I must admit, I am a tattoo addict.
Now granted, I havenâ€™t become an addict like some people, but I really like the two I have — and Iâ€™ve got the itch to get another one (sorry mom).
A few months ago I went with a friend to get his second tattoo.
In the process, I met a great tattoo artist who shared her heart with us and reflected things Iâ€™ve heard said by many.
My friendâ€™s artist questioned the design he was having permanently inked into his arm — a symbol for Alpha and Omega.
This of course opened the door for a unique exchange between us and her.
We were both saddened to hear her say, â€œI know about the Bible, I just donâ€™t believe in Christianity.â€
She told of how she had grown up in a Catholic church and left after realizing the church cared more about buying new carpet and air conditioning for the church, than feeding the hungry people sitting outside the church doors.
She told of how she had spent time teaching in Japan at a Bible school and was actively involved in the church.
After several years of service and involvement she went through a bad divorce and withdrew from God and the church she felt had shunned her.
â€œNot one person called to check up on me,â€ she said. â€œNot one person called to see if I was ok — after all I had done for that church.â€
From this point she fell deeper away from God and began getting caught up in â€œthe things of this world,â€ including her new found addiction with tattoos.
After several months she ran into friends from the church who walked by her in disgust judging her new look and lifestyle.
Now she wonâ€™t even step foot into a church.
My heart went out to her has I knew this was a familiar story to many.
Members of my own family have felt betrayed and forgotten by their churches.
While I donâ€™t excuse any wrong behavior, I hurt for those who feel the church has turned their back on them.
I hurt for those who canâ€™t stand pious Christians — too good to share a pew with someone not wearing a suit and tie, or someone who may have made a few mistakes in their lives.
As Christians we are to love our fellow man — regardless.
As Paul said, He was the chief of sinners, yet Godâ€™s grace saved him as well as us.
When we step out of our bubble and reach out to those around us, whether they have a tattoo, a divorce, three illegitimate children, maybe even someone whoâ€™s had an abortion, we are showing our love for Christ.
â€œWhen I was naked you clothed me, when I was hungry you fed me.â€
Why do we ignore so many parts of the Bible that tell us to love our neighbor?
Is it because we have become to comfortable in our holy huddle and are too afraid to let any dirt in?
Why do we have people who live outside the Christian bubble, like a tattoo artist have to come in and wake us up?
And why are we still not listening?
What will it take for ME and the rest of the church to realize the love that Christ has for everyone, and the love that He asks us to share with everyone?
Iâ€™ve heard it said many times before, the Bible doesnâ€™t command the world to go to the church, but for the church to go to the world.
If we are to reach out to the sinner we must be prepared for the sinner to come and join us in our fellowships.
We must realize that the person sitting next to us is a sinner just like us and we must show them the same love of Christ that someone once showed us.
I pray for my new friend. I pray that something, in some small way will make a difference. I pray that she will take our conversation to heart.
And more importantly I pray that God will continue to work in her and bring his grace to full fruition in her life like He has done in mine.
Last week I caught an old George Carlin show on my new satellite dish.
It’s amazing what a small 18″ piece of metal can do to for an otherwise quiet evening.
Now while I’ve read and studied theology from a number of sources, I never expected to get a lesson in theology from Carlin.
It goes to show that God can use anything and anyone to teach you something important.
Carlin who is widely known for his routine on the 7 words you can never say on television (although recently I’ve began to doubt those are still accurate) gave a very hysterical and fairly accurate viewpoint on materialism.
That’s all it is. Stuff.
“You know why we have houses?” Carlin began. “It’s so we can keep all our stuff in them. And when we buy a new house and we have to buy more stuff to fill our house.”
He continued by saying that if we didn’t have any stuff we wouldn’t need a place to keep all our stuff while we go to work, to make more money, so we can buy more stuff, to keep in the place, where we keep all our stuff.
Oh how true it is.
And when we get too much stuff, we have to go buy a bigger house, to keep all our new stuff.
Then we find out that we have a new room that’s empty, we go out and buy more stuff, to keep in our house.
It’s such a vicious cycle.
I myself have been caught in this rat-race before and if I’m not careful, I can get caught up in it again.
As I’ve been telling my Sunday school class “the reason we buy newer bigger stuff typically, is because we see our neighbors or friends or family members buy bigger better stuff.”
I was perfectly content with the three or four channels my 19â€ television picked up until I kept seeing friend after friend with a 32″ television and 100 channels.
And now that I’ve upgraded to a satellite dish, I can’t pick up KNCT, the local PBS affiliate. I had begun getting very addicted to their documentaries and of course “Austin City Limits.”
Along with upgrading my television options, I’m considering buying a house.
It makes me wonder, am I buying a home as a wise investment or as a place to keep more of my stuff.
The house I have now is great. Granted, it’s right next to the rail road track and I found out last week at the Belton City Council meeting that apparently the majority of people in my neighborhood don’t like renters — but otherwise it’s a great house that holds my stuff.
And I even have a whole extra bedroom room where I can hide my “junk stuff.”
So what should I do?
Should I spend the extra money each month to have my own place where I can do what I want? Or should I be content with the things I have and avoid the worry and trouble of owning a house?
It’s a difficult decision.
Unfortunately Carlin didn’t give any real good theological answers.
Luckily King Solomon did over 3,000 years ago.
As we discussed in my Sunday school class this week, Solomon asks, in Ecclesiastes 6, what good is it to have money and never enjoy it.
“I looked long and hard at what goes on around here, and let me tell you, things are bad. And people feel it. There are people, for instance, on whom God showers everything–money, property, reputation — all they ever wanted or dreamed of. And then God doesn’t let them enjoy it. Some stranger comes along and has all the fun. It’s more of what I’m calling smoke. A bad business.”
One of the members in my class, brought an article to class this week that really illustrated this point.
The article told of a man who had won a huge sum of money and within an hour of wining it, was struck and run over by a car, killing him instantly.
What good was his money?
Now in no way am I promoting the idea of going out and splurging all your money to keep up with your neighbors — Solomon says repeatedly in chapters one and two that that’s only chasing after the wind. But I think Solomon also says to enjoy the blessings God gives you while you can.
“Say a couple have scores of children and live a long, long life but never enjoy themselves — even though they end up with a big funeral! I’d say that a stillborn baby gets the better deal. It gets its start in a mist and ends up in the dark–unnamed. It sees nothing and knows nothing, but is better off by far than anyone living. Even if someone lived a thousand years–make it two thousand!-but didn’t enjoy anything, what’s the point? Doesn’t everyone end up in the same place?”
Solomon says later, “Just grab whatever you can while you can; don’t assume something better might turn up by and by. All it amounts to anyway is smoke. And spitting into the wind. Whatever happens, happens. Its destiny is fixed. You can’t argue with fate.”
So, where does that leave my decision about buying a house or even buying more stuff that will someday fill a landfill?
I don’t know.
Sorry if you were expecting a great revelation from me.
I’m still examining how all this applies to my current situation — and I won’t even bring my desire to buy a Harley Davidson into the picture.
But I do know that above all I’m going to do everything possible to keep from getting caught up in the proverbial rat-race and still enjoy life and the blessings I have each day.
More than 300 million people in the Sub-Saharan Africa make less than $1 a day. This number is expected to rise to 400 million by 2015 (The World Bank).
Every year Sub-Saharan Africa spends $14.5 billion dollars repaying debt to the worldâ€™s richest countries and international institutions. Nigeria debt payments are 11 times higher than the national health budget (IMF).
6,500 people are dying of AIDS each day in Africa, and another 9,500 contract the HIV virus. 1,400 of those contract the disease during childbirth or by their motherâ€™s milk. Africa is home to 30 million or 70-percent of the global AIDS infections (UNAIDS).
AIDS is a preventable and treatable disease. With proper training and involvement, Uganda has reduced its rate of infection from 15-percent to 5-percent (USAID).
4.1 million African AIDS patients are in need of anti-retroviral drugs that allow patients to restore their health and help them to continue living a productive life, caring for their families. Of these 4.1 million, only and estimated 50,000 will receive them (WHO).
Last year during his State of the Union Address, President George Bush committed the United States to sending more aid to Africa to help fight and prevent the spread of AIDS, yet the majority of the money has been caught up in red tape.
And while 6,500 people die each day — we simply step back and say itâ€™s not my problem.
How have we come to a point where we place so little value on human life?
Since 1973, 43 million babies have been innocently killed in the name of choice.
Rulers and dictators around the world have killed millions and millions of people because they disagree with their race or religion.
Yet I continue to read e-mails from people complaining about a war that was fought to protect the rights and lives of the citizens of Iraq.
Do we really value human life, or just the lives of those close to us?
When congressional leaders can argue passionately that the horrendous procedure of partial-birth abortion is an American right, weâ€™ve lost the value and sanctity of human life. And it shows in more ways than one.
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, â€œI said to myself regarding the human race, â€˜God’s testing the lot of us, showing us up as nothing but animals.â€™ Humans and animals come to the same end — humans die, animals die. We all breathe the same air. So there’s really no advantage in being human. None. Everything’s smoke. We all end up in the same place–we all came from dust, we all end up as dust. Nobody knows for sure that the human spirit rises to heaven or that the animal spirit sinks into the earth.â€
Solomon is saying that without revelation from God, we are no different than the animals.
Everythingâ€™s smoke. From dust we come and to dust we go.
At first glance it sounds like Solomon could have been the first animal rights activists. After all isnâ€™t that what they all want?
They want animals elevated to a status equal or higher than that of mankind, while at the same time they reduce the value of human life to nothing more than something that can easily be tossed aside in a time of inconvenience.
I was astonished Tuesday night as I watched the Oâ€™Reilly Factor and heard author Alexander Sanger (“Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century”) tell Oâ€™Reilly that our government should protect the right of a mother to kill her baby as long as it was still attached by the umbilical cord.
The value of life has been cheapened and reduced to something that can be tossed in the nearest trash can at our convenience.
Genesis 1:27 says, â€œSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.â€
This scripture entails all of humanity.
From the living fetus at conception, to the orphan children in Africa, to the aging saints living in a retirement home, we are all created in the image of God.
The Psalmist writes, â€œFor you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.â€
Human life is priceless.
Yet our society continues to put a price tag on it.
If a birth is inconvenient, or if saving a life will raise my taxes, or if I have to make a donation – itâ€™s not my problem to take care of.
How can we continue to ignore the value of life?
We all want a good life for ourselves, our families and those we love — yet we canâ€™t seem to take the time to give value and help to a mother of three, dying of AIDS in another country.
There is so much we can be doing to show our fellow man that we do care and that we will come to their aid.
But before we can do that, we must each look at our own lives and see how much we really value life.
And Iâ€™ll be the first to admit that sometimes Iâ€™m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to loving my neighbor.
So during this month recognizing the Sanctity of Life letâ€™s ask ourselves:
Do we care for the poor orphans in Iraq, Africa or Ukraine?
Do we care about the homeless seeking shelter and warmth under a highway overpass?
Do we care about the poor in our community who need a helping hand just to make it week to week?
Do we care about the unborn children who have no one to protect them or watch over their rights?
Or are we too busy to care and love anyone but our friends, families and ourselves?
I hope that for each of us, the latter is not the case.
In closing I leave you with a statement from United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“AIDS is not only sapping their (Africa’s) today, it is stealing their tomorrow. And it is threatening democracy, prosperity and security all around the world. None of us can afford to look the other way and pretend that the AIDS crisis is somebody else’s concern or that it isn’t a crisis at all. It affects us all. All of us are vulnerable.â€
The last few weeks in my single’s class I’ve been teaching from Tommy Nelson’s book, The Problem of Life with God.
The book takes a close, in depth look at the book of Ecclesiastes, which besides the book of Phillipians is probably one of my favorite books of the Bible.
King Solomon is so brutally honest in the book it amazes me.
He says many things that as a “good Christian” you have to ask yourself, “Can he say that?”
This week we looked at chapter three of the book.
Chapter three is where Solomon really gets honest.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven,” Solomon writes.
Then he begins to explain that there is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal.
At the end of his commenting on life he takes a moment and makes a very human response.
“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men,” Solomon said.
Solomon saw the soveriegnty of God and realized he didn’t exactly like it.
That means that life is going to be ruff and tough and unfair and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’re going to get a call someday saying your parents are dying, you’re going to have a serious tooth cavity and you might loose that great job because of coorporate downsizing.
And Solomon looks at the facts of life and says, “What’s the point? What do we gain from our toil? Why do we work so hard when we have no control over anything in our lives?”
Now that all sounds super depressing, but luckily Solomon doesn’t leave us hanging.
“He has made everything beautiful in His time… I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.”
Solomon looks closer and decides that while God’s sovereignty can be troubling, we can find comfort in knowing that He is in control in all things.
In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, she tells that the one thing she hated most about the concentration camps was the bed bugs.
One day as they’re saying their prayers, her sister instructs her, “Thank God for the bed bugs. Corrie, thank God for the lice.”
She couldn’t understand why. It was the worst part of being stuck indoors. They bit her and made her misserable.
Then a few weeks after her prayer her and her sister began a Bible study in their room.
They feared everyday that the guards would break in and stop them.
She found out later that the reason the guards stayed out, was they were afraid of the lice. The one thing that Corrie couldn’t stand was the one thing that saved her everyday.
Only God could use a bed bug.
So don’t fret when the down times come, because it will all be made beautiful in His time.
It may not make sense that very day, but when the time comes. It will all be made perfectly clear.
And in closing — big props to Heath Peloquin at First Baptist Church Belton.
Excellent message Sunday night. Excellent.
Well, itâ€™s January 8 and Iâ€™ve had eight days to work on my New Yearâ€™s resolutions.
So far, itâ€™s going good.
I must admit, Iâ€™m out of shape way more than I remember.
Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s due to being forced out of my position as co-captain of the Cold Cuts Intramural team, upon graduation in May.
Not that I was in the best shape while I played intramurals, but I sure donâ€™t remember getting this winded after a short run.
I also donâ€™t remember crunches hurting this much either although I donâ€™t remember doing them since six grade gym class.
Iâ€™ve been very tempted to accept my fate as having love-handles slightly larger than the average man.
But then where would the progress be? And where would my pride and ego go if I gave up after only a week?
Change hurts. My abs can affirm that.
But yet I donâ€™t think I can think of a single instance in my life where change didnâ€™t hurt.
Maybe it wasnâ€™t physical pain; it might have been financial or mental stress, but either way there was some sort of pain.
I think weâ€™re seeing that in Belton and Bell County right now.
Thereâ€™s a wind of change coming. People are beginning to realize what many of you have known your entire life.
And thatâ€™s why we continue to see more and more people packing up and moving to Belton in droves.
I think thatâ€™s great. Iâ€™m glad itâ€™s not the other way around. Iâ€™m glad people arenâ€™t packing up and leaving Belton in droves.
In the next 24 months, weâ€™ll see some major changes in Belton — and it will hurt.
There will be road construction on I-35 (hopefully). There will be new roads constructed and Les and his crew will continue working to maintain and update streets throughout the city.
New stores and shopping centers will be built.
Something will be done with our current jail/ courts situation (and Iâ€™m still hoping for that Christmas wish).
The citizens of Bell County will hopefully see the need and benefit of building the new facilities on Loop 121, rather than forcing the county to lease jail space elsewhere or clogging up downtown Belton anymore.
BISD is looking to expand the High School and update several campuses.
The students, teachers and staff wonâ€™t enjoy working around the construction Iâ€™m sure.
I know those students, teachers and staff wonâ€™t enjoy working around the construction work and we wonâ€™t enjoy paying an extra $5 or $10 a month on our taxes, but in the end weâ€™ll all appreciate the hard work we all did together.
I also believe that in the end, if the voters approve the new bond issue, the county as a whole will be very pleased with the new county facilities moving to Loop 121.
I think weâ€™ll all be pleased that we can find parking in downtown Belton again and I know the judges, clerks, attorneys and others will greatly appreciate the added security and room to grow.
Now we could sit back and reject the change. We could say â€œNo, Iâ€™ve had it. Weâ€™ve changed too much and I want Belton to stay as it is. The change just hurts my pocketbook too much.â€
But what we had always said that?
I donâ€™t think Belton would be the place weâ€™ve come to love.
Iâ€™d hate to think that Billy Smithaâ€™s grandkids had to walk four or five miles to school — like he did — just because there was only one school for minorities.
Iâ€™d hate to think that we didnâ€™t have the privilege of beating Temple every year in sports, because some people didnâ€™t want to change the high school to from a 4-A to a 5-A classification.
Just like my abs hurt and my legs ache after I work out, these changes will hurt, but I canâ€™t wait to see the results.
Iâ€™m also looking forward to achieving my other resolutions.
Iâ€™ve already noticed a difference in my thoughts and talk after a week of scheduled Bible reading.
Sure I donâ€™t like getting up earlier. But making myself take those few steps from my bed to my Bible make a world of difference in my day.
A friend once told me, â€œThose few steps from my bed to my desk each morning, are the most important steps I take every day.â€
Yes, itâ€™s cold in the morning and my new down comforter makes my bed even more desirable, but disciplining myself to take time reading Godâ€™s instruction manual is well worth the effort.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church: â€œWe rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.â€
In other words, donâ€™t rejoice and be happy just because things are going good â€“ rejoice also in suffering and in change and in hurt, because it produces character and hope.
So while the next 24 months may be frustrating â€“ and you may continue to say to yourself, â€œI didnâ€™t ask for these changes,â€ letâ€™s work together, for the betterment of ourselves and the community â€“ and give change and progress a chance.