Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Christianity 101-The Predicament of Sin

I've taught this class now a couple of times, and I've started it off both times with the same request.

“Share the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done that you’re willing to talk about.”

I bet you can guess what that response generally is. Silence. Everyone looking around to see who might be the brave soul that would open up and share.

Last time, it was me who shared. I shared about the many times in my young adulthood that I had ripped my pants out (front to back) in public. I have never had it happen in the privacy of my own home. Nope. Always in a crowd. There was the time at Prairie Creek Reservoir with the Fairlawn Church of Christ youth group in Muncie. There was the time at the party with my fellow Bible College guys and the youth group from Lindberg Road Church of Christ in Anderson. There was the time with the college group on a bus trip to Chicago when we stopped at a rest stop along I-65. Finally, there was the time when I was at work and had to staple my britches back together.  Let's just say it was a little bit touch and go to sit at my desk the rest of the day.

It was...  Always in public. Always inconvenient. Always embarrassing.

As I looked around the room, I briefly wondered if I were the only one that had ever had something embarrassing happen. Or, who had ever done anything embarrassing. Of course, the quick and accurate answer is no. Everyone has had something.

Embarrassment is a universal affliction.

Of course, that request to share is just an ice-breaker, a feeble attempt to get people’s mouths to open and to spur discussion. I think maybe I need to change my opening, but still when I’m discussing the subject of SIN, I somehow think it is an appropriate topic.

My next discussion-spurring attempt met with a little more response: “How would you describe God? What words would you use?”

This always gets some unique answers, but there are a few that come to the forefront. Some people will describe him as kind and gentle. Others go with Lord and Master. Savior is a popular term. This time, I had the spectrum ranging from a man with a long white beard to a gentle Father in Heaven.

I believe this is also an appropriate question to ask as you begin to explore the topic of sin because as I learned from a minister (Kyle Degge) a few years ago, the way that you view God will color how you perceive sin and God’s response to it.

Before we dig into the specifics, I’d like you to consider the strange and fictitious case of four friends from New York City who decided to swim from their city on the east coast of the United States across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England. They were all young and strong (and crazy), but some were better swimmers than others. In fact, they ran the gamut with regards to skill in the water from novice swimmer to Olympic competitor. Each was responsible for his own swim and for his own support system during the journey. They set a date, and they began to prepare.

After some time, the day came and they all met at Long Beach to begin their adventure. One guy stood there all alone. Another guy had a buddy in a kayak with him. The third guy’s support was a couple of people in a large motorboat. Finally, the fourth guy showed up with a crew in a yacht off shore.

At the appointed time, they all jumped in and began to swim. They were still in sight of the Empire State Building when the first tragedy struck. A cargo ship hit the guy that was all alone and he was killed. However, the three that were left swam on.

When the group reached the point where the city was just beyond the horizon, the kayaker gave up and headed back. It wasn’t long before the guy he was there for grew too tired to continue, and he drowned.

There was still two left, and they were great swimmers so they weren’t discouraged. They stroked on. About mid-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the waves became too much for the third guy’s support crew and they hailed a passing ship with a mayday. Soon, with no spotters and no support, he drowned as well.

There was now only one left. He was so proud that he had swum further than his fellow swimmers. He had known from the beginning that he was the best swimmer in the group, and now he was living proof of his superior skill. He kept going. He was going strong. Eventually, he even began to glimpse London over the top of the waves. However, just as he was taking another strong, smooth, confident stroke toward his goal, a great white shark snagged him from the surf and ate him for dinner.
So, the question for you is….

Which one of the four is less dead?

Now, before you get mad at me for a morbid story, there is a point.

Obviously, some had more skill. The last guy in particular was a fantastic swimmer. Some had better support around them. But, in the end, did it really matter which one was the better swimmer? Or, which one had the best people around him? They all fell short of their goal. They all missed the mark. They all died. Dead is dead.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his Grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:21-24

The word “sin” is another one of those religified words. It used to have more meaning, but now is purely in the realm of religion. That said, it really is a simple word meaning to do something wrong, or to wrongly not do something that should be done.

Interestingly, the above referenced verse explains that ALL are subject to sin. We have all fallen short of the goal. None of us reach the glory of God. So, like the swimmers, we have all fallen short. Does it really matter all that much which one of us was better before we fell short? Or, which one of us is better after falling short?

So, why is that a big deal? Many consider the concept of sin to be a joke. “I’m only human!” “I’ve got to sow my wild oats!” “Hey, I haven’t killed anyone. I’m just having fun!” Others, mostly the really religious among us, don’t really think the sin that they’ve committed is as bad as what others do. They might not say it out loud, but inside they think that they are better because they are more righteous.  They're quite confident of their spiritual strokes.

The real problem, however, is also found in Romans…

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Wages. What you get paid when you work. It is what you earn by doing a job. Paul says what we earn for ourselves when we sin is death.

Here is where we get into that arena where our image of God affects how we perceive things. Some view God’s reaction to sin as one of an angry God who is eager to strike you down for sin. The whole concept of “Fire and Brimstone” used to scare people into submission has propagated that view. Others see God as so benevolent that what we do makes no difference to Him. After all, He loves everyone, so sin really doesn’t matter. Right?

But, we’ve all sinned. And the wages of sin is death. And God does love us. How do we reconcile those things?

That was God’s issue too. He came up with an answer, and we’ll get to that, but first let’s take a closer look at what sin does to us. It is important that we fully understand our predicament.

In my previous posts, I’ve noted that “God is all about the relationship.” In light of that, consider the following verses.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2

Our sins. The things that we have done that are wrong. They have caused a separation between us and our God. They have caused a wall to be formed to keep us apart. WE caused the separation, not God.

But why?

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
I John 1:5-6

God is light. In Him, darkness cannot exist. He cannot coexist with sin. When we sin, WE cause the separation because the very nature of God cannot coexist with us. By sinning, we have placed ourselves in a state of separation from God. It is not that God wants to strike us. Quite the contrary. The problem is that by His very nature, He cannot be in our presence as long as the sin lives in us. Our sin has created a state of lostness, separation, and spiritual death. WE have fallen short.

The Bible describes in pretty specific terms what things are considered sin, but the lists are not exhaustive. For reference, see Galatians 5:19-21 and James 4:17. I’m not going to dig into each specific action or inaction, but just suffice it to say that we’ve got plenty of opportunity to screw things up.

So, what’s the bottom line? We have ALL sinned. Every stinkin’ one of us. We have all fallen short. Some of us might have drowned in sight of London, but most of us met Davy Jones Locker somewhere along the route. We are…apart from the gift of God…all separated from God.

Even you. Even me.

That is our predicament.

It is also God’s predicament, because He is all about the relationship with us. He has worked a solution, and we’ll be exploring that solution in upcoming posts.

“But the gift of God is…”


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Gardener's Three Roses

Folks, I wrote the following story for my wife and daughters on Valentine's Day in 2009.  A word of warning...it might be a little cheesy.  I wrote it after a fairly long hiatus from creative writing, but it was a fun project.  There are some messages hidden inside...can you find them?

The Gardener’s Three Roses
By Mike DeCamp

Nestled in a land of hills that roll like the rising and falling of the human experience is a lush garden filled with a myriad of fine flowers of all shapes, scents, and colors. The flowers flourish under a nourishing sun that sends down its rays with wild abandon, and they fill the landscape with the beauty of their patchwork quilt of color.

This garden is owned by a master gardener. No flower goes unnoticed by his watchful eye, and he gives careful instructions to each of his apprentice gardeners on the proper care for each variety. His love for his garden is unmatched by any, and he demands that each of his apprentices maintain a similar affection.

In one small corner of the master’s vast garden was one little patch given into the care of a new apprentice named Henry. It was not much. Maybe ten feet by ten feet. Just enough room for the man and a few cultivating pots. It had a little grass and some shrubs around the perimeter that hid the lower part of a brick wall that encased three sides. The fourth side was closed off by an iron fence with a small gate. A single stone cylinder with a flat top captivated the eye in the center.

Henry the gardener was overwhelmed with the excitement of caring for his own little part of the master’s wonderland. Yet, he looked around, and there were no flowers in his small portion of the garden. Sadness gripped him, and he called out to the master to see if he would give him at least one flower to care for.

The master gardener realized the apprentice’s despair, and assured him that when the time was right, he would provide him with a special flower that he could cultivate and nurture. In the meantime, the master worked with him in developing the skills and knowledge that he would need in his work.

After some time had passed, the master walked into the Henry’s empty patch of ground carrying a single pot containing one long-stemmed rose with a single flower bud residing at the top.

“I have brought this to you from a nearby patch. The gardener there has cared for it from a seedling, and he did not really want to part with it, but it is time for you become the gardener that I have trained you to be. Take this rose. Water it. Prune it. Keep weeds from its soil. Nurture it so that it can bloom and contribute to the beauty of my vast garden.”

The young gardener was filled with gratitude and relief, and accepted the small flower with evident enthusiasm. Already, he loved his job, and he loved this single rose that he could call his own. He sat the pot on the stone platform in the center of his space where it could get good sun. He watered it. He fertilized it. Then, he sat down and watched to see if the bud would open.

The bud did not open that day. In fact, it did not open for several days, and the gardener was filled with anticipation. The rose was obviously healthy with a deepening green in the foliage, and new growth on the stem, and still the bud did not open. He watched. He waited.

A few more days went by. He watered. He watched. He fertilized. He waited. The anticipation began to wear Henry down, and he began to think that the flower would not bloom for him. Perhaps, he was not good enough. Then, finally he noticed that the bud was beginning to swell, and hope arose once again in his heart. That night in his sleep he had visions of a beautiful flowering rose filling his dreams.

When he arrived at the garden the next morning, he was stunned! The rose had opened fully under the warming sun, and the bloom’s unfolding pedals were turned in his direction revealing the depths of their intricate character. It was the deepest red that he had ever seen. The color of passion. The color of obsession. He fell on his knees in front of the rose with tears streaming down his blushing cheeks. He truly loved this rose. He loved it more than anything else in his life.

Time ebbed by, and the apprentice gardener doted over his rose. He carefully pruned away dead leaves, and closely inspected the foliage for pests. And, the rose grew. It sprouted stems in every direction, and more buds formed leading to more deep red flowers. The beauty overwhelmed the young gardener, and his devotion to the rose intensified.

Late in the summer, when fall was approaching, the master gardener visited the young apprentice. “Son, winter is coming,” he said. “And you will need to take special care to ensure your rose’s survival through those difficult days.”

The young man was frightened. He could control the smaller problems: water, weeds, and insects. However, he had no control over the cold, the wind, and the snow. “How can I protect her?” Henry asked.

The master spent the next few weeks teaching his pupil how to prepare his rose for the oncoming weather. He detailed the techniques required to not only protect his flower, but how to also ensure that the rose would thrive in the coming spring. He was fully prepared, but still, when the cold arrived, he was filled with fear for his rose’s safety. It was so hard to watch as the flower petals wilted, and the leaves turned and fell away. It was even harder to prune the plant back and cut away the majestic branches that had fanned out in all directions. He was steeped in worry, but the master assured him that she would survive and be even more spectacular in the next season. He prayed that it would be so.

When spring came, the gardener watched with anticipation for the stems to bud with new growth. “When will it ever happen?” he exclaimed. “Oh, I just can’t wait!” When he was sure he could take no more waiting, the rose budded and new growth began. It was just as the master described! The pruning and the care led to incredible growth, and soon new flower buds formed. Dozens and dozens of them! He was amazed, and even more in awe of her beauty.

Days became months, and months became seasons. Soon another winter came and went. Henry was becoming more and more skilled in the care of his part of the master’s garden, but he soon became acquainted with other apprentice gardeners and some of the things he heard filled him with anxiety. He had heard that sometimes the master took away a flower and gave it to someone else, and the apprentice could only watch with sadness.

He pondered this. He worried about it. He forgot that that was how he had acquired the rose in the first place. He forgot that the rose belonged to the master, and was not his personal possession. He became jealous and fearful. Every time that he would hear that the master was in the area, he would shiver with trepidation.

One day, in the spring of his forth season, the master appeared at the gate of his little square of a garden. “Can I visit with you for a few minutes?” the master asked.

“Umm, sure, I guess,” said the apprentice hesitantly. “Come on in.”

“I have noticed the work that you do, and the level of care that you take with...”

“I promise that I do my very best!” he interrupted. “I am fully devoted to my rose.”

“I know, and I want to talk with you about the responsibility.”

Henry was frightened now. He was sure that the master was going to take his rose away. Fear, already filling his soul, began to overflow and bear down on him. He fell to his knees to beg.

“Please, oh please don’t take her away from me,” he cried. “I love her so much. I think about her all the time and I am fully devoted to her care. Please!” Tears welled up and ran across the stubble on his face.

The master’s eyes filled with compassion and tears of his own as he saw the man’s anguish. He reached out and placed his hands on the gardener’s shoulders, and then brought them up so that they each rested on Henry’s cheeks.

“Oh, son, I am not going to take her away from you. How could I? She opened for you. She has shared her full beauty with you. She is almost as much yours as she is mine. I would never dream of doing such a thing?”

“But, the other gardeners said…” he started, but hesitated.

“What did they say son?”

“They said that you often come and take their plants and give them away, and they have no say in the matter.”

Now, the master chuckled. “Those are the seedlings! Where do you think your rose came from? Another gardener raised some seedlings, and I took one of those and gave it to you.”

“So, you aren’t going to take my rose away?”

“I would never dream of it. She is yours for as long as she lives, and for as long as you can care for her.”

Relief settled in his heart, and spread across his face. He wiped tears off his chin with the sleeve of his shirt, and dropped down with his bottom on the grass. He was so relieved that he did not recall that there was something that the master did want to talk with him about. “Thank you,” he said, and he meant it with all his heart.

“You are welcome, Henry. Now, about the business I came to see you about.”

“Oh, yeah. What can I do for you?” said the master’s disciple.

“I’m going to add to your responsibility. I have a seedling for you to nurture. If you treat it with the same care as you have your rose, it will grow up, and one day I will come and take it back. I will provide it to another young gardener just getting his start. It will not open for you. As with your rose, the flowers in my garden only open and share their hearts with one gardener that they claim as their own. You see, your rose claimed you. And, one day, the seedling you care for will claim someone else. It will be painful to let go, but let go you must. It is the way of this garden.”

“Master,” he said with resolve, “I am honored. I will work with the same determination and care. I will protect this young seedling. I will keep the weeds away. I will keep the bugs away. I will see that it is strong and healthy and ready to bloom.”

“I know you will. That is why I am giving you this duty.” With that, he walked back to the gate and retrieved a very small pot that had a very delicate stem with only three leaves growing out of the center. “Here she is. Take care that she gets some sun, but not too much. You must find a balance. Put her in the shade of your rose, and let her leaves filter the rays. Use the same care with water and fertilizer. She will need some, but take care not to overdo it.”

The master turned and walked to the gate, where he hesitated. “Henry, I will come back for her. I know you will become attached. That is one of the reasons that you are a great gardener. But, you must remember whose garden this really is, and what your role is in this matter.” Then, the master left.

A couple of more years went by, and the seedling grew in the shade of the rose, and it became apparent that the seedling itself was in fact a rose also. And, although flower buds formed, they did not open. She was in his care, but she was not his. He did grow attached, intensely attached, but he always kept in mind that he would have to let her go. It did not matter how much his heart grew strings.

In the third year, the master returned. Henry was sure that it was time for his seedling to be taken. He steeled himself for the coming separation. However, he was surprised when, in fact, the master handed him another seedling. Like the first, it had only one delicate stem and a few leaves. He placed it next to the first, now bigger seedling in the shade of his precious rose.

The master did not return for several years, and both seedlings grew. They both sprouted buds, but did not open. Henry’s original rose also continued to grow. It soon stood taller than him, and he needed a ladder to prune the top. He could sit in the rose’s shade in the afternoon and sip lemonade. His obsession with her had matured into something else. Something deeper. He began to realize that the rose touched his heart. There was a connection that he could not explain.

Although the seedlings did not open their blooms for him, their colors peeked out from the tops of the buds, and he could catch just a glimpse of their coming glory, the glory of what they would one day become. The first seedling appeared to have a wild flair to her. Her colors were a bluish tint mixed with yellow. The younger one had a more delicate appearance with light pink tipping the buds. He could only imagine how beautiful both would be in full bloom. He longed to see, but kept reminding himself that that was not to be. They could not bloom until he had let go. He doted on these seedlings just as he did his rose. They were like his babies. His heart strings were fully engaged.

Finally, the master appeared at his gate.

“Is it time?” Henry asked.

“Yes, Henry, it is. At least for one. There is a new man on the other side of the garden,” the master explained. “I have been training him, and I think he is ready.”

“Can I meet him,” Henry asked with a protective tone.

“Perhaps someday, but not today. Today, the seedling will be his to nurture.”

“Which one?”

“The older one. She has grown enough, and she is ready to share her glory with the world. She will make a fine addition to my garden.”

Henry’s heart pounded, and he was heavy with grief. It was so very hard to let her go. He wanted to hold her back, to keep her with him. However, he knew that she could never be what she was intended to be, she could never truly bloom until she left his grasp.

“What if she won’t bloom for him?” Henry asked.

“I will be watching,” the master replied. “I will make sure that the right match is made. If she will not bloom, or if he does not take proper care, I will make sure that she will be in the hands of the right gardener.”

“You are breaking my heart,” Henry said. “I feel so scared for her, and I don’t want to be parted.”

“I know. It is the same pain that the gardener felt who gave up his seedling to be your rose. But, have confidence in my judgment. As I have been watching you care for your rose, I will be watching this new gardener care for this young one.”

Henry carried the older seedling, now filling her small planter, over to the master and handed her into his hands. He was crying as the master left his garden, so he sat down in the shade of his rose, took a sip of lemonade, and dropped his head into his hands. The emotions were heavy. Grief was mixed with fear, and they were both mixed with pride in his little budding seedling. She would be awe-inspiring. Of that, he had no doubt.

He raised his eyes from his hands and looked at the other, younger seedling with the pink tips on her buds. He still had her with him, but his time was limited, he knew. The master would be returning soon for her, to take her to a new garden. He couldn’t bear the thought, so he pushed it aside. She was here now. That was all that counted. He reached out and plucked a dead leaf from one of her stems, and then brushed his finger tips across the pink tips of her buds. She would amaze the world too, very soon.

After a minute, he sat back in the shade of his rose. She gave him purpose. She gave him hope in his heart. She soothed the pain, and it almost seemed that her blooms were smiling at him. His spirit rose.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

WMBO-Fitness Update-Week 20

This will be a quick report.  I was sick all week.  No miles completed.  I gained a touch of weight.  I am feeling better, but I'm not 100% yet.  I hope to get back on the bike in the next couple of days.

Today was a busy day:  1 wedding, 2 receptions, 3 graduation parties.

I'm sorry that I haven't been very creative with my posts in the last week, but being sick really took the best out of me. 

Last Saturday, I did add about four or five pages to the book I'm writing.  It is an action adventure with a extra-natural aspect.  Some might say "supernatural," but I'm not fond of that term with respect to my story.  It is set in a very small and fictitious town in southern Indiana on the fringe of the Hoosier National Forest where strange things are sort of the norm.  I've been writing it for about a year now, and I'm getting close to the end of the story.  Once I finish the first draft, I need to go back and fix a few things and add detail.  Then, I'll be looking for a few good folks to proof read it.  I don't really know when I'll hit that point, but I hope to be there by the end of the summer.

Well, that's it for now.  As I said, I didn't add any mileage this week.  My weight is now 257.2 lbs.  I'm not discouraged, just eager to get back on the bike so I can lay down some miles.

See you on the road.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WMBO-Fitness Update-Week 19

The theme of this report is "Places that I've been on foot, but would like to go back to with a bike."  This is just a sampling based on places of which I have readily available pictures.  There are many more.  I hope you enjoy what I'm sharing.  If you don't mind, leave me a comment with some place that you'd like to visit with a bike.
Along the route to Lee's Ferry in Arizona
In 2005, my daughter Angela and I took a rafting adventure down the Colorado River.  What an adventure it was!  I recommend it to anyone.  The scenery on the trip to the embarkation point was amazing too.  I'd love to go back and spend some time pedaling the view.

The Needles area, near Mt. Rushmore
In 2006, me and some buddies took a driving trip through parts of South Dakota and Wyoming.  The scene above was taken on our drive up to Mt. Rushmore.  It winds around, goes through tunnels, and is filled with spectacular views.  There would definitely be some climbing involved, so I'd want to be in stellar physical condition first.

Atop Mt. Haleakela on Maui

This stop is not for the faint of heart.  We drove to the top of Mt. Haleakela during our Hawaii vacation a few years ago.  It was warm down below, and really cold at the top.  Most people don't ride a bike UP this mountain, although I did come to understand that some pro cyclists have used it as a training ride.  

Riders about to descend Mt. Haleakela
I want to do what these guys were about to do.  Riding down Haleakela is a common touristy thing to do, but again, not for the faint of heart.  The course is fast, and winds around like crazy.  Make sure your bike's brakes are in good condition!

Near Salmon, Idaho
The scenery near Salmon, Idaho is gorgeous.  There are a lot of rolling hills, and if you are game there are some serious mountains to climb.  

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
I think Yellowstone would make for an incredible professional bike race location.  The terrain would be a challenge to the best of the best, and the scenery would astound anyone watching.  Of course, the riders would need to be on the look out for the occassional grizzly bear or herd of bison, but every place has its quirks.  The casual rider would find a great deal of fun and serious challenge here, but I'm not kidding when I say to ride in a group...or, you might just be dinner for a critter.

As for my report, well...it was a difficult week for me.  I've been sick.  I started getting sick on Monday, and it got worse as the week went along.  I did ride on Monday, but I felt like my lungs were going to explode, and by Tuesday, riding was not an option.  Wednesday night, I walked the quarter mile to my dinner location in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I was done for when I got back to my hotel room.  Thursday and Friday, I was miserable as I drove to Searcy, Arkansas to pick up some of my daughter's things to bring them home for the summer, but it was wonderful to see her.  She was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.  I'm eager to spend some time with her this summer.

Anyway, as I write this, I think I'm on the mend, but this will basically be a day of rest.

Here are the numbers, such as they are:

Weight:  256.6 lbs.

Goal:  2011 miles in the year 2011

Distance Completed:  251.5 miles
Percentage Completed:  12.51%

Time to go.

See you on the road, and may the wind be at your back.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-The Crush

What girl could resist my handsome face and keen fashion sense?
When you are a small boy in school, you aren’t supposed to be interested in girls. After all, they’re yucky. They have Cooties. They wear dresses and play with goofy toys like dolls. Of course, that’s usually not something your mother teaches you. Rather, it is something the other boys educate you about as they tease you.

I remember standing in front of Roosevelt Elementary School looking up into one of the large trees that stood majestically guarding the building. In my ear a song is ringing:

“Mike and Holly sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, second comes marriage, then comes Mike with a baaaby carriage.”

Truthfully, I don’t remember the exact names. I heard the song so many times. But, it could have been Mike and Holly because in first grade she took a liking to me. I remember little “love” notes passed to me. I remember sitting on the floor to watch a movie and she would sit next to me; looping her arm through mine.

Oh, the shame of it all!

Outwardly, I was teased into acting like I hated it. In first grade, you’re not supposed to like girls in the least, but now the truth comes out…secretly, I really liked it. I liked it a lot.

Holly wasn’t my first girl, though. There were two before her. First, there was Tammy. She was the little girl who lived across the street from me before I was old enough to go to school. I do remember her complete name, but I can’t remember much else; except for the fact that she was a great friend and I was really sad when her family moved away.

Tammy kissed me once. The next day, I developed a case of The Hives. Of course, it had to be Tammy’s fault, and so I told her as much. In fact, I yelled it at her across the road.

“I’m ‘lergic to you! You kissed me and now I’ve got hives!”

After she moved, I only saw her once more when my folks took me to visit her. I’ve always wondered what became of her.

The other “woman in my life” before Holly was Cheryl. She was my skating buddy. Her grandmother and my mom were best friends, and because of them we became friends too. We used to take roller skating lessons together at Gibson’s Skating Rink when we were in Kindergarten and the early years of elementary school. She was a really cute little girl, but mostly she was my friend. We went to each other’s birthday parties, and played at each other’s houses. Good friends. To all of my old Southside classmates who used to dream of dating her, I can proudly say that she did kiss me once. I think we were six or seven, but hey! A kiss is a kiss…and, she didn’t give me hives.

After Tammy, Cheryl, and Holly, girls fell off the radar for a few years. I was consumed with boy stuff (toy guns, bikes, and Hot Wheels) until fifth grade. In Mrs. Denny’s class, despite the fact that I was still absorbed in the more manly pursuits of jumping ramps and shooting arrows at passing birds, I noticed a girl. That’s when it began.

The Crush!

My friends.  Tim and two of his sisters.  Yes, she's in the photo.  This was at the height of The Crush!
She really wasn’t new to me. I suppose I had known her all my life. It was just that I noticed for the first time that she was the most beautiful, smart, fascinating, and talented girl in all the world. I noticed all these things, but I couldn’t tell a soul. After all, I was a fifth grade boy, and I still wasn’t supposed to think girls were safe to be around. Additionally, I just knew that if I fessed up to the love I was feeling, I would be ridiculed from coast to coast.

That was the beginning of an obsession that lasted for five years! I was convinced that eventually I would be able to profess my feelings, and that she would feel the same, and we would get married. Sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. She was my dream girl.

She was also my best friend’s sister. Tim, who was about two years older than me, had one brother and three sisters. Tena was the oldest sister, and was my same age. It was her grandparents that owned the home behind my folk’s place where so many of my childhood memories took place. That being the case, she was conveniently around a lot. After fifth grade, she stopped being Tim’s sister, and Tim became Tena’s brother…at least in my mind.

I never told her about this crush until I mentioned it in passing at a reunion years later, and it lasted until I was a sophomore in high school. It wasn’t until I found an interest in another girl and began to date for real that it faded into history, and became just another story in my past.

One event during this period stands out, and I’ve retold it a number of times over the years. Sometime, while I was a student at Wilson Middle School, I decided I needed to get her something as a gift. It may have been Valentine’s Day, but I don’t recall for sure. I can’t remember the occasion, but I do remember the deed. I bought her a cross necklace at the K-Mart on south Walnut Street.

The problem was…I couldn’t tell her about my feelings, and I couldn’t come up with a good reason to give it to her without revealing the truth. So, I came up with a plan.

I would give it to her anonymously.

The rear of our neighbor's house on east 21st Street, and the scene of my secret admirer delivery.
I wrapped it up, and put a note on it. “To Tena. From a Friend.” It was a cloudy day, overcast and cool. No one seemed to be home at Cecil and Irene’s house; her grandparent’s home, so I stealthily made my way from my house to their front porch using all of the skills that I’d developed over the years of playing army in their yard. It was a circuitous route that would make the guy who draws The Family Circus proud. I hid behind trees, bushes, and flower beds; darting from hiding spot to hiding spot until I’d made my way to the target position.

If anyone saw me, I must have looked ridiculous.

I carefully placed the gift on a ledge that jutted out from a support column, and then reversed the sneaky process to make my getaway. I pulled it off. Whew!

Now what?

Curiosity was killing me! Did they see it when they came home? Did they give it to Tena? Did she like it? What did she think about getting a gift from a secret admirer? I just couldn’t take it! I had to find out!

But how?

A new plan.

I went over to Cecil and Irene’s after they came home under the guise of finding out if Tim was there. It was brilliant! Tim was my best friend. It only made sense that I’d go over to see him. I’d done it a million times. I’d go see Tim, and I’d be able to glean the reaction just by paying attention. They’d never know.

Except they did know!

I strolled up on the porch and knocked on the kitchen door like I’d always done before, and Irene answered like she usually did…except this time she had an odd look on her face. It was a strange smile with a sparkle in her eye.

“I know what you did?”

My heart jumped up in my throat and my stomach did a somersault. I’m sure my face flushed.

“Huh? I didn’t do anything? I just came over to see if Tim was here.”

“Mike. I know you did it.”

My mind: What do I do now? Lie! Lie! Lie!

“I didn’t do anything. Is Tim here?”

“No, he’s not here. But, I know you did it.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout. If Tim’s not here, I guess I’ll go. See ya later.”

Terror makes for very effective self-deception. My secret was on the verge of being revealed, and I couldn’t let that happen, so I LIED. I don’t think that Irene bought it, but I lied so vehemently that I almost convinced myself. I walked off the porch and around the corner mumbling to myself that I couldn’t believe that she actually thought that I’d done it. I had to mentally stop and remind myself that I truly had done it. I guess sometimes we lie to ourselves much better than we ever lie to someone else.

That is as far as it ever went, however. No one ever said anything more about it. I never brought it up, and Tim, if he knew about it, never mentioned it. Eventually, my fear subsided.

A couple of years later, I saw her wearing what looked like the same cross on a different chain. I commented on it and asked her where she got it. She had no real reaction and I don’t remember her answer. In the end, it was a big deal to me, but really an epic failure.

I added secret admirer gifts to the list of things that I’d never do again.

From then on until my first real girlfriend Toni sent the crush into the realms of history, I never came close to sharing my feelings for Tena again. The only way my crush displayed itself was through the goofy smile that would plant itself on my face every time she was near. I would pass her in the hallway at Muncie Southside and BOOM! Smile all over the face. I couldn’t make it go away. The smile muscles contracted so tightly that it actually hurt.

The crush was all bottled up inside, and it stayed that way until I saw her and her husband at a class reunion. I think it may have been our twentieth-year reunion. We were all walking in together, and I said hello.

“Hi Tena.”

“Hi Mike.”

“You know, I used to have the biggest crush on you.”


Nothing more was said. What more could be said? We all walked in. She and her husband went to their table. My wife and I went to ours. It is interesting how much of a relief it can be to even give voice to something as silly as a childhood crush. It was nice to let it out.

When I look back on all these girls, and at the wonderful wife that became the love of my life, all I can say is…

Boy, do I have good taste in girls.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Christianity 101-Are You Serious?

There are some things in life that just demand that we face them with more seriousness. Taxes come to mind. Fail to take them seriously, blow them off and you’ll find yourself in trouble with a little group known as the IRS. How about dealing with a major illness? People who are told they have cancer generally buckle down into a very thought out and careful treatment regimen. Even something as simple as trying to reach a personal goal needs to be faced with seriousness if one is to truly reach beyond themselves.

In 2009, I made a personal commitment to ride my bike 100 miles in one day. I made that commitment in the spring, and the plan was to do it before the end of the summer. I’m not sure how many of you have ever ridden a bike a hundred miles, but it isn’t a breeze. It takes training, preparation, and planning. I had to think through how I was going to approach the training, and build up my body’s endurance over time. Additionally, I had to plan a route, work out a support system for drinks and food for the day, and develop a strategy to how I would ride the distance. It took serious thought.

I think as we delve into this subject of Christianity, it is fair to say that we should enter into this with a serious mind. Many in the USA today often seem to waltz in and out of church like it was going to the movies. Is it entertaining enough? Is it too stiff or too loose? Are the seats comfortable? Do I like the preacher? Others seem to think they are Christians by genetics. I was born in America, so I’m a Christian.

Whoa! Not so fast, partner. I think maybe we need to take a serious look at Christianity. It is not something to take lightly. A person died to get this thing going. Many others have died along the way to be faithful to the God who gave His Son. Back in the early days of the Way of Christ, folks could be thrown into prison, flogged, fed to lions, or hung on a cross simply for professing a faith in Christ. This was back before a cross was a piece of jewelry. It was an instrument of a torturous death, capital punishment.

Christianity is serious business.

If you are just looking into this Christianity stuff, then good for you. Be serious about the investigation. Look at the details of scripture, and don’t simply take another person’s word for what is said. Study it for yourself. In the Book of Acts in the Bible, there are a whole group of people from a village called Berea that were considered quite noble because they didn’t take the Apostle Paul’s word for what was true from the scriptures. Rather, they listened to him, and then they researched it themselves to see if it was true. (Acts 17:10-12) Follow their lead. Don’t take mine or anyone else’s word as gospel. Check out the details for yourself.

If you are a Christian, then my question to you is: Just how seriously do you take your faith?

Is it just another facet of your complicated life? Or, is it your driving force, your source of strength, and your hope for your future? When you read the scriptures, do you allow it to impact you, or does it roll off as just some nice sayings from an old book?  Do you even read the scriptures?

I wonder what would happen if Christians began to once again take the Bible seriously. What if Christians everywhere began to really love their neighbors as themselves? Or, they began to consider the needs of other people before they considered their own? Hmmm.

What about you and me? What if we began to take a serious look at Bible passages as they impacted our own personal daily walks in this life? One reason that I like to teach classes and write blogs is because it drives me to take a closer look at myself, and it makes me strive with more determination to be a better Christian. Let’s take a look at a few verses with our new “serious” perspective. Let’s consider what “serious” looks like in this sampling.

Matthew 6:31-34
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Take a few moments to consider…if we are really serious…what does it look like to seek the kingdom of God FIRST? How would priorities change? How would lifestyles change? Would your life be different, if you seriously began to pursue God and his righteousness as priority one?

I John 3:16-18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

What would it look like if we as individual Christians stopped talking about loving others and actually began to earnestly do something about it? Bob Harper from the Biggest Loser yelled at a competitor a season or so ago that she should “Stop talking and just do it!” I think that is what the Apostle John is saying. Stop talking about feeding the hungry, and get them some food. Stop talking about …you name it…and get it done.

What would it look like if we all did that?

Ephesians 5:18-20
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How would it change your worship gatherings if everyone began to do that? If they were filled with the Spirit of God? If they were sharing their worship with one another instead of sitting like little marble statues, staring straight ahead as if they were the only ones in the room? If they were allowing their hearts to engage with the words that were coming out of their mouths? How would that change your church’s worship?

How would it change your worship?

There is something special that is generated when a congregation begins to sing TOGETHER. They look at one another; they see the enthusiasm in each other’s faces, and build off of one another’s faith. It can take our mutual worship to places that most of us cannot imagine, and many of us have never experienced.

1 Thessalonians 5:19
Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;…

That one likes to hit me between the eyes. I tend to be a rather subdued guy. I’m too self-conscious. I see people “lifting holy hands” during worship, and I want to, but instead I subdue the urge. Sometimes, I’ll feel a small compulsion to share my faith with a person, and I talk myself out of it. How about you? Do you feel an urging in your spirit welling up, but instead you take both hands and push it back down?

What if we decided to take this verse seriously? How would that change us? How would it change our churches?

Back in January 2010, I took part in a yearly kick off devotional for the teen group and parents at the church I attend. Now, this is a group that is supposed to be the most enthusiastic of our church. Teenagers. Parents of teenagers. It should have rocked the room! Instead, I couldn’t believe how the room lacked any kind of energy. At one point, we sang the song “This is How We Overcome.” A line that is repeated over and over is: “You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have turned my sorrow into joy.” I looked around at the faces as those lines were being sung, and I almost gave in to the urge to stop the song and address the group, but instead I took both hands and pushed the compulsion back down. You see, the words were coming out of their mouths, but someone forgot to tell their faces! It was humdrum. It was mundane. There was no power in the voices, no joy in the tone. Where was the music of the heart?

I came to the conclusion that we often are either lying to God when we sing, or we are simply just going through the motions of voicing words that we aren’t really connecting with. Either way is not good.

There was no Spirit flowing that night, and I snuffed out what may have been the Spirit of God urging me to point out the problem.

What if we stopped doing that? What if we sang and MADE MUSIC in our HEARTS to God?

These are four examples of particular verses. We could go on and on, but, I don’t think that is an urge I should follow.

As I bring this installment to a conclusion, let me just say it again: Christianity is serious business. We are talking about things like death, redemption, salvation, and eternity. In the coming weeks, we will explore sin and its consequences. We’ll look at God’s answer to that problem, and our response to His solution. These are all serious subjects.

Can you take a serious look?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

WMBO-Fitness Update-Week 18

The McGregor creek, finally with leaves.

The Aikman Farm along my cycling route.  I've always thought this was a pretty view.

The confluence of two streams along my cycling route.  A nice place to stop and think.
It seems that the weather is finally cooperating with my cycling efforts.  I've ridden each of the last three days, and I'm feeling pretty good about it.  I think I'll give my legs a break tomorrow and maybe only take a short walk, but I'm starting to be able to put the miles behind me, and that is encouraging.  It also doesn't hurt my enthusiasm to have lost a little weight this week.  It wasn't much, but it was a loss.  If I can keep riding like I have the last few days, then the weight ought to keep dropping.

I have some unaccounted for exercise also.  I attended the AIST Show in Indy this week.  In short, it is a trade show for the steel industry.  On Tuesday, I walked the show looking at the various booths.  I'm not sure how far that was, but probably a couple of miles anyway.  On Thursday, after I rode, I also mowed the yard.  That always entails a fair amount of walking as I push the trim mower around to cut the stuff the rider has a hard time reaching.  I don't have a clue how far I go, but it takes about a half hour to do the trim cut.  I'm burning calories, that's all that matters.

I'm really eager for two things: warmer temps and calmer winds.  Frankly, I'm a warm weather rider.  I don't like the chill of the wind that bites at my face and hands until I get the blood pumping.  I like to ride when it's hot.  The wind is a different story.  On the one hand, it makes the ride HARD.  Today, riding into the wind was like trying to ride through molasses.  On the other hand, riding in the wind makes a rider stronger and more fit.  It makes you better.

There are three things that make a rider better and stronger: 1. miles in the saddle, 2. riding into the wind, 3. climbing lots of hills.

I only have a few rolling hills around, so I have limited chance to gain from those, but the wind is everywhere and especially so in the spring.  Even so, I will be happy when they calm down.  I like to enjoy my rides as well as gain fitness from them.

One last piece of good news before I go to the numbers...

I was sitting on the sofa the other evening after a ride, and I ran my hand down over my right calf...the one that had the surgery...and I could feel a little tiny bit of muscle tone.  Yay!!!!  My legs are coming back!

Here are the numbers:

Weight: 255.4 lbs  (Down .4 lbs this week)

Goal: 2011 miles in the year 2011 by walking, running, or cycling
Miles Completed: 245.4
Percentage Completed: 12.20%

Miles this week: 41.0...That's almost equal to what I was doing all month during the winter.  Things are picking up folks!  That said, I've got to triple that through the summer if I have a prayer of hitting the goal.

Time to go.
See you on the road.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Christianity 101-The Prime Ingredients-An Introduction

Why are you what you are? Methodist? Catholic? Lutheran? Church of Christ? Presbyterian? What ever it may be, why are you that? Is it because you thought it over, examined the details, prayed about it, studied it, and decided that it was the right path for you to follow? Or, was there some other reason? Maybe a spouse or boy/girl friend? Or, perhaps that is what your family was?

Back in the early days of my sales career, I used to make a good deal of joint sales calls with representatives of the products that my company sold. In doing that, we spent a numbers of hours behind the windshield of a car driving from place to place. Most of those folks were aware that I was “religious” and often times the conversation would turn in that direction. When it did, I commonly asked that question above. It was sort of an informal poll.

Do you know what the answer was, more often than not?

“That’s what my parents were.”

That answer begs a follow up.

If that is the case, then whose faith do you have; yours or your parents’ faith?

In thinking this through, I think that it is quite common for a person to be a tad bit lazy with their faith. It’s easy to just go to the tradition that you were raised with and not poke around and see if there is something more. Have you ever considered why you are what you are?

I’m reminded of a story. I’m not sure where this story originated, nor can I remember who I borrowed it from, but I think it fits.

There was a woman who was cooking a Sunday ham. Just as her mother always did, she cut the ends off of the ham before placing it in her pan for baking. Her husband, being a curious man, asked her why she did that. “I don’t know” she replied. “That’s what my mom always did.” It just so happened that her mom was coming over for dinner and she arrived just in time to address the question. “Mom,” the woman asked, “why do you always cut the ends off of the ham before you bake it?” “Ummm, well, I don’t know,” the mother answered. “That’s what my mom always did.” Well, now all three of them were dying with curiosity, so they called grandma on the phone. “Grandma, why did you always cut the ends off of your ham before you baked it?” Grandma knew exactly why. “Well, dear. My pan was too short. I had to cut it down to make it fit.”

Is it possible that faith is that way with so many people? Someone, somewhere, at some time, decided to go to a particular church for a specific reason, and now, many years later, that reason is lost and the descendants are just continuing the pattern without knowing the reason why.

It is my goal with this series to attempt to help us (myself included) think through these issues and build a stronger personal faith, one that is truly personal.

For other folks, there is no specific church history. They, like me, grew up without a home church, and their parents didn’t indoctrinate them with any particular set of views. In a sense, they are like a new journal without any writing on the pages. They are free of preconceived ideas of faith, and have a clean slate on which to build their own faith. Often times, that is what they do. They build their own faith, but it is not based on scripture, but rather on the hearsay of friend, the opinions of others, or their own personal logic. If that is you, then I hope to provide you with a least the footings of a foundation from scripture so that you can build a faith based on something more substantial.

We will see. Let’s take a swing at it anyway.

Christianity is based on the “Gospel” of Jesus Christ. The word “gospel” is a religious word, but it once was a common word. We do that a lot. We take perfectly good English words and religify them. (I made up the word religify, but I think it fits. Besides, people make up words all the time. If presidents can do it, so can I.) I will point out a few other religified words through the course of this series.

The word “gospel” simply means “good news.” So, Christianity is based on the good news of Jesus Christ. If you’ve attended a church that some would label as a Fire and Brimstone church, you may wonder what is so good about the news, but it really is good. In fact, it is wonderful.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)  All scriptures referenced will be from the New International Version of the Bible.

The coolest part of this is that He did it while we were still sinners. He didn’t wait for us to become righteous on our own, but He jumped over that hurdle for us! The GOSPEL or GOOD NEWS is that we were sinners, but Jesus loved us so much that He stepped into our place and died for us!

Another view that is becoming more and more prevalent is that you don’t need a church to be a Christian. This is becoming more and more true with the increasing media influence in our lives. After all, you can get “church” on TV, or you can watch webcasts on the internet. That’s so cool….you can sleep in and still get your faith fix….right? “Click, click” and I don’t have to go to a fancy building somewhere to punch my religious time-clock.

I think maybe we have a misperception of the point, the purpose, and the mission of the church.

If people are getting the idea that the church isn’t relevant anymore, then maybe it is because the church has lost sight of these things as well. Let’s take a closer look. First, it would be good for us to be reminded that “church” was the creation of Jesus himself. He told Peter in Matthew 16 “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Mt. 16:18. Second, it would be good for us to realize that the church of scripture was never made of stone or wood or brick. It was made of flesh and bone. Read Ephesians 4 and 5 and I Corinthians 12. The church is the body of Christ, the people, the followers of Christ. If you are a Christian, then you are a member of THE church, His body, and you have a responsibility toward it, the other members of that same body…whether you like it our not.


What is the point?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

It seems even in the days of the writer of Hebrews, people were starting to flake on church. Apparently, some were in the habit of skipping out of meeting together. They had missed or lost the point already.

What is it? What is the point?

Spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. Mutual encouragement. A sense of having one another’s backs. A level of accountability with one another. The point is to support and encourage other Christians.

I wonder…how many Christians today take that point seriously? How many slip in the door at the last minute, crawl into their pew, punch their spiritual clock, and then check back out after worship without ever having a encouraging or spurring interaction with another member of their congregation? How many members of local churches are never active in any function outside of Sunday morning? How many don’t even know the name of that guy who sits next to them every week?

How are we doing in getting the point of church in our personal lives?

What is the purpose?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14

Did you see it? Did you see why the church, the body of Christ is assembled? We are here for the praise of his glory. Our purpose in being as a church is to bring glory to God.

I wonder. How are we doing with that? When people look at how we live our lives, does it spawn praise for God? When visitors come to our churches, does it make them fill with the wonders of the glory of God?

Are we praising God for the glory of his wonderful grace?

What is the mission?

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:11-21

The mission isn’t to build fine buildings. It isn’t to start endless programs. A great children’s program wasn’t in the original plans. No where is there a food pantry in the strategy. Now, all of those things are fine. They make excellent tools when kept in perspective, but the mission is spelled out for us. We are to help people become reconciled to God. Everything else we do is a tool to that ultimate end.

The question is, do you and I have that mission on our minds and hearts? How are we doing?

The Church…

What is the point?—To encourage one another.

What is the purpose?—To bring praise and glory to God.

What is the mission?—To help others become reconciled to God.

Is that relevant? Is that something that should demand our participation? You have to decide for yourself, but I think so.

So, we have defined Gospel, and we have discussed the point, purpose, and mission of the church. But, if we boil it all down, what are the most basic and most important things that any and all Christians should focus on?

Let me start with a question. What is the most important ingredient in making a chocolate cake? The answer may seem obvious. You may be drawn automatically to the word “chocolate.” That is obviously the most primary ingredient. Right?


Chocolate is a descriptive word. It is describing the object, a cake. First and foremost, you are making a cake. Chocolate gives it flavor, but if you leave it out, you still have a cake. There are other ingredients that if left out would leave you with a big pile of messy chocolate flavored goo.

So, what are the basic ingredients to Christianity? What are the ingredients that you just can’t leave out without spoiling the whole thing?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Mt. 22:34-40

I don’t care how many songs you sing. I couldn’t care less about how much money you give. It really doesn’t matter how many good deeds you do. If you don’t have love for God and love for your neighbor, you’ve missed the boat. Your ship has left the dock and you’re still standing there on the pier.

And, notice, it doesn’t say to obey God with all of your heart. It says to LOVE God. If you love you will obey. If you just obey, then love doesn’t need to be part of the deal. You see, with God, it is ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP!

The first two key ingredients that cannot be left out of Christianity:

1. Love God
2. Love your neighbor…you know, that person next to you…even if he does have body odor and yellow teeth.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mt. 28:18-20

The above is known as the Great Commission. It is among Jesus’ last words on earth. It is our marching orders. It is our mission. How can we consider ourselves to be followers of Christ if we are not taking this to heart?

3. Make disciples of all nations…start next door please.

How many of us feel competent and equipped to do that? Do we know what to do? Do we know what to teach? Could you take someone from step one and help them ‘be reconciled to God?’ Hopefully, this series of classes will help with that. In the coming weeks, we will examine some of the first principles of Christianity. My goal is to challenge you (and myself) to more fully live out those principles, and hopefully give you some tools to help you pass this thing we call Christianity on to someone else.

See you next week.