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Archive for the ‘Mercy’ Category

I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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There is so much to be thankful for. James 1:2 says we should “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials”. God’s ways are consistently counter and frequently appear odd to us. But accepting and even giving thanks during trials produces “endurance” and renders us “complete”. (James 1:3,4) The trials of Jesus were for our good (Hebrews 5:7-10).

Can scars be beautiful?
My Lord's certainly are
So rich in mercy full

Can troubles lend a hand?
My Lord's saved me from hell
By His strength I now stand

Can temptations bring good?
My Lord's perfected Him
I cling more as I should

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I had another few moments of reflective insight upon waking this morning. All kinds of things bubble up when the pressure is only released for a few moments. It works for uncapped sodas and beleaguered minds alike.

Yesterday was an odd day for me. I was questioning my long-term purpose continuing where I am, doing what I am doing. For many years that was not a question as I felt confident as to my whereabouts and ‘whyabouts’. On top of that, my lesson plans were not the most gorgeous pedagogy, rather boring to be frank, and not having the time or creativity to fix it this time around. Add to that the fact that for some reason, for which I had no clue of at the time, I didn’t feel well. In this state of mind and body I experienced what is not an uncommon pair of interactions with two students.

The first interaction happened about noon. This class has informed me that they don’t want me to say “Good morning” when they arrive in class at 11:35 AM, but instead, “Good mid-day.” In the middle of lecture, I stood off to the side preparing to interpret what was on the screen in front of us all. I felt slightly nauseated and when I looked at the screen my eyes were sufficiently blurry to not be able to add memory (1) and read what it said. I took my glasses off to see if they had some outrageous smudges on the lenses and clean them anyway since I can’t really see them. The students were still copying the screen so that there was not an awkward moment. One student nearby looked up at me, having had me a previous semester, had read my facial expressions many times, and said, “Are you OK, Mr. F?” Rubbing my eyes and replacing my glasses I quietly said, “No.” She replied, “Maybe you should sit down.” I was struck by the utter kindness in her words and tone of voice. I was also secretly chuckling at how old a grey-bearded 59 year-old must seem to a 16 year-old. I was able to recover by using my peripheral vision to discern the screen and continue and a few moments later at my instruction the students were working away quietly on a worksheet practicing the concepts that we had just gone over. I went and sat down and the girl came up to my desk and asked if “maybe you need to go see the nurse”, followed by “did you eat breakfast this morning?” (2) There was nothing but concern in her face, demeanor, and words, and I thanked her several times before the period was over.

After lunch, blurriness gone, I entered my last period of the last weekday. Students filed in to and with “Good Afternoons” and other comments about the day. One surly student entered at the last minute, wearing his hood and plopping down demonstrably at the bell. I don’t allow hats and hoods on heads in my classroom and he regularly pushes this rule and grunts when I would say, “It’s not raining in here, ___”. This day I could tell that he was in a particularly bad mood, so I thought to wait and ask privately or let it occur to him from my sideways glances. I know that this expectation is considered deeply old-fashioned and inexplicable to most people, but I think that it is a matter of respect. (3) Once again, upon reflection, I figured out why this student was non-verbally resisting. He had been told, no doubt moments before, of his lunch detention for a fourth tardy to my class yesterday. If this were the only or rare exhibition of disrespect toward me from this student, I could have totally ignored it, but I had also had him another semester, and this was the regular fare he serves up. I try to be patient because he is under significant pressure I believe from parents and siblings and friends to “make something of himself” through success in education. He has a good mind but not an excellent ability, so to succeed he must struggle and work hard. Interpreting what I see, I’d say his bad attitude results from much extrinsic motivation but little intrinsic motivation, daily lessened by the pressure of the extrinsic forms. I am probably among his least favorite teachers because my expectations require either that you prove through testing that you know the material or work and organize hard enough and consistently enough to convince me of your learning. Either one will garner a B, but only both precipitate an A. Therefore, his extrinsic motivations get turned up a notch because he is not willing or able to live up to my expectations, though more effort on his part would solve the problem.

These two deeply contrasting interactions within the span of an hour and a half have triggered my reflection on interaction between people. And in fact, I had intended to comment on this previously (“Review of what we should have learned” #2), and am self-chided for not completing that thought. So, in quick fashion, I intend to say what I believe to be several GLUES (Good Lessons Underpinning Effective Society) of Society. Society here means “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends”, and in particular I refer to that kind which is “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another”. (4)

These two students teach us what we already know to be two required underpinnings of society: respect and kindness. We will forever battle, literally and verbally, if we do not hold these two expectations of ourselves and our fellow citizens. Respect should be for a minimum of two reasons: 1) All people deserve it because they are made in the image of God (5), and 2) Those in authority: a) government servants including elected officials and police, to name a few, b) those who work for our good such as teachers and preachers, fathers and mothers, and c) elders (6). Without interacting layers of respect a society cannot function with civility.

Kindness and mercy, which includes forgiveness, are the only ways past the juggernaut of hatred and fear that propels us to quarrel and be defensive even when there is no offense real or intended.

Additionally, a society must be characterized by truth in order to long endure. I fear our society will not long endure into the future owing to the fact that we have shed all modicum of truth either as a concept or in practice.

The two areas of the practice of truth that I think are a minimum requirement are the rule of law and integrity. I don’t say justice because human government may not even be capable of that in any real and balanced way. Rule of Law it seems to me is a consistent, that is, not fickle, determination to approximate justice in the black and white and gray areas of human ignorance on what constitutes real justice. (7) Some will argue that if we merely follow God’s Word, justice will always be done. I retort that God’s Word is absolutely true and just but our laws are evidence that He did not illuminate us on every detail of how to carry out His justice, though the principles are all there. It is most certainly due to our blindness and rebellion that we do not carry out His law, but that is where we are nonetheless.

Integrity is a term that seems vague to most people I talk to. They simply say it means honesty, or the more astute say it means honesty when no one is watching. Though true, these two definitions fall short of the deeper meaning that a society needs to function. Integrity involves an internal consistency of thought and action based in worldview that makes honesty the unassailable default mode. To put it simply, a person of integrity can’t lie (8) because his/her worldview comes unglued. As an illustration, a student told me that she was telling the truth. In reply, not really questioning her honesty but questioning her integrity and view of herself, I asked, “Do you ever lie?” She thought a moment and slowly replied, “I have.” I pointed out to her that she must, by in large, be an honest person, therefore, because she admits to the human condition that we all lie. (I John 1:5-9) Without integrity there is no good reputation, so where do I take my car to be worked on and do I ever receive change from a cashier without counting it?

How could I make such a list without love. “God is love.” “Without love I am [we are] nothing.” “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (9) Love holds together everything: self, family, friends, communities, nations. It stems directly from God’s nature and is the greatest need of mankind.

And there you have it, my ideas about the GLUE of Society: Kindness, respect, rule of law, mercy, truth, integrity, and love.

Now this list could go on and I hope the reader will comment with your candidates and reasonings for including other ideas, but I think these seven GLUES can be reduced down to two found in Proverbs 3:3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” And these two are not dichotomous in nature, whereby you can’t hold one while entertaining the other. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin, whereby you cannot truly have one without the other. As a fellow citizen, yea human being, I cannot truly be kind to you if I do not tell you the truth. And I cannot really be true if I do not communicate and interact in kindness, because you cannot accept it and real truth is always kind by instructing us for our good. And these two can be further be reduced to just love, because it is an essential attribute of God, but not the only one. And that last little clarification is the the reason I think we need to discuss seven or more GLUES for our life together (10) and stop here.

  1. “add memory”- For those of you with good eyesight that means looking at something blurry but being able to discern from size and general shape what it must read.
  2. I told her that I did not know what was wrong and that I had had a good breakfast. Upon later reflection her prompting caused me to realize a possible cause of the episode. I had eaten eggs, sausage, almond meal pancake spread with almond butter missing one ingredient I usually eat that brought carbs to about zero. I have hypoglycemic tendencies from my father. When I ate lunch at noon the blurriness subsided in minutes.
  3. Few know its real meaning. Even this balanced article only hints at the real reason in ignorance: https://www.thespruce.com/etiquette-of-hats-indoors-1216685 I will likely get push back for communicating the real reason, but here it is: I Corinthians 11.
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/society
  5. Ah! there is a sticking point and reason for decay in our society: lack of respect for and subsequent acknowledgement of Creator God.
  6. I am saying more in the footnotes than in the article, but putting it here hopefully prevents bogging down the main points of the article: Romans 13, I Timothy 5:1,17
  7. Victim’s rights balanced with mercy is something I am seeing more that only God can pull off both because of His omniscience and His omnipotence. (This is getting fun to see how many legit. footnotes I can make.
  8. A person of integrity cannot lie ultimately or consistently and will at some level come back around to admit to any lie stated or acted out.
  9. I John 4:8, I Corinthians 13:2, I Peter 4:8
  10. But since this is not a theological treatise on the character of God, I will leave that for your Scripture reading and systematic theologies.

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If desperate times call for desperate measures, then tremendous provision calls for tremendous thanksgiving. Our youngest grandchild was born just over a year ago with heart problems. He had major heart surgery about 9 months later. Though small, he is now growing and happy with good skin color. It is amazing that he is alive and progressing. His father decided that in the light of God’s gracious provision of his child’s safety and health and the many people who showed concern, helped out, and prayed that a birthday party might not be enough. Instead, he decided to invite anyone who had been even distantly involved to come for a half day celebration of his son’s life and God’s goodness. 50 people responded that they would come. In the time my wife were able to be there, from 1-5:30 PM, the people came and went at a steady but reasonable pace for meet and greet. Good conversations, good food, and many stories of God’s goodness abounded.

After a year of multiple hospital stays, procedures, tests, and surgery, it is good to see the little man at home, content, and growing. God is good even when things are hard, but we celebrate His goodness when He is gracious to care for us with such largesse. His all sufficient grace is good and praiseworthy and full of joy.

In retrospect, I wish that I had taken pictures of the many people who came, but my few good pictures are of my own family gathered to encourage and give thanks. Also, notice that the little guy is almost always serious. He will go to anyone, probably because he is used to being held by nurses, but he takes a serious look at whoever picks him up.

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First Arrival Greeting

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Mama Talk

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Very Involved Sister

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A Few Moments Together

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Close Siblings (He smiles more often with his sister than any other time.)

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A Story and An Inquiry

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Intense Little Video (Uncle Time)

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With Uncle and Aunt

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With Those Swingin’ Uncles

Gift from a Pilot

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Odd picture: It must be blurred because I was shaky. Her face must be in focus because her movement matched my shakiness. That gives it a cool sense of motion.

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Healthy and Happy

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Mamaw Loves Those Grandchildren

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Some of my friends have already seen this or were there, but others might benefit from what this video has to say. I had the privilege of preaching at my church this past Sunday. I felt led and carried along, so that I believe it is a message that God gave me. I give Him the glory for anything of profit therein. It is a message for the church of America. I hope that you will take the time to listen to it:

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The book of Jeremiah describes dark and somber scenes because God’s judgments are determined for a people who simply will not repent. We in America and the American church seem to think sin is not a problem, either because we think that we haven’t committed anything worthy of death, we have a free pass to sin, or God doesn’t exist or isn’t paying attention or is powerless to respond or has a character which is some version of twisted love that does not include justice.

As my Sunday School Class looked at the 2nd and 4th chapters of Jeremiah yesterday morning, I was struck by the ongoing recalcitrant refusal on the part of Judah to repent. God extended warning and offers of mercy numerous times before and during Jeremiah’s ministry, but the people and the leaders refused. For example, consider the last minute offer of mercy that God extends to Zedekiah when the Babylonians are outside the wall besieging the city: “Then said Jeremiah to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Hosts, the God of Israel, “If you will indeed go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, you will live, this city will not be burned with fire, and you and your household will survive. But if you will not go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then this city will be given over to the hand of the Chaldeans; and they will burn it with fire, and you yourself will not escape from their hand.”‘” (Jeremiah 38:17-18) He did not surrender.

And it wasn’t as if God hadn’t proven that He could and would punish Judah. Jeremiah’s ministry extended from approximately 650 BC until the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, well after the Assyrians destroyed Samaria in 722 BC and resettled Israel’s inhabitants for years afterwards as God had warned through His prophets.

How had these people gotten into such a state of failure to repent. I saw from the early chapters of Jeremiah that Judah had many failures to repent though no lack of opportunity from a merciful God.

Judah had

   1) Forgotten God’s mercy and grace   (“I brought”, “forgotten Me” 2:6-7,32)

   2) Failed to call on God in their difficulties .  (“They did not say” 2:6,8)

   3) Forsaken God and His Law   (“did not know Me”, “transgressed against Me”, “changed their glory” 2:8,11)

   4) Forged their own way .  (“hew for themselves cisterns”, “drink the waters of the Nile…Euphrates” 2:13,18)

   5) Fallen from God’s favor .  (“you will not prosper”  2:37)

If these warnings were just historical notes, then we might not need to pay close attention. But judgments are certainly determined for U.S. as well, if we do not repent. And the longer we resist God’s offers of mercy in the Gospel which is preached, taught, and lived out before us in this country, the less God will listen: “…I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.” (Jeremiah 11:14)

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