Enjoying the trip

One of the dangers of being a “story teller” is that you can never remember for sure when you’ve told a story and in what context.   My fear is that I will be known as one of those people who tells the same things over and over and over again… and I won’t know it. So if I happen to repeat something on occasion, please be patient with me. The old brain and the synapses just don’t fire like they used to.

Ellen’s father died in 2002… I miss him as much as I miss my own dad. He was a fun man to be around and I looked forward to the occasions when I was alone with him and got to ask him about his life, in particular his time in the war.   He had a number of qualities that I really admired… and like all of us he had his “issues” as well. One thing about him that I just didn’t understand as a young person was that if he were traveling from Pittsburgh to York PA, he went on Route 30! Seriously, why would someone do that when the turnpike is available and can get you to your destination much quicker?! Well frankly it’s because he learned WAY before I did that the trip is just as important if not more so than the destination. Hold that thought for a few moments.

You likely know that there were several factions in ancient Israel by which Jesus was confronted on a number of occasions.   The Pharisees, and the Sadducees were the most prominent. They were two groups of religious leaders who did not get along very well. They had very different approaches to the faith.   I would encourage you to look them up online or in a Bible Dictionary if you want a comprehensive understanding of them.   Frankly it’s hard to really grasp sections of the Gospels without knowing who they were and what these men stood for.   For this rumination I want to narrow the focus. One of the things that set the Sadducees apart was the fact that they did not believe in a resurrection, or better put… they did not believe in life after death.   There are contemporary Jews who have the same theology.

What is your response to that? What if I told you that I believe in a personal God but I do not believe in eternal life? Or that this life is all there is but we are called to live it for God? (That is not my belief, but for the sake of argument….)   You might respond like this:   “Soooooo…. what’s the point? Why do all this Christian stuff if there is no eternal life… or if this short life is it? EXACTLY!!! I have heard from contemporary Jews who do not have a theology of the afterlife that we Christians only believe because there’s a reward at the end. It is not our desire to actually follow God, only to do what we have to do to get “saved.” Frankly, I find that to be all too troubling and all too true! In other words, this life is only about the destination not the trip itself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer… a German pastor and writer during WW2 who was murdered by the Nazis weeks before the war was over coined the term “cheap grace.” Cheap grace refers to Christians who do the very minimum to fall under their self-defined category of “saved” or “Christian” and rely on God’s grace to get them into heaven. Maybe another way of putting it: Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow God’s grace will cover all that I have done. Hmmmmmm…   I suspect there will be some surprises on judgment day.

Are you familiar with James?

James 2:14-17

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I had a lady very upset with me once… well I have had many upset with me… but on this particular occasion she said (and this is a direct quote), “You make me feel like coming to church and putting my money in the offering plate isn’t enough.” Uh… YEAH! She actually was listening, but didn’t want to hear.

If you are a “Christian” who is living the good life and relying on cheap grace for your eternal destination… well I don’t know what God will decide about you, but I do know that you are WAY outside of His desire for your life. I would encourage you to take a serious look at what you are about in your faith and ask yourself, “What are my works”? “What do I do to prove my faith”? Ask the old question, “If I were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me”?   Church and money are not the answers.

Well, the Christian life is about the trip, not the destination… how is your ride going?

I should add by the way… on occasion I now take Route 30 on my way to York.

 

No other stream

It must have been during the summer of 1989.   I don’t remember many details of the day other than the fact that I was going to a mall to pick something up. It was brutally hot. Temps were in the mid to upper 90’s and our car didn’t have air conditioning…. Well, at least air conditioning that worked which was pretty much true of all the cars we owned back then. I pulled into a parking space and wound all the windows up. As I stepped out of the car I slammed the door shut and began to walk away. I don’t know why, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Alissa… all of 7 months old… sitting in her car seat in the back. She was sound asleep. A shudder runs through my body as I remember that moment. I was so close to walking away from that inferno of a car and leaving my little girl inside. I just forgot that she was with me! Even now I feel guilty for something that was averted. I don’t know how long she would have survived. I’m pretty sure she would have been gone by the time I returned.

This was not an occasion where I wanted to run into a bar or a grocery store or some other errand so I intentionally left my child locked in the car. We hear too many of those things these days. It was an honest mistake. An honest… almost tragic… mistake. I would not have been the first parent to get caught in that heartbreaking, horrible, nightmare. Nor would I have been the last. I do know that my life would have been permanently altered if I had not seen her.   It was SO close.

These issues have been in the news for the past several years. In some cases parents are being charged for their “recklessness” and their children are being taken away. No doubt on many occasions the charges are warranted. I would not want to be the judge who makes these decisions. It’s all so tragic. And then of course there are the rare occasion where it seems that parents may have wanted to kill their children so they leave them in the car and claim they forgot…

It’s the accidental oversight that I want to focus on, not the irresponsible, selfish adults who mistreat their kids for their own benefit and pleasure. As I mentioned, I just happened to catch the sight of Alissa out of the corner of my eye.   Why did I see her and other parents did not see their little ones? What is it that causes one circumstance to be redeemable and the other to end in tragedy?   What causes one parent to live a life of grief and agony and another to easily avert a tragedy? Simply put, where is God in all of this? I know, this may sound like a familiar theme… and it is. Why? Because it is a question that runs through our minds anytime a tragedy occurs. We so easily let the words, “Thank God” slip out of our mouths when something good happens. But what do we say when there is no “Thank God”? What do we say when the parent doesn’t see the child? Why one, life altering set of tragic circumstances and one… almost forgettable one? At the end of the day the answer has to be, “I don’t know.” For a non-believer, it’s simply one more reason to mock those who believe in a personal God that interacts with His creation.   What loving, benevolent parent would allow the agonizing death of one of their children if they could avert it?   Seriously… that’s the question isn’t it?   How could a loving God allow devastation to His children when it is certainly within His power to do something about it?! Again… I don’t know.

I do know this however. If there is a God… and I believe there is… then He is WAY BIGGER than my thoughts can comprehend. And I believe that His way of doing things is WAY BIGGER AND MORE COMPLEX than what I can imagine. If we want to, we can believe in a God that we can fully understand and predict, i.e., the god of our own invention. It is surely not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is mighty, powerful, eternal, and yes, scary. He is a God who is unpredictable and does things His own way.   For those who think they can understand and explain God… they are naïve. Certainly there are some things that have been revealed to us, but they are not the full picture. It’s like describing an iceberg by only seeing the section above the water.

For those of us who are Christians, we need to come to the place where we trust in God even though we don’t know Him fully, we cannot know what He will do, and there are NO guarantees. If you want a predictable God, the Father of Jesus is not your Guy.

Many of you are familiar with the Narnia series of books written by C.S. Lewis. They have been popularized through films in recent years. Aslan, the lion, represents Jesus and Jill is one of the main characters. Below is a quote sent to me by Ellen a few weeks ago from a book about the Narnia series by Rowan Williams commenting on the Narnia book entitled “The Silver Chair”.   This quote helps describe the God that I know.

“Jill, newly arrived in Narnia for the first time, is alone and desperately thirsty; ahead of her there is a stream of clear water – and ‘just on this side of the stream lay the Lion.’ ‘If you’re thirsty you may drink,’ says the Lion. But Jill is afraid. ‘Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?’ she asks; and the Lion replies, ‘I make no promises.’

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

Do you eat girls?’ she said.

‘I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,’ said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill.

‘Then you will die of thirst,’ said the Lion.

‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’

‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion.

Aslan makes no promise; nothing can make him safe, and there is no approaching him without an overwhelming sense of risk. But there is no other stream. A less fearful and guilty person than Jill might – like the talking horse Hwin in the Horse (Ch. 14) – conclude that ‘I’d rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.’ But one thing Aslan cannot do is pretend he is not what and who he is.

The Gospel of John says: John 4:10-11

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?

My friends… THERE IS NO OTHER STREAM.

Home

As many of you know I spent four years in the U.S. Navy. I was in Southern California for less than a year and the rest of my tour was spent on shore duty in Hawaii. I know, I know… someone had to do it… blah, blah, blah. Truly, I was very fortunate. But even though my circumstances were magnificent, there was still a certain amount of home sickness and the missing of my friends and of course Ellen. We were engaged for 2 ½ years but only saw each other for 6 weeks during that time.   I know that many have had it much worse.

One Sunday morning in the fall of 1974, I was on my way to work. There is a 6 hour difference between Hawaii and Pennsylvania, depending on the time of year. Since they don’t change their clocks for daylight savings, it’s a 5 hour difference for half of the year. Like I said, I was driving to work sometime around 7:00 am and cycling through the stations on my car radio. At one point I passed a station and heard the VERY FAMILIAR voice of Myron Cope. For those of you not from Pittsburgh you would likely not know Myron.   Suffice it to say he is a legend in this city as a sports writer and color commentator for the Steelers. He also may have had the most distinctive voice ever heard. I can’t describe it really but it is recognized by anyone who ever lived even close to this city. I was stunned when I found him on the radio in Hawaii! As it turned out all of the Steeler games were syndicated by a station in Honolulu. I got up every Sunday morning at 7:00 (or later if they played in a different time zone) and listened to Myron and the Steelers. I was 5000 miles away, but… somewhat at home.

I sometimes feel bad for people who have no “home.” No place to say they are “from.” Maybe they moved a lot, or maybe their family no longer lives where they grew up.   There are likely many reasons.   But to not be from somewhere… To not have that place to long for… it must be difficult.

Scripture says a number of things about “home.”   One of them of course is the cold shoulder given to Jesus by those from Nazareth:Mark 6: 1Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

The truth is, if someone has known us for a long time, it’s hard for them to see us as something other than what they remember of us. And some think that those who have success are getting too big for their britches.   There seems to be some of these things in Jesus’ encounter with his former “neighbors.”

Even given what I have already said about longing for home… well… for Christians, our home is not in this world. I know it may feel like it is but scripture indicates otherwise.

1 Peter 2:11-12The Message (MSG)

11-12 Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

I fear that too many of us who call ourselves Christians have embraced the World and the values and morals of the World.   We look like the World, we talk like the World we think like the World… we think the world is our home. In my denomination (the Presbyterian Church USA), we have embraced the idea that if we take on the persona of the World then those outside the Church will like us and want to be a part of us. That is the height of deception and wickedness.   Scripture seems to speak very clearly about this:

Jesus praying for his disciples said this…   John 17: 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

And Paul similarly said this:

Romans 12: 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The more we look like the world the less we look like Jesus. How hard can that be to understand?! And yet we continue to swirl downward into the malaise of the flesh. No doubt this is all about our desire to hold onto our old self… our sinful nature… our “old persona.” And yet we don’t see it. There is a reason that Satan is called the great deceiver.

This World is not your home… well, at least if you call Jesus your Lord it’s not.

If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck…   If we or the Church look like the world, sound like the world… well you get it right?

Blessings,

Bill Little

Appliance safety

July 7, 2014

Ruminations

Last week I saw an article on the internet entitled “6 things to never put in your dishwasher.” The list included “crystal, wooden spoons, gold plated anything, etc.” It occurred to me that there are likely many things that one should never put in a dishwasher so I decided to make my own list. Soooooooooooooo here it is:

10 Things you should never put in the dishwasher

Your prom or wedding dress

Your great grandfathers gold pocket watch

Cakes and cookies

Your pancreas

Ice cream

Favorite family photos

Babies

Road kill

Books

Used kitty litter

No doubt there are one or two other items that might come to mind. Please feel free to send them to me. Maybe, just maybe I’ll include them in my next “ruminations.”

You get it right? I’m just having fun… Right? Well the truth is not everybody gets it all the time.

Years ago Ellen and I and our kids attended a minister’s family conference each summer. It was really formative in the life of my family in a very, very positive way. Each year one night would be devoted to skits and “entertainment” by pastors, their spouses and children. It was an evening of great fun and laughter. On occasion I took part in a skit. I can honestly say they were some of the most wonderful nights of my life.   One year I was part of a conversation that took place the next day in a small group. One older (shall I say “sour-puss” pastor) was asked (not by me) what he thought of the skits. His reply, “There is no place for frivolity in the Christian faith.” Well that brought an end to the conversation!   Seriously, “no place for frivolity?!?!”   I remember thinking “Oh boy… I want him for my pastor…. NOT!”

I have never understood why some Christians live their lives as if they had just lost their best friend, or were recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. I don’t want to make light of those situations since they are real and painful BUT no one lives their entire lives with those circumstances! Is it possible to know Jesus and not know or express joy? I could be wrong but…. I DON’T THINK SO. It is called the “Good” News after all.

There is a great story of a young boy asking an older grumpy man in his church if he was happy. The older man replied in a gruff, stern voice, “Yes I’m happy.” The boy responded, “Well, maybe you should tell your face.” I have known many “Christians” over the years who needed to have a serious conversation with their face.

Don’t get me wrong… we all go through difficulties in our lives that cause us to be down, depressed, dejected or sad. But if we choose to live our lives in that state (and for most it is a choice) then there are serious faith issues that need to be addressed.

I don’t know if Jesus ever told a joke. And honestly I have no idea what humor even looked or sounded like in first century Israel. I do know this however… Jesus was fully human and fully divine, so his human “part”… well, it sort of had to laugh, don’t you think? I mean even with the pressure of redeeming all of creation on His shoulders it’s hard for me to think that he never laughed or chuckled.   And joy? If we are commanded to have joy… it’s only because Jesus had it in abundance! Look in Galatians 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness….

If you are a believer, then the Holy Spirit dwells within you. And if the Holy Spirit dwells within you then you must exhibit evidence of fruit of the Spirit… one of them being “joy.” Or maybe another way of looking at it. Want to know if you have the Holy Spirit in you? You will have the fruit of the Spirit.

Seriously… grumpy, nasty, always dejected, sad, gloomy, miserable people… Can they really know Jesus? Not the Jesus I know.

A few verses to consider:

Psalm 68:3 But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.

Psalm 43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Psalm 126:3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

There are many, many more verses that deal with “joy.”

So, what to do, what to do?   I know this. We cannot make or force people to be happy. I have known too many well intentioned folks who have exhausted themselves trying to make someone happy who chose to live in misery. It just doesn’t work. If you are trying to make someone happy… please hear me… it doesn’t work!   You can’t do it! Here’s a thought for those struggling to find joy and happiness. Read through the four gospels. Familiarize yourself with Jesus. Focus on what has been done for you by the Son of God. If you still choose misery, then there are deep issues that you need to address… probably with a professional. But for most of us, I think joy comes hand in hand with knowing Jesus.

P.S. I want to make it clear… I am not trying to oversimplify all of this. But I think for the vast majority of us (not everybody), joy is within reach.

So, send me your list of things to not put in the dishwasher. J

Blessings,

Bill Little

Fear

July 1, 2014

Ruminations

FEAR

I want to tell you about the bravest thing I ever saw a kid do. I’m sure it’s not the bravest thing ever, but it’s the best I have seen with my own two eyes.   I have to warn you that this is about my children so if you have a hard time with “braggy parents” then you may want to skip this rumination. I do need to say that I’m not really trying to be “braggy.” Frankly I’m a little in awe. Well, here’s the story:

Years ago Ellen and I and our three youngest children were at some friends’ house for a picnic. I’m not sure of my kid’s ages at that time but it was probably Alissa 5, Ben 8, Rebekah 10…. Or somewhere around there. The adults were around the back of the house and the kids were in the front across the street at a playground. Suddenly Rebekah came running around the corner of the house yelling and crying “Bees, bees!” She had been stung several times on her stomach. I ran (I could actually run back then… sort of) around to the front of the house only to my horror to see that a swarm/cloud of bees had descended onto the playground…. And Ben and Alissa were in the middle of it.

Honestly my initial reaction was “I’m not going into that,” but that thought vanished pretty quickly. I ran into the swarm and found that Alissa was “frozen” in place because a bee had crawled down into one of her sneakers between the tongue of the shoe and her foot. She was afraid to move. Ben had been stung several times but – are you ready for it? He wouldn’t leave her. When I arrived on the scene with bees totally surrounding us… flying everywhere… he was standing beside her very calmly saying to her, “It’s okay, it’s okay…”   I smashed the bee in her shoe, scooped her up and we ran for it. To this day Alissa has an inordinate fear of bees. I’m not sure if it stems back to that day. I don’t know where Ben got the courage but I have never forgotten what he did.   I doubt I ever will.

I once heard a pastor say “If fear were not a factor in your life what could you do for the kingdom?” Very quickly that made me aware of how much my life is controlled by fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear for the safety of my kids and Ellen, fear for the direction of our culture and society… just fear.

I know someone is going to say something like:   “You’re a Christian… you’re not supposed to be afraid.” Notice I never said I am endorsing fear, or that I want to have fear. It’s part of my old nature to go it alone and not trust in God in some things.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Joshua 1. Joshua was about to take on a frightening leadership role (replacing Moses) and his first assignment was to lead the Israelites into war. If there was ever a place for fear… this is it.

Joshua 1    

Joshua Installed as Leader

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Notice God says on three separate occasions to “be strong and courageous.” Is that a carte-blanch statement… that we should always just be “strong and courageous” and not have fear? I think not.   Notice the context… as long as we are in Gods will and following his “law,” i.e., “Word” then we have cause to think that God will walk with us… and that there is no reason for fear.   (Please don’t take this to mean that things will ALWAYS go as we want). Are there times when we should fear? Yes, when we chose to walk outside of God’s Word and His Will. The Bible is filled with stories of those who opposed God and got their just dues. If they weren’t… they should have been afraid!

The truth is this… there is likely not one person reading this who does not have times of fear. Dealing with fear along with its close cousin “worry” can be very difficult. I can only say this.   Walk with God, walk in His Will and obey His Word. It will be okay, it will be okay, it will be okay…

Blessings,

Bill Little