September 29, 2013

Laughing Jesus

Laughing Jesus

Our United Methodist Church In Bluff Point, New York, now displays a banner in the sanctuary featuring a portrait of the Laughing Jesus, a constant reminder that the Son of God was also a man.  And laughing is a human activity. 

We rarely picture Jesus as a historical figure involved in human activities like laughing, smiling, singing, shouting, eating, drinking, swimming, running or working as a carpenter. Yet these are the activities that filled his daily life

Though people have been searching for the Jesus of history for centuries, none of us can know what he was really like. We depend on our own imagination based on the accounts of his life and death as recorded in the Gospels.  When we do that, it’s important that we not neglect Jesus’ human characteristics for without them the gulf between us is insurmountable.

But pull Christ off the stained glass window and consider him having flesh and blood like yours and mine, and you will believe in him as a living historical figure who laughed, felt pain, cried and bled, and the gap between us and God is bridged.

German theologian, Heinz Zahrnt, in a book titled The Historical Jesus, makes the point this way: 
“From the very beginning right until the present day the Church has been tempted to stress the “divinity” of Christ so one-sidedly that his manhood threatened to become a mere semblance. God offered Himself in an earthen vessel, but men down the ages have made it into a golden monstrance.”
Accepting the Son of God in an earthen vessel should not be difficult. After all, his life began in a stable.

September 23, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

I was ten years old on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and our family was eating dinner when the music on our radio was interrupted to report the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. The flight commander for the Japanese attack that killed 2,403 lives was Mitsuo Fuchida.

Four months later, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led sixteen B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier for the first air strike by the United States against Japan. Jake DeShazer was a bombardier in a plane that successfully attacked Nagoya but later ran out of gas. He baled out over an area of China held by the Japanese and was immediately captured and imprisoned. 

Despite being beaten and starved, DeShazer turned to Christ while still in prison and forgave those whom he had hated and despised. Following the war, DeShazer entered the ministry, then he returned to the country he had bombed in 1942 and was a missionary there for thirty years. 

In 1948, Mitsuo Fuchida read I Was a Prisoner of Japan, the story of DeShazer’s Christian awakening while in captivity. Inspired and transformed by the irresistible power of Christ’s love in DeShazer’s story, Fuchida became a dedicated Christian evangelist in Japan and the United States.

In 1950, the two men, who once were hated enemies, met for the first time and became close friends spreading Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness the rest of their lives. 


September 15, 2013

Confession

When our Mennonite neighbors’ house was destroyed by fire last year, Nancy and I assisted the family by providing transportation and food. One day at noon, we were invited to join the men who were constructing the new house and the women who were providing the meals.

When I sat down to eat, I found myself sitting with three elderly Mennonite gentlemen.  Most of the older Mennonite population in our area came from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and because Nancy and I lived there for many years, I had more than a few experiences to share with those with whom I was eating.

After twenty minutes, one of the men looked at me and said, “You like to talk, don’t you? Are you a salesman?”  Apparently, I was doing what I often do in a conversation with others . . . talking too much.

It’s time I concentrate on these three simple rules for participating in a conversation with others:
  • Subdue the I. The world is not always interested in my experiences.
  • Be “you” centered. Focus the conversation on others.
  • Do not interrupt.  It is insulting and degrading to the speaker.

According to Confucius, humility is the solid foundation of all virtues, and Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  
"I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps."                        Mahatma Gandhi

September 8, 2013

This Is My Father’s World

With Gettysburg National Military Park as our playground growing up and after visiting many of our country’s National Parks when we retired, the Ken Burns’ series on National Parks was of special interest to Nancy and me.

The series features John Muir, the most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist of the Twentieth Century. Without Muir, it is quite possible the National Park System would not exist today.

One of the most striking things about the series is the numerous quotations by park visitors expressing the notion that God reveals himself through nature. John Muir, for example, spoke often of the spirituality of Yosemite, and Bonnie Gisel, author of several books on Muir, said this about Yosemite: Here was the absolute manifestation of the divine.”

Visitors to Yosemite, Yellowstone and other National Parks frequently report that the majestic and exhilarating vistas they experience create a sense of awe and wonder that is genuinely indescribable. 

Naturalist, author and wildlife biologist, Adolph Murie described Denali National Park in Alaska like this, “It was just like being in Heaven...” Perhaps, the feeling of insignificance and the exhilaration we experience when we visit our National Parks is God’s way of describing Heaven for us. 

The beloved hymn, This Is My Father’s World, is constantly played throughout the Burns’ series. That reality is obvious in our National Parks.

September 2, 2013

Family, Faith and Morality


When I was a child under ten, living in Newark, New Jersey, I got into a fight with a neighbor boy my age.  I don’t remember where I hit him, but it must have been a pretty good wallop, because he went home crying.

Shortly after, my mother called me into the house and asked if I had a fight with our neighbor. When I lied and said I didn’t, the door to an adjoining room opened and the boy I hit and his mother appeared having heard my lie. I don’t remember how I was punished, but I’m certain I was.

Long before we set foot in church, many of us were taught right from wrong from mom and dad, sometimes with painful consequences.    

Dr. W Frank Harrington, former Pastor of the Peachtree Church in Atlanta, Georgia said this about family:
“Family is the place where children learn about honesty, truth, responsibility, right and wrong, about God, how we relate in love to the other members of the family, to our siblings and to our parents and grandparents.”
Dr Harrington also added that “The most natural way to come to faith is to grow up in a family of faith.”

In addition, I believe the most natural way for children to learn about character and morality is to grow up in a family where those concepts are practiced.