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.”

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.

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.

I get to my favorite breakfast joint this morning just wanting to relax and enjoy my coffee and solitude. My heart still smiling from last evening’s wonderful Christmas program which my daughter produced, I wanted to write a thank you note, and just reflect on a great day.

But the greeter was nowhere to be seen, and no waiter came to me, so I finally just picked up my own silverware and headed to a table of my choice. I sat reading for ten minutes before someone noticed me, and came apologetically. I brushed away his apology. He serves me often, and he is a great waiter.

It’s a slow morning in the restaurant, so you’d think the few customers would get sterling service. But I heard a lady complaining to the manager that her bill was “forever” in coming. When she left, the manager huddled his waitstaff over in a corner and chewed them out. They were not there to talk to each other, he sternly rebuked. They were there to pay attention to the customers’ needs. They scurried away when he finished.

The three men hurried to a station by my table, and two of the women darted into the kitchen to grab waiting trays. But the third woman rushed to the bathroom with suddenly-flowing tears.

One of the men near my table whispered ugently to the others, like a soldier calling a helicopter rescue for the wounded, “Server down! Server down!” There was compassion in his voice.

I mused at his use of the word “server.” He had not said it derogatorily. He just said it as fact. Server. He knew what he was. He knew his role. He was there to serve.
I watched the bathroom door for her exit, and when she emerged a few minutes later, the tears had been wiped away. There was no hint of “server down” as she tossed smiles to customers on her way to the kitchen.

None of the other waiters spoke to her, but one by one, as they passed her in the doorway to the kitchen, or by the coffee stand, they would slightly pat her arm, or gently squeeze her shoulder. I watched these people give silent messages. With a touch, they were saying things like, “Hang on.” “It will get better.” “Don’t quit.” “Make it through the day.” They said it all with quiet touches and gentle pats.

In a small way, I related to them. And I admired them. They were servers. Still serving on a thankless day.

I enjoy watching the bowl games at this time of year.  Young men on their way up in the world of football.  They’re playing to win a game, but they also know the eyes of scouts are on them.  The pros are watching.  Their future could be hanging on a great performance.

This football season was the first for my young grandson.  It was fun to watch him, to wonder if he’ll play in high school, or in college.  It was fun to watch his transformation, suddenly wanting to “muscle up,” and becoming much more conscious of “team.”

But I think the most joy this football season has brought me has been watching my grandson’s mother (my daughter) go through her own transformation.  This was the woman who a year ago might have said, “Ewww, don’t touch that bug, it’s nasty.”  Or, “Look how dirty you are.  Get in there and clean up, young man.”  She certainly said, “You be nice!”

This woman paced the sidelines after the first game or two, and yelled things like, “Hit him!  Don’t let him knock you down!  Move your feet!  Block him out!”   She would deny it under oath, but I swear I heard her say, “You better hurt that boy!”

Now I know she didn’t want her son to be violent.  And she knows nothing about football.  But after she began learning a little, she at least realized this:  If her son just stands there, he’s going to get his head knocked off.  And he’s going to let the team down.  So he must be aggressive.  He must be strong.  And he must understand the objective of the opponent, and stop him.

It’s a good object lesson for Christians.   So many of us are just standing around, posing.  We look like players, but we’re really just wearing the clothes and looking pretty.  Meanwhile, the enemy is charging over the line, wreaking havoc on our teammates.   Our kids are still getting messed up with drugs.  They’re still falling to the immorality of the age.  Our politicians continue to pass regulation that favors the anti-god crowd.  Schools have gone completely anti-religion.  And we’re posing.  

We need to get mean. We need to be violent.  In the sense that the verse says, “The kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  When Paul wrote, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand,” he was letting us know that we have all the equipment we need to win.  We just need to put it on and get in the game.  And get violent.

At about five this morning, the day after Christmas, one of the best men I’ve ever known slipped away. He was my high school drafting teacher, a principled man who loved his students more than any teacher I’ve ever seen. He had a good Christmas, surrounded by his grandkids and great-grandkids, his lovely wife Evelyn, and his son Chris, who shared him patiently with all his students. And then this morning he quietly left.

Several years ago his wife invited me to emcee his 80th birthday party. Dave Tanner, an outstanding entertainer out of Dallas performed, several students spoke, and I did my thing, and told a few stories of Mister Gregory. I never felt right calling him Fred, although I tried it a time or two.

I had a Teacher Appreciation Day at my church honoring teachers of all kinds. I invited Mr. Gregory to be my guest speaker. He was a prince. He was humble to a fault, and I think he was surprised that so many of his former students considered him their best teacher ever.

One high school competition trip required us to travel about 60 miles to the event. On our return trip Mr. Gregory stopped to let us eat a hamburger in some small town. When we left and were safely away, one of the boys in the back seat pulled out a salt shaker he had taken from the table of the little diner. Mr. Gregory eased his Rambler station wagon over on the shoulder, looked back in the mirror, and we all tensed, sensing his disapproval and disappointment. Without saying a word, he made a u-turn, and we drove all the way back to the little town in silence.

When he pulled back in the parking lot, he looked over the seat and told the boy to get out and take the shaker back in and give it to the manager. He watched to make sure he did. He never condemned him. Never said one unkind word. When we were back on the road, he started making jokes like nothing had ever happened. He made sure to include the thief in the casual banter.

He knew we would be a little late now, with parents waiting and wondering where we were. (We didn’t have cell phones in those days). Just before we arrived, he slowed down and told all of us that it was wrong to take what didn’t belong to us. But he didn’t want to hear another word about it. And no one needed to tell why we were late. He kept the boy’s privacy, but he made sure we knew the high value he placed on honesty.

He helped me prepare for my first job interviews at engineering companies, and he was as proud as any father would be when I landed my first part-time job drawing floor plans for a consulting firm. He coached me on how to get raises, and how to continue to improve my skills and my job performance.

He was so much more than a teacher. He was a life coach, a mentor, a friend.

Last week I was writing a booklet to give to my grandkids as a Christmas gift, “Grandpa’s stories of life, laughter, and love.” Scanning through old stories I had written, I found a newspaper article I had published about the incident above. I had an impulse to phone Mr. Gregory just to say Merry Christmas, but I was running late, and laid aside his number, meaning to do it another day. I wish I had listened to the impulse.

Rest well, Mr. Gregory.

I heard it twice from the same woman in a mall store:  “Thank God!”

She wasn’t actually thanking Him, though.  She was telling her girlfriend how lucky she was they had the pants she wanted in her size. “Thank God!  I’ll look so hot in these at Thanksgiving!”

I smiled all the way up to the food court. I could just imagine her family gathering at Thanksgiving next week, and all her relatives slipping by her whispering, “Girl, you look so hot in those pants.”

Right.  Well, thank God.

It got me thinking about how many phrases we throw out that once had religious meaning, and now are pretty much meaningless.

  • “Thank God.”
  • “Jesus.”
  • “Jesus Christ.”
  • “Dear God.”
  • “Mother of God.”
  • “Holy Christ.”
  • “Holy… anything.”
  • “God bless.”
  • “God in heaven.”
  • “Good God.”
  • “Mercy.”
  • “Hell.”

And that’s just a start.  Think of how many times you’ve heard those phrases used as nothing but swear words.

Well, Thanksgiving, the holiday, is right around the corner. Wouldn’t it be nice to be truly thankful?  Not just to celebrate a holiday, and be glad for a day off from work, but to be genuinely thankful for whatever blessings you’ve found in life.

Are you healthy?  Are you healthier than others?

Are you employed?  Are you financially secure?  Can you at least make it through a few more months?  Are you married?  Is your spouse decent?  Are you free from abuse?  Have you conquered an addiction?  Do your kids love you?  Do you have a friendship with God?  Do you enjoy your church?  Do you enjoy some family time?  Do you have good friends?

Something is right in your life!  Maybe it’s not perfect, and maybe it’s not the way you wish it was.  But there is much right in it.

Be thankful for that.

Really thankful.

“Thank God!”