Telling The Story

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang tried to simultaneously rob two banks in the town of Coffeyville, Kansas. The gang was composed of Grat, Bob, and Emmett Dalton along with Bill Power and Dick Broadwell. They were unsuccessful; due to the townspeople recognizing them at the outset, coming together as a group, and thwarting the attempt. Grat and Bob Dalton, and both Bill Power and Dick Broadwell were killed. Emmett was seriously wounded. Four townspeople also lost their lives protecting their town in the ensuing gun battle.

In July of 1980, my family was returning from a vacation in Colorado, and we happened to drive through the area. Dad had somehow gotten wind of the story, and we visited the town and learned more about the infamous event. Both my dad and my uncle were enthralled with the details, as it was a story that they had never heard. They gathered up brochures, took pictures, and talked about it non-stop for the rest of the evening as we camped in our motor-home that night at a nearby park.

It did not dawn on me during the beginning of the stop, but I already knew the story as well as a lot of the details. You see, one of my favorite musical groups from the seventies had recorded a song based on that attempted robbery. The song was Doolin-Dalton by the Eagles, and I had even learned to play it on my guitar. Accordingly, the stop had helped me fill in missing historical details not mentioned in the lyrics, and it helped me garner a better understanding of the facts behind the song.

So it was a worthwhile stop, at least for the male portion of our group of travelers. Dad and Uncle Gary learned a little of the history of the old west, and I added to what I had serendipitously learned at an earlier time.

One of my favorite hymns is “I Love To Tell The Story” by Katherine Hankey, and one of my favorite stanzas is this one:

I love to tell the story,
For those who know it best.
Seem hungering and thirsting,
To hear it like the rest.

The story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a new one to many people today, and unfortunately a lot of people have never heard it. I know that sounds very hard to believe, but it is so, despite this world of the Internet and mass communication. Jesus promised us that, “…this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Eventually, the whole world will know this story.

But what about those of us that already know the story? Is it enough to simply know about it, or is there more to learn if we continue to study it? I believe that there is, and we should acquire a longing (hungering and thirsting) to learn more and know more whenever we are given an opportunity to do so; whether we find ourselves in church or simply studying God’s Word on our own. Paul puts it best in I Corinthians when he writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” The things he talks about that ‘happened’ are stories, tales, and examples given to us in God’s Word - to help us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Besides, Katherine goes on to pen:

And when in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song
It’ll be the old, old story,
that I have loved so long.

In The Days Of Thy Youth

Summer colds are the worst.

I’ve been down with one for a few days, in fact, you can say it was a lost weekend. A trip to Urgi-Care on Saturday morning, sixty dollars worth of prescriptions, and I still feel pretty bad this Monday morning. But I’ll make it. Besides, sometimes an un-planned day off from work is a very good thing. It gives me time to reflect on things in my life beyond the cadence of duties and responsibilities associated with my job description.

This morning I’m thinking about my brother – he of the wasp attack I mentioned in an earlier post. I came across a photograph of us, fairly recent, in my youngest daughter’s collection this weekend. For maybe the first time, I realized that we are grown men at this point in our lives. We have a tendency to ‘freeze’ ourselves in our own memories, untouched and unhindered by the reality of time and days gone by. To me, he is still my partner in crime; building tree houses at the pond I mentioned, and taking out the dirty Nazis from our vantage point high in the sky. At the very least, he must be the same confidant that he was when we both went through our self-inflicted rough patches in our twenties, and the ‘cupid’ that introduced me to my wife during those strange, unpolished years.

We are yet still those things and many more; thus he can never really be a Lt. Col. In the United States Air Force. And I can’t possibly be this man I see in the mirror today, staring meekly down the barrel at age fifty just over the near horizon. How did this happen to us? Where did all the years go? I perish the thought, but if indeed those years went by at such an accelerated pace, are they doing so even now, and unnoticed by me?

I’ve recognized a trend in my life, and it is not something that I’m finding myself happy to express this morning - I am wishing my life away. When I get to work, the first thing I think of is that “I wish it was four o’clock” or “I wish it was Friday.” Soon enough, the wish is granted, and the deal becomes a reality, and another day or another week is gone from my life. In fact, it would be honest and truthful, if I got down to the crux of the matter, to state that because of that train of thought, I know where the years went. Those years were squandered by the mere granting of a wish – of my own making.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;” That is a strange verse to choose for today, but it has many layers of depth that I find relevant to my own life. I can honestly say that I did remember my Creator in the days of my youth, but it is a youth that has long since passed. Some evil times did indeed happen to find me as I grew older, and there will surely be more to follow in the days and years ahead. But the key this morning is the remainder of the verse, because it stops me and makes me reflect and evaluate myself, which is what the Word of God should do.

I am not at the point in my years where I can say that ‘I have no pleasure in them’. But there may be a time fast approaching where that may be the case. Instead of dwelling on that, I should be seizing the day (Carpi Diem!) and concentrating on the here and now. God has blessed me in so many ways, and all too often I take that for granted.

It is good to have a family and friends, when so many have lost their loved ones. I should be thankful for that. It is good to have a job when so many have lost theirs during this failing economy. I am thankful for that. God will send many more things into my life in the future, things that I can neither comprehend nor imagine. Some may be good, and some might be bad, yet He will use all of them to draw me closer to Him. I will be thankful for that.

Even if it’s something as simple as a summer cold.

The Brothers Johnson, and their cigar...

The Deceitful Heart

It was August of 1942, and the U.S. Marines were locked in deadly combat with Imperial Japanese forces for possession of the island of Guadalcanal. It would turn out to be a pivotal point in the war in the Pacific, but the early days of the epic battle up to that point had been bleak, with no end in sight.

Enter one Lt. Col. Frank Goettge, a Marine Intelligence officer attached to the First Marine Division. Because of the surrender of several Japanese and Korean laborers involved in building a landing strip in the jungle as well as the testimony of a captured Japanese Warrant Officer, he decided that the enemy had had enough and would surrender if prodded to do so. Someone had also reported seeing a white flag of surrender in a tree farther back in the jungle. He put together a patrol of around twenty-five men and boarded a landing craft to travel around the island to scout out the situation. Though it went against protocol, Goettge felt in his heart that there was a good chance that a lot of lives could be saved if the Japanese simply surrendered.

Goettge never returned, and only three Marines survived the patrol. The rest of the patrol was wiped out on the landing beach, and most of their bodies were never recovered. In many ways, it can be regarded as the Marine equivalent to Custer’s Last Stand. Goettge followed his heart because he felt that what he was doing would have dramatic results on the outcome of the battle. Because he felt so strongly in his convictions, he ignored many of the warning signs that an Intelligence officer like himself should have picked up on.

He was warned by Colonel Whaling, the 5th Marine Regiment's executive officer, that resistance close to the area he had chosen to go ashore had been heavy. It was also later learned that the captured enemy Warrant Officer had been plied with alcohol before he began giving out information on the morale of the enemy. The ‘white’ flag that had been spotted in the jungle closely resembled a common Japanese battle flag at the time.

So many times we also ignore the warning signs in our own spiritual lives and instead we simply follow our feelings or emotions. From the pulpit we are warned of impending judgment, and we listen but it never touches our lives. We feel the Holy Spirit directing us in one direction, and we ignore Him and go in another. The Bible lays it all out for us, by the book, and we rationalize it away by becoming self-righteous in our own eyes. Because we think we have plenty of time and besides, who knows better what we need to do in our lives than our own heart of hearts? It is dangerous to follow your heart while disregarding Spiritual truths presented to us in God’s Word and expressed to us by His Holy Spirit.

The Bible, in Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” I’ve learned over the years the truth associated with this verse. My heart is deceitful, and it has placed me in harm’s way more than once when I followed it without backing it up with scripture. By the way, I’m not talking about the blood-pumping organ that resides in your chest; I’m talking about your heart.

How’s your heart these days? Jeremiah adds, “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” God’s Word states that He is searching our hearts this morning – what is he finding there?


Life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was no picnic. I know that most people are tired of hearing about it as it has been almost four years now, and I never imagined that I would be writing a post about it myself. It’s easy to blame Katrina for just about everything, it seems. We put her on a shelf and then when something goes wrong or a major problem arises, we take her down, dust her off, and put her on display one more time for the entire world to see.

It wasn’t just the storm that did me in; I had other problems that year. My sister passed away in April, the storm hit in September, and for the rest of the year I found myself constantly on the road with my job as my company rebounded from the cataclysm. I’m a creature of habit and I like things to stay normal and consistent, but things only got worse from there as travel increased the following year. I missed so much with my wife and my children and it is time that I can never regain. The absurdity of it all also caused my Spiritual life to go into the tank; though I’m still not too terribly happy to confess that part of the story.

In the midst of all of the turmoil, God sent me a friend. I won’t mention his name on here, because that would be bad form without his prior approval, but I will tell you about him. I originally came to know him by his username, ‘Witness’. He’s a missionary in another hemisphere, and he was going through dark times of his own. We shared our doubts and fears through email and on message boards, and both of us eventually came back to the conclusion that God was always going to be there for us. Though we never met face-to-face nor spoke audibly on a telephone, we had many, many conversations together and he became what I can truly call one of my best friends. Looking back, I have no doubt that God, through His infinite wisdom; put us in contact with each other. God is always in control. God is always right on time.

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Life is tough. Things happen. Storms come and go. Friends may let you down and families sometimes fall apart. Sin seems to be always crouching outside of our door, waiting for us to stumble and fall. But Jesus knew this and offered each of us a dramatic invitation to drop our burdens at his feet and find rest in Him. He calls us ‘friend’ and invites us to get to know Him better, and in so doing we find that He faced trials and temptations similar and worse to anything we might happen to find ourselves going through. Most of all, He offers us a chance to drop the burden of the world and all of its sorrows and replace it with His burden, which He assures us is lighter than the one we are carrying. That’s a good trade, but it’s up to us to accept it.

My friend is doing well on the mission field. I know this because we still keep in touch with each other. His emails to me are always opened immediately and in utmost anticipation of the good report I know I’ll find written therein. Though I know we will probably never meet face-to-face during this lifetime; I am assured that we share a Heavenly Father and it’s only a matter of time before He will call us both home. We’ll have a lot of catching up to do then, and I’m sure he’ll have many incredible stories to tell me.

In the meantime, I find myself travelling a lot lighter these days. It’s a great feeling, and it keeps that storm on the shelf where it belongs.

War Of The Wasps

A friend came by and showed me his arm. He had been stung by a wasp and as a result, his arm was painfully swollen. Wasps are common down here in the Deep South during the summer, and rare is the case of a resident of the area making it through the season without a sting or two. They are wretched little creatures, and the mere sight of one in close proximity to me will cause me to ‘saturate the area with my absence’.

Almost as if on cue, when I think of wasps I am always reminded of one of the times my brother was stung when we were little. I must have been nine years old or so, which would have made him very close to the tender age of six. We spent those endless summers back then playing in the woods and around a small pond; building forts out of old, abandoned cars and trucks that my dad had collected for parts as he pursued his hobby of rebuilding antique vehicles. Wasps absolutely thrive in that environment. It was my fault he was a victim that day, but I’m not going to take all of the blame for it.

Our preacher had used animals as an analogy during his sermon the Sunday before, and though I remember nothing of the sermon (I was nine!), I’ll never forget his example. He said that animals can sense fear in humans, which is scientifically correct I later learned as I grew older. My brother and I had discovered a huge wasp nest in an old car, and I decided, for whatever reasoning a nine-year-old mind contemplates, that the nest had to go. And in so doing, I decided to put the preacher’s words to the test. I told my brother that as long as he showed no fear, the wasps would leave him alone. Convinced by me, he grabbed a brick. And with a banshee chant of ‘I hate you wasps!” (and no fear), he tossed the brick directly into the midst of the swarming hordes.

We ran for our very lives, a cloud of furious wasps in hot pursuit.

I escaped unscathed, but my brother took a hit right above his mouth. He cried a little bit, but within a few minutes we were back down at the pond going about our business of playing war with our toy soldiers. That’s when I noticed his mouth. It had swollen up and out, very closely resembling something you would see on a duck’s face. I knew right then and there that mom was going to kill me. I needed to do something fast! Because I had seen it in a movie, I smeared mud on the bite and the swelling went down a little, but not enough and eventually we had to go home. Yes, I did get in not a little bit of trouble over the major part I had played in the incident.

Life is messy, and we are going to get stung by it sooner rather than later. Sin will track us down (it knows where we live) and cause us to stumble or even fall. It will ruin our lives if we allow it to fester, unhindered and unchecked by the forgiveness that is readily available to us from God through His infinite grace. We can’t simply go on about our business and ignore it, pretending that it never happened. We can’t try and cover it up with good deeds or actions. Sin is something that must be dealt with.

John tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I like that a lot! God is there, ever present and ever mindful of the things we do, and yet He is faithfully waiting to forgive us. That is part of it, but I also like the part about ‘cleansing us’. That feeling of being spiritually clean is hard to beat when we find we’ve made a shamble of things in our lives.

I don’t mess around with wasps anymore. The risks are dangerous and the consequences of a painful sting are not worth it. But it’s good to know I have Benadryl and an old Tung-nut tree handy just in case I do happen to get stung. But better still, it’s also wonderful to know that God is there, faithful and true, waiting to forgive and cleanse should sin happen to find me and cause me to fall.

'Tater Nightmares

The garden behind my house is not looking so good these days. Hot summer days coupled with no rain have made me a convert to the theory of global warming during these past two weeks. Oh, I’m sorry - I meant to say ‘climate change’. Maybe I'll get myself a really good Power-Point presentation and win a Nobel Prize of my own? But I digress; I was talking about the garden.

My dad and I planted potatoes back in early spring. We went in together and he planted Irish potatoes while I planted Russets. We were concerned about the Russets, but they did just fine despite our sandy soil. It did not look very promising in the beginning, with his Irish plants quickly out-pacing the growth of my Russets. I found myself doubting at one point if they were going to grow at all. But they did, and though the final product would never make the grade for Wendy’s, all in all it was a decidedly gratifying outcome. We ate both types of potatoes, my family and both he and my mom, for several weeks.

But I recall having a bad dream during that time of waiting for the harvest. In my nightmare the time had arrived to 'gather' them and to my surprise I found carrots beneath some of the bushes! I hate carrots! On other plants that I dug up in my dream, I discovered only turnips hidden there! Turnips are gross! I awoke in a cold sweat, thankful that the surreal experience was only a dream.

You may think it silly, a dream as such. It looks that way to me, too, during the waking hours. If I plant potatoes, then potatoes are what I am going to harvest if I tend them and otherwise take care of the plants along the way. It’s the law of the harvest that has been in place since Noah left the ark and God made a promise about ‘seedtime and harvest’. We reap what we sow. It works in all phases of our lives as well.

If I plant discord and dishonesty in my heart, I will reap hatred and lies. If I plant truth and a love for others, then I am assured by God’s Word that I will harvest the same during my lifetime. “Reap what you sow” is one of the best-known phrases from the Bible, and one of the most important truths written within its pages. But there is also another part of the verse that we may be guilty of overlooking. Galatians 6:7 reads “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Yes, we are assuredly going to reap whatever we sow. But we need to remember the part about God not being mocked. If we think that is the case, then we are only deceiving ourselves in the process. God has specific rules and guidelines that we as Christians have been designated to follow, and we needn’t think that we can pick and choose which ones apply to us. We are to live FOR Him, every hour, every minute, and every day of our lives.

To live our lives in any other way is an invitation for trouble that will be sure to follow. The harvest may just not be what we thought it would be. Take it from a man who knows his potatoes!

Serving Punch At The Pity-Party

I absolutely love the story of Elijah as told in the book of I Kings. He was a man’s man. Tough and leathery, he was an outlaw that took on the King and the entire religious establishment of his time back in ancient Israel. With God’s help he prayed and the rain stopped. With God’s help he prayed and brought a little boy back from the dead. With God’s help he prayed and fire fell from the sky, burning up a water-saturated altar and sacrifice. With God’s help, he brought about a revival in Israel. He was a hero!

Oops! But then the queen sent him a message that she was going to kill him. So he ran away to the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree, asking God to simply let him die. Read the rest of the story for yourself, and I promise it is a good read. Above all, there is a message recorded there on how to deal with controversy in life that we can all learn from.

I’m down this morning. Depressed. Defeated. No help, no hope, no joke. In the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” I received my own ‘Sunday-punch’ from life yesterday, and I went down like Joe Frazier’s son when he fought Mike Tyson back in the day – with one punch. I never fathomed I’d have a glass jaw, but it turns out that I do.

I will spare you the details because it makes little or no difference. But it is not simply another storm in my life, or a challenge to be met. This one will be harder than most, and possibly one that just may prove to be too big for me in the end. So I find myself under my own proverbial juniper tree this morning, telling God that ‘it is simply enough’ at this point because I can’t go on any longer - this despite all the spiritual victories and blessings He has provided for me in my life.

Pity-parties are comical when you think about them. They make us feel…how? Better? Not really. Referring to the lyrics of Three Dog Night, “Momma told me not to come, that ain’t the way to have fun, son.” If we stay too long at our own so-called pity party, things never get done, and problems never get taken care of. We need to find a way out of there and we need to do it quickly.

My way out this morning has been to reflect on what David said happened to him when he received his own Sunday punch. “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and He did hear my voice out of His temple, and my cry did enter into His ears.” God is always listening, and God always knows. David went on to add “I will call on the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.”

When times are bad, we need to remember (in detail) the times that were good. Re-read the first paragraph of this blog entry again and see if you catch it…

How did Elijah stop the rain? He prayed and God helped.
How did he bring a little boy back to life? He prayed and God helped.
What made the fire fall from the sky? He prayed and God helped.
The end result? There was a revival.

Praying and getting help from God is a lot better than sitting under a juniper tree and having a pity-party. Even when those Sunday punches happen to find their connection on a glass jaw.

In The Valley Of Elah

The Philistines had invaded Israel, as they seemed prone to do every now and then. They were a godless sort, and took that lifestyle to an extreme level almost unseen before that time in the Bible. The story is recorded in I Samuel 17, and you are probably familiar with it. They gathered their armies together at Shochoh, which is near the valley of Elah.

What happened at that point, it appears to me, is that a lot of taunting was going on and the Philistines had every reason to be confident – they had a secret weapon. His name was Goliath and he was from a city called Gath. There are various translations, but it appears that most agree he was over nine feet tall! A true giant among men, and he loved to use foul language as he taunted the Israeli army, cursing them and their God from across the valley floor. With that much size, his voice probably boomed across the valley, and no one dared to answer him from the children of Israel.

The ultimate insult was that the Philistines proposed that Israel send out one man to challenge Goliath, man-to-man, and the winner would decide the outcome without a battle having to take place between the two armies. If you read the story, there were no takers as it states that when Goliath would come out in the mornings, the Israeli army fled from before him and they were also sore afraid! This obviously went on for several days.

Enter David, a young shepherd boy, probably in his early teens. He visits the camp to deliver a ‘care package’ to his brothers from his father, and arrives just in time to hear Goliath make his latest attempt at provocation. David hears it and asks ‘who is this Philistine that dares to defy the armies of God’. His brothers begin to scold him, because he has pointed out the obvious and they are sore afraid, of course. He answers them back with another question; ‘is there not a cause?’ Then David, empowered by God, goes out and takes on the giant with a sling-shot and a stone, after first begging off from having to use the King’s armor. Goliath taunts him as well, but it is a fatal mistake. David kills him after first telling him exactly what he is going to do, and Israel, emboldened by the sight of the dead giant, attacks and wins a great battle.

What a story!

Currently the church is under attack and the giant is just as big these days. God has been removed from schools and public places, to a point that even prayers have been outlawed at high-school football games. A fight continues to remove any mention of God from the Pledge of Allegiance. We have been told emphatically that ‘we are no longer a Christian nation’ by our leaders and if you dare stand up and disagree, you are called a ‘right-wing fanatic’ and are quickly shushed if not totally dismissed by society in general. Our children are taught a theory of how we evolved in school and a faith-based opposition to the matter is anathema to mention in those same classrooms. The Bible gets a new translation every day it seems, and is gradually being filtered to leave out all the things that condemn us. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; I could throw in abortion, a growing opposition to home-schooling, and many other topics, but you already know these things.

Instead of standing up and fighting, the church has rolled over and played dead. There is too much at stake – we need our 401k retirement funds, our new vehicles and houses, our kids have ball games, and besides that - we just might miss an episode of American Idol on TV. So we pass around chain emails for an x-amount of signatures that somehow will magically be forwarded to the President, the Congress, or in some cases, the Supreme Court. We might even write an email to our congressman. (an actual letter is just too much of a hassle)

But we’re supposed to be nice and turn the other cheek, right? That is the Christian way, huh?

We need another David to arrive on the scene and remind us that yes, there is a cause. But he better get here soon, or that cause will be long forgotten – swept under the rug by Christians like you and I that have become so comfortable in our lives that we fail to notice what is going on around us. We need to get back to church, not just on Sunday mornings, but back on Sunday nights and even (gasp) Wednesday nights. Once we are in church, we need to listen, and meditate on the Word of God, demanding that our pastors preach 'thus saith the Lord' or find another occupation. We need to pray. Really. No more rehearsed or memorized prayers, but something that comes from the heart as the Holy Spirit directs us. We need to gut-check our salvation, to 'work out our own salvation with fear and trembling', for that is how the Apostle Paul put it in Phillippians 2:12.

Finally, “If My people, which are called by My name (Christian = Christ-like) shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways: then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14

It's the way things are done in the Valley of Elah.

Father's Day

So. Just how far would you go in order to help one of your children? Is there a limit to your patience? Is there a point they can reach that will totally alienate them from you? Could anyone conceivably ‘disown’ their own flesh and blood?

Maybe someone else could; you never know in the world we live in today. But I simply cannot comprehend a time, place, or circumstance that would cause me to do so. I have four children of my own and they are each golden to me, despite the fact that from time to time they may upset me or disappoint me. Yes, it is love that I have for them, but it is also something deeper that we share, something that words here would only cheapen as it is indescribable. It is a feeling that only a parent can understand.

Back in Sunday school when we were small, one of the first stories we learned from the Bible was the story of the Prodigal Son. We could, as children, view the story from the perspective of the son, though no one thought they would ever actually do what he did in the story, at least not me. It is funny that now that I am older and have children of my own, I can see the story through the father’s eyes as well.

Webster’s defines ‘prodigal’ as one who squanders. The boy in the story asks his father for his inheritance and leaves for greener pastures, so he thinks. With no one to guide him, he squanders away his money right as the economic times are getting tough. When he finds himself feeding pigs for a living and even eating with them, he decides it would be better to go home and become a servant for his father than to continue living as such. Pigs were considered unclean to Jews and this was an example of hitting rock bottom; anything would be an improvement from where he now found himself. He goes home, rehearsing his speech along the way, but while he is still a long way off from home, his father sees him and runs out to greet him. He cleans the boy up, gives him a robe and a ring, and throws a feast for him complete with a ‘fatted calf’.

From this story, we know that Jesus is explaining our relationship to God. We can rebel against God and He will let us go our own way, even though He knows it will always lead to disaster on our part when we do so. Notice another thing in the story; despite giving his son his part of the inheritance ahead of time, the father was not hurt financially at all. God loses nothing when we depart from Him. But he is waiting for us to return, watching for us, just like the father in the story. Why? Because He loves us.

Jesus told this story to a crowd that had gathered around him, and that crowd included the Scribes and Pharisees (church going folks of the day and leaders as such). Also in the crowd were tax collectors, harlots, and run-of-the-mill, common sinners. There was another son in the story, and I believe that Jesus was referring to the Scribes and Pharisees when he told of him. That son became jealous at the father’s attention to the prodigal, because he felt that he had been doing all the right things from the beginning. But to this very day, Jesus is looking for lost people first and foremost and He says in Luke 19:10 that the ‘son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ I’m glad He did for my sake!

On this weekend we celebrate Father’s Day, and we should certainly be thankful for our fathers. They work everyday to provide for the family, mow the yard, help with complex equations in homework, and basically provide us with a sense of security. If not, then they should. But we should also be mindful of our heavenly Father, who watches for us when we stray, and is readily and eagerly awaiting our return.

John Deere Green

Down the hill below my house there is a shed that houses two ancient John Deere tractors. They are mine, and they mean a lot to me. The smaller one, an ‘H’, rolled off the assembly line in March of 1940, according to the serial number. The larger one, a ‘G’ is the largest tricycle-type tractor John Deere manufactured at the time and it was built in 1951, the year before they changed their series data from letters to numerals.

The H was the first tractor I had ever purchased, and I bought her cheap! She was in very bad shape and had been neglected for many years. My dad and I, with help from my brother, painstakingly restored her from stem to stern, including the engine. Now I’m not much of a mechanic, but my dad is, and between the three of us we did a reputable job in the process. We turned ‘junk’ into a work of art, researching everything from paint colors to the correct decals for both models, and in the end we had something we were all very proud of. Dad bought the other two models in the series, purchasing a 1951 ‘A’ a few years before I bought my H, and then completing the set by purchasing a ‘B’ not long afterward. Once we finished the job we began hauling them to tractor shows in north Mississippi and over in Louisiana to show them off. Of course we received many compliments; not only for the cosmetics but also for the engine work dad had performed. No modern tractor can compare to the ‘pop-pop’ sound of an old, two-cylinder John Deere.

Years went by and I fell in love with NASCAR, and the closest race to where I live is in Talladega, Alabama. The Talladega spring race fell roughly during the same weekend of the largest tractor show that we usually attended. As a result, my priorities changed, and I stopped going to the shows. The two tractors sat idle, and quickly began returning to the shape I originally found them in. If you go down there today, you’ll see that they still run very well, but the bright paint and the crisp vinyl decals are beginning to fade. Rust is also beginning to grow in areas that were once vibrant green and yellow.

As I was mowing the other day, I passed the barn and looked over at the tractors, and it brought to mind something that Jesus said. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." I will never look back on restoring those tractors in regret, because we spent many happy hours together – a father and his two sons. However, I also understand the temporary nature of the process.

The things we do in our lives, the items we work toward and purchase from our labor, are all temporal and prone to wasting away. In fact, they are much akin to sand castles you see children building down at the beach. It’s sad to think that most of what we work hardest for with our labors will only be washed away by the unrelenting waters of time. At the same time it’s comforting to know that the work we do here on earth for Christ will last throughout all of eternity. Those things are not subject to wasting away by neither rust nor wear.

I’m getting older now and longer in the tooth, so to speak. And I have two sons of my own. Maybe one day I’ll be out there in the barn working with them, and once again those old John Deere tractors will shine and the air will be filled with their unique and timeless sound.

They Only Come Out At Night

I read a story in Vanity Fair a few weeks back about the mysterious case of Clark Rockefeller. This man was able to convince several prominent people, including his wife, that he was a descendent of the famously wealthy Rockefeller family. He had the charm, the grace, and he even supplied his own fake paintings as proof! According to the article, he had used his nom de guerre and supposed wealth to live his life in the fast lane among society’s upper crust for many, many years. In the end, of course, he was found out and it ended badly as he kidnapped his own daughter and attempted to go into hiding. I think the case is still pending or something of that nature; there’s not very much about it in the news these days though the story is fairly recent.

To tell a lie is one thing, but to live a lie opens up a whole new can of worms. I’ve heard that if you tell a lie often enough, eventually you will believe it yourself. Lies are dangerous things, indeed.

In the Bible (and I am always going to go there!) there was a man in the third chapter of the book of John that found himself living a lie as well. The man was Nicodemus, and he came to Jesus by night, we are told. He was an upstanding member of the church he attended, always did the right things, and tried to live his life in the best manner possible. People looked up to him and he was well respected as a result, but he knew something was wrong. Yet to simply come out and meet Jesus publicly was out of the question for him. A public acknowledgement could tarnish his reputation, I mean - what would the members of his church think if he did so? So he made his way over to visit Jesus by night. No streetlights back then, no prying eyes; to him it was the safe thing to do.

He got more than he bargained for.

He gives Jesus a salutation, almost bragging on him, and it sounds very well-rehearsed if you are asking me. Jesus dismisses the feeble attempt at brown-nosing by telling him that unless he is ‘born again’ he cannot see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was stumped – born again? What? In his own eyes Nicodemus was OK. He had done the right things, had followed the law and the prophets, and had treated people kindly all of his life. He had the best seat in church! Now he was being told that he had to be ‘born again’. It was not what he had expected, as we can tell from his response. Read the rest of the chapter for yourself and you will see what I’m talking about.

That one phrase, ‘born again’ is the subject of considerable consternation in the world today, and unfortunately, even in the modern, so-called Christian churches that we attend. We don’t like that phrase because it goes against what we feel and what we think about ourselves. But try as we might, we cannot simply dismiss it and move on, because Jesus repeated the phrase and added a ‘verily, verily’ to it in the process. “Verily, verily” means you had better listen up! When I was young, if mom said “Verily, verily you had better clean up your room” it was a cue that an "or else scenario" would be sure to follow if I did not heed her instructions.

So many times today, we simply go to church out of habit, or because it is the ‘right’ thing to do, or simply because of tradition. That’s a dangerous situation because we can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are OK - after all, we have our church membership letter as proof of our salvation. Over a period of time, we can become like Nicodemus and begin living a lie of our own. Salvation is not about church programs, youth fellowships, or even Sunday school attendance. Salvation is by Grace, through Faith, and the acceptance of what Jesus did for us when he took our place on the cross.

How sad it would be to finally get to the end of the road and find out that we missed Heaven by ignoring one important detail; we were never ‘born again’. It can be dangerous to go stumbling around in the dark. Just ask Nicodemus.

Oh Brother!

"We thought you was a toad!"

Thus I find one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies reverberating through my mind this morning. The movie is “O Brother Where Art Thou” and I guess I’ve watched it at least five hundred million times. If I find myself channel-surfing and happen to ‘pop in’ on a channel that is carrying this movie, I’ll almost always find myself dropping the remote and watching it through the duration. My family finally broke down and bought me a copy of the movie as a Christmas present, and I don’t tell them this – it's one of the best presents I’ve ever received!

If you haven’t seen it, the movie is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression era. A movie that mentions towns such as Itabeena and Sardis, has a soundtrack featuring Allison Kraus and the Peasall Sisters, and features a set of draught horses mastered by a fellow from my home county can’t be all that bad. And by the way, George Clooney tosses in what may possibly be the most stellar performance of his career. Two thumbs up!

While I’ll admit I was initially captivated by the movie, what intrigued me most was the idea that the movie was adapted (loosely) from a story that was written over two thousand years ago. The story is The Odyssey by Homer, and once I saw that particular fact mentioned during the opening credits, I was hooked! I also paid very close attention to details during the movie. They (the writers) did an excellent job with the concept. I’ve always loved the Odyssey, and I studied it extensively back during high school and college. Maybe for that reason I ‘get it’ – the movie, more so than most.

To pattern a movie in such a manner is brilliant, and very creative. But to pattern your life on an ancient book as such is another thing altogether. There is another book that is two-thousand plus years old that we should choose to pattern our lives after. It is filled with tales of heroes and cowards, villains and law-abiding people, honest folks and scapegoats. It is story that begins in irreconcilable failure, and ends with ultimate redemption through grace. The book is The Bible, and what an awesome, wonderful story it holds within its pages! To model one’s life by the examples set within, and to truly live as such, would be akin to achieving perfection. No, we’d never reach that state, we are assured by the book itself that we will miss the mark, but it is a standard we could and should set for ourselves.

I think about that a lot these days. How do I measure up to men like Daniel, Elijah, and Paul? How about the perfect example set by Jesus Christ himself? A popular fad used to be wearing bracelets with WWJD stamped on them, in assorted colors and designs. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do” and more often than not, we would wear them and never really think too much about it. When things happen in our lives and choices need to be made, it would be good to truly think about what Jesus would do in our situation and follow the answers that would be given to us accordingly. (Even without a bracelet to remind ourselves about it!) It would also be worthwhile to honestly ‘capture’ our thoughts and deeds and compare them to the patterns and examples given for us in that ancient but timeless book.

Excuse me, but I think it’s time for me to R-U-N-N-O-F-T!

Cell Phone Spirituality

My cell phone died this week, and it was bittersweet. I've had a Motorola Q for almost two years now, and everyone at work is getting iPhones since we switched suppliers. As I watched the first phones being delivered, I felt so out of touch, obsolete, and falling behind with the times. So now I am getting an iPhone of my own - but I lost all of my contacts. The old Q would sync with my PC, and I'm not sure if the iPhone will, yet. So what happened to all of those contacts that mysteriously vanished from the Q?

Ah, a new phone, and new technology. I picked it out from a web-site with assistance from the IT coordinator at work this afternoon. It glistened with newness, seeming to leap from the page at me! My day instantly got better, and thinking about having to enter all of those work-related and personal contacts in manually, one by one, never really crossed my mind. It is the price we pay to jump forward and move ahead, like that old Devo song from the 80's. Whip it good!

I will.

And it will be great for a week or so, maybe longer if I get some cool apps along the way. One app I saw is a carpenter's level; you lay the phone on its side and... how cool is that? I can't think of a place in time where I'll actually need it, but I will get it anyway. You never know.

Guess what? By mid-July I will be tired of it and take it for granted. It's not just me, we are all that way. Instant gratification, baby! Procure, consume, and move on, yeah, that's the ticket. I will no longer need that special iPod I received for Christmas as it will be a thing of the past. I can put all of the songs on my phone because it is easier that way. Less to carry. Frees my hands up to 'get' other things. How about one of those blue-tooth thingees that hang on your ear? Ink me up!

Sometimes I worry what will become of us, the way we take things for granted these days. We always (and I include myself here) seem to be looking for what's next before we can begin to enjoy what we already have. The present, the now, the here and today, should never be traded. Not even for a thousand tomorrows.

Jesus knew this and it is recorded in Matthew 6:34 that we are to "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

Tomorrow's toys will be better, more streamlined, more reliable. (maybe) Tomorrow's problems will be bigger and more complex. That's a given and is something that I've learned in my life at this point. You never know what's coming around the bend or beyond the next fork in the road. Sometimes we need to simply sit still and pay attention to things; because if we don't there is a pretty good chance it (life) will pass us by.

I'm going to think about that as I gather my business cards in preparation of adding the contact information into my shiny new phone. And I'm gonna miss that Q - she was a good'un.

Fast Asleep

So.... this blog is a journey for me and I'll update it as I can. I am in the process of publishing a book and it has been a nightmare up to this point. No, not really. I have checked millions of sites on the Net and studied a lot of things, ideas, and the like. For the most part I have gone the easy route, which is to simply submit and hope.

I may or may not have an agent at this point, let me explain myself here. I have an agency that responded and accepted a copy of the book. They wanted a critique and a formal edit, which I provided. Last of all, they wanted a signed contract, which I also provided. According to their letter, they would be in touch with me with an actual agent that has been assigned to me. That was a week or so ago. What the heck? Did they steal the book? Do I continue to wait? Do I go back to submitting to other agents and publishers?

For now I am going to wait it out and see. I am in no hurry. Is the book good or am I simply fooling myself? It seems as though there are no answers today, only more questions for tomorrow.

I podded a few copies, which is a new term I have learned. A POD is 'print on demand' and the books are expensive as such. But I sold all of those copies and had very good feedback from all of the readers, in fact, not one negative response though not all of the readers knew me or were what you'd call 'good friends' if I knew them at all. Heck, my editor loved the book, but then again, I was paying her for the service, so...

Finally, because this is my first blog, I am going to end it by saying that I am going to 'wait on the Lord' at this point, because in simplicity, He controls all of the matters of men. Yeah, I believe that and also believe that it is just like that in reality. I'm hoping and praying that He looks on the book in a favourable manner.

Waiting - June 15, 2009