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Friday, March 24, 2023

Seed Potatoes


“It’s time!”  I announced to my children.  “I need help planting potatoes this evening.”

Anna and Victoria looked a little excited, Elliot a little less so and Vincent did not look particularly pleased.  Anna said, “I need to practice flute, so I can’t really help.”

"That’s OK,” I said, “the rest of us will take care of it.”

After supper we walked down to the garden.  It was a cool evening and I had already made rows for the seed potatoes.

“Why did you cut the potatoes in pieces?”  Elliot wondered.

“It helps us cut more potatoes from each seed potato,” I told him.  “Some of the seed potatoes are pretty big and have several eyes on them and each eye has the ability to grow into a potato plant.”

“I want one!  I want one!”  Elise was definitive that she was going to help.  Then, she proceeded to put the piece given to her right on top of another potato.

“No, Leesy,” Victoria told her.  “You need to space them out.  Like this.”

I like planting potatoes.  Smelling the fresh spring air and not battling heat make it one of the nicer things to do in the garden.  Later, when the temperatures reach the 90s, it isn’t quite as much fun to do the necessary parts of gardening.

Planting things in the soil always makes me think of what Jesus said.  “Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24)

Every gardener knows that gardening is about giving up something to gain something more.  If you plant a half pound of bean seed or 20 pounds of potatoes, you expect to get much more at the time of harvest than what was planted in the first place.       

Jesus was talking of His own sacrifice.  We are coming up on Good Friday and a time when we remember Him walking to the cross to give up His life so that we might have life. 

We were – we are -- broken people.  God in His love and wisdom looked into this world and realized that the only solution for our brokenness was for Him to come into the world and be broken for us.  Only then could we be made whole.

We too are called to follow in our Master’s footsteps.  We need to die to ourselves so that we can live for Him and bear a plentiful harvest.

Jesus became like us so that He could bring us Shalom.  We must be willing to share in His brokenness so that we too can bring healing to our little corner of the world.


Friday, March 17, 2023

The Biggest Blueberry!


I walked along the walk towards the front yard.  Behind me, I heard the sound of Aria barking, but I ignored her.  There, along the driveway I could see my blueberry bushes full to the bursting with blueberries which seemed odd, since it was a chilly February day.

I picked a handful and ate it, tasting the sweet tartness of the berries.  Then, I saw it -- a blueberry as big as an apple, shining in the morning sun.  I had never seen a blueberry that big.

I picked the blueberry and in an exact of selflessness, I ran tearing into the house.  "Elaine," I called to my wife.  "I found the biggest blueberry I have ever seen and I want you to have it!"

Elaine took the blueberry, looked at it for a second then bit into it.

My moment of glory was immediately swallowed up by the sound of her choking and spitting out the berry into the trash.  "That is awful!"  She said.

And that, dear readers, is when I woke up.  It was all a dream and not even a very good dream at that.

I am not certain how to interpret it.  Certainly, it doesn't seem to speak of years of famine and plenty, nor of future empires.  If it speaks of anything, it is probably my forlorn desire to have a few blueberries from our bushes in a year when spring came to early and all of the blooming things are bound to get frozen.

Maybe it also says something about things that are not what they seem.  There are plenty of people who look good on the outside, but aren't so good on the inside.

Jesus told the Pharisees of His day that they were like white washed graves -- freshly painted on the outside but inside, they were full of dead men's bones.  Not surprisingly, they didn't take this very well.  No one really wants to be compared to a sepulcher -- however nice looking that sepulcher might be.

Our goal must never be to only clean up the outside.  Cleaning up the outside is helpful before going on a date, but for life, it is far more important is to let Jesus purify our hearts.

This is the only way to escape the trap of hypocrisy, of trying to seem like something that we aren't really -- a little like an apple-sized, dream lemon masquerading as a beautiful blueberry.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Playing with Thomas


 “Dad,” Elise said.  “I want you to play Thomases with me!”

 For the uninformed, Thomas is a sentient tank engine that runs on the tracks on the island of Sodor.  While the real Thomas lives far away (I guess in the United Kingdom), we have plastic railroad tracks and AA battery operated engines that run on them. 

 Elaine was out running errands and Elise and I were manning the fort together.  “Let me finish washing these dishes,” I told her.  “Then, we can play with trains.”

 “OK, Dad,” Elise said.  “My dollies really want to play with Thomas.  Hamber [her doll Amber] says that Thomas is her favorite engine!”

 I finished washing the dishes and we went upstairs to play with trains.  This mostly consisted of me putting tracks together and Elise watching me do so.  Then, we ran various trains around the tracks.

 It didn’t exactly thrill me to watch the trains meander around the tracks.

 I was getting tired of this.  “Shall we stop playing with trains?”  I asked in a hopeful voice.

 “No!” Elise said, quite firmly.  “Hamber wants to keep playing with trains.”

 “How about if we read a book together?”

 Elise thought for a moment.  “Yes,” she said, at last.  “We can read a book together.”

 So, we went downstairs, and I began to read a variety of books.  We read “Popcorn” by Frank Asch.  We read “Jonah’s Trash… God’s Treasure” by Joel Anderson.  We read several Richard Scarry books.

 At the end of each one, I gently suggested that Elise could do some playing on her own.  Each time, she demanded that I read more and so on and on we went until finally, as my voice gave out, Elaine arrived back at home.

 The morning had passed, and the clock showed that it was time to eat lunch.  As we sat down to eat, I felt a little frustrated.  I hadn’t accomplished anything that morning.  I had just put together train tracks that would be taken apart in a few days and read books that my daughter has heard twenty times before.

 I’m sure plenty of parents feel this way.  They clean and wash clothes and do endless tasks that only need to be repeated – sometimes hours after they are completed.  Their children want to play the same thing over and over or read the same books until they have them memorized.  

 I am afraid that the biggest issue for me is simply that I am not good at discerning what is valuable.  Jesus told a story in Matthew 13 about a man who finds a pearl that he recognizes as immensely valuable and then goes out and sells everything he has to purchase that gem.

 This story was talking about the importance of giving up all to follow after Jesus.  At the same time, the important thing in the parable is that the man recognized the value of the gem.

 In much the same way, I need to recognize what is valuable in my life.  Of course, at the top of the list is my relationship with Jesus, but other things are important too.  Nurturing relationships and getting to know my children are extremely high on the list of things that are worthwhile for me to do, even if they won’t ever get me into a “Who’s who” list of important people.

 If we were a little better at recognizing what is really valuable in life, our priorities would probably shift quite a bit.  Maybe we would even come to the place of understanding that the benefit of playing with our children isn’t playing with trains or reading books.  The benefit is spending time with some of the most important people in our lives and building relationships that will last, even when their childhood is gone.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Parable of the Discouraged Student


Lo, one day, I went to pick up my descendants from Bethel Mennonite School, where they are edu-ma-cated in the three Rs and a bit more besides.  My second son, Elliot, who wanteth a filter between his mind and mouth sayeth unto me, “Father, it passeth through my mind that my life would be far easier if instead of being a student, I was a teacher.”

Such words took me aback, for Elliot, has not yet completed the seventh grade and while he is Almighty Bright, still, he has many more days left before him as a student.  To Top it Off, this eleven-year-old young man has never shown a proclivity for instructing Anyone in Anything.

“Elliot,” I replied.  “Thou hast years of being a student in front of Thee.  Moreover, Thou hast need of much schooling before Thou couldest instruct another.  Mayhap it seemeth to Thee that a Teacher’s Job is easier, but it is not, for remember, Thou wouldest have to deal with students like unto Thyself and that is No Easy Job.”

Elliot made a face as though he had drunk a swig of curdled milk.  “I wouldn’t teach seventh grade,” He said.  “Not that I couldn’t for most of the work is Plum Easy.  But instructing those in the First or Second grade would be about my speed.”

“I know that Thou canst Read Real Good,” I told my son.  “And First Grade math wouldst be easy as well.  What Thou lackest is Patience.  And teachers of six- and seven-year-olds must have as much Patience as Knowledge.

Elliot was not abashed.  “I have much Patience,” he proclaimed.  “The storehouse of my Patience is like unto the treasuries of King Croesus.”

“If Thou hast such Patience,” I said.  “Thou hast not exemplified it in Thy dealings with Thy younger two sisters.  For with them, Thy store of Patience seems more like unto the treasuries of a Church Mouse.”

“Oh, my Father,” he saith in reply.  “Perhaps my Patience is not as great as I deem it, but I would learn it quickly, as I learn all things.  Thou needst not fear that my long-suffering nature would not grow greatly in such a position.”

I thought me on this subject.  Verily, most of us do grow, when are forced to do so.  On the other hand, a degree of preparation may help the growth to proceed at a more rapid pace.  Those with little Patience will not magically manifest it, simply because they have children.

Certainly, my beloved son will not be instructing children of any age in the near future.

Jesus told His followers, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust in much.”  (Luke 16:10) The patterns that are exhibited in the small things carry over when we are faced with greater ones.

He who is unable to have Patience with his younger sisters, though they be Awful Cute, is certainly not going to be Long Suffering when pressed to the max by a room full of six-year-olds.  It is still tempting to believe that the “Tomorrow Me” will be far less deficient in the qualities that the “Today Me” lacks.  This will only happen if the "Today Me" starts working to develop those qualities.

The only solution is to apply ourselves to become the thing we desire.  It taketh great effort and much work, but even an almost 12-year-old can learn Patience if he begins to work on it.  In time, he might even gain the Great Patience needed to deal with aggravating younger sisters.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Never Ending Colds


"Mom, we need more Kleenexes!"  Victoria was distressed by the lack of soft pieces of paper on which she could blow her sensitive nose.

"Back in the old days," I put in, helpfully.  "People used to carry pieces of cloth with them that they blew their noses on.  The called these items handkerchiefs and they were very environmentally friendly, if extremely disgusting."

Victoria chose to ignore my comment.  "We are out of Kleenexes!"  She stated again.

"Back when I was boy," I said.  "My mother never bought Kleenexes (or even generic brand facial tissues).  We either had to use paper towels or toilet paper.  The way you all go through Kleenexes, there are forests in Canada that tremble every time the Waldrons get a cold."

Elaine came to my daughter's rescue.  She is a very sympathetic woman.  "I'll put it on my list, Victoria," she said.  "I'm going to the store tomorrow and I'll make sure I get some."

This has been a bad winter for runny noses and coughs in our household.  None of it has been COVID (we've checked multiple times), but someone in our family has had a cough or nasal congestion since Thanksgiving.

I suppose the problem is that we have five children, and they never catch something all at once.  Like the Ghosts of Christmas that afflicted Ebenezer Scrooge, they get sick at various times and manners and so each virus takes four or five weeks to meander its way through our family.

Like Scrooge, I could say, "Couldn't I take 'em all at once and be done with them?"  It does seem like it would be nice to have one week at the beginning of school where everyone was sick all at once and then the rest of the school year would be easy breezy.  It doesn't happen that way though.

The problem is that bad things -- behaviors and infections -- are so much more contagious than good things.  "Don't make friends with an angry man, and don't be a companion of a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare." (Proverbs 22;24,25)

There are many things that we can catch from those around us.  Poor ways of dealing with other people, anger, and even carelessness are all quite contagious.  There are many days that a spirit of grumpiness and irritability descends on our house and afflicts its inhabitants.

You don't "catch" health from someone else.  If you have a cold and hang around someone else who doesn't have that cold, what will happen is not that you catch their healthiness, but rather, they will catch your cold.

I suppose that attitudes are a bit different from viruses -- there are times that someone who is intensely positive can raise the temperature of a group considerably, but more often than not, it is the pessimist who succeeds in dragging everyone down to their level, rather than the alternative.  Contagion seems directly related to both the intensity and the negativity of the spirit involved.

When we realize that such a spirit is afflicting the people around us, we need to make an effort to combat it.  As hard as it is to be an encourager when surrounded by grumps, this is the only solution.

For those who are willing to throw themselves into lifting up the spirits of those around them will have good results -- better, in fact, than 20 boxes of Kleenexes would have on a household of Waldrons afflicted with runny noses.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Investing for the Future


"I've come up with an awesome way to make a bunch of money, Dad?"  Elliot said to me.

"Really?"  I asked.  "Does this mean that your mother and I won't need to support you any more?"

"Well..."  Elliot hesitated.  "It may take a while to make that much money.  This is more so that I have money to spend on fun things that I want."

"So, what is your plan?"  I asked my financial genius of a son.

"It's really simple, Dad," he told me.  "See, you just buy Lego sets and don't open them.  Then, a year or two after they discontinue the set, you can sell them for a lot more than you paid for them."

"Really?"  I had a number of concerns about this plan, but I didn't want to shoot it down too quickly.

"Sure," Elliot said.  "You know that Lego City train set you bought ten years ago?"  

"Yes," I said.

"How much did you pay for it?"

"I don't remember," I said.  "Probably a little over 100 dollars."

"Well, it is selling for over 600 dollars now!"  Elliot said triumphantly.  "You see what I mean?"

I did see, although I wasn't certain how effective a money making scheme this would be.  It certainly was a get rich quick scheme -- more like gain small amounts of money slowly.

There is something more.  Legos were created to be opened, played with, and built with.  The idea of holding them unopened in a closet for some hoped for day when they will be worth lots of money feels wrong.

In the same way, the purpose of humans is something more than making money.  Certainly there are sad people who have made that their ultimate goal, but there is more to life than playing the game, "Who Wants to be a Thousandaire?"

I Timothy 6:17-19 says "Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth, but on the living God, who generously give us everything for our enjoyment.  Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathize with those in distress.  Their security should be invested in the life to come so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent."

There are so many ideas in these few verses.  Most of all, it speaks of investments and what is truly important.

When we learn to glorify God and serve others, we are taking a path that leads to satisfaction.  All too many waste their efforts chasing things that won't satisfy and completely missing what is their real purpose -- much like an unopened Lego box waiting in a closet to be sold for Great Profit.

Friday, February 3, 2023

In Defense of Dad Jokes


“Did you hear about the invisible man and woman who got married?”  My children shook their heads, expecting the worse.  “Well, their children weren’t much to look at either.”

Victoria said, “That’s not even funny, Dad.”

I decided to continue.  “Do you know why there aren’t any billionaires at the North Pole?”

Elliot said, “Because the taxes are too high.”

This was a good answer, maybe funnier than the answer I had thought of.  Billionaires do seem to have a moral aversion to paying tax.

“That wasn’t really what I was think of,” I said.  “Because all of their assets are frozen.”

This was the sort of joke that took a while to work out.  After some explanations, my children once again came to the conclusion that their father wasn’t a comedian.

I took one last stab at it.  “Why was the little strawberry so sad?”

No one seemed to know.  “Because all of her family was in a jam!”

Elise seemed to find this joke funnier than the rest – mainly because she doesn’t understand high brow humor at this level, but does like laughing with everyone else. 

People take aim at Dad Jokes a lot of the time.  They think they are corny and not particularly funny – or at least not funny enough to tell in public.  If it is your dad who is telling the jokes, it is probably quite embarrassing.  “Why can’t he be quiet like my friend’s dads?  Or actually funny for once?”

Humor is something that is underrated as a way to lift the spirits.  “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

There is something worthwhile when a conversation can turn to humor – even if it is for a brief detour.  There is only so much time that can be devoted to serious topics and with a high level of earnestness comes mental fatigue.

Maybe it is time to appreciate the patron saints of corny humor, dads, who make it their life’s goal to figure out ways to weave puns into every day conversations. 

Sometimes, we simply need someone to ask the important questions in life, like, “How do farmers get the water in the watermelons?”

"They plant them in the spring!”


 (I guess I’ll show myself out now)…

Friday, January 27, 2023

Jack Armstrong?!


“Mom!”  Elliot came down the stairs in a flurry.  “Mom!  You’ve got to get me a breakfast that’s worth a million!”

"What’s that?”  Elaine asked.  “We’re not made of money, so I don’t that we can afford it.”

“I’m guess he wants to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast,” I said dryly.  “Fortunately, our chickens don’t know the price of eggs these days or we’d be up a creek without a paddle.”

“No,” Elliot said with disdain.  “The breakfast I’m talking about is swell!  It has all of the heat burning units of hot cereal, but it tastes great!”

“What is it?”  Elaine asked with a little curiosity.

“Wheaties!”  Elliot said dramatically.  “You can have them bananas one day and the next day have them with blueberries!  It’s like having a different breakfast every day of the week.”

I shook my head.  “You’ve been listening to Jack Armstrong, haven’t you?”  I asked him.

“Yes,” Elliot said.  “I’ve heard all about the dragon’s eye ring and their journey to the Philippines.  I wouldn’t have known about Wheaties otherwise.”

I chuckled.  Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, was on the radio 80 years ago.  He had various adventures, crossing the ocean with his friends, Betty and Billy Fairfield and their Uncle Jim.  Through all of his adventures Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions, was there to encourage the listeners to eat more of the breakfast cereal.

I remembered listening to Jack Armstrong when I was a boy (on cassettes – I’m not quite old enough to have heard it when it was actually on the air).  I was dreadfully disappointed when the last cassette ended on a cliff hanger with Jack and his friends approaching a Philippine village.

Disaster was never far away from Jack, although fortunately, he always survived.

Elliot is probably our child who is most susceptible to the wiles of advertising.  He sees something in a promo, and he thinks his life would be infinitely better if he simply had this item.  So it was that he succumbed to 80-year-old advertising.

It is easy to laugh at such a response.  Adults don’t give in to the sort of advertising.  They are simply too smart.

And yet…

The world around us is constantly telling us that happiness comes in the form of material things.  Maybe it is the right house, or the right truck/car, perhaps it is a piece of technology like a brand-new phone or game console, but regardless of the object, if we could only get that thing, our lives would be so much better.

Solomon said, “Whoever loves money never has enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This too is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV)

Elaine did get Elliot a box of Wheaties and he ate them for several breakfasts, but his life doesn't seem to have changed much since that monumental purchase. 

Maybe the price of a Wheaties box is a small price to pay for the discovery that true happiness doesn’t come in a box.  True happiness comes from knowing Jesus Christ and walking with Him.

Friday, January 20, 2023

"Do you like my hat?"


"Do you like my hat?"  Elise asked, holding two dolls over her head in an appearance that could pass for a fascinator in the Royal Family.

"I do not like your hat!"  I replied.

"Good-bye!"  Elise said and began to laugh.

"Good-bye!"  I said.

While this may sound like the sort of father-daughter interaction that is bound, in a few years, to result in a sequel to the book "Spare," the truth was far from it.  I was only following the script my three year old daughter expected of me.

True fans of hifalutin literature will, perhaps recognize the quotation as being from the book "Go, Dog, Go!"  This classic of children's lit, by the Shakespeare of that genre, P.D. Eastman, contains a myriad of short vignettes about a group of dogs.

One recurring story line involves two dogs, one of whom has a different hat each time.  She asks the first dog if he likes her hat.  The second dog never does like the hat in question until, in the bewitching last scene, he is enthralled with the hat in question.  At this point the two dogs drive off into the sunset together.

It is interesting that the ultimate peak of love in this story revolves around learning to accept someone else's fashion choices.  It sort of glosses over all of the other aspects of knowing someone and learning to love them.

Love is something so simple that even a child can understand it.  It is also so complex that even a Mensa level genius would struggle to explain it.

Love is the thing that lets a man gently answer the same question from his demented wife for the twentieth time in an evening.  It is the essence that lets a Dad play along with a script from "Go, Dog, Go!" simply because his three year old daughter finds it funny.

Love give us patience with the interminable.  It give us a desire to heal broken relationships.  It gives us an understanding of others in our lives who are confusing -- even when we never learn to like their hats.

Friday, January 6, 2023

"Thanks, Marie!"

"Thanks, Marie Callender for ruining Thanksgiving Dessert!"  Sharon Weiss wrote in her post, with an accompanying photo of a completely blackened pie.

Apparently, this upstanding lady bought a pie for her Thanksgiving dinner.  She opened it and followed the directions on the box precisely.  The only problem was that when the pie came out of the oven, it looked a little like Icarus did after he flew a little too close to the sun.

Sharon was obviously distressed at these results and the lack of a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner.  I suppose her family had to fall back on cranberry jello salad as a not-so-great, semi-sweet menu item to eat at the end of their meal.  Either that, or just eat Cool Whip from the container.

Oh, the travesty of such a situation!

It turned out that none of this was Marie Callender's fault.  Sharon began burning lots of things in her oven, but before she wrote a devastating post about General Electric (or whoever manufactured her oven), her husband investigated and discovered that she had somehow turned her oven from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  That meant that when she set her oven to 375 degrees, her oven was trying to achieve the mystical temperature of 707 degrees Fahrenheit.  

For those of you who aren't bakers, that's actually a very hot temperature to bake a pie.  It is no wonder that disaster ensued.

The book of James tells us, "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." (James 1:19)

There is a tendency to flame up in anger when we feel that we have been offended.  This can result in a harsh Facebook retort, abrasive text, or e mail that we later regret.  Maybe it even comes out in an online review.

It is far better if we take the time to calm our anger.  Even if we are in the right, it isn't helpful to be angry and certainly posting in anger will only bring regret.  It may well be that in the end we discover that the other person was no more at fault than Marie Callender was for Sharon Weiss's pie fiasco.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Have a Happy New Day!


"We wish you a Merry Christmas!"  My three year old daughter sang to whoever would listen.  "We wish you a Merry Christmas!  We wish you a Merry Christmas!  And a Happy New Day!"

"I think it's a Happy New Year, Elise," I gently corrected her.

"No, Dad," she said.  Elise is too smart to be deceived by anyone -- particularly someone as old as her dad.

I thought about her adjusted words to the classic Christmas song.  Elise isn't really good with lengths of time.  She talks about "to-narrow," I guess referring to tomorrow.  She will mention that something is going to "happen in the future," by which she means that she hopes it happens soon.  Certainly, the concept of a year's length of time is hard to grasp for someone who has only lived three of them on this earth.

New Years have a way of standing out to me -- I can remember a little over 40 of them.  The emphasis is always on the new part -- it is a clean year, unspoiled by my grubby hands and imperfections.  These years are shining, spotless from the factory, and ready to become a beautiful new chapter in my life.

Then, with January 1st, it begins and from the start, things don't exactly go according to plan.  I get frustrated with my children and impatient with personal growth and development.  By January 3rd of 2023, I am ready for 2024 to see if I can do better.

I still have the rest of the year to get through.

So, I like Elise's version better, because I really cannot take a year at a time.  A day is more my speed.

I suppose this is what the prophet Jeremiah was thinking when he wrote, "They (God's mercies) are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness." (Lam. 3:23)

It is better to take things one day at a time -- one minute at a time -- in order to get through a year with 365 new days in it.

It will take all of God's grace and mercy to get us through 2023, one Happy New Day, at a time.

Friday, December 16, 2022

What Day Was Jesus Born?


It is only a week (and a weekend) away from Christmas.  It is the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  The question often arises what day Jesus was really born on?  Was He born in December?

In doing a little research, it turns out that the man who chose December 25th as the official birthdate of Jesus was Pope Julius I around AD 350.  We don't really know why -- maybe because the pagan feast of Saturn ended on December 23, a couple of days before.  Maybe it was because he really thought that Jesus was born on that day.  Maybe some Christians had already chosen that date and he was just standardizing it.

The Gospels don't give any details on the subject.  We know where Jesus was born (Bethlehem), we know some visitors He had after His birth (shepherds and magi), but we don't know the exact year or even the month of His birth.

The point is that to early Christians, Christmas wasn't that important.  They didn't celebrate Jesus' birth -- at least not the way we do today.  Their focus wasn't on His birth, but on His death.  Every time they gathered together they remembered His death through a very simple custom of the breaking of bread.

"As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do shew the Lord's death till He come."  (I Cor. 11:26)

Maybe it is appropriate that we remember light coming into the world at the darkest time of year, just after the Winter Solstice.  Maybe it is good that we give each other gifts, remembering the greatest gift that was given to us.  

All of this feels like rationalization for what we are already doing.

The important thing is not to put Christ in Christmas, but rather to honor Jesus with our lives and to remember His death on our behalf.  This is why He came to earth and lived and taught and died and rose again.

The day isn't important.

The month isn't important.

The year isn't important.

How our hearts are changed because of meeting Jesus and allowing Him to change our lives is more important than all of that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Are There Any Good Church Leaders?


Moral Failure.

Moral failure is a euphemism that pastors bring up in statements when they are dealing with a variety of issues, but particularly things related to illicit sexual relationships.  It seems that these sorts of things started coming to light in the 1980s.  Men like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard were all pastors who had precipitous falls from popularity after their secret lives were exposed.  Since then, there have been scandals involving Hillsong, Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, and many others.

It is easy to question whether any Christian leaders are morally upstanding or maybe if the leaders of the past were simply better at hiding their improprieties.

Moral Failure in religious leaders is not something that is new.  There is a story at the beginning of the book of I Samuel about two brothers, Hophni and Phineas, which has many of the same themes of these modern situations.  It is instructive to look at it and think about what light it sheds on our issues in the church setting.

The Story

Hophni and Phineas were the two sons of the High Priest of Israel, Eli.  We don’t know much about them as individuals.  The author of I Samuel addresses them as a single unit in the first few chapters of the book and does so in decidedly negative fashion.

Eli was the High Priest, but as he aged, his sons began assuming more and more responsibility around the Tent of Meeting.  As they did so, Scripture tells us that they began to sleep with the women who were serving in the Tabernacle. 

More than that, they began taking meat from the sacrifices before it was sacrificed, even though this was against the Law.  If any worshiper protested their behavior, they would use force against him to get their own way.

At the time that all of this was going on at the Tabernacle, there was a war going on between Israel and the Philistines and Israel was losing.  Some Israelite field commander had the bright idea that bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the frontlines would be a way to win a victory. 

Hophni and Phineas accompanied the Ark to the scene of the battle and Samuel records that when it arrived there was a great improvement in morale of the troops.  The troops cheered as though they had already won the battle and who could blame them when the God of the Universe was on their side.  It was at this precise moment that the Philistines decided to attack. 

Instead of victory, the Israelites experienced a stunning defeat.  Both of Eli’s sons were killed in the battle and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.

So ends this cautionary history from the beginning of the books of Samuel.  It appears there are different messages for modern audiences found within this story.

We Select the Wrong Men for Leadership

In the case of Hophni and Phineas, they were chosen for leadership simply because they were the sons of Eli.  The title of priest was passed down from Moses’ brother Aaron to his descendants.

Today, most church leaders are selected either based on family connections or because of charisma.  It makes sense that people who are well spoken and good at turning a phrase would become preachers.  Of course, these leaders claim to have an upright character and a close relationship with God, but this seems secondary to other qualities when leaders are selected.

It is helpful to look at the qualities that Paul says an “overseer” in the church should possess.  In Titus 1:5-9 he doesn’t talk about charisma or good public speaking.  Instead, he lists being above reproach, not arrogant, not quick to anger, sober, not money focused, self-controlled, and holy. 

Church leadership is about character and connection with God, not charisma.

Corrupt Leaders Abuse Their Power

It is obvious, but with church leadership comes great responsibility.  In such a position, a person has great opportunities to encourage and strengthen people within the congregation.  On the other hand, there is also a great opportunity to enrich a leader’s pocketbook, enlarge his ego, and give him power over the people within his church.  When this power is abused, it often shows itself in the misuse of church finances or in sexual liaisons within the church.

The end result is severe damage to the message and ministry of that church – it also has far reaching effects on people outside of the church's willingness to accept the Gospel message.

The only antidote to prevent this abuse of power is for leaders to humble themselves and make themselves accountable to others within the church.

Corrupt Leaders See Themselves as Good

Few people see themselves as evil and church leaders are no exception – even when they have done salacious things.  They might admit that they aren’t perfect, they will confess to a few faults, but they believe that the good things that have resulted from their ministry far outweigh any of the negatives that might come from their personal failings.

Rationalization is the tool which humans use to give themselves space to continue bad behavior. 

More than this, the people who surround a corrupt leader often fear that the damage caused to Jesus' kingdom by revelations about that leader’s failures warrant keeping them a secret.

History makes two things obvious.  First, nothing is kept secret forever.  Eventually, all these things will come out.  Second, the fallout from the cover up is often worse than the misdeeds themselves.

Christians do not believe in some cosmic balance, in which good deeds and bad deeds are placed on opposite sides and compared.  Instead, they believe in a constant striving for holiness.

The fact that you can preach a wonderful, encouraging sermon on Sunday in no way balances the fact that you treat the people who work with you poorly the rest of the week.  Sinking yourself into charitable efforts is a good thing, but it doesn’t make up for the devastation if your spouse finds out that you have been unfaithful.

Immoral behavior has no place in leadership – even if that leader is extremely intelligent, bringing new people into the church, or is writing extremely deep books.

Corrupt Leaders Eventually Try to Manipulate God

The story of Hophni and Phineas makes clear that they saw their priestly position as something that they could use to their own advantage.  They got access to women and to better groceries than they might have in a different occupation.

When the army called for the Ark to be brought to the frontlines, Hophni and Phineas didn’t seem to hesitate.  Whereas their father, Eli, had severe anxiety around this mission, everyone else saw God as someone they could manipulate into taking their side against the Philistines.

It is unlikely that the sons of Eli dreamed of defeat.  They never pondered the capture of the Ark, or for that matter their own deaths.  Despite warnings from their father and prophets, they never thought that God would cease to protect His people.

God’s Judgment is Coming

The sons of Eli died unexpectedly in battle.  Many Christian leaders have fallen precipitously when they were at their most popular.

The fact that God is merciful means that he gives humans more opportunity to repent.  In the end, though, the things done in secret will be proclaimed from the housetops.  The results of judgment are devastating.

When judgment finally falls, it is sudden, surprising, and certain.

Leaders Never Fall Alone

Hophni and Phineas died in a battle where 30,000 soldiers of Israel also died.  More than that, the worship of God was totally disrupted by the capture of the Ark of God.

At the end of this story, we read that Phineas’ wife went into labor at the news of her husband’s death and the Ark’s capture.  I Samuel 4:19-22 tells us that she died in childbirth.  Before her death, she named her newborn son “Ichabod,” which means glory departed. 

With the capture of the Ark of the Covenant, the glory had departed from Israel.

Truth to tell, God’s glory had departed some years before.  The religious leaders had not been serving God, but only themselves.  No one had noticed until the Philistines captured this relic of the Israelites’ once holy past.

So it is with any church that is led by someone who does not have a true and deepening relationship with God.  Great will be their fall and woe to any innocent bystanders who find themselves too close when that fall finally comes.

People are good at hiding their faults, but it is paramount that churches make certain that their leaders are full of holiness and are totally focused on the things of God.

Anything less in a church leader is inviting ruin – not only for that man, but also for the church that he is leading.