No Matter Who Won...We Lost

   By the time this little essay gets published, the 2016 U.S. presidential election will have been decided, and half of the country will be elated while the other half will be dismayed.  Peace and prosperity…or apocalyptic doom…will be the mantra for the day depending on one’s political outlook.  The truth of the matter, however, is that no matter who has won, we citizens of this great nation have lost.  The choices we had in our quest for a new leader were abysmal, to say the least.
    Donald Trump, the standard bearer for the Republican Party, proved to be the ultimate carnival huckster…a re-embodiment of the notorious used car salesman we all dread to come across.  Promising the moon to weary Americans, he even drew the enthusiastic support of allegedly religious conservatives, who tossed their own apparently not very deep convictions aside in order to support “anyone but Hillary.”  Trump embraced the evangelicals with the all the sincerity of a poker player, while they blindly ignored the facts that Trump has never seen a reason to repent about anything, has never felt a need for a relationship with a supreme being, has always been extremely liberal in his approach to social issues (“Katlyn Jennings can use whichever bathroom she wants in my building!”), and considers marriage vows to be like any other contract to be broken at will.  An equal opportunity insulter, he was able singlehandedly to lower the political discussion in the United States to a fifth-grade level…except fifth graders don’t usually get up at 3:00 a.m. and tweet insults to their enemies.  You have to wonder what Trump would do if early one morning about 3:00 a.m. Russia’s Putin were to tweet a derisive comment about the United States.  Would Trump lob an insult back to Putin…or a missile?
    If a potential voter was repulsed by the likes of Donald Trump, he or she was left with a single choice.  I know there were third and fourth party candidates who were playing the game, but their possibilities and probabilities in achieving the presidency were far less than remote.  Like it or not, the United States political machinery runs on a two-party system.  So we were left with Hillary Rodham Clinton.  One fact I found interesting about Clinton:  Though she has been reviled by religious conservatives, she personally is deeply religious.  Few know that she receives daily Bible readings from her pastor, attends church on a regular basis, and can quote scriptures probably far better than some of those Pharisees who are throwing stones.  The difference with her is that she considers religion a personal matter and does not use it as a political weapon to gain votes.  All of these items make no difference to the anti-Clintonites, however.  Because she openly accepts alternate lifestyles, embraces the liberal social agenda, and dares to suggest that the country should insure that gun owners are responsible American citizens, she is a far-left wing, gun grabbing liberal, and that’s that.
But Clinton’s Achilles tendon is that she is the consummate politician, with one hand in the governmental money jar and the other outstretched to whoever wishes a favor to be done.  The last thirty years of the Clinton family history has been one of financial scandal, and they have spent countless hours and fortunes putting out legal and moral fires of their own making.  The Clinton Foundation, an organization which has done a great deal of good around the world, has become the latest source of embarrassment because of the Clintons’ penchant for taking more than their fair share.  Couple this fact with the other Clinton penchant for peddling their influence to the highest bidder, and what one has created is a recipe for scandal.  The Clintons have baked this cake over and over. 
    The canvas that covers this whole pile of political scandal (and probably acerbates it) is the Clinton’s obsession with privacy.  Faced with a prickly situation or caught in an uncompromising act, the kneejerk reaction for the Clintons is to throw up a cloud of lies to wiggle out of the situation.   When it became clear she was carelessly using her computer and private email account, rather than admit to the error and correcting the problem, she swore that no messages she transmitted or received contained classified information, and continued to state the same line even after the real facts were exposed.  In that vein, Trump and Clinton are similar…neither can admit a mistake.  Thus, we can look forward to a litany of litigation in the coming months.  Should Trump become president, he has already stated he is going after Hillary Clinton and whomever else he considers enemies.  Should Clinton become president, it will the Bill Clinton Presidency, Part II, as she defends her foundation shenanigans while trying to serve the office of the presidency.

    However, if there is any saving grace to this sordid election campaign, it is that equally divisive political wars have been waged in the past, and somehow America has survived.  I am convinced we are still the greatest nation on the planet, Trump’s opinion notwithstanding.  Once the political dust has settled and the victor has moved into the oval office,  we citizenry can only hope and pray that a wave of civility and common sense will sweep the country, and that…in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln…”this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Peace....in Missouri

Noel, Missouri...in the good days
    Southwest Missouri has always been a sentimental vacationing grounds for the Downing family.  I guess it is because in the early nineteenth century my great grandparents and earlier generations of Downings lived in the area.  My great grandfather was a circuit minister who traveled the area by horseback preaching in various small congregations, eventually building a small country church just outside Noel, Missouri.  Noel in later years, due to its scenic location and the picturesque Elk River meandering through the town, became a vacationing spot for many, until the main highway was rerouted around the city, and the tourist industry vanished.  Around 100 years ago, my grandparents moved for an undisclosed reason to Western Oklahoma, near Mangum, Granite, and Altus, Oklahoma, where they were able to operate a farm and help feed their fifteen children.  My dad was the fourteenth child born to the family and the first (I think) born in Oklahoma, but he always stayed aware of his roots in Southwestern Missouri. 
    When I was around seven years of age, my dad decided to go back to Noel, Missouri, to retrace his ancestry, thus beginning a long Downing tradition.  We were able to locate the grave of his grandfather (my great grandfather, the preacher) and several other early ancestors.  Much to his delight, he found cousins he had lost track of and met people in stores who actually remembered his father and grandfather.  For the better part of 30 years, a couple of weeks per year were spent in Noel, Missouri.  It was heaven on earth for us kids (read my blog “Paradise Revisited…Noel, Missouri.”)  It was heaven enough that Noel, Missouri, was where Shirley and I spent our honeymoon.
    To fast forward to the present, my sister, Kathy, and her husband, Leroy, have lived in Grove, Oklahoma for several years.  Grove is only twenty miles or so from Noel, but it’s a different world.  Where Noel is gifted with the Ozark hills, Grove is relatively flat farm land…not nearly as scenic as Noel, but a more bustling community situated on the banks of the Lake of the Cherokees.  Kathy and Leroy have yearned for a little more breathing space for gardening and whatever and a few months ago purchased a five-acre plot of land in Anderson, Missouri.  Situated about ten miles north of Noel, Anderson, like Noel, is not far from Elk River and benefits from the Ozark hills ambience.  Although the property was a little neglected when they moved in, it is now a showplace of neatness and organization thanks to their hard work and meticulousness.
    Shirley and I, along with my two other sisters, Mary and Judy, made our annual trek to visit our distant relatives in June, and learned that when Kathy and Leroy say they are “away from it all,” they really mean it.  Had we not had an up to date GPS, we probably would still be looking for their home.  As we approached Anderson from the east on Missouri 76, we turned right onto a narrow asphalt road which quickly became a dirt (actually, mostly rock) road which in a couple of miles and a couple of turns became what appeared to be a single lane rocky driveway.  My GPS said keep going, so we did, and in a half mile or so, in the midst of rocky, wooded, and overgrown terrain we came upon a plot of ground that was neatly mowed, trimmed, and accentuated with bordered trees, a garden, and a neat home.  “Knowing Leroy and Kathy, this has got to be the place,” we said, and we were right.
     For the next few days, to be totally honest, we did very little except visit, eat, drink coffee, hit antique stores, and hibernate, so this little essay is not about all the wild things we did on our visit.  In fact, I am sure that if anyone under the age of 50 reads this, he or she will instantly think, “These poor people have no lives!  They didn’t do anything exciting, active, or fun!”   Au contraire, my hyperactive friend.
     One of the first things that Leroy built after moving onto the property was an approximately 50’x15’ porch attached to the home facing the evening sun (sunsets, you know) and overlooking a majority of the property.  Although approximately half the property has not been cleared yet, what is cleared is beautifully maintained with an abundance of deer, rabbits, and other creatures which we saw only occasionally.  What strikes you first upon sitting in the comfortable porch furniture and looking over the landscape is the total lack of any sound of civilization.  The noisiest sounds come from the hummingbirds which dine at the several bird feeders Kathy has placed along the porch’s edge. The other birds sort of chime in when the urge hits them, but if there is no breeze blowing, bird noises are the ONLY sounds to be heard.  The nearest neighbor is down the road and completely out of sight; yet when a neighbor kid hollers, he/she can be faintly heard from Kathy and Leroy’s porch.  Well, we did hear one more sound...occasionally off in the distance we would hear the braying sound of an upset mule.
    One evening, in the depths of our relaxation (or stupor, the youngsters may assert), we noticed a spider busily building a web on one of the porch’s posts.  It became fascinating to watch this little creature spinning string after string of webbing to create his trap for some poor, unsuspecting gnat or insect.  All the evening hours as we visited, Mr. Spider worked feverishly, never resting, and as we retired for the night, he was still working frantically.  The next morning, believe it or not, we checked on him, and his web was complete, and he was resting comfortably (probably from exhaustion), no doubt satisfied with his night’s work.  I could not help but comment how that little spider was indicative of the instinct that is in every creature to survive.  A great majority of the youngsters of today with their electronic gadgetry and tendency to panic if they are not “connected” are missing out on the lessons of the world around them, and their negligence will be their loss.  But I digress.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-electronic. We travel by GPS and I have a dash cam in my car, and while we were visiting I was frustrated with limited phone service and dutifully packed my tablet…and in my heart thanked Kathy and Leroy for having good internet access through their cable modem.  However, I found out after a couple of days, the fact that I didn’t know what was happening around the world every five minutes seemed less stressful, and the fact that I was missing phone calls…mildly concerning but not a reason for panic.  Truth be told, it was a good place to lower your blood pressure.
    Not being one to rest on his laurels, Leroy put in a garden (see photo below) which was still in its embryonic stage, but we still enjoyed lettuce, strawberries, and whatever else.  In a few weeks all their friends and neighbors will be avoiding Leroy and Kathy because they will be flooding them with surplus vegetables and fruits.   Wish we lived next door.
    The weather turned hot, and the early evening sun made sitting on the porch a little warmer than desired, but about sunset, the western sky would turn aflame with a palette of colors.  The cool of the evening would see us drifting back to the porch, coffee in hand, to enjoy another evening of camaraderie and remembrance.  In time darkness would set in, and the sky would become “a thousand points of light,” as some famous politician once said.  The stars at night may be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but they ain’t bad in Southwestern Missouri.  We would visit and talk until bedtime, and then the next morning the cycle would begin again when, by the time 6:00 a.m. rolled around, coffee was already on and the birds were a-twittering.
    Just as an aside, my sister, Mary, is a cat lover (choke.)  No, more than that…she seeks out cats to pet them, coddle them, feed them.  Well, Kathy and Leroy have this old tom cat which I’m sure thought he had died and gone to heaven when Mary came along.  Mary latched onto him, snuck him food, held him, caressed him to the point that his purr sounded like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at idle.  In gratitude, the old cat would bring Mary an occasional dead (or barely alive) mouse to share with her.  No doubt the cat was disappointed with Mary’s response, but continued to bring mice to the porch to share with whoever desired a fresh entree.  If there were no takers (and there weren’t) he would eat them himself.  But we had our chance.
   The only downside to the whole trip was when we took our annual pilgrimage to Noel.  Because of the memories there, anytime I am in driving range I have to go back and at least drive through the little village and reminisce of days gone by.  Regrettably, the Noel of my youth is gone.  Our government has deemed it a good place to transplant refugee Somalians, so now on the streets of Noel, one can see women shrouded in yards of cloth, and it is possible to eat at a “genuine African cuisine” restaurant.  Years ago Tyson Foods (the chicken people) built large chicken processing plants in Noel and began importing many people whose citizenships were in question, and so now the home town, relaxed, Americana of Noel is gone.  Sad.  But the memories of yesteryear still remain as fresh as ever. 
    It is probably good that we headed back to Houston when we did.  Kathy had told us we could stay as long as we wished, and I was drifting toward seriously considering the proposal.  I decided, however, not to mess up a good thing and remembered the axiom…” Leave before they want you to go… not after they want you to go.”   We said our goodbyes and made our promises to visit again next year.  All in all, a trip almost devoid of activity…but crammed with loads of relaxation.  Isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be?
Leroy and Kathy Boatright
The Porch
The Garden

Memorial Day, 2016



                 Memorial Sunday, May 29, 2016
     To many, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer.  The three day Memorial Holiday is a time of relaxation with family gatherings, barbecue on the grill, civic parades and celebrations, and, if one is a race fan…the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been run during every Memorial Day weekend since 1911 with the exception of the WWII years.
    However, the true purpose of Memorial Day is much more somber.  It is a day and a moment in which a grateful nation pauses to remember the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military defending our country against those who would do us harm.  The holiday is not to be confused with Veterans’ Day held in November which is meant to honor all military personnel, both living and dead.  On Memorial Day, we give special honor to those who have paid the supreme sacrifice that we may enjoy the freedoms we hold dear today.

   Memorial Day first began as Decoration Day in 1868 after the American Civil War.  It was first commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery when 5,000 volunteers decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who are buried there.  At that time, the nation was still reeling from the effects of four years of civil war, which to this day is the most devastating war in our history.  There were more casualties in the Civil War than in all other wars the U.S. has fought from that time to the present, and tragically, in many instances, it was brother against brother.  Of the 1.1 million casualties the U.S. has suffered since 1862, 600,000 were lost in the Civil War alone.
As the twentieth century wars took their toll with WWI and WWII, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and now our present struggle against terrorism, Memorial Day, as it has come to be known, has evolved into our honoring all military personnel who have died while in service of their country.
     For the first 100 years, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, but in 1968 Congress changed the date to the last Monday in May to allow the public to enjoy a three-day holiday.  Many states resisted the changing of the date at the time because they felt it would undermine the meaning of the day, and time has proven that the three day holiday has contributed to the public’s somewhat nonchalant observance the day’s purpose.
     There are still some traditional observances which occur on Memorial Day.
(1)            At most military cemeteries and federal office buildings on Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is briskly raised to its topmost position on the flagpole, then slowly and solemnly lowered to the half-staff position only until noon, at which time it is again raised to full staff the remainder of the day.  The half-staff position is to honor the more than one million heroes who have given their lives in service to their country.  At noon, the flag is raised to honor the living who have resolved not to let the sacrifices of the fallen be in vain, but to rise up in their stead to continue the fight for liberty.
(2)           In the shadows of the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., the National Memorial Day Concert takes place.
(3)        At exactly 3:00 p.m. local time across the nation, citizens are encouraged to pause for a moment of silence and remembrance for our fallen soldiers.   
          1965                                       2015        
On May 3, 1915, Colonel John McCrae, an officer with the Canadian army in the Flanders area of Belgium during the First World War, observed after months of fighting that poppies seemed to grow well around the graves of young fallen soldiers.  He was inspired to write this poem which is written from the viewpoint of the dead and speaks of their sacrifice and serves as their command to the living to press on:
                                                In Flanders Fields.

                   In Flanders field the poppies grow
                   Between the crosses, row on row
                   That mark our place, and in the sky
                    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
                   Scarcely heard amid the guns below.

                   We are the Dead.  Short days ago
                   We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow
                   Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
  In Flanders field

  Take up our quarrel with the foe
  To you from failing hand we throw
  The torch, be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
  We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
  In Flanders fields.

In 1918, inspired by the poem, a woman named Moina Michael attended a memorial wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed over two dozen to others present.  Within two years the poppy had become the official symbol of remembrance.
   We who sit here today enjoy spiritual freedom because of the sacrifice of our savior.  As we enjoy our families and celebrate over this holiday period, may we also give honor to those who also made the supreme sacrifice to make our country’s freedom possible. In the words of Abraham Lincoln…”May we resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain---that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom---and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."     
             May God bless the United States of America.

More God? No, Thanks!


    In religious circles, the start of a new year brings the same emotions to individuals as in any other organization, be it business, personal, or otherwise.  A new year brings a time of reflection, perhaps regret, but always a determination to make the new year better than the one before it.  Another year of experience hopefully brings a higher level of wisdom and increased ability to handle what life throws at us.  New goals are determined, bad habits are put away, and sights are set on higher aspirations.  We as mortal humans always want to think that we are getting better and better.
    At my church, Bethel Tabernacle, the same determined approach to the new year has been promoted by our beloved Pastor David Fauss.  The theme for 2016 began during our Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve as our pastor delivered a stirring sermon with a simple title, “More!”  In his sermon, he asked us to not merely desire more in our relationship with God, but to realize that to receive more, we had to be willing to give more…not in money, but in consecration, prayer, and time:  consecration in the way we live our daily lives, commitment to communication with our God through prayer, and time to the church through faithful attendance. The next Sunday the same theme was emphasized with his sermon “Activate the Promise!”  He reiterated that God has made many promises to those who are faithful to Him, and the way we activate those promises is through our rededication of our faith, prayer, and time.
    If you have attended church for several years, you would probably agree that none of what we heard in the sermons of the last few days was new material.  But the message of rededication is always timely and effective; we as humans need to be reminded on a fairly regular basis of what is really important in life and where we should be placing our priorities.  Pastor Fauss is very effective in taking a sermon the theme of which we have heard many times and make it seem as fresh as today.
    But it was last Sunday morning as he was concluding his “Activate the Promise!” message that I realized that we as a group of people have a way to go before we reach that euphoric state of higher blessing.   Pastor Fauss preached his heart out for nearly an hour, and as he was ending his sermon, a spirit of dedication seemed to settle over the congregation.  He then asked those who were willing to offer more to the service of God to come forward to pray as a sign of rededication.  That was the moment when it became abundantly obvious where the interests of many alleged members lay.
     In my position as an usher, I sit near the rear doors of the auditorium.  As the pastor gave his call to come forward, there were many who began their walks to the front…but I was shocked at the mass exodus of probably 75-100 persons.  You would have thought that the pastor had dismissed the service instead of given a call to come forward.  With quiet music playing and audible prayers coming from the front, these people chatted and smiled as they blithely strolled out of the church…completely untouched by the sermon.  The somewhat telling fact of this situation was this:  our church prides itself in being a “diverse” church…whatever that means.  It is a contemporary philosophy which has no basis in scripture, but it makes us feel good. Regardless, it was noteworthy to me (and mentioned by more than one other person) that ninety percent of those who headed for the door at the first opportunity were all members of a single group.
    The conclusion has to be reached that there are many church attendees who, if they honestly answered the question, “Would you like to have a better relationship with God?” would answer politely, “No, thank you.”  These are the attendees who limit their church time to a 45-minute session per week and then call themselves “faithful Christians.”  These are the attendees who come to church to groove and sway to the music and jump up when the preacher’s preaching and yell, “Amen! Preacher!”...and then split for the door at the first sign of a call to prayer.  These are the ones who talk like the world, dress like the world, think like the world, and live like the world…but want to be called “Christian.”
    The church has always had “hangers-on.”  People who come to church, not to be guided, blessed, or saved, but just to gain the sensation of church so that they can profess to be church goers.  They are in every church.  They are the ones who come to receive only and never to give.   If the church is offering a free dinner after a church service, they are the first in line.  If the church is having dinner after a church service as a fundraiser and is charging $10.00 per plate, they are nowhere to be found. 
    When I witnessed the mass exodus from our church last Sunday, I was embarrassed for our church and for our pastor.  I honestly hoped at that moment that he had not noticed all those exiting souls who were rejecting what he had so eloquently preached.  But at the same time, I was reminded of the parable of the wheat and tares.  Rather than tear out the tares (weeds) from the wheat and perhaps damage some of the wheat, the farmer determined to let both grow side by side until day of harvest.  On the day of harvest, the wheat would be separated from the tares…the wheat going to a good purpose and the tares into the fire.  So it will be on the day of judgement.
     I am reminded of Elijah when he came to the people and asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions?  If the Lord be God, then follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.  And the people answered him not a word.” (I Kings 18:21)  Last Sunday, there was a group of people who were, in effect, given that very same challenge, and, just like the children of Israel, they “answered not a word.”  But their actions spoke louder that any words, anyway.

   

Can We Be Perfect??



       Ever since Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, we as humans have acknowledged and perhaps even embraced our “humanity.”  We recognize that we are imperfect creatures, subject to the whims of circumstance and emotion.  To put it in a more modern vernacular, we throw out the phrase, “Every man has his price.”  Of course, in our current enlightened society and with increased sensitivity to political correctness, we probably should make that statement, “Every man or woman has his or her price.”  Regardless, you get the point.  We as a general populace readily profess that we are willing to sell our possessions, wives, kids, souls, reputations, and futures if the price is right.  As proof, check out the latest news wherein athletes, businessmen, and common individuals abandon contracts if offered a better deal elsewhere, common thieves sell their futures for whatever they can find in your car, and reputations are tossed aside if offered enough incentive.  Finally, Christians sometimes dismiss all that they have professed for years if faced with enough stress, disappointment, or temptation.

   Many churches accept the fallibility of people and actually build a church on the concept of inevitable imperfection.  Salvation and forgiveness are considered sort of like prepaid gift cards; since it is inevitable that we will fall, we make no attempt to avoid failure because we can always whip out the “forgiveness” card and make everything all okay.  There is no incentive to really change a life style. “Come as you are!” the churches proclaim, “and you can stay as you are, because, since we’re all imperfect, we’ll be a happy family of social imperfects.”  The informality carries through to the church service itself, where the pastor delivers the “word” in jeans and tee-shirt, the members appear as though they just came from Walmart, the music is hip and contemporary, and there’s plenty of snacks, drinks, and activities for everyone.  There are no requirements for membership…just come and join…and you’re in.

    Interestingly, in contrast to this contemporary, laid-back approach to religion, the scriptures give evidence that God has always demanded perfection from those who profess to follow him.  The history of the children of Israel in the Old Testament gives multiple testimonies of the explicit instructions God gave for worship, for sacrifices, for the building of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, for the Jerusalem temple, and even to individuals for various actions, and failure to follow the orders led to dire consequences.  We hear a lot of discussion in our schools today concerning “no tolerance” rules, which mean fundamentally “one strike, and you’re out.”  It appears that the God of the Old Testament was the originator of that concept.

     The definition of perfect is “pure, complete in all respects, without defects, flawless, complete excellence.”   There are no degrees of perfection….an item is either perfect or it is not.  An item is either pure or it is not; an item is either flawless or it is not.  Yet, in comparison to the word “charity” which appears only 26 times in the scriptures, the word “perfect” appears 124 times…usually to describe a person that God himself called “perfect” or to describe what God demanded as a life style for an individual.  Job was described as “a perfect man,’ and God told Abraham in no uncertain terms, “Be thou perfect.”  Note the following scripture…could this be the eleventh commandment?   Deuteronomy 18:13   “Thou shall be perfect with the Lord thy God.”  A sampling of additional verses:
  • Genesis 8:9   “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations.”
  • I Kings 15:11  “Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days.”
  • Psalm 101:2   “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way…I will walk within my house in a perfect way.”
  • II Kings 8:61   “Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord your God…to walk in His statures, and to keep His commandments.”
    This requirement for perfection extends into the New Testament in the words of Jesus Christ himself:
  • Matthew 5:48  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
    And throughout the letters to the churches the apostles, repeated:
  • II Corinthians 13:11  “Finally, brethren, be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace…”
   The apostle even described the type of church that the Lord was preparing for himself:
  • Ephesians 5:27  “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot,  or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (perfect).”
    The most fascinating scripture, however, is the following where the apostle exhorts the brethren to “continue to press toward the mark for the prize…” and acknowledges that he is addressing “perfect” people:
  • Phillippians 3:15  “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded, and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you.”
     After reading these and most of the other 124 scriptures concerning perfection, I had to ask myself a question.  How can anyone who is a descendant of Adam’s race, born into imperfection, become perfect as scripturally required?   How can something imperfect ever be made perfect?  The answer lies in the following scriptures…just a sampling of many:
  • Hebrews 9:22  “And almost all things are by the law purged (purified, cleansed, made perfect) with blood; without the shedding of blood is no remission.”
  • Hebrews 9:14  “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge (cleanse) your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
  • Titus 2:14  “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify (perfect) unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
  • II Samuel 22:33  “God is my strength and power; and he maketh my way perfect.”
     Through baptism in the name of Jesus and the infilling of the Holy Ghost as describes in several chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we are made perfect through His salvation.  We are described as becoming “new creatures in Christ,” but our salvation is just the beginning of our journey.  However, having been made perfect (pure) through remission in His name, how do we maintain our purity?
  • I Peter 1:22  “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit….see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
  • I John 2:15  “Love not the world, neither the things in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
  • Phillippians 2:12-15  “Wherefore, my brethren, ….work out your own salvation with fear and trembling….That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.”
  • Phillippians 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest….whatsoever things are pure…..think on these things.”
  • Matthew 5:8  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
When a potter picks up a lump of clay, he does not see a malformed, unsightly bit of wet dirt; what he sees is the finished product…a beautiful ceramic vase or other work of art.  The beauty of salvation is that, although God does demand perfection, when He looks on us, He does not see us as we are.  Rather, He sees what we can become if we allow Him to mold our live in accordance with His will.  Do we become the perfect creature overnight?  No, it is a process of development, and with our human nature resisting that spiritual nature we have taken on, we sometime stumble and make mistakes, but He understands:
  • I John 1:9  (The apostle was writing this letter to people already in the church.) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Psalm 86:5  “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call on thee.”


Disappointed...in God?


    I wrote in a previous blog (“Into the Batter’s Box…Again) of my experiences with cancer-related issues.  I closed that little essay with the statement that I had at that time (November, 2014) been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, commonly referred to as CLL.  I was comforted at the time by my skilled doctor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic that CLL was a very slow working form of leukemia, sometimes not active for years, and that my level of progress of the disease was very low.  It was, he said, just a matter of monitoring the problem with no treatment planned on the horizon.In March of this year (2015) I revisited MDA (the term of affection for M.D. Anderson) and after $16,000 worth of testing (!) was again reassured that all was under control, and monitoring would continue as needed.  I felt comfortable with the diagnosis and prognosis.  Since that date I have felt well and hearty, probably partly because I have lost a lot of weight on purpose, and as a result I’ve had less baggage to haul around, so I’ve had a corresponding reduction in blood pressure and periods of extreme fatigue.  But…the disease has still been there lurking somewhere in my bloodstream.
    Fast forward to the recent past at my church, Bethel Tabernacle.  Anyone who has been a relatively faithful attendee in the last couple of months will tell you that we have heard several unusually powerful and moving sermons from our pastor, our associate ministers, and even visiting ministers about the healing power of God, and as each sermon was delivered, it seemed that the message was directed to me…to the point that in one sermon the minister referred to “a faithful member of the church who is suffering from cancer.”  I understood at the time that the minister was probably referring to one of our established members who is known to be suffering from the dreaded disease, but even with that, the statement came close to me, primarily because I had not advertised my own health situation very openly.
   During two separate services, when prayer for the health-challenged was offered, the ministers of the church anointed me with oil and prayed as the scriptures suggested, and I felt a tremendous touch of…whatever you want to call it…virtue, healing, spirit, or God (all the same, anyway), and I, after the second prayer, felt that my situation with leukemia had possibly, even probably, been abated.  I felt such, to the point that I looked forward to my visit to MDA on Wednesday, October 28, because I fully expected my doctor to look at my lab work and tests and be amazed at the unexplainable positive changes that had occurred in my blood.  I was so confident that I told my wife that she did not need to travel with me to MDA, because I was expecting a very positive outcome to my tests.  She was scheduled to work that day, and usually she cancels her work to go with me, but that morning I drove away from our home in high spirits.
    All my tests were done by 10:30, so I dawdled and wandered around until my 1:00 appointment with Doctor Ravandi, who has been my doctor since 2008.  At precisely 1:00 p.m. I was ushered into the patient’s room and as usual interviewed by his nurse, then his physician’s assistant.  The PA was looking at the computer screen on the desk asking me questions about my medications, feelings, last six months’ events, etc., and when he finished, he left, saying that Doctor Ravandi would be available in a few minutes.  The computer was still running, however, and I, being the nosey soul that I am, decided to take a look at my medical charts and the results of the blood tests of three hours earlier.  What I saw (I’m learning to read those charts), left me cold.
   It was abundantly clear that my “dormant” CLL was on the move.  Without getting into technicalities, everything about my blood that was supposed to be low was rapidly increasing, and everything that was supposed to be high was dropping like a rock.  I was stunned and disbelieving, and under my breath whispered, “Oh, God, can this be true?”  I felt as if I had been promised a valued prize and at the last minute had it snatched away.  When Doctor Ravandi entered the room a little later, I did not react much to what he had to say because I was already a little numb.  I have described in an earlier essay the moment I was told I had cancer in 2008.  This moment was not as traumatic as that, but it was a shock, anyway.  He told me what I had already determined, but offered the analysis that the progression of the disease had not reached the treatment stage.  By next May (my next appointment), however, he stated if the current activity continued, we would begin some sort of procedure.  Apparently the general consensus is that until a certain level of progression in some diseases is reached, early treatment can actually be counterproductive.  It’s sort of like when I had the blockage in my carotid artery in my neck cleared in May, the blockage had been there for at least eight years, but until the blockage reached 70%, no surgery was planned.  Doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it’s done.
    I said my goodbyes to my medical team and headed home.  I had a hard time concentrating on the traffic because I was so disappointed in the news I had received.  I had been so confident…so full of faith…in the expectation of receiving a great report that I had trouble grasping what had taken place.  If you’ve ever tried to pray and drive in heavy traffic at the same time, it’s pretty challenging.  Actually, I suppose anytime one gets on the streets of Houston, praying while driving is a necessary practice.
    In a short while, however…even before I arrived home…I began to feel a comforting spirit from God descend around me, and I remembered some of the statements I have both said and written during earlier trying times.  God’s time is not our time; sometimes healing comes, and sometimes it does not.  If we were all healed every time we became ill, we would all live forever, but our forever will come in the next life, not here on earth.  I taught a series of lessons a few years ago on “Seeking the Will of God,” and I learned that the only stated will of God in the scriptures is that “none should perish, but all have eternal life.”  Everything that He allows to happen to us is geared toward pushing us in the right direction to insure our eternal salvation.  Healing occasionally comes, wealth may come, earthly security may come, but those blessings are at best only supplemental to His divine plan for us…that we be saved.  It is our job to accept His plan for each of us and follow his leading and inspiration.  He promised, “I will be with you…even to the end of the earth.”
    So I have accepted the situation, perhaps as a child does when he/she is denied a toy.  There is initial disappointment, but just as children eventually understand that their parents still love them in spite of saying “no,” the disappointment quickly fades and the love remains as strong as ever.  I understand that in His time, all will end well.  I will live each day enjoying the blessing of having His spirit near me.  Healing may come, but, if not, He is still my provider, benefactor, and soon coming King.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Election 2016


   In the latter years of the Vietnam War, the United States military unofficially adopted a controversial tactical strategy in a desperate attempt to halt the encroachments of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops into the villages of South Vietnam as they slowly but surely advanced toward the capital city of Saigon and capture of the entire country.  The United States in the late ‘60s had begun massive sweeps of the countryside outside Saigon using grandiose nomenclatures like “Operation Thunder” with the noble intent of clearing areas and villages of the dreaded Viet Cong and restoring order and peace to the allegedly loyal citizens of the target areas. By clearing areas of the enemy, the objective was to slowly recapture the countryside and save South Vietnam from a communist takeover.
    The United States soon learned that the task was comparable to holding back the tide with a mop.  Moving into a village, the US military would find a quaint, idyllic Vietnamese citizenry busy with all the duties of a township with nary a sign of the enemy…especially confusing when just a few hours earlier military intelligence had indicated that the place was a beehive of enemy activity.  Compounding the difficulty was trying to identify the enemy at all…many Viet Cong troops dressed in the standard clothing of the country villager and became part of the village populace simply by hiding any trace of weaponry.  The US military would search a village, and occasionally the enemy would make a mistake in unsuccessfully hiding their weapons.  Retribution quickly followed, but, more times than not, the US military was frustrated in its lack of engagement with the enemy.  This frustration led to a logical conclusion:  if military intelligence had positive proof that a village was a haven for the enemy, and there seemed to be no evidence that the local citizens were being cooperative in identifying the enemy, the village was put to the torch and burned to the ground.  This military policy was bluntly explained one evening on national news when a military official was asked about the burning of a village, and he replied, “In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.”
    Much has been written in recent years of the general frustration of the United States citizenry with its government.  Though we pride ourselves with our democratic process and look with disdain at other not-freely elected governments around the globe, we are still disappointed at the seeming inability of the U.S. government to face the issues confronting our country today and come up with solutions to our problems.  It is not a problem which has surfaced only since Barack Obama became president; it has extended backward through several previous administrations, and the prognosis for the future is not encouraging.  In the richest country in the world we have one of the highest percentages in the world of children who nightly go to be hungry, of citizens who cannot afford proper health care, and of elderly who have no place to go for security.
    Democracy, by its very name is…well…democratic.  While it is a form of government founded upon the concept of rule by the majority, it is also founded upon the principle that any governmental decision will be made with general welfare of the population in mind.  Democracy by it very modus operandi requires compromise, and every law and every decision is an amalgamation of the corporate minds which joined together to make the decision.  The problem with democracy is that it occasionally clashes with individual principle.  Consider the hypothetical situation of an elected official who has sworn to his constituents “No new taxes!” and then has to consider a proposed bill which would take care of a serious problem in the country…but the final version of the bill as drawn up by his associates contains a tax increase.  Although it will ease a problem in the country, does he vote to pass the law and in doing so override his principles, or does he stand firm, waving his flag of unbent principle, and let the country suffer the consequences?  In today’s political climate, we have many politicians who have adopted the strategy of “destroying the village in order to save it.”  Rather than reach a political compromise on an issue which would help ease the concern of the populace, many lawmakers would rather see the country suffer than renege on an unwise commitment or pledge made in the heat of political campaigning…a commitment or pledge which should have never been made in the first place.
    Unfortunately for our country, both major political parties have adopted the “destroy to save” philosophy, and it depends upon who is in power as to what role each party plays.  With the current Democratic president, the Republicans have adopted the knee-jerk reflex of “No!” to anything President Obama remotely suggests.  Knowing that the 2016 elections are on the horizon and seeing the light at the end of the Obama presidential term, Republicans are digging in their heels and throwing out every possible stumbling block to any potential political success for the Democrats…and the country founders with high unemployment, porous borders, a shaky economy, crumbling infrastructure, and rising crime.  Please understand…I am not a Democrat and am not a fan of President Obama.  He and the Democrats have done their fair share of uncompromising destruction.  During the George Bush (43) presidency, the tables were turned, and it was the Democrats who were stumbling blocks, and any legislation which may have benefited President Bush or the Republican Party was soundly squashed…in the name of “principle,” and Bush, being loyal to Republican “principles” was not anxious to cooperate with the Democratic Congress.
    If you ask any politician in the country about democracy, the instant response is “Democracy is the greatest form of government on the face of the planet.”  However, if you ask what the definition of democracy is, the response will be divided into two camps.  These two camps represent two versions of the same delusion.
    The believers of the first version of democracy can quote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from memory.  They are for a government which is mostly kept at a distance, allowing the individual to soar like eagles to unlimited success with the least amount of restriction.  Everyone in this democracy contributes a fair share to the government for basic services such as national defense, but a person’s well being is a personal responsibility.  In this democracy, every person is born healthy and disease free with a marketable talent which allows for the achievement of success.  Working hard and not abusing the rights of others, these believers live fruitful lives, leaving legacies of great influence.  The difficulty with this form of democracy is that it does not know how to handle those individuals who do not fit into the mold.  Forgive me for mentioning the Bible, but even Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always.”  In this form of democracy, if one is “poor” it must be because he/she has not exerted adequate effort to reach the inborn potential which is in every person.  To offer alms to the poor is to deter their work initiative.   
    Along with the poor are the physically challenged be it through injury, birth, or disease.  Knowledgeable people have proposed that, to cut our health costs in this nation, committees should determine how expensive extending the life of a disabled person would be, and, if the cost is prohibitive, health care should be withheld.  I guess it would be the natural thing to do.  After all, in nature, there are many examples of infant creatures that are abandoned to die by their mothers for the good of the healthy ones.  So a person’s health would be a personal responsibility and dependent upon the person’s ability to pay for services.  What I find fascinating about this group is that most believers are aggressively pro-life when it comes to the abortion issue, arguing about the sanctity of the unborn child, etc.  However, if that child is born with a defect, well, we hope mom has good insurance.  If the child is born to poor parents, it’s the parents’ fault…but the child suffers because the government will not offer any helping hand (hurts the budget, you know.)
    Lastly, those in this form of democracy have not learned the lessons of human greed.  One never has enough money, power, or prestige, and without restrictions or governmental regulations big businesses will stretch ethical boundaries far beyond the breaking point.  Competition, which is a concept hallowed in the annals of capitalism, is not restricted to obtaining the largest share of the market but also eliminating as many competitors as possible on the way to the top. Therefore the “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the declaration may in fact require the deterrence of happiness in someone else.  But, hey, that’s competition.
     At the other end of the spectrum (other side of the aisle, as it were) is the second group of democratic proponents.  Interestingly enough, they, too, are familiar with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but at that point the similarities end.  Because the citizenry is united under the government’s guidance, a newborn child becomes in effect a ward of the state.  Every citizen has the right to the pursuit of happiness, but if another citizen cannot…or chooses not…to make that pursuit, it is the responsibility of all others to “carry those who cannot walk.”  An incredible fact of this group, however, is that the government’s concern for you only begins at birth.  Should a child be undesired prior to birth, an abortion is acceptable with no consequence; however, should that fetus somehow survive to birth, the child is offered cradle to grave security.
    This group has a great distain for the natural competitiveness of man.  It is convinced of the innate greed of corporate America and therefore attempts to control business activities and restrict success, or at least force it to be spread around to more recipients.  The result is excessive restrictions causing hesitancy among businesses to invest and take risks.  Additionally, should some citizens exceed the “normal” levels of success, they should be taxed more heavily because they have more to spend.
     It is in the area of “liberty” where the two groups most contrast.  The second group interprets liberty to mean unbridled freedom.  When the constitution mentions freedom of speech, it means you can say anything you wish, no matter how offensive and no matter the consequences.  There is no decorum or standard of behavior because there is total freedom.  Freedom to choose is interpreted to mean the rights of one may infringe upon the rights of others.  Although a majority of the group may have an opinion in a particular matter, one objection can stop the discussion.  As an example, polls concerning prayer in schools have always shown a tremendous majority in favor, but due to the efforts of a scattered few, there now is no prayer.  It is due to the efforts of this group that we can now enjoy pornography in our homes and obnoxious behavior in our stores and schools.  It is through the efforts of this group that we are now enjoying the greatest federal deficits in the history of our nation with scant positive results. There is another word for unbridled, unlimited freedom…anarchy. 
     As we enter the election process of 2016, we have seen the polarization of the two major parties into the two camps described above.  Most of the candidates offered to the electorate subscribe to one or the other of the two positions, and that’s the tragedy of this election because both positions are disastrous for our country.  Forgive me for being biblical again, but many times in the scriptures, the word “moderation” pops up when discussing actions or behaviors.  It is not just a biblical philosophy but one that has been expounded by many, and it is a philosophy which works in government and politics, also.  The essential element to democracy which has become anathema to many in the political spectrum these days is moderation…a “give and take” in the halls of government which allows for solutions to national issues to be reached.  In truth, government must be friendly to business to encourage investment while at the same time monitoring corporate policies and operations.  A businessman will borrow money to expand his business, knowing that he will be able to repay the loan with increased sales and profits.  At times, a government may also borrow money to invest in people or infrastructure, but it should only be done when there is a good chance of a return on the investment and a repayment of the loan. It must offer help and assistance to those less fortunate while making it clear that effort must be made to stand on one’s own feet.  It must value life from conception to burial, and make it clear there are standards of speech and behavior which respect the privacy of others.  The interesting note here is that these positions are reflected by a majority of the citizens of the United States.  Is there a candidate who subscribes to these basic principles?  If there is, he or she is probably being vilified for lacking "principles."  Unfortunately, it seems to be both those in power and those who are aspiring to power embrace only the two extreme positions.  The United State needs a healer, not a divider.