Pure Religion

Pop quiz: what constitutes pure religion?

Seriously, don’t just skim over that question and read right along into my blog post. Stop and answer the question first and then I’ll tell you what I’ve gleaned.

Did your thoughts go to worship? It seems like the church spends a lot of effort talking about worship styles-contemporary vs. traditional, post-modern or even “high” church. Maybe your thoughts went to the type of denomination you belong to and how all those other denominaitons have it wrong. Or maybe your thoughts went to works vs. faith.  Or who knows what else.

I’m not able to answer all of those debates, so I’m going to run to scripture to answer this question. James 1:27 says this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

The reason that this verse is on my mind tonight is because tomorrow we start our 23rdannual Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event. James 1:27 has become a theme verse in my mind for what we do on the Servant Event. Indeed, this year we will be working for a lot of elderly widows, and many more who are in need of some serious work to be done on their homes. (If you’d like to see the whole list you can do that here: http://stpaulcaro.org/ministry/youth/fixin-up-the-thumb-servant/work-sites/

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James says “pure and undefiled.” The Greek for pure is this:

καθαρός katharos; of uncertain affinity; clean (literally or figuratively): — clean, clear, pure.

Ethically

-free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt

-free from every admixture of what is false, sincere genuine

-blameless, innocent

-unstained with the guilt of anything

How can a bunch of high school youth and their adult counselors come together and somehow think that because we work on homes for a week think that we are somehow pure, clean, clear, and true? I’ve worked with these youth and adults before and I can tell you that they are not. I know as I look inside myself (whom I know better than anyone else!) that I am not. There are times that I’m angry with others who are not pulling their fair weight, there are times that I’m interested in the praise that this will get me from other people, or there are a hundred of different ways that my sinfulness leaves me unpure.

So is it hopeless to live out James 1:27? Matthew Henry’s commentary says this about James 1:27:

True religion teaches us to do every thing as in the presence of God. An unspotted life must go with unfeigned love and charity. Our true religion is equal to the measure in which these things have place in our hearts and conduct. And let us remember, that nothing avails in Christ Jesus, but faith that worketh by love, purifies the heart, subdues carnal lusts, and obeys God’s commands.

Ah, the end of that quote is the key! It is only through faith in Christ Jesus that our hearts may be purified, carnal lusts may be subdued and that we can obey God’s commands. With that faith firmly in place watch and see just what can happen as we live out this next week!

I wish I had more time to go deeper into this verse, but it’s time for the Servant Event!

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Thou Shalt Not Steal Another Man’s Bike

I did it! I bought another bike, a yellow and black Giant mountain bike. I found it on craigslist and got a really good deal on it.

There is a formula in the triathlon community for how many bikes one needs. The formula is X+1=Y, where X is how many bikes you currently own and Y is how many bikes you need.

That’s not really why I bought this new bike, the real reason is that somebody stole my previous off-road bike. I had loaned it to Nathan, who lives in Belleville Michigan, and somebody stole it and Alisha’s bike right out of their locked storage unit. Bike thieves suck!

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I think we all know that it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall not steal,” yes sir, right there in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Clearly taking someone’s bike out of a locked storage unit is stealing. That’s so obvious that it’s used as the example in the dictionary:

Steal | stēl | verb (past stole | stōl | ; past participle stolen | ˈstōlən | ) [with object] take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it: thieves stole her bicycle

Luther defines stealing in his small catechism this way:

Thou shalt not steal.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business

Either way we say to ourselves that we would never do that. But would we? Do we say that we would never steal but then not include everything when we file our taxes? Do we say we would never steal but then download software that we’ve not paid for? Or take things that we’re not entitled to from work?

I once had a conversation with a church member who willingly told me how they had lied to the insurance company about where a fender bender had occurred so that it would get covered. That’s not really stealing right, and they’re a big company so they have the money right? Wink, wink.

The bible says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

In Titus chapter two Paul gives instruction to many different groups of people on how to do good for the sake of the Gospel. He instructs teachers, older men, younger men, older women, younger women, and even slaves. To the slaves (and could we not apply that to employees and anyone under authority-which would be all of us) he says:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9-10 NIV)

 See, not stealing has more to it than just not taking what doesn’t belong to us. It also proves character, and also opens up opportunity for our witness to be “attractive.” If we become known as one who can’t be trusted with the little things, who would trust us with more important things? But, if we become known as someone who has integrity even in the small things we will be trusted with the larger things of life. Jesus put it this way:

 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13 ESV)

 You might never steal a bike, but let’s be faithful even in the minute details of our lives.

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Grandpa’s Attic

This past week we celebrated Memorial Day. Although my grandpa did not give the “ultimate sacrifice,” he did serve in the army during World War II and Memorial Day had me thinking back to when grandpa served his country.

One time when I was visiting with my grandparents, in Smiths Creek Michigan, I found a box of old pictures in their attic.  It was a lot of fun to look at pictures of my dad when he was younger, grandpa and grandma from way back; and all kinds of pictures of the prize catch of fish or deer from seasons past.  Some of the pictures went way back, ancestors that I have never met, grandpa and grandma as children, grandpa in his uniform from World War II.

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There are two pictures from when grandpa served in the war that are not so nice to look at though. My grandpa served in the railroad corps, which transported soldiers back and forth during the end of the war.  He literally served with those who helped liberate the concentration camps.  The first picture that I found was of dead bodies that were literally piled up like you would store firewood.  The bodies are extremely skinny, naked, and from looking at the pictures it seems as if you are right there yourself looking at this unbelievable scene.  The second picture is of prisoners of the concentration camp that are still living. Their bodies look exactly like the dead bodies, but their malnutrition, and mistreatment has not claimed their lives yet.  They were saved from the Nazis just in time.

I bring up these two pictures not for the sake of trying to gross people out, but to prod you into action.  We are literally in a strikingly similar situation with abortion in our nation. With the technology that is available today we can take some very similar pictures.  The first picture would be of the dead bodies; not piled like cord wood, but rather thrown away in garbage cans and sucked into glass bottles. Their bodies are small, bloody, and badly torn apart.  For these millions of babies we are too late, all we can do is take a picture of their defeat.  The second picture would be of the babies who are soon to be victims if not rescued. They look amazingly similar to the other picture, except that they still move about, breath, swallow, and even suck their thumb.  Abortion has not claimed their lives yet.

The question is will we get to take their picture later; lets say at their first birthday party, when they take their first steps, when they smile at you for the first time, when they are first put in their mother’s arms?  Will we rescue them from the abortionist in time or will it be too late for them?

My grandfather literally put his life on the line, along with many other men in the U.S., because an atrocity was happening in the world.  My grandpa stepped on the ship to go overseas on Christmas Eve and left behind his two-year-old son (my dad) and grandma who was seven months pregnant at the time.  Besides missing the birth of his second child, he was forced to look at things, hear sounds, and even smell things that he will never be able to erase in his mind. It is impossible to calculate the cost that was paid by him, and others, to right this immorality!

And yet, to stop the immorality of abortion, most of us won’t sacrifice one iota of our personal freedom, security, or wealth.  Wake up, America!  Have we really changed that much in so few years?  Are we that desensitized?  Won’t we stop the killing in our own generation?

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; I think that is an underestimation.  I know that my grandfather’s two pictures have deeply affected me beyond even what words can express.  I hope that they have helped you in the same way.

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Love Is…

This morning I had to go to my wife for forgiveness. It may have been for the most egregious thing that I’ve ever done. (And, yes, I did just use that word because of the “greg” inside of it) You see, last night my wife was away at play practice and I was home all-alone. Call it a moment of weakness, or outright selfishness, but I ate morel mushrooms which I had found without her. There, I’ve confessed to the whole Internet…and yes, I do feel better.

If you don’t get it, you have never had morel mushrooms. I sautéed them with butter, garlic and a little bit of salt and oh my, were they good! I might tell you my social security number, but I’ll never tell you where I found them.

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All joking aside, there are times in our marriage that we do need to come to our spouse and seriously ask for forgiveness. I remember seeing this cartoon many years ago:

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I couldn’t disagree more!

Paul says to the Ephesian church that they should “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

That’s the end of a section that I just quoted to someone in counseling. The whole passage reads:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV)

Do those words just speak to how we treat other members of our church, or people in our community? No, I believe that our marriages are the front lines of spiritual warfare. C.S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Lettersfleshes out this point when a senior demon gives advice to a younger demon (keep that perspective in mind as you read this quote):

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude form all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) (The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, 1961, Letter VI)

Over and over the Bible calls us to “agape” our neighbor. Agape is a Greek word that we translate into the English word love. Agape is a never-ending, I’ll love you no matter what, even if you don’t love me back, love. The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. It’s an “I forgive you for eating morels without me” kind of love.  It does no good if we only love people who are halfway around the world but hate the members of our own household! So let’s start by showing our spouses some agape love.

 

 

 

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The Only Sure Foundation

I was a Cub Scout, Webelo, and proud Boy Scout of Troop 254 in Portage, Michigan. In 1981 I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and received a certificate signed by President Jimmy Carter.  I’m proud of my scouting past, but I am not proud of the changes that have been occurring within the Boy Scouts recently. Now they will be accepting girls into the Scouts and changing their name to “Scouts BSA” in February. According to USA Today, “Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh unveiled the group’s ‘Scout Me In’ marketing campaign aimed at promoting inclusiveness.”

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Maybe you just think it’s a political issue and I should leave it alone. Or maybe you feel that the Scouts are just switching things around so that they can gain some more participants because of their declining membership. I, however, see it as one more step in the crumbling foundation of our culture.

I know personally that scouting was foundational in my life. As I participated in this organization with over a hundred years of history, worked hard to earn merit badges and ever higher ranks, as I was molded by very honorable scout leaders, and a I learned ever increasing life skills, I became a better citizen and better person in general. I am greatly saddened that anything would jeopardize that for future generations.

It’s not just Scouting, marriages are under attack from within and from without. Matter of fact, marriage being one man to one woman is no longer the law of the land here in the United States. We even now have the blurring of lines between what it means to be a man or a woman. What in the world could be more foundational than being male or female?

David asked the question, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

How would you answer that question? If you agree with me that the foundations are being destroyed, what are you doing in response?

Let’s read David’s whole Psalm:

Psalm 11

To the choirmaster. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11 ESV)

It is striking what we don’t find in this Psalm. We don’t find that it is our place to seek out vengeance. We don’t find David seeking his refuge in a political campaign. Honestly we don’t read of David finding any answers in himself, or this world, at all. Rather we find David running to the Lord. It is there that he finds refuge! Even though God is in heaven, his eye sees and it is he who will rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind! God is the one who sets all things aright, and who is the only sure foundation.

Even if the foundations of this whole world are destroyed, in the end we shall behold God’s face!

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A Time To Stack Wood

I heat my home with wood heat, and have for twenty-five years. That means that there is a continual cycle in my year of using up the wood through the winter and then filling them back up again during the spring and summer. It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

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For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace. (ESV)

My wood gathering (although not specifically mentioned) fits very well. I don’t think we have a problem so much with acknowledging the wisdom in these verses as we do with being able to discern what season we’re actually in sometimes. My wood gathering is pretty straightforward, I know when winter is coming every year. Other seasons need to be discerned with more diligence. Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes also wrote this in Proverbs:

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV)

I don’t think anyone would accuse somebody who heats with wood of being lazy. Matter of fact I had a friend joke “and to think, some people pay to go to the gym.” I also love Henry Fords quote: “chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.”

So let’s observe the ant, for Solomon also wrote that “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer.” (Proverbs 30:24) So what do ants do? Some ant species store up food, which they can then eat throughout the winter, while other ant species eat a large quantity of food so that they can put on fat to make it through the winter.

Now, I’m not giving you permission to put on a large quantity of fat every fall, but I am encouraging you to discern the seasons and to prepare properly in advance. Jesus even chastised the Pharisees and Sadducees that they could “interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:3 ESV) Let’s not be found in their camp! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go fill up my barn.

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My New Chalk Line

I have a confession to make, but first you need to hear the story that leads up to the confession.

This last summer on the Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event I was working with a crew on John & Janice’s home. During the project I kept bugging Dalton to use his chalk line. It wasn’t because I am without a chalk line, I think I own about four of them. And it also wasn’t because I didn’t have one with me on the Servant Event. It was just that Dalton’s chalk line was so nice. He owned a brand new Irwin chalk line. Amazon says that this specific chalk line has:

  • Easy Fill & Lock Top – Large, 1/4-turn locking top for quick chalk fill and easy access to reel internals – Easy fill & lock top
  • 100′ Hi-Tensile Line – Stronger for fewer breaks and for use on rough, abrasive surfaces – 2.5X stronger than traditional chalk reels
  • 3:1 Gear Ratio Rewinds line 3X faster than traditional chalk reels
  • Robust Steel Handle and Large Ergonomic Clutch For increased durability, strength, and torque
  • Wide-prong Hook For secure anchoring

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This is not an ad for Irwin, but the thing worked (as my dad would say), “slicker than snot.” Some have accused me of coveting, but I’ll have to leave that for another blog post.

About a month after the Servant Event was over, Eric Bitzer came into my office and said, “Here, I got something for you.” I opened up a package to find a brand new Irwin chalk line just like Daltons! I was thrilled!

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Now fast-forward again. After a time I was looking in my garage for that chalk line and couldn’t find it. I wracked my brain over where I had put that chalk line. Eric had given it to me in my office so I looked everywhere in my office. I checked where I put my chalk lines, matter of fact I even looked all over the floor under where I store my chalk lines in case it fell down behind something. Months went by and I could not find that chalk line anywhere. As we started to get closer and closer to this summer’s Servant Event I was thinking to myself that I was going to have to go out and buy a brand new Irwin chalk line because there was no way that I could tell Eric that I had lost the one that he gave me, and he would for sure wonder why I didn’t use that chalk line during the Servant Event.

Finally I mentioned my predicament to my son Nathan. He said, “yeah, you gave me that chalk line when you were giving me tools.” To which I replied, “you can have a chalk line, but I need that one back!” I was so relieved because the lost had been found.

It reminds me of the “lost” chapter of the Bible, Luke 15. Not “lost” because we lost it, but because Jesus tells three parables about things being lost.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15 ESV)

It’s wonderful to find something that has been lost. Believe me, I’m just tickled every time I use that chalk line (especially because there is such a story behind it now). However, there is way more weight to a lost person being found! Indeed, as Jesus puts it, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” That’s better than any chalk line.

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