Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Mountain

 
"Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here." Mark 9:5

I have been blog absent for the last couple of weeks because of some vacation time. Read a couple of good books in the quiet moments of the day when I wasn't conscripted to be the extra weight needed to go down the larger water slides with the grandkids. Ten flights of stairs with an innertube. Not sure how long I will be able to do that but thankful for the current ability (especially post-Covid lungs). 

Vacations are like little excursions. You head off to someplace different to "get away" and yet bring most of your stuff with you. Humorous. 

One of the things that cause me a bit of stress but at the same time brings me great joy is putting an address in the GPS (Global Positioning System) and taking off trusting that the thing is correct (which, on occasion, is not). So down a different Tennessee road we go. Nicely paved. Winding. Hmmm...who would have thought that Eastern Tennessee University would be out here. Mountains. Streams. And out in the middle of nowhere...shops. Artisans. Potters. Photo galleries. Jewelers. Woodworkers. Herbalists. Tanners. A pleasant day of adventure. Hoping to find some good fudge or hard dip ice cream. 

I am a homebody by nature. I like "stay vacations." I have to force myself to get out of "Dodge" as they say. But when I do, I am reminded of the beauty of  this country and for the most part, of its people. I can't help to think that each new location, each verbal connection with a stranger, is a foreshadowing of heaven in some way. 

As I read the account of the Transfiguration of Christ in the Gospel of Mark I was captured by the statement that Peter made: "It is good for us to be here." I think the text bears witness that it was a bit of nervous energy on his part. He had to say something. He had to acknowledge the unique adventure in some way. And what an adventure it was. 

Jesus took his elite triplets up the mountain: James, John, and Peter. And the Bible tells us that Jesus was transformed before their eyes. His clothes became whiter than any white known to man. His countenance - radiant. And if that was not enough, two other guests, who apparently did not need introduction, showed up for the party: Moses and Elijah. Divine knowledge of a couple of guys who had been dead for over a thousand years. 

I am getting old. My thoughts and values are changing. I long for the eternal, the whole, the next. Moses. Elijah. Not in a morbid way but rather, to see the divine now. To see it in the hills of Tennessee, but also in the traffic jam around Cincinnati. To see it in the stranger at the leather shop making me a handcrafted belt with a cross button affixed as well as in the laughter and screaming of my grandkids as we fly down an enclosed death tube of fast flowing water hoping not to drown. To see Jesus. 

It is good to be here. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Forgotten

 "I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, who you remember no more, who are cut off from your care." (Psalm 88:5)


I was out to visit my dad's grave not too long ago. Quite frankly, I couldn't remember where it was. It had been twenty years of not being home. I knew the section but too many new dead people had arrived to take up their stone residence. Found it. Remembered. Not just the location but my dad and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and neighbors and friends. All gone. All having left this world for destinations only known for certain to themselves and God. Somber. Reflective. Quiet. Peaceful. Hopeful. Rest.

 I've often wondered why they put benches in cemeteries. I am certain that it is for reflection, but I think it reminds the living of how tired they are and tired of this life. To sit is an exercise in envy. Lord Jesus come quickly! 

But then I scan some of the headstones that are sinking into the ground, that have lost the legibility of life, of death, of whose spouse was who, or what child this belonged to in its short earthly existence. This was someone. This was a family remembrance destination at one time much like what I was doing on that day. Keeping alive a person, celebrating a life, if only in my heart and mind. A story or two popped out. "I remember when..." And suddenly the person, the stone became alive. It was still cold but yet warmth came from it. 

Several of those old white stones, worn by weather, forgotten by time, are the resting places of Civil War sons who never walked over their own thresholds again. World War I and II, Korean and Vietnam men and women whose remains have never been found. An empty box lies beneath their marker. Gone but not forgotten. A flag will be placed in their honor this weekend. 

So...while we are out grilling the brats, burning the dogs, flipping the burgers, laughing with friends and family this weekend, can I encourage you to perhaps be quiet for just a moment and go for a walk among the dead? Rest. Say out loud a name, a date. You may not even know the person. But to do so is to remember their life and their sacrificial death. 

Have a memorable Memorial Day. 




Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Church Refrigerator

 "He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'" (Isaiah 44:20)

Abraham Lincoln was in a debate, and as happens with politicians, the truth was beginning to be a bit murky.

Abraham Lincoln asked the gentlemen, "I wonder if I might ask you a simple question?" 

"Of course," his opponent said. 

"Okay. How many legs does a cow have?" 

"Four," said the man. 

"Now supposing," Lincoln mused, "you call its tail a leg. How many legs does it have now?" 

"Five," he said confidently. 

"And this is where the problem arises," said Lincoln. "Just because you want to call something by another name doesn't make it so. A cow will always have four legs no matter what you call it's tail." 

Bits and Pieces, July, 1991 [Modified]


Since the time of President George Washington the adage, "You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own truth" has been a common political comeback. It works in every other arena of life as well, including religion and religious philosophy.  

The prophet Isaiah was ridiculing those who were worshipping false gods made by their own hands. "It's interesting. You go out into the woods and cut down a tree. You use the wood to build a piece of furniture or a door or some type of tool or eating utensil, and the rest you use for firewood. But you have a little chunk of wood left over and so you carve it into an image, overlay it with gold or silver, decorate it with necklaces and earrings, and bow down to it calling it your 'god.'" You are delusional. 

"Delusion" is a false belief that is resistant to confrontation with certain facts." 

Disillusion vs Delusion - What's the difference? | WikiDiff. Cited 5-17-21


Fr. Alexander Schmemann, deceased professor and prolific author who taught at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, said that "an idol is a false absolutism." For example:  Atheism says, "There is NO god." Secular Humanism:  "Man is god. Science is god. What we will be is self-determined. There is NO God. We must save ourselves." 

He goes on to say that people are so deluded in their thinking that they will resort to differing levels of violence to maintain it. Because if they do admit that they are clinging to false "gods" or "false absolutes," they will have to admit that there is a true God. And to that true God they will have to give account.

Why does this concern me so much? It concerns me because I find myself battling other "Christians" over tightly held idols of late - false constructs, false absolutes. I never truly understood why John said in his first epistle, "Keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) But I do now. 

Perhaps I may be taking this a bit to the extreme, but I feel like certain believers have let go of Jesus' hand and grabbed Dr. Fauci's. And how dare we disagree with the CDC (Center for Disease Confusion). Wear a mask. Social distance. Get vaccinated. Except...that it has been scientifically proven that wearing a mask doesn't work (in fact it propagates respiratory illness), social distance does not work (in fact, suicide and depression rates are through the roof; far more dangerous than the one percent mortality rate if you get the disease), and...the verdict is still out on whether the vaccinations even work (or if they will be doing irreparable damage, especially to the young who don't even need it but are being socially forced into getting it by medical "professionals," educators, and even their own parents). But to say so...outloud...is to challenge the idol of science. You become the "them." 

I am not an anti-masker, anti-distance, anti-vaccinator. I believe that people have to do their own research, come up with their own conclusions, and follow through with what they believe are the right actions. All I ask is that the same grace is afforded to those who do not agree. This is called Christian liberty. I am afraid, however, that this is becoming a deluded distraction away from our primary purpose, which is to share the good news of Jesus with people. 

In the last days, the Bible says "as wickedness increases, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). I fear the refrigerator door has been left open in the Church kitchen. Let's agree to close it. 

Lord, grant us grace with each other. 


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wake Up!

 "Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."  (Hab. 2:19-20)

The above poster shows a woman in stars and stripes and symbolizing a sleeping America. After two years of neutrality, the United States entered World War 1 on April 6th, 1917. "The war to end all wars." James Montgomery Flagg created and published this poster in New York City on April 19th. "Wake Up!" for there is an ominous cloud on the horizon. 

First of all, self-discloser, I'm not having a bad day today. Actually the opposite. I'm not in a "mood." I don't need to vent. I'm not by nature a pessimist but an eternal optimist. But that does not mean that I look at my world through rose colored glasses. I see things for what they are and I see God's hand in the midst of it. If anything, I'm sad and concerned about what type of country my grandchildren will have to navigate as followers of Jesus. I reflect knowing full well that the world is celebrating all that I am expressing in opposition. 

I feel like we should be putting the poster up again. "Wake Up, America!" While you were asleep millions of babies have been murdered out of convenience. While you were sleeping God's plan for marriage and sexuality has been hijacked by the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, community. They've even hijacked the symbol of promise - the rainbow - as their own symbol. While you were sleeping God has been forced out of schools and courtrooms and social discourse and replaced with the religion of secular humanism. While you were sleeping "work" became a dirty word and "welfare" and "socialism" have become the mantra of the lazy. While you were asleep "intolerance" became "tolerant," but only if you agreed with the permissive masses. While you were sleeping "science" or should I say, "pseudo-science" has become your god. While you were sleeping personal responsibility was replaced with Critical Race Theory and blame shifting. While you were sleeping America, "white" and especially "white males" and worse, "white males who are evangelical" became homophobic, racist, KKK, terrorists and should be eliminated ["guillotined" says one WOKE spokesperson]. They are clearly the problem - so the historical revisionist keep trying to convince us. While you were sleeping police officers became evil and criminals became celebrated social martyrs. While you were sleeping our national debt became unrepayable and our debt to love one another unimaginable. While you were sleeping evil became good and good became evil. While you were sleeping the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered. 

While you were sleeping, America...the Church of Jesus Christ slept as well. And now she finds herself marginalized and irrelevant to the world where she was supposed to be salt and light. She spent too much time entertaining herself and becoming a religio/social service club rather than a spokesperson for the Good News of Jesus Christ. A Savior has come for pitiful sinners. Wake up, America... To hear the words, "And God gave them over..."  

Is there any hope for America? I don't know. I fear not. I pray, "yes." Is there any hope for the Church? If it weren't for Jesus' words, "...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," I would fear not. I pray, "yes." But I leave you with the concluding words of Habakkuk 3:17-18: 

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, 

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, 

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

John Knox

 "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness...I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands and pray without anger or disputing." (1st Timothy 2:1-2, 8)


The great Scottish Presbyterian Reformer, John Knox (A.D. 1514 -1572) was known for his great zeal for the Scottish people to be free from the tyrant rule of English Anglicans and Roman Catholics of his day. But he is best known for his prayer life. 

Queen Mary of Scotland (Bloody Mary) stated she feared the prayers of John Knox more than the assembled armies of England. He prayed with power. He prayed with assurance. He prayed expecting. He prayed with conviction. 

He not only prayed for those in authority but he also challenged them publicly when they strayed from the moral rule of law set forth by God. How far we have moved.  

Honest question:  What happened to our Christian influence? Does anyone fear our prayers? Do we pray with power. Do we pray with expectation? Do we pray with conviction?

I must confess that when it comes to the governing authorities, in particular, the federal government, I gripe and complain and criticize and, quite frankly throw my hands up in frustration. What I do not do is pray. 

I am not sure that it all falls into the category of "defeated" but prayer is not my "default." There is a part of me that knows that this is the plan of God - for things to get worse, for governing authorities to be more and more antagonistic toward those who follow Christ and Christian morals. Why pray against something bound for hell? But therein lies the sin. Listen to the words of the prophet Samuel. 

"As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you [rebellious Israel]. And I will teach you the way that is good and right." 

But my flesh rises up and says, "But they repented and asked him to pray. They were open to instruction" True. But Jesus also said that we are to pray for our enemies. Ouch. 

Someone has said that the power of prayer is not in the ability of the sinner but in the passion for one's Savior. 

John Knox did not have a hatred for the English people as much as he had a passion for the Savior. John Knox did not have a hatred for Queen Mary as much as he had a hatred for authority that was against the teaching of Scripture. His hatred didn't make people tremble. His passion for Jesus made them tremble. 

The National Day of Prayer is tomorrow. I can already feel the shaking. Pray for the king. 






Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Emojis

"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on your hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:1-2)



I used to write hand written letters. Now I send short texts. I used to receive hand written letters. Now I receive short texts. Sometimes they include 💜, 😀😁😂😇😋, 👍, 🙏, and other tagged emojis'. Sometimes they are highly romantic like the one I often send to my wife: "home." Sometimes its "home, 10 min." You can imagine how she greets me at the door after a long day's absence with such spicy rhetoric.  

I can remember when I was in college I couldn't wait to get a card and letter from my neighbor, Mrs. Louise Rinker. She was a lady of Swedish descent who was one of the hardest working farm wives I ever had the privilege of knowing. She would put up this massive garden - half to put up in her three chest freezers, the other half to give away. She would make the best fruit preserves and call me over when she would open a fresh jar so that I could chew on the wax that had tightly sealed in all those wonderful fruit flavors. She would call me over to sit on the porch swing to eat a "left-over" piece of pie that she just couldn't throw away. 😁

I knew when Louise would send me a card. It was like a flat package. I knew what was inside. To my delight, Louise would tape as many quarters and sticks of gum physically possible on all sides of that card. (I was able to do my laundry that week.)You couldn't even read the words that were on the inside, hence the inserted letter. A letter from home. A letter telling me about what happened to Linda's horse, or Pa's tractor, or Little Ray's eye problems. A letter about the bountiful green beans this year or how bad the carrots did - those darn rabbits - or how beautiful the wild flowers blossomed this year. Nothing really important. Everything that was important. 

She died of pneumonia. I miss her. 

She wrote me a letter but in reality she was the letter. Or...maybe I was the letter. I was a letter that reflected her kindness, her compassion, her love. In receiving her gift, her ministry to me, I became her life's words, a living memoir to a part of her life. 

Perhaps that is why I keep certain things, like my dad's old hand written sheet music for his trumpet or an old yellowed polaroid picture of some distant relative that has my mom's writing on the back of who they were and the date. Maybe its why I cherish anniversary cards from Deb or homemade things from my girls and grandkids. Maybe I'm not a hoarder or a nostalgic. Perhaps I just want to be a selfish living memoir of the past and present, a fleshly mirror of someone who cared about me, loved me, ministered to me, or simply took the time to think about me. I am a living letter. 

No postage necessary. Quarters and gum included. 😉




Wednesday, April 21, 2021

snow storms and down pours

 "God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' and the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour,' so that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man's labor." (Job 37:5-7)


Moving to a new house and ministry often means getting rid of things that unfortunately you'll have to buy when you get there. There is just so much room on the moving truck (that you want to pay for). And just as unfortunate is the fact that you'll have to practically give it away at some community garage sale and spend ten times as much on the almost brand new thing you bought two years ago that still has the price sticker stuck to it. Such is life. 

We are getting some new patio furniture for our outdoor deck space this week. For the last number of weeks its been in the nice, warm, 50's and 60's, even bumping into the 70's at times. Tonight (Tuesday) we are expecting 1-3 inches of snow. Ughhhhhh.... One step forward, two steps back. But fortunately, it won't stay long because the freezing rain will follow along with a tornado, a hurricane, and flash flooding...and a tsunami. Pessimist. Climate change. Those darn cows passing dangerous levels of methane and carbon gases, ruining our protective environmental canopy. Is there such a thing as bovine Gas-X? Perhaps a business opportunity here. 

But as my church family has reminded me, "Back here in Indiana you don't want to plant anything until after May 15th." Noted. 

Patio furniture and my newly planted hardy mums aside, I was once again forced to reconcile my desires with a God who is perfectly wise and perfectly good and perfectly loving. Forced because I received a call last week from a good friend who said his dear wife found out that she has breast cancer in both breasts. Radical surgery required. I found out this week that a former colleague's teenage son went home to be with the Lord - a heart issue from birth. In the last three or four months I have been asked to pray for brothers and sisters who were diagnosed with differing cancers, with ALS, with MS, with Covid,...snowstorms and downpours. 

We can't change what the weather will do but we can go to the God of the weather. Next time it thunders think about the marvelous voice of God. The next time is snows in April or even May be reminded that its God's witness to His presence. Stop for a moment, as the text says, and know that God is at work. 

My patio furniture just arrived - early. Hope.