Category: Religion

Originally posted in 2005 at and then again in 2009 on Facebook.  I like to bring this one up from time to time. 

I bring this post up, because of the latest controversy over “thoughts and prayers” and when people offer that up during a tragedy, be it public, or private, whether it’s an airplane crash, or someone on Social Media posting about death, or injury to a loved one.  Prayer is a big deal to me.  It is something that I engage in every day.  To me it is an expression of my faith, as well as proof of my faith.  Read on

Saying Your Prayers

“Pray for me”, believe in the “power of prayer”, “I will pray for you”, “Pray to God”, you know, we have all heard these phrases before, at one point or another in our lives. When we are down, and not feeling well, or stressed about a situation, or not sure of what is going to happen next, or perhaps, seeking some sort of metaphysical support for a problem we are going through, we are advised to “Pray” What is prayer? Is prayer a request for help? A glorification of God, and Jesus? A wish? A desperate plea? A chance to get “the goods” from God, because we have no other way to get what we can’t have? How are we supposed to pray? We learned the “mechanics” of prayer as it were, folded hands, kneeling in supplication, eyes turned toward the altar. That’s how I was taught to pray, but isn’t prayer an exercise in faith? In Daniel, Chapter 6, the prophet tells us this:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full”

So from this, we can surmise that prayer is a private affair, kind of like a phone call between you and your best friend, where no one else can see or hear what transpires between you. It is a private communication with God, It also tells us that those of us who pray and make a show of it, stand little chance of the Lord hearing what is being asked for. And that’s the other thing, what do we pray for? Does God indeed answer all of prayers, regardless of how trivial the request may be? When we are at our child’s soccer game and we utter “God let Johnny score a goal” is that a prayer, or just an off the cuff remark? And, to that end, do we pray to benefit others, or ourselves? In Matthew Chapter 22, Verse 22, it is put simply:

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”

So, again we are told, it’s a faith thing. But, what of faith? Is it just merely saying “I believe there is a God.” ? A person may say that, but what is the level of his conviction? Is the faith always there? Or, is it there only when we are faced with serious troubles, and that’s when we begin to pray. This what the pastor at my old church called “pulling on the knobs of the Jesus vending machine” . This is where faith, and prayer intersect, when it comes to everyday faith. Many of us seem to forget about God, until the fertilizer hits the fan, and then, there we are lining up with the faithful, mumbling our prayers, and hoping for divine deliverance, so we can get back to our lives. But, praying is so much more than that, prayer is an act of faith. Praying isn’t a crap shoot, we shouldn’t say our prayers with the disclaimer “Okay God, I am asking you this to see if it works.” Prayer needs to be approached for what it is, an act of faith, as well as an expression of faith, and a desire to get closer to God In James, Chapter 5, Verse 15 it tells us

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”

The keywords in the above verse being “And the prayer offered in faith” That tells us right there, a prayer is not a test. Praying is, and should be an expression of our faith, not a test to God to “see what we can get”. As far as how we should pray let us look at the book of Matthew, Chapter 6 verse 6

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

“For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” That last part of the verse says a lot doesn’t it? We spend many hours praying to God, and outlining to him, in detail, what it is we seek….. that is sort of like telling a fireman that you use water to put out fires. It’s obvious to the Lord what is in our hearts and in our minds, the challenge, is to put faith in that fact. It is through faith that we seek God, and it is through faith, that we pray. But we must not pray half heartedly, or tentatively, saying “Here’s my prayer God, I hope you answer it, it would be nice if You did, but if You don’t, I’ll figure something else out” A prayer should be prayed with the sincerity of the heart, and the conviction of faith that it will work out, and God will answer our prayers. The other part of praying is right there in the first part of the verse, “go into your room and pray to your Father”, in other words, set aside time for God, and for prayer. Give him the attention, and the praise that He deserves. Not only that, it is about giving yourself the proper time, and space to pray properly, and are not distracted. I guess all that this adds up to, is that prayer is our way of communicating with God, to ask for guidance, a favor, help, or a blessing. Prayer is powerful, it is soothing, it is calming, and it works. How do I know? God has answered my prayers before, and has come through in seemingly impossible situations. The first time it ever happened was amazing to me. I tried to apply logic to the situation, but I couldn’t, because it defied logic, the only explanation there could be was the fact that God did indeed answer my prayers. At first I am not sure that I wanted to believe, because, after all, surely God had bigger prayers to answer, but then, again, there is the faith thing again, and I can’t stress that enough. That is the main point here, is that you have to believe and believe with every fiber of your being, to the very depths of your soul. A prayer is not a prayer when it is uttered as an aside during an unpleasant situation, or when we think we will impress someone with our faith. To me, faith has always been a quiet, and personal thing, not something waved around in other people’s faces as a way of showing them we “believe better than they do” Because God has something to say about that, from Matthew

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full….

So, it is obvious to me that God doesn’t like show offs. I write this today, probably as a way of answering my own questions about prayer and faith. Hey, I don’t claim to be perfect, sometimes I need to be reminded about the power of God, and the power of prayer. And, prayer is not about instant gratification either, nor is it about personal gain, or power. God doesn’t make your wish appear in a puff of smoke. God does his work in His own way, and will surprise you, that when you least expect it, He will be there, presenting you with a solution, or an answer, or guidance. But remember, the Lord “helps those who help themselves” Praying is also not about laying around and waiting for God to deliver. As you go and seek Him, you will find Him, and, well as Jesus said, in Luke, Chapter 11, Verse 9

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”

One’s faith must be active, and seeking, not sitting and waiting. One must actively seek God on a daily basis, and reaffirm their own belief. Yes it’s hard, and yes, faith and belief can take a beating, especially in today’s world. God knows this, and rewards those of us who believe, even in the darkest hours. I often wonder where my life would be if I had abandoned my faith anywhere along the line over the last couple of years. And when I do think about it, I shudder at the thought. God has carried me this far, and will continue to do so, I know He will….it’s all a matter of faith.

To add to this.  When offering “thoughts and prayers” that is exactly what I am doing. It’s not a throw-away line, or something I am saying.  I mean it.  As soon as someone asks for prayers, they get them.  I offer a silent, heartfelt, faith-backed prayer for God to intercede and help the situation.  God acts in so many ways.  I have seen it in my own life, and the lives of others.  It’s real.  It works.



Chicken, and Free Speech

The whole “Chick-Fil-A” thing this past twenty four hours was not about gay marriage, contrary to what some want to believe, or some would want you to believe.

It was about Freedom of Speech.

In it’s simplest form, that’s what it was about. It was about showing support for the one right we have that probably matters the most.  The right to express an opinion without fear of prosecution, persecution, censure, or any other kind of binding restriction.

Why were the people there?  They can’t all be intolerant-Christian-anti-gay-bigots, can they? Because, as we all (are supposed to) know, Chick-Fil-A is run by a bunch of intolerant, hateful people…….. you know the drill.  Anyone who comes out in disagreement with anything the Left says, is a hateful, intolerant bigot.

Well, the Left, those people who are full of love, and charity and kindness, and most of all “tolerance” would like you to believe that.  The twitterverse was alive with tweets from those tolerant people, wishing death, disease and diarrhea on those “Christian bigots’ who were enjoying their chicken sandwiches, and waffle fries. I find the use of “Christian” and “bigot” in the same phrase by people whose very lives are defined by bigotry of the worst kind, quite ironic.

Anyway.  The issue at hand was not gay marriage, or gay rights, or what have you.  In fact, let me go on record as saying, I really don’t care who you sleep with. It really doesn’t matter to me.  However, the militant, gay activist left seems to want to make it my business, and make it matter to me.

The real issue at hand was freedom of speech, and the reason for the huge turnout at these restaurants, was not a repudiation of gays and their desire to be married, it was about people being fed up with a bunch of bullies trying to silence someone who voices their opinion, an opinion that they are entitled to.  There were people from all walks of life at the restaurants, eating chicken to show support for the freedoms that matter to all of us.

Sorry, progfail lefties. Your attempt to silence a person, and demonize their business failed miserably, because by and large, Americans, despite the disparity of our beliefs,  like to be able to speak our mind without being punished by those who think they know better than the rest of us.

The statement that was made today showed that Americans simply are not going to tolerate this kind of infringement on our freedoms.  The statement was not made by conservatives, or Christians, or bigots, or racists… it was made by Americans.  People sick and tired of groups of people, as well as a government that think they can dictate what we should be thinking.

Everyone is reflecting on 9/11 this day.  It would be cliche for me to write about where I was and what I was doing on that day.  Since I do not like being cliche, I won’t.   That day did affect me profoundly, on levels I cannot even describe.

What did affect me was the way today, ten years after the most vicious attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, dawned.  It was the same as it was 10 years ago, maybe a bit cooler, who knows?  I went about my morning, getting ready for church, and going to the Pancake Breakfast at the fire house.  My mind kept going back to that morning.  I cannot explain how it affected, at least, I cannot explain completely.

As the years have gone by, I have never completely forgotten the images I saw that morning, they were too horrific, too frightening, and even, too surreal to forget.  Part of my heart was in those towers on that day, it was there with the firefighters of the FDNY.  As I watched the towers burn, in my mind, I could see the firefighting activity going on.  I could only imagine how crowded the radio channels were, and the chaos that must have been taking place at the 9-1-1 Center, and in the “radio room”  (regardless of it’s size, and number of occupants, where ever the fire dispatchers are located, it is always called the “radio room”)  My mind was in several different places at once.  I never in my life fought a fire of any type approaching that level of intensity, and I certainly do not put myself on the same level as a firefighter in a big city.  That being said, we share the same bond, in many ways.  I also know the fire service from the dispatch side of things. I know how hectic it can get in a given dispatch center during a “regular” incident (Large auto accident, big fire, etc)  I could only imagine the stress and the strain the dispatchers were going through, and through it all, each one maintained their professionalism and communicated clearly and effectively.

So, that was one level… and then there is the other one.  My mind is still haunted by those images, especially of the people jumping, and the footage of the people trapped above the fire in both towers.  The images were heart-rending, and to this day, are difficult to watch.  Watching video is one thing, but seeing the still photos, is something else.  Even though you can’t see individual expressions, the fear is palpable nonetheless.   It’s hard at this point, not to lapse into meaningless cliche about who those people were, their dreams, desires, what they did, who they loved. It’s all been done, and I cannot do it any more justice, but, I do feel that aspect, and it makes things all the more unforgettable.  All of those faceless people in those grainy photos and video of the upper floors, were someone to somebody, and they all left this world in a way none of them expected.   I often find myself wondering what that day must have been like, especially for the person who looked out the window just as the aircraft approached.  I cannot fathom that feeling, and I cannot fathom what it must have been like.  Even worse, the people on the plane, who knew, like that flight attendant who was on the first aircraft to hit the towers, she was talking to someone from her airline’s headquarters, and she knew what was going on, she knew it.  I cannot comprehend what that must be like, the overpowering helplessness that must have overcome all of them.   Still photos abound of the people who watched the attack, and its aftermath, unfold.  They were on the street surrounding the Twin Towers, they were in buildings throughout the area, and they were in Times Square watching it happen on the “Jumbotron” TV’s on some of the buildings.  The photos of the people nearest the attack site are the ones that are the most unsettling.  Each one shows a person, or group of people, their expressions showing a mixture of horror, and disbelief at what happened.

Then there is the other level, the one that kicks in involuntarily when I see something happening, it’s the analyst in me.  I can’t help it sometimes.  I can be reacting emotionally to something, but a detached part of my brain is recording sounds, words, and things that are going on around me, for later analysis when I my emotional outburst is over.  It is an extremely rational part of me, and something that doesn’t go away.   I remember that morning.  I was getting my boys ready for school, and it was a typical morning with them  Channel 11 is on the TV, and some kid show is keeping Andrew entertained, while the radio is tuned to Don and Roma on WLS, I am scarcely paying attention to the radio as I rush about getting breakfast, the volume isn’t that loud, and I will have time for it later.  It was my day off from my job at Gateway Country Store, and I was going to enjoy it.   As I pass through the kitchen, I hear the words “air traffic controller” and “New York” from the radio, and pay no mind to it.  Just then, the phone rings, it’s my mom.  “Tim do you have the TV on, watch the news, an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center.” …

That’s when it started, the analyst kicked in.  I thought, how in the heck does an airplane crash into the World Trade Center.  My first thought, before turning on the TV is to grab my Road Atlas.  I quickly flip to New York City, wanting to know where JFK and LaGuardia were in relation to the World Trade Center, I found the proper page, still talking to my mom, and turned on the TV.   I didn’t expect to see what I saw.   A huge amount of  smoke was pouring from the 1st tower that had been hit.  I remember saying.  “That had to be a huge plane that did that mom, that’s got to be 8 or 10 floors on fire, the only plane that’s going to do that is an airliner.”   and she replied.  “Well the news is saying they don’t know what kind of plane it was.”   I hung up and sat to watch.  My mind was seeing the images on the screen, and listening to Diane Sawyer, but the other part of my mind was thinking.

What kind of plane was it?

How did it hit the tower?

How fast was it going?

How many people on board?

and the most chilling of all.  “It had to be deliberate”.   To me, at that moment, nothing else made sense.  I have spent my life, literally, studying World War II, and that also lead to study, and reading about military history in general, as well as terrorism.  That also led to learning about military strategy, military thought, and other things I cannot list.  My analytical mind was coming to only one conclusion.  Terrorists did it.   At that moment, it was the only thing that made sense to me.  Airplanes just don’t take off from an airport, and crash into skyscrapers.   The term “accident” was dismissed completely from my mind.  I knew an attempt was made in 1993 to destroy the WTC by Islamic Terrorists.  Somehow, I knew I was watching their second attempt at it.    As if to underscore that line of thought, the second aircraft hit the other tower.   Then I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt it was deliberate.  Immediately, my mind was in overdrive.    A deep sense of foreboding told me it wasn’t over, that there would be more.   My mind was racing, listing potential targets, and dismissing them.  I then began to look outside for the signs that a plane was heading for the Sears Tower.   By now, one had hit the Pentagon, and the news was reporting that another aircraft was missing, and presumed to be heading for Washington.

I couldn’t contain myself anymore.  I was on the computer, trying to do my own amateur analysis of who the culprits were, and before his name was even spoken on the news, I knew it was Osama Bin Laden.  I pulled an old copy of  the Naval Institute’s magazine, called “Proceedings” from my bookshelf.  In it, was an analysis piece about Osama Bin Laden written in 1999 I think.  I could think of no other person, and no other group other than Al Qaeda.   I had the radio, computer, and television going all at once, I was on the phone with my friend Peggy from Ohio, talking about the situation in New York.   Just then, I heard the high pitched roar of what could only be fighter planes flying overhead.  I leapt to my front window, and grabbed the binoculars I always kept nearby.  I caught them out of the corner of my eye, and turned the binoculars to the movement, after a momentary wobble, I settled the binoculars on the aircraft.   4 F16’s were clearly visible, flying in two pairs, and what really struck me was the fact that they were armed.  “Sidewinder” missles were clearly visible on the wing tips.   As fast they appeared, they were gone, rocketing northeast.   I continued my conversation with Peggy, as we both watched the coverage on ABC at our respective homes.

I will never forget how I felt that day, and I will never forget how this has affected me.  To watch the documentaries, as I did yesterday, it is almost haunting.  What was scary, or, perhaps, just weird, or whatever, is how some of the documentaries echoed some of my initial thoughts on the day’s events, some of the people involved, in both Public Safety, and the Federal Government were thinking the same things I was thinking in the initial stages of the day’s events.

9/11 haunts me, in ways that I can’t even describe.   On one level, it’s the memories of what I saw, and then on other, deeper levels, it’s an almost frightening understanding of the machinations that brought us to that point.

Like others before them, those who wish to inflict a given political, or belief system on a society, through terror, are not “madmen” or “out of there minds” they are not “twisted” or irrational.  They are rational, by their own standards, and, like many before them, people like  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, just to name a few, the aforementioned labels do not fit, and are not even appropriate.

A “madman” may be frightening, but a madman is not rational, he is not calculating, he doesn’t think systematically, he acts on impulse, and destroys things without rhyme, reason, or a greater, if you will, purpose.  Hitler, Stalin, and the Islamists were not, and are not madmen either.  They are cold, calculating, political creatures, who would willingly waste human life in pursuit of their political goals. That is what makes them more frightening than a madman.  They believe, and because they believe, they will act.   And they did just that.  That is where the understanding has to start, and the understanding is necessary so we can protect ourselves in the future, and strike them down if necessary.

Words of Power.

“He says: Be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46:10)

One phrase, one verse, and it sums it all up.  “Be still and know that I am God.”   What does that mean?  Who is God, and what is he trying to tell us?

When taken, just as it is, one could easily rate that verse in the same vein, as, say Tom Brady from the New England Patriots saying “I am the best quarterback in the NFL”.  It could be taken as a boast, or as a brag to the uninitiated.  In fact, the uninitiated, the faithless would laugh that phrase off, just as Michael Vick, or Brett Favre would laugh off a remark like that from Tom Brady….

But, we aren’t talking football, or bragging rights.  We are talking about what, in my opinion, is the single most powerful verse in the Bible.

He says: Be still and know that I am God.

Look at that phrase, how it is able to stand alone.  Now, read it again, concentrating on each part of the verse.  This is more than a metaphysical brag, far more than supernatural snark, it is a declarative from God Himself as to who he is, and in one phrase, he not only advising us of who he is, He is commanding us to realize Who we are dealing with.  To get deeper in to the verse, let us look at what comes before.  Here is Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The entire psalm is about God’s greatness and his power.  His mercy and his grace.  The psalm was written as a song, by David as praise to God.  Note in verse 1  “God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble”, this verse carries one of the themes of the Bible that is present from the Old  Testament to the New Testament:  God is our help, God is there for us, God is merciful, and powerful.  This  theme is never left throughout both texts, from Genesis, to Revelation.  Note in verse 3, how it begins “Therefore we will not fear….” Why won’t we fear? Refer back to verse one and two:  “God is our refuge and strength”.   Regardless of what is going on in our lives, even though the figurative mountains in our lives fall into the heart of the sea, we should always remember He is there for us.

But what does all of this have to do with verse 10?

It is the lead up to verse 10,  we are told, throughout this Psalm that, no matter what, God is with us, he is on our side.  But, perhaps, we have trouble believing this.  Verse 8 begins this by saying “Come see what the Lord has done.”  this was written during David’s reign as King.  “Come see what the Lord has done” can mean two things… see what he has done “now” and what he has done for the Israelites since their trek from Egypt.  It is an all encompassing phrase, telling us to look upon the vastness of God’s works.  Verse 9, outlines more of God’s power.  “He shatters spears” and “burns shields with fire” meaning that no army is powerful enough to stand up to His power, but also, that he will make us make peace by taking away the weapons we use to wage our wars, whatever they are, spiritual, physical, or emotional.

Verse 10 begins by saying “be still”.  God is not commanding quiet.  My 5th grad teacher used that phrase quite often to quiet a noisy classroom, when confronted with noisy children a sharp “Be still” would quiet all but the most intransigent.   “Be still” in this verse, however, means more than merely “be quiet”.   God is telling us to still our fears, our apprehensions, and uncertainties.  He is gently telling us to not only quiet our voices, but to quiet our hearts and minds as well.  In two words He is telling us that there is no need for worry, fear, apprehension, or anxiousness.  The next two words are “and know”.  God isn’t just pointing to himself, like some trash talking athlete, trying to make himself stand out in a crowd.  He is again, advising us, and commanding us to “know”.  To know what?  To know Him, His power, His grace, and His salvation.  He is telling us to know Him as we should.  “Know” also means “to understand”, and understanding is only gained when we apply what we know.  How does God want us to apply that knowledge?  Through trusting him.  Go back to verse 1- “God is our strength and our refuge” is how it begins, and that is what He wants us to understand, and the writers of this Psalm want us to understand.  The Israelites had first hand knowledge and experience with God being “strength” and “refuge”  and they want us to know it as well.  Finally, the first part of the verse ends with “That I am God”.    He is making a final, declarative statement that there is no quibbling with.  He is God, and the only God.  He is telling us, in no uncertain terms that He is, indeed, the end all, and be all.

Taken as a whole, the phrase is God’s command to us to trust him, and rely on him in every situation.  It is His reassurance to us, that no matter what, He is there, on our side, ready to be our strength, refuge, help, and shelter.  In our hectic, tumultuous lives, this simple phrase reminds that we indeed need to “be still” because God wants us to know Him, and trust Him.  When we do that, He will lead us through our lives, and will be our Protector and Refuge.