Wednesday, December 31, 2008

OUR "CHRISTMAS STORY"!

“Deck the horrs with boughs of horry…” So sang the impromptu Chinese restaurant quartet for the family of the boy “who almost shot his eye out with his new Red Ryder BB Gun.” This infamous depicting of a WWII period family at Christmas came to mind when Virginia and I spent this first Christmas in our new home, minus a lot of the “taken for granted” items not yet moved from our old place.

No, the neighbor dogs did not rob the Christmas turkey, but without a refrigerator we had shopped for something different for our Christmas Eve meal alone. We were looking forward to some Chicken Chow Mein. First, we had forgotten to bring the silverware, so we made do by washing some plastic forks. Secondly, as I attempted to open the cans, we discovered that we had not remembered to pack a can opener. Again, ingenuity stepped in and the “church key” we had been using to open paint cans became the make shift opener. Careful, you can get some serious cuts. Don’t try it at home unless you’re starving. I learned that opening with such a procedure not only will collapse the can on one side, but spray the operator with the contents.

We finally managed to arrange our meal, set up on a card table in the empty den, so as to be able to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, which I discovered we had not yet moved to our new home. I did dig out an old VHS copy of “The Prince of Egypt” and we enjoyed a revisit with this excellent telling of Moses’ rise as God’s leader for Israel. All in all a good evening as we reflected on the blessings of the season, and enjoyed the special night back in Arkansas.

Of course, the whole episode of “missing” things that make life easier was not complete without a MacGyver clip. You know how it seems you can never find a pair of scissors when you need them, though you own at least a dozen? We were trying to fit shelf paper in the kitchen cabinets, and discovered not one of our collection had made the first load. I finally thought that perhaps I had put a pair in my tool box. Lo, and behold, I had not, but I did spot a red-handle beauty of MacGyver fame. A Swiss Army knife with a scissor blade. I managed one shelf before determining that I did not have his patience in working the gadget. My hat’s off to you, Mac.

As I reflect upon the whole of this particular Christmas experience, I am reminded of how dependent we become, and how much we take for granted. The Christmas season points to a story of truly great sacrifice that is also taken for granted. God’s Son became the “incarnate” babe in a manger, in a stable no less. No warm house, no electricity nor pre-cooked meals, none of the “stuff” we seem to treasure. Not even a Swiss Army knife. And yet His sacrifice which reached to the extreme of the cross gives us a far more valuable treasure than can be found in all of our modern missed things. He gave us LIFE itself, and not just to be lived FOR GRANTED…but for ETERNITY BLISS with HIM! THANK YOU, JESUS, FOR YOUR LOVE AND SACRIFICE. YOU ARE THE TREASURE.

My friends, in the midst of all of our celebrations of Christmas and the coming new year, do not forget THIS PRECIOUS GIFT as you enjoy all of the other bounty He provides.

Friday, December 19, 2008

IT'S MOVING DAY!

Well, the day is here! Hoped for, dreaded for we're not ready, sorry, for the friends we must tell goodbye, glad for the waiting is over, etc. You get the drift?

We've a "come and go" traditional office Christmas party from 9-12 am, pick up the U-Haul at 3 pm, and have a crew coming at 6 pm to help load the heavys and get it fairly loaded with only minor small stuff we'll work on tomorrow. Sunday's my last preaching schedule at a church in the AM and a presentation of George Mueller in the PM. Then early Monday we pull out for a several hour trip to our new home in Arkansas, where another crew of friends will help us unload and reverse the whole process - unpacking! We will be returning to stay over the new year to get a final load packed and moved - hopefully by the 5th of January.

Pray for us through all of these activities.

It does remind me that we're always packing, and looking forward to another trip. It is very hoped for. Again, dreaded for though we are ready, many of our friends are not. Indeed, we don't need "stuff" packed, just ourselves and a desire to "be caught up with Him in the clouds" as the scriptures promise. No long hours on the highway to get there, the trip will be instant. A group will meet us but not to help us unpack - all of our time will be spent in reunion with them and the Saviour Who has gathered us into eternity with Him.

In buying this house into which we now move, we've often stated it will be our last move. Here, of course. We will enjoy it and the friends and family for as long as it will be until the other TRIP plans are inacted. We pray you will be ready and join us for that ONE!

Be encouraged today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Under the Weather!


As I began to sit and record and brief blog about the last few days, the words "under the weather" came to mind. For four days I have been fighting a cold, and with the extreme changes in the weather, I have been truly "under" it. I don't suffer many colds, maybe once a year, often less. I don't have sinus or extreme allergy problems or headaches, so really I'm blessed! But this one was a duzy. One night's fever, then one night's hacking cough every thirty minutes was about to get to me. Today's been better, and I think I'm going to get on top of it.

As I thought about being "under the weather" I wondered where we got the term. Well, a little research on google indicated that its early use had to do with the matter of being a sailor on board a ship, and at the mercy of storms at sea. It was a miserable time, hence its description applied to the misery of dealing with a lingering cold or other such short-term illness.

Last Sunday, in the midst of my misery, I had the responsibility to preach for a pastor which I really needed to fulfil. My prayer that morning as I readied myself for church was, "Lord, help me to be able to effectively communicate the message You've given me, in spite of this cold. Give me the sermon time free of the coughing." You know what? He did. I had a whole 30 minutes without a "tickle".

It reminds me that when "I am under the weather" it doesn't have to mean I'm without help. I recall the time when the disciples were out in a boat when a storm came up that caused them to fear for their lives. Jesus was with them, but He was asleep in the boat. They woke Him up with their fearful cries, and as He stood, He commanded the storm to dissolve into a peaceful calm. (Mark 4:39)

Whether the weather is physically pressing you down, or your body bringing the pressure of pain or misery upon you, or even the climate of your emotional and spiritual threatens to pin you down, remember that the Prince of Peace is near and able to lift you "above the weather" where His perspective is awesome. Remember, no matter the storm, He has not left you to "weather" it alone. The weather will change, but He never will!

Be encouraged, my friend!




Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cluck, Cluck, Putt, Putt, Putt!




Cluck, Cluck, Putt, Putt, Putt! Did you hear that? Yesterday morning about 8 a.m. I was standing down at the south end of the property where our new house is located. Ours is a 1.7 acre that's flat on the front half and slopes on the back. We are surrounded by woods on three sides and only have 3 other homes on the short lane that lies about 50-60 yds in front of the house. We had closed on the house the day before yesterday and had spent the night on air mattresses in the house. (You note I did not say "we slept" on air mattresses. I vowed we'd have our bed in place the next time we go.) But I was awake enough to see no less than 9 squirrels in the first two minutes of my walk, and then I heard "them" in the overgrowth of brush and cedars not more than 50-60 foot from where I stood! Cluck, Cluck, Putt, Putt, Putt! TURKEYS!


A symbol of being home, I guess. We have spent years of ministry here, there, and yon, literally. From Arkansas to Missouri to Texas, back to Arkansas, then Asia, back to Missouri, and Kentucky, but now back home in less than a month. Hearing the sounds of the hills, and the turkeys, you might say, reminds me of how much I have missed my home.

All of this reminds me of where my TRUE home really is. I don't know about other sounds I will hear, but I look for one in particular - the sound of my Saviour's voice saying, "Welcome Home, my child." Now that will be a homecoming for sure! And, of course, it will be a glad reunion all around, with Moms and Dads, Sisters and Brothers, Sons and Daughters, etc. I hope you are in that group, too!

I guess you might say, this new "home" is just another step in that direction. Hey, stop by and we'll go listen. You hear it? Cluck, Cluck, Putt, Putt, Putt!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Vision ReVisited

Last evening our association of churches had their annual Christmas Dinner for the Pastors and Board Members and their spouses. We had some 150 folks, give or take a few, a great program of interactive, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, music of the season, and a great meal. Then the Moderator called me to the platform to reveal what they had been "plotting" for weeks. He presented me with an "only one of its kind" plaque to commemorate my five year ministry with them. I say "only one of its kind" for prominently displayed on it was a picture of a "candy bar" with the words which expressed appreciation for their "upside-down" Director of Missions, me! (Check out my October 14th blog for the Candy bar they chose and why.) I'll post a picture of the plaque later, but the gist of it was exactly the way I would have picked it. I kinda like the idea of reaching outside the box, and it was affirming to see how I may have made an impact in my time as Director.

Along with the plaque, I was presented with a quilt that had all of the names of the 50 churches blocked on it, with space for individual members to sign their names under their particular church. What a memory stimulator for years to come! Then he gave me an album with personal letters written from many of the pastors and members we have had the privilege of partnering in ministry with through these years. I'll have to sit and dwell on that for an age or two. Finally, he handed us envelopes that held checks representing gifts from the churches which had been collected over the past few weeks of planning. How precious are the heartfelt offerings which love stimulated people extend. We are closing tomorrow on our new home in Arkansas and you know what? The gifts more than paid the closing costs and covered the first month's payment, as well. God is so good to provide, is He not? Thank you, West Union churches, for your channeling of His goodness.

As I was given the pulpit to share a few closing remarks in response to the gifts and the love expressed by so many in so many ways, I was at first "speechless". I know, that is a "paradox" in terms, but I was. Then these thoughts occurred to me. First, I shared my impressions of what this five years has meant to me as I draw this part of my ministry to a close with my "retirement". The spirit and harmony of this group of churches has been the most affirming I have ever known. They took me and my leadership with an openness and heart that allowed us to explore new avenues of ministry and missions, fulfilling from year one the call of Acts 1:8, to be witnesses not only in their geographic "Jerusalem" but their "Judea, Samaria and Uttermost", as well. Their acceptance of new ideas and new ways of doing "the old, old story" was truly a blessing to me. I praise God for His mercy in granting Virginia and I such an experience to round out our "missionary" careers.

As I reflected then upon my future vision, I revisited the experience I shared with the "Board" in my first meeting with them after becoming their Director of Missions. I was traveling from Missouri to Kentucky for that meeting and it was early morning with the just rising in the east. As I neared the Mississippi River, through the roadside's moving line of trees I could see the yellow and orange rays blasting through the foliage. I saw in my mind what Moses must have seen on the mountain when the bush glowed with the glory of God's presence. A burning but not consumed and each tree seemed to represent churches that were there, waiting to catch their own fire of His presence and rekindling. I would that I could say that all of them did, but many have, and in ways no one could have planned. Acts of God for sure! As I revisited with them this vision and my coming move back across that mighty river, I recalled again recent trips west at sunset, which have again ignited the trees. East or west, north or south, God's presence is an ever present reality we must ever pursue. No retirement here, when God's call is to fan the flames wherever and whenever we are called to go.

How about you? Facing a change in your venue. The vision from God is always the same, revisit it and be consumed within its flame. You won't be "burned up" if you do, just "warmed" by the glorious light of His presence ever with you.

Be encouraged today, my friend.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

DO THE RIGHT THING


Well, we are on the road again. It's Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and we are on the road to our youngest daughter's in Arkansas for the celebration with the whole tribe of eleven. On the way as I had planned our trip I had noted that Mike Huckabee was to be doing a book signing in Little Rock between 6 and 8 p.m., and it was on our way, so I thought that it would be an opportunity to connect with my "friend" after a few years.

Governor Mike and I had some early ministry experiences together before he began his political career. He was working with an evangelistic ministry when I was pastoring in Arkansas, and during crusade planning he came to my area and we spent some time together, getting ready for the event. I had also known him as a fellow Arkansas pastor, prior to our call and departure to Asia as missionaries in 1982. The next and final time we connected was at the time our youngest started college at Ouachita Baptist University in 1995, for his son began at the same time. At that time he was Lieutenant Governor.

We have been following faithfully his career and had hoped that he could have claimed the nomination as President. Most recently we have watched his new program on the FOX Network and have been pleased with the very positive agenda. When news of his latest book, "Do the Right Thing", was released with the tour to promote, I had hoped to be able to be near enough to see him again. Well, WALLA, it happened.

We arrived at Barnes and Noble a few minutes after 7 p.m., expecting to find a parking lot and lines so crowded that we would have to wait a while. Imagine our joy to find that we were able to get in very quickly and even have a brief few moments to share an update. With his, "I Know You!" We managed a few interchanges, sharing retirement plans, a quick greeting from my daughter, and we continued our journey, with "Do the Right Thing" in my hand.

As I reflect on the title and its thesis about taking "America up rather than down", I am convinced of the rightness of his thrust, for it is such a thrust that Scripture challenges us in every day's living. In the words of Paul, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9)

The problem with "America Politic" is that we think we cannot succeed unless we step aside from what is right. An old adage I remember says, "two wrongs don't make a right!" You don't marry right and wrong, or attempt to accomplish a righteous end with unrighteous action. There is no peace nor success in such.

Thanks, Governor and Friend Mike, for the reminder.

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters, from today. Have a blessed THANKSGIVING!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will the Real William Brewster Please Stand Up?


I stood in a one room “clapboard” house and looked around. The inside walls were sealed with a combination of straw and mud to keep out the cold and keep in the heat. A fire on an open hearth made of hardened mud and clay to radiate the heat, was being used to cook the simple meal of meat “pudding” wrapped in what was described as pork intestines. It looked, for all intentional purposes, like modern day sausage links. The house had a thatched roof, but the interior was furnished with some very out-of-place furniture we were told came with them aboard ship from England some seven years prior. Many other things were homemade. Sitting near the fire was a man who appeared to be in his forties, dressed in what might have stepped off of a Shakespearian stage. I asked him what his name was and he replied, “William Brewster”. Immediately, my mind opened a file of remembrance from my readings about the colony I seemed to be “experiencing” at the moment.

“…William Brewster more than any man was entitled to be called the Founder of the Pilgrim Church. It originated in his house at Scrooby, where he was born in 1566, and he sacrificed everything for it. He was elder of the church at Leyden and Plymouth, and served it also as minister for some time after going out. Through troubles, trials, and adversity, he stood by the Plymouth flocks, and when his followers were in peril and perplexity, worn and almost hopeless through fear and suffering, he kept a stout heart and bade them be of good cheer. Bradford has borne touching testimony to the personal attributes of his friend, who, he tells us, was "qualified above many," and of whom he writes that "he was wise and discrete, and well-spoken, having a grave and deliberate utterance, of a very cheerful spirit, very sociable and pleasant among his friends, of an humble and modest mind, of a peaceable disposition, under-valuing himself and his own abilities and sometimes over-valuing others, inoffensive and innocent in his life and conversation, which gained him the love of those without, as well as those within."
Of William Brewster it has been truly said that until his death, on April 16, 1644, his hand was never lifted from Pilgrim history. He shaped the counsels of his colleagues, helped to mould their policy, safeguarded their liberties, and kept in check tendencies towards religious bigotry and oppression. He tolerated differences, but put down wrangling and dissension, and promoted to the best of his power the strength and purity of public and private life. Mary Brewster, wife of William, who went out with him, died before 1627…”
--Excerpt from THE ROMANTIC STORY OF THE MAYFLOWER PILGRIMS BYA. C. ADDISON
As I engaged him further in dialogue, I mentioned my own interest in drama and portrayals, and he stared blankly at me as though hearing but not understanding where I was “coming from” and as if to reaffirm his own identity, in truth. I realized, of course, that in order to portray the real William Brewster, he had to be, in mind and thought, as well as, in surroundings, William Brewster. As I watched him and listened to his tale of their seven years of survival in the new world I was captured at how well he communicated the disposition and spirit of the man I had read about.

In and out of other houses scattered within the rudely constructed “fort”, the other inhabitants were equally compliant with their roles and the explaining of their daily life, not just in talk but in action, for they were engaged in the very hard labor of keeping the village in shape, whether hewing of timbers, repairing a thatched roof, or hulling of walnuts, of which the young lady answered my unasked question, “I think I left them too long to dry.” Their speech, clothing, everything , left you with no doubt but that they were the Pilgrims, who, after seven hard years, were the survivors of the famous Mayflower which arrived in Cape Cod in 1620.

REFLECTIONS: I have alluded to this theme before in my previous blogs, but it continues to bear repeating, I believe, and is a singular need that every child of God must realize, if we are to ever capture that which has so captured us.

Paul says it thusly: “…I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the high call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded…” (Philippians 3:12-15)

The Pilgrims came to this land for religious freedom from the oppressive state church persecution. They did so at great sacrifice of life. The Plimoth Plantation, as it is called, is a reenactment of that colony, to share and keep alive a bit of history that is the foundation of our land and life. I commend them for their excellent portrayals and immersion into the life and times of William Brewster and others with him. Because of that beginning, we continue to have religious freedom still not fully experienced in the rest of the world, but sadly, not portrayed by the spirit and disposition of even the most evangelical and conservative of Christian believers. Now, herein is my point, and what I believe Paul is bringing as a challenge to our “modern” day Christianity. Yes, and William Brewster, too.

We don’t have to put on a 1620 period costume, with its Shakespearian accented speech, or live in a hovel of poverty to portray that which has “apprehended” or captured us. We must, however, follow the spirit and action of our Saviour, continuing to immerse ourselves in Him, capturing daily more and more of His mind and will and way – for it is for this purpose His Spirit has captured us and made us a part of His family. We do not have to flee this land to experience such, but we do have to so live a life that portrays Him, even in the midst of, often, an unwelcome society that seeks to pull us out of character. The William Brewster I met stayed in the character of his task. We must ever stay in the Character of our Lord in a similar manner.

Well, I pray I have whetted your appetite in your own hunger for our Lord. Brother Brewster, please pass me a piece of that meat “pudding”, will you?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

SOMEWHERE IN TIME


The movie “Somewhere in Time”, which starred Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour, had a story line that followed a playwright on a mental journey which transported him back to a past before he was born. The method used was complete separation from all reminders of the present and a self-induced trance in which he continued repeating and thinking only that he was indeed there. Result. He woke up to find himself experiencing that “in reality”, according to the script, of course. A good, thought provoking, though obvious science fictional story.

I relate this to share my own experience of the last few days in Northborough MA. We had been invited to come and portray Luther Rice and his sister Sarah. Read my last blog “On the Road Again” for some of the details of this. In that I mentioned that we would be staying in Rice’s birthplace. Well, we have, and herein is my “somewhere in time” experience. As I sit in the more formal living room at a desk that could have been deposited here from the early 1800s and look around, I can almost feel myself transported. Being acquainted intensely with Luther Rice during this last year’s numerous presentations, I find myself immersed in his character and almost his thoughts as I attempt to portray him to those who would learn of his life, Christian heritage and strong missions commitment. It has been the ideal preparation ground for the three presentations I have made over the course of the three days.

I’ve heard comments which express that I was able to “transport” them “back in time” with a feeling that they were actually hearing Luther Rice himself. There is nothing better by way of compliment than this for one playing such a meaningful character. It continues to affirm our preparations and “immersion” into the life and character of the personalities we portray.

As I study on this matter of “immersing” myself in such characters in our drama ministry, it occurs to me that we are taught in Scripture that this is the process which needs to take place in our relationship with Christ. The mind is a marvelous thing, because, though we are surrounded by things that are far removed from His life and character, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to into “our closet” alone with Him, regardless of our physical surroundings or circumstances. It must be in this intimate contact with Him through prayer, His Word, and the Holy Spirit, that we “immerse” ourselves in Him, His character, His thoughts, His will and His way. The result, others will be able to see Him truly and by this, have the opportunity to have the Holy Spirit convict and draw them to Him.

I have seen many who have done so, and my response to them is that they have truly shown me Jesus in their lives, for His character and nature lives truly through their actions, attitudes, and words. Such a witness will not go without fruit as it is consistently given.

Be encouraged in your own “immersion” into the life and character of our Lord.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On The Road Again


This week we are heading into unknown territory. Our Drama Ministry, "Living Portraits", has been asked to portray Luther Rice, one of the first foreign missionaries to ever be commissioned in the United States. He, along with Adoniram Judson and others, were sent out in 1812 to brave the elements of travel for months on board ship, then to the country of India initially. From there their courses separated. The Judsons went on to be the first missionaries in Burma, and Rice, who was and would remain unmarried, returned to the states to begin enlisting support for them and others who would spend their lives in missionary service. His life long work of travel all over the early U. S. would lay the foundation for a cooperative missionary advance that remains until the present, and which has over 5000 missionaries serving world wide. We will be staying in his "home", hosting in period costume a reception for the messengers of the New England Baptist Convention meeting near Boston MA, speaking as Rice at the convention and at a celebration banquet. I, of course, will be portraying Luther Rice and since he was single, Virginia will be portraying his sister Sarah. Needless to say, we are excited about the prospects of this trip and seeing some country we have not seen before.


Haven't heard of our Drama Ministry? Well, for about 12 years now, we have been portraying a variety of historical characters in schools, churches, nursing homes, colleges, well, wherever we can get a hearing. With such personalities as George and Martha Washington and Mark Twain and Olivia, we are able to bring history to life in public schools. With missionaries such as William Carey, Lottie Moon, George Mueller, Annie Armstrong and others such as Fanny Crosby, John Newton, Horatio Spafford, whose hymns are well known, we are able to put "faces" on history in a way that the printed page cannot. We believe that such a medium can do much in a society where minds are already "tuned" to visuals for learning. As George Washington, for instance, I teach moral truths such as honesty, obedience, studying to be the best one can be, and loving one's country and others. I have received letters addressed to "George" and the students recall, not my exploits in the Revolution or with Indians, but the "four lessons" I taught them. So, in a way, I pray we are making some major impact on young and "old" lives.


It reminds me of an important truth for Christians. We who have Christ in our hearts truly have a ministry of "dramatic" presentation wherever we go. We are to portray His life through every moment of ours. The world is our stage and they are watching every "act" to absorb it as truth or just another "bit of entertainment" that's not "for everyone's taste"! Get my meaning?


Be encouraged today, and pray for us as we travel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

War Chief Kungfu Panda "Jim"


Before you read this blog, make sure you read the last one. I did it this morning also and I believe it has some merit - I hope it does!

Now, today has begun on somewhat of a new note as I came to the office. A co-worker brought a picture of "War Chief Kungfu Panda", the totem name I adopted from our mission trip to Wyoming this past July. Our team of 34 each had totem names we gave them to describe their character or tasks. We had a lot of fun with it. Well, as leader of the "tribe" I got to be the chief. I was really privileged to have our missionary in residence there - make me a war bonnet - which he brought to me last month when they came back for a visit. Well, if you knew me like some know me, you'd know I needed to find a way to use the headdress in a presentation. I did so at our annual meeting of churches last month. I used it to introduce my sermon and speak about our mission to the reservation in Wyoming. You will see in the picture I am holding a curved stick in my hand. That is called a "coup stick" and its purpose in the hands of a Cheyenne warrior was to bravely risk his life in riding close enough to an enemy to strike a blow but leave him unharmed and alive. In this way he showed his superiority without shedding blood. He was said to have "counted coup". Our missionary host, true to his craft in recreating such items native to the people with whom he works, made one for our team, with this admonition and affirmation. We had "counting coup" on the devil by our work with the people there, and the feathers were a testimony of such. Of course, we cannot hope to kill him for that is left in the hands of our great Lord. But we can show His power through our work and "count coup" each time we do. Our challenge was to return next year and bring the "coup stick" back for some added feathers!

Oh that we each day would risk ourselves in the service of our Lord, as we share His gospel and the freedom He brings to all who would believe and receive Him as Lord and Saviour. We could "count" a lot of "coup" each and every day!

An Emancipation Proclamation - Come Full Circle

I'm still dwelling on the events and aftermath of the campaign we have just experienced. Some real lessons worth "getting a handle on" while they are fresh in the mind. I hope I can adequately report and interpret them.

Yes, many lost an election because their candidate received less votes, but that is the way and why of our democratic process. That's what makes America so unique in our world. And when you win, it's not just one campaign's turn at bat, but everyone's new position on the team, whether in the batting lineup or in the field. When the one at bat scores, he does so for the whole team. In America we are all on the same team.

I'm not a real fan of "The View" for I believe many times the comments given for wise counsel to the viewers is very uninformed about the issues. I did pick up on the recent post-election segment when Elizabeth Hasselbeck shared what they reported was a change in her view. I beg to differ. When she expressed that she had fought hard for McCain, but now was "feeling good" about the outcome for what it said about the country's embracing (my word) the first black president, she was expressing the true Christian sentiment about how all should feel with such processes. Some comments made in reaction, like "oh, so you're saying we were right all along" miss the whole point of her sharing and deeper feelings about what has occurred. It makes me wonder if the "shoe were on the other foot", if her grace of acceptance and joy would have been worn equally well by the others. A report I heard of the occurances at a high school, where the police had to be called, also gives my mind an additional turn. It seems that black students, reacting to their candidate's win, went through the halls shouting, creating havoc, turning lockers over, etc., with cries that "we are taking over", had to have the police called in to bring order. Now, having joy over the win and expressing such is understandable, but to do so by "trading places with the perceived master" is not what America "coming of age" is all about. It's to be expected that there will be a new feeling of "arrival" that has been too long in coming, but I adjure my brothers and sisters of every color, that trading one oppression for the experience of another is not the answer to a nation becoming a mature example for the world. I've lived in other countries, and the seesawing of power brokers who took such approaches kept those countries in a constant state of conflict. May we not slide down that "slippery slope" of competitive conflict. We are ONE nation so let us be ONE!

Now, just another thought or two that occurred to me as I considered the election's results, and how it applies directly to me and you. I am not putting President Elect Obama on the same level as Lincoln, for he is yet to be proved in that vein, and needs our prayer that if such be his claim, we will help him achieve it for the good of the nation. It is interesting to note that Illinois was the ground of both their political initiations. Further, that the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln's administration set forth, now seems to have come full circle with a representative son achieving Lincoln's seat of leadership. Indeed, a reason for rejoicing. What was a proclamation has become, at least in this offering, a symbolic implementation. I say symbolic, for it is so far only one man's rise. It must now be modeled in every citizen's character and decorum of life, whether black or white or any other beautiful distinction that makes up the land we love.

Elizabeth, I feel good, too! Thanks for reminding me!

Be encouraged today, all day!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Time of Significance

I watched the final moments of the growing anticipation as one by one the states revealed the results of their election votes for a new president elect. I watched as the numbers grew on both sides of the "aisle" and saw how the candidate for whom I did not vote steadily increase his lead to the fateful 270 figure required for election. I watched and listened to the concession speech of my candidate, as he graciously called for the nation to put the campaign to rest and awaken a new movement of unity and support for his rival, now his "president-elect". I watched the crowd in Chicago as they stood waving their American flags and cheering the news that their candidate had won, and heard the report that at my candidate's address, they, too, cheered him for his words.

A time of significance. Perhaps the most historic campaign of record in many a year, for many reasons.

And then I watched as the camera "zeroed in" on a face I recognized in the crowd in Chicago. Gratefully, without newcaster's comment, the camera stayed for a moment, capturing a "time of significance" that perhaps I may never feel in the same way that one felt and showed in his expression. Oh, I want to understand it and feel it, for it embodies the very soul of who we need to be as blessed children of our God.

What was this "time of significance"? It was the face of Rev. Jesse Jackson, caught in the emotion of the moment, as he stood alone in the crowd, with tears streaming down his face at the announcement of Obama's victory. This brother in Christ, certainly happy at the news, revealed a far deeper emotion than a mere election win. I know that flooding his thoughts was what this time meant for the whole of his race, as they had finally come from the very lowest of states, from the inhumanity of slavery, to the very highest office of the land. And though he was not my choice, now he would be my president, too, and I rejoice for this time of significance.

As I reflect further on the impassioned tears I watched, I am reminded that perhaps the deeper emotion and its significance can be mine indeed. Was I not a slave, sold by sin's bondage, until one day, through the greatest campaign ever waged on earth, I was able to stand, not as a president elect, but as one who would rule with the King of Kings! Tears of gratitude, tears of joy, tears without words to describe, should flood my eyes at such a rise from insignificance to significance in the heart and mind of God.

Take heart, my brothers and sisters, our God is still on the throne. He reigns and rules regardless of who wins an earthly position. May He reign and rule in our hearts and in that of our new president elect, Barack Obama.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Another Major Transition

Life is filled with transitions. Much of it we don't even think about. We grow up moving from one thought to another, from one interest to another, from one friend to another, from one place to another...well, you get the picture. Our minds and our bodies are in a constant state of movement. Well, when you think about it, the other option is in six foot hole! We're moving up, and out, and hopefully, in every way, improving our now and tomorrow, as well.

I've been reflecting on my retirement lately, and looking back over the 44 years I have been in the ministry, I am amazed at the ride! With what has happened just this week, I've begun to count up the number of physical moves I've had and how far it has taken me. In summary, we've lived in 5 states and 2 foreign countries and with our retirement next month, we will have moved a total of 24 times. In that time, we've owned 2 homes for a total of 14 years, leaving 30 years for the other 22 moves. Somehow, I thought we stayed longer than that each time, but I checked my figures, and that's correct. The bottom line...life changes so quickly...you really don't know where the time went!

Well, now we're about to make what we have been saying is our final move. Well, no, for we fully expect and look forward to our new home in heaven. We've already arranged for that transition, and the home there was purchased, Praise the Lord, for us by Christ on the cross! But until that time comes when we move in, we've just put a contract on another home, where we will make another major transition in just about 2 months, and we do look forward to it.

Ah, transitions!

Now, back to reality of now! We've a job to do getting this house ready to receive someone else's next transition. Pray for a speedy transition from this place to the next. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

HE KNOWS MY NAME!

Today I began with a pretty good disposition. It was the day I was to finally pick up my new diabetes testing supply prescription from the doctor’s office and drop it off at the Walmart pharmacy. (Background: 10 days ago I was running out of the test strips to check my blood sugar, and because of Medicare’s special ruling, I had to have a new written prescription in order to obtain them at no cost. NOTE: Purchasing them over the counter is about $50, so getting the prescription meant a real savings. At that time, I had already gone to the doctor’s and got a prescription which I delivered to the pharmacy. When I returned to pick it up, they had rejected it because it was typed and had to be hand written, so no test strips. Leaving town that day for a couple of nights, then a weekend, I just tried to watch myself, for I had no time to get a hand written one.)

Yesterday I called the doctor and was told they would have one for me to pick up. Back to today, I did that and took the new paper to the pharmacy, waiting about 15 minutes for them to open, then presented the paper, confident that I finally would get my supplies. He looked at it and gave it back with what I interpreted as a lack of concern, said that I would need to take it back and have them write how many “test-strips” in the bottle ordered. When I stated that this would be my third trip to obtain the corrected prescription, he replied it was not his decision but the strict controls of Medicare. I wearily accepted the prescription and made my way back to the doctor, where I explained my dilemma once more. The nurse replied that she, too, had never had such a problem providing the correct information, and after calling the pharmacist, made the correction. Back I went to Walmart and left the prescription with a pharmacist who perhaps had had a few less difficult customers than the first, for she was, at least, apologetic. I said I would pick it up later in the day.

When I arrived back at the office it was 10 a.m. A task I had planned to do on my way to work had taken two hours out of my busy schedule, not to speak of the time spent previously, in addition to the gas used driving back and forth to the doctor’s office. As I studied on the whole procedure I had gone through, I began to add up the miles and the time spent in total. Let’s see, a round trip of about 9 miles, multiplied by three trips is a total of about 27. My van gets about 20 mpg, so at the average rate of $2.70 current cost per gallon = about $3.60. Being conservative on the worth of an hour of my time at $15, times roughly 4 total hours in travel, line waiting, and obtaining my prescription, that comes to about $60. Altogether, perhaps about $63.60 for a $50 savings to get a Medicare “free” prescription.

Of course, my work is not by the hour, so I did not lose the bulk of that, other than the gas expense which I probably cannot recoup. My thought was for the many who might suffer the same kind of difficulty, whose time is “money-loss”.

Again, I am not against Medicare, for I have supported it through my contributions from my salary through the years. But, it does make me feel that the push some make for a more government controlled health care would simply amplify my last week of trauma with a greater impersonal system.

Now, my real point. I can truly empathize with the role of pharmacies and doctors, attempting to communicate and meet the handed-down rules of an impersonal organization. I was tired and began to see myself on the proverbial “Medi-care-less” merry-go-round. This impersonal program did not understand or even see my struggle. My thoughts and needs and time were not considered as valuable.

You see, the pity party was beginning to send out invitations, and the party would reconvene at Walmart when I went back to pick up my prescriptions this afternoon. Little did I realize, however, that someone else “came to the party” and made changes in the games that I had planned to “enjoy” pitying.

I walked up and stood in line. Just two in front of me. I will be patient. I will be big about the matter. One finished, then the other approached, asked a question, and started walking away, satisfied with the answer. The clerk said, “next” and as I started, readying myself to give name and birthdate, she quickly disarmed my whole play with, “now, Mr. Bryant, you had 3 perscriptions, didn’t you?”

Disconcerted, I uttered a halting, “huh, yes, thank you.” My mind was racing. She had waited on me before but with little interchange in the midst of a continuing busy line of customers. She seemed to guess my surprise at her knowing response. I said something like, “I guess I get a lot of prescriptions?” She replied, “Some I remember, many not too well.” I quickly countered to get a rise, “You didn’t remember my birthday?” “No” she said with a glint, “I guess that excuses me from getting you a birthday present. Right?” I smiled, purchased the medicine, told her to have a great day, and walked away with an awareness that I had been duly “paid” for my $63.60 worth of bother.

All but invisible to what I perceived was a “care-less” organization promoted to “care” for me and others, another “caring” member of yet another health dispensing agency not only saw me but “knew” me by name.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that when the world doesn’t seem to care or know that I exist, You do know me, love me and care deeply and strongly about my life’s progress.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Rejected Stone, My Garden's Centerpiece

I face the task of procrastination’s choice. The things I had every intention of doing differently, I now have to face and complete under the proverbial Timekeeper’s gun. The inevitable “if” begins to try to crush my spirit’s energy into despairing lethargy and excuse for dealing with what is. Did you ever find yourself “second guessing” the outcome of your actions? “If” I had only done it that way, things would be different. I recognize, however, that the sensible thing to do is see what is before me and attack the job, ignoring the tempting excuse of “if”. Hey, I just noticed that the word “if” is in the word “different” and that sensible contains the word “since”(I know, different spelling, but it rhymns), quite the opposite idea. I need to be sensible. Well, you get my point. It has given me some thoughts on the subject of “if” and “since” as we are given in Scriptures. See what you think about this.

Sometime ago I read in Cowman’s “Springs in the Valley” that a man tried unsuccessfully to remove a large boulder from his garden. His successor to the land made it into a show place with the stone as a centerpiece. One said “if” and stayed miserable, and the other said “since” and increased his joy. Turning “ifs” into “since” is the work that God has called us to do.

“If” is an excuse that causes us to reject God’s surpassing knowledge of what is right experience for His called out ones. “Since” is a recognition of things as they are, but with an overcoming God Who uses such seeming impossibilities to reflect His glorious purpose.

Martha (John 11:21, “If thou hadst been here.”) saw only a death stone rolled into place over the grave of her brother Lazarus, not the Stone Who would crush death’s hold. Her “if” did not see the surpassing purpose of Christ delay in coming to the aid of His friend.

The chief priests (Mark 15:31-32, “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said…Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross…” and Luke 20:17, “…The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.”) stumbled over this Stone with their “if” of rejection against the theology of a cross king of Israel, not a Stone that would foundation a new kingdom order. Theirs was an unspoken “if thou art the Christ”!

And the greatest example, Jesus, prostrate on the traditional garden stone, cried “if” but shouted a firm “nevertheless” and that Stone took on a grand and glorious beauty to grace a garden called Gethsemane. (Luke 22:42, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”)

Lord, open our eyes to Your faithfulness to be on time, when You determine the time is right, in spite of our different and limited perception. Truly, Christ is the stone that many stumble over in their own conception of religious “right”. But indeed, He is the beautiful corner “Stone” that brings new beauty to our “gardens”. (I Peter 2:4-9, “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones…to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are…chosen that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.") Oh, Father, help me not miss the truth of Your surpassing Stone.

Here’s my poetic rendering on the subject. May you be encouraged to make This Stone a centerpiece and not a “stumblingblock”. Say not if things were different, but since they are as they are, be SINCE-ABLE!

OH, here’s my poem. Now, I’ve got to go tackle my own SENSE-ABILITY!

A stone anchored deep in my garden so fair,
I sought to remove it, seemed out of place there.
But despite all my efforts to remove it away
It resisted my strivings with a resolute stay.
Till, finally I tried to grow ‘round its base,
There finding this truth my mind can’t erase.
The stone over which I stumbled was He
Whose beauty I found in an Old Rugged Tree.
Now my garden’s a showplace with Stone centerpiece,
Its strength and its beauty, my life’s garden increase.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

K Sarah, Sarah!


We were driving blind today! I forgot my backup guide – Mr. Rand McNally! I left him at the office yesterday, so when we left the house this morning, we had only “Sarah” (Short for Guide Person Sarah) to help us navigate the 4 ½ hour journey. She did well as long as we were on the parkways and long traveled roads. We had “told” her where we were going, and she determined the best route to get there, though, of course she did not tell us the whole route. She would have if we had asked, but we trusted her to know and guide us properly. What I did not know was that she was using information that did not take into account the new roads that had opened. At one point “Sarah” revealed our car moving, not down the road, but in the middle of an expanse of grass, where there was no road “on her map” and, in addition, she evidently felt it was important for us to see the side roads which ran parallel to the main route, which we continued to intersect, as we followed buses and other vehicles in their normal slow routines! The redeeming fact was the trip was through beautiful country, and we were not really pressed for time, but when you have your travel set on “fast forward” it is disconcerting to be put on “sloooow” speed or “pause”. I know, I know! “Slow down and smell the flowers…!” A spoonful of my own medicine. Before the next trip, though, I intend to get “Sarah” and “Rand” in the car with me.

This journey with “Sarah” and “what will be, was” begin to cause me to wonder about man’s spiritual journey and the guides that he uses to find his way. The fast pace of this world’s changing scenery in every phase has all of us quickly trying to arrive at destinations which vary dependent on each man’s concept of his goal in life. For many it is the amassing of “things” that are perceived as the measure of success. The guide on this journey is a digest of “maps” that result from every Donald Trump to “Freddie Mac” to Joe the Plummer, to coin the latest on the middle class scene. In other words, success has many “pundits” (proclaimed wise guides or guys, whichever applies). The only problem is while you’re driving, even one map is too much to be coordinating with a steering wheel, unless you enjoy driving alternatively in the ditch and the road. Multiply the maps…and, well, you get the picture.

Now, don’t get me wrong! Mr. McNally is important, but perhaps reading his directions before hand would keep your hands free to drive! This brings me to “Sarah” and her approach to guidance. There is ONE who knows completely the DESTINATION and the WAY to get there, though it does not always fit with man’s own concepts of how it should fly! “Sarah” operates from a higher perspective. One, she always knows where you are. That’s a given. Mr. McNally doesn’t have a clue on that and leaves that to your fingers, to do the walking or some such. Now GP Sarah here is limited to the last set of programmed maps that were given at her creation, so may not always be clued to the latest in open roadway. Two, the “Sarah” Who's Higher, i.e., the Holy Spirit, knows both the original WAY, which never changes, in addition to all of the DETOURS that man can devise. So you are never without a PATH to HIS DESTINATION, which is hopefully the one you have allowed Him to program for you. Three (as a preacher, there has to be a third point, for that is the way we’re wired), “Sarah” is always on the job and will tell me every turn I need to make in plenty of time to make the necessary adjustment of lanes, etc., and her voice jars me to a fresh consciousness of the journey, in case I’ve been preoccupied with “too much scenery”, internally or externally. The Holy Spirit’s voice, when I’ve opened my mind and heart to allow His mid-trip instructions, is more than just an “Sarah” interruption, He is a Companion Guide along the way, giving me a whole fascinating background on what I am seeing along the way, when I need to pause and file away a picture, or simply enjoy. WOW! WHAT A TRIP!

What about you, my friend? Driving in the ditch, trying to shuffle the maps? Well, be aware of the maps of “Man McNally” but let the Lord’s Holy Spirit, and His WORD, your real GUIDEBOOK, be your “Sarah”!

Be encouraged on your journey today! Not going anywhere, you say? I beg to differ. You are going farther than you know!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

SPUNOW BAR, ANYONE?


In the midst of my busy day Monday, I was walking through my assistant’s office, and glancing down at the basket she keeps well-stocked with candy, noted a bar I had never seen before. I picked it up and decided to try it. Did you ever eat a “Spunow” bar? It tastes strangely like a “Mounds”, which is what I discovered it was when I began tearing the paper from the bar. If you read my last blog, you know that our lives are presently in a state of disarray, and often up-side-down, and apparently it has affected my perception. Up-side-down or no, it was one of those things that turned my “tickle box” over and I had to share it with you.

Don’t get me wrong, good things are happening, it’s just that they are all happening at once!

For example, take Saturday. We had a great day at the Civil War Days on the Mississippi River’s Columbus/Belmont site. We performed our Mark Twain and Olivia, then introduced President Abraham Lincoln for his address, all before a good crowd of gathered tourists and “re-enactors” in their uniforms. The three day event boasted their largest group ever with an attendance well in excess of the 1000 mark. This was our fourth year to do “Mark & Livi” and it has been a good opportunity to share in a unique ministry.

We drove home feeling good, but exhausted and hot in the costumes. How people back then did so much in so much clothes is still a mystery. Couldn’t wait to get the wig off! Anyway, back home to the house UP-SIDE-DOWN, we procrastinated working on it and took a nap instead. By degrees, the house is beginning to resume a semblance of d├ęcor. Not yet though.

Then Sunday was another one of those days when I was called out to one of my churches to “fill the pulpit” for their present interim pastor. I enjoyed the time, felt I was able to connect and help the congregation with their focus on having their new pastor come in December, and encourage them in the work in the meantime. Again, after morning services, back home for a nap and then back for evening services, then it was back home to try to do a few things to the house before “dropping” into bed. Again a good day, but taking the toll on energy.

As I began, “Spunow-bar” Monday came, and I realized that it was the morning for “chubokjagee” exercises with Korean pastor “Michael” at 8 a.m., followed by some fevered activity trying to get my laptop to respond to some very simple instructions. I ended up getting “Michael” to come back from their house next door and do the “tech” thing he does so well. Had a visit from an associate pastor of a struggling congregation that is now beginning to show some renewed life with a new pastor on board. They want me to come in two weeks and moderate and bring the charge at his ordination. Praise the Lord! It did manage to fill up the last free Sunday I had this month so I guess I’ll mail my tithe to my own church this time. They are used to not seeing me for weeks at a time, but that’s the work I’ve been called to do.

Anyway, back to “Spunow” Monday! The pastor left the office five minutes before I was to take my wife and Michael and his wife for lunch at our pastor’s regular Monday luncheon. I was still in my “sweats” from exercise, so I changed in a flash. We had a great lunch with the pastors and wives, then it was back to the office to try and get newsletter work done. Another few calls and I was ready for a break. Then it happened! The SPUNOW was SPOTTED, and CONSUMED amid my RELEASED, PENT-UP LAUGHTER at myself. Ya just had to be there!

You know, every once in a while, in the midst of even good stuff that wears you out, those times of release are precious.

The day was not over, however, by a long shot. As the work day drew to a close, I opened an e-mail from a friend, who had forwarded a devotion from the chaplain I had been talking to at the Civil War days on Saturday. I was in for another “catharsis” that the Lord wanted me to experience. Perhaps another kind of “SPUNOW”! Here it is for your encouragement, too!

THE MOST INTERESTING STORY I EVER HEARD
by Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.

The most interesting story I ever heard was told me years ago by a man over eighty years of age. We were sitting together on a projecting rock of a mountainside in Arkansas. Here is his story:

"I was down in this county during the Civil War. Across on the other side yonder there were hundreds of tents where our soldiers were encamped. Measles broke out, and many of our brave lads died. The epidemic got so bad we stretched some tents further down the valley and moved all the measles patients into these tents. This, of course, was done to protect as far as possible the health of the well soldiers. I was wardmaster in charge of the tents where the measles patients were located.

One night while I was on the ward, I passed a bunk where there was a very sick soldier lad not more than seventeen years of age. The boy looked at me with a pathetic expression and said, 'Wardmaster, I believe I am going to die. I am not a Christian. My mother is not a Christian. My father isn't a Christian. I never had any Christian training. I never did attend church. I did go with a friend to Sunday school just once. A woman taught the Sunday school class. She seemed to be such a good woman. She read us something out of the Bible about a man – I think his name was Nicodemus. Anyway, it was about a man who went to see Jesus one night. Jesus told this man he must be born again.

The teacher said all people must be born again in order to go to Heaven when they die. I have never been born again, and I don't want to die like this. Won't you please get the chaplain so he can tell me how to be born again?'

The old man hesitated for a moment. "You know, in those days I was an agnostic – at least, that is what I called myself. As a matter of fact, I wasn't anything but an old sinner. So I told the boy, 'You don't need a chaplain. Just be quiet now. Don't worry, you'll be alright.' I went on around the ward, and in about an hour I came back to the boy's bed. He looked at me out of such sad, staring eyes as he said, 'Wardmaster, if you won't get me the chaplain, please get me the doctor. I am choking to death.' 'All right my son, I'll get you the doctor.' I said. So I went off and found the doctor, and he came and mopped out the throat of the lad so he could breathe just a little easier. I know the boy was going to die. I had seen many other cases just like his. The boy was so sweet he literally climbed into my heart. He thanked me for my kindness. He thanked the doctor for being so good to him. The doctor and I went away from the bed.

In about an hour I came back expecting to find the boy dead, but he was still struggling. He looked up out of his eyes of death and said, 'There is no use, Wardmaster, I have got to die, and I haven't been born again. Whether you believe it or not, won't you find the chaplain and let him tell me how to be born again?' I looked at him for a moment and thought about how helpless he was in the grip of death. So I said, 'All right, my son, I will get you the chaplain.'

I walked away a few paces and then turned and went back to the boy's bedside. I said, 'My boy, I am not going to get you the chaplain. I am going to tell you what to do myself. Now understand, I am an agnostic. I don't know whether there is any God. I don't know whether there is any Heaven. I don't know whether there is any hell. I don't know anything. Yes, I do. I know one thing. I know my mother was a good woman. I know if there is a God, my mother knew Him. If there is a Heaven, I know she is there. So I will tell you what my mother told me. You can try it and see if it works. Now, I am going to teach you a verse of Scripture. The verse is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." My mother said that I cannot save myself, but if I will believe in Jesus, He will save me.'

I asked the boy to say the verse with me. I started, and he followed with a weak and trembling voice. "For God so loved the world," "For God so loved the world,": "He gave His only begotten Son," "He gave His only begotten Son": ""that whosoever believeth in Him", "that whosoever believeth in Him": "should not perish", "should not perish": "but have everlasting life", "but have everlasting life." 'Now my boy, my mother said if a person will trust Jesus, he will not perish but have everlasting life.'

I have referred the lad to another verse my mother taught me, but he closed his eyes, stretched his hands across his breast; and in a whisper he quoted slowly, repeating some of the same words several times. 'For God so loved the world…He gave His only begotten Son…that whosoever, whosoever…whosoever believeth, believeth in Him, believeth in Him.' Then he stopped and said with a clear voice, 'Praise God, Wardmaster, it works. I believe in Him! I shall not perish! I have everlasting life! I have been born again! Wardmaster, your mother was right. Why don't you try it? Do what your mother said. It works, Wardmaster. This thing works! Wardmaster before I go I want to ask you to do something for me. Take a kiss to my mother and tell her what you told me, and tell her that her dying son said, it works.' I leaned over and kissed him; and then, as he drew his last breath, he said, 'it works.'

The old man, wiping tears out of his eyes and tears out of the wrinkles of his face, said, 'the lad was right. It does work. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but has now everlasting life. It works. I know it works!'"

The day was a “SPUNOW” day. I laughed. Then I cried. God had turned that candy bar UPSIDEDOWN to get me RIGHTSIDEUP!

BE ENCOURAGED, MY FRIEND.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Painting, Panting & Pain


For one week straight! Wait! I mean “bent over”! Well, you get the picture. Here are the questions that absorbed our minds for those 10080 minutes.

Why did we wait until we’re ready to move to redecorate?
Why does the furniture have to weigh so much?
How did we collect so much stuff?
If where we had it stored was the only place we could find, now where do we put it until we move?
Why do they make paint can rims with grooves that trap paint when it’s poured, and splatter paint when the lid is hammered back on the can?
Why did we collect so much stuff?
Why are the ceilings still a stretch beyond the reach of the only convenient step ladder?
Why is it so much hotter painting near the ceiling?
Why is there so much paint still left in the brush and roller when you need to clean them?
Why does the roller keep coming off the handle?
Where does all this stuff come from anyway?
Why is it that you always find a “spot” you missed after you’ve put the paint and brushes away?
Why is it called a “drop cloth” when it’s plastic and there are no…, oops! Okay, I know the answer to that one!

Miracle of miracles, we did not get any paint on the carpet. Well, we thought we did this morning when we saw what appeared to be white paint on the cream colored carpet in one bedroom. Relief! When she moved in front of the window where sun rays were streaming through the blinds, the “paint” spots disappeared. Whew!

The week did have it affect on us. Evenings we’d drag ourselves to bed, with a few new aches and pains the next morning when the call of work rang out. Eventually, we have survived and surprise, surprise, are quite pleased with the results. “Not too bad,” to quote an oft’ quoted phrase.

As I continue to reflect on what we have accomplished this week, besides the tired muscles and a few new pains, I am struck by the fact that we have been doing this in order that someone’s impression of our house on its “first showing” might be impressed enough to buy it. We have been sowing seeds of improvement in order to reap a harvest of approval and purchase.

As Christians, we are indeed engaged in a task that seeks to have our spiritual “product” favorably in view by prospective “buyers”. In this task we are in danger of being “weary in our well doing” and thus communicate not joy but a wearisome weight of sadness and sorrow that will certainly not encourage others to consider Christ’s call to His life. On the other hand, a “cross bearer” who does so with joy for the Presence of Christ and the Power of His Spirit in the midst of any toil or tribulation, will bring a witness of the true reality of hope and vision that goes beyond the task at hand. To use an agricultural example found in Psalm 126, verses 5 and 6, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

May these words and my sharing of our toil be an encouragement to you in your tasks today. Oh, by the way. Are you interested in a freshly painted 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with attached two-car garage? We might even throw in a used “drop cloth” and some “stuff” we just found!

Monday, October 6, 2008

What a Paradox is Man!


Should we? Shouldn’t we? Everyday I live, it seems that man’s nature and actions, desires and needs comes into conflict in some way. What a complicated being we are as we search for that which is better, but lean toward that which is not. There is a struggle to be independent, to “stand on our own two feet” and smugly proclaim I did it, only to step almost boldly, in the midst of our attempt, upon someone else to get there. The bottom line is we are not so independent as we proclaim to be. In all of this, and many other illustrations of man’s curious nature, it is evident that we are a real paradox that no one save God can really understand, despite the best minds’ attempts to do so.

Paul, I believe, described our quandary the best in Romans 7:15 and following. “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do…I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (verses 15, 18-19, 22-25) Confusing? Even Paul struggled to describe the conflicting paradox within himself. But his bottom line was on target. Our truth deliverance is Christ. We will never completely understand ourselves this side of eternity, and even then we will not have attained the level of God’s understanding, for contrary to some cult philosophy, we will not become gods.

Well, in the midst of this journey into the confusing, let me inject a couple of poems that I composed to try to highlight the paradox we are.

AH, WHAT TERRIBLE GLORY!

Ah, what terrible glory,
When man mixes with divine.
That desired may bring pain’s searing,
When God’s brightness becomes mine.

Oh, what lonely loving,
When God’s love is realized,
For self gives in true abandon,
When God’s love has been applied.

Oh, what bitter healing,
When forgiveness must be won,
For man must bow in repentance,
To gain God’s balm through His Son.


WHAT A PARADOX WE’RE LIVING

We are drawn to the untouchable,
And seek to know the great unknown.
We will suffer pain and hardship,
To find ease and pain-free home.
We will strain when weak to strengthen,
We will fast to fill with health,
We both love to keep on hating,
And we give to gain great wealth.
What a paradox we’re living,
Yet resist God’s unseen hand,
When all He does is what is needed,
To fill all man’s true demand.


Perhaps my musings this morning have provided, if not complete answers to your quandary about the paradox of man’s nature, maybe enough of a question that you will continue to search the Scriptures for God’s answers. If I have raised questions needing answers, that may be the beginning of a fresh awakening to you. Why not return me a comment or thought? Perhaps we can explore this paradox further. In all, be encouraged today.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Thanks for My Hand, An Able Band


A few "blogs" back, I did a piece on "tears" as a kind of thanksgiving reminder of the truly amazing and great provisions and gifts that our Heavenly Father has given us for life. We take them so for granted and think often that we are so impoverished when compared to others. Not so, for most of the world is in possession of all of these basic gifts of life. How we use them is the key to our blessing or curse. We often have heard a very true comment that should make us even more aware and thankful. "I complained when I did not have nicer shoes to wear, until I saw a man with no feet." Get the picture? Well, today I begin doing some "wax on, wax off" kind of tasks as I use my hands to do some painting in the house. Here is a thanksgiving study I did of just such gifts.

My hand.
I looked at it as though I had never seen it before,
An extension of me, but separate somehow.
The palm, with lines like a map of life,
With age, the routes, a deeper-grooved site.
It's flat side able to push great loads,
Yet gently check a child's fevered brow.
It also gives the hand its gripping base,
When joining its partners in tight embrace.
Then five fingers of different size,
Sprouting from this one common circle of clay,
Moving in unison, in response to my will.
Four seem ever to agree, yet never come face to face,
Standing like soldiers bound to one command,
While the other seems ever in opposition,
Yet necessarily so,
The only way to lift a burden,
To grip a rope of rescue,
To write what my mind desires,
To grasp another's outstretched hand, or
Do another thousand things my will demands.
Then on closer examination
All five have unique concentration.
The shorter one, so-called the thumb,
More mobil, seems to serve the taller four,
Yet must unite, as will demands,
With each in part, to complete the task at hand.
When the index finger points the way,
The thumb agrees but the others abstain.
The tallest, when joined with thumb,
Yields seeming strength to lift the frailest thing,
Like it might the edge of a butterfly's wing.
Then with its partner, index, raise
To give salute to those on whom my eyes would gaze,
And honor, as thumb and others, agreeing, bow.
The third digit, too, has a special task,
For with the thumb, and the nails of each,
It can pick up a needle the others can't reach.
Then it wears the ring,
A crown for all in everything.
Then last and least, the smallest one, too,
It has some very special jobs to do,
For it can gently wipe a tear,
My eyes to clear,
Or reach into an itching ear.
My hand.

Paul's writing to the Corinthian church in his first letter gives a description of the body as illustrative of how we should consider each other as valuable and gifted, though different than us. Note these verses highlighted, but read the entire twelveth chapter to catch his meaning. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?...the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary...but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another." (Verses 12, 17, 21-22, 24-25)

Now, look at your hands! Are they not amazing? Now, with me, go and pick up the brush, grip it firmly with resolve, begin to make those "wax on, wax off" moves that will ultimately make your whole body proud of you. Be encouraged today! Just look what you, in unison, can accomplish!

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Real Estate of Life




How many bedrooms does it have? You know with the kids and their families in, we need at least three, and then you need an office space, right? And bathrooms, well, we need at least two when company is in. You know when the kids come, they say that the living room feels like we are sitting on top of each other. And with that 9 foot entertainment center, wall space is a must. Lots of kitchen cabinets would help and a dining area to hold the table, chairs and china cabinet. That’s a must! A den, a workshop, storage room and some running room for the grandkids. Oh, yes, hard wood floors are a real selling point. A swimming pool, well, that’s a negotiable point. Oh, the kids would love it, but it’s really a luxury not needed, but it would be nice! And, as I have pointed out to her, “swimming is really the best all around exercise, and we need to keep that up at our age!” Oh, I could be a realtor!

Get the point! This conversation is being repeated over and over again as we scan the internet and realtor.com, or we step out of the realtor’s car to look at yet another of the firms listings. This last Monday we went through a variety of such listings, eight in all, We were alternatively “oooooing” and “aaaaaahing” but with a few wrinkled brow “oh, my’s!” especially thrown in when we faced a nice neighborhood, but opened the door to reveal a place falling to pieces. I am not kidding. One bedroom had sheetrock on the floor under a torn and sagging ceiling. Another empty house seemed trashed and it was listed in the 90,000+ bracket. Do they really want to sell? We did see some beautifully kept and nice places, but regretfully too small for furniture or our needs. So the beat goes on!

Now on the other side of the coin is our house. Things we have meant to do to enjoy the place during the five years we have lived here, we are now trying to complete in a short time, so that someone else will “ooooh” and “aaaaaaah” a show place they can just see themselves enjoying. A never ending cycle that seems inevitably ours to run around. We are pressed to try to sell in a present market where we’re told it won’t very quickly, and on the other hand, are trying to buy in what is called a “buyer’s market” of low interest and people taking less than they might have at another time. An odd dichotomy of issues, wouldn’t you say? It’s time to buy but not sell, so how do you buy if others don’t sell? That gets my head spinning.

As these activities of approaching retirement continue, I do know this, that somewhere, out there, is a place where we will enjoy the next few years of our ministry together. A place to enjoy the kids and their kids, and others that we will be privileged to call neighbors and friends. It’s not the place, but what you do in it that is the real joy. It’s not owning it but Who really owns it that is the key to the front door and every door in it, and I am not referring to the friendly banker who holds the mortgage. In 1994, as we were engaged in purchasing our first home ever, for we had always pastored and had a parsonage or been missionaries with an equal provision where we were, we had some gracious real estate agents to help us search. And you know what? We ended up buying a home that was for sale by the owner, and it was on the recommendation of the agent who knew the house’s history and urged us to call. I was so impressed with their “unpaid” grace, that the following poem I composed to honor their efforts.

THE REAL ESTATE OF LIFE

This is Your house, Lord, be the Host,
Of every room, be this my boast,
That You are there with purpose grand,
For its design is Your wise plan.

From morning’s light through night time’s sleep,
In its rooms, Lord, help me seek
To make each one a holy place
Where guests won’t see but holy grace.

Help me begin by early dawn
To find that which I should put on,
As in the closet of my heart
I give You lead, my day to start.

Then guide me in my kitchen life
For daily bread sliced with the knife,
Which is Your Word to fill my need,
That in this room Your will I’d heed.

Another room I pray You’d be,
Is where I work, with those I see.
I pray Your working I would show,
That in the workroom, You, they’d know.

And in my family room today,
Here, too, Lord help me ever stay,
That daily those so close to me
Might find that You are family.

My living room, a place to greet
All other ones You’d have me meet,
To share Your gracious love around,
Please help me here, that love abound.

And may the play room I reserve,
For only joys that Your life serves,
That I would not be entertained,
Unless it glorified Your name.

The laundry and the bathroom, too,
Lord, help me know these are from You,
That I would pray, Lord, here cleanse free,
This sin today that has soiled me.

Then, Lord, the last room of my day,
In my bedroom, Lord, I pray,
That You who called me “come and rest”
Would be at home, and not a guest.

I give to You, Lord, every key,
Please be the Lord of all You see,
And may I always keep this place,
A holy temple by Your grace.


I had a thought. Why not take the place you call home and walking through the rooms, give each one to Him for His very own in being the Lord over all its activity? I’ve heard the age old question stated and answered, “If Jesus came to your house, what would you want to clean before He was invited to come in?” “Well, I’d pick up and straighten up and put some things away, etc.” What we don’t realize is that when the Lord is truly the Lord of our home, He’s the One who does the “picking up” and “straightening!”

I hope I've given you an encouraging word today. Pray for us as we continue to look for the “perfect” place, His!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Necessary Companions


Sometimes it seems that everything is very positive and headed in a good direction. There is a joy in sensing that things are coming together without any hitches. Of course, when such is your thought, it also seems that that is the time when "hitches" make their presence known. I have found in such times that one can either allow this to depress one's spirit or give reason to express one's faith and trust in He Who allows the "hitches" to work their worst. The latter's result is often clearer vision and recognition that the "hitch" was nothing more than a bump in the road, with not even a detour required to proceed.

"What has brought this rambling on?" You may ask. Well, the present state of economics and its impact on retirement issues and new mortgage needs is the present "hitch" in question. Planning for year's end and retirement has been a process that we've tried to prepare for, for several months, and just at the point when we began looking for a retirement home and begin making the necessary applications, the nation's financial crisis begins to make its debut. With it the seesawing of emotions and questions of "rightness" of timing begin their attack. "Should we?" "Shouldn't we?" is the constant cycle of question that comes. At times one feels with Paul what he must have felt with the Church at Corinth. He records in II Corinthians 4:8-9, "...we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, case down, but not destroyed."

Several years ago, during the interim time I was waiting on our missionary status to allow us to continue to Asia, I was pastoring a church. It was winter and a snow storm was in the forecast, threatening to "snow" us in, so when I left to go home I looked on my sparsely filled bookshelf for something to read. I pulled down a book called, "Hinds' Feet on High Places" by Hannah Hurnard, and hurriedly sped home to beat the storm. When I later picked it up and began to read, I was immediately captured by the plight of the heroine named Much Afraid, a cripple with a twisted smile, whose path of struggle was to climb to the heights where "perfect love casteth out fear". In this journey, the Good Shepherd, her employer, gave her two companions to help her on the journey. Their names were Sorrow and Suffering, and when she first reached forth her hands for their aid, it was not a pleasant encounter, but she persisted at the Shepherd's bidding and promise that they would be the very best companions she could have. Eventually, through her journey of great trial she arrived with her companions. In the midst of her pilgrimage she was changed and took on a new name, Grace and Glory, and her companions, too, were changed to Joy and Peace. Such was the miracle of the path of faith and trust in the Lord's direction. The Scripture given that sets the stage for the title and story is Habakkuk 2:19, "The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places." (By the by, I heartily recommend the book and its sequel, Mountains of Spices, but read them in order!)

As I sit here reflecting once again upon the lessons of the book and my own set of circumstances, I am once again encouraged to look with renewed eyes of faith and trust in the Lord's direction for us, and His provisions for our needs, regardless of the world's present condition and its up-and-down "wall street" mentality. Using wisdom in dealing with present issues is one thing, to allow the fear of the world to control my way is quite another. I have noted some wise counsel from a myriad of other Christian saints. One such is from Mrs. Charles Cowman in Streams in the Desert, "there is no high hill but beside some deep valley." Indeed, there would be no mountains if there were no valley! (On reflection, as I read through this later myself, it occurs to me that the measure of the height of a mountain depends on how deep the valley must be! The journey to climb to higher realms with joy and peace may require a more deep and sacrificial plunge with sorrow and suffering than one has known. Not to frighten, but only to prepare one to make a commitment than has the potential of great cost. But what is that in comparison to the great "heights" gained through such sacrifice. Is that not what the Savior did in the ultimate gift of Himself for us?)

I started writing the following poem during devotions in 1993 and finding it anew today, I just finished it. May you be encouraged by these words and it today.

Sorrow’s beauty is like the dark night,
Shining like silver in pools of moonlight.
Her voice like the call of nightingale sweet,
With tender compassion, drawn easy to weep.

Joy has the beauty of radiant morn,
That shines with glad laughter, with each day that’s born.
Hair that is brushed by the kiss of sunshine.
His voice soaring upward like the lark when it’s fine.

Can these two ever meet, one of night, one of day?
Though they long to be joined, most claim there’s no way,
No way that this beauty of sorrow can wed
The joy that seems bound to the day that’s ahead.

But look to the One Who made their realms meet
On a cross where the dusk would kiss His Son’s feet.
Then, too, at the tomb as dusk held dawn’s hand,
There Sorrow and Joy were made one in God’s plan.

So, as lives are lived ‘mid darkness and light,
They each have a purpose to strengthen us right.
Sorrow is bitter, but it’s dying brings God’s grace,
And Joy bears the sweet fruit that brightens God’s face.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Restful Walk


How much time have you spent thinking about what you should do or should have done, and how much time in the actual practice of doing whatever it was you thought about? It might surprise each of us how much time we wasted on this practice.

Consider the depth of what Oswald Chamber had as insight on this in this phrase. "A child of God never prays to be made aware of the fact that God answers prayer, because he is so restfully certain that God always answers prayer." Let's look at that again. "A child of God never prays to be made aware of the fact that God answers prayer, because he is so restfully certain that God always answers prayer." Now consider the weight of that statement.

His point is that often our prayers concentrate on praying for proof that God loves us instead of claiming the truth that He truly does, and spending our time in praise and thanksgiving because He does.

I realize that this is somewhat like telling someone to not think about a subject, which automatically causes the brain to "go into repeat mode" and become even more consciously aware of the subject than before. Oh, how we need to so let Christ's presence grow in us that we think not so much about thoughts of Him as we do keep our minds "on play" in relation to Him. When I walk with a friend, I don't think about "the walk with a friend" but I accept this as "part and parcel" and concentrate on what we talk about along the way. And He is a true friend that sticks closer than a brother. Matthew 11:28 has this phrase that describes such a walk, "...and I will give you rest." Now, here's my poetic rendering on the subject:

The child who's loved walks with no fear
That he who loves will disappear.
He trusts that love will find a way
To bring the best into the day.
His mind accepts this heart-based fact,
So fearful thoughts cannot enact.
His mind keeps, rather, this in view,
What he and lover, together, will do.

Oh, Father, help me keep such mind
That puts untrust in You behind.
Help me accept and treat Your love,
Wholly reflected from heaven above,
Not as mere thought to think about,
Nor as reminder putting fear to rout,
But as a fact of You with me,
Walking together in harmony.

May today you be encouraged, and not just think about being encouraged. Did I say that right?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Been There, Done That?


The last few days, before and since my last blog entry, have been wearing. Prep and the actual "doing" of a Yard Sale are not only time consuming, but energy eating, as well! Yesterday began at 4 in the morning. We were to "open up" at 7 a.m., but had early arrivals at 6:30! In talking and listening with and to these and those that followed, I discovered a whole "cult" of folks that make this a regular routine for Saturday outings. Such statements as, "where have you been?" and "we've missed you!" indicate that some sort of a society has developed "on the road" between sale locations. For some, they will look over the whole "mess" of stuff, just looking for that one item. One individual, when asked what he was looking for, replied, "I don't know, but when I see it, I'll know!" We didn't have it! Still don't know what it was! Others will stop and shop, and indicate that their routine is to "shop 'til they drop!" and woe be to those who are riding with them and want to "call it quits!"

The part I was noticing the most was seeing the little ones taggin' along with their mommies and grannies. Their eyes lighting up and surveying the "stuff-ladened" tables was a study in "passing-on" the "torch of yard sale passion"! I can see busy Saturdays in their futures! I may have added to that un-be-knowingly, as I usually would end up giving them a toy of some kind. It was somewhat redeemed by the immediate instruction from their parent, "what do you say?" To which they would reply with a shy smile, "Thank you!" Ah, manners still in good stead.

Other comments heard were things like, "I don't need this for I don't have any place to put it!" But the item, joined by other numerous and mixed variety, was loaded into their vehicle anyway. At one point, a couple drove up in a 16 foot enclosed truck. I thought they had come to "buy us out" but they simply commented when asked, "We just like to be prepared!" They left with a just a handful of "stuff", the gas used in the process probably tripling the price they paid.

So, how do I evaluate this new society and its passion? I ask a Korean friend of mine if this was done in his country. The reply was no. Having lived in two other countries myself for long periods, I do recall that it was not done there either. My take on this right now. Well, I was glad to bring joy to a few folks. And though we did not get rid of all we wanted to, we did manage to net more than the cost of the ad in the paper, and the gas used getting and returning tables to use. Maybe enough to buy a week's worth of groceries! And we did get to visit with a whole lot of folks that we'd never have had the opportunity to, had we not done so.

But I do have this observation. It seems our society in America is consumed with "possessing stuff", be it new from the local Walmart, or from someone else's front yard sale. It is "stuff" with which we seem to build our small "fort" of security. When I look to the losses which have taken place with the recent hurricanes, I see those who braved the elements because they did not want to leave all of their "stuff"! And I have to admit, there is a lot of personal, not replacables, in my own fort.

But the bottom line counsel is this - and I need to take a dose of my own medicine, too - my treasure should not be that which I can possess so easily, nor lose equally well. It must be ever beyond my grasp, as well as, in my grasp, if you catch my drift! It must be that which I can have and yet, never lose. And I mean, "Never Lose!"

God's word says it this way, "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; For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-20)

Now, that is something that when you see it, you'll know that that was what you came looking for, even though you did not know it when you came.

Be encouraged today, and seek the right treasures. Go to your yard sales, but keep in mind that the real treasure is not found in the "stuff" piled there!