Category Archives: Christian Faith

What If?

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God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

Billy Graham

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Photo credit: Merlin Halteman/Shutterstock

What if you one day found yourself alone? What if—through no fault of your own—the family you were raised in drew away from you? What if your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren, were too busy with their own lives to take the time to visit you, or even to call? What if no cards came from them at Christmas? What if all those friends who promised always to be there for you were too far away or too busy to spend an afternoon on your porch, share a meal, or to visit your house?  (Imagine a table for eight with seven perpetually empty spaces.) What if you couldn’t get to church because the weather was too bad, the snow was too deep, or you were too sick with a cold or the flu to risk exposing the congregation? What if you—despite your best efforts—always found yourself alone on every major holiday, every Easter, every Labor Day, every Christmas, and every New Year’s day, often even in a room full of people, friends and acquaintances? What if you were a Christian in an increasingly secular world? What if you suffered the soft bigotry of disassociation? What if the only other voice you heard in a single day was your own echo? What if every rock of your life suddenly turned to sand? What if your walk in life was a solitary one?

What would you do? From whom and from what would you draw the strength to get out of bed in the morning?  Whose hand would take yours every day, especially when you needed a reassuring grip? Who would listen to your troubles, joys, your blessings, your stories? Who would tell you some of his own? Who would keep your daily company?

On this Easter, I reflect upon the many millions of people who find themselves in this situation—so distant from their fellow man. Modern life, with its abundant distractions:  iPhones, iPads, headphones, podcasts, radio, and television, has almost perfectly engineered a pallid, prison-less solitary confinement.  I can experience it any day and every day, and I watch as others do the same.  No one, it seems, has time to talk, to be a true friend. I wonder sometimes if true friendship is a fanciful conception one outgrows in one’s childhood, at best by the time one graduates from college. I guess I didn’t. 

Rough and tumble from time to time, growing up at the beach on Fire Island in the summers, suburbia and a great big farm in the woods of Bucks County (The Farm) in the winters, Huckleberry Finn was my hero. I lost myself in Sunken Forest, the fields, woods and streams of the Farm. The kids with whom I attended grade school with were always eager for adventures—we always were—and they didn’t leave me behind, even when I came back from surgery.  No, they wheeled me all over town that day, so much so that my casts created quite a rash that evening. My best friend still is one from grade school Imagine that!  Hank, I have known him since I was five years old.  

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Photo credit: Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock

In ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.

Mark Twain

About to crash land into 60 years of age, I have so many elderly friends, men and women at least twenty years my senior to whom I have reached out and who have reached out to me for companionship, comradeship, kinship. I find it curious the average age of my friends is in the neighborhood of 75. Perhaps it has to do with complete acceptance of each other as we truly are. After all, it’s a bit late to stand on the youthful stage of pretense. Some can barely stand at all. Some are bedridden, delicately, ever so delicately crossing into their late 90s, some trundle along at church with canes and walkers. All have the most interesting, poignant, sometimes sorrowful, assuredly engaging life stories, especially the veterans, if one takes the time to listen. Listen.  Time to reflect and listen, truly listen. I am so grateful to each of them for what they have taught me along the way.  When one of them passes, as unfortunately happens from time to time, I erase his or her earthly address from my Outlook contacts and replace it with Heaven. Why not? I am quite sure not a one of them will not be there.

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Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.
-Doug Larson

On this fine Easter morning—one so sunlit blue, bright and refreshing that I have the true feeling of spring—I reflect, as I think of the cardinals whom I spy daily all over this island, as I listen to their songs: I think of our risen savior, Jesus Christ, who gave his life that we might have eternal life. Has He not been my companion throughout my life? Has he not made himself known to each of my elderly friends? I reflect upon Christ’s lonely, agonizing journey to the cross, one burdened with the foreknowledge of the Hell He would have to endure on our behalf. Most of all, I reflect upon His precious gift to us, to each of us. He gave his life for you, for me: John 15:13 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

Just like my swift-winged friend the cardinal—a bird I have loved all my life—Jesus accompanies me daily and He has been with me throughout my journey, even in the depths of crushing despair.  So, on those mornings when I find myself alone, which is most of them, I reflect upon Jesus gift to me, the meaning of His life, His wisdom. His song.  Rather than immerse myself in self-pity, I understand I must reflect and listen. The drama of the cross occurred 2000 years ago; although its portent resonates throughout the ages, to find Christ in this cacophony one must quiet oneself.  Jesus is surely with me now, but He is quiet, discreet, unobtrusive: To see him, to hear him, I must reflect and listen. He might draw my attention to him with a cardinal’s flight or melodious song, but to hear it I must listen. 

Sandman

 

 

Kindness

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Mark Twain

I routinely go up to the altar to pray in church after I have listened to Pastor Eddie’s sermon and as the congregation is signing the last hymn. I use the time to pray for family and friends, Pastor Eddie, and the congregation, as well as to confess sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. Often, my confessions and prayers lead to tears, as they did today. I am not embarrassed about my frailty in the moment; it is cathartic. I let the Lord lead me, as I did this afternoon.

For the past few months, I have been walking up to the altar feeling an uncomfortable weakness in my legs, a result, I am sure, of my having sat too long—months at a time—and exercised too little, not daily as I should have. Others may not notice it, but I feel it most definitely. My footfalls are increasingly tentative. Time will tell if I can rebuild my strength. For now, I will leave the situation in the Lord’s hands.

As I was walking up to the altar this afternoon, a bright young lady—in all senses of the word— arose from one of the pews across the aisle with the same idea in mind that I had. For whatever reason, she wished to take my hand and to travel as a pair until it was time to kneel. At first, I was taken aback by this most unexpected gesture on her part, not knowing what to make of it. I knew it wasn’t a romantic gesture as much as a courtly one. Be that as it may, the epitome of kindness will forever be represented in my mind by her simple desire to take my hand at that moment.  I will forever remember her smile and the contagious joy she radiated.

Sandman’s Fifth Rule of Chivalry: If pretty girl takes your hand, let her. (I’ll pass on the first four rules, as soon as I have written them down.)

Unbeknownst to her, I had wrestled with feelings of abject loneliness throughout the night, spinning in my bed from side to side all night long with Raleigh to the right of me and Georgia on a pedestal at the foot of my bed. Both cats, it seemed, were doing their level best to make sure that I knew they needed me. To be clear, this feeling wasn’t despondency, nor even close to what Pastor Eddie refers to as “the dark night of the soul.”  I just have to feel, and if I do, I am going to feel with an intensity which scares most, but not me.  I am glad I do. Feeling even profound sadness proves to me that I am still very much alive, and that I have a soul.

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As the day began, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it through church without falling asleep during the sermon—as I had embarrassingly done last week.  Throughout the service, I sipped some iced tea, hoping the caffeine would provide enough of a lift to get me through to the end. Thankfully, our church secretary had asked me to read scripture, Mark 14: 32-42, and the fear of wanting to do it well also contributed to keeping me awake. (You can Google the scripture.)

I was struck by this beautiful young lady’s kindness toward me this afternoon, and I have thought about what she did ever since I left church. She made my day a happy and fulfilling one by shifting my focus. The first thing I wanted to do after church, if I had the chance, was to thank her, which I did.

How often do we go through our days so wrapped up in our own lives that we never stop to be kind to someone whom we don’t know or don’t know well enough?  How often do we bless others with our words and actions?

Thank you, my dear friend, for bringing joy to my heart today.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit at op of page-holding hands: lightpost/Shutterstock)

Parkland

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After a tragedy as horrific as the Parkland shooting, many among us wonder, “Where is our God?” A great friend of mine, a/k/a (“Curmudgeon”), posed just such a question in one of his morning emails. With his permission, I share it with you, as well as my reply:

I have been thinking a lot recently about the religious implications of the recent Parkland shooting. This in part was stimulated by watching a recent spot on TV showing Billy Graham looking heavenward, and saying with all the emotion he could muster over and over, “Jesus loves you… Jesus loves you.” I thought to myself, “How could this be? How could He allow those innocent children at Parkland and Sandy Hook to be slaughtered if he ‘loved’ them?”

Christians will always retort, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Well, that sure is a mysterious way in my book. If God wanted those children to be with him in heaven, then why not simply ascend them into heaven as was done with Jesus, so sayeth the Bible?

Anyway, I do not put these things forth as a challenge to you or your religious faith or beliefs. I thought to myself that this subject might provide a backdrop for one of your blog posts? I am sure that I am not the only one who has had these thoughts cross their minds. To me these horrible events simply do not mesh with the miracles recited in the Old and New Testaments.

Your friend,

The Curmudgeon

My reply—with some editing for clarity—was this: 

Dear Curmudgeon,
When horrible things like this happen, I always remind myself that however horrible they are, they are, after all, the acts of men.  Man has turned his back on God, and yet, always wonders where God is in moments like those of the Parkland shooting.  The Bible is replete with stories of man turning away from God—bad things happening—and then man turning back toward God.  As one who has spent the majority of his life making his living by interpreting both the letter of and the spirit of the law (you), I say it’s time to look to both the letter of and the spirit of God’s law. Were not the Ten Commandments, the original basis of all our laws? Our major universities have done a magnificent job of removing the fundamental pillars of the legal foundation of this country.  

Just look how far from the teachings of the Bible we have strayed: Look how few people go to church; how many divorced parents there are; how many broken families we have.  What about the births out of wedlock? How about our refusal to properly restrain our mentally ill? Look how cheap a value we place on the unborn. They are disposed of like scraps of meat, their organs sold for parts in an open market. All this is condoned by the majority of society, because it actively condones it, or it condones it by its silence. So when you say, “How could God let this happen?” (Paraphrasing.) The first thing I say is “How could man let this happen?” How can we let this happen? And yet we let it.  I can’t really write about this in my blog, because some of these ideas are not mine. They belong to a young man who was a summer intern at Sharon United Methodist church. He preached them to us in a sermon. At least, that is the way that I remember it. (On second thought, maybe I’ll just give him credit.) Thank you Spencer, wherever you are.

Look at what we have just learned about the sheriff’s department in Broward County. As it stands now, it looks like up to four deputies stood by and did nothing in the crucial moments during the shooting when they could have intervened, taken out the shooter, and ended the bloodbath.

I can’t give up my faith. I’ll never give it up. I live by it, and faith in Jesus Christ has served me well.  Jesus is mine, because I claim him, and I am surrounded by his love. The first question I ask myself before any action is “Am I living more in accordance with the Lord’s Commandments?”  Just think how different society would be if more people embraced His teachings.  Even if one were to prove that God did not exist, and Jesus were a fantasy, how different would the world be if everyone’s first act was to love his God with all his heart, mind and soul and to love his neighbor as himself.

Have a blessed day,
Sandman

 

(Photo credit-top of page-Church: Betty Shelton/Shutterstock)

Cancer

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“Cancer.” No one likes to hear that word, unless it is followed by the words “You are cured.” Or, “Your cancer is in remission.”  In early December, I heard that word. Cancer. The word struck me with a fear greater perhaps than the deadly power of the disease itself. A veteran of many surgeries over the course of my life, I have learned that I am only granted a reprieve between the last one and the next one. The first one occurred the day that I was born, saving my life and making sure that my parents had a family of four and not a family of three. Since then, I have had twelve. I think the number is high, but those who deal with burns will tell you that it is nothing. The same for war wounds.  I humble myself before these brave souls.

Apparently, or so the doctors thought, I had what appeared to be a cyst in my right kidney that could have been cancer. The doctors proceeded along the line that it was cancer. The thought was that a portion of my kidney would probably have to come out, or even the whole kidney, even if it were not cancer. I also had something going on in the left kidney, but it was too small to be a problem at the moment. After the initial shock, about 24 hours, I asked “Why me?” After all I have been through in my life—all the surgeries—four alone on my back, the Lord had me wondering. As I wondered, I could feel myself becoming angrier and angrier. Angry with God. I wasn’t quite at the state of disbelief in Him, but I was angry at God. Furious with the Lord. Not a good place to be. I had to let my work go that week. I just could not concentrate—not on work, not on anything: “How long do I have? Will I die soon? Does anyone care? Do I care?”  I seriously had thought I would never get cancer. Friends have died from it. Two of my uncles died from it. My father died of cancer; others in my family had had it, but surely I would be spared, or so I thought. Vanity.

Struggling that week just to put one foot in front of the other—making sure that only a select few people knew until I was ready to tell the world—I spent time looking around at all my books and thinking I should start giving them away. Giving everything away! By Saturday of that week, I had had enough. Suddenly remorselessly fatalistic, resigned to fate, I had given up. “If the Lord wants me, he should take me.” That is what I growled to my brother. “Would I go to church that Sunday? Would it matter?” God had let me down. Thirteen surgeries later, I felt I had kept my end of the bargain, entering every one thinking it would help me, make me well, restore my freedom of movement, improve my vision, just to name a few of the goals. Saturday night I went to bed depressed, despondent, ragefully angry, and furious.  It didn’t keep me from sleeping, but church would be a wait and see for me.

Rising that morning, I resolved I would attend, because I had nothing else. What would I do instead? Sleep in with the cats? Go to a mediocre brunch, sit by myself and think about how long I had? Church, I resolved, church it would be. Good to see my friends there. Always the tonic of laughter around the table at Hardee’s. Good to see Pastor Eddie, maybe ask for a healing. Prayer warriors would pray over me, as Pastor Eddie would make a moist cross on my forehead by dipping his finger in water from the Jordan River mixed with Brunswick Country water. I had been a prayer warrior for others confronting cancer—seen their lives extended—now I would be the one to be prayed for. “You must get up and go.”

Once aboard the ferry, I sat down to read the morning’s tweets on Twitter, something I do daily, looking for headlines upon which to follow up, if need be. If it wasn’t a tweet by Thomas Sowell, then it was within the first three tweets. I think it was the first. Franklin Graham had posted Mark 4:37-41. Here it is for the uninitiated:

Mark 4:37-41King James Version (KJV):

37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?  39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?  41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?  

Reading this tweet, here I was sitting aboard this ferry on the upper deck directly behind the pilot house—crossing the Cape Fear— its normally wavy waters motionless as a mill pond. As a looked over the starboard rail on the lower deck back toward the island at the stillness before me, I realized that my storm had passed; my blind rage had ended: Here was Jesus saying, “[H]ow is it that ye have no faith?” The Lord reassured me in the tranquility of the morning, just as Jesus had done with his disciples. Was I not one of His disciples? To be sure, He wasn’t saying, “Sandy, you have been spared” No, He was saying, “I am with you.” Reassurance full of fortitude with a divine healing power all its own.  My great friend Joe has reminded me of this in the midst of my diagnosis

Joshua 1:9 King James Version (KJV):

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

So, as we entered the marina, I felt a new sense of assurance, resolve and determination, knowing that whatever lay ahead in this life’s journey, my Lord had once again shown Himself to be true to me, as He always has. It was I who had—once again—foolishly doubted Him.

My wondrous friend Billie had long ago introduced me to this Bible verse from Ephesians:

Ephesians 6:10-18 King James Version (KJV):

 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, at ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;  15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints[.]

She expressed her feelings this way on that particular morning five years ago: “Every day when I get up, I like to put on the armor of God.” Profound then. Profound now. Was this crossing under the watchful eye of the Lord not arming me for the battle ahead?  To rousing applause, I opined as much in church later that morning. “Armour of God.”

As I felt Pastor Eddie’s calming finger form a cross on my forehead and all the love and prayers of my friends and fellow parishioners surround me that Sunday, I was glad that I had not given in to my misdirected rage and self-pity the night before. Whatever this life had in store for me, I would face this cancer challenge with renewed strength, courage and wisdom. 

My family and most of my friends know the good news by now, shared via a post elsewhere, but for those who are wondering, I include a portion of it here:

[Eighteen] days ago, I had it confirmed to me for the second time that I do not have cancer. This gives me more time to do the Lord’s work, and that is exactly what I intend to do. I don’t care if I am one[,] and the only one, I will fight for this amazing God whom I serve until I can fight no more. I have fought so many battles in my life and struggled to survive. I won this one, but will ultimately lose, as will we all. Vanity makes you think you have time. As we begin our journeys into old age, I leave you with these words from John Wesley [first taught to me at the close of a church service by my mentor, pastor and friend] Eddie Hill:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley

Blessings to all,

Sandman

(Photo credit-top of page-Sailing: cdrin/Shutterstock

 

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

This afternoon I rediscovered the draft of an old blog I wrote a long time ago. It began, “Tonight, I find myself asking the question: “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What quintessential belief does one have to hold in order to enjoy the right to call oneself Christian? Strange, but I’ve never really asked myself the question.”  Now, I cannot stop thinking about it, especially as we live in an age when one’s appearance is valued so much more than one’s character.

First, I think you have to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.  You have to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God.   You can’t just say, “I believe in what he believed in,” or “I follow his teachings and try to live by them.”  To me, that’s not good enough.  (Maybe for you, but not for me.)  Not only was he a rabbi, a teacher, prophet, he could perform miracles, the first account of which appears in the Bible at John 2: 1-11, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding:  John 2:1-11 King James Version (KJV)

2 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

You have to embrace the miraculous.  Jesus dealt in the supernatural. If you do not believe in the divinity of Christ, then to me, you’re not a true Christian. You still may endeavor to live by Christian principles as expressed in Jesus’ two commandments: Matthew 22: 37-39 King James Version (KJV):

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.  39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  

If you truly live by these principles, however, meaning you believe in God, and you love Him with all your heart, soul and mind, then you have to take it on faith that Jesus was His one and only son, the intercession between Himself and his creation, man.  I cannot get involved in absolute proof that Jesus existed. I do not need to, because I have accepted through faith that he did exist and through faith that he performed miracles in my life and in the lives of others, and he continues to do so through this day.  This point is where you lose a person who instantly becomes a Doubting Thomas:

John 20: 25 King James Version (KJV):  25 ….But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.  

He or she wants proof and without faith, there is no proof. I would argue that faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, my faith, has shown me proof.  Not that I looked for it, but here is my proof: 1. I believe Jesus put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me and give me strength and courage at my father’s funeral.  (Even there, I had already acknowledged divinity to believe that he was behind me.  2. More recently, I believe that he met my friend Carol at her hospital window when she, who had lain bedridden, rose to walk to the window–where she died. Her last words, “It’s so beautiful!”  3.  I have seen further evidence of his presence in my own life when I was dying of a septic infection: My last words to the surgeon who removed a toxic kidney stone from my kidney before I went under anesthesia, “May God guide your hand.”  After I had recovered, my primary care physician told me he had been thoroughly impressed by the skill of the surgeon, that what the surgeon had done was “a one in a hundred shot,” retrieving the stone the first time he tried. How else is that possible, except by the guiding hand of the Lord? At the time, I said, “[m]ay God,” but as I grow in my understanding of the Bible, I percieve it was Jesus’ hand that healed me.

To be Christian then, one must fully embrace faith in a divine Jesus Christ. One must believe, first.  Believing one must then strive to live by Jesus’ two commandments as expressed in Matthew 22: 37-39.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit at top of page-fish symbol: Thoom/Shutterstock)

Leap of Faith

Pondering my faith low these many weeks during my travels, this came to me as advice to a dear friend who is struggling with her faith. With two small additions since sending it to her, I thought it could apply to me, to you, to all of us, and so I share it with you:

B: 

Merry Christmas to you! And a very happy new year!   There will be challenges for sure, but you will rise above them and you will prosper!

Think of the great journey that lies ahead as one that leads to all good things.  Continue to embrace your faith and faith will embrace you.   When you cannot not carry it, you will find that it carries you.   At first you will be a student, and then you will be a teacher. At first you will teach, and one day you will become a master in the pattern of the Master.

Let go of the endeavors that are not working.  In so doing you will make room for the wondrous miracles to come.  In the broadest sense this is the leap of faith.  Before you can refine the gold, you must first dig it out—nugget by nugget—of the earth and the rock that surrounds it, An arduous job for sure, but one you must undertake.   The fear you have known is not God’s gift. This is God’s gift: Isaiah 9:6 KVJ: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit-top of page-Cross on wood: Images72/Shutterstock)