Let Freedom Ring!

So I’m not at work this week, and it is a good thing. I am tired and needed a break, and despite having no travel plans of note I have been looking forward to this time off for a quite a few months now. I’m still not sure what I’ll do with myself and the first day is almost fast behind me as I write this.

My wife and I got up this morning and decided to take the motorcycle out for a spin. We needed a few things from town and thus the opportunity presented itself for a short excursion - so we took it. It has been many weeks since we have ridden the bike due to work schedules, children, and other things that can make your life go by too fast. The weather has not been agreeable during the past month as well, with either temperatures that are just too hot or an overabundance of rain. Riding a motorcycle is not an agreeable experience in either of those two conditions.

As soon as we were on the road I remembered why I love riding as much as I do, and if you asked my wife she would agree. It is an exhilarating feeling of freedom when you ride, as long as you are careful and keep your eyes peeled for hazards at almost every turn. It is the feel of the wind on your skin and the comforting rumble of the bike’s engine under you as you ride. It is also the smells; though that is hard to describe it to someone who has never ridden. In a car you don’t notice the smell of bacon frying in a house that you may happen to pass, or the sharp fragrances of flowers in bloom alongside the road that you travel. We also had the opportunity to ‘smell’ the rain a little this morning, but we didn’t mind it too much. We were free. Had the rain not hindered us, we may have continued to ride for quite a while longer, losing track of our responsibilities and the various commitments that seem to pursue us in our daily lives.

Jesus said, in John 8, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” What He is offering is a different kind of freedom than what one would experience on a motorcycle, hang-gliding, surfing, or any of the other activities that people feel inclined to word-associate with true freedom. I wondered about that verse for a long time, pondering what Jesus could offer me in this day and age that would result in my true ‘freedom.’ He even punctuated the statement with ‘indeed’. As in not just free, but free indeed.

We live our lives and despite what anyone will tell you, there is a sense of guilt about us. We can deny the existence of God, choose to ignore Him, and pretend that all of reality is only what we can determine through our physical senses. But deep inside of us, because He is our creator, we have it ingrained in our hearts to know that He is. Some may hide this better than others, but it is absolute in all of us. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s very image. Because of these things, we have a sense of foreboding. We know that death is promised and that we will all face it one day – no one gets out of here alive. Even those that would deny the reality of God cannot alter their own destiny. Death itself is proof of God; for death is the wage that we earn from sin, as Paul writes (much better than I do) in Romans.

With death comes final judgment, and we are promised that we will face it one day. The judge will be God Himself, and all of our deeds will be revealed, including our innermost thoughts. It is surely enough to worry about. It is more than enough to feel guilty about. Our impending death and the judgment that is certain to follow, coupled with the role of sin in our lives each and every day all serve to bind us as we wait for the other shoe to drop. And it will.

So we go to church a few times. And on occasion we may try and do a few good deeds. We work on being good parents or good neighbors, good employees or good bosses. We may even throw a little money toward our favorite charity every now and then. We do these things in an effort to ‘measure up’ to what we think that God would surely expect from us, hoping against hope that in the end it will prove to be enough. But it never will be. As a result, hidden deep within us is a guilt that we all share, and breaking free from that chain that binds us is an impossible feat to accomplish. When you sin, you are a slave to sin.

Jesus offers us freedom from sin. No more guilt or doubts, and no more shame. He offers us the chance to break free from our chains, and all we have to do is accept Him. There are no hidden costs and no fine print to mull over; we are only required to take Him at His Word. In return we get freedom, and the promise of an abundant life. We also escape judgment and gain eternity. In other words, Jesus offers us the chance to be free indeed.

The feeling of freedom is very hard to beat. It is also quite a load off of your mind.

While I Am Out...

Man, if I can just make it through today. I keep telling myself that and it has become almost my mantra since arriving at the office early this morning. I am taking a week off from work and so today is officially my last day for a while. I’ve been very busy taking care of everything and doing my best to assure that things are going to run smoothly in my department while I am away.

I have a schedule recorded and printed in triplicate, a list of outstanding work orders and projects that are to be completed, and I have a meeting this afternoon with my departmental assistant to go over the final details that need to be covered. I think I have it all taken care of. If I don’t, then it will mean several phone calls over the next week and in essence could possibly ruin my time away from work. But that’s not the only thing; I want the department to run smoothly in my absence as it is how I am judged by those that are above me. It is my responsibility to have everything covered and in place when I am to be out for any reason. It should be that way and I welcome the responsibility of doing so during these times.

Paul had come to the end of the way in his life. He faced execution by Nero in Rome for preaching the Gospel and it was only a matter of time before that event would take place. He wrote a letter to Timothy, the second one that is recorded in the Bible. In that letter he exhorted Timothy to carry on and continue with the work of spreading the Gospel throughout the world that Paul and others had started. It is a sad letter, and you can feel the emotion in the wording. But it is also a glorious letter, because you can also read within its pages that Paul knew what lay ahead of him and yet knew that death was merely a stepping stone to glory in his manner of thinking. He wasn’t unsure or doubting when he wrote the letter; he was already looking ahead to what God had prepared for him due to his supreme faith in Jesus Christ.

“But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

These are not the mere words of a man facing an unjustified execution at the hands of an evil emperor. On the contrary, these are words of one who knows his destiny and is prepared for it. But notice too, that as he looks ahead to his future, he is also making sure that he leaves instruction to Timothy on what to do and how to proceed in his absence. He tells Timothy to ‘watch in all things’ and to ‘make full use of his ministry’. Though Paul was looking ahead, he also remembered that another would be continuing the work in his place and he left instructions on how to do so.

In my own mind I believe that these are some of the most profound words recorded in the Bible considering the circumstance that they were written. I should be more like Paul and honestly, we all should be.

I’m going on vacation so I am nowhere close to being in the same condition Paul found himself in as he penned these words so many years ago. I understand that and in no way am I making light of it. But I’m careful to leave full instruction to those who will be here during my absence; because I want to be sure they will carry on the job while I am away. Paul would have understood that.

Special Order 191

It was late in the summer of 1862 during the height of the Civil War, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee was leading his famous Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac on an invasion into Maryland. Only a week earlier, he had handily defeated Union General John Pope at the Battle of Second Manassas. Pope, with the larger army, had boasted that he arrived to take command from the West, where they were used to ‘seeing the backs of our enemies.’ After easily defeating Pope, Lee hoped to gain a victory on Northern soil, thereby giving cause for Great Britain or France to join the war in support of the fledgling Southern States in their struggle for independence.

Whether out of overconfidence or quite possibly strategic genius, Lee decided to divide his small army into three separate commands and objectives. It was a masterful, well-thought plan and the results if achieved would possibly change the outcome of the war. Lee consulted with his commanders, explaining down to minute details what he wanted to accomplish and recorded the various plans into a document called Special Order 191. The order was submitted to his main commanders and each man understood his job. Almost immediately, everything began to fall into place. Marches were made, battles were fought, and all of the objectives were quickly being attained. The new Union General, George McClellan, had always proven himself to be slow to react in previous battles against Lee and in this case such a course of action would surely prove to be disastrous. The end of the war and certain victory for the South appeared to be within Lee’s grasp.

It was at the height of the campaign that things suddenly changed. Two Union soldiers, Corporal Barton W. Mitchell and First Sergeant John M. Bloss happened upon a lost copy of Special Order 191, wrapped around three cigars in an abandoned Confederate camp. They turned the written order over to their superiors and it was quickly taken to McClellan. With a copy of Lee’s plans along with all of the assorted details, the Union army moved confidently into battle. Lee was defeated a few days later at Antietam Creek, and you could say the course of American history was forever altered as a result of a misplaced order and three cigars.

There is an old saying that states, ‘The devil is in the details.’ I have found this statement to be truthful so many times over the course of my life. I have made plans which were well thought-out and left me certain of success – it was all but assured. But during some (majority) of those times, I’ve found that I can leave out or miss one important detail, and the whole thing will come tumbling down around me. I know this to be true in both my secular life as well as my Spiritual life.

Peter writes in his second epistle, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” So many times I can get caught up in what I am doing. I pay close attention to details in my job and in my finances; dotting the proverbial I’s and crossing the T’s. Sometimes chasing my plans can cause me to miss the smaller details of what life is all about and the things that are actually important. If I get too wrapped up in my plans and goals, and forget to allow them to line up with what God would have me do each day, it can cause me to stumble. A stumble as such can result in missing the victory in my life that I so desire to achieve.

How can I overcome missing those smaller details in my life that can cause catastrophic failure? With so much going on each day, and so many responsibilities, that can be a tough task for anyone, but most of all – me! How can I find that measure of steadfastness that Peter writes about? He answers that question for me in the next verse: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” A Christian life is an ongoing growth process. When we stop growing or striving to learn more from God, we are going to hit some rough patches. Growth is such a small detail. You won’t hear it preached about in church or taught about in Sunday School as much as other doctrines. Maybe it is because it is assumed by me as well as other Christians that we will simply grow on our own over time. But growth is a detail that should never be taken for granted.

I can plan on changing the world. I can plan on reaching the lost, teaching my class at church, or being the ultimate employee for my boss. My goal of being the best father ever to my children or the perfect husband to my wife are both traits I should pursue – they are good and worthwhile goals to seek achievement in. But if I don’t grow as a Christian, I will become stagnant, possibly falling by the wayside, and missing out on the victory that is possible for me through my faith in Jesus Christ.

I need to pay attention to the details, because it is those smaller things that can get you.

To Tat or Not to Tat

Back in 1986 or so (I say that because my memory is good for some things, but not so great for others) I was stationed in New York City. I was a sailor living in the Big Apple, and my home was right off the tip of Manhattan on what was then known as Governor’s Island. When my friends and I were not busy keeping America safe for Democracy, we were running all over the city; from Shea Stadium where the Mets were having a Championship season, to Central Park and even the Village. Being from a small southern town, the experiences of the city were new to me and I wanted to take it all in while I had the opportunity.

On one of our excursions, somehow we ended up at a tattoo-parlor. Most of the guys had a few of them already adorning parts of their bodies as it is considered par for the course when you are a member of a sea-going service - which we were. A few of my ship-mates sat down for an additional tattoo while I surveyed the art work examples on the wall. Some of the designs were really cool and I decided that the time had arrived for me to go ahead and get a tattoo of my own. I wanted a heart on my right bicep, and I was going to have my daughter’s name placed in the middle of it. I waited patiently for my own turn in the chair, with of course my mind being made up already. It was going to be one of the neatest things I had ever done and I was sure everyone back home would be impressed.

Lucky for me, as I look back on that night, the guy in front of me had a problem and he began to bleed profusely. I could also tell that the pain he was feeling during the process was excruciating. I pointed this out to another friend and he tried to explain to me that it was due to the location of the tattoo on his body; my own tattoo would be relatively painless, he assured me. I have a low tolerance for unnecessary pain, and at that moment all thoughts as to the coolness and the perceived envy of those at home went out the door. I balked and got my money back, choosing to stay in the sitting area and absorb the ribbing that was directed my way for the duration of the evening.

I never did get that tattoo and I am thankful of that fact today. I also eschewed piercings of the ears, which were also common during that day and age. However I did grow a mullet (hair style) after I left the service, and the pictures are embarrassing enough when one of them may happen to find its way to the forefront during a search through an ancient photo-album.

But back to tattoos, which is what I am talking about today. Is it right or wrong for a Christian to get a tattoo? There seems to be a lot of debate on the topic these days and there are more questions than answers. But I still want to weigh in with my thoughts on the matter.

Most of those who know their Bibles will immediately bring up the passage in Leviticus 19 where the children of Israel are warned, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” This is enough for me and pretty much provides me with an assured reason never to get a tattoo, or a piercing for that matter. However, a lot of theologians and many preachers also rationalize this verse to relate that the children of Israel were around pagans that used cuttings and markings of their bodies in their worship, and it bears little in regards to us today since those religions are now extinct. We can go round and round with this logic and never find a middle ground, but there is more to consider here.

Sometimes the Bible does not appear to be clear on certain issues, though if you look hard enough I believe that you can find an answer. Everything that we do as Christians should be built around our faith. Paul writes in Romans 14, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That is blatantly cut and dried to me, despite any and all theological discourse on the subject.

Is the purpose of a tattoo on my body to aid me in glorifying God in some way? Will others have a better chance of seeing Jesus in me if I have ink designs on my arms, legs, or back? Or will those marks and designs be a stumbling block to others who may be turned off by them and as a result damage any part of my testimony I would otherwise be able to share with them?

If the Spirit gives you peace in this area, then it is alright to do what you are led to do. For me it is wrong and not something that could cause my faith to grow or aid me in possibly sharing it with others.

Waiting For G.I. Joe

I found myself reading statistics early this morning after reading a news report on teenage pregnancies. The article also delved into the divorce rate among other things and all-in-all it was pretty gloomy. It always is. Marital relationships do not appear to be what they used to be, but maybe I’m jaded from seeing too much within my own lifetime. If you throw in the recent push for same-sex marriage, the whole house of cards seems to be falling down and not just here in my country, but around the world as a whole.

It wasn’t meant to be that way.

I went to my niece’s birthday party yesterday, and though she turned twenty, the marking of a day as such is always a special event. I’m proud of her – I’ve watched her grow up and it appeared to have happened seemingly overnight. In a few weeks she will leave home for college in another part of the state. No, the marriage bug has not bitten her yet, but it will. I can see it looming over the horizon for her. However, she had nothing to do with where my thoughts are headed; it was the event itself that is directing my manner of thinking this morning.

I remember my eighth birthday, and I know that is hard to believe, but I do. I had asked in the weeks leading up to ‘my day’ for a special GI Joe doll as they were very big at the time and all of my best friends in my second grade class had one. Mom said she would do what she could, but also made a few comments about how times were hard and the toy was expensive, etc., which is what parents do. It increases that sense of anticipation in your children when you do those kinds of things. From my own experience with my children I know that she had planned all along to purchase it for me as a gift.

As a soon to be eight-year-old, though, it was too much stress and the things I am going to confess to here have never been disclosed. A few days before my birthday, I could no longer take the suspense and began a massive search throughout our house for evidence that the gift had been purchased. Sure enough, I found it in a shopping bag in my mother’s closet while she was out in the yard with my grandmother. I opened the box, noting the detailed plastic and camouflaged clothing, as well as the guns and accessories that came with him. Sweat poured from my face, my nerves were standing on edge. It was wrong, but it felt so right! He was going to be mine in a few days, I could hardly wait!

So I didn’t. For the rest of that week, if there was a capricious moment when mom was busy or indisposed in some way, I would be in her closet helping GI Joe take on the commies and fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. I didn’t get caught, because each time I would meticulously return him to his box and made sure that everything was just the way I had found it.

A funny thing happened along the way, however. My birthday finally arrived, and sure enough, we had cake and I received my special present of a GI Joe doll from mom and dad. I feigned excitement to continue the ruse, but in my heart I was already tired of the doll and planning on what toy I would ask of my parents for Christmas. I had ruined my own birthday with my impatience. Something desired and looked forward to had been rendered trivial and pointless by my very own actions.

Many times today I see young people that can’t wait for the things that should always be reserved for marriage. I was a young person once in my life so I am not merely pointing an accusatory finger here. Society as whole bombards us with reasons why we shouldn’t wait, thru videos and movies, music, advertising, while even those of our so-called moral leadership sometimes play along with the charade. Instead of preventing pre-marital sex by teaching abstinence, the world desires only make sure it is ‘safe’ or that an unwanted pregnancy can be avoided.

The writer of Ecclesiastes noted in Chapter 11: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” The world will say it’s alright to do certain things as long as no one gets hurt. It loves to tell us that it is the enlightened way we should live in the modern world in which we reside. Our heart may tell us that it feels right or feels good and besides, everyone else is doing it. Solomon says to go ahead and do whatever you wish, but he reminds us that there will be a judgment to face afterward.

Some things are better left waiting for due to the costs involved. Even if it's something as simple as a GI Joe doll.

The Uncertainty of Tomorrow

What a crazy world we live in! Our lives seem to change so quickly there seems to be no way to keep up with the alterations to our schedules that we encounter almost daily. More and more often I begin to feel as though I am only running in place while the rest of humanity speeds by me utilizing the fast lane. I may just need a bigger engine. Or I may need to take the next exit and hopefully it will be a rest area, or even better - a welcome center with a free Coke.

Take yesterday for example; I got up early and let my little dog out, noticing immediately the change in temperature from the warm mornings we had been experiencing to an almost Fall-like condition in the air. It was a beautiful morning and I looked forward to going to church. After all, that is what Sunday means to me. I took my shower and ironed my clothes in preparation, thinking ahead to my Sunday-School class that I teach. I was contemplating whether or not to fry a few eggs and a little bacon when my wife entered the kitchen almost doubled over in pain.

Everything changed in an instant, and the carefree Sunday morning preparations for church were quickly dismissed in favor of a trip to the Urgent-Care center in town. Fortunately, it was not a serious condition and the problem could be treated with prescriptions. At least I can say that, but my wife would say otherwise and of that I am sure. A follow-up visit at the end of the week and she should be good to go. We are both very thankful for that on this the morning after.

I have a veritable pile of things planned for this week and most of it is apparently centered around my job this morning. I have work planned with the railroad and a project in another State I’ll be monitoring remotely from my office here in my hometown. I have things planned to take care of around the house during the evenings, and an event taking place at church on Saturday. Oh yeah, I am also looking forward to taking a week off from work next week, which means I need to have all of my ducks in a row before I leave the office on Friday. I am wondering if I will be able to cover it all and meet all of the various appointments without something falling through the cracks.

In Proverbs 27:1 I read, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” I surely cannot forecast what will happen in my future, as things always seem to change. It is good to have goals and it is great to schedule things ahead of time as it can add stability into my life and I’ve found I really need that. But I also need to remember how fragile and temporal the things in my life really are. It would be much better to acknowledge my plans by praying ahead of time and seeking out God’s will in everything that I do. If I know that my plans line up with what He would have me do, then maybe in most instances I’d see those goals and plans come to fruition.

My post will be a little shorter than normal this morning as I am leaving in a few minutes for a planning meeting in the conference room…

Little White Lies

I’m going to go against the grain in my post today, at least in the beginning, by using a quote not from the Bible but from an atheist. Eneasz wrote: “Is not an omission of crucial and possibly life-destroying information as morally reprehensible as a lie?”

Lying is such a fruitless function of our character. Unfortunately it is a flaw that we all seem to share as both Christians and non-Christians alike. Obviously Eneasz as an atheist wondered just as much about lying; choosing in this quote to question the validity (or possibility) that one’s own silence could be construed as a lie.

I will ashamedly admit that I have told my share of lies within my lifetime. I have also been lied to on more than one occasion. At other times still, I have watched others lie when it did not affect me and kept my silence as to the straightforward truth, therefore choosing to sin by omission instead of commission.

I have heard it said along these same lines that lies do not hurt anyone unless the truth comes out later. But they do, don’t they? Because it is Friday, and I’m in a quoting mood today, let me add what Sir Walter Scott Marmion penned many years ago:

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

Christians and non-Christians both seem to share the same innate ability to lie to each other or about each other. From the average man on the street all the way up to the leaders of our country; every doctor, lawyer, and Indian chief - lying appears to be a way of life for all of us. I found it odd that the atheist I quoted above chose to describe a lie as something ‘morally reprehensible.’

No one has lied to me lately (that I know of) and I’m not trying to get that particular point into my blog due to a proverbial axe to grind of my own. For some reason it just bothers me today. Maybe because to me it candidly seems as though no one considers lying to be a very big compromise of character these days.

Jesus said in John 8 (here it comes, finally!) “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”

Simply put, no lie that has ever been told can be rationalized in any way as to have descended to us from God. Satan is the father of lies, and each one told comes straight from him. Those two facts alone should give us pause when we find ourselves in a situation where we may be tempted to be less than truthful.

Lies do hurt, even if the truth never makes it to the surface. The person I choose to lie to may never know the difference, but I will. And that lie will affect my character, my conscience, and most of all – my relationship with God. I've decided that I am going to strive to not only abide in the truth, but also to have the truth in me at all times as well.

That’s a good goal to pursue.

Notes On Being Audited

I’m having an audit performed on my department at work this week. Those are never fun. As Department Manager (my official-sounding title) I am responsible for everything we do, and there had better be some form of paperwork as proof of the work we perform! For the most part, we do a great job. Sometimes we spend too much money, or at least the owner thinks as such.

I work at a two-building facility with twenty-two seventy-foot silos in between. We also have four railroad spurs out back and nine truck loading docks. Within the two buildings are eleven production lines and twelve material-handling systems. My department is responsible for the upkeep of everything; from the front gate to the end of the last rail spur, and it involves a lot of things to maintain. It also generates a considerable amount of paperwork.

Thankfully, because we pride ourselves on being modern, we have converted the lion’s share of our documentation onto computers. However, despite this, because of things such as the ISO standard in manufacturing, there still has to be a ‘paper-trail’ and as a result there are four file-cabinets in my office. Those cabinets are the subject of the audit, in a search and find-type procedure. The auditor asks for a record, and I have to go search and find it! He is independent from our company, and he has the power to pass or fail us as far as our certification.

I have learned during previous audits that it is better to come clean if I have something that is not compatible to his standards. If I try to hide something and it becomes known, then the auditor will only delve deeper into my files, revealing even more of my errors in the process. When I come clean, he nods his head, writes a few things down on his notepad, and it all works out. I may get a deduction or two from the tally, but so far that has not been an issue. My problem is that I am a perfectionist. I want to be the best that I can be; therefore I hate it when I miss the mark. My tendency is to try and hide things or move them around, almost to ‘cook the books’ in a manner so that my department will get the highest possible score. Because of that, we usually end up going through ALL of the files before the audit is complete. I always get caught.

Jesus told us in the book of Luke that “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

I may get lucky at times with the auditor. My excuses might work in some situations, or he may just overlook a few files in his relentless, cruel quest for errors. I cannot hide things from God. No matter what my excuse may be for things I have done in my life, they all ring hollow when judged against His Word. There have been times in my life when I thought I had ‘beaten the rap’ and gotten away with wrongdoing, and sometimes I apparently did. But God knew then and He still knows today. I am thankful in my faith that because of my confession and His forgiveness, those sins have all been taken care of. You see, I not only know how to come clean, but I also greatly value in my heart that feeling of being forgiven.

It is pointless to lie to an auditor when it is so much easier to admit that you have a ‘paperwork-challenged’ condition. Usually he will suggest ways that the uncovered problem can be rectified and quite possibly be prevented from ever happening again. But it is even more absurd to lie to God, because He can see right through us and deep into the depths of our hearts.

Take the advice of a man that knows how to be audited – it is always best to come clean and let the chips fall where they may. Confession is the first step toward being forgiven.

The Long Road Home

As my two oldest children were growing up, I was what you would call a ‘child custody weekend’ dad. What that means is that every other Friday I would get off work and drive to pick them up for the weekend, and then make a return trip on Sunday night to take them back to their mother’s house. It was not always easy, but I was always there and on time. Do I deserve a medal or an award for that? No. Not only was it my duty as a father (despite the circumstances) to spend time with them, but I also enjoyed those weekends with my two children.

When they were young, the trip was necessarily hard for all of us. Nothing can be more boring to an eight or nine-year-old than a long trip in a vehicle. I think I’ve written about that in a previous blog? Our own trip usually took about an hour, which made it two hours for me if you think about it. To avoid the constant question of “how much further, daddy?” from the two of them, I came up with a little game that was designed to help them learn to track the distance for themselves. I would ask them (pointing to the digital clock on the car radio) what time did they think we would get home. They would both make their guess, and I would enter a guess of my own afterward.

With me being in control of the car - the speed as well as the route; I was always right on the money. They were amazed and thought I was the smartest daddy ever, because if I said some mysterious time such as “5:31” for instance, we would magically make it home at exactly that moment with very rare exception. The ruse went on for many years before they finally figured out how I did it. But while they were young, the gambit worked and it wasn’t all that bad to see the wonderment in their eyes as they looked up to me as some sort of time-controlling Einstein.

I couldn’t really control time, and I still can’t today. Life goes on and the years speed by, leaving us sometimes to flounder in their wake. But I knew the route back then and could estimate the vehicular speed as well as the time and distance required. I guess the most important fact is that we always made it home.

One of my favorite verses is recorded in Romans, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” As a Christian, I know that God is in charge of everything in my life, even when I least expect Him to be. He controls time, He controls the events in my life, and He watches after my heart during sunny days as well as during the dark ones. I do not have to understand everything that happens in my life, I only need to know that He has a plan for me. His plan is perfect and good; my goal therefore is simply to find and follow that plan. When I do so, things have a funny way of working out in my life and I know that from experience. It has never been merely coincidence.

It’s a long road we travel on this earth, and sometimes it can be a hard one. But I’ll say it one more time here; God is in control. He alone is the master of time and space, and we would do well to leave the navigating to Him.

With God in charge, we can be assured we’ll safely arrive at home. I'm sure that we'll also be on time when we get there - His time.

American Top 40

One of the memories from my childhood involves the Saturday morning trek we used to make each week to attend music lessons in Slidell, Louisiana. At the time my older sister was putting her finishing touches on her knowledge of the piano, and I was learning the violin. I guess we must have made that weekly transit for at least three or four years; my mom driving as we listened to the radio. Casey Kasem was in his heyday, and American Top 40 was inarguably the radio show for the decade of the 70’s.

Every week, with the exception of holidays or other rare occasions, we made the trip. Our teacher was a little old lady that knew how to swing a conductor’s baton. If my hand positions were not correct, I could expect a light tap on my knuckles to remind me of the proper technique I should have been using. I thought it part of being instructed on the violin, as in some mysterious old world method brought to America from say, Austria or Prussia. But my sister later confirmed that the same corrections were used on her knuckles when her hands were not properly placed on the piano keyboard.

As always, out of courtesy I will not use the music teacher’s name, though surely she must have passed by now – she was probably well over two hundred years old at that time and it was a long time ago. But she knew her music, and she was a good teacher despite a few quirks evident to both my sister and me.

My sister eventually learned to play the piano, but I switched instruments in my teenage years from the violin to the guitar. Somehow playing classical music on the violin could not be construed as ‘cool’ to a teenage boy. Do I regret it today? Mom has asked me that on an occasion or two, and to be honest the answer would have to be 'yes and no'. It would be great to know how to ‘saw’ on a violin these days, but I also had a lot of fun with my guitar over the years.

But back to the trip as that is where I am going this morning. Those were good times as a family – not just the lessons, but the trip in itself. We would listen to Casey as we began our trip in the early morning with him beginning the countdown, and it would complete at the number-one song for the week sometime during our return trip home. No matter what song happened to be on top of the charts that week, he always ended the show in the same manner. He would, in his ever memorable voice say, ‘keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.’ My music teacher, strangely enough, believed and taught almost the same philosophy.

Solomon wrote, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Whatever we do with our lives (and our lives are merely vapors that appear for only a little time) we should go all-out with it. We should in fact reach for the stars; which is metaphorically saying that we should try to do our very best in whatever we attempt to do.

If it happens to be music lessons, or sports, or something to do with our careers - we should strive to make our mark. By doing so, it just may bleed over into other things in our lives. We may be better parents, better spouses, or better employees as a result. Most of all, by diligently following a Christian walk, the stars may be the limit as to what we can accomplish in our own church and surrounding community.

Couple that with an occasional loving correction from God’s baton when we lose our form and we just might achieve that goal.

The Brass Band

First off, I will admit that we were a bad group of teenage boys at the time. It was my early teenage years; the ones where you aren’t quite ready to admit that you may be interested in girls and instead still cling to the things you liked to do at the end of your late childhood. I’m referring to the group of boys in my Sunday School class at the time, and we were a teacher’s worst nightmare. Junior-High boys – is there any age group that is harder to rein in and place under control? You’d almost need pit bulls and batons to do that!

Enter a new teacher. The man was a Spiritual giant and knew his Bible well. He was in his fifties; ancient by the standards we held at the time, but he was the only soul brave enough to take on our class. I’m making it sound bad, I know, and I can understand if you are envisioning ‘Lord of the Flies’ here. We would have been proud of that comparison.

The knowledge he held of all Biblical topics was something we could have learned from. But to this date, the only thing he said in our class that I can remember is that ‘if boys in Russia acted like you boys do, they would take them out behind the building and put bullets in their heads.’ Yes, we had pushed him to that point, no doubt. But then again, if memory serves, he never appeared to be in much better than a surly mood on those mornings he arrived to teach our class in the first place. Sour and gruff, he was a no-nonsense type of person trying to teach twelve and thirteen year-old-boys secrets from God’s Word.

A few years later I am proud to say that I did learn a thing or two from him, but not in a Sunday School class. We became friends when I discovered that I could look up to him strictly based on what he knew from the Bible – things he had tried to teach me earlier in my life. What made the difference at that point? Was it maturity on my part? Not exactly. Something changed in his life, maybe he found patience. Or maybe the Spirit moved on him and created a change in his persona. I’m only telling you what I know from the before and after difference that became apparent in his life. I was a bona-fide witness to it and I’m thankful today for the things that he taught me during that later time.

Paul writes, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” There was a lot of brass and cymbals being played in that Sunday morning class so many years ago. Certainly we were not angels – not even close even on our best days. But due to his abrasive personality, so many others in that group of boys never came to know that teacher like I did afterward, and as a result they missed out on a lot of Biblical knowledge and Spiritual truths he could have taught them.

I’m older now and these days I teach young people in a Sunday School class of my own. There are times when I am in a 'less than stellar mood' and I simply do not want to deal with the hi-jinx and tomfoolery prevalent within that age group. Maybe it is a way of things coming full-circle and possibly a little bit of reaping what you sow? In either case, I remember well the lesson I learned from that teacher. I can prepare, study, and pray to the point I have a lesson ready that even Billy Graham would love to hear. But if I can’t show love from my heart to my class while I am teaching said lesson, then it is pointless and I have wasted not only my time but also the class’s time. Most of all, I’ve wasted God’s time.

Oh, I’ve also learned that cymbals and brass are good in the right places. But they are there to merely augment the melody when called upon to do so.

Fearfully And Wonderfully Made

Have you ever attended a cheerleading competition? I’m not talking about the girls wearing next to nothing on the sidelines of NFL games on TV. I’m talking about real cheerleading and the competitions they hold for High School squads in States across the country following the end of football season each year.

With both of my daughters having been cheerleaders (and a daughter-in-law as well) during their high school and college years, I can say that I have been to my fair share of them. Of course, as a father, I was very proud of my girls as they moved through the ranks; but an all-day affair at a high school gymnasium in some small, out-of-the-way town in Mississippi can be rough on anybody. At least that is the way it was in the beginning for me.

Once I learned the rules and became familiar with the routines and how they were judged, I became a closet addict of the sport. The way the girls (and guys) can fling their bodies through the air, casting caution to the wind in the process, and the way the squad depends on each other during a performance really is something to see. I caught myself on more than one occasion wondering why I never learned to do a back tuck when I was young and in my prime.

I was never very athletic, too small to do much good in football, and much too short and uncoordinated for basketball. I don’t think baseball was invented back then, at least not in rural Mississippi in the 1970’s. Maybe it was there and we didn’t know about it yet, but it seems as though we finally did field a baseball team during my senior year.

Athletics are a good cause. We have amazing bodies that can be trained to do dynamic things if we take care of them and use them correctly. The Psalmist writes in Chapter 139, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Fearfully and wonderfully made – knowing that fact should make us careful about the choices we make with the bodies God has given us. The Bible also tells us that our bodies are temples, and we should treat them as such. I’d never bring alcohol or drugs into a temple; what would the preacher say! That’s a no-brainer, and as such almost deserves a non-comment from me in this column.

But in what other ways can we abuse these bodies that are so fearfully and wonderfully made? Maybe when we overindulge in our favorite fried, greasy foods or grab that extra slice of pizza that we just can’t resist? Or how about when we sit in front of a TV or behind our keyboards, foregoing the proper amount of exercise that our bodies need to sustain our muscular makeup? (Ouch!)

What about, God forbid, when we use our bodies in a carnal way with someone else outside of marriage? I don’t think I need to draw a picture or go into further detail on that one.

There are many ways to defile our bodies, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here. My point this morning is that what the Psalmist said is as true today as it was back in his day. Our bodies are dramatic gifts from God; from our eyes to our toes, and that includes the breath He gives us and the heartbeat that sustains us for each and every day of our lives. We should demonstrate our thankfulness in the way we take care of ourselves, choosing to forego the things that could conceivably damage or ruin our bodies in the process.

Excuse me, but there is a trampoline in my back yard, and I’m thinking that if I…. Nah!

Seaman Young

I took a day off from my blog, but it was not by choice. I had a very busy day yesterday. It was one of those days where you run from one task to the next, and at the end of the day realize that you actually accomplished nothing. Have you ever had a day like that? Yes, we all have. But enough about that – let’s get on with the blog…

It was August of 1985 and circumstances happened to place me in Cape May, New Jersey. It was during those sweltering months of summer that I had chosen to join the U.S. Coast Guard, and in hindsight I should have joined in the more agreeable weather months of spring or early fall. It was a rough time, but a learning time for me, and it shaped a lot of things in my life and set me on a path that I still find myself on today.

The particular day I am remembering this morning was one of the early days of boot camp on The Cape. The young men of Kilo Company 121 were green. We could not seem to do anything right. There was no teamwork or discipline; just a disjointed group of fellows from different walks of life that had been thrown together for a couple of months in order to become official members of a branch of the service. I remember watching the sunrise over the Atlantic that morning (from a push-up position) and wondering just exactly what I was doing there as everything appeared to have delved into utter madness. I was probably not the only one that morning to reflect in such a manner.

At some point during those early morning hours, and I don’t remember the exact details, our drill instructor had had enough. When a drill instructor reaches that point, it is never a good thing. With veins bulging from his forehead, he literally blew his top becoming almost incoherent in the process. Incoherent due to the spittle flying onto our faces and the new and creative uses of profanity he had apparently discovered during his latest epiphany. But what he did next shocked me, and remains with me still today, almost twenty-five years later.

‘Seaman-recruit Young’ was a top-notch sailor. He was athletic, intelligent, and well-liked and well-respected by everyone in our company. If you recall advertisements from back in the 1950’s showing the ‘All-American’ boy, he would be what you would envision when you did so. By unanimous vote, he had been chosen by us, his peers to be our company leader and he did an excellent job in the position. He served as our go-between with the drill instructor, always seeming to be able to pull our fat out of the fire when we messed up.

On this morning, immediately following the melt-down spoken of earlier, the drill instructor called Young to the front and center of the formation. He made all of us get up from our prone positions and relax, because he said he had something he wanted us to see. Screaming and cursing, he forced Young down into the prone position and ordered him to begin doing pushups for the company; one for every one of our mistakes over the previous week and he assured us that there were millions of them. At first we were relieved, and I say that with not a little chagrin – it was a lot easier on us and besides, Young was an All-State Athlete from Texas and could handle it. As time went on, however, we could see that this wasn’t a going to be a simple example and the drill instructor had an obvious axe he wanted to grind. Seconds dragged into minutes, each punctuated by a curse from the drill instructor and a ‘yessir’ from Young as he cranked out ‘our’ pushups.

Before too much time had passed, we could see that he was getting tired, yet he refused to stop or give in. This had the apparent effect of angering the drill instructor even more so than he was already, if that was possible. We, as a group, began feeling uncomfortable because we knew this wasn’t right - he was taking the punishment for all of us. In the early morning light, I saw Young’s face, and he had tears flowing down his cheeks. It was enough, and several of us dropped to the pushup position to join Young in his labor, and it was the right thing to do. That’s what happens in the movies, right?

When the drill instructor saw what we were doing, he would have no part of it. He advised us that we had mere moments to reconsider and get back up on our feet or he was going to, well, I can’t put it down in a G-rated blog entry what he actually said he was going to do to us. But I can let you know that what he was talking about doing to us was physically and anatomically impossible. The morning took a turn for the surreal as we realized the drill instructor was going to get his pound of flesh, that Young would have to go it alone, and we would only be spectators for the ongoing punishment exercise. I can no longer recall how long this sadistic behavior continued, but it did end eventually. I’d like to say that it shaped us and made us better sailors, and maybe it did. But to this day I am still not sure that it couldn’t have been accomplished in another manner.

John writes in his first epistle about Jesus, “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” I found the following definition for the word ‘propitiation’ on-line this morning, and I like it:

Propitiation is that priestly work of Christ wherein He removed God's anger and wrath by the covering over of our sins through the substitutionary sacrifice of Himself to God, thus securing our acceptance before God.

Young’s sacrifice for our squad on the parade ground that morning long ago to pay for our mistakes as a group was probably demented, and there should have been an alternative method to use to get our attention. But with the sin-debt we owe in our lives, there is no other way to pay for it than through the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus not only cleanses us from the sin, it atones for our sin. We can never pay it on our own, we can’t justify it in our hearts otherwise, and we can’t simply choose to ignore it. We can’t compare ourselves to others by rationalizing that ‘at least we are not as bad as they are.’ Salvation comes when we accept Jesus into our hearts and choose His completed work of grace that only He alone can provide for us.

I wish I could remember Young’s first name – he deserves that from me.

Being Content

It sure has been hot lately down here in the South. We started our summer off back in April and May with unseasonably cool temperatures which carried over into the early days of June - and then the lid blew off! We had several days in a row, over a week in fact, with temperatures over one-hundred degrees and no rain in sight during that time. The grass turned brown and died; its normally hardy blades unable or unwilling to withstand the unusually hot and dry conditions. Even the century-old oak trees in my back yard began to succumb to the weather as they began shedding their leaves into our pool in protest.

Despite the abnormal (and it was) weather conditions, I can still recall from experience a day that was much hotter. It was also a day that entailed a great deal more misery for me at the time as well.

It was mid-June of 1969 or so, and I was a boy of six at the time. It was the summer of Hurricane Camille, and though the storm has long since been memorialized, few can remember the tepid conditions of those sweltering summer days before the storm. I can remember them well, because one of those days in particular left its mark etched deep upon my memory.

My grandmother lived in Nicholson, MS and with mom and dad both gainfully employed, the task fell to her to keep my sister, brother, and me during the day while they were at work. On this memorable day either she came and picked us up or we had been delivered to her earlier in the morning – that part I cannot remember. The morning turned when she decided she needed to go up to Lumberton, MS to pick up a few bushels of peaches. Lumberton is around thirty miles from where I now live, but from Nicholson it is closer to forty-five or fifty. The Interstate system has since closed that gap significantly, but at that time there was only Highway 11 to utilize as a route of traversing the distance.

Despite Granny’s habit of driving at the loathsome speed of thirty miles an hour, it still should not have been that bad. You’d think an hour or so and one leg of the trip would be over – it surely couldn’t be that bad? But somewhere along the way (it was also the summer of space travel and the moon landing) we hit a time-warp or a worm-hole, and the trip stretched into what seemed to be an eternity. To a boy my age, its time frame was closely akin to Magellan circumnavigating the globe! Meanwhile, the temperature began to steadily rise, and keep in mind that her car did not have that modern convenience we take for granted and call air-conditioning today.

Though the journey up there was grossly inhumane, the return trip home closely resembled an outtake from Dante’s Inferno. The mid-afternoon heat came blowing through the rolled-down windows of the car like a blast furnace, and to add insult to injury, we now had to contend with peach fuzz that clung to our sweaty arms, legs, and faces. I remember my brother crying for at least thirty-nine of the forty or so miles home, but he was all of three years old and that is to be expected. My older sister was mean to us, of course, as that is what big sisters do when locked in a confined space with their younger brothers for any set amount of time. When I wasn’t scratching the fuzz build-up on various spots on my body, I was trying to hold my head out the window when Granny wasn’t looking in a desperate but fruitless attempt to get relief from the heat.

Not apparent to me at the time, but very memorable now that I am older is the fact that throughout our odyssey, Granny never complained. Sure, she fussed at us and cajoled us into behaving ourselves during the ride; but I do not recall hearing her make any complaint about either the heat or the effects of the peaches on her skin. Was she simply not susceptible to the environment in a manner comparable with her grandchildren? Or was it possibly due to the fact that she had infinite patience, and knew that sooner or later the trip would end as long as she endured it? I can only hope that at some point in my life I will find that same patience and fortitude that she exhibited on that day as well as on countless other occasions. A patience and calmness that will tell those around me (even if they do not comprehend it until much later in life) that I am assured that I will be alright, and that whatever the situation calls on for me, I have faith that it will end on a good note.

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” That’s the way Paul put it in Philippians chapter four. There are a lot of great scriptures in the Bible, and a lot of huge examples for us to go by. This one is a rare pearl and assuredly one of great price. To be content in whatever situation you may happen to find yourself in might be portion to reaching the highest level of spiritual maturity you could ever dare to attain.

I’m pretty sure Granny knew that.

Out In The Desert, Hear Their Cry!

Maybe I should have been more careful, as in ‘be careful what you ask for – you just may get it.’ I received correspondence from a very knowledgeable man the other day referring to a post entry in my blog. I love to get comments and mailings as I have said before; it is good to know who is out there listening. Apparently he took umbrage to my discourse on the ‘ensamples’ set forth in the Bible for us to follow.

He very intelligently advised me that the examples in the Old Testament, the miracles and signs reported therein, are myths. Yeah, well, a lot of people believe that and I am sure they have their convictions on the subject. Unfortunately, this communication did not come from a lost person, or an atheist (maybe not) – it came from a teacher that happens to teach at a college. And not just any college, mind you, but a teacher of Biblical History at a Christian college in the Atlantic region. I grabbed my trusty keyboard and began to prepare the ultimate essay refuting his logic, determined to convince him of the error of his ways. It was a holy mission, I was sure of it. This man will be responsible for training our future pastors to teach God’s Word in the church, and this is the best he can do? Relegate the Bible to a mythical figment of an ancient people’s imagination? Do tell.

Fortunately, about thirty minutes into my lengthy prattle, I stopped. I realized that no amount of reasoning and logic from this writer’s heart will convince him otherwise; his mind was made up long before he met me or happened to read my column. There was no need for a response from me, due to the whole ‘pearls and swine’ scenario put forth to us by Jesus himself.

But it gave me pause and made me wonder at the absurdity of it all. How can you teach what you do not yourself believe in? What is the purpose of such in academia? If I was offered a job teaching Hindu studies in Pondicherry, out of good conscious, I would have to abstain from taking the job. I do not believe in such and would have nothing to offer my fictitious students. Due to my own innocuous disbelief in the subject, the only fruit of any efforts put forth by me to teach said subject would be confusion on the part of those who would seek to learn from me as their mentor. To put it mildly, I would make me a charlatan, and that’s only at best.

We have the ability (a gift given to us by God) to learn so many wonderful things. With our human nature and natural inquisitiveness, coupled with the technological resources available for our disposal, there is almost no limit to what we can conjure in our own imaginations. We can ‘unravel every riddle, for every individal’ if we choose to do so. I tell you, it is a brave new world we live in. Yet, with almost a cliché-like take on the subject, we seem with all of our knowledge to only manage to become worse as a species.

Paul writes it best in Romans, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

Myths? Or foolishness by fools, for fools?

In Saudi Arabia, there is a mountain called Jabal Al Lawz. It is the highest peak in that area of the country. There is a wide plain in front of it, stretching almost to the horizon. A large company of people, in fact, a nation, could camp there. There are other suspicious artifacts to be found within the area; a split rock nearby, a broken artifact of stone that may have been an altar at one time and is decorated with symbols that look a lot like bulls. Within a few miles of the area there is a small town with twelve wells. The mountain, from Google-Earth, appears to be blackened or burned on top. Pictures taken from the ground proves this to be the fact and not simply an anomaly due to the high-altitude nature of the satellite cameras. It is located fourteen miles west of the town of Al Bad, if you want to look it up for yourself. You’ll also notice the mountain is not on the Sinai Peninsula, but directly across the Red Sea from it.

By the way, the mountain is not volcanic.

The God of Elijah

I grew up in church. We went to every service during the week, and that meant every week. Sunday morning? We were there. Sunday night? Back again. Wednesday night services? There were no excuses to miss that one, either. In retrospect, I do not regret having to attend all of those services, but there was a point in my life where I decided that I had had enough. I decided once I was under my own roof that I could pick and choose when and where I needed or didn’t need to go to church. For approximately ten years of my life, that was the case.

That is a spiritually dangerous predicament to place yourself into, and it happens to a lot of Christians who grew up in a Christian home the same as I did. Rebellion seems to par for our nature when we reach our late-teenage years, and more often than not it is the rule, not the exception.

I am thankful that I married a Christian girl with a very close background to my own (the second time around) and that we found a church that was seemingly ready-made and waiting for us. Most of all I am thankful for the members of that church and especially the ‘old men’ that took me under their wings and helped me get back onto the straight and narrow path. Again, it is bad form to mention names without consent, though most of those persons are deceased; but some of the ones I am recalling this morning were spiritual giants. There was nothing new that I could bring to the table for them. They had seen it all – the good and the bad, within their own lifetimes. They had overcome the same temptations that I faced, and in turn had fought the good fight for most of their lives. One by one I watched as they passed away, and today I miss their strong guidance in my life, their sharp wit, and the unique way they approached this thing we call life in their own simple manner.

There were lessons to be learned simply by watching them, and oh how I did! I keep hoping that one day, one day, I will reach the level of spiritual maturity that they displayed by the way they lived their lives. Even now, I’ll reach a point where in my own life I’ll find myself wondering how one of those leaders from my past would have reacted to a challenge that I may happen to find myself confronted with. It is during that time that I pray for God to be as real to me as he apparently always was to them.

In Second Kings, Elijah had ascended to heaven in a flaming chariot, leaving his mantle symbolically behind for Elisha to carry on the work he had started. Elisha was a witness to the climatic event in the wilderness, and had shortly afterward returned to the Jordan River ready to begin the job God had led him to do. It was the crossroads of his life, and it was time to decide whether to fish or to cut bait. But as always it seems, immediately a problem came up. The river was too deep to cross. It had been no problem on the way over earlier, Elijah had simply parted the waters and they had walked across on dry ground. But that was Elijah, the great prophet of the Lord. What could Elisha do?

“And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.”

The life Elijah had lived before him, the guidance and support he had given, and most of all the example he provided, would prove to be all that Elisha would need. He called upon the same God that had led Elijah, and received the same results. He crossed the river and began his own work, and the rest as they say, is history.

I do not recall those grand old men ever parting rivers and I’ve never been called upon to perform such a feat myself. But there have been storms and floods in my life where the results of an answered prayer or two (or three) were just as big and ominous to me. Because I knew them and was privy to their hearts, I know they faced the same challenges or worse in their own lives.

One thing I am sure of, and it comforts me in times of trial or heartache – they called upon the same God that I do today. And thankfully, He has always been here for me just as He was for them. Where is the God of those grand old leaders of my youth? Right here beside me, guiding me and watching over me.

Blessings and Curses

At a recent conference by AIPAC, a congressional lobbying group for the support of Israel, a discussion arose over the apparent erosion of American support for Israel. Speeches have been made by our President and members of Congress to the contrary, but there have been actions taken by those same leaders that could cause a group such as AIPAC to perceive things in such a manner.

I see it myself, and I’m not a member of AIPAC. It is a sign of the times we are living in, and whether the softening of support for Israel is real or perceived, it will happen. Some will say it is because we need closer ties with Saudi Arabia – they have oil and Israel does not. Others will believe that if we stay out of the turmoil in the Middle East, we will make ourselves less of a target for Islamic terrorist attacks. Oddly, fifty years ago or so it would have been chalked up to anti-Semitism, but I do not believe that there can be a case made for that today with our modern ‘diversified’ society. I could be wrong.

This is not a political column and I’m not heading in that direction if you are wondering by this point. There are more than enough political columns out there, with rhetoric from every angle of the spectrum. Not just on the subject of the Middle East, but spirited discourse from/for any and every section of the globe.

Our ties will eventually be broken with Israel because the Bible tells us so. The Bible has a very clean track-record in the area of forecasting world events, for those who pay attention to what is recorded there. “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” That verse is recorded in Zechariah Chapter 12, and it would do us all good to read and mediate on what is written there – that time Zechariah wrote about is getting close to becoming a reality in our very own current day and age.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it gave me pause, wondering if there was anything else “I” could do. If it is set in stone that it is going to happen just that way, by all that I believe in, should I simply sit back and wait for it to happen? I decided that I could pray for the nation of Israel. Yeah, that would do it for me. I’d feel better about it, at least for a little while anyway. But a certain ‘still, small voice’ told my heart that there was something else that I could do.

God promised Abram in Genesis 12 that He would make of Abram a great nation. He did just that; changing Abram’s name to Abraham and blessing his descendents to the point that they are still the nation of Israel today. But God also made another promise in the third verse of that chapter and it is one that still applies to us today. “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” We (Gentiles) were blessed through Abraham by Jesus Christ (a Jew) redeeming us by paying the ultimate penalty for our sin on the cross. All the families of earth were blessed by this, and it is simply a matter of acceptance on our part to get that blessing into our own hearts and lives.

But God also promised us that if we choose to ‘bless’ Abraham’s seed, we would be blessed. If we choose to ‘curse’ Abraham’s seed, the polar opposite is true. Today I choose to bless the nation of Israel. A quick search on Google, and within seconds I had several hits on charities in Israel. Reading what I could (because you have to be careful today) I chose ‘American Friends of Magen David Adom’ which is, in essence, the Israeli version of our American ‘Red Cross’. I used my debit card and sent them a small donation, joined their mailing list, and browsed the web-site for examples of the work they perform. I was impressed – they spend millions each year helping the victims of terrorist acts that occur on an almost daily basis within their borders. I am going to play this one by ear, with a starting goal of making a monthly contribution. It will be small, due the current state of my household economics, but it will be constant. I have faith that God will use it for His people.

In so doing, I may have thrown down the gauntlet on God’s Word and the promise found within this verse. Yet still, it will be very hard in my eyes for God to bless me more than He has already done so.

To make your own contribution: http://www.afmda.org/

I Prefer You

From the BBC this morning, I read an article on the Argentine ant. The species has spread (with accidental human help) from Argentina to the four corners of the earth. The ants have been found on every continent except Antarctica, and on island-nations such as Japan. They just might be the most far-reaching species on earth with the exception of human beings.

The article did not go into a lot of details about such things as do they sting or bite humans, other than to say that they attack native plants and animals in their new environments once they have been established. I’d say that is a clue that they would appear to have a tendency to do so. My experience with ants revolves around the fire-ants native to my area, and they are no picnic to be around at all. (Slight pun intended!)

Argentine ants will not attack each other, even if they are from different colonies. This is quite unusual if you think about it. The report explained this fact by saying that they seem to ‘know’ each other when they meet. They touch their antennae together and possibly something genetic lets them know that they have met a member of their own kind. It’s as if they can recognize a friend no matter where on earth they may happen to find themselves.

That’s amazing for an ant. In fact, it is amazing for any animal once you've considered it. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said for humans. We seem to find very little in common with other members of our species in other parts of the world. A chance encounter (and I’m speaking explicitly for myself) is apt to arouse suspicion and bring out the defensive nature that has been instilled inside each of us for thousands of years.

However, I do not feel that way when I meet another Christian. When I realize a person I may happen to meet is truly born again and loves the Lord, despite the circumstances of our encounter I know I have found a friend. And it matters not in areas of race or gender. Paul writes in Romans that we should, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” All Christians should live this way – we should be able to put aside our petty differences, culture, and even skin color because we share a common bond that is larger than all of those things. Paul goes as far as to say that we should prefer each other.

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog so far. I’ve enjoyed writing my thoughts here for others to read, and then listening to the comments and reading the emails from readers just like yourself. I’m hoping that you have continued to read because you see things posted here that you can identify with from your own life. In other words, I’m hoping that we do share a common bond. Feel free to comment if you haven’t yet done so already, or send me an email. I know you’re out there.

Let me know if something touches your heart. If I am getting 'off-base' - tell me about it. Let me know when I am getting too ‘preachy’. I like hearing from you – just don’t touch me with your antennae.

Intemperate Thoughts?

A quick perusal of the news this morning offers little hope for the world we live in today. North Korea is threatening to ‘annihilate’ the U.S., California is bankrupt and the situation looks grim for economic recovery across the country, taxes are going to go up, and record high temperatures are rocking the South. Riots and protests are happening in Iran and are being violently cracked down upon. Swine flu may or may not make a deadly return in the fall. The jobless rate continues to rise.

A new Supreme Court justice is likely to be appointed that has had nine of her decisions she made as she served on a lower court overturned as ‘unconstitutional’. Nine! My guess is that she won’t have that problem once she makes the bench of the Supreme Court.

Up until a few weeks ago, I would listen to talk radio on the way home from work each day. As a result, I found myself becoming more and more despondent over the way things appear to be going in this once-great nation of ours. I’m back to my iPod now, or simply driving in silence. It’s easier that way. I arrive home in a much better mood.

I have to wonder if in fact we have entered the days of vengeance prophesied by Jesus in Luke chapter 21. He said those days would arrive in order “that all things which are written may be fulfilled”. It’s a scary thought when you ponder it for any amount of time, yet it is something that each Christian should be thinking about.

Jesus goes on to add: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” It sounds dramatically close to what I see on the news each and every night. My wife refuses to watch the news with me any longer. The general consensus seems to be that no one knows what is going to happen next. Will the economy recover? Will the war on terror ever end?

My personal quandary is to wonder if we are in fact no longer a Christian nation. Have we abandoned and blasphemed God so often and for so long that He is no longer going to bless the nation we live in? Have we replaced our worship of God with our worship of the Government, depending on our leaders to solve every problem from economic concerns to global warming?

That’s pessimistic, I know. It might also be construed as being just a tad bit on the cynical side as well. But it’s Wednesday and I can do that today.

Just about the time I find myself at the point where it looks as though there is no hope to be found, I’ll recall the rest of the chapter. Jesus said, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

When I arrive at the traffic light on the north end of town, if as I am approaching it happens to turn from green to yellow - I have no doubt in my mind at all what is going to happen next. Because it is electro-mechanically designed to turn red after being yellow, it will do so. There is no way it can go back to being green again, without first turning red. The process signals, relays, and devices have been set in motion, and they will run their course. No amount of wishing, hoping, or pining either by me or by anyone else approaching that light can prevent it from happening.

In the world today, the signals are all apparently turning yellow. Jesus is coming back. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in Him. It will not matter if you aren’t ready for his return at that point. There is no way to stop it. Now is the accepted time, today is the perfect day, and tomorrow just may be simply too late.

I find myself looking up a lot these days…