Category Archives: Personal

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Every year I try to read a few books that I was supposed to read in high school but didn’t.  I just finished “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, and chapter 28 had a section that made me think of our horrible failure to be Christ-like in “Jerusalem” and “Samaria”.  I’ll type some of it below, and you see if you can read “missions” into it.

“But, suppose we [the South] should rise up tomorrow and emancipate, who would educate these millions, and teach them how to use their freedom? …The fact is, we [the South] are too lazy and unpractical, ourselves, ever to give them much of an idea of that industry and energy which is necessary to form them into men. …and tell me, now, is there enough Christians [in the North]…to bear with the process of their education and elevation?  You [Christians in the North] send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have…your time, and thoughts, and money to raise [the freed slaves] to the Christian standard?  That’s what I want to know.  If we emancipate, are you willing to educate?  [Would you help them with housing, jobs, job training, education for children, etc.?]  We [the South] are the more obvious oppressors of the Negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe.”

The book was published in 1852.  How much progress have we made in 163 years?

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Doubting Mercy and Grace

Sometimes I have my doubts.  Specifically, I wonder if I have overestimated God’s grace.  Do I count on his mercy and forgiveness too much?

I try to live true to my faith, but I seldom live a day that exemplifies what I understand the life of a disciple should be.  I tell God I’m sorry, and I sincerely am, then I resolve to do better tomorrow.  I count on Jesus to keep me in right standing with God despite my sins of yesterday and in the face of sins to come tomorrow.

What if Jesus is screaming, “Stop it!  Just stop this sin!  Where is your faith?  Where is your commitment?  Where is your love for God?  Why do you keep calling me LORD but treating me like a “get out of jail free” card?”  What if he’s saying that to me?

I read something this week that helped me.  I’m sure the Holy Spirit stuck this in my face so I could stop doubting the degree, longevity, and sincerity of God’s forgiveness.  It came from an obvious place – the Bible.  I was reading Matthew 26 when verses 31 and 32 fell into alignment for me.

Jesus told the disciples that all of them would desert him.  He explained that Scripture foretold their flight.  Yes, Jesus knew all along that the disciples’ vows of allegiance would fall short of their conduct.  Then Jesus immediately makes a simple statement that changed my doubt into faith.  He tells them that he will meet them in Galilee after he has risen from the dead.  In my paraphrase, it goes something like, “You all are going to desert me, BUT (despite this desertion) I want to meet up with you after it’s over.”

Jesus knows I’ll fall short just like the disciples, BUT he wants to meet with me anyhow.  In my heart, I heard Jesus say, “Phipps, I know you sin, but I still want you with me.”

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the Pursuit of Happiness

I read an interesting article a few weeks ago.  (Time Magazine, July 8-15 issue, pg 38+)  It was about what the Founding Fathers, specifically Jefferson, had in mind when he penned “…the pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence.  I am sure those of you who paid attention in US History class in high school are quite aware of what the word happiness meant to them, but this discovery was eye-opening and discouraging to me.

Aristotle and the Greeks had a strong impact on these leaders who declared their independence.  The Greeks believed people found meaning in their relationships with other human beings.  In fact, the Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, was associated with good conduct and generous citizenship.  Thus, those who first read Jefferson’s words “the pursuit of happiness” interpreted it to mean “the pursuit of the good for the whole” because to them the good of the whole was critical to the good of the individual.  Another way to think of it is “the pursuit of individual excellence that shapes the life of a broader community”.

The idea that I am not the central focus of the “pursuit of happiness” sounds crazy.  Happiness, in this culture, is about more possessions, feeling good, power, and living extravagant lifestyles.  Yet that isn’t what Jefferson had in mind.  His pursuit of happiness does not free me to do whatever I want because it gives me immediate pleasure.  It does not excuse me to take the easy way because the right way is difficult.  It isn’t just about me.

It’s about loving one another.  It’s about doing good when good is hard.   It’s giving grace to people who I don’t really like because I count on grace from others every day.  It’s pitching into an activity that’s good for the community even if I don’t see how it’s going to help me.  It’s putting aside temporary feeling to gain long-term positive results.

There is nothing wrong with personal happiness, and there is certainly personal responsibility involved in happiness.  However, to what ends will I go to achieve it?  Who must weep so I can laugh?

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The Good Shepherd

weekly theme #25*

week containing the fourth Sunday of Easter

As I prayed for each home on my cal-de-sac, I realized how long it had been since I visited with some of them.  The beginning verses of Jeremiah rebuke the leaders of Israel for being Shepherds who have mistreated their flock.  I’m sort of the Shepherd of my cal-de-sac as an overflow of being a disciple of Jesus.  I have mistreated these in my care by neglect.  Along that line, Ezekiel 34:11-16 begins with the familiar description of the caring, sacrificing, and loving Shepherd tending his needy sheep.  The tone changes at the end of the reading – “But I will destroy those [sheep] who are fat and powerful.  I will feed them, yes – feed them justice!”  (verse 16b)  Am I a “fat and powerful” sheep who withholds charity from other sheep?

Neglect is not a term I would use for my Shepherd, Jesus.  When I say that I can’t sense God or that he is distant from me, the truth is that I have distanced myself from him.  I created the separation.  I can take as a fact that no matter what I have done or wherever I find myself, there is a path back to the Shepherd from that very place.  The Shepherd longs for me.

I struggle with Christians who have the mindset of ethics by law.  Some Christians seem to be more interested in making laws than making disciples.  Jesus’ compassion, his mercy, is in opposition to the idea of making laws that externally try to force people to do what is “right”.  Jesus’ ethics comes from within me, from the Holy Spirit. Inside of me, of any believer, can be the fruit and ethics of the Holy Spirit, oozing out into the fruitless exterior filled with anger, judgment, and hypocrisy.  Paul’s counsel regarding the selection of church leaders describes people who live in step with Holy Spirit and exhibit corresponding behaviors in their everyday lives.  Sheep need to focus on the Shepherd, not other sheep.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.”  Psalm 23 says the Shepherd provides rest, guidance, strength, protection, comfort, belonging, love, and hope.  These qualities connect well with 1 Peter 2:21-25, which says the Shepherd did not protect himself but sacrificed himself to save his sheep.  The Lord is my Shepherd, I have (he is) everything I need.

*A Guide To Prayer by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections.  I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used.  It truly lives up to its title.

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The LORD Is With Us

weekly theme #24*

week containing the third Sunday of Easter

I take God for granted, and that has delayed the growth of our relationship.  Initially God reached out to me and drew me into his love.  He made the effort to reach me, and now it’s time for me to make the effort to reach for him.  The concept runs both ways, the Lord is with me and I must be with him.

I heard that the command most repeated by God is to not fear, and whether that’s true or not, the Bible records many occasions when the Lord spoke that principle to people.  He usually gave one or more reasons not to fear, the primary reason being the fact that he was with them.  My confidence cannot be primarily in other people, experiences, money, power, or any other thing.  All other assurances are secondary to the Lord’s presence with me.

This week’s devotional has an opening prayer to start each day’s time with Father, and it contains a phrase that kind of troubles me.  “Come now and reveal your presence to me.”  It gives me a problem because I think he already reveals himself daily if I will only open myself to sense him.  He reveals himself in nature, people, song, the Bible, communion (Eucharist), and more.  God does not fail to reveal; I fail to perceive.  He is always with me, but I neglect him.

Christians in the USA, and that includes me, are not good models at taking time to fellowship with God.  Personally, I seem so focused on meeting with him during the morning but I fail so miserably at continual conversation with him throughout the day.  Jesus said that the way to eternal life was to know him, and I don’t think he used “know” as meaning only an intellectual knowledge, something that could be acquired second-hand.  He wants me to know him personally, as he is, not as I think he should be or want him to be.  That requires me to be with him.

All creation, for all time, is in his hand, and still he knows who I am!  The angels fall to their faces to worship him, and still he longs for my love and cooperation.  Responding to him in faith and love is the best I can give him; it is what he wants.

*A Guide To Prayer by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections.  I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used.  It truly lives up to its title.

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