Ubiquitous God

During the 6th century, the church baptized time by creating a new way to count the years. Jesus’ birth divided the bc-adcalendar into “before” and “after.” In Latin, BC signifies Before Christ. Anno Domini or AD literally means In the Year of Our Lord.

The politically correct in society seek to reduce all things to the most common denominator. So they substitute BCE and CE for BC and AD—Before Common Era and Common Era. However, the dates still revolve around Jesus’ birth. Who DO they think they’re fooling?!?

The birth of Christ forever bisected history. The Incarnation transformed the very fabric of the cosmos. Not only reality but also each Christian life can be divided into two eras: BC and AD.

We seldom if ever use the word ubiquity in daily conversation. Synonyms for the word include omnipresence, pervasiveness, and universality. The term defines a state of being everywhere and at all times.

Reflecting on God’s ubiquity or omnipresence, Frederick Buechner wrote:

Every automobile bears on its license plate a number that represents the number of years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ. This is a powerful symbol of the ubiquity of God and the indifference of humanity. (Wishful Thinking, p. 94)

The year in every date bears witness to Christ’s birth. Ubiquitous, indeed.

3 Brothers & 17 Camels

camelOnce upon a time a nobleman left 17 camels to his 3 sons. The eldest brother received one-half of the camels, the middle son one-third, and the youngest boy one-ninth.

None of the boys could make the math work. The three brothers argued vehemently about the solution, and no one would compromise. Finally, they sought the advice of a wise man in the community.

After hearing about their dilemma, the wise man devised an intriguing solution. He gave the three brothers his only camel. The boys now had 18 animals. The oldest brother’s share was one-half or 9 camels. The middle son received one-third or 6 camels. The youngest boy’s share was one-ninth or 2 camels.

Add the numbers up. 9 + 6 + 2 = 17! The three brothers returned the 18th  camel to the wise man.

After extensive ciphering and cogitating, I still do not understand how the math works in this story. No doubt one can learn many lessons from the tale. Since my experience with camels is thankfully limited, I might be missing the subtler nuances of the fable.

The most impressive point of the story is the character of the wise man. Rather than viewing the situation as a win/lose confrontation, he sought out a win/win solution. In the end, everybody got what he wanted.

In conflict management, the best resolution occurs when everyone wins. The art of compromise is not an act of capitulation or appeasement. Instead, it takes seriously the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The story reminds us that brothers are always more important than camels.

Such a concept has application for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. In our personal relationships, seeing a disagreement from the other person’s perspective gives us new understanding. Parents and children who talk with each other defuse explosive situations. Marriages endure when spouses think of themselves as “we” and not just “I.” Churches grow stronger when diversity and difference are cherished.

In the best of all worlds, brothers and sisters would never disagree over trivial things like camels. However, I suppose that would make the story a true fairy tale.

 

 

Phonetics

I recently saw the latest, greatest cell phone prominently displayed in a retail store. According to the sign, the pocket sized device could meet every technological need. The handheld computer bore little resemblance to the phones of my youth.

I grew up with a single rotary phone that weighed half a ton. Southern rotary-phoneBell leased the 1960s’ tech for a monthly fee. The company offered a variety of colors as long as they were black or beige. The coiled handset cord put the only “mobile” in “mobile phone.” We shared the party line with an anonymous stranger.

During my teens, Mom and Dad upgraded to four princess phones with rotary dials built right into the handsets. Extension cords to the base units granted an amazing 10 foot arc of movement.

In my thirties, we bought our first cordless phones. The base plugged into the wall but the cordless handset provided limited mobility dictated by the radio frequency’s range. Multiple handsets could use the same base.

Then science fiction became science fact with the advent of cellular phones. The congregation I served owned a bag phone the size of a large purse for emergency use on the church vans. In the early 1990s, my wife and I bought our first car phones with a grand total of five minutes of “free” calling time per month.

Technology continued to advance in a geometric progression. Car phones to flip phones to Nokia phones to Razor phones to Blackberry phones to I-phones. My current smart phone  keeps me wired 24/7/365. Two screens of apps perform every service conceivable and a few I never imagined needing.

I appreciate modern technology and its conveniences; but some days . . .

I miss the single rotary phone of my childhood.

Ash Wednesday

People keep time with a variety of calendars. The calendar year runs from January to December. Businesses operate on a fiscal year. Families with children follow the school calendar. Kindergarten students learn about the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

The church marches to the beat of its own time. The Christian calendar begins with Advent—the 4 Sunday season prior to Christmas. The 12 Days of Christmas celebrate Christ’s coming into the world. Epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism and recounts Christ’s early ministry. During the forty days of Lent, believers prepare their hearts for the events of Holy Week. Easter proclaims that Jesus Christ is risen indeed! 50 days later the festival of Pentecost remembers God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

The annual cycle rehearses the story of Christ and the church. The seasons recall Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian calendar baptizes ordinary time with sacred meaning.

The Season of Lent begins today on Wednesday, March 1. The 40 day season (excluding Sundays) concludes the Saturday before Easter. The somber, reflective time calls Christians to prepare their hearts to hear once again the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

During Lent, many believers “give up” something as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Others “take up” a spiritual discipline or charitable cause in imitation of God’s love.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. During the service, the
minister marks believers’ foreheads in Ash Wednesdaythe sign of the cross. Traditionally, ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds are used. Since Old Testament times, God’s people have observed penitential times with sackcloth and ashes.

During the imposition of the cross with ashes, the minister typically says, Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel. The ashes and words serve as reminders of humanity’s mortality and sinfulness. However, the sign of the cross recognizes God’s gifts of eternal life and forgiveness.

The Christian calendar reminds us that each day is God-breathed. The seasons of the church year rehearse God’s salvation story. On Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey to the cross and empty tomb. During this 40 day journey, we are invited to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Fashion Challenged

Hi, my name’s Bill, and I’m fashion challenged.

I’m not sure when the condition began. I experienced occasional problems dressing myself during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. However, the malady intensified after my wedding day.

My new bride quickly sensitized me to the disorder. After surveying my clothing selection, she would ask incredulously, “Are you REALLY going to wear THAT?” I am as clueless as most men, but even I realized the polite inquiry might actually be a scathing commentary.

ken-doll-clothesThe conversation recurred repeatedly during the first months of our marriage. Finally, I accepted my fashion senselessness. I had also grown weary of changing clothes!

So one day in a Solomon-like moment of wisdom, I said to my spouse: “Why don’t you just pick out my clothes, and I will wear them?” My wife accepted the offer with great relief.

If someone comments favorably about my clothes today, I glibly respond, “I just put on what my wife laid out.” Then we will join in a good laugh—the other person never suspecting that I am telling the unvarnished truth. Whatever vestigial ability I once possessed to dress myself withered away years ago from disuse.

When the apostle Paul sought an analogy for growing in holiness, he chose the image of changing clothes. The Holy Spirit calls us to take off our old, worldly clothes of sin. We are called to don new, spiritual clothes of righteousness.

Paul wrote: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)

This process of sanctification takes a lifetime to accomplish. The Holy Spirit examines our lives and asks, “Are you really going to wear THAT?” Conviction, confession, and repentance follow. We exchange our out of style clothing for something more befitting of the Christian life.

Hi, my name is Bill. And I’m a recovering, fashion challenged, child of God.

Saint Valentine’s Day

valentines-dayThe legends of Valentine’s Day inseparably blend fact and myth. Most scholars believe the holiday grew out of the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. The pagan celebration provided an occasion for all sorts of excess—think Mardi Gras on steroids.

In 496 A. D., Pope Gelasius of Rome attempted to transform the pagan festival of debauchery into a Christian celebration of love. He created a new holy day named in honor of two church martyrs. Both men were named Valentine.

The first Valentine was a priest beheaded in 269 A. D. for assisting persecuted Christians. Three years afterwards another Valentine was executed because he converted a Roman family to the Christian faith. The church later canonized both men as saints.

Today, February 14th celebrates romantic love. Cupids, hearts, candy, flowers, and cards express undying affection for one’s beloved. Even the “Saint” in “Valentine’s Day” is usually missing. Apparently, Pope Gelasius’ attempt to replace a secular holiday with a Christian holy day largely failed!

Our society needs to recapture the spirit of Saint Valentine. In a culture of narcissistic self-gratification and disposable relationships, these saints remind us of love’s true nature. They exemplified the Christian virtue of love in life and death. The martyrs named Valentine understood the selfless nature of love. They put others’ welfare before their own.

Love is not love until it costs something; and true love costs a lot. Real devotion demands costly action. More than a sentimental journey, Christian love is an active, selfless, and sacrificial willingness to seek out the best for others.

Godly love is not based upon feeling but willing. Deep love is not an emotion of the heart but a discipline of the soul. Warm, fuzzy feelings can carry us only so far. Christian love is much deeper and sterner stuff. We love because God first loved us. With such confidence, we can risk loving others.

While most of us will never be martyred for the faith, we can lay down our lives in daily service to others. Simple, daily acts of kindness and thoughtfulness are the most common expressions of love. Hardly the stuff of newspaper headlines, but practical acts of love can transform ourselves and others.

What Valentine’s Day gifts will we give and receive this year? Allow me to suggest something beyond flowers, candy, and cards.

This week we could forgive a grudge, visit someone who is sick, listen to one’s spouse, read to a child, give blood, deliver a meal, provide a break for a care giver, or call someone who is grieving.

Actions that cost us time, energy, and effort are true expressions of Christian love. Such love is both costly and priceless. Anything else is only lip service to an unrealized ideal.

Happy Valentine’s Day—I hope it costs you a lot!

Get Clark Smart

clark-howardClark Howard is America’s profit prophet, master miser, preeminent penny pincher, supreme skinflint, and chief cheapskate. For those unfamiliar with the name, where have you been?!? The consumer advisor preaches ways to save more, spend less, and avoid getting ripped off.

Howard’s syndicated radio show can be heard on WSB 750 AM. He also has a web site that is creatively named www.clarkhoward.com.

Clark Howard is the consummate consumer commando. His expertise spans the spectrum of economic issues. On one phone call, Clark addresses faulty dipstick tubes in hot water heaters. Then in the next segment he knowledgeably discusses 401K plans and Roth IRAs. In between, he talks about legitimate investments and illegitimate frauds.

Howard proudly admits that he sometimes goes to extremes, pinching a penny until Abraham Lincoln screams. He once appeared on national television dressed in a dollar suit bought at a thrift store. The radio personality will walk a mile rather than pay for parking. He also refuses to shop at malls because of the high overhead.

Some simple truths underlie Clark Howard’s consumer advice. Spend less money than made. Save more money than spent. Avoid get rich quick schemes. If it is too good to be true, then it is probably too good to be true.

However, Clark Howard’s advice is nothing new. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, also gave consumer advice. The Anglican priest believed that financial faithfulness was a mark of Christian discipleship.

Wesley gave this simple admonition to parishioners: Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.

LESSON ONE: Make all you can.

No one would argue with this tenet. One of the most misquoted verses of the Bible is: “Money is the root of all evil.” What 1 Timothy actually says is: “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Material resources are a good gift given by a loving God. It is not a question of whether we have a little money; instead, it is a question of whether a little money has us.

LESSON TWO: Save all you can.

Here is where the financial train often leaves the tracks. Spending has a way of expanding to meet or exceed income. People have a difficult time distinguishing between “needs” and “wants.” We are bombarded with credit applications and product enticements. Only the truly disciplined can spend less than they make in order to save.

LESSON THREE: Give all you can.

We are stewards of God’s wealth. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out. When have you ever seen a U-Haul trailer in a funeral profession or a hearse with a luggage rack? Humanity is entrusted with God’s goods in order to help others. We should give until it hurts—then give more until it feels good.

All of us need to get Clark smart and Wesley wise. Make all you can. Spend less. Save all you can. Avoid getting ripped off. Give all you can.

It just makes sense . . . and cents.