Category Archives: Opinion

Buried by Pastor James Collins

Buried

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Poppa looked out at the vultures circling near the back pasture. I walked out onto the back porch and handed him a cup of coffee. He took the cup with his right hand and put his left on my shoulder. I was seven-years-old. “Something’s dead out there,” he said. As he took a sip from his cup, I looked up at him and asked, “Is it Miss Bossy?” Miss Bossy was the name I had given to Poppa’s gentle, tan-colored Guernsey cow. We had raised her from a calf. For the past three or four days, she hadn’t come up to the feed lot. “Most likely,” he said.

We lived on a small forty-acre farm. I sat on the wheel cover as Poppa drove his old International Harvester tractor. It didn’t take us very long to reach the back pasture. Miss Bossy had been dead long enough to bloat. Flies buzzed around the carcass.

I asked, “What happened to her?”

“All living things die,” he answered. “We have to bury her.”

“Why? Why don’t you let the buzzards have her?”

“Because as she decays the soil and the ground water will be contaminated. We don’t know what killed her. She might have a disease that could spread to the other animals. Some diseases can even spread to people.”

I climbed off and watched as Poppa started digging. He had a small back-hoe attachment on the back, and a bucket on the front of the tractor. He made quick work of the hole and climbed down. He attached one end of a chain to Miss Bossy’s back hooves and the other end to the back of the tractor. He climbed back on, pulled the remains into the hole, climbed off, and unhooked the chain. Poppa got back on the tractor and used the front bucket to push the pile of dirt into the hole.

Tired of standing, I sat in the grass and intently observed him as he went about the job. When he finished he said, “Son, let’s go.” I started to crawl back up, but before I could, he reached down and pulled me up. He sat me in his lap. I steered the tractor as he shifted gears and ran the pedals.

When we got back to the house, I asked, “Poppa, why do things die?” He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Dying is part of living. The trick is to learn to let the dead stay buried and go on with your life.”

His words, which I didn’t really understand at the time, have stuck with me over the years. I have come to realize the wisdom of an old Oklahoma farmer is echoed in the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul clearly stated the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died to take away our sins, He rose to defeat death, but why does the Bible emphasize His burial?

In first century Israel, when a Jewish person died, they were embalmed, wrapped in linen, and buried in a tomb. That is what Jesus did with our sins. Paul also wrote in Galatians 2, “I am crucified with Christ…” Not only have we been crucified with Christ, we have also been buried with Christ. Your past isn’t just dead, it’s buried.

The point is: If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your old life is buried. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, you can be raised to live a new life of victory.

Are you preyed upon by buzzards of guilt? Is the devil buzzing around the bloated carcass of your old life? Does the stench of past sins remind you of the person you once were? Is the disease of your past killing your present?

You don’t have to live defeated. If you are a Christian, your past is dead and buried. Let the dead stay buried and go on with your life.

Pastor James Collins serves at Fort Scott’s First Southern Baptist Church. He can be reached at (620) 223-2986, or through the website www.fortscottfsbc.com.

Choose by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

People react to the glory of God in you, not to you.” When a visiting pastor from Iran shared that, I scribbled it on my bulletin. He then posed two questions: (1) Do our lives invite others to know God as we demonstrate our faith by looking at our circumstances through an eternal lens and not a worldly one? (2) Has the garbage in our souls been recycled into something beautiful, strengthening our faith and drawing others to Christ?

Easter Sunday soon will be upon us. Russell Stover stock will rise as chocolate lovers empty the candy shelves. Plastic eggs (Are those still legal, or are they now made of paper?) will be filled with jelly beans, coins and confetti; family buffets will be scheduled and churches will be packed. We will stand and sing worship songs about Jesus’ exiting the tomb and celebrate that we too can partake in new life if we accept that he died on the cross to pay for our sins. Many will walk the aisle excitedly and profess “Yes, Yes, I want that” as they begin their Christian walk. We who have already made that declaration will clap and some, like me, will tear up.

But for many, the joy of that profession will be lost somewhere along their journey. The bad junk of the world will inhabit their hearts, and they will forget that God stands by, ready to recycle that garbage so their unexplainable joy points others to Him. This is not new to our generation. God established that trash-recyclables substitution with Jesus’ death 2000+ years ago.

Think about it. The cross certainly wasn’t joyful, but what was accomplished through it —Jesus’ victory over death– was. He made something ugly into something beautiful: Resurrection Sunday. The message to us is life-changing: For every Friday of suffering for the believer, there is a Resurrection Sunday ahead. The choice is ours: We can stay on the cross or exit the open tomb.

Does that mean our troubling circumstances immediately disappear?

Not necessarily. But, if we keep our eyes on our Heavenly Father, we will find it much easier to find our garbage recycled into something spiritual. In the Old Testament, Isaiah prophetically reminds us of how the (then) future Messiah will turn our trash into triumph: …he will bestow on them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Is. 61:3)

Wow! Should we choose to leave our “tomb,” we are promised beauty instead of ashes, joy instead of mourning and praise instead of heaviness. I pray that this Easter, amidst the egg hunts and buffet dinners, we all take time to understand the choice set before us. The choice for life and not death. The choice to be uplifted and not downtrodden. The choice to make a difference, remembering that now–and every day—people are watching.

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Do You Feel Lucky?

This is first in submissions from James Collins, the pastor at First Southern Baptist Church.

Do You Feel Lucky?

And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.”

Luke 19:37-39

Many years ago, before we were married, I was invited to my wife’s parents’ house for a visit. We had been dating for a while. I suppose Amanda’s mom and dad realized they were not going to get rid of me. So, they invited me for a visit. When I arrived, Amanda’s momma said, “We want you to feel welcome.”

They put me in their youngest daughter, Amy’s bedroom. She was thirteen at the time. Her bed was small, and my feet hung over the end. Stuffed animals were all over the bed. The blankets were pink. It was not very manly, but I didn’t mind. I looked forward to relaxing. My plan was to sleep in the next morning.

I was awakened early by a knock. I opened my eyes and looked at the red digital clock. It was 4:45 in the morning. Amanda’s dad knocked at the door. He said, “Today is spirit day at school and Amy needs her red shirt.” I said, “Come on in.” He came in with Amy. They turned the light on and started digging through the closet. It was 4:45 in the morning.

They had a dog, Lucky. Lucky was not a little dog. He was a big, gray Weimaraner. Lucky ran in the open door, jumped in the bed, and tried to get under the covers. He grabbed the pink blankets with his teeth and started trying to pull them off me. It was 4:45 in the morning.

Amanda’s dad and sister were looking for the red shirt, and they were not paying any attention to the dog. After a minute, Lucky let go of the blankets, started licking my face, and nibbling at my ear. All the while, Amanda’s dad and her sister were still looking for the shirt. Amanda came in and started helping them. Now there were three people looking for a red shirt. The lights were on and the dog was trying to rip my ear off. It was 4:46 in the morning.

Amanda’s momma walked into the room. The entire family was there — Amanda, her sister, her mom, and dad. They were all looking for the red shirt. Lucky the dog was chewing on my ear. Nobody was paying attention to that dog. I thought about jumping up and screaming, “Let me help ya’ll find that red shirt!” It was 4:47 in the morning.

Twenty minutes went by. They destroyed the bedroom…but they never found the red shirt.

They walked out, turned out the light, closed the door, and left Lucky on the bed with me. He was still trying to rip off my ear.

After a minute, Amanda’s momma opened the door and called the dog. As she slammed the door I heard her scream, “You left the dog in there. You are going to wake James up if you’re not careful!”

So much for feeling welcome!

Sometimes, we treat Jesus the same way. We say, “Jesus, You are welcome in my house, but don’t go in the computer room. There are some things in there that I like to look at, but I don’t want You to see.

Jesus, You are welcome, but don’t look at my television. There are programs that I watch, but I don’t want You to see them.

Jesus, I want to welcome You into my heart because I don’t want to go to hell, but you can’t own everything. You can’t be welcome everywhere in my life.

The point is: We should welcome Jesus into every area of our lives. Jesus can’t be your Savior if He is not your Lord.

Palm Sunday is next week. It is called “Palm Sunday,” because the people welcomed Jesus by spreading palm branches in His path. However, there were Pharisees in the crowd that did not believe in Jesus. They wanted the crowd to quit shouting praises to Jesus. They refused to welcome Jesus. Eventually, they turn the crowd against the Lord. A week later, the same crowd yelled for Jesus to be crucified.

Where would you have been on that first Palm Sunday? Would you have been among the disciples that welcomed Him — or would you have been among the Pharisees that did not welcome Him? It is easy to condemn the Pharisees, but would we have acted differently? All of us are sinners. All of us have had areas in our life where Christ was not welcome.

The Good news is Jesus still loves us. Through Christ, we can be forgiven.

Will you welcome Him into every area of your life?

What Is In Your Tank by Patty LaRoche

 

Patty LaRoche

If you’re not hungry for God, you’re probably full of yourself.” I wish I made that up, but I didn’t. Thank you, Pinterest.

While in Florida, Dave and I are attending a church that has called for a 21-day fast leading up to Easter. Eight-foot wooden structures are placed throughout the building, and church-goers are encouraged to write their prayer requests and/or what they are giving up.

I particularly love the one above, top, and imagine siblings are the targets. Some others posted fasting from social media, Netflix, “my toys” and even beer.

In Scripture, we are told to “fast and pray.” I get that. I believe in it. The first time I attempted to get closer to God by fasting, I went to bed that night with a migraine that no elephant-stomping-on-my-head could rival. My second attempt, liquids-only, wasn’t much better. Although I didn’t quite hit the serial killer mode, it did not escape my notice that my children disappeared the minute they heard my footsteps…or heard my moaning from hunger pains. My solution? Blending. Don’t waste your time. There’s something just plain nasty about pureed roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, biscuits and apple pie.

Anyway, the church here has encouraged us to use the time we fast to hunger for God instead of what we are giving up (in my case, junk food and eating after 5:00 P.M.—Don’t judge me; you have nooooooo idea). The lead pastor is going on the Daniel diet (all fruits and vegetables), and his wife is juicing for two meals a day. Some in our Bible study group are fasting from sweets or their Ipads or anger or judgmentalism. For all of us, we are to be pursuing ways to draw closer to God.

Fasting encourages us to use the time denying ourselves physically/emotionally to fill our tanks spiritually. Yesterday, I watched a video of some gas thieves in Australia who used their mouths to siphon gas out of an R.V. Poor guys chose the wrong holding tank and ended up sucking from the sewer line. Although disgusting, it was a great reminder of garbage in, garbage out. What we take in, good or bad, is all we have to share.

Emptying ourselves of whatever prevents us from filling our lives with God will help us replace the bad with the Great as we refuse to settle for anything less. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus tells us how: If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. Just as God loves us individually, denying ourselves is no one-size-fits-all formula. My potato chips and popcorn might not be a temptation to you, just as your brownies or cheesecake don’t appeal to me. The one thing we have in common is we all need to be filling our spiritual tank with a lot of God because that’s the only way we will be overflowing with something good to give.

And so, dear Reader, I will ask you the same question I asked myself: What’s in your tank?

Air Travel by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

If ever I doubted where I stand in the Skyways caste system, the major airlines have gone to impressive lengths to make it clear. They accomplish that with boarding labels, starting with the most elite and ending with commoners–like me. One airline takes it one step further and uses two rugs—one “blue” for passengers with status, and one “green” for the underlings–leaving no doubt where we stand (literally).

I know the rigamarole and loiter as close to the red, velvet, rug-divider-rope as possible, so that when my group is called, I might have some chance of squeezing my overhead bag into the space hogged by those who ignore the flight attendant’s announcement that only one item goes there. Other carry-ons are supposed to go under the seat in front of them, leaving foot space for individuals with a size-six shoe or less (perhaps if I cut off my toes).

Take American Airlines’ hierarchy, for example. The first blue-carpet group called is for passengers needing special assistance (I could fake it, but who wants to risk that kind of a sin 35,000 feet above sea level?) and passengers with kiddies under two years old (You know, the howling ones inevitably seated next to me).

While they board, Concierge Key holders of the airlines’ “elite” credit card line up. They are followed by Group 1 made up of first-class passengers, active duty U.S. military members (who, in my opinion, should get free flights and deserve special treatment), and business class passengers. Group 2 includes Platinum credit card holders, One World Emerald members (no idea what that means), and business class passengers who have paid extra for their seats. (Think every seat three or more rows from the restrooms.)

Group 3 is for Platinum Pro and Platinum credit card holders and one more jewel: the OneWorld Sapphire member. The Group 4 Boarding group continues with the Ruby members, the Gold AAdvantage members, AirPass members, premium economy passengers, American Executive cardmembers, and passengers who have purchased priority boarding, although I fail to see what the priority is, considering three-fourth of the plane seats now are taken.

Are you seeing a pattern here? The more people who are given elite status, the more obvious it becomes that those remaining—guess who—should thank our lucky stars not to end up on the wings. One time, I watched an elderly woman walk forward and wait on the blue carpet. When the agent looked at her ticket, she was told to backpedal five steps, circle the dividing rope and enter on the green one. I cringed as I watched her face turn the color of the velvet. She and I both laughed when I approached her and said, “So, take that!” The agent, mind you, did not find my comment as funny.

Group 5, also called “Preferred Boarding” for lack of a more fitting term like “Cubic Zirconiums,” is for basic economy tickets, Eligible credit card members, and Eligible corporate travelers. Somewhere between Group 7 and 9, the five of us remaining passengers board and take a seat located in the bowels of the plane by the restrooms.

Now, I get the different groupings. Some people paid $1000 for my $200 one…which is why their perks include a buffet of drinks and appetizers while the rest of us settle for a thimble-sized bag of 4 miniature pretzels and three sips of coke, not to mention we annoy our seat neighbors when we ask them to move their legs so we can cross ours.

The truth is, I poke fun at the airlines’ attempt to honor its passengers because my identity does not come from where I sit on a plane. It comes from where I stand by knowing Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:10–For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

For me, those “good things” include me walking by all the passengers seated before me and praying they know the same.

Prostitution by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

According to my husband, sometimes my instincts lean too much toward drama and not enough on common sense. Last month, his theory was validated. After sitting through a two-day seminar on sex-trafficking offered at our Jupiter, Florida, church, it was apparent that without this education, my impulse to save someone in danger probably would get me tortured.

For example, one video we watched—filmed late at night by a New York, undercover cop–showed a street prostitute angrily confronting her pimp. With arms flailing, she held nothing back and turned to storm off, her pimp not far behind. Suddenly a group of five men sprinted towards her. Yea, I silently cheered. You, Mr. Pimp, are going DOWN!

Not even close. The quintet quickly joined her pimp, encircled her, and, instead of protecting her, began threatening her. At that point in the video, I knew what I would have done. I would have stormed into the middle of the gang, ripped the men’s heads off, buried their bodies in shallow graves in the woods, grabbed the girl and taken her to my home.

That’s what Dave means about me lacking common sense.

The prostitute, now cowering and covering her eyes, immediately lost confidence and gave up. I about came out of my chair, just watching the video. Our leader asked what we saw. One of the police officers in our group responded that he noticed two of the pimps carrying guns (something I failed to see). A psychologist answered that the reason the girl covered her eyes was because of a hidden rule among pimps: if a prostitute makes any eye contact with another pimp other than hers, her pimp will beat her up. A social worker shared that there is an unwritten code among pimps: they defend each other against the prostitute as a way of showing their girls what will happen to them, should they choose to defy orders.

Oh my gosh! No one came to her aid. The poor girl was trapped. Defenseless. What led her into such a position? Statistics say that between 80-90% of all prostitutes were sexually molested as children. Was she one?

This disgraced girl, emboldened for a few minutes, now felt worthless. What horrible fate awaited her later that night? We trainees then were warned that the next photo was not for the faint of heart. We cringed when we saw a picture of a prostitute in her hospital room, the apparent target of either her pimp or her john (the man who solicits a prostitute).

Ironically, the first day of our seminar, the news broke about the prostitution/sex-trafficking sting here in Jupiter. Ten spas were involved and 300 arrest warrants were issued. You probably heard about it, as an NFL owner and company CEO’s were among dozens being served arrest warrants for their participation. Although soliciting a prostitute is only a misdemeanor, local sheriff William Snyder said he believes women in the spas were supplied by human traffickers with ties to China and New York. Numerous services (including our church) now will spring into action to help rescue, restore and reform these women.

As I shared with Dave what I learned at the seminar, how I now grieve for instead of judge these prostitutes, our discussion soon turned to how God must view the pimps and the sexual deviants who promote such evil practices. What happened in their lives that they view women with such disgust? And then it dawned on me: They too need to be told about Jesus. Did I have the same empathy for them?

No, I did not. Not even close. Amazingly, God does. In 2 Peter 3:9, we read, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Get that? “All.” Including these sexual deviant thugs.

Obviously, there are many spiritual lessons I still need to learn.

.

Fiscal responsibility critical to rebuilding Kansas

Fiscal responsibility critical to rebuilding Kansas

The following column is by Governor Laura Kelly:

Just two short years ago, the State of Kansas found itself on the brink of financial disaster. Even after depleting state savings and enduring multiple rounds of devastating budget cuts, unsustainable tax policy continued to perpetuate fiscal crisis. We saw schools close and class sizes grow. We saw an overwhelmed child welfare system let children fall through the cracks. And despite promises of immediate prosperity, Kansas routinely ranked among the nation’s worst in multiple economic indicators.

As the budget hole continued to grow, the legislature passed two sales tax increases, swept more than $2 billion from the state highway fund, delayed numerous payments to the state pension system, accumulated historic levels of debt, and raided every critical investment from early childhood education to public safety. But in the end, none of these short-term band aids could stem the bleeding caused by the reckless Brownback tax experiment. In November of 2016, Kansans called for change.

The very next year, the state hit “reset” in a historic act of bipartisanship with the passage of comprehensive tax reform. Our credit score improved within a week. The number of Kansans participating in the labor force increased for the first time since 2014.

We have only just started the rebuilding process. Our recovery is uncertain; our budget is fragile. The State of Kansas cannot afford to make a U-turn now.

Senate Bill 22 – another reckless tax plan – would absolutely dismantle all the progress we’ve made. It would throw our state once again into a self-inflicted budget crisis, diminishing all the investments we’ve worked so hard to rebuild and restore. It would put our future at risk once again in order to give significant tax breaks to entities who need them the least, while continuing to leave working families behind.

I share Kansas lawmakers’ desire to keep the state tax burden as low as possible and that will continue to be a priority. In January, I presented a structurally balanced budget that funded our schools and roads, reduced state debt, left Kansas with the largest ending balance in 20 years and did so all without a tax increase.

I was a math major. This is about basic math. My budget proposal left a healthy, fiscally responsible ending balance. If I had signed Senate Bill 22, the budget that just passed the Senate would fall to more than $600 million in the hole within two years.

That is unacceptable. That is irresponsible.

We must be patient, thoughtful, and prudent as we evaluate tax policy. And, when we move forward with sustainable, commonsense tax relief, we must ensure that it benefits the Kansans who need it the most. We will focus on reducing the sales tax on food and providing real tax relief to working families.

The people of Kansas elected me to rebuild our state. They elected me to bring fiscally conservative and responsible principles back to our government. And I refuse to endorse another round of fiscally reckless policies – similar to the Brownback tax experiment – that left our state in shambles and our families struggling.

I commit to you – the people of Kansas – that I will stabilize our state’s budget, invest in our shared priorities, and continue the recovery we have all fought so hard to begin. By following through on this commitment, our state has every reason to expect a bright and successful future.

Excellence by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)

Last week, I wrote about cheating.

No sooner had I sent my article to my editors than came the news flash that parents had jumped through some pretty expensive—not to mention, illegal—hoops to cheat their kids’ way into college. Coaches accepted bribes to add “athletes” to their rosters, “athletes” who never had played a day of the sport.

Meanwhile, teens who actually had dedicated their lives to the activity—and had much better grades– but could not afford the pay-out, were denied.

This morning, Dave, my husband, forwarded me an email he received from the Florida Marlins’ upper management. Motivational articles are sent daily to the coaches, and this one, written by Jon Gordon, compared success with excellence. His take? Stop comparing and start pursuing, advice these cheating parents and students probably wish they had heeded.

Dave has coached professional baseball for over 30 years, and more times than he can count he has counseled players who question why someone else is promoted when they are not.

I get it.

Actually, this is the week of spring training when players are told they don’t quite measure up and are released or are designated to the minor leagues. How does one not compare? Gordon calls it “a trap” and writes that it happens when we focus on someone else’s gifts, talents and purpose versus our own. He says our greatest competition is not someone else, but ourselves, advice Dave has given on multiple occasions.

Jack Nicklaus is one of Gordon’s examples. “He simply focused on playing the best he could play against the course he was playing. While others were competing against Jack, he was competing against the course and himself.”

The author then addresses Apple’s approach with the iPod, iPhone and iPad: “When they created these products they didn’t focus on the competition. Instead they focused on creating the best product they could create. As a result, rather than measuring themselves against others, they have become the measuring stick.”

Gordon ends his article with this: “We have a choice as individuals, organizations and teams. We can focus on success and spend our life looking around to see how our competition is doing or we can look straight ahead towards the vision of greatness we have for ourselves and our teams. We can look at competition as the standard or as an indicator of our progress towards our own higher standards. We can chase success or we can pursue excellence and focus 100% of our energy to become our best… and let success find us.”

The public shame accompanying the college cheating scandal has the potential to define the character of all involved. What a sad legacy! But what are we to learn from it?

Hopefully, a lesson in misplaced priorities. Hopefully, a lesson in entitlement. Hopefully, a lesson in envy. Hopefully…(the list is endless).

The all-too-common outcome of overbearing parenting would reverse if fathers and mothers used Proverbs 22:6 as their guiding principle. “Train up a child in the way he should go…” To understand that life can be tough. To be grateful for the gifts God has given him. To think of others before herself. To celebrate others’ blessings. To love God above all else.

Then again, perhaps it is the parents who need to learn these lessons first.

Cheating by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

For over thirty years, Carol taught in a Catholic school. We were together last weekend in Florida where she shared stories of how she would catch her students cheating. One such experience could not have been scripted with more ingenuity. Carol explained that sometimes students were required to attend a mid-morning mass. Periodically, my friend served as a eucharistic minister. She assisted the priest by distributing the host into the hands of the communicants who would walk forward at communion time, place their hands together, palms up, so the servers—like Carol– could place the wafer into their hands.

On one such occasion, several of her 8th-grade students began squirming when they ended up in her line. As they held open their hands, Carol knew why: cheater notes were scribbled on their palms.

BUSTED, and of all places, in CHURCH!

Proverbs 11: 1-3 (TLB) reads as follows: The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. Proud men end in shame, but the meek become wise. A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty.

Even though God “hates cheating,” according to a recent survey, only six percent of students say they never have cheated. That means that 94% have, yet who of us isn’t applauding ever so slightly that these frauds were caught ink-handed, as if that sort of mitigates our own deceitfulness.

The fact is, most of us—Christians included– cheat in one way or another. Perhaps it’s that little income tax thing. Or maybe our sales clerk fails to charge us for an item, and instead of returning it to pay what we owe, we chalk it up to “her fault” and celebrate our freebie. A few weeks ago, I was shopping and found an empty jewelry case in a pocket of a blouse. I returned it to the jewelry counter and was told that “this happens all the time.”

Someone always pays when we cheat. The honest student whose paper, graded on the curve, now suffers because the cheaters get the A’s. Our government bears a financial burden when we fail to pay what we owe. The buyer of our car is stilted when we neglect to reveal our vehicle’s shortcomings, and our employer loses when we take “just a couple of extra minutes” for each lunch break. In my late teens, I worked as a nurse’s aide at Mercy Hospital. Although most of the aides were dedicated, one always hid in the utility room whenever a bed pan was involved, leaving the rest of us to do her work. Not cool.

Cheating always costs someone something. Especially God.

As sinners, we cheat. We cheat God out of what He deserves, whether it be praise or money or time or love. We make mad dashes for temporal pleasures and feel-good possessions, but fail to ask if these things pull us away from God. We cough up a buck for a homeless person and pat ourselves on our backs or consider grace before meals ample, with no consideration for what swindlers we are.

Unlike those 8th graders, I’m not sure we even are concerned when we come before God, our hands open in prayer as our black sin-marks are revealed. Could it be that we’re so used to cheating that we fail to realize the price paid by God’s own son for those sins? And could it be that we have lost sight of the grace that covers our transgressions?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we squirm just a little.

Friendship by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24 (NIV)

Real deal” friends are rare. Recently, Michael Robinson, an NFL analyst, was asked how he decided how many tickets to leave for family and friends when he played in the 2012 Super Bowl. He answered, “If they weren’t there to help me move into my dorm my freshman year of college, they won’t be there when I’m at the Super Bowl.”

Interesting definition of a friend, don’t you think? The internet has hundreds of clever quotes on the subject. These are five of my favorites:

  1. My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life. Lee Iacocca
  2. It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. Ralph Waldo Emmerson
  3. A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down. Arnold Glasow
  4. I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. Thomas Jefferson
  5. My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake. Aristotle

The other day I was in an outlet store trying on clothes. I stepped outside my dressing room to look in the three-way mirror on the end wall. Gal-pals were in dressing rooms next to each other. One opened her door and asked for her girlfriend’s opinion.

Oh, please, NOOOOOO, I said under my breath. Back bulges were puffy scallops, and gold Lamé fabric jaundiced her overly-revealed body parts. Horizontal stripes were no help. Surely her friend would tell her so. Instead, this is what she said: “You go, Girl. You look F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!”

I wanted to bang my head into the mirror.

That, Readers, is not the kind of friend I want. Proverbs 27:6 agrees: Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”. True friends wound when necessary. They speak truth and do not use flattery as a tool to keep things running smoothly. They challenge you when you need to be challenged. My husband and I have traveled a lot, and from that has come life-long friendships, causing my definition of a friend to be this: She and I pick up right where we leave off, no matter how many days/weeks/months we have been out of contact. No guilt is allowed. We just consider whatever time we have together as a blessing we probably don’t deserve. We also empathize—not in a fake sort of way– with each other’s struggles, and celebrate—not in a fake sort of way–with each other’s successes.

Sounds good, right? But it still falls flat. “Real deal” friends do more. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us that the end goal of friendship should be God and his glory. Bestest buds share Jesus.

Atheist Penn Jillette (known for his Vegas magic show) recently spoke about his respect for Christians who proselytize. “How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Ouch! Even he, an atheist, realizes that the real deal shares the Real Deal. According to Penn, failing to do so is hateship, not friendship, and it certainly should make us ask ourselves one question: What kind of friend am I?

Sarcasm By Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)

She passed me in Walmart, but not before I had time to read the logo on her t-shirt: “Member of the National Sarcasm Club.” Directly under that title were these words: “And what makes you think I need your support?”

As pithy as it was, I couldn’t help but think…Not something I would care to flaunt.

Not that I don’t sometimes find humor in sarcasm.

Especially when God uses it. Remember Job? The one who started out wealthy and healthy and surrounded by a huge family? When all of that was taken from him AND his friends and wife suggested God didn’t have his best interests in mind, Job began questioning. Now it’s God’s turn to respond. In Job 38: 20-21, He asks Job if he knows where light and darkness reside and then adds, “Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” The chapter is loaded with God’s crafty comments to Job, basically meaning, “I’m sorry. I seem to have forgotten which one of us created the world.”

Most sarcasm, however, isn’t God-clever, like the time Henry Ward Beecher, in the middle of an impassioned sermon, was interrupted by a drunk man in the balcony who began crowing like a rooster. Instantly Beecher stopped, took out his watch, and remarked: “What? Morning already? I wouldn’t have believed it, but the instincts of the lower animal are infallible.”

See the difference? God loved Job and was reminding him that He had everything under control, so Job need not worry. Beecher was using mockery to degrade his parishioner. James Denney, a Scottish theologian, once said that it is very hard to show that Christ is magnificent and that I am clever at the same time, a test, in my opinion, Beecher failed.

Sometimes sarcasm lightens a tense moment, but we must always use discretion and ask how it might feel to be the recipient of such cynicism. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves(Phil. 2:3). As we all know, there are cruel people waiting for a chance to verbally pounce. Their goal is not love but one-upmanship. . One person wrote, “I love sarcasm. It’s like punching people in the face but with words.” Do you find humor in that? I don’t, even though I am the first one to laugh at skillful sarcasm (always intended to make the other person smile, not wince). For example, if you watched the pre-show for the Super Bowl, you heard Larry Fitzgerald comment about ex-quarterback Kurt Warner’s role as radio commentator for the game. “Everyone always said he has a face for radio.” Warner, sitting beside his old teammate and best friend, loved it. The aim was humor, not hurt. The take away from this is that the line between “real” and “joking” isn’t all that thick, and making someone feel less than God desired, as we all know, is never, ever funny.


King Solomon by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

King Solomon, known for his wisdom, certainly made his fair share of mistakes. As ruler of a vast kingdom, he decided to change the original boundaries of the 12 tribes of Israel into 12 “tax districts,” each managed by an overseer, as a way of supporting his lavish lifestyle. Let the corruption begin. After Solomon’s death, only two tribes were left, Judah and Benjamin.

My personal Bible study this past few weeks has been in the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by Solomon, it looks at “life under the sun” (i.e., corruption, incompetent leaders, repeat criminals, materialism, and a desire to return to the “good old days”—sound familiar?). He addresses man’s search for happiness and the futility in that search as people desire explanations for what is going on around them. Where is Wisdom when you seek it?

Maybe you’ve been there. You feel like your world is imploding and you can’t figure out what you’ve done to deserve it. After all, you’re honest. Hard-working. Moral. Yet, life is handing you lemons, and you’re fresh out of sugar. Not even your new F-150 pick-up truck offers lasting happiness, and if that can’t do it…what can?

According to Solomon, nothing “under the sun.” He wrote that, apart from Heaven, some things have no explanations, and, more importantly, we Christians are to live by promises, not explanations. So, why do we continue to search for answers to our “Why’s”? Probably the same reason Adam and Eve did. Ignoring God’s advice not to bite into the fruit, they found His warning—“to gain knowledge of good and evil”– to be true all right, but instead of life being “more perfect” (impossible by definition), they were alienated from God. From delighted to devastated in one nibble. And we have been gnawing on the same fruit ever since.

We are fools if we think, like Adam and Eve, that an increase in knowledge will produce an increase in happiness. Think of the inventions that promised to improve our lives with little thought for the downside that accompanies them. Computers with pornography. Televisions with immorality and negativity. Automobiles with pollution. Pesticides and genetically-modified foods with cancer. Cell phones with bullying and sexting. Diet Coke with headaches.

Commercials promise that Princess Cruise ships will fill our pleasure needs, yet, after several thousand dollars spent, we remain as restless as ever. A good friend of mine owns a famous restaurant in New York. Recently, after finding that $350-per-person meals still lack a joy-gene, a “dream-weaver” was hired to add the special touches to the person’s dining experience. That happened after a couple was overheard discussing their world travels, and here they were in the Big Apple, flying out the next morning, and still had not eaten a famous New York dirty-dog. Immediately the owner was alerted, ran outside and returned with two hotdogs. The couple was ecstatic. I’m betting that even those “doggie treats” fail to provide long-term satisfaction. A smile, perhaps, but not perpetual happiness.

Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship ministry, once said, “Life isn’t like a book. Life isn’t logical, or sensible, or orderly. Life is a mess most of the time. And theology must be lived in the midst of that mess.”

Solomon would agree…after the first ten chapters of Ecclesiastes, that is. Something changes. No longer does he conclude that life is not worth living, for now, as opposed to looking “under the sun,” he looks “above the sun” (i.e., where God lives). He concludes with four principles. Life is: an adventure (Live by faith, so expect the unexpected); a gift (which we are to enjoy); a school (where daily learning occurs); and stewardship (a blessing by giving). Once we accept that, Wisdom wins.

It all depends on where we fix our gaze.