Monday, July 6, 2015

Trusting God Is Hard

In the Gospel reading for the weekend of July 11/12, Jesus sent His twelve disciples out, two-by-two, to preach in the surrounding villages. Scripture explains, “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money.”

How strange. Jesus sent them out on an important mission without any supplies at all. If I had been one of the Twelve, I would have complained, “Hey Jesus, how do you expect us to be successful if we go wandering out there without any food or money or important stuff?”

At minimum, I would require: cash, credit cards, snacks, sunglasses, bug spray, bottled water, snacks, road maps, iPhone, flashlights, first aid kit, snacks, raincoat, umbrella, toothbrush, extra clothing, GPS, batteries, laptop computer, and just in case, extra snacks. And of course, if we were going to be away overnight, I would need a lot MORE stuff.

What was Jesus thinking sending those guys out with nothing but the tunic on their backs? It’s almost as if He was expecting them to trust in God for all their needs. What a weird concept. Trust in God? Who does that nowadays?

Oh sure, we believe in God…most of the time. And we trust in God to meet our needs…in an abstract, general sort of way. We know that when we’re 90 years old and on our deathbed, we’ll be able to look back on our lives and say, “Yep, God took care of me and helped me through the tough times.”

Yes, we trust in God, generally speaking, but what about the real world? What about today, tomorrow, and next week? There are real problems to deal with here. The mortgage is due, the job is stressful, the car is making a funny noise, the teenager kids have green hair and half a hardware store piercing their various body parts, and a sharp pain just below the ribcage keeps waking you up in the middle of the night. You know what I mean, real problems.

Certainly we can’t get all silly and spiritual and pretend like we can trust in God to deal with real here-and-now problems, can we? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God helps those who help themselves? (Well, actually, the Bible says nothing of the sort. I did a computer word search. It ain’t in there.)

One of the main themes of Scripture is that God helps those who are helpless and who trust totally in Him. This is a completely foreign concept to modern Americans. We need to be in control and have all the bases covered. Apparently, trusting God wasn’t a problem for Jesus’ disciples since they went out on their merry way—without ANY supplies—and had a very successful journey preaching in the countryside.

So what is Jesus trying to tell us this week, sending the guys out two-by-two but without any supplies? It’s simple: we must trust in God and assist one another. He didn’t send them out alone. He sent them out in pairs so they could help and encourage each other.

This is the exact opposite of what we do. We don’t trust in God and we depend only on ourselves: the quintessentially American “Lone Ranger, John Wayne, I did it my way” mindset.  

One of the mottos of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Let go and let God.” One of the hardest things in the world is to admit we can’t do everything ourselves and we need God’s help. But if we are able to take Jesus at His word and trust in Him for everything—even the here-and-now everyday stuff—our lives will be transformed and our journey will be successful.

And it probably couldn’t hurt to bring along a few extra snacks.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, July 3, 2015

The cable television network TV Land just announced it no longer will air re-runs of “The Dukes of Hazzard.” The reason cited is because the famous souped-up Dodge Charger, known as the “General Lee,” has the Confederate flag painted on the roof.

Wait. What?! You mean they’re not pulling the program because it was the dumbest show ever produced in the history of television, but rather because of brief images of the Confederate flag? Wow, that is some hyper-sensitive, politically correct, over-reaction going on in the corporate offices of TV Land.

Yes, I get it that the Confederate flag is considered a symbol of racism and hatred to a lot of people. And yeah, that demon-possessed jerk who murdered people in the South Carolina church was photographed holding a Confederate flag. (He also was photographed burning an American flag while wearing a Gold’s Gym shirt. Is Gold’s Gym now a symbol of racism, too?)

I prefer the view expressed by Professor Mike Adams, a genuine redneck from Mississippi, who now teaches at a college in North Carolina. He writes, “Personally, I think people who display the Confederate flag are jackasses. That's why I don't favor banning individual ownership of the Confederate flag. I like to know where the jackasses are so I can avoid them. If any leftists are reading this and applauding, you might want to hold your applause. My reasoning also applies to COEXIST stickers.”

Another TV show that prominently featured the Confederate flag was Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary, “The Civil War.” Who knew the gentle and ultra-progressive Mr. Burns was actually an evil racist? I guess that series will never air again on PBS, and Ken Burns will be whisked away to a re-education camp to purge his bitter heart of hatred.

John Schneider, one of the stars of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” offered this response after learning the show was being yanked from the air: “Come on, TV Land, can’t we all just watch TV?” 

Not a bad idea.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday afternoon

I am grateful to be an American. As the long holiday weekend begins, celebrating our nation’s Independence Day, it’s good to remember that freedom is not free, and liberty is NOT the normal condition of mankind. Throughout human history, tyranny, oppression, and slavery have been much more commonplace. The freedom we currently enjoy is not guaranteed. In fact, one could make a persuasive argument that our liberty has never been more at risk than it is today. This is a time to thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on this nation, and to humbly ask Him to continue to bless us, to keep us ever vigilant, and to instill in us courage to sacrifice for the cause of liberty. God bless America!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

40th High School Reunion! So Soon?

My 40th high school reunion is in a couple weeks. How can that be? The year 1975 wasn’t all that long ago. Let me do the math: 2015 minus 1975 equals — oh wow, it IS 40 years. I guess time flies when you’re having fun. Or at least it flies when you’re not paying attention.

I’m trying to complete the official reunion “questionnaire.” They want to know what I’ve been doing for the last four decades. Frankly, I’d also like to know what I’ve been doing for the last four decades. Again, that “not paying attention” thing rears its ugly head.

The “Facts & Figures” section is fairly clear-cut. College degree(s), if any. Marriage(s), if any. Children and grandchildren. States or foreign countries lived in. Social Security and bank account numbers. Huh? Oh, my mistake. That was the Internet scam email I received the other day. (But I sure fooled them. Instead of giving them my SS and bank account numbers, I gave them my WIFE’S account numbers. So there!)

The next section is “Memories.” What do you remember most about high school? It was so long ago I don’t remember much, except the multiple concussions I received playing football. That could explain the “not paying attention” aspect of the last four decades.

The final section is a bit trickier: “Milestones & Achievements.” Hmm, do I tell the truth, which is pretty boring? Or do I treat this reunion questionnaire as if it’s Facebook?  (Or as I like to call that social media phenomenon: “Look-at-me!-Look-at-me!-Look-at-me-dammit!-book.”)

It is rather convenient that we now live in an era where the truth is whatever we claim it is. So, for example, when I describe personal milestones, claiming that my humor column is syndicated in 500 newspapers is pretty much the same thing as wishing it appeared in more than the current two newspapers, right? And claiming that my suspense novel is being made into a Hollywood movie is pretty much the same thing as hoping that one day Steven Spielberg appears at my front door and says, “Bill, I’ve just GOT to have the rights to your book! Name your price!” It could happen. I mean, Spielberg might be one of the nine people who purchased the book on Kindle.

Maybe I’ll just go with the plain truth: marrying my high school sweetheart in 1982 brought tears to my eyes. Then I cried a couple years later when our first daughter was born. I also cried when that miraculous event caused me to become an ex-atheist. A little later I cried when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. The next year I cried when our second daughter was born. Then I went through a fairly stable period emotionally, but broke down again when Foulke got the last out and the Red Sox finally won the World Series. And just a couple months ago I cried when we made our last mortgage payment.

My most interesting achievement, however, cannot be captured on a questionnaire. I will be attending the 40th reunion party with a genuine trophy wife on my arm. You know what I mean: the kind of gorgeous woman who causes everyone to whisper, “Wow, he must be rich!”

In this instance, my trophy wife also happens to be the high school sweetheart I married in ‘82. But amazingly, while the rest of us look like we are definitely in our late 50s, my darling bride and mother of our kids looks like she’s about 35, tops. 

It should be a fun evening. I know I’ll cry. I just hope I pay attention.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

‘How Come You Catholics Ignore Jesus’ Words and Call Men “Father”?’

“How come you Catholics call men ‘father,’ in direction violation of Jesus’ command: ‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven’? This is just another example of Catholics following man-made traditions and ignoring the Word of God. That’s why you’re not real Christians!”

*     *     *

Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Is it really true that we Catholics violate a direct command from the Lord when we call our priests “father”?

Well, it is a fact that in Matthew 23:9 Jesus said, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” And it is a fact that non-Catholics have been citing this verse for centuries to claim that Catholics blatantly violate Jesus’ command by calling priests “father.”

But is this what Jesus really meant? To fully understand Jesus’ “call no one…father” statement, we have to read carefully the first half of this passage. Jesus’ main objective was to highlight the attitude of pride and superiority held by the scribes and Pharisees. The key statement here occurs in verses 5 and 6. Describing the selfish motivation of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus said, “All their works are performed to be seen….They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’” 

Jesus was telling His followers to be humble. We know this by the last verse of the passage: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” He was describing the Pharisees’ obsession with titles of honor—Rabbi, Teacher, Father, Master—and warning His disciples to avoid that type of sinful pride and arrogance.

Still, some people will insist, “But Jesus said, ‘Call no one…father.’ And if He said it, then we gotta do it, and since you Catholics DON’T do it, you’re not Christians!” This is taking a very literalist approach to Scripture, which can cause a lot of confusion when Jesus used symbolic language or exaggerations to make a point. For example, in Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus said, “If you eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.…If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”

If it is true that we are supposed to take each word Jesus said literally, and if it is true ALL people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), then every church ought to be filled with people facing a difficult dilemma: they are blind because they gouged their eyes out, but they can’t hold their white canes very well because they have no hands. I think you get my point.

Let’s take a closer look at this so-called divine command that no one should ever use the word “father” to describe another human being. In Acts 7:2, St. Stephen said, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” Oops, was Stephen violating Jesus’ command?

In 1 John 2:13, St. John wrote, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him…” Oops, was John violating Jesus’ command?

In his first letter to the Corinthians (4:15), St. Paul wrote, “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel.” Oops, was Paul violating Jesus’ command?

In Matthew 15:4, Jesus Himself said, “Honor your father and mother.” Oops, was Jesus violating His own command?

From these verses in the Bible it is clear that Jesus was not offering a sweeping command that no one shall ever use the word “father” when referring to a man. Otherwise, all of these great saints in Scripture (plus the Lord Himself) were in violation of that command.

It’s perfectly OK to call a Catholic priest “father.” Just as St. Paul called himself the spiritual “father” of the Corinthians, we Catholics call our priests “father” because they nurture the spiritual life of the flock by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. 

Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Is gay marriage really about persecuting the Church?

Below are the words of Catholic blogger Patrick Archbold, who posted these comments soon after the Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Mr. Archbold is well-known in Catholic cyber-circles for being somewhat pessimistic. However, many of the things he’s written over the years, which seemed a bit over the top at the time, have proven to be true.

So what do you think? Is he correct when he claims gay marriage was never about gays getting married, but about persecuting the Church? Will the Church lose its tax-exempt status and be prohibited from preaching the Gospel? Will Christians end up in jail for not agreeing with the gay agenda?

I’m just offering Mr. Archbold’s thoughts here for your consideration:

It is one thing to know the enemy is coming and try to prepare for it. But that doesn't make the moment when they come over the hill any easier.

Today, they came over the hill.

In a 5-4 ruling, "Gay Marriage" has been imposed nationwide. 

But "gay marriage" has never been about gays getting married, it is now and always has been about persecuting the Church. Not that they have this ruling, the persecution against Catholic and Christian organizations will begin in earnest. Institutions will lose their tax-exempt status, they will lose grants, they will be denied contracts, they will be denied building permits, and they will be denied speech. And all that is just the beginning.

Hell hath been unleashed today and they will attack us with all their fury.

This moment has been a long time in the making and now it is here. The persecution begins in earnest now.

Christians in the United States will soon go to jail for no other reason than they believe and speak the truth as revealed by Jesus Christ and his Church.

This has never just been a political battle, it has always truly been a battle with principalities and powers.

This is the natural end of a supernatural battle in which we lost the faith and now must pay the price.

But I assure you, what will result from this persecution is not what our enemies expect. The Church will triumph as a result of this coming persecution and they will never see it coming.

We have been asked to have faith, take up our crosses, and make our way to the resurrection.

May God have mercy on us all.