Kites

Please be advised that I have taken the advice of some of you and Ellen and I have developed a blog for ruminations. I hope you don’t mind but I am going to take the opportunity to put your email address on the blog site so that you begin to receive it that way. I would greatly appreciate your willingness to pass along the blog site to friends who might want to read some of the thoughts I produce on occasion. You can access the blog by first going to “google.com”. Then in the search engine type “ruminations392”. If you want to sign up immediately… when the page comes up you can go to the bottom right corner with your cursor and it will allow you to enter your email address so that you sign up to receive the blog each time an addition is made. I should also add that it allows you to “unsubscribe” if you so desire. J Thanks for your support.

August 27, 2014

When I was a kid my mother had a huge spool of string. The spool probably stood 10 inches high and if one were to look down from the top it must have been 8 inches in diameter. The point being… IT WAS A LOT OF STRING! I can’t possibly guess how much but it literally had to be miles long. On a number of occasions she allowed me to use it for kite flying. Remember doing that as a kid? I recall when gas stations gave kites away with a fill up. They were always giving something away: fly swatters, plates, cups and anything else that might attract folks to buy gas. That was one source for kites. The others were local stores that sold cheap paper or plastic kites for 25 cents. I knew people who made their own but I never had the patience for that sort of thing. Or the inclination… Or the ability… Or the supplies…

I can recall rummaging through the house looking for some old piece of cloth or a nasty old sheet to tear into strips to make a “tail”. It was impossible to fly a kite without something to hold it down and steady. A few pieces of balsa wood strategically placed; a string across the back to bend the kite to make it aerodynamic (like I knew anything about aerodynamics as a kid!); a string on the front to attach to; the aforementioned giant spool and it was off to the hills. I can recall standing and flying a kite for seeming hours at a time. Keep in mind that flying a kite really meant just… well… watching it float in the air. There were none of these fancy acrobatic dive bomber kites of today. It was really a lot of standing around. I would let the kite out so far that it was a dot on the horizon as it struggled to stay afloat with all the string straining to pull it down.

Do you know when I last saw a kid fly a kite? Me neither. At the beach maybe… but honestly it was mostly adults. It’s hard to fly a kite from inside your living room with the TV on. Or while busy killing someone on a video game. I suppose one could fly a kite while texting. Yeah that would work. But it seems like it might remove… well… some of the serenity. I suspect “serenity” might be another name for “boring” these days.

There is an inclination to be critical of my children’s generation and the one before theirs. To pass judgment on them for spending their lives in front of an electronic screen. Of course I didn’t have to buy them video games. Nor did I have to buy the screen. Or the computer. Or the phone. Or the… I guess I am somewhat culpable myself for their plight. But I also know that my father’s generation was/is critical of my era. The things we didn’t do or didn’t know because we were so much more blessed than those who came before us. I remember him telling me about the cannon that he and his brother owned. Their father (my grandfather) was a machinist and he built it for them. They would stuff it full of paper and rocks and anything else they could hammer down the muzzle, a little gunpowder, a little spark and KABOOM! How awesome would that be!!! Way better than pretending in front of a TV screen.

No question… there is a desire on the part of many of us to “return” to a different, presumably “better,” time. We find ourselves doing a lot of “backward” thinking. At least I know I do! And certainly there is nothing wrong with reminiscing. However if we are living in the past… or even living in the future… then we are possibly doing little for the Kingdom. I heard a marvelous speaker recently imploring his listeners to remember that “life is short.” Not to be depressing, but to remind us that life goes so quickly. If we are going to do something… DO IT NOW!

Each year I tell the parents of our preschoolers here at the church, “Don’t make the mistake I have made for too many years. Don’t tell yourself that there will be time to do ______ with your children. NO THERE WON’T! Before you know it they will be graduating from High School. And not long after that they will be on their own. Whatever it is, if it is within the realm of possibility… DO IT NOW.

I do not ask this question lightly… of you or of myself – what are you doing for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Not, “What are you doing for yourself or for those you love?” What are you doing that will make a difference in the Kingdom? What is your ministry? What do you do in the Name of Jesus Christ? What identifies you as a “Christ-One,” i.e., “Christian?” If you answer, “Going to church and putting money in the offering plate”… wrong answer. Please take a moment to read the words of Jesus below and ask yourself these questions: “Was Jesus serious about this? Or does this not really apply to me?”

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Can you ignore this?

Blessings

Caving in

June 16, 2014

Last week I told you a story that was relayed to me by one of my professors in Seminary. Today I would like to tell you a very different story from another professor. What makes this story interesting to me is the fact that this teacher was generally not very demonstrative. He was brilliant, but rarely showed much passion. Basically he told us that he had been raised in a fairly conservative and traditional Christian home. At some point in his mid 20’s he left his roots and embraced theological liberalism. He taught at a small liberal college in Ohio for 20 years until he had an epiphany and returned to his conservative Christian origins. He was eventually hired to teach at the conservative seminary that I attended. Here is what he said to us, “Don’t do what I did! Don’t cave in! Don’t cave in to the pressures and the values of the World! Don’t cave in!”

The pressure for Christians to “cave in” to the values and principles of this world is immense and never ending. Just when “The Church” needs to be a prophetic voice in a spiraling world we have chosen to be weak little lambs led to the slaughter. And don’t mistake this “lamb” for the Lion of Judah! When the values and morals of the church begin to reflect the world, we are in serious trouble. Can anyone deny that this is happening in our age and in our country? Seriously? No doubt some see this as progress. I am not one of them.

If you were to read the letters of Paul you would find warning after warning against false teachers. Teachers that posed as Christians but who in fact lead Christians astray; teachers that encouraged taking on a form of the faith that would lead many to spiritual bondage. Here are a few samples from the N.T.

2 Peter 2

False Teachers and Their Destruction

2 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Matthew 7:

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Galatians 5:7-12

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

This is only a small sampling… there are many, many more verses like these. Do you think Paul was a little upset in the last verses to the Galatians?!?!

These kind of teachers have not gone away. They romp about in the form of ministers and TV evangelists. They teach many things including the need to encourage the world’s values so that those outside the church will know that we love them and accept them, while they themselves are spiritually lost. Or they teach that health and wealth are within our reach if we can only conjure up enough faith…. Oh yeah, and support their ministries.

Is there a problem with telling folks the truth of the Gospel and the truth regarding living lives pleasing to God, while at the same time loving them and being kind and gracious? Well yes, there is a problem with that. We now live in a world where insinuating that someone might be wrong about their life choices is intolerant, vile and basically unacceptable. Some even call it “hate speech.”

So, how do I know, or more importantly, how do you know that I am not one of those false teachers. The first thing I would say is this: I am not so arrogant as to think that everything I believe and teach is correct. That being said, the test for “truth” in the Christian faith is to be measured against scripture. And I know that we do not always agree on that, however it is the place to begin. Not with what the world teaches. Not with opinion polls. Not with what our heart or conscience tells us. Not with our traditions. Not with what WE WANT. But with Scripture! If you do not know what the Bible says about your perspectives… well… then you are either not a Christian because you don’t care to know what God says, or you need to get your face in THE BOOK. Stop being manipulated by the World and its false teachers. Whatever I or anyone else who claims to teach about the faith says, it needs to be consistent with the whole of Scripture. There is no compromising on that.

DO NOT CAVE IN!!

Marriage

June 9, 2014

I don’t know how many weddings I have done over the years… my share I guess. I only have a couple of “stories” that I tell during those ceremonies that are addressed to the bride and groom, however I always encourage others to listen in. This is one of the stories.

Many moons ago a seminary professor told us this in class.

He recounted the fact that he had grown up in a rural section of Maine. It was during the time in some places in our country when young married couples moved in with one of their sets of parents because there just wasn’t enough money to afford a place of their own. As children came along they simply added new rooms onto the house. Sometimes this created some rather odd designs! In his case it required him to walk through his grandparents’ room to get to and from his own room. Since it was all he had ever known it didn’t seem strange to him.

He must have been around 6 or 7 when this incident occurred. His grandfather had a respiratory illness that required him to sleep sitting up lest his lungs fill with fluid. His wife sat behind him in bed against a pillow with her arms around her husband all night to hold him up. My professor said it was not unusual for him to walk through their room and see them sleeping… her behind him, he in front.

One morning he walked through the room and his grandmother was awake holding her husband up. She looked at her grandson and simply said, “Your grandfather passed away this morning.” My professor with tears pouring down his face choked out these words, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be! That’s the way it’s supposed to be!”

I then go on to tell the Bride and Groom that my hope and prayer for them is that many years in the future it will be said of them “they did it the way it is supposed to be done!”

Let me say right now that the purpose of this note is not to make folks feel worse than they already do about failed relationships. There are many, many reasons why marriages do not work. (And in some cases the Bible approves divorce.) That being said, I do believe that God has a plan for how men and women are to relate to one another and things don’t always go well outside of that design. For example I believe “living together” outside of the bond of marriage is not “the plan.” I believe having sex from one partner to the next is not part of the plan. Abuse (physical or emotional) in a relationship is not part of the plan.

There is something about all of this that confuses me however. Many folks would agree with what I have just written (or at least parts of it)… even folks who continue to do the very things that have been mentioned. And yet, we do them anyway; openly, freely, and unrepentantly. I could be wrong but I think the message is something like this: “God, I know what you want but I WILL NOT DO IT! I WILL PLEASE MYSELF FIRST.”

In the end that’s really the problem isn’t it? We simply have this lust to please ourselves at the expense of so many other things. I know it is a symptom of our brokenness and separation from God. I just don’t understand the unwillingness to admit to our sin. Mostly what we do is “justify” our behavior or change our belief system to accommodate our conduct… or ignore it and hope it goes away. Does anyone see a problem with that? Maybe its “old fashioned,” but I do.

Please don’t get me wrong… I am the least of all Christians to speak about these things… but I do believe there is a place for repentance in our lives. A BIG place.

I don’t think it is coincidence that before Jesus even showed up on the scene, John the Baptist had one message for the people of Israel…. REPENT.

Mark 1

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

I don’t think that message has gone out of vogue.

Not one person reading this is without sin… not one. It doesn’t have to be sexual sin. It can be the sin of not caring for the poor or the elderly. It can be the sin of substance abuse or pornography. It can be the sin of racism. It can be the sin of pride. It can be the sin of unjustified anger and lack of forgiveness. There are many to choose from. When was the last time you went before God with a sincere and broken heart because of your rebellion against Him? Seriously… when was it???

Well, back to marriage. For those who for one reason or another have been a part of a failed marriage… I’m so sorry. I know it is not what you wanted when you stood before the person you married on your wedding day and expressed your lifelong love. But for those who have been fortunate enough to endure God’s plan… Joy inexpressible.

Family manifesto

June 3, 2014

You know, we are surrounded by metaphors for life and in particular for our spiritual lives. Let me explain.

In the ‘Little’ Family Manifesto, in Chapter 15 (automobiles), section 8 paragraph 12 it says this: “When one of the ‘Little’ children travel out of state and they have an unreliable car… said junky, garbage, scrap car is given to dad to use while dad’s reliable vehicle goes to said traveler.” Well it says something like that… So my son David has been in North Carolina working for most of the month of May. Before he departed it was discovered that the manual shifter in his car was not working properly. Specifically he has a 5 speed but only 2nd and 4th work. (Well and reverse.) But it’s not as bad as it might sound… thus the metaphor.

For those of you not familiar with manual transmissions this might get lost on you but… You would be surprised how efficiently one can drive with only 2nd and 4th gear. Today I drove to Mercy Hospital (45 minutes through parts of the city) and back with no problem. You can easily start in 2nd gear and unless you want to go 75 mph on the interstate… 4th gear works pretty well. The only time it becomes a problem is when one encounters a hill. Here comes the metaphor. Think about how many of us cruise through life from one day to the next with little concern for difficulties. Whoever we are and whatever we are tends to get us through most of the circumstances of our lives. It’s not like we are all perfect specimens however. Everyone one of us is going through life missing gears. We have all sorts of issues, foibles, inadequacies, brokenness… but we still manage to move along. Well… at least until we come to a hill. Know what I mean? All of a sudden something gets put in front of us that we don’t have the wear-with-all to overcome. Our weaknesses and brokenness comes to the fore front. All of a sudden 2nd and 4th gears are inadequate.

Now this metaphor can be taken a long way. I mean I could say something like: the gears don’t work until someone comes along and helps us get started… But I would really like to apply it to our spiritual lives. How many people do you know (or maybe it’s you) who have cruised along in their “Christian” lives until they hit the hill. You know, the folks who say all is well; they are followers of Jesus; call Him Lord; put Him at the forefront of their lives; attend church occasionally and the list goes on. All seems to be great between them and God. Well at least until the hill. Someone gets sick, someone dies, someone loses a job… all of a sudden the spiritual gears are not there to continue forward. I, and maybe you, have known too many people who have abandoned their professed faith because of “hills.” They adopt an angry unforgiving attitude toward God and sometimes the Church. They lash out at anyone who represents Christian faith. I want to be as sensitive as I can be toward those who are in pain… but I do wonder what was going on in their spiritual lives when all was well?

By the way… did you know that It’s okay to “lash out at God?” There are many examples of that occurring in the Psalms. Look at the first few verses of Psalm 74.

Psalm 74

1 O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? 2 Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed— Mount Zion, where you dwelt. 3 Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.

4 Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. 5 They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. 6 They smashed all the carved paneling with their axes and hatchets. 7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. 8 They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.

9 We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. 10 How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? 11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

This Psalm represents a group of people asking some amazingly direct question of God… primarily “God where are you!” “God, bad things are happening here… where are you!” The problem here is not found in asking God questions. The problem is found when we question God i.e. “God, I don’t think you know what you are doing so I no longer trust you.”

Philip Yancey one of my favorite authors says this: “Develop faith during the good times that will carry us through the bad times.” If we wait until the hills of life are before us to check our gears… we might become one of the scores of people over the centuries who have abandoned their beliefs. Here’s to hoping and praying it’s not you or me.

Mystery

May 28, 2014

Many cultures around the world have traditions regarding mischievous, imaginary creatures that cause havoc. Some call them gremlins or elves, leprechauns, pixies, brownies, and in Hawaii, they call them Menehunes. They tend to be blamed for all of the strange mysterious events that surround us. I have some that live in my house. Ellen occasionally has to clear out our plastic container cupboard because the lids and the bottoms cease to match. I can only make sense of this profound mystery by assuming that a gremlin lives in our house that eats the bottoms or the tops of our containers. Why he (she?) never eats the bottom AND the top of the same container is beyond me! I don’t think the plastic consuming gremlin is the same as the sock eating gremlin that lives in our dryer downstairs… but I can’t be sure. Many years ago when I was in the service in Hawaii I had a REALLY cool pair of two tone shoes with platform soles… I know, I know… not so cool now. Anyway, I really liked them. And then one day they just disappeared! There was no explanation. I wasn’t married yet so I couldn’t blame Ellen. But now I know! Somewhere in Hawaii is a hippie Menehune with an awesome pair of shoes!

Well the notion of mystery is certainly a part of the Christian faith. There are many unanswerable questions, or questions that have unsatisfactory answers. You know… things like, “Where did God come from?” or Genesis 4: 17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[g] bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

Wait, wait wait… where did the wives come from? And there are dozens and dozens of other examples of mysteries in the Bible and in the faith.

I taught at a prep school north of Boston, MA many years ago. The school still had a religion department and required that the students take some religion course during their time there. Very few of the kids were Christian so they spent most of their time trying to “embarrass” me by asking question that had no good answer. Finally I began to ask them about the things they believed. Usually it went something like this, “So, what do you believe then?” “Well, I believe that at some point many billions of years ago the entire universe was the size and weight of a very dense soft ball and a huge explosion occurred. That explosion created all of the stars and planets in the Universe. Then evolution took over and…” Then I would ask: “So, where did the softball come from?” Well of course their answer had to be “I don’t know it just always was.” I would then explain (without being smug I hope) that no matter what we say we believe there are areas of mystery. We cannot avoid it and we cannot explain it all away. So, should we in the Christian faith “fear” mystery? Of course not! Our own theology ought to inform us that God is so vast and so complicated that there simply have to be areas that we cannot and will not understand or be able to explain. So, what to do, what to do?

Well it makes sense to me that we simplify things when they get too complicated. If someone asks what a transmission on a car is, I would not begin by telling them about how all the gears mesh together or what a torque converter is. It might be simpler to begin with “the transmission ‘transmits’ power from the engine to the wheels.” If further explanation is necessary it might take place in baby steps. I think the same is true of the faith. It might be simpler to begin with “Jesus said he was God… what do you think of that?”

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.”

John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

It helps to “demystify” mysteries when we can talk about things that we can grasp to some degree. Discussing eternity and the things of eternity can be very frustrating and unfruitful. Begin with the things you know… your own story. Talk about what Jesus means to you and how your relationship with Him has changed your life. Because when we talk about Jesus, we talk about God.

1 Peter 3:15 says: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Moral decline

May 21, 2014

Okay, if it’s true that we are what we eat, then some of you today are big bowls of oatmeal. Some of you are bran cereal. Some of you are eggs and breakfast meat. Some of you are toast. Guess what I am? I’m white pizza with black olives and lots of garlic! That’s right… no sissy breakfast for me. Today’s gonna be a GOOD DAY!!!

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Well… maybe on to something with a little more substance. I have a question; what is the responsibility of The Church in our country toward being a prophetic voice? Do you know what I mean? What is the role of The Church in interacting with the culture and the society to say what is “true and right” about various subjects? Ah! Some of you will say… but we don’t know what is true since the Church is divided on so many issues. No doubt The Church has always struggled with division. But if we acquiesce to the notion that we no long have any truth to proclaim, then we are indeed irrelevant. Right? Or if we come to the place where we say that The Church is allowed to have opinions but they should not be proclaimed publically… then we have been fully indoctrinated into the deception of the world.

But let me suggest at the very least that we in the church are indeed allowed to embrace the “truth” as we understand it and last time I checked it was not against the law (most of the time) to express those truths. For example the most simple “truth,” John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Many of us will agree with that truth, but when it comes time to proclaim it or defend it, we become as meek as little lambs.

In the Presbyterian form of Government we have several levels of authority. Above the local churches is the Presbytery which meets several times a year. There used to be a very outspoken pastor at those meetings who would make his opinion known on almost every subject. He was bold, and forthright and frankly a little obnoxious. If you opposed a particular issue you hoped he spoke in favor of it! Why? Because he had used up any ounce of credibility he ever had! If he spoke against something, it moved people closer to being in favor of it. If you are a “Christian” or a “church goer” but are unable or unwilling to take a stand for Jesus, please don’t let people know who you think you are. You only discredit the Faith. Whoa! Am I allowed to say that?!?! JUST DID.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying be obnoxious or unwise regarding how we present ourselves in the world. But if our answer to the moral malaise of the day is, “Well, everybody has an opinion”… Uh sure they do, but not every opinion is “right” or “true.” But again, we have bought into the worlds perspective on this, i.e., no one has the right to tell someone else they might be wrong. Really? If you call yourself a Christian you might want to check your Bible on that. I’m not helping you this time.

Do we need to proclaim truth kindly? Yes. Do we need to proclaim truth lovingly? Yes. Do we need to proclaim truth with mercy? Yes. Do we need to proclaim truth? YES!

I read an interesting quote this past week… I wonder what you think of it?

“The world’s great civilizations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back again into bondage.”

Alexander Tyler (ca.1770)

It’s unclear if Alexander Tyler is in fact the author of this quote but never the less, what thinkest thou? If it’s true, where do you see the USA in this process?

We in the faith have little responsibility to save societies… just to proclaim truth. What does The Church have to say about moral decline in our culture?

Pencils

May 14, 2014

Okay, so apparently I’m struggling with a little… uh… “writers apprehension.” No, not “writers block…” there are plenty of thoughts (wholesome and otherwise) in the old noggin… I just don’t feel like writing them down… know what I mean? I can’t figure out why there are times when I do not and will not do what I know is best for me. I find that writing these little ditties every week is therapeutic and yet… Sort of like exercise or eating right… both of them make me feel better but…

Every month I go to the local nursing home and do a little church service. Lynn Jamison accompanies me and plays the piano and generally talks to the folks who attend that I’m not so good at communicating with. Anyway below is basically what I shared with them today.

I began by telling them a story from my Jr. High days. One of my best friends and I were “fastballing” a pencil at each other across the woodshop class. It was Jr. High… we didn’t think about what might happen. Plus, fun trumps responsibility and maturity. Anyway on one occasion I fired the pencil at my friend and a “non-friend” strolled in the way… bulls eye! I hit him right in the side of his fat head! Did I mention he was a “non-friend?” I can picture him now running to the shop teacher with the pencil dangling from his skull: “Bill Little and _________ were throwing a pencil and they hit me.” (See why he was a “non-friend”?) Well the shop teacher had few options. He told us our fate and began to search for his paddle. Yes, this was back in that day. After turning the shop upside down to no avail he disappeared into the scrap room and returned hence forth with a four foot long piece of 1×4 inch lumber. He went to the band saw and expertly cut a handle. Then it was off to the sander to take off all the rough edges. I can’t tell you it was very pleasant standing there watching the construction of the instrument of my demise. It wasn’t much longer before we were out in the hallway receiving the obligatory 3 swats. I have heard from other folks of my generation and it seems that different schools had varying customs… the routine at Pine-Richland in that day was 3 whacks. Did it hurt? YES! Was it a deterrent? That’s a more difficult question. Did I like getting paddled? Nope, not on any of the dozen or so occasions that I got the lumber did I think it was worth whatever I had done. But when one is immature… well deterrents are complicated. I think deterrents require some sort of mature/rational thought… neither of those are strong suites for Jr. High boys.

Well I hope I’m a little more mature these days… however if my “non friend” was walking past I might still want to bury a pencil in his cranium… whoops, did I just say that?

Here’s the question I then asked of the seniors at the nursing home… How do we gauge maturity in the faith? No doubt we have all sorts of thoughts and traditions that are used to answer that question… i.e. how often do you attend church, do you attend a regular Bible study, do you read your Bible every day, do you pray regularly, have you been a church goer for a long time, do you speak often of your faith to others, are you “born again”, do you speak against anything and everything that doesn’t fit into your perception of the faith… I’m sure this list could go on and on.   Well here’s what I said to the folks today.

First I read to them from Psalm 13:

Psalm 13

A psalm of David.

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Then I told them that this is a lament Psalm… one of the almost 2/5 of the Psalms in the Psalter. We then looked briefly at the first 4 verses. Notice that the author is going through something difficult in their lives and they wonder where God is?!?! They are so down they are at the point of death… And still… no God. They challenge God and get right in His face… 3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

And then the weirdest thing happens. Even in the midst of their devastation and inability to see or sense God… they say this:

5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Friends, that doesn’t make any sense… at least to the world it doesn’t. When we are in the midst of deep distress… we don’t know where God is… and we begin to wonder if He will ever make Himself evident… in that place we say that we will trust in his love and sing praises to Him because He has been good…

The short of it is this… that is Christian maturity: The ability to worship God and call him Lord when we can’t see or feel Him or make any sense out of what He has done. This is not the place we begin when we are hoping to introduce folks to our God… but it is the place that we as believers need to grow into. Here’s hoping and praying that we all move in that direction.

Throwing

May 12, 2014

When I was a kid my cousin Glenn and I did about everything you could do with a baseball, glove and bat… which with only two people is somewhat… shall I say… limited. We played “rundown” when there was a third person, “home run derby”, “pitch and hit”, and your basic “pitch and catch.”

Baseball helped to teach me about many things. For example I didn’t know that storm windows had two panes until a ball pitched by me and hit by Glenn gracefully arched through the bathroom window in our house. My dad was… shall I say… not pleased. (I recall not being pleased myself on one occasion when Ben threw a rock at David from INSIDE OUR HOUSE and it landed in our front yard after passing through our front window.) On another occasion Glenn and I were playing “pitch and catch” on the street in front of Glenn’s house. Each time one of us missed the ball (usually me) we had to chase it WAY down the street. Sooooooo we two geniuses figured that if we played ACROSS the street then missed balls would only go as far as the yard in front of each house. It seems to me that it was the first pitch that Glenn threw that skipped under my glove bounced off of the lawn behind me and gently nestled into the living room of the house being used as a backstop. Oh I should say it went through the picture window first. I guess baseballs and windows are or were a part of growing up in America. Maybe “were” because now boys break windows on their television screens with a reset button. Not nearly as much fun! And there is little awareness of the brokenness of the brokenness. Do you know what I mean? When a baseball goes through a window… well the glass is irreparably broken… no glue will EVER make that window look right again. Windows shatter! They sliver! They break… again… irreparably. It would have taken a miracle to put the aforementioned picture window back together again! That brings me to my thought for today.

John Calvin defined original sin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion as follows:

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it – such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings – he accordingly calls “fruits of sin” (Gal 5:19–21), although they are also commonly called “sins” in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.[51]

Reading

April 28, 2014

A word of clarification

I have a dear friend who reads, and encourages me regarding these ruminations. Occasionally he points out things I say that may need a little clarification. (You know who you are C.F.) Last week when I wrote about the abortion issue he asked me if I was trying to “persuade or enrage.” If it was the first I failed and if it was the second I likely succeeded. Well truth be told it was not intended to be either. I don’t think many adults can be persuaded about this one way or the other… and there is certainly enough rage to go around on both sides. I was really trying to get the number 60 million abortions out there. I mean it seems that no matter what side of this issue you are on… “60 million abortions” should be horrifying!

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On a lighter note

I don’t know if there is a “reading gene”. If there is, Ellen (my wife) got it and passed it along to our daughter Rebekah and to varying degrees to the rest of our kids. It seems that men are less inclined to get this particular gene. I like to read but I am not anywhere close to the reading maniac my wife is! She probably consumes 2-3 books a week and while on vacation she can go through more than a book a day. I can read a book a day but they have to have super heroes and lots of pictures.

I didn’t really grow up in a reading family. I have no recollection of my parents ever reading a book. Nor were there books in our home. I don’t have any memory of being encouraged to read. The only thing I can remember even remotely related is a very large Mother Goose book that my grandmother read from when I slept at her house.

Sometime around 7th grade I began to read sports and auto racing books designed for kids my age. I don’t know why. But I ended up going through every book our school library had on those subjects. And of course the aforementioned super hero “books.” In 9th grade I moved to a street where almost all of the kids who became my friends were readers. We would pass around the in vogue books and informally discuss them. The Godfather, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were favorites. Slowly I developed an interest in books but it took some time. Like I said, I think for men reading is often like swimming upstream… it takes work and doesn’t come naturally.

Since High School I have read a couple of books. Well okay more than a couple. Not the thousands that Ellen has consumed however. I find it interesting that my tastes have changed. It’s been a while since I have read a Jr. High sports or auto racing book. J A few years ago my kids got me the first year or two of The Fantastic Four from the early 1960’s.  I read it out of obligation since it was a gift… okay, okay… I admit I enjoyed it! I do however like: history, fantasy (like The Lord of the Rings), and mindless schlock like westerns. I do read “religious books” but not always. Can’t stand mysteries and Sci Fi.

All of that to say this: I will be preaching a series this Summer through the Psalms. (Not all of them of course!) I’m not sure why but it seems that appreciation for the Psalms often comes late to Christians. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that admiration for poetry may come later to us as well… if it ever comes? Or it could be that many of the Psalms feature the author crying out to God because of dreadful things that have occurred in their lives. Maybe it takes a collection of ghastly things over the course of a lifetime to cause us to bear our souls to God? Again, I don’t really know.

But I do know this… we may respond more positively to the Psalms if we know the issues they are addressing. Did you know that there are basically 5 different types of Psalms? And those 5 can be broken down into a few subcategories. Go to one of the websites listed below for a breakdown of various types of Psalms. There are many other websites as well.

http://www.usefulcharts.com/religion/types-of-psalms.html

or

http://www.cresourcei.org/psalmtypes.html

I’ll take a little bit of time next week to unpack these categories a bit. Begin your own study… I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Below is a “Lament Psalm”. Something awful has occurred in the life of the writer and they are crying out to God… wondering where He is… Ever been there???

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Values

April 21, 2014

Spoiler alert… some of you will be offended by this.

When I was a kid… maybe the same is true for you… I had a number of short term friends come in and out of my life. When I was 7, “Dickie” moved into my neighborhood. He was in 4th grade and swore like a sailor. That was at a time when I was sure that kids who swore were destined for hell. But Dickie held a certain attraction for me because of his rebellious nature. I do recall going home once and saying a few choice words to my mom that Dickie had taught me. How shall I say… it didn’t go over well. And then around 6th grade I met Rickie. I know, I know but I’m not making this up. Rickie was also a rebellious sort. He didn’t have a father and his mother was a wild, leather jacket wearing, race car driving woman from the 50’s. There weren’t’ many of those around back then. Rickie was the kind of kid who would have gotten me into serious trouble if we had been friends for too long. He lived near the railroad tracks and I went with him on a few occasions to shoot at new automobiles with his BB gun as they passed on the train. Honestly, it never occurred to me at that time that we were doing something really… I don’t know… malicious, damaging and expensive! I KNOW!!! How could that be? How could I be so… um… naive? How could malevolent destruction not have crossed my mind? When I told Ellen this story she shook her head and said something like, “How could you not have known?!” Well, surely not to make excuses but… I was a kid. Sometimes kids don’t think past the “fun” they are having. Actually “fun” sort of trumps “destruction.” I try to remind myself of that when I deal with kids today.

Truth be told, I have had similar things happen as an adult. I have alleged certain things or taken on “clear” values only to look at them later in a different light and ask myself the question: How could I have believed that?! What was I thinking?!

Back in mid to late 1970’s I would have fallen under the category of “Pro Choice.” I mean it made sense to me that unwanted children shouldn’t be brought into the world. After all we were concerned back then about the population explosion on the planet and whether we would be able to feed everyone … not to mention the abuse that some unwanted children suffer. And of course I believed all the propaganda about Zygotes and fetuses not really being viable human beings. And do I need to even explain all the women’s organizations putting forth their doctrines regarding “women’s rights”?? Somehow in the midst of it all of I missed the very real fact that we were slaughtering babies. Read that again… we endorse the slaughter of babies in our country. The Denomination that I am a part of endorses the slaughter of babies… How could I have missed that? I guess the same way I missed the destruction of cars on a train… I don’t know… I just didn’t see it.

I for sure can’t speak for those who fall into the category of “Pro Choice” but I wonder how many of them back in the early 70’s when abortion became the law of the land… how many of them signed up for the destruction of 60 million babies (That’s where we are now).  I’m guessing that most of us weren’t thinking that far ahead. I mean the notion of helping women in crisis pregnancies was surely admirable, and still is, but I really don’t think the number 60 million came to anyone’s conscience.

Please don’t dismiss this by thinking that I am insensitive and just don’t care about people or women in VERY difficult circumstances. If you want to put me in that category you don’t know me at all.

I had a man come to me at a Presbytery meeting once who was very angry. We had just completed a heated “discussion” on the floor of the meeting and I had been one of those who took the Pro Life side. His irate comment to me was something about the insensitivity of bringing unwanted babies into the world. I did not choose at that time to have an awful confrontation with him. But my thought was this, “So we kill them instead?!” Do you hear that? We in the United States of America who pride ourselves in being one of the most civilized nations in history; “We kill them instead!!!!!”

Please do not misunderstand me. I know the answer to this issue is not easy… and I know there are horribly complicated circumstances… but… killing them?

I do not expect this rumination to change anyone’s mind about this issue. Most of us as adults have our minds made up about most of the things we believe and we don’t like being confused by facts. I think there’s something about admitting we might have been wrong about an issue for a long time that bothers us. Anyway, I would say this…. If you are going to comment on this rumination, or if you are going to even think about this note… you need to begin with this declaration: “I support the slaughter/sacrifice of 60 million babies because…” Or “I am opposed to the slaughter/sacrifice of 60 million babies because…” I think we have come to a point where we can no long ignore that number… nor can we ignore the little lives that go along with it.

Matthew 18

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!