Mutual Admiration Societies

There’s a 1956 song sung by Teresa Brewer that goes, “We belong to a mutual admiration society, my baby and me.” We all love mutual admiration societies. We want friends that think like we do. We like to laugh together. We enjoy not having our opinions challenged too vociferously.

A few months ago, St. Paul’s words from his first Epistle to the Corinthians came to mind and changed my world. “ And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

There is a faith. There is a hope. Paul was sure faith and hope in Christ is the answer that assures us of life. I sincerely believe that too. But Paul tells me that above faith, above hope, the greatest is love.

In other words, Paul is saying to me, “Phil, if you really have your faith down pat, you will be an example of love to the world. Love is the proof of the genuineness and perfection of your faith.” A deep knowledge of my faith is not the perfection of faith. Love is the perfection of my faith.

If I want people to believe my faith, I’d better sincerely, kindly, openly love them first. Love, introducing people to Christ’s love, not my love, is the proof that my faith is worth living. Christ’s love, not my faith, needs to be first.

Christ exemplified this perfectly. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 Christ loved me while I preferred sin to love.

Christ wants us all to believe in Him but He didn’t just hang with people who believed in Him. He wasn’t looking for a mutual admiration society to the exclusion of others.

Both Matthew and Luke tell us Christ’s enemies called Him a friend of sinners because He dined with sinners so often. But Christ did so to capture their hearts with His love, not because He agreed with their sin.

That’s what I’ve learned. Faith isn’t first about getting people to know faith. Faith is first showing people that my faith in Christ has taught me to love others as unconditionally as Christ did. That’s the greatest and the hardest thing to do.

Christ did not come with a sword to beat us all into submission. Since He is love, He revealed His true self, Love, to everyone. His message was simple. He gives us all a choice. If you want eternal life, true eternal love, believe in Him. For people to believe in Christ, I need to come across as a kind, forgiving, accepting, understanding lover. I am learning we are called to plant the seed of love and let the Holy Spirit nurture their faith.

Love Melts Selfishness

We had a wonderful time with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in Texas this summer. One Saturday morning we all took a ride in the hill country and enjoyed the rolling, curving roads through the massive ranches.

The sun was out. The grandchildren were well behaved. The air was pure and the scenery was gorgeous in its own rugged way. The parched soil and rocky terrain makes one wonder how people survived there generations ago.

We stopped on a curve of the gravel road miles into ranch land. Rocks of all sizes peppered the hillside where even desert vegetation could hardly take root.

All my life I have hoped to pick up a rock and find it is a geode with beautiful crystals inside, the type often used as book ends when polished. Today was my day. As we all turned over stones on the hillside, I picked up a non-descript rock the size of my fist. I turned it over and found it cracked in half. Staring at me for the first time in my life was the geode I’ve hoped for decades to find.

It wasn’t polished and was pretty rough looking but I had finally found my geode. I forget exactly what I said with surprise to the others as I treasured this rock in my hand. They were as thrilled as I was. My grand daughter immediately said with a wonderful, joyful smile, “Grandpa, can I have it?”

“Sure, Emily,” I replied, her innocence and love in two nanoseconds overcoming my grudging bit of selfishness as I placed it in her hands.

I laughed at myself over the whole situation. The stone really wouldn’t have added anything of value to my life, certainly not in comparison to Emily’s love. A few days later Emily wrote me a birthday card and gave me a present made by her beautiful two hands. Her card and gift on my desk convey a lot more joy than the geode would have. I laugh at myself to think that a part of me balked for a nanosecond when Emily politely requested the stone.

If innocent pure love overcomes momentary selfishness, how much more can continued love overcome even harder hearts? Thank you, Jesus, for this lesson.

The US Constitution is Grounded in Natural Law of the Creator

When trying to defend the religious and moral heritage of the US Constitution, one often hears that reply that nothing in the US Constitution states it is based on the bible. Alexander Hamilton made some interesting comments on this topic. Hamilton discussed national laws relation to the creator. He did not mention the bible itself.

“The Rev. Samuel Seabury wrote an article in the New York press on January 5, 1775. The ‘Westchester Farmer’s” A View of the Controversy between Great-Britain and her Colonies . . . ‘

“Hamilton struck back within two weeks of the first appearance of Seabury’s essays in Rivington’s Gazetteer, … , The Farmer Refuted, printed by Rivington as a tract, appeared on February 23, 1775.”

Part of Hamilton’s response to Seabury reads:

“The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice, but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.

“The Sacred Rights of Mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

While Hamilton does not explicitly mention the bible, he explicitly mentions that our creator is the basis for the natural law from which civil law is derived.

The above quotes were taken on July 11, 2017 from: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hamilton-the-revolutionary-writings-of-alexander-hamilton#lfHamilton_head_008

Losing A Friend Is Hard.

I can remember back to 1950 when I was five years old. My first friend was Jackie Dominski. Jackie’s dad built a fort in his backyard that Jackie and I would play in. It was a lot of fun, as I recall it.

We lived on the same street, Syracuse, in Detroit.

I can still recall the day – even though it was 65 years ago – that Jackie walked down to my house to tell me something. I can still picture him telling me as we stood eye to eye on the sidewalk on a nice summer’s day.

In a very friendly tone, Jackie said, “My father got a new job and we have to move away. I can’t be your friend any more.”

I understood and said, “Good bye, Jackie.” Jackie turned around and walked back to his house. I can still picture him with his back to me walking down the street. I had just lost my first good, close friend.

Amazing, isn’t it, that I recall that day so well. Good friends are so important. They are the building blocks of our hearts, love, and strength. I think what I missed most back then was losing the joy of playing and having fun with Jackie in that rickety, wooden structure we called a fort.

I have had a lot of close and wonderful friends since then. And so fortunate for me, I still do, very precious friends with whom I’ve shared the deepest parts of my heart, only not in a rickety fort. Now it’s restaurants and accountability groups, over coffee or lunch. Lots of laughs and sometimes looks of exasperation. All encased in love, God’s love, now.

So why is it then, that as we mature, those early years still have such a bearing on us. I just had lunch this week with another guy, who in the past three years, I’ve only have had a few one-on-one lunches with. He’s a busy guy, yet the kind of guy you just want to get to know deeply and by whom you want to be known deeply. He’s a tender hearted, mature man of God who will enable you to grow in Christ’s love as you share laughter and life together. My friend, Norflette.

Norflette told me that he is taking another job on the other side of town. As Norflette was talking, my mind rushed years back and I thought to myself, “I’m having another Jackie Dominski experience. I don’t want this.”

It’s so hard to establish a good friendship. It takes time. Distance makes it difficult to keep that relationship growing. Yet, all I have to do is drive a little further now to have lunch with Norflette. I will surely miss his wonderful sermons, his love for the Lord, his enthusiastic praise of God as he leads worship. And with Norflette gone, we will miss his wonderful wife, Shenay. If one thought Norflette loved the LORD, you should meet Shenay. What a powerhouse of God’s wisdom and love she is.

As I think of my loss, my heart still breaks for a fellow I met in 1970 while in Long Bihn, Vietnam. We both happened to be walking outside my barracks one day. I had never seen him in our company area before. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me he was on temporary duty assignment. He was to be a liaison with other companies.

It was midday. Having nothing to do, I asked him to come down to the company lounge area, have a drink, and meet some of the guys. He said, “No.”

I asked him, “Why not?” His answer burned into my memory.

He calmly said, “I’ve been in country three months. The first month, I made a friend and he died. The second month I made another friend and he died. The third month I made another friend, and he died. I don’t want another friend.”

With that, he turned around and left our company area. I was speechless. I didn’t know how to answer him. I can still picture him walking away with his back to me in his green army fatigues. He had lost all his friends. How heart breaking that had to be.

Over the years, I have thought to myself, I should pray more regularly for him. Did he ever make a friend for himself after Vietnam? Has he spent decades in loneliness for fear of losing more friends?

At church service today, the LORD gave me an insight that lightened this load of a lost/changing friendship. When we lose a close friend, we can feel like we are treading water. The LORD helped me realize that He trusts us enough even when treading water that we can do the work he calls us to do. He has faith in us. I need to maintain my faith in Him. It brings to mind Peter walking on the turbulent waters of the Sea of Galilee. As long as Peter had faith in Christ, he had no trouble walking on turbulent waters.

Cherish your friends. Pray for our veterans. Be a friend. Walk on water with Christ.

They Stripped Him Naked

To my knowledge, there are only three stories about naked people in scripture. The first is of Adam and Eve. The second concerns Ham seeing his father, Noah, naked and drunk. The third story concerns Jesus crucified.

To hide Adam and Eve’s shame and sin, God clothed them. But when Christ died for us, God the Father allowed us to see what sin really makes us look like.

David prophetically writes in Psalm 22, “But I am a worm, and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” And Isaiah writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:2b NIV

Sin is ugly. It makes one feel wormy. I know from experience. Thank God He is forgiving. Thank you, Jesus, for taking my stripes for me, for all of us.

Phil

Would I let him/her get hit by a bus?

Sometimes I hesitate giving a piece of good advice to people because I wonder how they are going to take it. Will they appreciate it? Will they slough it off? Will they think, “I don’t need this guy. Why am I hanging with him?” Yet from my own experience, I have found that just a few words of advice can change or protect a life.

When I was drafted into the Army in 1968, my boss, Tom Cavanaugh, told me as I left his office one day, “Be sure to tell them you can type.” At the Army induction center, I remembered Tom’s advice. The clerk wrote “Types 33 word per minute” on the back of my personnel folder.

During my two years in the service, I served at two stations: Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and Long Bihn, Vietnam. I walked into the headquarters and presented myself to the sergeant in charge to find out where he would assign me. The first thing each did was look at the back of my personnel folder. When they saw I could type, they asked me, “You can type, Matous?”

“Yes, sergeant”, I replied.

Both said, “You’re not going anywhere, Matous. Sit down right there.” And they pointed to a nearby desk.

I spent my Army career typing even though I had become an excellent marksman in basic training. Due to Tom’s advice, I wasn’t sent out into the fields and rice paddies of Vietnam for combat. I am so thankful for his few short words of advice.

Now, when I think about whether I should give someone some advice, I picture myself standing on a street corner with him or her, waiting for the traffic to clear. I see a bus coming down the road towards us. I picture my friend or the stranger not seeing the bus and stepping off the sidewalk in front of it. Do I say to myself, “I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings. I’m not going to warn him/her about the bus.” Or do I give the warning and save him/her from the bus?

While some people may at first feel I have no right to interfere with their lives, I hope they will come to appreciate that the advice I gave led them to a better life, or may have even kept them from death as Tom’s advice could very well have done for me.

I have to maintain the courage to warn others and not worry about their feelings. I have to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another” as Jesus said. Have courage and take the risk.