Traveling

 

A BRIEF TRAVELOGUE OF SORTS

There are many glorious places on the planet that I’m pretty sure I will never see.  I’m not much for touristy places and I’m not really sure how to find or trust the out of the way places that I know I would prefer so…  Anyway, Ellen and I are on vacation this week.  The main goal is to visit our daughter Alissa and her husband Nolan in Yorkville, Illinois and then our son David, a teacher at Blue Lake Fine Arts camp near Grand Rapids, Michigan.  But before leaving PA we took a pleasant 4 hour drive north and visited the Kinzua Bridge State Park in Mt. Jewett, PA.  Mt. Jewett is the site of a very high railway trestle that was hit by a tornado in 2003 causing it to collapse into the valley below.  The state then turned the site into a park.  If you have never been there and are within driving distance it’s quite spectacular.  I’ll include a picture below if I can figure out how.  You can walk out onto the trestle pictured below.  It’s just short of being as high as the Empire State building!

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Then on to Titusville to stay for the evening.  When Ellen and her siblings were young, their dad had the opportunity to purchase a caboose for a very affordable price.  He was going to have it placed in their back yard as a playhouse.  (How cool would that have been for a child?!)  When the time came to have the car shipped to their home, he discovered that the price of purchase and rail shipping was very reasonable BUT… the price to have it trucked from the rail line to their house was exorbitant.  So… no caboose.  But Ellen has always had a fascination with them anyway.  So I surprised her with the accommodations pictured below.

The Caboose Motel in Titusville is very reasonable and a really fun place to spend the evening.  There is also a train on the same property that offers 2 hour tours of the countryside.

The next day we were off to Northern Ohio to drive along the coast visiting lighthouses along Lake Erie.  Ellen has a fascination with those as well.  Hmmmm….  What’s in this for me I wonder?!?!  I guess I get to hang out with the woman who has loved me and put up with me for 42 years of marriage.  St. Ellen, I guess.  Well… back to lighthouses:

Fairport Harbor Lighthouse East of Cleveland

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This was taken from a mile or two away:

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Taken across the bay from Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky OH:

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Then a day in Toledo OH at the Art Museum.  I know, I know… what happened to my manhood?!?!  Actually a pretty amazing place with an impressive collection:

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Today I am sitting in my daughter’s house.  I wanted to show you a picture from her front door.

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And from her back door:

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“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”  Actually come to think of it… we’re in a place much like Kansas!  About an hour West of Chicago.

Thursday morning we begin traveling east again to see David.

I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue.  In case you hadn’t noticed I just figured out how to put pictures in these Ruminations!  Whoo, whoo!

My family is the joy of my existence.  I hope you can all say something similar!

Blessings.

Legality

July 7, 2017

Extremely important thought for the day:   Why is it that when crunchy things get stale they get soft and when soft things get stale they get crunchy?  It’s these kind of things that keep me awake at night.  Now you can stay awake too.

On to more important subjects.

You may have seen the recent decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court related to “disparaging trademarks.”  Don’t know what I mean?  Continue on.  Back in 2011 a rock band of all Asian men decided to name themselves “Slant.”  You might know that the moniker “slant” is an offense, for good reason, to many Asian people.  “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the band’s name, citing a law that denied trademarks that disparage individuals, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.”    So the band took the government to task and also to court.  After rulings in several lower courts and various appeals up the line the case was finally heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.  The court ruled that denying the use of the name “…offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend”.  The short of it is this… offensive names and words cannot be outlawed as that would violate our freedom of speech.

Let me respond by first saying that I would not want the job of the justices who sit on the Supreme Court.  And no matter which way they went with this decision, the future would be fraught with complications.  For example the biggest problem facing anyone making decisions about all of this would be, “Who determines what is offensive and what is not?”  Now that decision is essentially moot, since folks can say or name themselves most anything they want.  The most offensive, disgusting words are now within our reach… legally.  Whoo, whoo!  Aren’t we lucky!  Seriously however, this was a major no winner no matter which way the Court decided.

Frankly I didn’t really start this rumination to discuss Supreme Court rulings.  What I really want to say is this:  Because something is legal and or allowable, that does not make it moral, good or Godly.  Right?  There are things that are legal, but frankly are anathema.  The question is… Where do we learn to make decisions about these things?  Who teaches discernment anymore?  In particular who teaches our kids or grandkids?  Who teaches them that because the government deems something to be legal that does not mean it is good or pleasing to God?  Do we leave it up to Hollywood?  Ha, ha, ha, ha… whoops almost swallowed my tongue.  Do we leave it up to television networks?  Seriously?!?!  The internet?  Really?!?!  Do we leave it up to the schools?  I wish.  They are so frightened of lawsuits they can hardly function.  Do we leave it up to the Church?  Well, given that over 90% of our kids have little if any contact with Christian organizations that seems unlikely.  Maybe the family?  Um… do you know what “dysfunction” means?  It defines the families in which too many of our kids live.  Sadly, something inside of us says that if the government says “it’s” okay then… “it” must be okay.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH……………………………………. NOT TRUE!

In Galatians 5, Paul lists numerous things that are, for the most part, legal but are they good?  19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  Clearly, none of these things fall under the category of “good.”

Paul then goes on to list those behaviors that ALL Christians should exhibit.  We call them the “product” or “Fruit of the Spirit.”   …love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

He then goes on to say that there is no law prohibiting these things.  The same as the list above… no law.  No direction from the world.  No help from those who establish the guidelines for the world in which we live.

I’m not sure where to go with this other than to say, even those with the best intentions in the “law making business” are restricted by what the law and the world allows.  We, in the Christian community, can and must be more discerning about what is Godly vs. what is “legal.”  Please teach those in your sphere of influence what it means to do what is “good” vs. doing with is “legal.”

As stated above… they are NOT the same! 

Marathons

June 28, 2017

Last month was the running of the 33rd annual Pittsburgh Marathon.  I was never anything but an average athlete and I was NEVER a runner; short stubby legs preclude that sort of thing.  In my wildest dreams (nightmares) I could never imagine running, non-stop, for over 26 miles!  Heck, 40 yard “sprints” during football practice were challenging enough.

Do you know the origins of the Marathon?

“In a nod to Greek history, the first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran the approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to some anxious Athenians. Not quite in mid-season shape, he delivered the message “Niki!” (Victory!) then keeled over and died.”

Notice the last few words: “keeled over and died.” EXACTLY!  You would have thought the originators of the Olympic GAMES would have taken that into consideration.  But NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! I can hear the committee now, “Hey, we need some running events.  How about we include an impossibly long jog?”  Someone else chimed in:  “Remember that guy who ran from Marathon to Athens… how far was that?”  A third voice:  “I think about 25 miles.”  “Well, shucks” said the first planner.  “Let’s make it even longer then!”  “Um… didn’t he die?” the third voice intoned.  Back to voice 1.  “Well yeah, but think of how much more exciting that will make everything!”  “LET’S DO IT!” they all exclaimed.

On a more serious note, I have known too many people over the years that have treated the Christian Faith like a sprint. What I mean by that is, they have been “all into it” for a short while until they grow weary or until something more attractive comes along and then they fall away.  Christianity is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  It’s something that we are called to stick with through the good times and the bad times.  We are called to stay with it when we are weary and when we are vital.  We seek after God even when we wonder where God is. We grow old in it. We marinate in it.

Decadence on the other hand is a sprint. Sin is a sprint.  Fulfilling our every desire (selfish ambition) is a sprint.  But following Jesus… that is a lifelong commitment.

Let’s look at the word “race” in the Bible for a few moments. First, the word “race” illustrates why English can be so difficult to grasp.  We mean more than one thing by the word “race,” correct?  When we say “race” we mean either “a competition to get somewhere first” or we mean “ancestry or skin color.”  In most if not all other languages those would be entirely different words.  Clearly we are referring here to the “getting someplace first” kind of racing.

Interestingly enough: “The metaphor of the footrace seldom occurs in the OT (Ps. 19:5; Jer.12:5; Eccles. 9:11), probably because competitive sports had no significant place in the social life of ancient Israel. When a gymnasium was erected in Jerusalem by the Hellenizing (those who forced Greece culture on others) high priest Jason early in the second century b.c., the devout Jews declared that ‘new customs’ were being introduced ‘contrary to the law’ (2 Macc. 4:7-17).”

Frankly, that’s sort of the ancient version of “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or… “The organ is the ONLY instrument suitable for worship.”

The word “race” is used several times in the N.T. Take a moment to read the following references:

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

1 Corinthians 9: 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Galatians 2: 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.

Galatians 5: 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?

2 Timothy 4: 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Hebrews 12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The words for “race” referenced above are not used in the sense of defeating another runner… they are used in the sense of: preparation, hard work and endurance on the part of the individual.

When I say that Christianity is a marathon requiring much work, I am not saying that sprinters do not work hard because of course they do. It’s just that it’s a very different kind of work.  Maybe this will help to illustrate:  I can remember my football coach in high school yelling at us when we weren’t working hard enough.  He didn’t threaten us with wind sprints because we did that all the time anyway.  Do you know what he threatened us with that put fear into our hearts?  “You either start working or I’ll make you go run with the cross country team!”  Oh my goodness… anything but that!  That was too hard!

The short of it is this: Christianity is not a “feel good/short term religion.”  Christianity is a “long term/transformational religion.”  If you are into “feel good, easy” then being a “Christ One” is likely not for you.  You might want to explore some of the charlatans on television and follow them.  Just sayin.

Death

June 14, 2017

Years ago I had a friend pass away from a sudden and unexpected heart attack; he was in his mid 50’s. Naturally his death was a shock and the events that surrounded the days, weeks and months afterward were painful.  But it could be that nothing was more difficult than the phone call I made several days after he died.  I called his office to speak to his secretary (also a friend) and see how she was doing.  She was not back to work yet so the phone recording came on.  She had not yet changed the message so my friend who had died and was already buried “answered” with a pleasant message about no one being there and to leave my name and phone number and he would call back as soon as possible.  I hung the phone up with what I’m sure was a stunned look on my face and began to openly weep in my office… alone… thankfully.

This past week I discovered that my cell phone keeps all of my text messages. I guess I actually knew that but what I didn’t know was that they were taking up quite a bit of memory space.  So I spent 15 minutes scrolling back through several years of texts marking them for deletion.  In the process I came across two “conversations” with folks who are now deceased.  Can I just admit how strange that was?  And can I also tell you that going to my phone list and hitting the “delete” button for their names was agonizing.  My father died 15 years ago and I still have his number saved in my phone.  Is that odd?  I don’t really know.  I just know that it has something to do with the permanence of death.  Taking those small but final steps in saying “goodbye” for what might be all eternity is excruciating.

“Have you no hope?” some might ask. “Where is your faith?” comes from another direction.  “What about the resurrection of the dead?” a third voice chimes.  And last “What about Jesus?”  Listen.  On most days I believe in all of that… for myself.  I cannot speak to the faith of others very well.  When we talk about faith we are talking about “heart language” to a great degree.  (Yes, for sure our heads have to be engaged as well.)  Knowing or reading the heart of another is a quagmire of façades, confusion, feelings and best intentions.  I barely know my own heart on many occasions let alone the true desires and intentions of another.  I have known way too many “great Christians” who have abandoned the faith… if they ever actually had any.  Sadly, I suspect we will not find some of the “finest Christians we have even known” in Glory.  And conversely… well, you get it.  Why?  Because God is a God of the heart!  He does know us.  He sees through our façades.  He knows the truth about our “best intentions.”  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Is that frightening?  Sometimes it is.  Does God know my brokenness?  Of course, He does… even I know about that.  And anyone who knows me, knows I’m broken.  But God knows every chasm and minute, hair-like crack hiding behind the façade I put out there for others to see.  Does God know my sin?  YES!!  And like my brokenness, so do others.  But He also knows all the shades of darkness in my soul.  No one else knows that.

Do I have hope in the resurrection… yes. Do I have assurance for others… no, because I cannot know their hearts.  Thus I often find myself in the midst of a theological quagmire.  There is “hope” and there is “fear and uncertainty.”  “Hope” for those who confess Christ.  “Fear and uncertainty” for those about which I’m unsure.

Occasionally, I get asked to do funerals for folks I don’t know. Families who have no connection to a church have a loved one die and a minister gets called in; one who is totally unfamiliar to them.  These are difficult circumstances for all pastors.  How do we provide “hope” in the midst of sorrow when it seems that grandma, dad or whomever had no semblance of faith?  I cannot say with any integrity, “Have ‘hope’ because your loved one is in the presence of Jesus.”  So, what do I do?  Well, I don’t know about other ministers, but I preach the Good News of Jesus making no comment on the eternal abode of the deceased.  I allow the family to decide what they want regarding themselves and their loved one.  I don’t know if that seems cruel and insensitive, or not.  I really don’t.

Honestly, I started this rumination 2 weeks ago and I don’t know how to end it. I just know that the death of a loved one can be daunting.  Assurances, in some cases, are hard to come by.  In the end we all leave ourselves in the hands of a loving and merciful God.

Hypocrisy

May 24, 2017

I was once asked to give the opening presentation at a weekend for parents who were looking for some help or direction with raising children. I began with something like this:

“There are at least three groups of people who know more about raising your kids than you do.

  1. People who have never had children.
  2. People who had children 40 years ago.
  3. People whose children are the most misbehaved brats on the planet.

There may be others but few will be more outspoken then the three above.”

This same principle of naiveté also applies to those who want to tell me about what it means to be a Christian. I’m talking of course about those who have no clue about the Faith, but of course, they think they do.  You know… those who quit coming to church years ago because “Church goers are just a bunch of hypocrites”; or those who quit coming because they didn’t like the pastor.  Meanwhile, that pastor left 10 years ago.  Or those who have had a few too many and want to spout off about their thoughts on God.

Maybe what I have heard most over the years is something this, “You can’t judge other people!” And then in a sarcastic, smarmy, self righteous voice, “And you call yourself a Christian!”  And if they are really smart they might reference Matthew 7.  Or at the least they will reference verse 1.

1Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

It only takes a cursory look at these verses to realize they are about hypocrisy, not judgment, i.e., don’t be a hypocrite! If you have sin in your life, don’t judge others for the same thing.  Get your life together before casting aspersions on others.  These verses are not proof texts regarding judging!

Let me ask maybe a different question. Do you believe that forgiveness is a practice commanded in the Bible?  For sure it is!  Matthew 6:15  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  And numerous other verses I might add.

Here’s the question. How do you forgive or what do you forgive, if there is not a judgment made about the other person’s behavior?  What do you forgive if you have not made a “judgment” that the other has “sinned against you?” With no judgment there is no need for or grounds for forgiveness. Imagine in a courtroom the judge saying, “Your penalty is life imprisonment.”  Someone then questions why there is a penalty at all.  What does the judge say if there has been no judgment of guilt made?  He can’t say anything.  That’s why courts have to make a judgment.  There is no court if there is no sense of judgment.  There is no declaration of guilt or innocence if there is no judgment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that your judgment or mine is infallible.  After all, just like secular courts, we can make mistakes.  But we cannot live life without making judgments… constantly… regularly…. repeatedly….  I would also say that for Christians our judgments need to come from loving and kind hearts.  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  Get it?  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  If you don’t hear anything else today hear this:  We are not called to judge as the World judges.  We are called to judge as God judges… from a position of love.

How are you doing with that?

In Honor of Mothers and Fathers day: Words we didn’t appreciate as children but we do now.

May 15, 2017

“Close the door… were you born in a barn.”

“Say ‘please’.”

“Go say hi to your aunts and uncles.”’

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“Get out of the shower!  30 minutes is plenty long enough!”

“Don’t chew with your mouth open.”  And it’s close cousin… “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Yes, you have to go see your grandparents.”

“Say ‘thank you.’”

“Yes, we’re going to church.”

“The grass needs to be cut today.”

“Get your elbows off of the table.”

“Eat your vegetables.”

“Someday you’ll understand.”

“You think that’s funny??? We’ll see how funny it is when…”

“Put something nice on… you look like a slob.”

“Don’t you make me pull this car over!”

“Shut the refrigerator door!  Are you trying to air condition the house?”

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

“Make your bed.”

“And clean your room while you’re at it!”

“Are the dishes done yet?”

“Use your manners.”

“Get that smirk off of your face.”

“Turn the lights off!”

“Be home by _____________ o’clock.”

“You’re not going anywhere until your homework is done.”

“Did you practice today?”

“No, we can’t afford that.”

“Get a summer job.”

“You can walk there.  When I was a kid, we walked everywhere.”

“When I was a kid…”

“Be in before the streetlights come on.”

“’I’m sorry’ doesn’t cut it buster.”

“Finish what’s on your plate.”

“You are restricted for ________ days, weeks, months.”

“What are you going to do with your life?”

“Go outside and play.”

“I don’t care if it’s ‘in style.’”

“Did you do your chores today?”

“Eat your (peas, crust or some other disgusting thing) it will give you curly hair.  (Or it will put hair on your chest).”

“Go get the paddle.”

“No, we don’t do allowances.”

“I don’t care what Johnny’s parents say.”

“I was your age once.”’

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

“If Johnny jumped off of a bridge…”

“Go take a bath.”

“NO!”

There have to be hundreds more.  If you want to send them to me that would be great.  williamL392@comcast.net

I hope some of these put a smile on your face.  Have a blessed day.

Opinions

May 12, 2017

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these… lots of reasons but none of them earth shattering. So with that being said…

I’m not a tattoo guy. Never have been.  I spent 4 years in the Navy where tattoos were practically invented and I didn’t have any inclination to permanently scar my body.  But, that’s just me I guess.  I realize it’s just a fad like bell bottoms and long hair were “back in the day.”  Of course, when the fad was over I just threw my bell bottoms away and got my hair cut… not sure what some of the tattoo folks will look like 20 years from now.  I read recently that 25% of people with tattoos are getting them removed.  I’m also occasionally struck by people who can’t seem to get together enough money to buy food but they somehow manage to spend thousands of dollars on tattoos.  Can you say “bad life choices?”

I especially don’t get the overzealous people with tattoos all over their body and faces. Really?!  Can you say “mental issues?”  Listen, I understand tattoos for the most part.  It’s what people are doing and most of us are followers and faddy.  (Not fatty… but that too.)  Just please don’t make the claim that you are somehow an “individual” a “trend setter” or an “art display.” You are not.  Well, depending on what one calls “art” but that is another conversation all together.

Someone is going to say, “Who do you think you are to make judgments about others?” Um… I’m actually allowed to have an opinion.  Not only am I not a tattoo person, I’m not a beach person either.  Is that okay?  I suspect it is.  That being said I am occasionally forced to get sand all through my belongings, my eyes, my bathing suit, my mouth and my food to satisfy a craving that Ellen gets.

Here’s the problem. We have been taught by our culture that it is not possible to care about people or love them if we disagree with their choices in life.  Many have drunk that Kool-aid.  It is a lie!  A bold faced, manipulative, destructive lie.  Those who believe that, among many other things, have never had children.  I do not agree with some of the decisions my kids have made but I love them beyond words.  And Ellen and I don’t agree on all things (this tattoo thing is one of them) and yet I’m pretty sure we love each other…. Well, until she reads this maybe.

Don’t tell me who I love and who I don’t love. Is it true that some (maybe even many) have chosen to not love those they disagree with… YES!  Of course that is true.  And if you are a Believer and in that category you are in sin!  But it does not have to be that way.  Don’t get me wrong.  We do not have to like or love all “practices” but we must love our neighbor as ourselves and we must pray for our enemies.  Pretty sure Jesus said that.  And it is absolutely true that on occasion we need to tell people that we love… “NO!”  To not tell them that is sometimes the cruelest thing we can do.  So assenting to the behavior or practices of others is not always loving.

All of that being said, I think I shocked Ellen and my kids the other day when I told them that I saw a tattoo that I liked and approved of. There were actually two.  One was a mother who got a copy of her daughter’s birth mark tattooed onto her hand.  The other was a mother and father who got matching birthmarks on their legs to copy the one their child was born with.  I was brought to tears.  Now those are worthwhile scars to attach to your body.  Just my opinion.