Wednesday, June 27, 2007

July 4th and Pre-Election Reflections

July 4th and Pre-Election Reflections
By Dr. Jim Savage, Riverchase UMC

It is true that we live in the greatest nation in the world. We help more nations than anyone else. We send more missionaries, doctors, relief workers, emergency food than any other nation. But we are facing some serious problems. We rank near the bottom of G-8 nations in the area of healthcare, murder rates, and other serious violent crime rates.

Israel was to be the chosen nation of God. Then God commanded them in the Ten Commandments to “have no other gods before me”, and it was only a few days until they built a golden calf and fell into idol worship. Today many people put many other things in place of God: money, power, office politics, corporate profits, marital affairs, and athletics, and many other things. The Book of Exodus makes it very clear that “anything” that comes first before God has become our “idol” including our home and children.

Another early command for Israel and for us comes in the Book of Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

As I reflect on the serious nature of these words I wonder if we have any candidates running for president who truly love God with all of the heart, soul, mind and strength? I like the old joke about politicians and the advent of the word “politics”. The old joke reminds us that the first part of the word “poli” in Latin means “many”, and the word “tics” is simply related to blood sucking creatures.

Then I reflect on those who signed the Declaration of Independence. They voted on the concept and passed the motion on July 2, 1776, and signed the document on July 4, but they paid dearly with their lives, jobs, families, homes and fortunes for years to come. The last sentence is the declaration is almost prophetic of things to come as it states: “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

One story says that for several years to come after this was signed that five of these men were captured by the British and held until death. Twelve had their homes, farms, and fortunes burned to the ground. Two lost sons to death in battle. Two of them had sons captured and tortured. Nine of them fought and died in the war or due to wounds or disease soon after the war. May God help us as a nation who makes the claim: “In God We Trust.”

Monday, June 25, 2007



Recent days on the campus of Virginia Tech have caused people to ask once more: “Where is God?” “Is this part of God’s plan?” “Is this part of God’s will?” I am one of those who would say: “No, this is not part of God’s plan, or God’s will, and was not what God wished to see happen.”

So why did these senseless murders take place? Many reasons are being offered but the truth is the Bible says there are still “principalities and powers of darkness and rulers of this world” that exist today. To say that the senseless murders at Virginia Tech are part of God’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and irresistible-will contradicts several key passages in the Bible. One key passage is in Genesis where we see the early temptation of Adam and Eve that came from The Tempter and not from God. John 10:10 reminds us that “The thief (evil) comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I (Jesus and the Trinity) have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

I have some VERY important thoughts to share with you from the writer of James. “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). (Is God the one who does the tempting and testing you ask?) “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted and tested by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself TEMPTS/TESTS NO ONE.

But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do NOT be deceived, my beloved. EVERY generous act of giving, with every PERFECT gift, is from ABOVE, coming down from the Father of light, with whom there is no variation or shadow to change” (James 1:13-17). Would parents of the slain youth say their murder was a “good or perfect gift”?! Certainly not! Then the scripture is clear that this did NOT come from God, and was NOT part of God’s will. Nor was this part of God’s plan for the campus at Virginia Tech.

Then how could this happen? The same way that God allowed The Tempter to tempt Adam and Eve. The same way that evil takes place everyday around the world. God does not desire that we should sin (as St. Paul also said) but God does not prevent us from sinning. We make choices based on our free-will. God does not treat you like a puppet. God does not force you nor anyone else to commit gross crimes against other innocent human beings. Our God is the God of “every generous act…and every perfect gift”. If things happen even in your lives today that have a negative, bad, or evil impact upon you or your family, this passage says it did not come from God because the events were not good or perfect gifts. James reminds us that “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God…himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by ONE’S OWN DESIRE, being lured and enticed by it” (James 1:13-14). So, consider these possible ideas and reflect on the cause, and how God might want us to respond.
1. A record number of students were killed in a college campus shooting.
2. The number of teens in foster care has increased by about 200,000 in the last 20 years.
3. About 6 million children under age 12 have been diagnosed with depression and are on medication for it.
4. About one in 12 young people are the victims of violent crime.
5. Recent rates of substance abuse among youth and adults have increased (both prescription and illegal substances).
6. There is a rise in young people and adults who suffer from many types of emotional disturbances and illnesses.
(These six points were the views shared by Dr. Angie Williams who works with youth across the entire state of Virginia.)

Next Monday: Part 2 - What to do.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How Things Change - Thomas Butts

AN ENCOURAGING WORD FOR June 14, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church and posted here with his permission.

Several weeks ago I boarded a plane in Chicago at 7:00 a.m. and landed in Mobile, Alabama at 8:45 a.m. We were traveling about 30,000 feet at more than 500 m.p.h. From before the time of Jesus until the 20th century speed of travel was limited to the speed of a galloping horse. Rockets propelling astronauts into space move at more than 10 times the speed of sound. When I was growing up during the Great Depression our primary mode of transportation was a 2 mule wagon. I remember the first radio in our community. We walked two miles on Saturday night to hear the Grand Ole Opry. Our family bought our first radio from Sears and Roebuck after the beginning of World War II. As a child, I sat in awe before that radio as we listened to the "war news."

Here are some interesting facts from a newsletter I read about how our world is changing.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s learner will have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1 out of 4 workers today is working for a company for whom they have been employed less that 1 year.

More than 1 out of 2 are working for a company for whom they have worked less than 5 years.
According to former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.

We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist – jobs that will be using technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

More than 3,000 new books are published daily.

It is estimated that a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.

For the students starting a four-year technical degree, this means that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.

There are some things that have never changed and never will. Loneliness and the sense of awe when a child is born; the hunger of the human heart for meaning and purpose in life. The whole spectrum of human feelings from the deepest hurt to the most ecstatic joy is a constant. The innate need for some meaningful connection with that "unseen other" from whose hand we suppose we come. The spiritual nature and needs of humans never change.

If the world is moving too fast for you, go to your church this Sunday and you will be in the presence of the unchanged and unchanging. That is a source of comfort and encouragement in a scary world.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD FOR June 14, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Unexpressed Love

This was written by: Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church and shared here with permission.

Every now and then I will have some person who is struggling with family relationships to say, with appropriate sadness, that they do not remember ever having had their father (and sometimes mother) say that they loved them. The absence of expressed love in a family leaves a large emotional hole in the psyche of a child, and it has predictable consequences in the adult life of that child. These consequences inevitably show up when that person marries, and even more when children are born into the family. Unexpressed love (or the absence of love) tends to cross generational lines. The ripple effect is not only predictable but palpable. The effect of unexpressed or absent love goes on, like a genetic illness, from generation to generation until an emotional or spiritual healing experience stops it.

When I was a graduate student in psychology at Garrett School of Theology and Northwestern University we were required to read a book titled, "One Little Boy." I have long since forgotten the name of the therapist/author of the book, but I have never forgotten the story it told. The reason I have never forgotten is because I have seen the story reenacted so many times in the lives of people in my care. The therapist traces the roots of the emotional problems of "one little boy" back three generations and still did not get to the point of beginning.

Somebody has to stop the ripple effect or, better still, see that it does not start, which brings me to the point I wish to make.

Expressions of love withheld tend to die, and the people from whom they are withheld tend to die also – little by little. So many times only a crisis will draw from us expressions of love that the people around us are so hungry to hear. If we were to suddenly discover that within a few hours the world as we know it would end, I venture to say that every telephone line and every other means of communication would be tied up by people calling people to stammeringly state some long neglected expression of love.

The world is filled with people who are starved for some expression of love, some indication of acceptance, and some assurance of belonging. Many of the people with whom you will brush elbows today are lonely and frustrated for the lack of some adequate expression of genuine love. How deep would be the benefits to those we do love, if we would let expressions of love permeate our days and our relationships. Several years ago I was visiting in a home on Saturday before Mother’s Day. A five-year child wanted to show me the card she had for her mother. It was not one that she bought at the store. (The kind many of us use when we care enough to send the very best, but are too lazy to write.) It was a piece of bright construction paper on which the child had scrawled a message of love. How rich we are when we live in a climate where love is expressed! How poor we become when love is withheld and unexpressed.

If you love somebody tell them now. Tomorrow may be too late. They may leave, or you may leave, in any of the many ways in which someone can go away. Do not let someone you love die and leave you choking on the words of unexpressed love that you intended to say but never did. Do not let your children grow up and end up in my office or a lawyer’s office, or a psychiatrist’s office sadly saying: "I do not remember ever having heard my father/mother say they loved me."

Can you hear what I am saying to you? I hope so. It begs to be heard!!

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for May 24, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Monday, June 4, 2007

It All Comes Back by Dr. Jim Savage

You have heard it said: "What goes around comes around." When someone wrongs us in a way in which we have no recourse, we often comfort ourselves with this idiom. This is meant to be a warning to the perpetrator the matter is not over; that somewhere, sometime, somehow "you will suffer what you have caused me to suffer." There is a certain palliative quality in that thought when you cannot fight back.

Is there a universal justice in the scheme of things? Will right finally prevail, if not in this world, at least in the next? There can be no doubt that Jesus thought so. Soren Kierkegaard in his "Works of Love" (page 351) gives us pause to think as he expresses another aspect of the Golden Rule: " you do unto others, God does unto you in the very same mode."

In a study of history you will find there is an awesome progression in the human understanding of justice. Our understanding of divine justice has not always kept up with our codes of human justice. You may find that strange. I do. The ancients said: "Do unto others before they do unto you." The Mosaic Law upholds the law of "Lex Talonis": "Do unto others as they have done to you." The Christian law is: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But, Jesus makes it clear to all that: "As you do unto others, so God does to you in the very same mode."

There is really no place to hide! What we do comes back to bless or to haunt us somewhere down the road. Edwin Markham said it with beauty and clarity many years ago:
"There is a destiny that makes us Sisters and Brothers,
None goes his way alone
All that we send into the lives of others,
Comes back into our own."

That is not a very pleasant thought if we are guilty of inflicting some wrong on someone. It is an encouraging thought for those who do things to help others. It happens. Here is a delightful example of the positive aspect of "What goes around comes around."

Newspaper columnist George Plagenz once told the story of a young physician who delivered a baby into a poverty-stricken family in Montana. The child had one severely deformed leg. The child also had great difficulty in sustained breathing.

The doctor thought to himself, "The other children will call him ‘Limpy’. His life will be miserable. If I don’t do anything for his breathing, he will die. Wouldn’t that be better?" he asked himself. But his commitment to the Hippocratic oath led him to begin breathing into the mouth of that baby. Soon the child’s lungs were responding normally and he gave his first cry.

Many years later that doctor’s daughter and son-in-law were killed in a tragic automobile crash. Their only child, a ten-year-old girl, was left an orphan. The grandfather physician and his wife took her in.

One day the child was stricken with a rare crippling and seemingly incurable condition. The doctor had learned there was a young physician in the mid-west who had been getting excellent results in the treatment of this particular disease. He took his granddaughter to see that doctor.
As it turns out this young doctor was the deformed baby into whose mouth the elderly physician had breathed life some 35 years earlier. Because of his own infirmity, he had specialized in this crippling disease. The treatment of the little girl was successful and in time she was returned to normal health. Some call that coincidence; and I am agreeable to that term as long as you understand that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

The good that we do does not always come back with such distinctive clarity. Sometimes, as far as we can see, it never comes back at all. But the Bible teaches that there is a kind of universal and divine justice that works itself out in the greater scheme of things, in this world or the next. The belief that this is true should cause us to thank God, take courage and do all the good we can to everyone we can on every occasion we can.

Let’s hear a loud "Amen" to that!

For more from Dr. Jim Savage:
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