Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Oh The People That You Meet When You're Cruising Down The Street

An old friend has finally met its fate, and will likely be
considered totaled.
Last evening on my way home from a meeting in the south end of town, my journey was interrupted by a pizza delivery car crossing Main Street from my left and pulling right into my lane. There was no way of preventing the collision that followed.

Had I been at fault I would have been stressed to the max, but as it was I felt an almost eerie sense of calm, mixed with  a profound sense of relief over how much worse things could have been. No airbags were deployed and both I and the other driver, a nice young man who spoke better Arabic than English, were able to assess the situation and do what was needed to get help.

And what a response! Within 20-minutes two police cars, an ambulance crew and a fire truck arrived, lights flashing and sirens sounding. My friend in the other vehicle, who at first insisted he wasn't injured, eventually was taken to the ER to be checked out, complaining of some numbness from the incident. But everyone, including some neighboring JMU students, were totally kind and helpful.

After some necessary questioning I was eventually told I could go home in my mangled truck, only to discover that its starter wouldn't engage, even though my lights and everything else on my pickup (except my passenger side door, which I could only half open) seemed fine. So a kind officer gave me a ride home and a tow truck took my vehicle to Dan's Body Service, which provided me the photo above.

My fondness for this humble little "hick-up" is based on how utterly dependable and low-maintenance it's been and the fact that we bought it from some great friends many years ago, Guy and Margie Vlasits, who had taken great care of it and let us have it a very reasonable price.

But I've come to believe that in God's economy nothing has to go to waste, and this little loss has been a good reminder of the following:

1. You can't be too careful out there.

2. Don't get too attached to possessions, even a dependable, low-maintenance 21-year-old vehicle with only 97,000 miles (and which still doesn't use any oil) and which has become a trusted part of my life.

3. Never take your life or health for granted. It could all be gone in an instant.

4. Thank God every day for blessings easily taken for granted, including meeting nice strangers in totally unexpected ways, and for their being helpful people around when you need them.

Here's something I posted five years ago when my little Nissan was featured in photographer Howard Zehr's coffee table book on our attachment to pickups.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Personal Possessions Or Government Property?

What if each item we claim as our own were marked
 "Kingdom Property--For God's Use Only"?
At first glance it seems extreme for baptized followers of Jesus to think of their personal property as having been totally re-assigned to God's ownership.

Yet most Christians have been taught that very concept all of their lives. We've labeled it "stewardship," meaning we no longer claim ownership of anything, but now see ourselves as trusted managers, or "stewards" of the wealth and property that is totally our Creator's. Using wealth primarily to benefit ourselves would thus be a form of embezzlement.

Having said that, this stewardship concept has never seemed to make much of a difference in how we think of possessions. Our incomes are still thought of as ours, except for the ten percent we may offer to our church or to charities. Our investments and our purchases are still seen as purely personal matters about which we make decisions based on our individual conscience.

But Jesus clearly asks us to think of ourselves and are belongings as now being a part of the "Kingdom (Rule) of Heaven", a worldwide government in which God is supreme owner and Lord of all.

As an example of this, in each of the first three gospels, Jesus states that we must become like children in order to become shareholders in this glorious enterprise. Not only does this mean becoming childlike as in having a dependent, innocent or impressionable disposition, but that in becoming born all over again, we voluntarily give up our claim to adult power, prestige or possessions. God's cause is so great that we consider nothing as being just about us anymore, but about the furtherance of God's will on earth as it is in heaven.

Immediately after each of these stories about Jesus welcoming and blessing children, there is the account of the "rich young ruler" who comes to Jesus to inquire about how to be assured of eternal life. His answer is stunning. If you are serious about gaining stock in the eternal 'Company of Heaven', he says, "Sell what you have and give it to the poor." Give it all up.

Thus whenever we acknowledge God's rule, we surrender all. Kingdom-enlisted men and women, our bodies are a living sacrifice, our finances are no longer our own, our possessions are all marked "Kingdom property." All of them.

Which is actually what we say and what we sing every Sunday, as in "All to Jesus I surrender" or "Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee"--including our silver and our gold, not a mite of which we withhold. Really?

Tell me if I'm wrong, as a part of me wishes were the case, and that I could avoid actually giving up any of the comfort, convenience and privilege of being in the top tier of the wealthiest people on earth.

Kyrie, eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Some Surprising Second Comings Of Jesus

Sometimes Jesus shows up in disguise.
Duane Hershberger is a pastor, songwriter and a Regional Director for Habitat for  Humanity from Glenside, Pennsylvania. He began working for Habitat in Americus, Georgia, in the 80's, and leads 3-4 trips a year for the organization, mostly to Latin America. This is one of his recent songs, called "Second Coming of Jesus Christ":

Jesus tried to come back last Thursday afternoon.
Arrived on the corner of Third and Main. 
Thrift store Yankee’s jersey, number seven, of course.
hadn’t bathed in a week, smelling strange.
And the people passing by did not notice he was god
Talking on the phone and texting. 
Some met his eyes and then looked away
Vaguely disturbing and perplexing.

To see Jesus and a homeless guy as one
Just standing there like any mother’s son.
Instead of busting through the clouds or in the garden on his knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these. 

Jesus tried again last Monday night. 
Walked into the ER without a dime. 
Nine months and one week pregnant, seventeen years old. 
Not so immaculate this time. 
And a guy with a cross pendant just shook his head. 
At the shame and disgrace before him.
Angels were not singing at least that he could hear
No wise men around to adore them,

Or see Jesus and a scared child as one
Old, old story, homeless mother and a son
Instead of busting through the clouds or in the garden on his knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these.

Jesus tried one more time, under the desert moon, 
Walked right across the Texas border. 
Immigration picked him up, hauled him off to jail,
Said his papers weren't in order. 
The judge said, "young man, we have no room for you. 
You must go back to where you came from."
Then one nation under God sent Jesu Christo home. 
A poor family's son was not welcome. 

Oh Jesus, when we see you today
Might extend a hand or we might walk away
If you’re not busting through the clouds or in the garden on your knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these.
He keeps showing up disguised as the least of these. 
He keeps showing up disguised as the least of these. 

Duane Hershberger
151 Harrison Ave
Glenside, PA 19038

Check out Hershberger’s executive coaching web site at

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Most Recited (And Most Misunderstood?) Prayer In The Bible

Jesus' Model Prayer For Members Of God’s Royal Command—Earth Division (note the plural pronouns):
This is not a petition for what I want,
but about what GOD wants to see happen
on earth (our Kingdom's outpost) as in
heaven (our Kingdom's headquarters).

Our Eternal Abba in Heaven,

May your Name be revered and honored by people everywhere.

May your kingdom, your reign, be established everywhere on earth, and may your will and mission be carried out by all of your loyal subjects and royal stewards all over the globe.

May your children everywhere be given their fair share of manna for their daily needs.

Forgive us all the debts we owe to others for sins committed in your name—wars, crusades, inquisitions, conquests, enslavements, injustices—as we forgive the debts we are owed by others—when your subjects have been slandered, persecuted, misunderstood, taken advantage of and despised by our enemies.

And lead us not into devastation—due to tests or tragedies too great to endure—but deliver us from every evil threatening us.

For yours is the sovereign kingdom
Yours is the royal power
Yours is the eternal glory
Forever and ever!

Jesus’ Prayer Affirms Four Things: 

1. God wants our life together here to be a demonstration of how life is in heaven (Thy will be done on earth as above).

2. God wants everyone to have enough (Give each of us our portion of daily bread).

3. God wants everyone on earth to live in shalom, to be forgiven and debt-free (Forgive us as we forgive others).

4. God wants everyone to make it to the finish (Deliver us from the forces of evil arrayed against us).

A Contrasting Me-Centered Prayer:

My Personal Savior and Heavenly Friend, may my good name be honored and my good reputation preserved. May my many prayers for me and my loved ones be granted—for good health, for good jobs and benefits, a loving family and for a long, carefree, and happy life—and above all, for an eternal home in heaven. Grant me and my loved ones abundant food and a long life of comfort and health, and forgive me any sins that might be held against me on the day of judgment, and make me tolerant of any and all evil or wrongdoing committed by others. And don’t let me be tempted or tested, but spare me from experiencing any troubles or trials. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pardon My French

Self control begins with speech control.
The late comedian George Carlin became widely known for his monologue, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." 

While most of his unmentionables are still bleeped out on the majority of network TV shows, the definition of what is acceptable as prime-time and social media fare keeps being pushed further toward the edge. And the movie, music and cable TV industries have long since adopted Carlin’s offensive words and more.

Some will argue this is inevitable, a part of normal changes in language and culture we just have to to get used to. But the impetus for current changes is based far less on artistic merit than on what will attract greater attention and higher ratings. In other words, profit and popularity matter more than the negative effect our language may have on our culture, and especially on our young.

According to Dr. David Walsh of the Institute on Media and the Family, today’s media producers are highly focused on the number of “jolts per show” (JPS’s) necessary to keep ever larger numbers of eyes glued to the screen, mostly for purposes of selling more products. Some of the easier attention-grabbing “jolts” they use are explicit sex, gratuitous violence, suggestive humor and, yes, shocking language, the latter being the easiest and most mindless means of all.

Of course, what initially jars our sensibilities soon loses its shock value, so the competition for higher ratings has writers constantly competing for the bottom line--all too often the basest line when it comes to their choice of language.

As a result, vulgarity has gone mainstream, has become a part of everyday conversation. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, “Words once reserved to register strongly negative emotions have become the standard lingo of movies, TV shows and music videos.” 

To the extent that Hollywood has become the nation’s primary story teller, both the language and the themes of their tales are profoundly shaping our culture, as a society’s stories always do. For the sake of future generations, how can we speak truth in ways that are truly respectful and life-giving?

In a 2005 policy speech to the Kaiser Family Foundation, then Senator Barak Obama said, “From the time they're young, we try to instill in our children a sense of what's right and wrong; a sense of what's important, of what's worth striving for. As best we can, we also try to shield them from the harsher elements of life, and introduce them to the realities of adulthood at the appropriate age... as parents, we have an obligation to our children to turn off the TV, pick up a book, and read to them more often.”

The coarsening of our culture and our language is not solely the fault of today’s media, including social media. A distressing number of parents routinely use vulgarities and swear words not only around their children but directly at them. And an increasing number of their offspring, at an ever younger age, are learning to out-swear their elders. After all, “everyone’s doing it.”

While government censorship isn’t likely to be of much to help here, we parents and other adults clearly need to get better control of our own speech. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book, “Words that Hurt, Words That Heal,” believes we should practice choosing words as carefully as if we were composing a telegram. Words represent power, and to learn to discipline our speech is to learn to discipline ourselves.

Or as one New Testament writer says “If you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.” (James 3:2b CEV)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Local SOS Band In Concert Wednesday At HMC

SOS band: Nicholas Anguiano, Rachel Yoder, Taylor Bess, Phil Tieszen, Harrison Jarrett

Note: You can help DOUBLE the Relief Sale income October 5-6. Spend a liberal amount on food, auction and other items, then MATCH or MULTIPLY that amount with a cash, check or credit card donation for MCC refugee relief at the SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) Giving Table. 

Here's a link to learn more about the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale and to make an online donation to the SOS campaign:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Whole Armor For The Whole Army

We battle against dark systems and powers that 
threaten us all.
I used to think of the Ephesians 6 metaphor of our putting on "the whole armor of God" as being about individual believers battling against the personal temptations and demons they/we each face every day.

Then I noticed that the Greek pronouns used in the text are all plural, applying to the entire community of faith to which this pastoral letter is addressed. 

This led me to read the text in a different way, as a set of instructions a general might give to troops on the eve of battle. Except our enemies, of course, are not the human beings arrayed against us, but the dark and powerful isms, ideologies and influences that influence and motivate people to perpetuate evil systems that help maintain their power.

Here is where we are called upon to use the non-violent spiritual weapons of prayer, proclamation  and persuasion to bring light to darkness and injustice and hope to the suffering and oppressed.

In the words of Menno Simons:

"O dear Lord, how many principalities, cities and countries have they (our persecutors) destroyed to the ground? How many fires have they set? How many hundred thousands have they dispatched? How have they robbed, skinned and plucked of his goods the poor peasant who would have gladly kept the peace, and was entirely innocent of the contentions of the princes? What beastly, inhuman, hellish tyranny did they commit and continue to commit?

"I am well aware that those tyrants who boast themselves to be Christians justify and make good their abominable warring, their sedition and bloodshed, with a reference to Moses, Joshua, etc. But they do not reflect that Moses and his successors have served their day with their swords of iron, and that Christ has now given us a new commandment and has girded us with another sword (I am not speaking of the sword of justice, for that is a different matter, but I speak of war and sedition).

"For we have, by the grace of God that has appeared to us, beaten our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks, and we shall sit under the true vine, that is, Christ, under the Prince of Eternal Peace, and will never more study outward conflict and the war of blood...  We use no other sword than that which Christ himself brought to earth from heaven, and which the apostles plied with the power of the Spirit; namely the one that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord... With this sword and with no other do we desire to destroy the kingdom of the devil, to reprove all wickedness, to plant all righteousness..."

- from The Complete Works of Menno Simons (Herald Press), p. 603-4

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
- Ephesians 6:12-17 (NIV)