205 Virginia Avenue

205205 Virginia Avenue…That’s the address of just one of the 1292  houses in the small town of Chester, WV.  But it’s more than that to me.  It’s “my” house.  It’s the house I grew up in from the time I was two years old until I went off to college and got married.  For the past 30 years, it’s been the house I went to when I visited with my mom and dad.  In all, this house has been occupied by my family and me for the past 51 years!  However all that comes to an end this weekend when my mom vacates this house and goes to live with my sister two hours away.  I never dreamed that leaving behind bricks, mortar, and shingles would be so difficult.

The thought of never again coming back to 205 Virginia Avenue and never again dialing 387-1680 leaves a lump in my throat that I just can’t seem to swallow.  You see, for me, 205 Virginia Avenue isn’t just a mailing address, it’s home.  It’s where I was loved, raised, praised, and disciplined.  It’s where I was taught how to live.

It was in this house where my mom would read me Bible stories, and even teach the neighborhood children.  It was in this house that I would “holler” to my dad from my bedroom late at night to ask him Bible questions.  And instead of telling me it was bed time, he would take the time to “holler” back answers and explanations until I was satisfied.  It was in this house that my sister and I would fold church bulletins on TV trays every Saturday night, and fuss about who had to fold the most.

It was in the shadow of this house that I played hide-n-seek, “army,” baseball, basketball, football, and street hockey. It was on the sidewalks of this house that my dad taught me how to ride a bike. It was here where I learned to mow a yard, and trim/edge a sidewalk (without a weed-eater).  And it was here that my dad taught me how to meticulously care for a car.

So you see, this is why 205 Virginia Avenue is more than bricks and mortar to me.  To me, it’s about family.  It’s about Grandparents, the Nicola’s, the Rine’s, and the Seelbach’s and our New Year Reunions.  But mostly, it’s about my mom, dad, and sister and the memories we created there; memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

So I say goodbye to 205 Virginia Avenue this weekend.  Although we will never occupy this house again, at least in my mind, I can still clearly hear the voices of my mom, dad, and sister, echoing within its rooms.

May the next occupants of this house experience the same kind of joy, love, and pleasant memories with which I have been so blessed.  And if they find any scratches in the hardwood floor, cedar closets, or plaster, I want them to know that my sister did it, not me!

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Do Natural Disasters Prove God Is Evil?

6535641_sHow are we supposed to believe in a God who created a world that includes tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tidal waves? Each year, thousands of people are injured, maimed, and killed by these forces of nature. So I must ask, “Does this ‘natural evil’ prove that God is ‘morally evil?’”

Surely not! The natural laws that hold this universe in place are good and perfect to accomplish their purposes. The problem is not with these natural laws, or the God who gave them, but rather the problem arises when men ignore, attempt to violate, or get in the way of these natural laws.

For example, think how many people die because of gravity? Every day, people die because they fall off a ladder, fall down a flight of stairs, or something falls on them. Is that sufficient evidence to charge God with moral evil for giving us gravity? The fact that people get hurt by gravity isn’t proof that Gravity is evil. Can you imagine the world without gravity? It is a necessary natural law, but when people by choice, error, or circumstances choose to violate this law, they get hurt. But that’s no reason to charge God with evil.

Is the changing of the seasons an evil thing? Each year, people die because the warmth of Summer retreats from the frigid cold of Winter. Does that fact that some people freeze to death prove that the changing of the seasons is evil, or is it another case of man violating, or ignoring natural laws?

Likewise, is there any evil in wind swirling at high speeds? Is there evil in tectonic plates moving and causing the earth to quake? Is there any evil in a large wave of water forming in the ocean and coming ashore? Is there any evil in man not being able to breathe while being submerged in water? These things are not morally evil. However, these natural laws take a great toll on human life.

Nature, as God created it, is perfect. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the Earth shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The laws of nature serve us very well, and without these laws, life would not exist. But beware; if we get in the way of, violate, or ignore these natural laws, we will more than likely get hurt.

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Loser!

12477746_sCompartmentalized Christianity is the belief that Christian principles and ethics need not permeate every area of a Christian’s life.  One of the best examples of compartmentalized Christianity that I know of was when a Christian brother was asked about some unethical business practices in which he was engaged.  His defense?  He unapologetically said, “Business is business and church is church.”

While some Christians may be guilty of living such an inconsistent life, I don’t think many would attempt to justify it.  Surely we know that truth must permeate every area of our lives.  Few of us would be so calloused as to attempt to defend practices that violate Christian principles.  How many would actually say, “The Bible only applies at church, not at work?”

That’s what I thought, not many.  So that’s why I’m a bit confused at what I have witness in the realm of sports.  Have we compartmentalized our Christianity when it’s game-day?  I think some have.

For example, if your spouse applied for a job and was hired over other potential hires, would you call those who lost out on the job and taunt them?  Would you tell them how much better your spouse is than their spouse?  Would you post on their Facebook page and “rub in” your victory and their loss?  Of course you wouldn’t, nor should you.  It violates Christian principles.  So why do we do it in the realm of sports?  Is it because “sports are sports and Christianity is Christianity?”

If your son or daughter was awarded Valedictorian of his/her graduating class, would you taunt the other families whose children did not reach your child’s level of learning?  Would you make belittling comments about the intelligence of the other people’s children?  Absolutely you wouldn’t!  Because again, such would violate Christian principles.  But why then do we apparently think it’s acceptable behavior in the realm of sports?  Why is it that we taunt and belittle fans whose teams have lost to our teams?  Is it because “sports are sports and Christianity is Christianity?”

I know what some of you are thinking.  “Steve must be a fan of a losing team.”  Well, that’s not it at all.  (In fact, I waited a week to write this so that it wouldn’t be following a loss).  So why do I write this?  Simply because what I’ve seen Christians say and do to each other in the realm of sports hurts, taunts, angers, and contributes to bad feelings.  I write this because what some are doing to each other is just wrong.  Surely there’s a way we can support our team without denigrating another person’s team.  Surely, there’s a way to rejoice when our team wins without taunting and angering fans of the losing team.

If compartmentalized religion really is unacceptable, then it’s unacceptable on game-day too.  Give it some thought.

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What Do We Do Now?

hand_on_bible___constitutionWhat are we to do when our culture turns from God and snubs its nose at his word, the Bible? What are we to do when mind-altering substances are legalized? What are we to do when our Supreme Court redefines marriage in such a way as to encompass same-sex relationships? What are we to do when the Mayor of Houston, TX subpoenas sermons preached in Houston churches because they spoke against the practice of homosexuality? In summary, what are we to do when our culture calls good, evil and evil, good (Isaiah 5:20)?

The answer is: The same thing we were doing before our culture turned from God and snubbed its nose at the Bible. The same thing we did before mind-altering substances were legalized. The same thing we did before our Supreme Court redefined marriage to encompass same-sex relationships. The same thing we did before the Mayor of Houston subpoenaed sermons that were preached in Houston churches. And the same thing we did before our culture called good, evil and evil, good.

My point is, the mission of God’s kingdom doesn’t change depending on borders, governments, rulers, and laws. Whether under the oppression of Rome, who persecuted Christians in the Coliseum, or Hitler, who murdered “enemies of the state” in the gas chambers, or the United States, who has all but marginalized Christianity today, the mission of God’s Kingdom remains the same. Preach the word, in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2-4)!

Remember, Christianity isn’t American. While I’m thankful for the freedoms that have been extended to Christians living in America, I can’t really expect any secular government to adopt Christian values. Friends, be thankful for the respite we’ve had, but understand it may not last for succeeding generations. Christianity existed long before the birth of America, and if America were to ever fall, it will still exist then (Daniel 2:44). The success of Christianity doesn’t depend upon a friendly and supportive government.

Jesus once asked James and John if they were able to “drink the cup that he was about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that he was baptized with?” They replied, “Yes, we are able” (Matthew 20:22). What about us? While I don’t wish for it and I hope it isn’t necessary, maybe persecution is just what is needed to shake Christians out of their lethargy and purge out the leaven of insincerity.

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Five “Untruisms” Heard In The Church

Truism1By definition, a truism is a statement so obviously true, it doesn’t need proving.  In other words, truisms are generally accepted truths.  That is why I am a bit surprised at just how many untrue truisms there are out there.  Here are a few we should rethink.

  • “God Won’t Give Us More Than We Can Bear.”  You’ve probably heard this all your life, but have you ever asked yourself where such a concept is taught?  I would suppose that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is the text that is used to affirm this belief, but is this really what the text says?  In this context, Paul is talking about an escape route from the temptation to sin.  There is always a way to avoid sin.  This passage promises us that we will always have a choice to do right or wrong.  Never will we be placed in a situation where the only option is to sin.  That’s what this passage is talking about.  However contextually, it isn’t addressing the burdens we sometimes must bear in life.  In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:8 explicitly demonstrates that this “truism” is an “untruism” for it says, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  You see, it’s the times when we are burdened more than we can bear, that we are driven to God for help (1 Peter 5:7).
  • “Everything Happens For A Reason.”  This sentiment is designed to give hope to those who have experienced some painful or confusing events in life.  We may find difficult circumstances easier to cope with if we knew that those circumstances were all a part of God’s grand plan for our lives.  While I do not deny that God providentially works in our lives (Romans 8:28), I do deny that everything that happens to us is a part of a “plan.”  I’ve heard people say, “there’s no such thing as ‘luck’,” or “there’s no such thing as chance.”  However, Jesus never said that.  In fact, he said the opposite.  Do you remember what he said when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan?  He said, “Now by chance a certain priest came down the road…” (Luke 10:31).  Apparently, Jesus believed that some things were simply the result of chance.
  • If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It. If we were to follow this “truism” we’d still be using “candlestick telephones,” preaching chalk board sermons, and lighting our homes with oil lamps.  All of these things worked, but better things came along.  Just because something works doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to “tweak” it to serve us even better.  We probably all know of some dying churches who are dying because their leadership has adopted this “untruism.”
  • Better Safe Than Sorry. If followed, this truism would rob us of all our heroes!  What if the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles would have followed such advice?  Seldom is greatness achieved without risk. Playing it safe didn’t pan out so well for the man who was given one talent and he buried it, now did it (Matthew 25:14-30)?
  • Every Little Bit Helps. While this sentiment may encourage participation in projects, it does very little to meet substantial needs.  Sometimes “a little bit” is not a help at all, but is woefully inadequate.  Sometimes, for the church to  move forward, it doesn’t need “a little bit” from its members, because “a little bit” won’t help at all.  What is sometimes needed are great, bold, and costly sacrifices!  We may be able to salve our consciences with this little “untruism,” but we will never rise up and do great things that require great faith and sacrifice in order to be accomplished.

So beware, not every “truism” is as true as you might think.

(Can you think of other “untruisms” we sometimes hear?  If so, share them in the comments).

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