The Bible, Map or GPS?

This morning’s USA TODAY featured an article noting that 19% of Americans are “skeptical” about reading the Bible, particularly those aged 18-29. This is fascinating as we are now in the midst of Holy Week, and I note at least three prominent movies about the Bible now in theaters.

I’ll admit that people may have good reason to question/examine/look skeptical at parts of the Bible, but the whole Book? Or more to the point, I’m wondering for the many who consider themselves/ourselves “spiritual” rather than “religious,” how could we create a bit of curiosity in cracking this book (of books) and at least give it a fair exam before we “skeptically” toss it along with our outdated laptop.

Recently, I’ve found myself asking, “How do I view the Bible?”

At times, I see the Bible as a map. To use a map you need to know two things: where you ARE, and where you think you would like to go, arrive or explore. A map gives you the overall view, but in that view are variations in routes or directions, so you have both freedom and direction.

Others of us, current techies excepted, may want the Bible to be more of a GPS system. With GPS, assuming it IS reliable toward your destination (uh, you might want to grab a map first), you need to know where you are, where you are going, and then you get turn-by-turn (some would say “detailed”) instructions on EXACTLY how to get there.

In driving my vehicle, I will admit to favoring GPS now with [add-on] 5 inch screens in both of our vehicles. I don’t want to wind up staring at a vacant field when I am supposed to be visiting someone in a hospital (but it has happened).

In exploring life’s direction, I’m a bit more partial to a map….but I would also welcome a nearby Guide when I do get lost. I love to look at maps, explore different route choices, sometimes choose the speedier, easier interstate highways, but other times I love the backroads and “scenic routes.”

So, how do you read the Bible?  If you are occasionally disappointed that in some settings the Bible is not God’s detailed GPS with exact directions in a life situation, but seems more of a grace-directed map, enjoy the journey and realize that God has given you a lot of freedom to explore and investigate!

If, however you find you are tired of “Bible people” who keep trying to turn Holy Writ into a detailed GPS, and you see more of an overall map [like on what “a Christian marriage” means], enjoy the map, the route choices and watch for your personalized traveling discernment to grow.

So, which ARE you? Maphead or GPS screener? I go back and forth, honestly.  Does this change occasionally because of the season you are in?

Is God handing you a map for now or a GPS?  Have you begun the journey He now has for you?


Home Is Where?

I write this from HOME.  It’s my address, where I do laundry, help Betty with household chores, repair stuff, eat meals, play with grandchildren, find quiet, find rowdiness, pray, study, make my to-do list, build a model train kit and sleep.  But “home” is also an atmosphere of intangibles…where I feel accepted, can take a break, can dream, be romantic with my spouse or watch a favorite program with her, stretch out on a couch, watch a sunset, find safety from a storm, or enjoy the morning’s chipmunks and birds.

We’ve designed and built a home, remodeled a home, lived in new ones, ancient ones, repaired a few, and I’ve found certain things make a home seem homey—-an office, a workshop area, a reading space, media hookups, certain colors, toilets that work, types of furniture and pictures on the walls.  I used to think HOME was where I answered calls, emails, but then smartphones moved home around.  A lot.

So, what is “Home”?  I’ve actually found myself HOMESICK a few times in my life…my first week away at college only 70 miles away, then in grad school 300 miles away, and what was it I missed?  Mom’s cooking?  Dad’s advice?  My old room?

What does HOME mean to you?  I see homeless men and women nearly daily, and I wonder what being “homed” would really mean.  A place they could afford?  But what else?  If you grew up in a violent or dysfunctional home, were reared in an orphanage or spent time in foster homes, were you ever homesick…and for what?

I’m on a journey now to find if I know where HOME is.  Two things I know I want in any home: one is safety from storms because I know I cannot avoid storms.  So there better be a hallway, bathroom, basement or some place that I head when those tornado sirens blare.  Second, curiously, I want a place where I can explore.  Maybe a room I can read for investigation, or a place up my hillside, or a project I want to redo or make better, a gadget I want to try, a better way to celebrate a meal, a birthday, an accomplishment or to better survive a disappointment or failure.

Some of us think of Heaven as our ultimate home.  Well and good though the Bible also promises a renewed heaven AND earth, so we may be back here with dirt, trees and other stuff as our final address, albeit radically remade.

Maybe I need to find how to have HOME here or wherever I find myself…in a college dorm, an apartment, a motorhome, a tent or a castle or even an office or classroom.  I’ve watched people lose homes, seen them destroyed, or people have to change homes quickly for a job promotion or a firing.

Wherever you call HOME, I hope you know what matters, what does not.  Maybe then we can help make a home for others who visit ours.  Just a thought, that’s all.

Why I Voted Anyway

Today, both Betty and I voted early in the national election.  Since we can do this in Tennessee, I will now admit I have voted nearly every way possible—-written, electronic, absentee, now early—depending on the national election, since I was old enough to vote.

Still, you could dub me part of the “undecided,” or after three presidential debates more aptly call me a “skeptical red-blue-who?” voter.  Today I bravely I entered that un-curtained tri-side-bicle booth with prepared ballot cheat sheet in hand since we also had to vote on “locals” and half a dozen “amendments” I’d heard nothing about prior to my early this AM ballot scanning.  Of course, Betty and I briefly “discussed” all this with each other.  Naturally it was all user-lively as my Politically Brilliant Beloved tends to vote the Party and platform, and I choose the more mature method to vote the effect of my vitamins and pain meds midday, whatever I need to think clearly.

To decide TO VOTE, especially earlier than Election Day and NOT STAY HOME, took some doing this time.  I was sobered by a couple of non-partisan websites (think your high school civics class here) amidst the ongoing tsunami of exhorbitant ad campaigns, if only to remind me of politically WHO can do WHAT.

If you need sobering, after finding something actually non-partisan, check this link on what the President has the power to do.

Then force yourself to check the equally non-partisan link on what the Congress has the power to do.

Done? Then try to figure out what the term “Executive Order” means or what power a Chief Executive has when he speaks “for what is best for the national interest.”  I wish I knew.

I do realize after watching Presidential elections since 1952 that whatever candidates promise usually has to be ground up, then spiced up, and then regurgitated by the House and then Senate before being sent post-slaughter to the not-always-awaiting public, a process apparently lost on every candidate whenever we hear, “and I’m going to fix, make more, get more, cut back, repeal....” Do I hear myself now voting to choose the king or at least a pleasant tyrant rather than U.S. Chief Executive?

I also voted anyway today because I realize in this U.S. of the A. that the right to vote has had blood all over it since the first Fourth of July, with men voting first— a memorable Caucasian occasion—then those we grudgingly dubbed the rest of the national custodial help: women and minorities.  If such not-now-minor-status-folk might truly decide this election, I’m betting it won’t be because they choose “to sit this one out,” but rather choose to see a fresh opportunity every four years to express a freedom and a desire for something better.  Maybe I’m just following their fresh example, or else I just welcome the voting company even if I raise a skeptical eye to some choices they now see.

I also voted today because—and this is the one that will make you roll your eyes, stop reading or just laugh at my naivete—-SOMEWHERE in here I have to believe that God’s will is being done, and that the Kingdom of God is larger than any party’s political agenda, even any nation.  That probably cleared out what few readers I still had with me.

If you are still reading, awaiting my astounding conclusion, or deciding what emotions to hurl at me, at least don’t miss my point: PLEASE do not sit out this election.

Educate yourself as best you can, then go vote, even if you don’t vote “my way.”  I do realize my candidates MAY NOT WIN.  Nor a few of my choices on forgettable local amendments, but we traded monarchy for democracy when my great, great, great—-maybe one more great—- grandparents were teenagers (don’t do the math here, “just trust me”).  I also realize, mercifully with God willing, that we’ll be back groaning through this process again, at the very latest, in four more years.  Or maybe a month after this election squawking about 2016.

Still I hope God allows this process to last at least longer than my current vote.

Or our next one.  How about you?

Auto A.D.D.

I am now boldly admitting I am or have Auto A.D.D.

I’ve never viewed myself as a distracted driver because….1) I don’t text while driving and 2) I try hard to let my cellphone go to voicemail when someone calls me.

Now with a newer behemoth van vehicle even after just over 5 decades of driving experience, it’s a whole new world, especially looking at that dashboard.  Before I dash anywhere, my eyes stare stun-focused to see AM, FM, XM, a multi-CD changer, an MP3 radio plug, a railroad scanner and my C.B. radio nearby, Bluetooth connection to internet anything, a 5 inch portable GPS, a backup camera in the mirror, along with 13—yep 13—cup holders, and that’s all I’ve discovered thus far. Who has time to DRIVE?!

My first teen driving years, I fought distractions, but they were mainly all that chrome blazing on the instrument panel with said instruments being mounted in what were dubbed “chrome bezels” which still sounds more like armament.

Now when I enter the van cabin, I feel like an airline pilot trying to flip switches and knobs even before I start backing out of my driveway. Surely, I should call some human in a tower to ask permission before I start a trip.

I’ve fussed long and hard at distracted teen drivers, old women, more at old men and anyone in a truck who already seems distracted, but now I see that I have to learn a new way to drive. It’s called…..attentive driving.  Maybe there’s an A.D.D. pill out there geared just for drivers, but I’ve no word yet from Medicare, part whatever.

Question: is it just my new era of driving, or are we all becoming a bit more media A.D.D. while walking or driving? I’ve watched people walk into walls, doors, drop off curbs, or miss a tv show because they were engaged in some other form of media while wrestling with media.

Solution? Could I play the male-one-track-mind card and confess I never did do multi-tasking? My multi-tasking wife still uses only one form of media to reach out to others….voicemail, and that’s on our home phone landline. Period. She says she is easily distracted….guess I should never let her see me behind the wheel of any vehicle unless “Antique” is on the tag, and all I hunt for is the clutch.

Do you find yourself with occasional Auto A.D.D.?

Adding to my resume: Cancer Survivor

“You have cancer.”

You can’t hear those words without shuddering. I did hear them this past week, and shuddering did follow. Tests confirmed I now have prostate cancer. Just after hearing the “C” word, I tried to hear another “C” word from my urologist: “It is Curable, Tom.”

Huh? Not just treatable but curable? Apparently so at a Stage 1 Level 6 diagnosis. Betty was with me, sat, listened, asked questions, and a CT scan a few days later confirmed the cancer is only in the prostate, nothing has invaded elsewhere.  Literally, thank GOD.

So? I’ve called one Stage 3 cancer surviving friend, now two years into treatment to gain wisdom, downloaded a 60 page White Paper on current research, trials and tests for prostate cancer, gotten a Kindle book on cancer Q&A, journalled like crazy, been prayed for healing by elders at the church Betty and I continue to attend frequently, and I now sit still a bit stunned as I hope to add to my resume the life-altering words “Cancer Survivor.”

A new chapter in my life journey has begun as I explore treatment choices….excuse me, cures, and yes, I wonder what “cure” truly means at this moment.

So, what surprising words have altered your life journey recently?

I was conned in church

This past Sunday I got conned in church….and I was the preacher!

If you already think pastor-types are con-artists who exaggerate stories, hype the Christian message or are questionable in character, I’d probably agree, then sigh and wish I could tell people I do something else for a living.  This past Sunday, I GOT conned, so smile if you wish or consider it payback though I honestly do try to tell the truth when I speak.  Anyway, at church a first time guest who “needed to talk to the pastor about finding God” got to me about ten minutes before we began worship in a most modest sized gathering of 18 folks.  Said guest stayed through worship, then Betty and I invited him to lunch which he accepted.  Humorously, the whole church decided to descend on the same restaurant, sitting at two tables nearby with my bride while I confidentially listened to this man’s plea.

It turns out his plea was for….yep, money.  Lots.  Nearly $600 for rent.  By 5 PM THAT DAY in a cashier’s check to the landlord (whom he named) or he was out (who throws people out on a SUNDAY?!).  Anyway, this guy was GOOD, very convincing, sharply dressed, articulate, and I wound up handing him my honorarium check (nowhere near the $600) to at least “help out.”  (Hold your gasps, please.) After trying to buy his lunch (church folk quietly paid for his lunch and mine….like Christians?!), we took him back to church to let him out, his choice, and Betty and I headed home.

Two hours later I see emails from a couple of the church folk pointing me to two articles in local papers naming this guy and his “landlord” accomplice in a city-wide scamming going on for months.  Color me gullible, dumb, naive, etc., etc.

Church folk had ALSO been hit upon that day, when a few returned to church, to give him the balance of hi$ need$!  They’d also, upon discovery, quickly stopped payment on both checks when an alert member “remembered” the stories, and word spread quickly.

My point here?  After nearly 42 years of pastoring, helping folks in emergencies, I STILL cannot spot a con!  I thought I was smarter than that.  Worse, at this moment, I now trust nobody on the street, cardboard signs or not.   So before I turn into a complete poverty cynic or get written off by every social agency around, please know….in a few days….I will reread some biblical texts that remind me to CARE for those IN NEED.

Right now I am wondering afresh how did Jesus deal with con-artists?  Okay, how does He KNOW the DIFFERENCE between the authentic tale of need and the “I gotta have gas money to see my dying mother in Missouri” story?  Am I supposed to believe and accept every tale and just say “Okay, it’s Your money, God, so you sort out the fools from the genuine here”?  Or am I just to ignore need and consign everyone to the Salvation Army, local mission or next sucker?

How do you feel when you help someone?  And how do you then feel when you find the person never DID go to Missouri with your gas money?

Check with me next week.  But if you need help this week, be aware I’m in recovery from “tall tale theology.”

And I need to have the heart of Jesus Christ.

And believe someone’s story of need once again.

What I cannot see

Frequently, I find my eyesight smeared.  A quick fix, it only takes soap, water and a few careful moments with my trifocals delicately wiped….and, ah, all is well once again.

This Sunday I find once again smeared eyesight.  Palm Sunday, if you know even a bit of the story, has Jesus riding a donkey/colt, the subject of adoring crowds and children waving those memorable palm branches.  Great, since everyone loves a victory party, particularly with children around.  You also know the setting changes with each day, more teaching by Jesus, finally ending on a Thursday night in an upper room with what we call the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, Communion, Holy Communion, the Mass).  Betrayal quickly follows, a kangaroo court trial, and too soon, it seems, a carpenter-teacher is spiked to a cross, dies and a movement seems ended.

One saying has always come blurting out to me that Jesus Himself speaks: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Well, a couple millenia later I SURE DO.  Hindsight is so easy.  For me.  Especially when I look at others.  The mystery I have to face during what most Christ-followers dub “Holy Week” is that I can’t seem to easily “know not what [I] do,” particularly when I’m about to do it!  Why?  Jeremiah (not the bullfrog) the Prophet broadcast a stunning announcement to an audience a few hundred years before God’s Daily Show when Jere had the gall to say (Jer. 17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  Didn’t he know about education, political reform, better medicine, therapeutic insights or just even reading a few other verses (in the temple, of course, to get all the benefits)?  Sorry, but no lasting, durable cure in any nor all those worthy pursuits.

In fact, my heart, your heart, your momma’s heart, your child’s heart, your grandbaby’s heart (“no, no, not MY grandbaby’s heart….my grandbaby is perfect!”  Hmmm.  Just you wait) is deceived.  Not dishonest.  You know dishonest people, sometimes right when you meet them, and you want to say, “You’re lying.  That’s not the real reason for why you did that.”  No, Jere says “deceitful”, and I know this, because I’m still amazed at the stuff I have talked myself into.  The toys, the bad purchases, the stupid decisions, the bad advice…I look back on and think, “WHAT was I THINKIN’?”

So?  So, just this.  My deceitful heart needs, even at six and a half decades plus, a radical rescue, transformation, and honest confrontation (the opposite of deceit?).  I need forgiveness and recalibration.  When I say that out loud to myself, by myself, I drop palm branches quickly.

As much as I love crowds, celebrations, parties and good times, during this week I see that Jesus sees what I don’t, beyond the euphoria to what is desperately wrong in me, maybe you, in most everyone I know.

So don’t let the upcoming week slide by.  Seek out a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service, even if you don’t know what those terms mean, and learn about you.  Show up for Easter service even if you blow $40 on a necktie or new heels, but amidst your glamour, admit, even if just to yourself for once, that you know the true you.  I will since, for once, I won’t be preaching on Easter Sunday.  I need authentic saving from the rationalized, justified behavior I get talked into, or worse, talk myself into.  I need to face an upper room, ask what it means to “wash one another’s feet”, to break bread, drink the cup, see a Savior set his own agenda aside to get spiked down, pulled up, and dropped with cross into a post pit.  So my heart could be different, forgiven, not merely remain deceived.

THEN Easter looks like the sobering day it truly is.  God the Son is raised, on the loose, and nothing is ever the same again.  Including me.  Including you.  Amazing, eh?

A joyous, heart-transformed Easter to you.