Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Is Your Worship on Target?

I Samuel 4:1-11

They started worshipping, making such a great noise that their enemies heard them from over in the next valley. This was a great celebration with singing, praising, and dancing till the earth shook. Surely God would answer and grant them victory over the obstacle looming in their path. Unfortunately with all of their noise and with all of their ferver, the people of Israel did not stop to listen for God’s answer. Israel attacked the Philistines who proceed to apply an old fashioned beat down, the second in only a few days. In defeat Israel ran home to lick their wounds and to try to figure out why God allowed the Philistines, the great enemy of Israel, to win.

Like many of us today, Israel blamed God when things did not go their way the first time around. "How could God do this to us?" they implied (v.3). They sent for the Ark of the Covenant and when it arrived in the camp they broke into the aforementioned celebration. They assumed the presence of the Ark brought with it a guarantee of victory. But in their pre battle zeal they forgot to ask God why He allowed the initial defeat.and in the sorrow of defeat. Had they done so they would have seen the truth. They would have seen that they had no one to blame but themselves.

Prior to the battle, Israel was spiritually off base. Hophni and Phineas, two of the top temple priests, were selfish and corrupt. They were not concerned with the things of God, using the ministry for their own personal gain. Under their leadership God became an afterthought. Not until after suffering defeat at the hands of the Philistines did Israel decide to seek God. Even then they put their faith in the presence of an object, never taking the time to pray or to call out to find the Lord’s will. Instead of seeking God their worship was based in an assumption that doing something religious would give them power over their enemies.

Yes their worship was loud and full of energy but their hearts were wrong. Winning was the priority not seeking God as demonstrated by the fact that they never once stopped to pray. Like their religious leaders the people were all about self gain, using religion as a means to achieve their goals. Their worship was honest but misguided leading to a terrible defeat. We must make sure not to follow this path in our worship today. We must make sure our worship is on target, with the goal of truly seeking the Lord.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Real Faith: Forged in the Fire

Blacksmith's fire: fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

When do we get to see real faith in action, the kind where Jesus singles us out like He did the centurion in Matthew 8:10? Real faith is seen in testing, during those times when we are asked to trust God with something we would really rather handle ourselves or would really not have to deal with at all. It's during those times, when the climb becomes too difficult or the temptation too hard to resist, that we find out if our faith is real or just something we say because Christians are supposed to do so. Are you willing to endure trials in order to see your faith grow? Are you willing to demonstrate the strength of your faith by following God down the sometimes difficult path of the Christian walk?

For years I settled for easy faith. I settled for a life where I said I had faith while trying to avoid trials and tribulations. In the process I was only cheating myself, missing out on opportunities for growth. Yes this path was easier but it was also empty. It held the assurance of going to heaven while being devoid of the abundance promised by our risen Savior. And after years of saying I believed while not growing as a person, I found I didn't fully like what I saw each day when I looked in the mirror.

Real faith does not magically appear. It is given by God, then cultivated as we allow Him to work in our hearts. At times He chooses difficult situations as His tools. This is where real faith, and the process of growing faith, does not come easy. But for those who are willing to fully surrender to God, difficult growth is followed by immense reward as from the fire comes faith that is forged by the hand of the Almighty.

I have accepted the challenge of growing my faith while facing whatever God allows in my life. Are you willing to accept the same challenge? Real faith is forged in the fire. Are you willing to let God take you to His forge?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Have We Lost Our True Heroes?

From time to time I like to watch tv (actually more often YouTube) with my sons. I want to know what they are watching and what influence the programming will have on my kids and on their peers. Recently I watched an episode of a show which left me in complete shock. The show's heroes were looking for a way to help a friend. In the end they chose to rob a bank, framing an adversary for the crime. After surprising my son by calling the heroes the bad guys, I had to explain how a true hero would never rob a bank. The conversation left me pondering a question: one I would like to ask you now. Have we lost our true heroes?

This is something I find myself thinking about ever since watching a PBS series covering the history of television. In one of the episodes the show's creators looked at the evolution of the television hero. Early heroes were clearly defined, often wearing white and always doing what's right. Over the decades our heroes have become more "real" which tends to translate into more flawed. As a result our heroes have picked up a tendency of wrestling with internal moral dilemmas almost as often as they wrestle with bad guys.

The PBS episode talked about a number of different heroes over the years, many of which were characters I grew up watching. My earliest memories of tv heroes were of Superman and of the Lone Ranger, though I watched them in rerun. There were people like Speed Racer, who occasionally made a wrong decision or two but always had his heart in the right place. The PBS series moved from these types of heroes to people like Hawkeye Pierce on MASH, who once performed an unnecessary surgery in order to get an inept officer off the battlefield. This moral dilemma challenged the viewer to decide if it is right to do wrong if doing so would save lives.

The PBS episode ended by talking about the show “Dexter” in which the hero kills bad guys who would have otherwise escaped justice. The official webpage for the show describes Dexter as a crime solver by day and serial killer by night. As the local forensics expert, he is able to hide his crimes from the investigators with whom he works. I have only watched one episode of Dexter which I admit I found entertaining. It is also perhaps one of the most challenging programs in which to find a true hero. Even Dexter struggles with whether or not his life as a vigilante is acceptable and so should the viewer.

While I understand the entertainment value of having a hero who also qualifies as a bad guy, the trend is still troubling especially in a show aimed at kids like the one with our friendly neighborhood bank robbers. The target audience for Dexter is old enough to process whether or not the ends justifies the means. And while most kids understand that robbing a bank is wrong, the message sent when the "heroes" are the robbers is not the one we need today. When this is what we present as good we lose something important. We lose our heroes and in the process we lose our children.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Serving Without Knowing God

1 Samuel 3:1-7

Samuel grew up serving God in the Temple, working daily side by side with Eli's corrupt sons. And  while it seems as if he was doing a good job, something was missing. The Bible tells us that Samuel carried out his duties without knowing God. I suspect he knew about God but he did not have a relationship with God. I wonder how many Christians are in the same boat today. How many Christians suffer the emptiness that comes with doing what is "right" without knowing the One who gives life?

This was my walk for a number of years. I served dutifully in the church, being the first one there and the last one to leave. In between I did everything I could to make sure the day's services ran smoothly. During the week I made small repairs, took care of the lawn and when needed I shoveled snow. While spending so much time working for the church, I had very little time to spend with God. Eventually I burned out, after which I became content with just showing up. But whether I worked myself to death or just spent the service holding down a pew, I found service an empty endeavor: a complete waste of time.

Like with Samuel, God found a way to get my attention. In my case all that I worked to build collapsed around me, forcing me to stop and ask God why. He responded by changing my focus from works to relationship, showing me the value of what He was truly offering: Adoption. Now I seek to know God instead of just serving. Now I am His son, not just a servant. I am experiencing abundant life instead of empty works. Like Samuel, I stopped when God reached out to get my attention. This was the best move I have ever made.

What is the focus of your "Christian walk"? Are you substituting work in place of relationship? If you are caught up in what you can do, you are missing out on who He is. Your relationship with God should come first or else you will find yourself on the road to burnout. God is speaking, calling you by name. Please stop and listen. Please make a deliberate effort to build a relationship with God. If you do, He will pour himself into you. His fullness will touch your life and you will wonder why you ever settled for the emptiness of everything else.

Monday, November 6, 2017

War of the Worlds and How I Learned to Love Reading

On 30 October 1938, a peaceful Sunday evening was upended when Martian invaders began vaporizing everyone they could. As listeners turned to their radios for information, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre repertory company put together a powerful and convincing performance of "War of the Words" by H. G. Wells. Forty years later I opened to that story in my fifth grade reading book: a discovery that forever changed my opinion of reading.

Like just about every other boy in fifth grade I read when and what I was told to read. Even our "free" reading time was limited to what we could find in our reading textbook. It was there during one of our reading sessions that I discovered an adaptation of the text of Welles' radio program. Thinking the story might involve tanks and airplanes I started reading and was instantly sucked into a different time. Intrigued by Welles' script, I did not notice the rest of the class lining up to go to art.

I was not aware of my teacher calling my name nor did I notice the laughter as my classmates assumed I had lost my mind. The sudden tap of a hand on my shoulder was quite jarring, catapulting me from the 1930's back to the reality of the 70's. While making an effort to avoid eye contact with the other students I reluctantly put down my book and joined the line. It was the first time a story had so captured my imagination that I became unaware of all that was happening around me. At that point I understood the allure of reading: of getting lost in another time or in another place. I had finally found the joy that comes with opening a great book.

While I understand the need to expose students to different styles of writing and to certain standards of literature,  I wish schools would schedule more time for free reading. Schools should offer more time of discovery where students find and read stories they find interesting without having to answer questions or putting together reports. This free time might open the door to a love of reading, giving more children an opportunity to lose themselves in the pages of a good book. Free reading time could become a step forward towards the U.S. becoming a more literate nation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taking A Knee, Losing The Message: Why the NFL Should Stop Kneeling

It started with Colin Kaepernick who lost his job while kneeling against social injustice. From there it
became an Oval Office issue with the President of the United States calling for more players to lose their jobs. Football players kneeling during our National Anthem has become one of the top sports and political news stories of the year. But now it is time for this form of protest to come to an end as, thanks to a the White House, the message has been lost.

The goal of these protests is to give voice to the perception that blacks are not always treated equally under the law. Kaepernick's original protest came after a number of shootings where police and neighborhood watch members fired upon unarmed black men. In each case the debate over "justified" and "self defense" exposed the racial divide which long has been a defining characteristic of our nation. But with Kaepernick out of the league these somewhat sporadic displays had become less and less newsworthy. If not for President Trump, kneeling during the anthem would likely have remained a minor nuisance, spoken of occasionally when some sideline reporter had no other interesting angle to a game. Instead the president has put this issue back on the front page, dividing fans and a nation.

When President Trump shared his belief that kneeling football players should be fired, the protests took on new life and a new direction. The debate is no longer about the treatment of blacks at the hands of a small number of police officers. Now the debate is about disrespect for our country and disregard for our flag. The conversation now involves protesting against sponsors, using economic leverage to stifle freedom of expression. The president gave voice to a faction that had nothing to lose in the original debate: one that will gain little in winning our new nation wide shout down.

For the record, I will always stand for our National Anthem. I will also stand for my neighbor's right to not stand. That being said, I hope players and owners decide to move on, ending this floundering protest. The message has been lost, hijacked and discarded in order to score political points. I hope we can find a way back to the original focus and away from the negative connotation imposed upon those who wish to stand up (or kneel) for what's right. It is time for kneeling to go away so we can focus on what's really important. It's time to find a way to take back the message from the one who took it hostage.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Review: Walking to Listen

"Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins." From “Judge Softly”* by Mary T. Lathrap, 1895.

In Walking to Listen Andrew Forsthoefel lets us walk in his shoes for over 4000 miles. Along the way we get to know him as he gets to know himself. We also get to know a country as Mr. Forsthoefel describes a number of interactions and interviews conducted during his journey: conversations with ordinary Americans who took him up on his offer to listen.

Forsthoefel gives an honest and raw account of his journey, describing his inner conflict while staying out of the way of the story. As a result this becomes an entertaining twist on a coming of age narrative, filled with real life characters who challenge the reader to embrace the diversity of the melting pot that is the United States. At the same time we are challenged to examine how the past impacts our view of the present as Forsthoefel describes his own struggle with the event by which he defined his own existence.

Forsthoefel's writing is not as polished as normally found in the publishing world. He seems to dwell on certain events longer than necessary. And because he relates real life events, the language is at times very colorful (a warning to those who are offended by foul language or by negative statements about race). By no means is this a masterpiece but it is an entertaining walk. I applaud Forsthoefel's courage in sharing his story. I give this book three out of four stars, recommending ir for readers who are interested in learning about culture from the real people who make this country what it is.

*The poem “Judge Softly” also known as “Walk A Mile in His Moccasins,” can be found at aaanativearts.com.

Monday, August 14, 2017

When God Stood With Me in Line

Standing in a long line in the hot sun is not my idea of a fun afternoon. Standing in line in the sun just for the privilege of standing in two more lines is cruel and unusual punishment. And yet, it was not the standing nor the heat that made me uncomfortable. The weight on my shoulders as I stood outside the passport office was the weight of not knowing what was going to happen. We needed a quick response from a government agency, something government agencies are not known for. A delay or a rejection would have upended our plans, leaving me unable to fulfill my promise to my family. It was there, with the results resting well beyond my reach, that I was blessed to see how God handles things as He stood with me in line on a hot summer’s day.

My saga began with a planned trip to my wife's home country of Jamaica. Everything ran smoothly up until we submitted our passport applications. The State Department sent three of the four passports in very short order but my wife's application was held on a technicality. As it turns out, when she took the oath to become a U.S. citizen, the judge forgot to write the date on her naturalization certificate. This clerical mistake, though seemingly small, was big enough to derail the entire passport application as the State Department sent us off to get a replacement certificate.

We submitted the application for a replacement without realizing how long it can take for the government to write a date on a piece of paper. We soon found ourselves within a few weeks of our scheduled departure date with nothing more than a letter acknowledging receipt of the application. Facing the possibility of not receiving the new certificate in time we looked into the process of getting a conditional passport, hoping to have something in hand that would allow us to travel as scheduled.

At first we only encountered road blocks, crossing paths with two phone agents who either did not know how or did not want to help. While frustrated we refused to quit, knowing our Advocate was greater than anything or anyone standing in our way. Continuing in prayer, we made a  third call which was answered by a very helpful agent who explained what we needed to do. This was the very person we needed to speak with, the one God chose to help us move forward. I am convinced God made sure we would call at the right time, having this agent ready to help and not hinder as the previous operators had done.

The next day I carried a sealed envelope to the Philadelphia passport office, praying God would put the papers in the hands of the "right" person. I arrived only to find two lines of people standing outside the building, one line for people with appointments and the other longer line for walk-ins. As I stood in the longer line, praying and worshipping, I was approached by a "Passport Greater" whose last name was also Coleman. After laughing about the coincidence, Mr. Coleman moved me into the shorter line. This line (and the two lines that followed) eventually lead me to two passport experts who promised to help move things along. By the end of the week the passport was in our mailbox, not a limited but a full fledged passport. And with passports in hand we left on schedule, enjoying a terrific week visiting with family.

God was in line with me that day at the passport office. He was also at work ahead of me, making sure our paperwork wound up in the right hands. What started off as a difficult situation, filled with obstacles and times of being unsure, lead to an opportunity to see God at work. Of course I could not see what He was going to do as I joined the line. What I could see were His promises, like the one in Romans 8:28: a powerful promise at work in every aspect of the life of a Christian.

If you are a Christian, remember this promise during your next trial. Let it be the starting point of your prayer, the truth that drives you to seek His best. Then watch as the Lord goes to work on your behalf. He is there with You, even when you feel stuck standing in place. Enjoy His presence and rest in Him knowing He will work all for your good.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How Do Christians Grow?

Christian growth should be easy, right? To be honest it is anything but easy. I find that God's prescription for growth quite often involves difficult challenges and very long wait times. His use of trials and tribulations as shaping tools runs counter to what most of us mere humans would use if in His shoes. Fortunately God takes care of most of the heavy lifting, leaving us with a small handful of things we need to do. Where do we start? Well, if you truly want to grow I suggest you start with reading and meditating on the Bible every day.

The first Psalm describes a man who meditates on scripture morning and night. He is like a tree planted near a river, well watered and enjoying abundant provisions. And like the rest of the forest, a riverside tree must endure the ups and downs of nature. Its best days start with a refreshing breeze and perhaps a cleansing layer of dew. On those good days the sun is warm, creating such a comfortable feeling that even weeping willows choose to smile. Those are the days when growth comes easy but the nicest of days can quickly give over to days that leave the strongest of trees wishing for cover.

Sometimes a string of good days gives way to a season of drought. The sun, once a friend, becomes an inquisitor seemingly focused on burning away all that matters. The air becomes stagnant, oppressive where it had once been a relief. Across the forest the ground which once provided nourishment becomes dry and unyielding, starving all plants of needed nutrients. Under these conditions the roots of our foundations are tested. And while others wither, that tree near the river continues to grow. It draws from the river which carries a constant supply of nutrients in what appears to the untrained eye to be nothing more than mud.

Such is life with its good times and bad. I wish that those who follow the Lord were immune to life’s ups and downs. Instead we are on the rollercoaster of life along with all of our neighbors. The promise of scripture is not one of a smooth life. It is the promise of growth and abundance no matter what we face at any given time. In times of plenty and in times of drought the person who meditates on scripture will continue to grow, drawing from the river of life that is Jesus Christ. Are you ready to start growing today?

Monday, July 17, 2017

At What Cost a Good Deed?

He just wanted to help but the cost of being a good Samaritan was very, very high.
By Blogtrepreneur (Legal Gavel) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
While visiting friends in Florida a man noticed a toddler who seemed lost. Out of concern for the child the Samaritan began searching for the child's parents, asking her if she could point them out. At one point he made the mistake of picking the little girl up (something I strongly advise against when dealing with other people's children, unless you know them and know it’s ok with their parents). Unfortunately, as the Samaritan was looking for the girl's parents, her father was looking for his daughter's kidnapper.

The toddler's father became angry when told that someone was trying to kidnap his daughter. With the help of three of his friends the father confronted and attacked the Samaritan leaving him battered and bruised. While unfortunate, the dad's reaction is understandable. Hopefully every man would stand up in defense of his family, although the use of violence should be limited to when necessary. The real injustice was not in how the dad reacted but in the reaction of the internet as word of the confrontation spread.

The internet quickly labeled the Samaritan a kidnapper. Without waiting to hear all of the evidence the man's Facebook page and business website fell victim to a modern day witch hunt. Facing threats the man and his family were forced to leave town, further adding insult to injury. In the end the Samaritan was a victim of our anonymous knee jerk reaction culture. And while he will carry the scars of the price paid while doing a good deed, it is our nation which must try to recover from a much greater injury.

We pride ourselves in being a country that stands for its principles. Yet when, without due process, our electronic jury attacked a man who likely was only trying to help, we lost one of those principles that supposedly makes this nation great: the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: The Bully Pulpit

They were best friends. Then politics got in the way. Drawing from numerous personal accounts Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us inside the White House and into the relationship shared by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. We see how, with support from the press and a new form of reporting called "muck raking," the two men worked to change the course of our nation only to see a bitter political campaign leave them and their political party deeply divided. For those who love history The Bully Pulpit is a treasure trove of stories, delivering an up close and personal view of the two men and of the establishments of government and of the press.

I suspect Goodwin might spend a little too much time in the weeds for all but the biggest fans of U.S. history and/or fans of old style storytelling. As a narrative The Bully Pulpit is as much about character development as it is about history. Facts are delivered in a context that helps the reader get to know the people involved in taking us to the historical outcome. As a result The Bully Pulpit tells a true story without becoming a textbook. That being said, The Bully Pulpit is a very long book, best suited for patient readers who enjoy giving a story time to unfold.

Both educational and entertaining, I recommend this book to anyone who loves history. It's size and depth make it a book that can't be rushed but with Goodwin's very detailed research this book is full of historical treasures waiting to be unearth. I give The Bully Pulpit a very high recommendation for those who love history and for those who enjoy a well developed story line. Overall it's a solid one and a half thumbs up for a book that will change how you see Roosevelt, Taft, and the relationship between the White House and the press.

The Bully Pulpit available at Barnes and Noble

For information on Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We Cut the Cord

My children watch You Tube more than they do the cable networks. My wife mostly watches classic shows found on over the air sub-channels. When not watching sports, I watch mostly cooking and travel shows. For what and how much we watch tv we were paying way too much for cable. In fact, we were paying too much per month just to have two cable boxes taking up space next to our tv’s (programming not included). So we cut the cord. And after several months, I see no reason to go back.

Having had cable since I was a child, the thought of a tv without a cable box did seem a bit odd. My earliest memory of the box was of this thing with a bunch of buttons which only seemed to make the over the air channels come in clearer. Yes there was HBO but outside of that there were only a few local access channels that were not worth watching. Later we got WTCG out of Atlanta, which would eventually become Superstation TBS. But TBS showed the same programs as WGN out of Chicago. In Gary, Indiana we were able to watch WGN with an antenna and without TBS’s very strange five minute (Turner) delay. Even with that somewhat anemic start, cable became the go to for watching television only interrupted by a couple of years of experimenting with satellite (a story for another day).

Last year, after not having seen rabbit ears in quite some time, I decided to make a trip down to the local Best Buy. There I found shelves full of various types of antenna. I quickly learned that not all are created equal. Back when tvs came with built in antennas there were no discussions of types and ranges. Either you used the rabbit ears or you hooked into an outside antenna, usually mounted on the roof like every other house in the neighborhood. I found out the hard way what happens if you do not properly ground the outside antenna (again a story for another time). Having been hooked by the cable box, I had not thought about antennas since the 70’s.

Now tv antennas come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with different specifications. Some do well when the stations are far away. Others do better at holding the signal though often at the expense of range. The model that worked well upstairs in our house failed miserably down in our family room, forcing a second trip to the store. Prices are all over the map but we found two fairly basic models (one from RCA the other a Terk) which do the job (even though I managed to bend one side of the RCA).

The over the air signal, after a few antenna adjustments, gives a picture that is even better than what
we had with cable. And while both deliver HDTV, somehow free is a lot more fun to watch. But we have found the need to supplement the over the air programming with a pair of Roku’s, delivering program from over the internet. Our go to app most often is the Sling app which gives us the same channels we watched on cable. With Sling and a few free apps, we have almost exactly what we use to pay too much for with cable.

In fact only one thing is missing. Our local cable conglomerate is also the owner of two of our area sports franchises. By exploiting a loophole in the law the company does not have to negotiate with companies like DISH (owners of Sling) about carrying our local sports channel. This has made it difficult to watch the local teams. I can still watch the Eagles but not the Flyers nor the Sixers. The biggest punch in the gut is the fact that as a baseball fan I cannot watch the Phillies. But all is not lost. I have returned to my childhood habit of listening to the games on the radio.

As a child I spent many a summer night listening to games on the radio. Back then I listened to the the White Sox, often staying up well beyond my bedtime. These days, with satellite radio, I can still listen to the Sox but more often than not I listen to the hometown Phillies. Still, whether the Sox or the Phillies, I find I enjoy listening to the games as much as I did as a child. The same goes for the other area teams. Plus I am a sports fan. The door is now open to watching other teams and other sports even while the local teams play in the background.

Of course cord cutting is about saving money. We now get our programming at what it used to cost just to rent two high definition cable boxes. The savings have allowed us to do a number of things we could not afford while paying for cable. Perhaps, with the money saved by cutting the cord, I will attend a baseball game or two in person this year. I might even bring my radio along for company. Perhaps I will invest the money on renovations at home. These are two of many choices I can make now that cord cutting has given my family a raise along with better control over what we watch.

We are always looking for ways to save money. Therefore I'll gladly adjust the rabbit ears to stay away from a large monthly bill. Just don't move once we get a clear picture.

So are you streaming or are you still tied to your cable?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Date Night at the Philadelphia Orchestra

Powerful! That's the word my wife used to describe Mahler's Third Symphony as performed by the
Modigliani Cello Player
Published before 1923
Public Domain in U.S.
Philadelphia Orchestra. Neither of us had ever gone to a live performance by a professional symphony. So when we received complimentary tickets we decided it was time for a long overdue date night.

This was our first visit to Verizon Hall located inside Philly’s Kimmel Center. The hall is a building within a building, sharing the Kimmel Center with the Lenfest Theater. The hall itself is a beautiful wooden structure, stained in a color that reminded me of a very large cello. Once inside I realized we were in fact stepping into the body of a large cello, complete with side curves reminiscent of C-ribs. The color and shape are appropriate as the acoustics make the building an important instrument in delivering the sound of the city’s top notch orchestra. And though we were in the third tier, this architectural wonder did a fine job of bringing each instrument cleanly to our listening ears.

The orchestra used their wooden home to its full potential, delivering a performance that kept my novice ears fully engaged. Mahler's third symphony is long but the orchestra, under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, made the listening experience fun. I understand why these musicians are invited to travel the world, representing the city of Philadelphia with a sound of which we should be proud. I should have long ago taken advantage of having a world class orchestra nearby. After seeing them in person during their last performance of the 2016-17 season, I will definitely be back for more.

If you live near or are planning a visit to Philly I suggest you consider a trip to Verizon Hall. The orchestra's season runs from September to May and the full calendar can be found at: www.philorch.org. Also the orchestra offers an etiquette page for us newbies, with tips on how to dress (I was overdressed) and when it is okay to applaud (very important).

I am looking forward to future visits to Verizon Hall. This was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon with my wife. I think we both have a new favorite place.

Friday, June 2, 2017

June 1st: A New Celebration

Celebration on the Water: Taken by Dennis Coleman
There was a time when the first day of a new month meant absolutely nothing to me. Codependency
made life something to be survived, not lived. As a result each day was no different than any other: each simply another day of suffering. Morning was a bit of a reprieve but I knew that each day we would eventually wind up on another riding upon our alcohol fueled rapids. With my mom serving as captain, we would spend most days running aground or crashing upon the rocks.

This time around the 1st of June was different. For the first time in memory, I woke up celebrating. I woke up, not as a codependent, but as a living thriving human being. Having been set free in Christ, I had the opportunity to thank God for all the wonderful things we did in the month of May. It was a month in which He changed my heart by opening my eyes to the truth of what for too long has held me back. I came out of the month of May with a new attitude towards life, knowing that I can do more than my mom’s teachings allow.. Now I am ready to live, having grown from codependent child to independent son of God.

With May behind me I also thank God for the opportunities that will come to me during this new month. I know I can do good. I can enjoy blessings from God. I can use the talents and opportunities He has and will give to impact those around me. This is a month where each day I will take a step or two forward on the path to my dreams. Now I can wake up each morning ready to enjoy the adventure that is my life. I will invest in others while enjoying the fullness that comes with being human. This month I will enjoy time with family. I will finish a book or two. Perhaps I’ll even knock a few things off my honey-do list. In short, this month I will live.

At the end of this month I will be ready to celebrate once again on the 1st. No longer will the first be a day hidden under a codependent stupor. It will continue to represent a new beginning and I plan to enjoy each 1st as well as every other day of every future month.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Codependency: Yes Somebody Cares

On my old blog I often wrote about codependency and how having an alcoholic parent was what defined my
Foster sisters by Phillip Richard Morris
life well into adulthood. While trapped by my mom's addiction I found that the best way to cope was to suppress my very negative and destructive feelings out of fear of what might have happened if they were to reach the surface of my being. Yet, as much as I thought I could hide, I still became angry and sad over something inside that I was unable to describe. Fortunately a recent post by a fellow codependent has opened my eyes. The writer, a fellow codependent, has confronted me with that which I did not want to admit to myself.

Talking or writing about the past is difficult for most codependents. So it must have taken quite a bit of courage to write “The Effects of Alcoholism Through the Eyes of a Child,” (posted on allprodad.com). I am not sure who wrote the post but can definitely relate to the experiences. The writer speaks of finding his mother dead in her room, reminding me of the phone call from my brother telling me of my mother’s death. As with the writer of the blog post, I was shocked but not surprised. But I never came to terms with perhaps the most destructive part of being a codependent, a truth spelled out in the post’s final paragraph.

In my own words: Being a codependent means living with the fact that your parent, or some other family member, loves alcohol more than they love you.

Playing second fiddle to an aluminum can destroyed my self esteem. And while I wanted to take responsibility for my own life, I found no real reason to care about myself if the one who should have cared most did not. Instead I have lived with a lot of hidden anger refusing to believe in anything but a negative view of myself. This is where I was until I discovered the truth.

If you are a codependent or if you have bought into the lie that nobody cares, I would like to share one truth with you: Somebody cares! A lot of people care, starting with our Creator who demonstrated His love on the cross where He died for you. Stop listening to that lie that tells you otherwise. There are many who care about you and who want to overlook your codependency. In short: you are loved.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Did We Elect A Moses or A Pharaoh?

Is President Trump ordained by God? Among his supporters are a number of Christians who believe, or at least claim to believe, that Trump is the man God wanted behind the Oval Office desk. And while we may debate the theological significance, the simple fact is Donald J. Trump did win the election. Personally I think the question of who God wants in office is not nearly as important as the question of, “Why?” Why is Trump sitting in the Oval Office?

I ask this thinking of two very different leaders introduced near the beginning of the Book of Exodus. First we have Moses. From his birth to his adoption by Pharaoh's daughter to his burning bush experience, we are left with no doubts as to the fact that Moses was destined to be a hero. Exodus tells us how he answered God’s call and lead the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses stood as a chosen leader, and intercessor between God and the people. No one doubts Moses’ role in Exodus but did Pharaoh serve an equal role in revealing God’s glory?

In his role as leader of Egypt Pharaoh was seen as being closer to the gods than any other man. He believed himself in a position where he did not have to listen to anyone (man or god). He refused Moses’ requests, questioning the authority of Moses’ God (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh is the bad guy in Exodus, seemingly standing in the way of the will of God. And yet the Bible tells us that Pharaoh’s role was part of a bigger plan, appointed by God to serve a purpose as we learn in the ninth chapter.

In Exodus 9 God sends Moses to confront Pharaoh before the seventh plague. God declares that He raised up Pharaoh, putting him in a position of authority that he might serve to help demonstrate God’s power (Exodus 9:16). Each plague represented God’s power over areas thought to be under the control of one of Pharaoh’s idols. With each defeat God’s power was revealed. As a result the confrontation between Pharaoh and God resulted in the Lord’s name being declared in all the earth. This was the will of God and Pharaoh successfully in played his role as evidenced when Israel reaches the wall of Jericho (Joshua 2:10).

Based on Romans 13:1 every world leader and every U.S. President was granted authority based on the will of God. This applies to President Trump as it did to President Obama before him. It was true of George W. Bush, William Blythe Clinton, and every president back to George Washington. All served God's purpose but not all were his children. The question in each case is, “What does God want to achieve?” Why is Donald Trump the current President of the United States? Is our current president serving a purpose similar to that of Moses or have we elected into office someone who will serve God in a similar fashion as did Pharaoh? Only time will tell. Either way the next four (or eight) years should be interesting.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Obama Presidency: Only Now Can I Enjoy History

Picture By Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

I just couldn’t do it. In 2008, faced with the opportunity to join in making history, I could not bring myself to
vote on the basis of race. Instead I did what I would in any other presidential election. I took the time to read and study, voting for the candidate I thought would do the best job. Not that I was oblivious to the opportunity to change the face of the nation but I saw a lot more than history at stake. And so I could not vote based on the candidate’s race nor could I enjoy eight years of history while the White House was occupied by its first black first family.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see a minority in the White House. At the same time I feared what might happen if the first black was the wrong black. The president lives under a very intense microscope with his every move examined and documented. I figured a black president would find the optics focused to a much higher intensity, facing scrutiny like none other before. A misstep here or an embarrassing gesture there and the entire race would have been labeled by those who believe  minorities lack what is needed to run the free world. And so in 2008 I looked for the right person for the job knowing that the first black, if he were not fit, would close the door on the possibility of another holding the office in the future.

With his two terms in office now behind us I can say that President Obama and his family exhibited a very high regard for the office, conducting themselves in a manner that serves as an example to anyone of any race. Did I agree with all of his actions? No, but I have yet to agree 100% with anyone. Even while disagreeing with the president I was able to respect the man. So now, in 2017, I can finally enjoy the historical aspects of having had our first black president. Only now can I celebrate knowing the Obamas have left us with a historical record for which the entire race...the entire country...can be proud.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Should Moses’ Experience at the Burning Bush be Called Prayer? Part III

Prayer changes lives. And yet by definition, perhaps even by practice, prayer is reduced to us simply asking God for things. Moses experienced so much more than a question and answer session when he turned to investigate the burning bush. His prayer session became an opportunity to be changed by God. As he was changed Moses would have the opportunity to get to know the God of his childhood. Should this be an expectation when we pray today?

Handshake picture By Rufino (hermandad - friendship) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Part III: God Introduces Himself
Exodus 3:6

Though adopted by an Egyptian, Moses was raised by his Hebrew mom (Exodus 2:1-10). While serving as his nurse, Moses' mother most likely taught him about God. We are not told what Moses believed before the burning bush but clearly he shows reverence as God introduces Himself.

This introduction was an important start to Moses' lifelong conversation. It was an opportunity for Moses to get to know the God of his childhood, an opportunity that continued as he learned of God's desire to end the suffering of the people of Israel. As He did with Moses, God uses prayer to introduce Himself to us today. We need only to show the same reverence and desire to listen as shown by Moses as he hid his face.

"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." John 14:13

According to Jesus prayer is an opportunity to see God glorified in our lives. I believe His intent was to encourage a conversation where we desire more than just receiving answers to our requests. In fact the context of chapter 14 is how we can see the Father today and can go to a place prepared for us in the kingdom where we will be with Him forever. In answering Phillips' question about revealing the Father, Jesus talks about answering prayer. In this context prayer is about God revealing (being glorified) to us.

The Bible encourages to make our requests known to God. But if all you expect is to receive things or to have your own way, you are missing out. Prayer is about seeing the glory of the Father.You should come into prayer with the expectation that, "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," will reveal Himself to you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Should Moses' Experience at the Burning Bush be Called Prayer?

How do you define prayer? The dictionary definition says that prayer is, “Making requests known to God.” And while there is a biblical basis for this definition, what we see at the burning bush turns the definition around completely. Moses did not make his requests known. Instead it was God who made the first move, getting Moses’ attention so that he would turn away from his daily routine (Part I). And then it is God who makes His request known, calling Moses to humble himself in preparation for something much bigger than his chosen life as a shepherd.
Sarbel [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Part II: Take Off Your Shoes - Exodus 3:1-5

"Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."

God is holy and by nature fallen man cannot enter into God's presence without first being properly prepared. I suspect that had Moses moved any closer to the burning bush with his shoes on, his story would have come to an end right then and there. We likely would never have known a thing about the Hebrew-Egyptian shepherd. If the Bible mentioned him at all it would have told of how, in his pride, he forfeited his opportunity to become a great leader of the nation of Israel.

What did the sandals represent?

Moses’ sandals were likely covered in whatever he walked on (or in) while he worked as a shepherd. They carried the dirt of ground which was not “holy” representing what we would now call the things of this earth. They were a physical manifestation of the fallen state of man which would have tracked the stain of sin upon the holy ground of God.

By taking off his sandals Moses left the stain of sin behind him. His bare feet allowed a direct connection with ground that was holy, working much like the promise Jesus made to Peter while washing his feet (John 13:6-10). With his sandals on I suspect Moses would have remained separated from God, like Peter would have had he refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. With sandals removed Moses was ready for a conversation with God, one that involved him being “cleaned” in preparation for walking on holy ground.

In order to come before God Moses had to be changed, a change represented by his taking off his sandals. He could not come before God with an expectation of God being changed. Likewise when we come before God we should do so with the expectation that we will be changed, not that God will change to bend to our will. If we expect our petitions to change God we are still wearing our sandals. Real prayer involves God changing us that our list might be made in alignment with His will. Only then will our prayers be accompanied by the power that comes with asking in His name.

Making our requests known is not the end all of prayer. In fact it is not even the first step. The first step involves having our hearts, our minds, our very beings bending and being molded according to the will of God. Prayer begins when we “take off our sandals.”

So, what’s on your feet when you approach God in prayer?