Saturday, December 11, 2010

AT 68, MY FIRST DEER HUNT


There I sat, my back against a 10 inch-diameter tree, and the only thing between my bottom and the snow covered ground, a thin vinyl-covered cushion. The temp at a frosty-breath 22 degrees made me begin to wonder what possesses the male of my species to get up at 5:30 a.m., drive 30 minutes, walk another 30 minutes through the woods, in the dark, and then just sit on the ground in the cold. So far the week’s preparation and anticipated excitement had not been rewarded with any reasons for the sacrifice.


As I sat there in cold silence, my mind began to retrace my life experiences that were the prelude to this morning’s adventure. Growing up on a farm, hunting might have been a major activity with three growing boys full of imagination. But Dad, a busy carpenter, had not been bitten by the bug that infected a myriad of other folks. So, my brothers and I, except for the traditional “shoot your eye out” bb guns, or a squirrel hunt with a single shot 22 rifle, never graduated into the ranks of trophy hunting good ole’ boys.


After high school, I made a decision to join the U. S. Navy, and it was here in boot camp that I encountered my first education with a “piece”, the naval term for an M-1 Rifle. The one I carried “everywhere” was a “plugged” model that was intended for drills, parades and learning care and maintenance of any later issue we might be given. In boot camp I learned the basic operations of several weapons common in navy life, and scored the marksman level on the M-1 on the shooting range. Thus, on my discharge four years later in 1964, I returned home somewhat equipped and ready to make my mark on the land and its wild game.


That first year back home I bought my first deer hunting rifle, a lever-action Marlin 30-30. This was prompted by the fact that my new girl friend’s family were avid hunting enthusiasts. If there was a season on it, they tried to insure that the family was well-stocked with its meat for the table. Beginning with Virginia’s father, Silby, then her brother James, and finally his son Jimmy, all were regularly camo outfitted. The family had bird dogs, as well, so you can guess the drill. My appearance on the scene was met immediately by constant invitations to join the hunts, so the purchased rifle was duly “sighted-in” and ready for action.


Thinking back, however, though always a party to the glowing results of an expedition, I never ventured forth. Perhaps my need to work, and the fact that when I returned home from the navy, I had begun preaching and pasturing a local church, kept me from the timing needed to pick-up such a hobby with any degree of regularly. So, seasons passed and so did the 30-30, to my cousin, for a little less than the price I had in it.


Fast-forwarding about three years, I did take a college course in archery, and my better than average scores once again rekindled my imagination. This time it was to the growing popularity of bow hunting. I could just imagine myself as a modern-day Robin Hood, fulfilling the dreams of a youngster with a homemade cedar bow and hogweed arrows. This, too, however, joined the “gun-toting” idea and endangered no wildlife afield. Again, it was not for lack of opportunity, for my marriage to Virginia continued my “wealth” of stories that her family would bring constantly to the gatherings and visits.


One last bit of my “hunt-less” history I will share before I continue the story of my first real personal discovery of this most basic and early American pastime. My ministry of 46 years has put me into contact with hunters in every place I have served. It is this that has kept my interest, though lack of hands-on experience, alive. Equally so, our two daughters married men who were also entrenched in the hunting sport from their youths. Add four grandsons and one granddaughter to the mix, and my non-participation regimen was soon to be ended.



Fast forward to present. The date is November, 2010, and the plan was for the whole clan to come home for our traditional Thanksgiving. We first received a call from Kevin, our oldest daughter Michele’s husband. It was his desire to find a place locally where he might get a chance to deer hunt for a day. The second call was made to Kirk, our youngest daughter’s husband, to see if he concurred in preparing to equip for an anticipated hunt. Duh! A call was then made to Virginia’s brother to check on a possible location. Double Duh! It was a done deal before the phone lines were cold.



Then came the call and faithful invitation. Kirk had been hunting at his folks on their trip, and had two guns on board if I wanted to go with them. Add the encouragement of two daughters determined to see their Dad finally bitten by the hunt-bug, and joining the ranks of the “camo-ed” set, and I was “hooked…er, chambered, cocked and sighted-in” before I knew what had happened.



I have to admit, the “bug” bit good as Kirk arrived with his crew, and we struck out for Walmart’s display of all things camouflage. We found the necessities for a warm disguise against the elements and any would-be discerning game we might encounter. I bought overalls, a well-insulated hooded-coat and matching high-top canvas boots. He had already provided me with protective orange vest and hat he had. Additionally, he would provide me with the primary tool of all hunters – the rifle, a 30-06 semiautomatic. I was ready with the anticipation of a youngster with his first bb gun.



After partner Kevin arrived with the rest of our clan of eleven, we launched into the Thanksgiving festivities with gusto, then for dessert on Thursday afternoon, the hunting trio suited up and made our way to meet Virginia’s brother James, accompanied by his grandson Brad, an excited youngster with his own hunt-stories to share, which he did as we made our way to scout-out the best sites for the next morning’s hunt. In the group I felt younger than Brad, for I was still an untried novice in the game.


Weaving our way through the woods with trees naked of the greater part of their foliage, now a thick carpet of leaves crunching underfoot, I could imagine how difficult it would be to find our way before dawn, without making sounds that would alert the deer we hoped to claim the next day. Moving more slowly than the others, Kevin and I determined to let the others push farther to locate the best sites, which they did and then returned to us with a good idea of where to set up “shop” the next morning. My thoughts during this part of the hunt’s preparations were not nearly as dramatically vivid as the next morning’s would be, though my senses were beginning to “tune-up” to the sights and sounds of the place known as Stone Mountain.



That night, I restlessly slept, awaking almost hourly to check the clock, only to discover that the hands were moving ridiculously slow. The kid in me returned with a hyper-vengeance of anticipation as I neared what almost seemed a military operation’s zero-hour. When the alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., I reacted almost like a soldier in that intended mission. I commented to the guys as I donned my “camo” outfit, that that’s what I felt like, and the image was no less real when the rifles were loaded into the pickup’s covered bed for the 30 minute drive to our designated mountain ridge. On the way, I nervously queried my sons-in-law about what to expect that morning, trying to bolster my courage against what for me was an “unknown” enemy attempting to steal my desired thrll of accomplishment.


I questioned regarding the safety of having three persons in separate locations, perhaps in “line of fire” from the others. I was assured that the locations would be at safe distance and below line of sight. I pumped them about what to do when the game was hit but not immediately down, how long and when to track. Remembering stories of the unusual, I even covered such issues as what to do if a black bear shows up, or a angry deer charges you. I tried to be as calm sounding as I could, but my guess is that both were well aware of my tensions, though they graciously did not let on.



I suppose my real confrontation with a combination of “understanding” and “fear” came when we arrived at the place where we would begin our walk along and down the ridge. When Kirk took the 30-06 out of the case, showed me how to load the clip and slip the safety, handing me extra shells to pocket, then placing it into my hands, a whole new feeling overcame me. Trying to remember the hunter’s rules about carrying a rifle in a group, ever mindful of keeping the barrel pointed away from everyone, including myself, were constant nagging thoughts. Maintaining whispered tones and trying to walk quietly through the brush and leaves which were just bare shadows in the early pre-dawn hour also kept my mind-line on busy.


Fifteen minutes into the trek we dropped off Kevin at his selected sight, and fifty yards later we began to descend at the end of the ridge. In the pre-dawn dim, we picked our way around ledges and through a line of cedars which marked a definite change in the terrain of the slope, and after another two hundred yards or so, finally stopped to survey the field of sight. Ahead of us thirty yards lay a ridge and drop-off into the hollow below. Here Kirk pointed to a likely tree for my stand, indicated he was going to circle the ridge and find his own likely seat, and quietly faded into the underbrush.

My stand! A tree growing out of sloping hillside covered with a dusting of snow. A fallen branch lay diagonally in front of the tree. Pulling it out a foot or so, I tossed my vinyl cushion at the tree’s base and eased myself down upon it. I found that my left foot had an ideal prop against the branch, and with my right heel I dug into the earth to create another. Laying the rifle across my lap, I felt I was settling for a “long winter’s nap” or so to speak!


As I indicated it was cold that morning, but I was sufficiently layered from head to foot. A black ski-mask, topped by my borrowed orange kept my head, ears and face comfortably warm. Two long-sleeved t-shirts and a flannel one were hidden beneath my insulated “camo” jacket, with its required hunting decoration, the orange vest. Completing my ensemble were a pair of sweat pants, jeans, “camo” overalls and boots containing my two-sock-layered feet. I felt and just knew I looked somewhat like the little brother of The Christmas Story fame, who having fallen in his snowsuit, could not get up! When I needed to, his plight might be mine, as well!


Having thus wallowed and settled myself as comfortably as possible against the tree, I first checked the 30-06 safety and sighted through the scope as best I could in the early light. Satisfied I could perform the functions required, I then began to survey my new domain. Kirk had chosen well, for I had clear line of sight for at least 30 yards in front and on both sides. The air was still, and there was not a leaf stirring, nor any sounds I could detect. I was alone, on a strange hillside, about to do something I had no background of experience to draw from. It is amazing what the imagination can begin to create in such situations and mine was no slouch in the task.


My first thought was finding a tree I could climb in the event that an unexpected bear came upon my position. Oh, no! There was none that afforded access to my aging and somewhat “stout” frame. I’d just have to shoot him and hope I didn’t make him mad instead of dead. Either way, running would be my option. And my imagination did not seem helped by the assurance I’d been given that bears in this region were very unlikely. My thought was, “do the bears know that?”


As dawn began to break and lightened the sky, I noted that a breeze began its own trek into the woods, and with it, the rustlings of leaves, many of which finally gave up their hold and fell to join their comrades on the ground. Birds also began to lift their cries. My ears strained to decipher the sounds that might reflect something more than these, movement that might reveal four legs and a set of horns.


It was during this period of watchfulness that another, more serious contemplation began its battle for my mind and heart. As a pastor with soldiers in the congregation, in an era of heightened awareness of conflicts in the middle east and the accompanying stories of soldiers in harm’s way, I could almost identify with their mental gymnastics in the field. After all, I was in camouflage with a weapon in my hands, waiting for whatever would come into my line of vision, friend or foe. As I dwelt on the subject, I imagined their feelings and thoughts, perhaps facing a similar ridge, and not knowing what might come into sight that required a life or death decision.


That 30-06 became very heavy in my hands, and its power even heavier in my mind and heart. I literally possessed the power of life and death in those moments, and the accompanying fear was greater than any imaginary bear or other threat I could conjure-up. Indeed, I had no qualms about shooting a deer to harvest its meat, or a bear to protect myself, but the fact of a life in my hands I could not shake.


As I sat there, my preparations for Sunday’s sermon came to mind. A study from John’s Revelation of the little scroll he was given and told to eat, and warned it would be both sweet and bitter when he did. The sweet was the realization that it was indeed the Word of God, but the bitter was the fact that the message was one of judgment, literally a matter of life and death, both dependent on the decisions the recipients would make about the message they heard. My situation at that moment was the perfect picture illustration for Sunday’s sermon, and my present personal experience the passion to convey it.


Slowly time passed as I continued to weigh these and other thoughts. The sun’s rise beginning to turn the opposite hillside into a glowing array of browns and yellows caught my attention and I began to consider the God Who put all of it together. It was a time of worship as I saw an unfolding canvas of creation and the hand of God painting the ever changing scene. My fears and imaginary dangers dissolved as I allowed Him to take my mind where He would. Still strangely alert to the anticipated sounds of movement, I was at peace, comfortable in His presence.


Time moved forward. It had been an over two hour vigil. A glance at my watch revealed it was about 8:45. I decided to get up and stand for a time behind a nearby tree that was large enough to afford some protection from the cold breeze and detection by any deer that might finally come my way. Surprisingly, my padding did not prevent getting to my feet, which were only slightly chilled. I mentally thanked my partners for their clothing counsels.



After another fifteen minutes of “stand-standing” and the realization I had heard no rifle reports nearby, I determined to begin my climb up the ridge. It was a slow-go picking my way through the now lighted woods, but pacing myself I made the climb with no problem. I did not encounter either of my partners until I reached the pickup, where I found Kevin in the cab. He’d said that he’d seen Kirk a few minutes earlier, and was told he was going to check on my status. Neither had seen or detected any game during our hunt. After blowing the horn to signal Kirk of my return, I shared my morning’s experience and had some photos taken for proof of our hunt. With Kirk’s return, we made our way back to town, and there at Shoney’s ate a well-deserved brunch.


When asked if my hunt was successful, I’ve replied, “amazingly so, for though I saw and heard no game to bag, I felt I had a trophy that would long remain on the mantle of my mind and heart. And hopefully, my sharing of the experience with you, my readers, will challenge and encourage your own hunts, both physical and spiritual.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

REVISITING MY BEGINNINGS!

Brother Milburn Spence and Me!
Yesterday was a truly great day for me and Virginia.  On the way home from visiting with our youngest daughter we stopped by to visit with a very special person to me.  He was the first pastor who seemed to see in me some potential for a call to ministry, though he was honest in saying he just didn't know if that shy young man could ever "cut the mustard" in the pulpit! 

Now 82, he admits to having some difficulty getting around, for he uses a wheelchair (owing to the lack of good control of his right leg).  He has been in a care facility for some years, and admits to sleeping more now,  but has not lost his humor and wit and long-term memory for the most part.  The evidence of his recall was more evident the more we rehearsed together those early years of our acquaintance.

You see, when I was in high school in the late fifties, it was the Gaither Baptist Church that our family called our home church.  And it was there, in the Community Building the church used for services in those years, that I surrendered my life to Jesus as my Saviour and Lord.  I remember walking down the aisle that Sunday morning at the invitation, accompanied by my sister, Jo Ann, and taking Brother Milburn Spence by the hand.  In those few moments at the altar, he led us in our confessing of sins and inviting of Jesus into our hearts.  (You see, a week before that, I had stood in the sanctuary at the invitation time, holding a "death" grip on the pew in front of me, and knowing I needed to step forward, but didn't.  Returning home, I shared with my mother about my delimma, whereupon she told me that at the very next meeting, I should go forward and talk with Bro. Spence.  She added also that Jo Ann had expressed the same delimma that morning, and she had given her the same instructions.)  

Needless to say, Bro. Milburn became a very important person of influence in my life.  It was the summer before my senior year in high school.  Following that day's significant step, we had a revival meeting scheduled at Gaither with an Indian Evangelist from Oklahoma named Eldon Dicus.  It was under his preaching that my mother discovered that her childhood baptism had not been a true experience of heart, so she, too, came forward to be led by Brother Milburn to a personal experience of salvation.  Following that revival and the conversion of another lady named Maxine Colston, a baptism was scheduled to take place at the customary Krooked Creek "swimming" hole.  Again, Brother Milburn Spence was the officiator in our public profession by baptism.

(The pictures didn't scan the best, but it was time of Brownie box cameras.  I'm just delighted to still have photo memories of the occasion.)

My baptism was not the last of my special contact with Bro. Milburn.  Besides being my pastor, he took me on in a mentoring way before the term ever became an "in vogue" thing!  You see, Bro. Milburn was a part-time preacher, what we now call Bivocational ministry.  He drove a tanker "milk" truck for Campa - he would leave on Sunday nights after church and drive to Little Rock with a load and return the next day, and repeat that through the week.  He would always be back on Wedneday nights for services and on weekends to take the young people out for an outing on Saturdays or Sunday afternoons, in addition to preaching in the am and pm services.  On occasion he would ask me to ride with him in the truck to Little Rock on Sunday nights, to keep him awake!  Actually, keeping him awake was "listening to him practice his sermons at the top of his lungs" - for this was also the day when the diesel rigs were not equipped with the "soundproofing" against motor and road noises!  Needless to say, what he preached on Sundays I received as a double dose on those trips.  Little did I realize, but I was gaining a lot of understanding about what ministry was and was not!

Needless to say, yesterday Brother Milburn and Virginia and I reveled in some of these and other memories for a while, laughing and sighing over the good times.  You see, he had also been the pastor at one time of the Burlington church where Virginia and her folks had attended.  So we had some memories of her folks to recall and enjoy.

My own experiences with Brother Spence were not concluded with my graduation and subsequent joining the Navy for four years, however, for upon my return home in 1964,  I became pastor of the Gaither Baptist Church as my first ministry.  (I had begun preaching and was licensed before leaving California on my discharge.)  During a homecoming event at Gaither, Brother Spence returned to be with us.  We recalled his comments when he heard me preach for the first time.  Nervous at his presence, I continued to comment, "do you know what I mean?" throughout my sermon.  Going to the fellowship meal afterward, he had placed his arm around my shoulders, and with a tinkle in his eyes, he quiered, "Jim, what did you mean?"  I never forgot that!  Some time later, I was asked to preach a revival in Ward, Arkansas, nearby where Milburn was then pastoring, and he attended the services.  I again remembered his words.  "Jim, there was a time when I wondered if you were going to make it! I now have no doubt that you have!"  No one's words have meant more to me than those!

Of course, as many of you may know, now that I have retired, I am back at my old "stomping" grounds and, yes, pastoring that same Gaither Baptist Church. And now, I'm the Bivocational preacher!  I'm wondering whose life I may be touching that I don't yet know about!

Well, all too soon our visit needed to end, and as we joined hands for a prayer together, I told him that anything I may have accomplished in my ministry was due to the good beginnings I had with him.  Years before I had told him the same thing, but the tears beginning to well-up in his eyes and his words reflected that it had meant a good bit to him again.  We promised to keep up and visit again, and made our way home.  Indeed, a blessed visit!

On that note, by way of challenge and encouragement to you who may read this blog, I want you to think of those people who have been significant in your life.  If they are still with us, they may need a word of encouragement, a word to let them know that their lives have made a difference.  Think about it! But DO IT!  BE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO SOMEONE WHO HAS ENCOURAGED YOU!
    

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MAKING MY DAY A WHORL!

Everyday we have a fresh, blank page upon which we write another chapter of our life.  As we proceed moment by moment, we can either scribble the nonsense of bouncing from one circumstance to another, laborously print our miseries like a schoolboy writing his life infractions on the blackboard, or set down in rhyme the purposed determination of a poet with a heart and drive to create something beautiful to grace the day.  Though I have found myself at times engaged in the first two, the last one is where I like to remain.  It alone encourages my hope that I will complete a life that leaves a good heritage.

   I have a site that I check daily for inspirational thoughts and another that gives me a word for the day.  Recently I read this quote from my source:  "It's up to us to determine our happiness.  No one else is in charge.  No one else is to blame.  No one else gets the credit.  Our happiness is tied to our willingness to be responsible for our own moods.  That's a certainty - one of few in this life."

As I dwelt on this counsel I also checked out my word for the day.  The word was WHORL.  At first glance I thought it was mispelled, however, upon reading its definiton and related word WHIRL, I saw that it was a term more frequently used by those known as botanists - their study, plant life.  The term, I found, is applied to the circular arrangement of leaves, flowers or petals around a central point or axis.  If you noticed the picture of the lotus blossom at the beginning of my blog, you can see this design clearly demonstrated.  "Interesting," you say, "but what does it have to do with this chapter of your day?"  I am glad you asked.

When I considered the design of a WHORL, I recalled something that I had learned in school years ago and have since observed.  These marvels of nature respond to the light of the sun.  Their beautiful "whorl" of petals open themselves like arms raised in praise to its warmth and growth enriching rays.  I believe our Creator's handiwork in these most beautiful of His products show us a pattern of how our daily lives ought to be written.  

First, we should realize that our lives have a purposed pattern which, if properly nourished, will WHORL like building blocks of beauty, to grace our minds, to temper our attitudes, and to lovingly touch other lives with a richness of godly purpose and order.  Secondly, as we note that the WHORL is arranged around a central axis, it gives us an excellent picture of what heaven's throne with its encircled throng of worshippers must be like.  Indeed, the central axis of our lives, our ENTHRONED SAVIOUR and LORD, is to be the focus of each chapter's writing.

Now, to take the inspirational counsel I previously noted, we must realize that in order to find ourselves following the example of the lotus we must recognize and accept the responsibility for our own actions to produce the fruit of happiness in everyday's pursuits.  No one else can do this for us.  We are in charge.  No one else can be blamed if we fail.  No one else gets the credit if we succeed.  The real beauty of the plan is that when we decide to take responsibility and truly following the Creator's purpose and plan, we will be empowered to write a chapter, yea, a book that can be a source of continued blessing to us in days ahead, and to everyone around us.

I pray your day will be such a source of encouragement, too!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

MY BUCKET LIST!

You know the phrase, "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today!"  Well, like you, perhaps, I have been somewhat of a procrastinator.  That's doing the opposite of the phrase's counsel.  My excuse is also the typical one used by just about every one I encounter these days.  "I would but I just don't have time!"

I heard this phrase and a reply that I thought appropriate in the situation.  "I don't have enough hours in the day!"  The response - "You've the same 24 hours everyone has."  It wasn't meant to be cruel or mean, just reminding that all are in the same "boat, often going upstream, against a wind" - some are using a paddle, others struggling with their hands, etc.

Related to this interchange, I shared recently that I had been finally getting back to doing something I really enjoyed but had not done for some 20 years.  I guess you might say, in the vernacular of the day, I've stopped putting off one thing on MY BUCKET LIST! Painting on canvas.  When I shared this, some who know I do have a rather busy "retirement" schedule ask me how I had found the time to do such.  My response was that I could not find the time, I had to make the time.  And guess what, I have found that making time for something that is different activity from my other pursuits, really gives me a restful break that causes my other activities to not only have adequate time to pursue, but give me a feeling of accomplishment in tasks that I can complete with satisfaction.

In fact, here are three I've completed and prepared for a local Art competition next month.  The first is a photograph that I took in 1983 in Bangladesh.  It is the Pabna river (a branch of the Ganges).  I was on a ferry crossing and captured this, which I have put on canvas and framed as one of my offerings.  What do you think?

But the real BUCKET LIST products are in the genre group of acrylic painting, and I have chosen for my first productions a western and early American Christian centered theme.  My first came from a photo I took in the early 1980s, of a friend of mine named Richard Hunt, who not only leads out in his church as a music leader, but is a true cowboy.  He trains horses, makes saddles and other leather products, and when I can catch him, poses for pictures I'd like to paint.  This one I called the Cowboy's Prayer.


The other painting I've just completed today portrays early pioneer missionary Luther Rice with his horse and buggy.  Rice was appointed as a missionary in 1812 to the Far East, but due to his need to return to the states after only a year away, to secure support for his missionary partners, the Judsons in Burma, he became a "home" missionary to travel all over the early frontier for some 30 years.  Needless to say, I had no snapshot to model, so I used other means to capture the idea that I wanted to show.  (I might add that in my drama ministry, I portray Rice, so I do have somewhat of an acquaintance with him, in a way.)   So, got any suggestions?

                                      

Well, I've shared a little of my BUCKET LIST and discovered that it's not just a BUCKET of last stuff, if you get my drift! 

Ok, fess up! You've got something in a BUCKET you'd like to do, don't you? Take the advice of someone who feels that time is awastin' - Make time and do it!  It's never too late! 

Well, I need to break from this blog and do a little on this thing, so I'll be ready for my lesson next week.


You know what? We've just BUCKETS of TIME!

I like what the "preacher" wrote in ECCLESIASTES:  "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted...a time to weep, and a time to laugh: a time to mourn, and a time to dance;...a time to keep, and a time to cast away;...He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:...for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life."  Just a few clips from chapter 3, verses 1, 2, 4, 6, 11 and 12.

Be encouraged my friends.

Friday, September 3, 2010

BE STILL AND KNOW!

Why do think that by much worry and fret and scurrying here and there that we will find rest for our souls? Haven’t we learned that all that occurs with these dreaded activities is a weary body and tired mind? Easy for me to say, you say? If I am pointing my finger at you, I am directing the other three back at me!

Yesterday, in some devotional reading I was doing in “Springs in the Valley” I read this excerpt from Mrs. Cowman’s take on the matter. “In giving a lecture on flame a scientist once made a most interesting experiment. He wanted to show that in the center of each flame there is a hollow – a place of entire stillness – around which its fire is a mere wall. To prove this he introduced into the midst of the flame a minute and carefully shielded charge of explosive powder. The protection was then carefully removed and no explosion followed. A second time the experiment was tried, and by a slight agitation of the hand the central security was lost and an immediate explosion was the result.” Mrs. Cowman then observed, “Our safety, then, is only in stillness of soul. If we are affrighted and exchange the principle of faith for that of fear, or if we are rebellious and restless, we shall be hurt by the flames and anguish and disappointment will be the result.”

The passage she cited for the devotion was Isaiah 43:2, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.”

This passage put me in mind of the three Hebrew children who were thrown into the firey furnace for their refusal to bow down to the king. When it was seen that they were unharmed by the fire, and in fact, the perceived Son of God was walking with them in the midst, they were brought out of the furnace unsinged and did not even smell of smoke! What a testimony to a WALK of STILLNESS.

Further, I was reminded of Jesus asleep in the boat (Mark 4:39) when the storm blew up and the disciples were afraid. They had to wake Him up – imagine, He was sleeping in the storm. And His words to still the storm I believe were meant for the disciples’ hearts, as well! “Peace, be still!"

I chose the title of this blog from yet another passage: Psalm 46:10 reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” Indeed, knowing Who God truly is by an intimate relationship with Him, and moment by moment recognition and acknowledgement of His presence and care is the place where the flames of worldly fires, and even God’s judgment upon man’s waywardness, cannot singe nor even leave a smell of smoke upon our lives. Our STILLNESS OF SOUL in the center of His presence will not be in danger of exploding the peace we are given. And if you need another challenge for this, consider the testimony the earth gives us according to the psalmist (Ps. 76:8). At the recognition of God’s judgment, “the earth feared, and was still.”

Are you facing a fire, a storm that seeks to leave you fearfully pacing and fretting about what might happen? BE ENCOURAGED, MY FRIEND, “BE STILL AND KNOW” HIM WHO HAS A WALL OF FIRE ABOUT YOU FOR PROTECTION, NOT DESTRUCTION.

Monday, July 26, 2010

PAINTING LIVE PORTRAITS



Lottie Moon

Recently Virginia and I had the unique experience of spending a week with the organization known as Campers On Mission in their annual National Rally. The program title theme was LINCOLN UP WITH JESUS. In the "land of Lincoln" what a creative thrust! The setting was the State Fair Grounds in DuQuoin, Illinois, one the only places big enough to park enough RVs to house 300+ Campers, most of whom spend the greater part of the year traveling from one mission site to another to minister in a hundred different ways, while sharing the good news of the gospel.

George Mueller


They had originally slated us to stay in a rented RV, but determined that a motel next door would better meet our needs for space and convenience, particularly with the number of costumes and quick-changes required. You see, we were to be a part of the program each day, providing dramatic dialogue presentations and other leadership at each of the sessions throughout the week. It was the most challenging engagement of our Living Portraits Ministry to date and we thoroughly enjoyed the test of our creative "mettle".


Fanny Crosby

For those of you that have not heard of our ministry, let me share a brief explanation. Since 1996 Virginia and I have been building a repetoire of historical characters and their period dress for dramatic presentations in a variety of venues. We have "played" before many elementary schools in Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, and Arkansas, in the characters of George and Martha Washington and Mark Twain and his wife, Olivia. Conventions, conferences, churches, nursing homes and a variety of clubs, professional and civic organizations have had historical visitors from the past, as well. We've had them appear to groups in Massachusetts, Illinois, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, and our home state of Arkansas. To name a few beside the Washingtons and Twains: Missionaries William Carey, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and Luther Rice; Hymn writers like Fanny Crosby, John Newton and Horatio Spafford; and other greats like George Mueller often appear from the past. Many times we've been given assignment to develop a specific character of interest, and when sufficient time is given to prepare the script and costumes, these have been delightful visitors to portray. One such early missionary named Elder James Philip Edwards was a significance influence on the American scene in the early 1800s, as he started some 30+ churches and was instrumental in beginning 3 associations of churches in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. His work produced the first Baptist church in Arkansas. Needless to say, our preparations for these have given us a rich sense of our Christian heritage and we are blessed as much as we pray those have been who witness these "visits from the past".

Now, back to the COM Rally in Illinois in June. The characters chosen to appear during the week were arranged to lend themselves as program highlights amid the music, speakers and a variety of training conferences. Lottie Moon and Luther Rice appeared in a sawdust covered pavilion as a part of morning Bible studies based on the Acts 1:8 missions call of our Lord. I, as myself, had the privilege of delivering two of these Bible studies to lay a foundation of challenge to the campers.

Storytelling

Other programming included presentations from a Horse "Whispering" missionary and his steed, a singing cowboy and the sharing of a modern day motorcycle ministry. During sessions inside the exhibition hall during the days of meeting George Mueller, John Newton, Fanny Crosby and even Mark Twain and Olivia made visits. It was in the conference sessions here that I was asked to lead two workshops on Storytelling, which I found to be a rewarding addition to our drama ministry. Helping others to discover ways to share and convey the message of Christ through such was a rewarding challenge I look forward to repeating in the future as a part of our ministry.

Mark Twain

On Wednesday evening's session we met in the large arena and were blessed to see an equestrian group perform on horseback, bearing flags that represented the basic parts of the Christian plan of salvation. Sharing by others included a welcome by the local Mayor, awards to outstanding campers and a program of music by a family trio. At this, George and Martha Washington appeared and lent their recollections of their own Christian heritage to the gathering, with its added patriotic atmosphere, displayed beautifully by another equestrian group. A challenging and rewarding time was enjoyed by all.

John Newton

At week's end, as we packed our own "OUR V" Dodge Caravan (did you get it?) and headed north for St. Louis, then south to northwest Arkansas, we reflected on a week of busy ministry, but one we would never forget. These people serve, and most that are retired, and they are passionately carrying the gospel around our nation. We pray that what we did was entertaining, inspirational, and perhaps, gave them an ideal of how they, too, might share the gospel in a creative way. That certainly is one desire we have in doing it.

I ENCOURAGE YOU TO BE ON MISSION IN YOUR OWN WAY.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

FROM AND INTO YOUR HANDS, FATHER!


My country 'tis of THEE,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of THEE I sing:

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrim's pride,

From every mountain side

Let freedom ring!


My native country, THEE,

Land of the noble free,

THY name I love:

I love THY rocks and rills,

THY woods and templed hills;

My heart with rapture thrills

Like that above.


Let music swell the breeze,

And ring from all the trees

Sweet freedom's song:

Let mortal tongues awake,

Let all that breathe partake;

Let rocks their silence break,

The sound prolong.


Our fathers' GOD, TO THEE,

AUTHOR of liberty,

To THEE we sing:

Long may our land be bright

With freedom's HOLY LIGHT;

Protect us by THY MIGHT,

GREAT GOD, our KING! AMEN.


Our land, indeed, is a gift of freedom from our great GOD and KING. Despite all that many do who attempt to discount the true AUTHOR of LIBERTY, our country "it is of THEE" and THEE ALONE! Everything for which our FATHERS died, this country where the PILGRIMS TOOK PRIDE in a place of religious freedom, it is all from THEE, oh GOD, and every ROCK and RILL, WOOD and TEMPLED HILL does THRILL my HEART - and send its yearning reflection on that which one day I will know in YOUR HEAVEN ABOVE!


But, Father, the land seems not SO BRIGHT at times, and freedom's HOLY origin of YOUR LIGHT has had a shade put upon it by those who would not recognize YOUR prior claim, or even the PROTECTION of YOUR MIGHT to preserve it. Oh, FATHER, on this day when our nation's fathers penned our declaration of independence from earthly king's rule, and truly our renewed DEPENDENCE on YOU, OUR GREAT GOD and KING, may we be reminded and rekindle our song of REPENTANCE and be RESTORED to YOUR REALM OF LIGHT AND LIBERTY!


For we know the counsel of YOUR WORD to be true, that "If YOUR people, which are called by YOUR name, shall humble ourselves, and pray, and seek YOUR face, and turn from our wicked ways; then will YOU hear from heaven, and will forgive our sin, and will HEAL OUR LAND." (Restated from II Chronicles 7:14)


Oh, FATHER, may it be so and begin WITH ME! This is my DEPENDENT prayer on this anniversary of our INDEPENDENCE!


Be encouraged, my fellow Americans, and I pray, UNDER GOD!


(An added P.S. - the Hymn MY COUNTRY, 'TIS OF THEE was written by Samuel Francis Smith, a native Bostonian and a ministerial student at Andover Seminary. He was 23 years of age and had been inspired by the missionary work of Adoniram Judson, America's first Baptist foreign missionary. He developed a passion for world evangelism that stayed with him through his own ministry as a Baptist preacher, pastor, college professor, hymnist, linguist, writer, and missionary advocate. His son became a missionary in Rangoon, Judson's field of work. He was active until his death in his late eighties. His legacy in this patriotic hymn is one that TRULY NEEDS TO BE REVISITED AGAIN AND AGAIN!)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A 45 YEAR JOURNEY



Today, June 26, 2010, marks the 45th year that Virginia and I have been married. When I look back it is hard for me to imagine the journey we've been on together, the experiences we been able to share, the lives we've had the opportunity to touch in some way, the actual miles we've traveled which circle the globe, and the family we've been privileged to produce and continue to enjoy together. IT'S BEEN A TREMENDOUS TRIP!

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS!

1. We've lived together in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and for three months, in Georgia. For ten years we lived in Bangladesh and Thailand. We've visited all fifty states except Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Alaska, but we're not done with that! We've been to Canada, England, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Japan, Hong Kong, Macao (now East Timon), India, in addition to our years in Bangladesh and Thailand. (During that time I was able to visit Belarus, Russia and Israel as part of mission teams.)

2. We've moved and lived in 23 different houses or apartments, some briefly, some for as long as 9 years.
3. We attended Southwest Baptist College, Bolivar MO (Now University) together, earning our B.A. degrees. Then she worked to help me earn my Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, who awarded two Ph.T's (Put Hubby Through).

4. We've been teachers for 7 public schools, 5 colleges or universities, 2 seminaries, and two other teaching organizations of higher learning. We also worked as office staff for the railroad and another company, in a furniture factory, as a grounds keeper, college library worker, janitor, retail sales, interviewer for a state employment office, foreign missionaries, pastor, mission song director, pastor to pastors of and mission director to 100 different congregations, and a state director of prayer and men and boys work for 1500 other churches. And for fourteen years we've worked together in a drama ministry, portraying historical characters in schools, churches and other venues. We've pastored five churches, one of them twice, and been interim pastor of two more.
5. We had one son, Stuart, that we lost at one year of age. We've parented two beautiful daughters, Michele and Amber, who have married two great sons-in-law, Kevin and Kirk, and who have given us a granddaughter, Kayla, and 4 grandsons, Jordan, Keaton, Sawyer and Tate, that we love to spoil.

6. We've had great parents that now we look forward to seeing one day in heaven with our boy and others who've made that journey before us.
7. We've waded many a Ozark stream together, catching crawdads (her joy) and fishing, a sport we both love, and hope to do more.
That's seven, a complete number in biblical reckoning, so I leave the rest for another time, maybe the 50th, if I can remember to do it and "blogging" is still in vogue. Suffice it to say, it's been a grand journey and I could have chosen no better traveling companion to experience it with. I love you, Virginia!
Congrats to our oldest, Michele, and her husband, Kevin. Today is their anniversary, too!
BE ENCOURAGED, MY READERS!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

TALKING WITH FATHER!


Of all of the words that FATHERS love to hear from their children, these are supreme:


OUR FATHER, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN,


HALLOWED BE THY NAME.


THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE IN EARTH,


AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.


GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.


AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS,


AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS.


AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION,


BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL:


FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM,


AND THE POWER,


AND THE GLORY,


FOREVER.


AMEN

(Matthew 6:9-13)

Dear Father in Heaven, may You be blessed above all on this Father's Day, and may every line of this prayer be fulfilled in my life and in the lives of all who know You as their Father, indeed!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"M" IS FOR...

M.O.T.H.E.R.S that have blessed my life!

My MOM! She was the best!
She taught me wrong from right, and tucked me in at night.
She patched my bruises and taught me the bad habit loses.
She dreamed great things for me, and helped me be what I could be.
She sacrificed, worked hard without complaints, so all of us could have the best without restraints.
She was my MOTHER! And as such, like no other!



My MOM-IN-LAW!
She, too, was great, a second Mom, and not second rate!
She loved her kids and did her best, her mother tasks all passed the test.
Considering my gain, her daughter fine, I've had a claim on a momma gold mine!



My WIFE is MOM!
When our kids were born, MOM replaced HON, and though they are grown,(the name) MOM's still number ONE!
She patches my bruises and keeps me in line, and though telling me I'm leading, I follow just fine!
She's a partner in work and also in play, she's the treasure of happiness I find every day.


My DAUGHTERS are MOMS!
These girls, "AMB" and "MICH", after their MOM's guided care, are MOMs in their own right, and treasures quite rare!
They're MOMs to my grands, all five growing right, for their MOMs have made sure through their Lord's oversight!
There you have it, the MOMs that have "lightened" my door, have blessed my life plenty and I've plans for much more. To these I give honor and to my Lord praise, as we celebrate this weekend for all Mother's Days!

Be encouraged, Mothers, for your work is not in vain in the Lord!






















Saturday, April 17, 2010

THE ANCHOR STILL HOLDS!


On March 9th, as I stood on the beach of Israel's ancient port city of Caesarea, I gazed out on the Mediterranean Sea and could almost imagine the ship coming in that would take the Apostle Paul to his judgment before Caesar in Rome. Knowing his life was ultimately in the hands of God, regardless of Caesar's judgment, he went with confidence and trust. His life was like that ship which came for him. It would face storms, but he would have an anchor that would hold him in spite of all.

A story that sailing traditions on the Mediterranean speak of, relates to the practice that ships used in securing themselves to the harbor when entering it is not possible. If a reef or breakwater prevented the ship from entering the harbor at low tide, a small craft would be launched with a "forerunner" sailor to carry the anchor and line within the harbor to secure the ship until high tide would allow it to be towed into the safety of the port. This illustration very well portrays the essence of the writer's intent in Hebrews 6:19-20: "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."

Just as the sailor took the anchor and secured it within the safe harbor, Jesus is both the anchor and the forerunner Who bears it through the veil which separates us from the eternal safe harbor of heaven, and there on the right hand of God keeps our ship steady until God's high tide call pulls us home to Him. His sacrificial death on the cross for our sin, His victory over death through the resurrection, and His ascension into heaven as our High Priest assures us of our "anchored" connection.

While we may never face the kind of storm that Paul did for his faith and ministry, and who is to say but what may indeed be on the "horizon" for even us in this day, we do face storms in life that threaten to "sink" us in waves of despair and loss. It is here that we can take hope and faithfully trust in our "anchored" security.

You may ask, "How can I know that my anchor will hold out?" Consider what Hebrews 6:10 tells us. "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister."

One who has placed his faith in Christ has a secure "line and anchor" tied to heaven, with the absolute promise of a God Who cannot and does not lie nor forget. His very nature as God makes this a secure anchor of hope. But not only IS HE a secure hope, but God, Himself, takes an oath to seal the promise. "Because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself." (Verse 13). Thus, "by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie." (Verse 18), His promise and His oath, our ship is secure and already safe, even though not within the veil of that heavenly harbor.

Oh, Christian brother and sister, be encouraged that God will not forget you through every storm you face. One day you will stand forever secure in His safe harbor.

Monday, March 15, 2010

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE INDESCRIBABLE?


The Walls of Old Jerusalem as Night Falls

How do you paint a picture of feelings and impressions? The best I can offer is by way of a few clips about my recent journey to Israel. As part of a pastor team, we left on Feb. 28th, arriving in Tel Aviv on the 1st of March. For the first time in my life, though visiting many places around the globe, I set my feet on the soil of the land called "promise". Inside I'm singing, "I walked today where Jesus walked, and felt His presence there."



The Garden of Gethsemane with the Old City of Jerusalem in the Background
Given the responsibilty in our team to record a study on the Mount of Olives and in the Garden of Gethsemane, I did so with a large lump in my throat. Surrounded by age-old Olive trees, we knelt in a time of prayer and my heart sang, "I knelt today where Jesus knelt, and felt His presence there."
Inside the EMPTY Garden Tomb
Visiting the traditional sites of His crucifixion and burial, I was struck again by the reality of His saving sacrifice of love. My heart sang again, "Lo in the grave He lay" and "up from the grave He arose." I felt again His presence, affirming His death and resurrection in my own heart.
The Narrow Streets of the Old City of Jerusalem
As we walked and retraced the steps He took, bearing the cross to Calvary, I was struck by the narrowness of the route, realizing that at the time of His death, the streets would have been crowded with those who came to Passover. Again, my mind brought forth images that stirred my heart to sing, "Must Jesus bear the cross alone...there is a cross for me."
A Brief Ride on a Camel
Our travels throughout the land of Israel took us to the far points of the compass. We took a van but had some experiences that date back to the time of Jesus. My heart found a song that spoke of His birth and the visit of the wise men. "We three kings of orient are...bearing gifts we travel far." I felt again His presence, declared by God in the coming of a baby who would be my Saviour.
The Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem
As we stood overlooking the wall where so many spend days on end in prayer for their messiah, I was struck by the fact that the one they sought had already come. Yeshua...Jesus! My heart was sorrowed for their lack of knowing the truth that makes my heart sing again and again, "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've delivered unto Him against that day." I know He's even there, longing to be recognized and accepted.
From Ancient Ceasarea, I Look Out on the Mediterranean
Having traveled from northern to southern tips of the land, and from the border at the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, I was both struck by the utter smallness of the nation's area and yet the utterly rich fullness of its heritage, its claim as the center of my faith's origin in Jesus. Paul was taken to Rome from Ceasarea's port. My heart was full and sang, "We've a story to tell to the nations." Once again I felt His presence clear and strong.

Sunrise Across the Sea of Galilee
Time and space does not allow me to publish the over 5000 photos our team took in those 12 short days of journey to and in Israel. As I woke up one morning on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the sun had not yet risen in the eastern sky. I reflected on the many days of ministry that Jesus spent around and on Galilee. With the rising of the sun, I was struck by the fact that He, too, had seen that sun rise from very near my own place of morning's meditation. Perhaps He thought of the prophecies that would be fulfilled in His own coming out of the eastern sky, indeed, the true SON RISE! My heart sang, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." I felt His presence there.
Am I glad to be back home? Yes, I am, but part of my heart I believe I left in that land. I pray that until one day I am able to return and rekindle the feelings and experiences, I will maintain by memory and walk with Him, His intimate presence where I am from day to day.
A prayer request from those we encountered in that land. Pray for the PEACE OF JERUSALEM and pray for DIVINE ENCOUNTERS that will enable them to share the goods news that Yeshua - Jesus the Messiah - has come.
Be encouraged today, my friends.







Sunday, February 21, 2010

THE WATER OF LIFE CYCLE: A PARABLE



One of the basic lessons in grade school science that fascinated my young mind was the Water Cycle. An amazing process it is that brings rain out of an invisible vapor, and the rain then through another step is absorbed into the roots and stem of a plant and from the plant is released back into the air again as an invisible vapor that repeats the cycle. The statement I saw on one site I researched indicated that all the water that ever has been on earth moves through this cycle again and again, and what we are drinking today may have been in the glass of Alexander the Great. It’s been re-purified, of course!

As I pursued the subject, I encountered several terms that identify the different parts of the cycle. First, the SUN is an essential part of the cycle’s equation, for its energy of heat or lack thereof, causes both the change from water to vapor and the reverse. VAPOR, of course, is first, the invisible essence of the water, and when cooled in CONDENSATION forms rain clouds, then PRECIPITATION in the form of rain, snow, sleet or hail from the sky. Here, the invisible becomes very visible and it forms both SURFACE and SUBSURFACE RUNOFF that flows into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. Some is absorbed by the ground whereby INFILTRATION draws it through the roots and stems of plant life. Here the energy of the SUN enables plant growth and TRANSPIRATION, the process of releasing the water through the leaves into the atmosphere as VAPOR. The water that finds its way by runoff into the ocean is then heated by the SUN causing EVAPORATION, also releasing water in the form of VAPOR. This water, having been carried through a variety of mineral deposits, on arrival at the ocean has resulting SALT content. EVAPORATION causes the remaining water to have increased SALT content levels. The water is also moved in its cycle by living organisms, human and animal. It may be consumed in its liquid form or be present in the food that is consumed. It then leaves as a gas during RESPIRATION, is excreted, or may EVAPORATE from the skin as PRESPIRATION.



Now that I have laid out a brief summary of The Water Cycle, allow me to set forth a spiritual parallel as it relates to the INCARNATION of Christ into human form. The great INVISIBLE God sent “His only begotten Son” to be born into VISIBLE human flesh by the power of His Spirit. This flesh-made image of God the Father then had both the divine spiritual nature and the earth-bound human nature. Out of God in the Spiritual heavenlies the Very WATER OF LIFE performed a holy CONDENSATION and RAINED Himself down upon the earth. That WATER was collected in a human vessel that was formed by the Master Potter Himself. Then, through the process of bonding vessel and WATER, overshadowed by the Potter’s Hand, His Holy Spirit, God’s Son came to the time of INAUGURATION of His primary work. Coming to the Jordan River, this Son, the WATER OF LIFE was IMMERSED, WATER into WATER’S burial of submission to His Father’s will. Rising from it in a prophetic RESURRECTION, He received the Father’s commendation, and left for the wilderness to have His vessel FIRED in the kiln of TEMPTATION. Once tested and His vessel affirmed in the Father’s will to bear the precious WATER OF LIFE, He proceeded to share His contents with many whose own vessels were dry and cracked, restoring and filling theirs from His own. After three years of pouring Himself into His chosen disciples, this WATER OF LIFE came to the close of His purpose as INCARNATE Son of God. He went up on a mountain where a TRANSFIGURATION of His true nature was revealed, both man and Divine, in a foretaste of the INVISIBLE and VISIBLE in ONE, conversing with Moses and Elijah. From this point, His WATER OF LIFE Cycle moved deliberately into a HEATING process that would bring about His CRUCIFIXION, DEATH of the visible WATER OF LIFE’s VISIBLE form, revealing further His cycle’s RESURRECTION movement through the final state of ASCENDANCY back to the INVISIBLE realm from which He came. In a way, a spiritual EVAPORATION which paralleled His INCARNATION’S PRECIPATATION to earth. (Let me give credit for inspiration of the cycle of terms I’ve illustrated in The Cycle of Jesus’s Life. It’s the brain child of my Broco, i.e., Bro/Cuz, Ray Edwards. I’ve simply expanded on it by adding analogy’s parable. Thanks, Ray!)

Permit me, if you will to make some further analogies on this theme as it relates to the work of Christ as the WATER OF LIFE that has come to us. My analogy in the preceding paragraph follows the WATER CYCLE’S process by EVAPORATION, however, spiritually it can be pointed out that the purpose of Christ’s coming was to also INFILTRATE the lives of men, thus giving an added result of His INCARNATION, not only into the physical life of the Son of man on earth, but into the lives of men who allow Him entrance by belief and confession’s invitation. Here, too, the INVISIBLE becomes VISIBLE through the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the display of His gifts. Here, also, DEATH brings the blessed release of spiritual TRANSPIRATION, again into the INVISIBLE realm of the departed in Christ.

Perhaps now you are saying, “Okay, I get the picture. Now, your point.”Simply this, first, that just as Jesus taught in parables to bring great truth to light, often the use of such can help us visualize the reality of God’s plan to send His only Begotten into visual human form, to enable us to experience what our senses often tell us cannot be real. The CYCLE OF WATER is an illustration of reality we can understand, that can reveal that deeper truth that can evade some minds. Secondly, for me it again affirms the creative purpose of God in orchestrating nature’s laws and CYCLES, for they are reflective mirrors of His own nature, purpose and glory. Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

Oh, yes! I mentioned the SALT left from the EVAPORATION of the ocean. It is true also that with the coming of Jesus into the Christian's life, that with the process of that INFILTRATION and TRANSPIRATION, we become more SALTY with His greater Presence in us.

My friends, be encouraged today as Christ Himself INFILTRATES and makes Himself VISIBLE through your lives.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

THE SENTENCE, LIFE AND DEATH



Nineteen plus years ago, while serving as a missionary overseas, I led our mission’s prison ministry. Our target was the prisoners of two prisons, one which was for “lighter” SENTENCES and the other considered maximum security with 8000 men serving twenty to LIFE, and DEATH SENTENCES. My team of eight men, each with different language ability, would enter the steel gates of this facility one Wednesday morning each month, go to its large meeting pavilion, and begin to work with the four to five hundred prisoners who chose to attend. After a combined time of singing and testimonies, the prisoners were divided into language groups to be led in Bible studies by team members. I elected to work with one group and used a prisoner with a good English skills as my translator, as none of the team members were proficient with that group’s language.

After a couple of years of work, and many denied requests to allow us to baptize prisoners in the water canal located inside the prison walls, we were finally granted permission by the warden because, as he said, our team had done much to make their task easier through the changed attitudes of prisoners. That year we baptized eighty-eight prisoners, and three years later, had a total of over four hundred, with a “church” group formed in each of the prison’s eight cells blocks.

As I think back to those experiences, and the feeling I had each time those steel doors slammed shut behind us when we entered, then again when we left, I recall a mixed feeling of despair and relief. One was from my temporary INCARCERATION and the other from my monthly PAROLE into the world outside.

As I think about those experiences I am reminded that I shared, in a spiritual way, in the SENTENCES of those men, all of whom had committed serious crimes. Some were thieves and murderers, many others were those who trafficked in drugs, a significant and serious crime in that part of Asia. Those awaiting DEATH SENTENCES in a worldly sense mirrored my own SENTENCE OF DEATH for my sin, to be carried out at God’s final judgment. Even as a child I had willfully chosen to disobey God’s law and go according to my own way. The SENTENCE OF DEATH was as a result of my sinful choice, as surely as the crimes committed by those prisoners resulted in their scheduled forfeiture of LIFE.

What a paradox! I chose DEATH instead of LIFE and received the just SENTENCE, but now because of Christ’s DEATH, I am PAROLED free of that arm of just retribution. I’ve been given a LIFE SENTENCE, but not one behind bars and high walls, for I am free indeed. It occurs to me that as I stand outside the spiritual prison of my making, that there are many who have that LIFE SENTENCE granted by trust in Christ’s DEATH, but they continue to live inside spiritual prison walls, when by their choice, they could daily accept the PARDON. For them the gates would swing open to freedom.

Stay with me through this analogy. I’m PARDONED free. Correct? Well, hang on, for now that I am free indeed. I’m not on PAROLE but I do need to check in with the One Who granted my PARDON, and it’s His purpose to see that I do not return to the lock-up ever again. So what do I do with this new found freedom? I choose with another former prisoner, Paul, by name, to lay claim to another DEATH SENTENCE. Not one for crimes or sin that I have done, but I choose to DIE to the flesh that attempts to imprison me. I choose to mortify, to put to DEATH this body of DEATH and its claim upon me for these few years of earth bound captivity, that I may spiritually LIVE unto Him Who has rescued me from eternal DEATH and given me eternal LIFE through the Spirit, and a promised new body that will never suffer DEATH. Oh, great Giver of LIFE Who is the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE, help me to daily choose to die to self that Your LIFE will be shown through me to all who are dying and as yet do not even know it.

Oh Father, now I do aspire
To walk with Thee in life up higher.
I now seek to be Your own,
And gladly bow before Your throne,
But help me know, if I would be,
A vessel fit to worship Thee,
That I must daily die to all
That pulls me from Your holy call.
Help me, dear Lord, through deeper trust,
To find life’s higher, heavenly thrust.
~jbryant, 2-6-2006

Postscript on the prison ministry: My last time into the prison, I was asked to meet with one of the church groups that were trying to practice being the church. They had elected deacons and gave me the privilege of performing the “Laying on of hands” of their ordination. What a scene. Prisoners, serving prison terms, finding LIFE and SERVICE while they SERVE their SENTENCES. Only in God’s Kingdom!

Check out these related passages of Scripture:
11 Corinthians 1:9 – “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”
Matthew 10:39 - “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
11 Corinthians 4:11 – “For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”
11 Corinthians 12:10 – “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for which I am weak, then am I strong.”
Philippians 1:20-21 – “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

BE ENCOURAGED, MY FRIEND, FOR OUR LIFE SENTENCE WITH CHRIST WILL NOT BE SUFFERING ON THE ROCK (aka, Alcatraz Penitentiary), BUT WITH THE ROCK, JESUS!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

THE LOGIC OF ILLOGICAL LOGIC



Say what?

Have you ever felt that the TRUTH of God went against your normal perception of what is TRUTH? Have you ever considered that what He asks of You goes against everything you’ve learned was the correct way to proceed? Indeed, if we are honest in our response, all of us have and it is entirely natural to do so. The operative word is “natural” for the TRUTH we are debating with ourselves is SUPERNATURAL! No small wonder that in this realm of thought everything is upside down.

As I pondered this, I began to examine what we are often confronted with that fits our faith response to God’s upward call from earth-bound logic. Go with me as we consider a few applications of LOGIC that are ILLOGICAL.

The FIRST truly must be the beginning one to apply, for without it the others will not be understood in their TRUEST sense. Jesus says to us, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Matthew 8:35) LOSE TO GAIN?. Illogical! Yet the context makes perfect sense. Christ’s purpose is to bring us into another realm of life – His heavenly! Anyone can see that there is a vast difference between the earthly and that which is spoken of as heavenly. In a physical sense, we can see this truth applied in the recent space launch. The astronauts, in order to reach beyond the earth’s law of gravity into the freedom of space’s weightlessness, had to LOSE earth’s hold as they GAINED the new realm of space. You think they may have been disoriented the first time they space “walked”? Ask them. You’d be right. The point is if you desire to walk in another realm, be it space or the kingdom of Christ, you have to leave one to reach the other. Logical, pure and simple.

Now, consider another related passage. “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the gospel of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) LOSE TO WIN? Again with the LOSING! Paul’s not talking about a game. There perhaps is our hangup! Paul is merely applying the truth we’ve stated before. He’s our spiritual astronaut, who has “slipped the bonds of earthly” cares and consuming passion for things, stretched forward like a track star breaking the tape, and laid hold on the prize – WINNING an intimate knowledge of God in Christ. To WIN he had to put the LOSERS behind. Not people, but the things that attempt to keep pace with us, that they might win our focus from the prize that awaits. To push the astronaut analogy one “step” more, consider the natural attempts to keep one foot on earth and test the freedom of space with the other. Never happen! Now, that’s illogical in any realm.




Next, here’s one that many will know is true, particularly those with any background on the farm. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24) A related verse declares, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (prunes) it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:2) DIE AND YOU WILL LIVE or, at the most have YOUR LIFE TRIMMED TO PRODUCE is the thrust. Now, if you’ve ever planted a garden you know that a seed has to be planted in the ground, and begin to have its contents consumed by the tiny sprout it contains, until that sprout breaks free of the softened hull. This new plant lives because the seed died. The death of life produces life. In the other passage, the reference is to the necessity of having excess branches cut off, in order that the life force is not wasted on just limbs, but channeled into new growth producing fruit. The application of both gives the logic of DEATH TO LIFE issues. And the example of Christ, Himself, is supreme. Christ DIED, was CUT OFF, from the LIVING in order that those who are the ALIVE BUT DYING might TRULY LIVE and NEVER DIE. The lesson in LOGIC also is extended to those who, after His example, would SACRIFICE themselves that others might LIVE, as well. Illogically strange, for we call that logic “heroism” and applaud it vigorously.

Another that often takes a good bit of heart change is GIVE TO RECEIVE or GAIN. Now, I caution you at the outset. This is not to be applied as motive for giving, though some, out of avarice, apply it so. Nevertheless, it is a LOGIC that is ILLOGICAL. I mean how, if you GIVE something away, can you expect to have an INCREASE in your own pocket? Note this passage, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) Now, actually this passage winds up a whole discourse of related ILLOGIC that Jesus shares regarding kingdom behavior. He spoke of HUNGERING TO BE FULL, WEEPING TO LAUGH, and of BEING HATED TO REJOICE and contrasted it to being FULL AND ENDING HUNGRY, of LAUGHING THAT ENDS IN TEARS, AND PRAISE OF MEN THAT’S FINISH IS DESPAIR. His counsel? Love those that hate you, bless those that curse you, offer the other cheek to be slapped, give another garment to the thief who takes one, and give and don’t expect return. Hard “pills” to swallow, are they not? Well, they can be for the one who has invested so much in REAPING, whether he has SOWN anything or not.

How do they work? Like the food you eat, it must be digested and absorbed into the blood stream, to carry its nutrients of growth to every part of the life. Practicing this LOGIC with an open and trusting heart will bring about an ILLOGICAL miracle. We will receive fullness, love, joy, and a basket of blessings that is packed solid! I like that kind of LOGIC, don’t you?

Well, I’m going to call a halt to this LOGIC’s launching for now. Maybe you’ve thought of some others that could be stated and debated. I invite you to share them in your comments. Now, for one last thought.

When I think of the attempts to hang on to the TANGIBLE and test the INTANGIBLE, I am reminded of the cartoon type, like Beetle Bailey’s Sergeant Snorkel. He has again fallen off his proverbial ledge and is hanging by one slender sapling growing perpendicular (now there’s logic) to the cliff. He cries for help and out of the blue, the Voice of God tells him to let go and He will catch him. (Unknown to Snorkel, who is afraid to look down, the ground is only about two feet below him.) Weighing this heavenly counsel, he finally cries out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”

FOR YOU “WOULD BE SNORKELS” OUT THERE, BE ENCOURAGED THAT IF YOU WILL TRUST THE COUNSEL OF GOD TO LET GO IN FAITH, HE WILL CATCH YOU, AND YOU WILL FIND MORE TRULY SOLID GROUND UNDERNEATH YOU THAN YOU EVER EXPECTED!