Perhaps my Shih Tzu is typical of the breed. Since I’ve only had the one, I don’t know for sure. I have nothing to compare her to.

When I acquired her a few years ago, they told me she was a lap dog. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She does not lay in anyone’s lap. When my wife has a blanket over her legs, the dog will lay on the blanket beside her leg. Not on her lap.

I’ve tried, plenty of times, to scoop her up in my arms and just cuddle her. Nope. She’ll stay for all of fifteen seconds, then she’s squirming to hit the floor. So much for a lap dog.

She’s an independent lady. She needs me to put water and food on the floor for her. She needs me to open the back door for her to go relieve herself, or to sit in the sun, or to chase away the squirrels and pretend she’s the guardian of the house for a few minutes. But other than that, she doesn’t need me.

Until it thunders.

When the first rumble of thunder hits, she is a different dog. She comes running! She will jump up in my arms and tremble until I wrap her up and hold her against my chest. And, amazingly, she can lie quiet and still for thirty minutes. She’s so helpless and gentle when it thunders. She lays her head in the crook of my arm, and for a while it feels like love. But, I kid you not, if the thunder ceases for any length of time, she comes alive and twitches out of my arms and hits the floor. Independent again. Needs nobody!

I ponder the possibility that my relationship with God mirrors the one I have with my Shih Tzu. I’m terribly independent. I need very little attention.

Until it thunders.

I’m not into sci-fi television shows. But that’s not to say that the ideas behind some of them are not intriguing. I surfed upon one recently whose premise gave me a spiritual connection.
The series is about parallel universes. Like time-travel, only weirder. If you can grasp the idea that two universes could overlay each other, and that you could dip in and out of one, into the other, then you would like the show.
It was that idea – of overlaying universes – that intrigued me spiritually. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this earth” (John 18:36). We read many things about the “kingdom of God.” Is it a reference to heaven? No. Is it the church? No.
Imagine it as a parallel universe. A parallel kingdom. In Jesus’ kingdom, there are no limitations. There are no time constraints. There is no sickness, no fatigue, no pain. In His kingdom.
But in our kingdom there is pain, and war, and sickness, and hatred. Our kingdom is made of steel and glass and wood and fabric. It is locked into logic and reasoning. It is action and reaction. His kingdom is stardust and mystery and love and peace. His kingdom is not locked down by the laws of gravity, or subjected to the laws of physics. His kingdom is not limited to 24 hours a day.
Oh, if there was a way to slip out of our kingdom, our universe, and slip into His kingdom – how wonderful that might be! Imagine being able to transcend the laws of gravity… no, the laws of reasoning and logic, and slip into a parallel kingdom when the unthinkable is possible!
Perhaps that’s what Jesus was trying to say when He told us things like, “Anything is possible to him that believes” (Mark 9:23). Or, “Whatsoever you ask in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13).
Paraphrase the second chapter of 1st Corinthians, and use the word “kingdom” when Paul speaks of “this earth,” or “natural man.” It would go like this:
Vss. 3,4 – “I was with you in weakness, and fear, man’s kingdom… but my preaching brought you a demonstration of the Spirit (Christ’s kingdom).”
Vs. 7 – “We speak the wisdom of God’s kingdom as a mystery…like a hidden kingdom which God ordained before this world – man’s kingdom – ever came into being”
Vs. 9 – “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the heart of man to understand the things of His kingdom which God has prepared for those who love Him”
Vs 14 – “The natural man of this kingdom cannot understand the things of the spiritual kingdom… they seem foolish to him. They are discerned only spiritually.”
Get the idea? Overlaying kingdoms. Man’s kingdom. God’s kingdom. “Thy kingdom come,” we are supposed to pray. Not for some future kingdom yet to be established on the earth. His kingdom already exists. It’s here. Right here, right now. You can’t see it. But it’s here.
We need it to come to us today. We need to be able to find it in our hour of need. We need a way to get there.
In the movies there is a black hole, or a penetrable wall, a place, a way into the alternate universe. In Christ’s world, what? How do we get from our painful kingdom into His glorious kingdom?
There is a thin barrier between our kingdom and God’s. But there is a door. I’m not speaking of Christ, who is the door between man and God. I’m talking about prayer.
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much!” James wrote. Then he reminded us that Elijah, “a man such as us,” prayed, and caused the heavens to stop sending rain, then to send it again. Imagine that! Elijah found the black hole between the universes. He slipped out of man’s into God’s. And the heavens were at his command.
Prayer is the door that allows us to transcend man’s kingdom, to temporarily leave the pain and sickness and fear and rage, and slip into the kingdom of peace and miracles.
So, if you need a miracle today, pray. And realize that as long as you’re thinking of reasons why God would not answer your prayers, you’re still treading in man’s kingdom. Pray till the door opens. When it opens, and for a moment you slip over to the other kingdom, all the rules on this side will be suspended. On that side, in that world, God’s kingdom, “all things are possible to him that believeth.”

We preachers are guilty. Male or female, black or white, regardless of denomination or education, whether we wear a robe or a shirt, we’re all guilty.
Of what? you ask. Glad you asked.
We’re guilty of filling boxes and blocking the door with them.
I’ll explain (by picking on my wife, a little). She collects holiday decorations. Not a little. A lot. Half of my garage is crates and boxes of décor. As we enter the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, those boxes will rotate with Easter, Valentines, Halloween, birthday, July 4th, and other assorted, labeled boxes.
There are so many that occasionally I complain that I can’t find the door into the house. I have to maneuver around them, squeeze between her car and the current holiday, to get in. When I punch the garage door button in my truck, I groan at the sight.
Jesus called Himself the door. “No man comes to the Father but by me,” He said. If you would know God, the one, true, magnificent, unknowable, incredible God, you must know Him through Jesus Christ. He is the door.
The church is not the door. Doctrine is not the door. Preachers aren’t the door. Sunday School isn’t the door. Your denomination isn’t the door. Your theology isn’t the door. Your wisdom isn’t the door. Your tradition is not the door. Only Jesus is the door.
But we preachers… oh, we preach. We preach about antichrists, and bad habits, and “Five Ways to Succeed.”
We preach our dogma. We preach our party line. We make sure our listeners know why our church is the best, or the only one that’s really right. We’re subtle, but we’re clear.
We encourage, and sometimes demand, that our members bring a guest. Build the church! Build it big. We pray to expand! We select colors. We form committees. We decorate for the holidays. We argue and debate the right bread, or wine, or clothes, or props, or liturgy, or advertisements. What makes our church look good? What’s the best way to get attention?
Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. And more boxes. We preach boxes full. We design and decorate, and each design must reflect our doctrines properly. Boxes. We pile them up. Boxes upon boxes.
In one of his books, Jim Cymbala told a story of a particular service at his church. A guest had spoken of Jesus, and the transformation He had made in her life. At the conclusion, several people wanted prayer, and he prayed with each of them. He prayed till he was tired. It had been a long day. He was ready to wrap up and go home when he saw a homeless man shuffling down the aisle toward the stage.
He intuitively reached in his pocket for his money clip because he knew the man was coming to ask for a few dollars. But instead, the man pushed his offered money away. “I don’t want money,” he told the preacher. “I want to know that Jesus that woman just told about.”
How long has it been since you told someone about Jesus? How long has it been since you suggested that someone open that Door, and let Him in?
We are quick to offer boxes. We will give money. We will invite to church. We will promote a speaker, or a series, or even a book.
But what everyone needs is to find the Door.
Do we even remember where it is?
Is the Door so hidden by our boxes that it’s difficult for anyone to find?
Have we convinced ourselves that our boxes are more important than the Door?
Please, Lord, help us de-clutter.
Help us find Jesus behind the boxes.

When the Bible repeats a theme, it’s worth taking a look. Doors are a repeated theme.
Here are 5 doors of decision. Each presents us with a choice, a pictorial understanding that, with God, there is a right side and a wrong side. A choice to be made.
The Lord told Noah to build one door in the ark. Just one. If it is true that Noah worked on the ark for 120 years, then that means his generation had 120 years to decide which side of that door they would be on if, indeed, it did start to rain. None chose the right side. Only Noah and his family members were on the inside when “the Lord shut” the door. Noah and his family might have become weary with the task. But when God sealed that door, fake ids.they were safe! Everyone else was lost.
A couple of angels were inside the door with Lot. He stepped “outside the door” to try to reason with the homosexual activists when demanded that he “share” his guests. They knew he wasn’t “one of them,” and might have killed him if the angels had not reached out and pulled him back to the right side of the door. To prevent the mob from breaking down the door, the angels blinded them. Scannable Fake ID,They didn’t convert them. They were beyond conversion. The angels simply protected Lot until it was time to rescue him permanently from Sodom and Gomorrah.
In his final attempt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, Moses commanded his people to kill a lamb, and then paint the door frame (the doorpost and lintels) with the blood. When Death came to Egypt in the night, if the blood was on the door, he would “pass over” that house and spare the firstborn. If there was no blood, he would kill the firstborn of that house.
The blood of a lamb. On the door. When judgment came, the death angel would not peek inside the door to qualify what kind of person lived inside. He would not hold a debate with the dweller about his theology. He would not examine his fatherhood (or motherhood). He would simply pass on. Judgment was completed… at the door… by the blood of a lamb.
Jesus (the Lamb of God) said, “I am the door.” Not one of many. Just “the door.” No one can approach God – the invisible, unknowable, mysterious God – unless they approach Him through Jesus Christ. That’s what He said. No one. If anyone tries, he is a thief and robber. No prophet puts us in God’s realm. No man. No angel. No other deity. No theology. No Bible. Only Jesus. Simply Jesus. The Way. The Truth. The Life. The Door.
Perhaps my favorite verse in the Bible, Rev. 3:20 simplifies salvation to the relationship it was meant to be. Salvation is not a theological persuasion. Salvation is Jesus Christ. “Look, I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus said. “If anyone hears my voice, and opens to Me, fast Fake ID,I will come into him and dwell with him, and he with Me.”
Holman Hunt painted a classic picture of Christ knocking at a door. Careful inspection shows that he neglected to paint a door handle. It was intentional. Christ won’t open the door to your heart. He just knocks. It must be opened from within, by you.
But if it is… if you do open your heart to Jesus Christ, your life will be transformed by His presence! Church does not transform your heart. Preachers cannot transform you. Doctrine and knowledge? No. Nothing else is presented in this way. He knocks. If you hear Him, you can open.
He doesn’t knock on Sunday’s only, at the end of a sermon. He doesn’t work a couple of hours a week. He is always knocking. Even this moment, He is knocking.
Open the door today.
You’ll be glad you did.

What do saints look like? Would you be surprised to know they look a lot like you? Saints are not carved in stone in Rome. Those are merely statues. The apostles called the church members of their day “saints.” People like you and me. The word simply means “set apart for God’s service.” “Venerated.”
Saint Billy walked into a church service where I was the pastor. He sat down on the back row after I had already begun preaching, and almost instantly he was crying. As soon as I dismissed, he slipped out and was gone! Ushers had missed him.
I was a young, new pastor building a new church. I needed people! We didn’t get his name or contact info. It bugged me that we had no way of contacting him.
The next Sunday, after I had begun my sermon, he slipped in again, and, as before, he began to cry quietly. And we missed him again! I told my ushers if he ever came back to tackle him. The third Sunday in a row he came, and we were prepared. Needlessly, it turned out, because this time he stayed. He wanted to speak to the pastor, and he invited me to breakfast the next morning.
We met, and after brief introductions, he told me a story. He was a truck driver. Khaki-wearing, calloused-hands truck driver. He drove a regular route, knew his customers along the way. A few months ago he and a waitress had carried their usual flirting to the next step. They decided that they would hook up on his return trip and spend the night together in a hotel down the street.
He was excited as he pulled out of the parking lot to start his run, but he was also nervous. He had never cheated on his wife. He wondered what his kids would think if they ever found out. By the time he reached the ramp to the interstate, he was already regretting his hasty, lustful decision. Aloud in his truck, he groaned and said something like, “Lord, what have I done?”
Almost immediately a bright light blinded him. The light filled the cab of his truck. And then, he told me, he knew it was Jesus! This blinding light Jesus told him he was forgiven, told him to simply not stop at the truck stop on his way home, and told him to bless his family, take them to church, and He would bless Billy. Wow, I thought, glancing at my watch. Then, the punch. “When the light vanished, I was gripping the wheel, and an exit sign was coming up. I knew my route. I had driven 45 miles and never knew it. Jesus was in control.”
I was polite. I glanced at my watch again. I was ready to move on. He must be a wacko. “I started visiting churches when I got home,” he continued. “But… He… wasn’t there. Each week I would visit a different church, but I knew what He felt like, and He wasn’t there. Until I visited your church three weeks ago. I slipped in and sat down, and the minute I sat down, He sat down beside me.”
Well, now I’m starting to like this guy. After all, if Jesus is promoting my church, who am I to argue? He came three weeks in a row to be sure. Now he wanted to know if he could bring his family to my church. So he and his family began attending my church.
A few months later, I received a phone call from a local hospital. Billy’s son was in a life-or-death battle. He had gone to school with a headache. A fellow student offered him an aspirin. In second period, his headache persisted, so the friend gave him 3 or 4 aspirin. Only they weren’t aspirin. The boy had taken some Valium from his mother’s medicine cabinet. He let another friend in on the prank, as they called it. By the time auto shop class came around, Billy’s boy had swallowed a dozen or more Valium, and he was barely standing.
The kids hid him from the teacher, treating him like he was drunk. Someone had a vial of acid used on some battery experiments, and he grabbed it like orange juice and chugged it before anyone could react. He collapsed instantly, bleeding, and unconscious. An ambulance sped him to the hospital.
The boys confessed. Billy’s son was in a precarious state. They needed to pump his stomach, but they could not risk anything in his esophagus because the acid had eroded his throat and esophagus. Basically, they were siphoning off blood and waiting to see if he would wake up.
At some point a doctor mentioned 12 hours, and Billy noted that as if it was gospel. Twelve hours later, with no change, he begged the doctor for any kind of hope. The doctor just told him they had to wait for him to overcome the drugs. Twelve more hours. They were just stalling, but Billy was counting the hours.
Somewhere between 24 and 36 hours, after a doctor had already warned that even if he pulls through he may not be able to speak, Billy asked me to come back to the hospital. He knelt on one side of the boy’s bed, and asked me to kneel on the other. He reached his arms across the boy’s body and asked me to reach over and interlock our arms across the boy’s chest. I did. The nurses were awkward. Everyone was awkward. This was the most desperate father ever! He wailed. He cried. He prayed. He reminded God of His goodness. He begged.
Finally, he released his grip on me, and we stood and embraced. No change in the boy. Long after I had left, a nurse was checking the monitors, and a voice behind her said, “I’m thirsty!” She turned to see who it was, and it was the high school boy himself, sitting up, staring at her. He wondered where he was, then repeated, “I’m thirsty.”
She ran out in the hallway and yelled for the doctor whom she knew was just a few rooms down. He came running, probably assuming the boy had died. When he walked into the room, he said he couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know anything to do at the moment but put a tongue depressor in his mouth and look at the throat that wasn’t supposed to be speaking. He turned around amazed. “The boy says he’s hungry,” he exclaimed, wiping a tear. “Somebody run across the street and get this boy a hamburger.”
And they did. And he ate all of it, and drank the coke they brought with it. No evidence of acid. No death. No funeral. Just a truck-driver dad laying his arms across his boy, reminding God of His goodness, and begging a little.
A saint, if you please. A saint in khakis.
An ordinary man. Like you.

If you’re a wimpy blow-hard posing as a Christian, stop reading now and go back to your television show. There’s no point in continuing. You won’t understand it, you won’t like it, and you’ll probably have to call someone after you read this to comfort you and calm you down. So I’m saving you the trouble. Just stop reading and go back to your TV.
The rest of you who are still reading might want to grab a Bible and double check some of the stuff I’m about to tell you. We Christians in America have watered down God until He is barely a reflection of us. He certainly isn’t God. He’s an image, a figment of our daydreams of utopia, a picture on a wall, a statue on a dashboard, or a piece of jewelry around our neck, but He’s not God. No sir! He’s a slogan. He’s a sound-bite.
But really, a god is something to be in awe of. A god is something you fear. A god is something you obey. You tremble when a god walks into the room. “The devils also believe, and they tremble,” wrote James. But not us. Because our god is a sweetheart. He knows that we’ve had a hard day, and He just wants us to feel good in the evening, to go to bed with a smile. Our god sympathizes with us when someone is rude to us. We can just feel his warm embrace. Why, some Sunday nights our god knows that we’ve had such a rough week he just shows up at our church to slobber all over us and gush with delight over his little children with their little pouty lips.
I don’t know who to blame. I could start with us preachers in America. God, we’re a pathetic mess! Captains of the ship Wimpy. Cowards. Hirelings. We need the income, we need the little bit of importance we feel on Sunday when a handful of people come to hear us speak, and we’ll trade our consciences to keep the applause and the salary.
So we carefully skirt around tough issues. We do our best not to take a side.
We say stuff like, “I try not to judge.”
Or, “You know, there’s no point in turning people away from Christ by being mean.”
Or, “I’m just trying to love everybody.”
Or, “I’m not a theologian, I’m just a student of the Bible just like you.”
Or, “Jesus loves us all, black, white, Muslim, Christian, Jew, gay, straight… He just loves us all.”
Really? Does God simply not hate anybody? Even mass murderers? Child kidnappers?
This generation of American Christians doesn’t have the same understanding of God that the forefathers had. Try getting this bunch to read Proverbs 6:16 and watch how they explain it away. Those verses say: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17   haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19  a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who a sows discord among brothers.”
Pardon me if my eyes aren’t as keen as yours, but it seems to me that the Bible just said “God hates.” And not only is He capable of hating, He doesn’t do that American thing of “hating the sin but loving the sinner.” He hates the sinner. Did you see it. It didn’t say that He merely “hates discord.” It said He hates the “one who sows discord.” The one. The person. Gasp! Did you just see that God is capable of hating a person who schemes and lies and sows discord?
Think that’s an isolated verse? Think again. Here’s what David had to say: Psalm 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. 5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
Wow! This God of love is doing some serious hating. He hates “all evildoers.” He “abhors (hates) the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
“What would Jesus do?” some little sophomoric sound-bite Christian intones with a smug smile. I’ll tell you what He might do. He might start screaming, pick up a few moneychangers’ tables and flip them upside down, scattering their money and their caged sacrifices all over the floor, and then grab someone’s whip and start popping it in their ears until He drives everyone out of the temple!
In Luke 12:49 we see Jesus in action. I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
We Christians in the once-free America just couldn’t learn to hate, so we condoned the sin and the sinner. We opened our arms and our hearts to show everyone how loving we could be. We wanted the whole world to know that we don’t judge anyone, and we don’t judge their sins, er, practices.
We ran to their side when they stumbled, void of the grace of God, smeared with the stench of sinfully deliberate choices, and we told them that God still loved them, just the way they are. And then we forgot to tell them to repent. Why, that might have sounded judgmental. So we just loved on them, and although we didn’t get the bile of sin washed away, since we can’t do that, and only God can when we repent, we just sprayed so much Christian cologne on them we masked the smell of sin. For a while. But now, the stench is coming back, and we’re running out of cologne.
The scripture has a description of us in 2 Peter 2: “17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.  For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them  freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
What’s that? That doesn’t fit your image of God? Why are you still reading this? I told you to go back to your TV in the first paragraph.
The “gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” for empty souls who promise freedom, but are bound to sin themselves. I wonder who “reserved” the place for them? Some bigoted Christians from a previous millennium? Or a God, who will be a judge, who hates sin, and hates the sinful, and hates those who lie to them and promise them God’s favor without the need to repent and quit sinning.
Even the woman caught “in the act” understood that the grace of a loving Savior did not end with a sweet hug and a “go do whatever you want to do.” It ended with a kind Savior saying, “Go, and sin no more.” Don’t do it anymore. Repent. Change. Stop. Sin marks you for judgment. Sin puts you on the wrong side of God. On the hating side.
We are reaping what we have sowed in America. We have bred a generation of sinners who think they’re saved because God just can’t hate anyone, and He surely can’t send anyone to hell.
The last hour of the Gentile age is described in 2 Thess. 2:9 The coming of the lawless one [antichrist] is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Those who “refused to love the truth,” and “had pleasure in unrighteousness…” will be blinded by God, judged by God, banished to an eternity of hell by God. You have to wonder how much blood will be on our hands because we played church and religion games instead of preaching the timeless message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
Sin is a stench. Sinners who continue to sin, who choose to ignore the truth, who love the pleasure of their unrighteousness, are on the wrong side on God. They’re on the hating side of God. Somebody ought to tell them.

My eldest cousin, Rosie Carpenter, passed away. As we visited with old relatives and friends, it was refreshing to recall old memories. Or not.
“Remember when you…” a story would begin, and then, straining to remember, struggling to find a sliver of that story stuck somewhere in a back room of my mind, alas, I could not. “Are you sure I was there?” I found myself wanting to ask numerous times.
The funeral home should win an award for the way they prepared Rosie. She was absolutely beautiful! They took her back 20 years! Standing at the casket, looking down at her beautiful face, a few memories did come back.
I was just a boy when she married my cousin, Dale. He was 10 years older than I, tall, handsome, quiet, and good-natured. I thought of him as the quiet gentleman my mom always wanted me to be. And Rosie? Well, Rosie was beautiful and hot! I was only 9 or so when she married Dale, but I was old enough to know hot! And she was.
My brother and sisters would go to Houston and spend a few days with Dale and Rosie (they were old enough), and they’d come back with photos of water skiing trips and trips to the beach, and Rosie was tanned and… did I mention, hot?
But, of course, we all age, and she became mom to two great boys, then grandmother, and great-grandmother. Banker, tax clerk, Sunday School teacher, bass player… she was quite a talented and gifted lady.
And looking at her this weekend I realized how much is really lost when someone of age dies. A generation of memories goes drifting by, and we hardly pause to notice.
Who’ll be here to tell the tales in a few years? No one. And that’s the sad part.
My brother and sister and I took a few minutes to run by the nursing home before we went to the funeral home. We visited with our mother for a few minutes as she hunched over a plate of food, not really knowing what to do with it. She moved food carefully with her fork from the plate to a cup, then back again. She put together one or two sentences, but they went no where. Just a blank stare from a mind that has lost all memory. She reminds me that there are worse ways to lose memories than by dying.
Still, as my wife and I passed through Kaufman on our way back home to Houston, I said, “I wish I had listened to more details from my mom when she told me about her family coming to Kaufman, riding in a wagon, to buy groceries and supplies, and to church.”
But I didn’t listen well, and there’s no one to tell the stories now.

“Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen.” Those are the words of the prophet Zechariah, written to foretell a dark time coming to Israel. While the prophecy has nothing to do with our loss of a great man today, the phrase is gripping. If the mighty cedar is fallen, what hope is there for the lesser fir?
Indeed, the mighty cedar has fallen. V.E. “Buddy” Hall passed away this morning. Last week his wife fell and broke her nose, and this week he had to have a cath and other tests in preparation for a liver transplant, and in spite of a rough week, he wanted to be at church this morning. Church was in his blood.
“Heart’s good,” the doctors had said after the cath. Yes, as good a heart as I’ve ever known. If you ever needed a picture of the Christian man, you could just look at one of Buddy. A model in every way: an excellent husband, father, grandfather, brother, employer, church member, and friend.
In our church’s early years, he was the benevolence program. I could appeal to the church for benevolent help for some hurting families, and quietly Buddy would come afterward and say, “Let me know what else is needed,” and then, whatever else was needed, he would help.
In 35 years, never a cross word, never a criticism of anyone else, never a judgment, never a complaint. Just a strong man who lived with a strong discipline and dedication to God. There is a reason a plaque hangs by the door of our church’s fellowship hall naming it “The Buddy Hall.” He was our cedar.
And now, the cedar is fallen. We firs are trembling.
Our feet will travel the path of the cedar, in time, and we can only hope that in our day we can have the courage, the character, the conviction of the cedar, Buddy Hall.

The church was robbed.  It’s the third time in a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t bad this time.  They just stole underground copper wiring, about $3,800 worth.  We lost the use of our youth building for a week.  We’ll replace it this week, and move on.

It gives you pause, wondering what kind of person steals from a church.  I guess it shouldn’t be any different than stealing from an individual, but it seems worse, somehow.  Churches aren’t rich. They spend everything they bring in.  Our small church has only around 200 people coming to it, and we gave over $23,000 last year in benevolent gifts.  Throw in another $10,000 for missions and volunteer staff food and gifts, and we look pretty generous.  We give. It’s the heart of a church.

So to be robbed seems such an unnecessary violation.  The thieves would have to take the copper to a reclamation site, and that business would know that they didn’t come by that copper wire honestly, so they would only offer them pennies on the dollar.  They might have made $300!  Who knows?  I guess for 20 minutes’ work, that’s not bad.  But if they had just come to the church and told us they were destitute, they might have gotten more than that, and they wouldn’t have had to steal it.

I mused about such things last week, and then chuckled to God about the nature of a thief.  I sensed God whispering back to me, with a smile, “Nothing to do but forgive and move on.  I do it all the time.”

“You do?”  I was genuinely incredulous.

“Sure.  Folks rob me every week.”

I should have seen that one coming.  But I bit. “Seriously?”

And then I turned the pages and read the account again.  “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”  It’s in the Old Testament book of Malachi, 3rd chapter, verses 8 and 9.

Well, some folks were pretty high and mighty about what they’d do to those thieves if they caught them. “Low-life punks!” snarled one.  “I’d like to get my hands on them,” growled another.  I sure hope they’re contributing to their church.  It would seem pretty hypocritical if they’re not.

But then I thought, wait! We’re not under the Old Testament Mosaic law.  So is anyone really robbing God that way these days?  And, of course, Paul’s words came ringing:  ” The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).  And there it is, plain as day!  God loves a giver.  Oh, yes, it says “cheerful” giver.  But you can’t miss the “giver” part of it.  Makes you wonder what He thinks about non-givers, doesn’t it?

At any rate, the church was robbed this week.  I hope it was only copper wire that was stolen.  But you never know.  There’s all kinds of thieves.

“What were you thinking of?” she whispered as she turned and fluffed the pillow, and snuggled against his chest.

“To be honest?” he said, his arm under her cheek, his breath caressing her forehead. “There’s this woman at work with a drop dead gorgeous body, and sometimes I picture her when we’re making out. What about you?”

“My ex-husband. I mean, don’t misunderstand, I’m glad I left him, but he was much better at this part of our life than you are.”

SERIOUSLY! Are you nuts? Do you really think you can tell every stupid thought that goes through your brain and come off looking like a nice person?

Years ago in my struggling-to-develop ministry, with a church that was sometimes divided over issues, I got tired of people coming to me and saying, “Can I be totally honest?” Like, what was I going to say? “No, I’d rather you lie your head off”?

I got to the place where I started saying, “Only if I can be honest back.”

I discovered that when people ask, “Can I be honest?” what they really mean is, “I’m fixing to be very rude to you and insult you, and I’d like to get by with it by calling it honesty.”

If you haven’t learned it yet, marriage doesn’t always require total honesty. It’s like that Geico commercial where the narrator asks, “Was Abe Lincoln really honest?” And then it shows Mrs. Lincoln asking Abe, “Does this dress make my backside look fat?” And he studies it, then holds up his fingers in a pinch: “Just a little.” And she storms off with hurt feelings. At least they got it right. Some honesty hurts. And it’s not necessary.

I don’t want my wife telling me she wishes she had married someone else, even if it’s true. She doesn’t want me saying, “Just a little,” even if it’s true.

That doesn’t mean we have to lie. Jesus was a master at redirecting. When He was asked things He didn’t want to answer, He didn’t blurt out the truth. He often countered a question with another question. He redirected the conversation.

The classic might be the woman caught in adultery. Her accusers told Him, “We caught her in the act. Moses’ law commands us to stone her. What say you?” If He tells them to let her go, they’ll fry Him for heresy against Moses’ law. If he questions her guilt they’ll remind Him she was “caught in the act.” Instead, He just said, “Let he who is sinless throw the first stone at her.” He redirected their attention. Now instead of looking at her sin, they had to look at their own. Clever!

It’s a good trick to learn in marriage. It might work like this.

“What were you thinking of?” she whispered as she turned and fluffed the pillow, snuggling against his chest.

“I love the feel of your breath on my neck,” says the silver-tongued fox, grinning in the darkness.