The Fatherless: Our Duty

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Last Thanksgiving, I was allowed to present a lesson before the Dalraida church of Christ concerning orphaned and fatherless children. The lesson was written and presented specifically for the Thanksgiving Appeal for the work at Childhaven. The third area I covered in the lesson was our duty to orphans/fatherless.

 

Yes, we have a duty, based on command, the same as we have a duty based on the command to love, teach, spread the Gospel, and worship.Look at how the nation of Israel included the lonely in their culture: Deut 16:14-15 “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” God’s people should accept the fatherless as Family…do not deny them love, affection, and physical needs. Love them with God’s great love! We will “be altogether joyful” if we do this. This is because we are truly family when we show the love and compassion God shows to the fatherless, widow, and those who have been marginalized by society.

In 2 Samuel chapter 9, David shows us a perfect example of what it means to love and care for the orphan. After he became king over Israel, David asked if there was a surviving member of Jonathan’s family to whom he could show his love. Most of the people probably already knew there was only one person left; Mephibosheth. He was a crippled man, most likely shunned by his fellow Israelites since he was not only considered worthless as a man, but reviled as a member of Saul’s house. But, when David heard about Mephibosheth, he took him in with no thought of how Mephibosheth could benefit him. In fact, Mephibosheth was crippled and probably required more care than most would. It’s the kindness and love we should exhibit to children who need families.

Zechariah 7:9-11goes further toward the call for love, justice, and mercy toward the fatherless. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” We have a duty to render true judgments – don’t misjudge or prejudge a situation. Don’t presume to know about someone’s situation before knowing the facts. Have mercy on the lonely. Be kind and let them know they are loved and cared for by God’s people. Only then can we say we are truly fulfilling this command.

The next passage will probably penetrate your breastbone deeply as it does mine. Deut 24:21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.” This may be an indictment on most Americans – How often do we look at our paycheck and say, “I’m going to buy this and this and this” When we should not go over our vineyards again and again, but leave some of it for those who truly need it? God always reminds us that we were once slaves to sin and therefore we should share what He has given us with those who are still “aliens” lost in the wilderness.

Finally, James gives us the core statement we must seek to understand and abide by in 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Do you want true religion? If you do, this is it, folks. This is where you need to focus your hearts. Worship, baptism, prayer, and every other item we focus on as Christians are absolutely necessary and important, but taking care of orphans and widows is DEFINED as True Religion. If you want your religion to be true, take care of widows and orphans. Of course, keep yourself unstained from the world. And I believe that this goes right along with caring for those who are weaker, because what does the world say? “Step on whoever to get to where you want to be! Don’t give that extra money to help the less fortunate, use it for what you want! Don’t trust God to provide for your needs, He will leave you high and dry!” Don’t listen to those lies, God’s people. Have courage and love and practice true religion!

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What’s Next?

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I think it all began with idol makers back in the Old Testament. They made something that was so new and shocking, it got people’s attention and they actually set it up as something worth bowing down to. Over the millennia, it has trickled down in various forms, sometimes manifesting itself through religion, sometimes through music, art, or dance. But, no matter how you look at it, shock value continues to prove its worthlessness as a true, creative currency.

It’s nothing new. People have been getting naked and making offensive statements and paintings and songs for thousands of years. So, what makes people continue to pay attention to all of the stuff we see a la Gaga and Cyrus? Could it be that people get bored with their “normal” lives and need extra stimulation? Maybe it’s because there’s a realization that some things have been done before and the shocking seems novel. No matter what it is, when people become desensitized to the “shock” of today, how insane will the next thing have to be to get consumers of crass to point their antennae toward it?

Around a decade ago when my wife was a student at the University of Georgia at the Lamar Dodd School, we saw a student exhibit that included a drawing of crucified male genitalia. At the time, we both were appalled by the image; offended. As Christians, it made no sense to us why someone would go out of their way to make such an image. But, as time went on, it became clear that other people were going to try to outdo even that image. But, instead of it becoming more and more shocking, the material became less and less artistic and meaningful. Instead of making informed and important statements, the students were obviously only looking for attention. How artistically disappointing. The art became all about the artist. And as any good artist should know, the artist is the LAST thing you should think about when considering the art form.

So, what’s next? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll see something akin to live porn acts. Extreme violence could be the next wave with something akin to the Roman Colosseum. But, no matter what it is that seeks to shock us next, it will never be so powerful as the thing that engenders love, peace, and joy in the human soul. I hope we look there first and leave the shock in its proper place; Hinnom…

Where’d My Joy Go?

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For a while now, I have been struggling with myself and my inability to embrace joy. I’m generally a happy person, but happiness and joy are two completely different things and I am in the middle of trying to figure out how to get past some things that seem to be in the way of being a better friend, husband, father, and servant of God. Here are a few obstacles in my path and might be in yours as well:

1. Trying too hard. I’ve noticed that ambition almost always gets in the way of joy. Joy and contentment are very close to each other. So, when you are in the throes of ambition, it’s understandable that it would be difficult to be joyous and not always reaching for the next goal. How can I get around this issue? I believe that ambition is important and even integral to joy, but it must be balanced or seasoned with an understanding that I can’t be “on” all the time. It seems that every moment I think about what I want to acheive next; what I “need” to accomplish. While it’s important to set and attain goals, it’s also important to take time to just “be”. Joy is in contentment and “being” is part of being content. Just “be”.

2. My expectations are too high. This goes for myself and for others. When you expect too much of yourself, you will often fail those expectations and end up feeling terrible about yourself. However, my main problem is that I expect too much of others and find myself almost continually disappointed by other people. For instance, I think about suffering in the world a great deal of the time; mostly the suffering of children. I lead a ministry over care and provision for orphans and fatherless, which allows me to see this suffering first-hand. So, much of my life and thoughts are consumed with thinking about these kids. This makes it easy for me to judge others and wonder why they’re “throwing money away” or “wasting their time” when I see them post pictures of their families that were just taken in a professional photo shoot. Or I wonder why they couldn’t come to and give at a benefit dinner, then I see that they went to a sporting event or concert and spent who knows how much money to “treat themselves”. I know, this is judgemental and it’s hard for me to deal with, especially when my family and I forego these types of luxuries so that we can give to help children or the poor. Which leads to the last issue I’ve noticed in myself…

3. I think I’m something special. The plain fact is that since I believe I’m doing good things, it makes me feel like I’m somehow better than others. The other fact here is that I AM NOT. I’m an imperfect, weak, and sin-laden soul who needs help and peace and forgiveness just like anyone else.

I know this post is awfully ranty, but I needed to get some things out and also find a way forward through this weird and messy me-ness. We all struggle in life. I just want to be able to not think too much and not abdicate my joy.

I hope you will, too.

Writing Between Worlds

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What does it mean? I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have an idea of what I mean by my tag line, but I am compelled to give some explanation.

I’m a person who believes in an afterlife. I don’t merely hope there’s one, I know there is and live that way as a result. Death does not frighten me and this world we live in now doesn’t hold all for me. As many others feel, the issues we face here and now are petty; politics, sports, entertainment and the like. So much of it really doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, many people center their existence on these meaningless pursuits to the detriment of their souls.

There’s another world that has infinite worth and goodness. This place is perfect and means more than we could ever grasp here. It’s a place caught only in short glances through ancient accounts and the faith of those who know it exists. But, so much of it is unknown as to be so mysterious it can’t be grasped.

So, my decision in writing is to look between these two realms, to a place that exists in the souls of people, where they will reside intermediately during their passage from this world to the next. In this place, anything is possible and deep questions may be asked and answered. Time doesn’t exist and neither does space. Only the imagination of the spirit and soul reside in this place. It’s a sphere of infinite possibility and wonder. I hope you can meet me there, someday…

I Have A Nightmare

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I know that today is a day for thinking big and reaching forward. I love that, but I also realize that mankind still has just as many problems, if not more, than it did prior to the Civil Rights Movement. 

I am seventh generation Alabamian. My family has lived on the same property in rural Alabama since the early 1800s, so we have many long years of history here. In that history, I’m proud to say, none of my ancestors owned anyone else. However, that doesn’t mean that they never hated someone of another color. This is the past we all continue to break from and ensure our children do not experience in any way.

The South has healed amazingly well since the Civil War and Civil Rights. In fact, I believe that a great deal of the South is better off in many ways than the rest of the country where I see news reports of violence and hate all the time. People in the South, to a much greater extent, no longer find it taboo to marry someone of another color or ethnicity. So many wonderful things are happening.

My nightmare is that the division we see in so many other ares of our country will start a new culture of hate. I don’t want my children to have to deal with this, but it seems that it’s inevitable. Overall, I would have all people live peaceably and love one another. I believe in the words of John who says, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). 

If God is love, then love is God. I hope that each person in this world will keep this truth in you and let love live in you.

Let Me Apologize in Advance…

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No matter how I say this, it will sound self-serving and terribly presumptuous and pretentious. But, I need to say it anyway.

After I finished my latest novel, Following Durant, I did what most authors do and set it aside. After I finish a book, I need to get away from it for a while and let it be. A few days after finishing the first draft, I went back through it for a first edit. I was able to resolve some issues, fix grammar, etc.

Yesterday, I opened the manuscript and began to read the first chapter. For some reason, it seemed fresh. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t read it in a few weeks, but I was really into the story and the characters, right from the start. As I continued to read, I felt myself genuinely enjoying the work and the writing.

It was then that I realized that I was actually enjoying something I had written and that it was really good! I know. This is why I apologized in advance. I really don’t like to talk about my writing in terms of arrogance or pretense. But, I felt a victory and had to share it.

As I continued to read, I began to weep. I wept, partly because the story made me and partly because I was so happy that my own story made me cry. You’re probably wondering if I’m bipolar now, and that’s okay. It’s a perfectly natural response to what I’m writing here. But, let me assure you, I am sane.

I guess the point here is that, as writers, we often have our guard up. We have to be critical of our own work. If we aren’t, then it will not be worth the paper on which it is written. But, there are those moments when we let our guard down and just see what happens. It’s then that we can see ourselves in the work and have peace with it.

The Peace Without

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There is a peace, a true peace, that is found only outside of one’s self. I saw this in the eyes of a person tonight. He is a prisoner. I don’t know his name or where he’s from, but he will never leave my mind.

Another man and I go to a prison every month to conduct worship services for the inmates. We usually have around 200 men in the chapel. These are people who have been involved in all manner of criminal activity, but none of that really matters since I’m really no better than any of them. I stand there, leading songs, a sinful and incomplete man, the same as them. But, I have hope. I have peace and I want them to have it, too.

Tonight, nine men humbled themselves and allowed my friend Matthew to bury them under water. These men relinquished their old lives. They assented to execution of a kind that will now allow them to live more abundant lives; lives of hope and peace.

One of the men met us after we had finished worshiping. He shook our hands and said, “My mother passed away last night. I know she’s in Heaven. Now I know I can be there, too.”

You can’t find that kind of peace inside yourself. It’s the kind of peace that truly passes all understanding. I’m grateful to have seen it from the other side of these eyes.