bathroom or decide to share some anecdote with a close friend.
* Always check the color of your socks BEFORE you are already sitting on the pulpit and look down and discover a black/blue and brown sock on. Same thing with matching shoes. Dressing in a hurry or a dimly lit bedroom can lead to some interesting moments.
* When preaching, never give definite minute times to actually closing. When "give me 5 minutes more" turns into 20 minutes, there ARE people in the congregation who put you on the clock when you make these statements and they tend to erode your future veracity if you violate your promise.
* When someone you have never heard sing/play an instrument volunteers to perform in service, ALWAYS audition them before allowing them to do so.
* In funeral services always, if at all possible, refrain from allowing family members/friends to come to the pulpit to make unsolicited remarks/ read poems/sing songs, etc. What usually ensues is an awkward time of crying and snubbing and snotting and finally having to lead them away to their seat. People who are not accustomed to speaking publicly also never know how to bring their remarks to a close. They are like a plane searching for a landing strip and can't locate one. Suggest that all family/friend remarks/songs/poems/tributes be done at the wake the night before. Never attend a wake yourself if possible.
* Always instruct the funeral director to CLOSE the lid of the coffin before the service begins. Having the family be able to sit there and view the dead profile of the loved one is inviting emotional tragedy! Have the smelling salts ready and be prepared to escort the hysterical from the premises.
* Never become preoccupied in thought or conversation and pass the hearse in a funeral procession on the expressway. Looking back in your rear view mirror and seeing the hearse BEHIND you can be disconcerting ... especially if you don't know which cemetery you are headed to.
* Learn your members names, especially if they have been there a long time. It's embarrassing to meet one in the grocery store and invite them to church only to have them inform you they have been there every Sunday for the past 22 years.
* Be careful when asking a man where his wife Ethel/Mary/Grace/etc., is. The woman he is standing beside as you greet them in the narthex may be his NEW wife! That's the way it is today, folks. Divorce rate, after all, is over 50% . . .
* When speaking publicly and a slip of the tongue produces an unintended vulgar or inappropriate result, try to ignore that you even said it and move quickly ahead. Most times, in doing so, you will leave the listener wondering if he heard you right. If you break down and stop and try to correct the misnomer, you will only make matters worse and leave yourself open to scornful ridicule and laughter. Trust me on this one!
* Always place an offering in the plate/bag. People watch to see if you practice what you preach.
* At baby dedications, never remark about the use of difficult ethnic names for infants. Some militant grandma will remind you that they don't have to name their kids Bill and Mary and George and Jane and that their home-made and/or historical tribal names are perfectly acceptable!
* When using immersion as a mode of baptism, get a firm grip on that 375 pound guy who suddenly becomes dead weight as you take him under. The point is to not only take him under into new life but return him safe and sound to the surface of the water for continued life. Also, watch out for hair pieces that tend to float away during this process. Also, NEVER reach out to touch a microphone. It could be the last thing you ever do! Electricity and water don't mix.
There are other things I have learned but I'll save them for another time. One final thing I've learned ... learn to laugh at yourself. Don't take yourself too seriously. After all, God has a sense of humor. He made you and me, didn't He?