Monday, August 31, 2015

Bad Day, Good Day

August 31, 2015

You'll know what kind of day it was when I say that I'm thankful to have filled the new tractor without spilling any fuel. Yeah, that was the best part of the day. We went to see Alex, but don't know any more about her condition than we did last week. As soon as her antibiotic wears off, her temperature spikes, so she's still in the hospital and we're here praying. When we got home, I figured I could use the time before men's group to open up the entry room doorway preparatory to installing a new front door. It's a good thing I did; the water that had been occasionally seeping in had rotted the backing for the siding and the trim boards. Needing to replace the door turned out to be a good thing. The fact that the opening isn't standard isn't. The door I bought has to go back and I'll need to special order one to fit. I can't lower the threshold because the door wouldn't clear the floor, and I can't raise the header without tearing out the entire inside wall covering. Not gonna happen. So, a new door it is.

It's replacing the tile that cracked that was the final straw. I have three tiles left, and need at least two to finish the floor by the door. It's going to be tight, and a bit ticklish to get the broken one out without damaging its neighbors. But I got the tractor filled without spilling any diesel!

If the worst things that ever happen in my life are a special order door and replacing a broken tile, I am a blessed man indeed. Alex will get better. We don't know any of the details, but we are trusting our God for her healing. All this other stuff pales by comparison to the well-being of those we love. Tonight when I arrived at men's group, a list of prayer requests was waiting on the table. It included prayer requests for people battling life-threatening illness, addictions, families torn apart by divorce, and such like. That's what really matters. I am grateful for the perspective these prayer lists give me, and for the privilege of being on the praying side of things. Doors and tile are nothing. It's the people who God, and to me.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Prayer in Spite of...

August 30, 2015

Worship this morning did what true worship always does: it aligned my thinking and heart with the greatness of God. From the music to the preaching, everything about the service funneled all my turbulent and scattered thoughts, feelings, and prayers into the wideness of God's mercy found in the narrow way of the Cross. The storm I've been navigating has been largely of my own making as I've watched helplessly while my granddaughter lies in a hospital bed, seemingly no closer to finding out what's wrong than we were a week ago. I say 'my own making' because her situation is what it is; it's my mental spin on it that is causing me trouble. Scripture commands me to bring every thought captive to Christ; I've let those thoughts run wild instead of rounding them up and ushering them into the corral of faith. Al's condition doesn't appear to be life-threatening, and is certainly at this point not on a par with what I've seen countless people endure, but I've not been ready until last night to fully release her into God's hands. Last night, I finally did so, and today I was able to actually join in worship in spirit as well as in body.

Pastor Joe was speaking today about sins...OUR sins. Christians are often susceptible to enumerating the sins of others while ignoring those of which we are guilty. St. Paul deals with this attitude quite effectively when he lists things like lust, adultery, theft and murder right alongside greed, pride, a critical spirit, and unbelief. What we call sins of the flesh are no more heinous in the sight of God than those we tend to excuse. Sin has an exceedingly fine edge, and whether great or small, severs the connection between God and ourselves. For me, I've had to confess the sins of unbelief and fear. Confession is good for the soul, and once I acknowledged the truth of what I was doing and repented of it, the way was clear for God to again reveal himself to me. I wish I had the confidence others have that God will do exactly as I ask, but I can't say that. I still pray for Alex without any sense of assurance about what God will do, but with a willingness to listen and trust, no matter what.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jacob Prevailed...And So Did I!

August 29, 2015

The past week has admittedly been quite a struggle for me as like Jacob, I've been wrestling with God. Our granddaughter has been quite ill, apparently with something she picked up while on her mission trip to Uganda. I've been praying for her, but admittedly without much confidence. I admire those who can simply take Scriptures and apply them to their circumstances with certainty, but most of the time I am not one of them. I can recite Scripture after Scripture that speaks of God's care for us, his good will towards us, his promised blessings, healings, etc., but I am also acutely aware that God's ways are not the same as mine, and that God's people are not assured of smooth sailing. His faithful ones have been persecuted and even martyred by the tens of thousands. Jesus even promised that if he suffered, his followers must also, for the servant is not greater than the master. All this means that while I pray for her healing, I by no means have assurance that it will be, which is very unsettling for me.

Yesterday an old friend sent me the lyrics to a song entitled "Sometimes He Calms the Storm; Sometimes He Calms the Child." This afternoon, I looked it up on YouTube, played it through, then clicked on a couple other songs dealing with the same theme. "Praise You in the Storm," and "Sometimes it Takes a Storm" were both particularly helpful, but what really helped me turn a corner was a simple Scripture. It isn't a promise of blessing, but is instead a statement of fact. Speaking of Abraham, St. Paul said that "he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God" (Romans 4:20). This Scripture made me think, and it occurred to me that as long as I focused on the problem and on my fears, my heart is grounded in unbelief and worry. It is when I give God glory no matter what that my faith begins to kick in and grow. In my wrestling, this Scripture helped me turn a corner. It took me a bit longer, but like Jacob, I began to overcome.

The issue really is one of trust. Can I trust God to be good even if my prayers are not answered the way I would like? Do I believe in his sovereignty, his mercy, his goodness and grace, irrespective of whether life lifts me up or beats me down? It is counterintuitive, but absolutely critical to keep my eyes and heart on Jesus Christ. There is just too much evil, too much negativity in this world, and it will surely bring me down if I dwell on it. Some may think I'm sticking my head in the sand (or somewhere else that I won't mention here), but what I'm really doing is sticking my heart to the Cross where God's love was nailed down for all eternity. I know he loves Alex even more than I do, and that whatever comes will have his gracious fingerprints all over it. I still don't know what the outcome of my prayers will be. But I am grateful tonight for God's faithfulness in holding on to me this past week when I was riding out the storm much like the disciples as they cried out, "Don't you care that we perish?" As it turned out, they didn't, and neither Al nor I will, either. The day will come for both of us when God's summons comes and we must answer. Till then, it is our task and our blessing to make ready for that call, and know that when it comes, it will be good.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Prayers When You Can't Pray

August 28, 2015

Tonight I laid the last of the tile in our entry room. Grout is next, and then it's done. Normally, finishing a major portion of a task would be the subject of my gratitude journal, but right now, it's pretty low on my list of what is important. Our granddaughter Alex is in a waiting room at Buffalo General waiting for a specialist. The emergency room is full of people and no beds are available. So we wait; another hard gift of grace. I've worked through the afternoon and evening, but my heart isn't in it. The work just keeps me busy, my mind occupied. I don't know how to reconcile Al's illness with God's grace, mercy, and love, so I'm having to trust, and I have to confess, I don't like it one bit. Not knowing what is wrong and being unfamiliar with parasitic disease, we fear what we don't know.

If Al were our only concern, it would be enough, but our neighbor is battling cancer, and I could list a dozen situations right off the top of my head where friends are facing circumstances that threaten to unravel all they hold dear. Years ago, a young woman in our congregation was deathly ill. She recovered, and when she got back to church, thanked everyone for their prayers. "Sometimes you are so sick you can't even pray for yourself," she said. "That's when you depend on the prayers of others." Tonight, my prayers feel so powerless and futile. Words get stuck in my throat and my heart is barren. We are leaning hard on God, and on the prayers of his faithful people. In the midst of our questioning and all the scenarios our minds can conjure up when the imagination runs wild, we lean hard, and are grateful for those who pray when we cannot.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hotter Than...

August 27, 2015

The heat is almost oppressive, but I have to admit it's my own fault. We have a guest camped out in the back room, swathed in blankets and comforters, shivering with fever. Nate and Deb are at visitation for her uncle who passed away the other day and didn't wan't Alex to be alone for the evening, so she's been here with us. The Millstone Room is furthest from the furnace, so even with the thermostat set at 72, it stays cool. Thus the fire I built in the stove. Yeah, it's hot in here.

I was the one who made the offer to have her here, but Linda is the one who does most of the work, checking Al's temperature, making sure she has what she needs while I was working on the entry room tile. My gratitude tonight is simple. I'm thankful to live near enough that Alex could come stay with us while she's sick; I'm thankful to have a house with a wood stove so we could heat the room without turning the entire house into a sauna, and I am thankful for my wife whose love and tenderness towards our grandchildren has no end.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dedication or Devotion?

August 26, 2015

This morning I read an article that highlighted the difference between dedication and devotion, a distinction I hadn't before noticed. The author said, "My dedication is a lot more about whatever it is that I am doing to demonstrate my commitment than it is about the thing or person to whom I am supposedly dedicated...The Christian faith is not about increasing one’s dedication. It’s about undivided devotion; abandoning oneself to God in Love. Dedication is about self. Devotion is about the other." This made me wonder how often I've dedicated myself to Christ's mission, to the church, to my wife and kids; but how often have I devoted myself to the same? How often have I gritted my spiritual teeth, dug in and tried harder instead of just loving God or my family?

The end result may not look much different, but what is happening is vastly different. Dedication deals with me; my effort, my determination, my desires, while devotion ignores the self in its absorption in the other. Love calls for devotion, not dedication. Dedication is a lot more work, and sees the sacrifice. Devotion is almost effortless, and sacrifices unselfconsciously. I wish I had learned this years ago, but am grateful that the lessons keep coming, even in retirement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Comfort in the Storm

August 25, 2015

When I began this journey of gratitude over two years ago, I followed a schedule of prompts that suggested things for which to be thankful. One of the recurring suggestions was called "hard eucharistos," the hard blessings of God. It's largely a foreign concept for us North American Christians, indoctrinated as we are with variations of the Prosperity Gospel that considers it axiomatic that God's purposes for us always lean towards health, success, and the absence of failure, disappointment, suffering, and loss. Our brothers and sisters in Africa, the Middle East, and the Orient are much more Biblical than we, knowing as they do that it is through much suffering that we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). In our way of thinking, it doesn't make sense that God's blessing may not result in our well being. This is indeed, a hard teaching.

It's nearly 10:00 pm, and Linda and I have just gotten home from the ER in Jamestown, where our granddaughter Alexandria has undergone tests to try to determine the cause of her headaches and fever. Having just returned from six weeks in Uganda, there's no shortage of weird possibilities. They've ruled out malaria, but are suspecting some sort of parasitic fever. So we've been praying. Without ceasing, as St. Paul commands. That is one command that right now is easy to obey. What is hard is his directive to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). I haven't yet figured out how to give thanks for my granddaughter's illness. The closest I'm able to come right now is gratitude for her parents not ignoring or minimizing her symptoms, for her doctor who instead of seeing her, sent her directly to the hospital for tests, for the people who are caring for her as I write, and for those I'll never meet whose research has made possible the detection and treatment of diseases most of us can't even pronounce.

I don't like having to learn to pray at the expense of my granddaughter, but I am grateful that I have recourse to prayer. Just stewing in worry is never a good thing, and while my heart is anxious and my mind can conjure up all sorts of bad scenarios, I still take comfort in the love and mercy of my Heavenly Father whose love for Alex is far greater than mine ever could be.

Monday, August 24, 2015


August 24, 2015

They watched from a distance, silently taking it all in until he was done. What they saw impressed them enough to whet an appetite they didn't even know they had. They approached hopefully, asking the question that was on all their minds: "Lord, teach us to pray..." Notice what they didn't say: "Lord, teach us HOW to pray." There is a difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. They weren't just after the mechanics of prayer; they wanted to be taught to actually pray. So Jesus gave them what we know as the Lord's Prayer.

Anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus Christ needs to learn to pray. The life we are called to live is not possible apart from prayer. We just don't have it in us to be the men and women we're called to be apart from prayer. Personally, I've needed Christ to continually teach me to pray. I know how; I just don't do it as often or as well as I should. The Lord's Prayer shows me where my prayers falter. At the end of our study tonight we took prayer requests as we have done every time we get together. It didn't take long for the list to grow, and therein lies the rub. Prayer falters when it is reduced to a laundry list of things we want God to do for us. Which is one of the reasons the Prayer begins with acknowledging who God is: our Heavenly Father; and what his character is: holy. Then before asking anything, we are instructed to align our wills, our hopes and dreams with the purposes of the Father: his kingdom to come and his will to be done. Too many of my prayers have been more concerned with my will and wishes than with God's. I am grateful tonight for our Lord's teaching on prayer. If I follow the model Christ gave, I'll not only know how; I'll actually do it. I think even Christ would be thankful for that.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sabbath Rest

August 23, 2015

"Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy." So goes the fourth Commandment. The seventh day was to be a day of rest for God's people, patterned after the order of Creation itself. If God rested, surely we need to also. Originally, it was proscribed by a list of activities forbidden on that day, including gathering of food, cooking, carrying burdens. People and animals alike were included in this prohibition on penalty of excommunication.

People misunderstand the negative nature of the Ten Commandments, imagining that being a person of faith is primarily a negative affair: "Don't do this; don't do that." The negation of certain activities however, is in reality life-affirming. The negations actually free us by leaving everything outside these few prohibitions untouched and available for life. In modern legal and bureaucratic legislation that imposes layer upon layer of requirements for everything from construction to health care we see the burden of positive rather than negative regulation.

When I was young, the Sabbath felt like a burden. We weren't allowed certain activities; it was a day for worship and rest. Period. Stores were closed, restaurants were shuttered, and the day was just plain boring. Or so it seemed. For most people today, it is just another day of the week, filled with activity and work. It's as if we can't stand to slow down and simply reflect. So we keep everything wound tight and wonder why people snap. Even Christians fall prey to ceaseless activity. We worship in the morning, but often cram so much activity into the rest of the day that by the time evening comes, we're worn out, and the week has just begun. Jesus reminded his followers that the Sabbath was made FOR us, not against us. It is God's gift to help us keep perspective in life so we can actually live instead of always just making a living.

Today our kids all had plans, leaving Linda and me to ourselves for the afternoon. We had a leisurely lunch at Panera Bread, then when we got home Linda worked on her Bible study lesson while I read through the manuals for the new tractor we brought home yesterday. It's amazing that as retirees our lives are as busy as they remain, so a Sabbath rest is welcome, no matter which day of the week it comes. This week it was a Sunday; next week it may come on a Tuesday. But whatever way it comes, we need these times to rest and renew. God tends to speak in whispers, and without time to quiet our souls before him, his voice gets drowned out till we lose the ability to recognize it.

I would not want to return to the days when youthful activity is frowned upon. Nate popped in this evening to return the kayak they borrowed as a couple dozen of the younger church couples and kids canoed and kayaked down the Allegany this afternoon. They relaxed and enjoyed the day, as did Linda and I in a much quieter way. Hopefully tomorrow we will all be refreshed and ready to face the week renewed in our spirits by the Holy Spirit of God who showed up at worship and throughout the day, giving needed rest for which we give thanks.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Family Reunion

August 22, 2015

Family gatherings can be beautiful or ugly. Most of us have either heard or been involved in a wedding reception that turned into a drunken brawl, and funerals often bring together people who don't particularly like one another but cannot figure out how to not attend without losing face. Emotions are raw at both of these events, which bring out the best and the worst in people.

Family reunions are in a similar category. I've often wondered why some families even bother. The various branches of the family sit with their own immediate circle that they see all the time, without so much as speaking more than a cursory "How ya doin'" to those in the other branches of the family. What's the point of a reunion if no one re-unifies?

Linda and I, along with our kids and grandkids drove to Churchville for the Bailey family reunion today. Two nephews and two nieces weren't able to be there. But my brother, sister, mother and aunt, and one cousin, along with spouses and children had a wonderful time together, talking and laughing with those we are only able to see occasionally. Everyone gets along! We actually like one another and enjoy each other's company.

The reason is not hard to find. We are all Christians, and not just in name. Every one of us takes seriously what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We represent variations on the theme, from Baptist to Free and United Methodist to Roman Catholic. Along the way, my parents dabbled in Christian and Missionary Alliance, but our common ground is lives centered in knowing and following the Lord Jesus Christ. We don't argue the differences in our respective faith branches; instead we focus on our love for God and for each other, which makes for delightful family reunions and much thankfulness tonight.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Privilege and Responsibility

August 201, 2015

I've been reading a mystery novel based on a real-life turn of the century crime in the Little Italy section of New York City in which a man was brutally murdered and stuffed into a barrel. The author described the tenements of that era in such detail that I decided to Google it and came across a photo of Mulberry Street. It's an odd combination we don't often see today: a street teeming with life amidst the squalor of the slums. Life was hard, even brutal; the real-time demonstration of Darwin's "Survival of the Fittest."

It's not just history; millions today live in such conditions, living hard and dying young. Much of today's politically correct speech has roots in places like that. "White Privilege" is a phrase that causes conservative Caucasian Americans to cringe. We like to think we've earned what we have, and don't like being told that we've gotten where we are due to the color of our skin. In reality, it's a bit of both. I've worked hard all my life and am now reaping some of the rewards of living within our means, saving, living as honorably as I can; yet I know also that the family and community in which I was raised gave me a leg up on people who have worked just as hard, but started out with two strikes against them.

Years ago, Linda and I worked in a group home for teenage boys. During our time with them, a couple of them came to Christ. As long as they maintained their spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and worship, they did just fine. But if they neglected any of these, they were back in the pits almost instantaneously. If I neglected these disciplines (which I must confess I've done many times), I had a safety net of parental training that kept me from the same descent to which these boys were prone. The spiritual dynamics were identical; the outcomes vastly different. Yes, I've worked hard, but I've also been given much, and cannot escape Jesus' words, "To whom much is given, much is required." I am grateful for all I've received, and pray continually for grace and wisdom to live worthily of that trust.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Blessings Touched

August 19, 2015

Sometimes I think we underestimate the power of a blessing. This morning I finished reading Genesis once more. In the 48th chapter Joseph brings his sons Ephraim and Manasseh to be blessed by his father Jacob, the sly old fox. Decades before, Jacob had cheated his brother out of his birthright, gaining the double inheritance that by rights should have gone to his older brother. Now he's nearly blind, but he sees more than eyes alone can discern. Manasseh and Ephraim face him, the former on the left, the latter on the right so that Manasseh as the eldest can receive the blessing of Jacob's right hand. Jacob however, crosses his arms, laying his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh. Joseph tries to correct him, but Jacob is resolute, giving the greater blessing to the younger.

To Western Christians this seems an odd story, quaint, but without significance for us. After all, does it really make a difference which hand is laid on the kid's head? And do the words of a blessing actually make any real difference? All of our scientific and rationalistic mindset says no, but what if we're wrong? We know that words matter. Bright talented children raised by critical, negative parents tend to internalize the criticism they receive, while even the most ordinary child raised by parents who encourage and praise tends to exceed the predictions of the "experts." And we know that what we do with our bodies affects the whole person. If I slouch in prayer, my prayers become somewhat slovenly. The Biblical posture is either standing or kneeling (except for perhaps Jonah in the belly of the whale) for a reason. It's easier to be focused in those positions. If I sit and close my eyes, I fall asleep.

All this I ponder as four grandchildren slumber downstairs. We pray with them and we bless them, but I suspect I need to give more thought and prayer to those blessings if I want them to be more than words. And laying my hands on them while I bless them is more than a formality. If a husband and wife cannot make love without touching, what makes us think the blessing of God is disembodied? A blessing after all, is love spoken; should it not also be love touching?

Of Porches and People

August 18, 2015

It's starting to look like something, but it's rough around the edges with thinset slopped here and there, and the crack patching still visible on the bare concrete floor. It's not quite as bad as it was before we started. There's no way anyone can make two layers of ratty old carpet over crumbling vinyl tile look anything but bad. All that was ripped out a couple months ago. The pattern the old tile left on the concrete looked like old flagstone, but it had pits and cracks and really needed to be redone. I'm talking about the entry porch of our house.

I'm not even halfway done. Tomorrow I'll lay the rest of the full tiles; then comes the job of cutting the edge pieces, followed by grout. I figure I've got three full days of work ahead of me and until it's done, our entry room will be pretty messy. But I'm making progress!

I figure it's that way with life, too. Sometimes we look at people in progress of being remade, and all we can see is the mess. It's easy to criticize or judge when things don't look very pretty, but most of the time, we don't get to see what it was like before God started, and we don't get to see the end result. Only God sees that, because the work isn't finished till we close our eyes in death. One thing is sure: God is making progress with us. Philippians 1:6 says, "he who began a good work in you will not cease to perform it till the day of Jesus Christ." We are as Paul says, pressing on towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

This is not a time to be discouraged at the work yet to be done. God plans to finish what he started just as I plan to finish what I started. He sees the finished work in his mind's eye, just as I see the finished floor in my mind's eye. The big difference is, God works with people who often resist. I'm working with tile that has no power to resist. The remaking of a human life takes a lifetime, while my little job will be done in less than a week. The stakes are higher for God: life is meant for eternity; when this old world burns, my tile will burn with it. Any way you look at it, I am grateful to be laying this floor and learning this lesson. We often hear it said, "God's not done with me yet." I am grateful for it, and for the promise of his perseverance, not only for me, but for all people; even the messiest of them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Battle Rages

August 17, 2015

At yesterday's baptisms Pastor Joe encouraged those of us gathered to remember to pray for the ones just baptized, but it wasn't the ordinary run-of-the-mill 'pray for them' kind of exhortation. "We've stormed the gates of hell today," he shouted over the cacophony of the waterfall. "The Enemy doesn't like losing, so he'll be attacking these new believers, and we need to pray God's protection for them." It was a word of wisdom, a reminder that events such as this are not just nice ceremonies; they are spiritual warfare, and the battle rages.

It's what Joe didn't say however, that has my attention. He encouraged us to pray for these new believers, but didn't remind us to pray for ourselves. The best way to take out new believers is to take out the seasoned Christians to whom they look for an example. This morning I woke up to a feeling of malaise that I haven't felt in months; a vague and diffused ennui that refused to go away. I tried praying even before I got out of bed, but couldn't get my thoughts together. I read my Bible, was encouraged by the stories of Joseph's trials and God's purposes, but the dark cloud persisted. It was evening before the truth dawned on me. The spiritual attack was not directed only to the new believers, but to all of us who witnessed and stood by them. I'm guessing I'm not the only one to feel the pressure, although I may be the only one who experienced it in this way. I would bet however, that others who were there witnessing the mystery of baptism and praying for these new Christians are today experiencing the onslaught of the Enemy.

St. Paul said that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual authorities and rulers of this present darkness, and he commands us to take up the weapons of the Spirit in our resistance to them. Truth, Righteousness, Salvation, the Gospel of Peace, the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. He then explains where and how we use these weapons: in prayer. That's where the battle lines are drawn. Prayer is impossible apart from the tools God gives us; the resistance is too strong, the Enemy too powerful for mere human effort and determination. So we take up the entire armor of God and get on our knees to fight. It took me nearly a full day to recognize what was happening, but once I did, the battle was won. James tells us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. But in order to resist him, we must first recognize him. Operating as he does under the cover of darkness, he prefers to stay in the shadows. It is the light of Christ through his holy Word that exposes him so we can resist. Tonight he's on the run, and I am praising God for it!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Unanticipated Blessing

August 16, 2015

We bought our house two and a half years ago because Linda had a vision for what it could be when I could only see the work it would take to make that dream come true. I don't like to admit this publicly too often, but she was right and I was wrong. There. I said it! Enough of that for today. What neither she nor I foresaw was how our homestead would become the place for new birth and rejoicing as new believers are baptized at the foot of the waterfall at the south end of our property.

Today after worshipping and picnicking in the village commons park, dozens of our Park church people and friends gathered at the falls to welcome our newest members into the family. From little baby Janna to the entire Cardone family, with others who proclaimed their trust in Christ in between, we got to celebrate together. I can't explain it, but there is something special about baptism outdoors. Perhaps it's because there is nothing artificial about it. The water is flowing over the rocks while people are gathered on the bank. It's even better than when we used to do it in Nate's swimming pool.

It is an unexpected blessing to be able to offer our place for such holy purposes. We hadn't anticipated this part of it, but tonight as Linda and I sat on the back deck overlooking the creek, drinking our coffee and drinking in the sound of the creek wafting through the softness of the evening air, we added this unique blessing to the list that just keeps growing with each passing day.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

He Came Home Today

August 15, 2015

I had stopped by the church to pick up a music and a mic stand for the wedding at which I would be officiating in the evening. As I was loading the stuff into the trunk, our son Nate came out the door. He was filthy and looked tired from being up at Gram's cutting wood all day, and I was glad to see him.

Cutting firewood is pretty common around here; lots of guys do it, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. Linda's maternal grandfather was killed on his thirtieth birthday in a logging accident. Chain saws are dangerous, and hung up trees aren't called "widowmakers" for nothing. It's best to not cut alone, but more often than not, that's the way it's done. I was glad he had a productive and safe day. I often think about fathers who don't get to see their sons come home. The parents whose son is killed in action overseas, the parents whose child is victim of street violence or drug addiction and have to identify the body, the parents whose child simply doesn't acknowledge them anymore. My son came home from a day in the woods, and will lead worship tomorrow as we gather in the park. It's a simple thing, but nothing to be taken for granted. I take it for grace, and am grateful for it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jacks and Jackets

August 14, 2015

Gramps was almost 96 when he died eight years ago. He had been a mechanic for most of his life, and for most of his career, he had the same floor jack. When Gram died a year and a half ago, we had to sort through the household stuff so the house could be sold. In the garage was the old jack which hadn't worked in years. Nobody wanted it, so I brought it home, although at the time, I didn't know why. About a month and a half ago, it crossed my mind that if I could get it working, it would make a good birthday gift for Matt, who idolized his grandfather, and does a lot of his own mechanic work.

I called our friend Eric who has connections with all sorts of mechanical people. He put me in touch with a gentleman down in Pleasantville, PA, about an hour and a half from here. When I called him, he declined to fix it, saying, "People don't want to pay the money. They can buy a cheap Chinese jack from Harborfreight for half of what it costs to repair one of these." I told him my story, and he told me to send him some photos of it. I did, and about ten minutes later I get an excited call from him telling me what kind of jack it is, and that he would be happy to fix it. "It's the Cadillac of jacks," he told me, unawares that Gramps hated anything GM, and would be insulted by such a remark. He told me how to disassemble it so I could bring just the hydraulic cylinder. I took it down about a month ago.

This guy called me probably a dozen times to let me know of his progress on the jack, finally letting me know about a week ago that it was ready, but that he wanted to set it out overnight to make sure it didn't leak. It did, slightly, so another few days went by while he tweaked things a bit. Yesterday I drove the bike down to pick up the cylinder, then degreased the frame; and today I reassembled it. It works like a champ. I called him to let him know how pleased I was with it, which apparently doesn't happen often. He told me that when his secretary told him I was on the line, he thought something was wrong because no one ever calls to say thank you. He can't say that anymore.

This afternoon, I took it over to Matt, who loves it mostly because it had belonged to Gramps. I could have bought two Harborfreight jacks for what the repair cost, but it wouldn't have meant nearly as much. Stuff is just stuff, but when stuff is symbolic of relationships cherished, that stuff becomes almost sacramental. Matt still has Gramps' jacket and cap hanging on a peg in his dining room, so he is just the man to have Gramps' jack, and I am grateful to be at this place in life where I have the resources to bless him in this way. Earthshaking? No. Life-significant? Only to Matt, but that's enough for me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Giving and Receiving

August 13, 2015

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." This is a truth that initially is counterintuitive. Wouldn't it better to receive? Most of us like receiving gifts, especially when we are young. But the blessing of being in a position to give means I have something to offer. On our first taking mission trip to Cuba, I told Willie that I wasn't interested in a one-way street. His people needed to know they had something to give, too. It would be unhealthy if the giving only went one way because we are partners in ministry. We have resources they need; they have the experience of living faithfully in difficult circumstances. Often when we go to places less privileged than ourselves, the people with whom we work offer gifts of extravagant meals that they wouldn't normally have for themselves. We feel guilty accepting their generosity, but refusing is not only an affront; it robs them of the joy of giving.

I've been on both ends; times in our lives when our survival depended on the generosity of friends. Years ago, we served a church the treasurer of which acted as if our pay were coming solely out of his pocket. His wife actually told me that they believed the pastor should be the lowest paid person in the church, and apparently they had convinced the powers that be of the rightness of their belief. We had grown particularly close to one couple in the church who disagreed with their determination to keep the pastor poor, and they took action to countermand the status quo by giving their tithe directly to us. I wasn't comfortable with this and talked with my district superintendent about it. He said there was nothing he could do about it, so I should just shut up and be thankful. So I did, and I was.

Now Linda and I are in a position to bless others, and take great joy in doing so. Sometimes it's small, and at other times not. We've always given as generously as we could, but now this means more than it did back then. It's hard for me to spend on myself, but I like giving. Linda made a special gift just the other day, and I've been working for the past month on a special gift for someone. It should be finished tomorrow, and I am already excited at the prospect of presenting it, grateful for this blessing of giving.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Coffee Time

August 12, 2015

After a day with my 93 year old mother and dinner with my much younger wife, Linda and I had coffee, sitting together on the back deck overlooking the creek. It's been a cool summer, so we haven't sat there as often as I would like, but after dinner coffee is almost a staple of life for us. Linda echoed what I've thought so often: "This is my favorite time of the day; when we just sit and talk." That favorite time is often after breakfast, but it's a rare day when we don't have that time. It's one of the added benefits of retirement. When we were younger and raising our children, life was as hectic as it is for our kids now raising theirs. But these days, we get to slow down and talk. We've always talked, but now we do it at our leisure, reviewing our day, planning tomorrow's.

Rarely, our conversations deal with momentous issues, but usually they are much more mundane, probably because most of life is pretty ordinary. But there is something deeply significant going on. It's not just words we share; it's heart and soul. Our coffee talks are almost sacramental, partaking of something greater than coffee and conversation, deepening our love and cementing our commitment. I don't know what there is about the lowly coffee bean that does that for us, but I'm grateful for that fabled Ethiopian shepherd who first discovered its mystery so long ago, and for our patriotic forefathers who after dumping the King's tea into the Boston harbor turned to Caribbean coffee to flavor their hot water. Maybe there's something to be said for high taxes; although I prefer our quiet talks.

I've often said that prayer is difficult for me. Maybe it's because it gets more wrapped up in requests than in simple talk. If all Linda and I did was ask favors of each other, our coffee times would quickly grow stale and stilted. It's not about asking; it's about connecting. Maybe prayer isn't as much about bringing big issues to God as it is with our bringing ourselves to him. He made the coffee; maybe in the morning we should have a cup together and just talk.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Longing for Home

August 11, 2015

Coming home is not always the unmitigated blessing we imagine it to be, particularly when one has been away for some time. Irving's Rip Van Winkle discovered to his dismay that the world he knew when he fell asleep was not the same as he found when he awoke, and Alex's homecoming has already had, and will have some bittersweet moments. Although I know she is happy to see the family which has loved and nourished her for seventeen years, she left a part of her heart in Africa, and already feels the tug of the children there.

Linda had prepared dinner for the family so they wouldn't have to eat out and didn't have to worry about what they would fix when they got home from the airport. She fixed the grandkid's favorite: her signature mac and cheese, which normally would be heaped on Alex's plate. She had a small helping plus some green beans. Her system isn't used to dairy nor the sugar-laden drinks Americans slurp down every day. The fruit smoothie from Tim Hortons went nearly untouched. "It's way too sweet," she said. The cold water however, was a delight she savored. "It's cold, and it isn't dirty," was her only comment. For the past six weeks, she's lived on beans and rice, and what she described as a bitter potato.

She's tired. As we ate supper at 7:30, it was 2:30 am African time, and she hadn't had much sleep, so we shooed them out the door as soon as was polite to do so. And now I get to sit on the back deck with the creek silently flowing and the tiny lights twinkling around the eaves of the garage. I'm thinking of what a wonderful gift it is to have a granddaughter whose heart is expansive enough to take her to Uganda, with all its health and cultural challenges. And I'm thinking of homecoming, wondering if when my time comes, I'll be torn between staying here and going to be with the Lord. It's not a new struggle; St. Paul said much the same when he declared, "I am torn...I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body" (Philippians 1:24-25). Earlier, he put it succinctly: "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." I've known plenty of people for whom this life has become a prison from which they long to escape. Some have done so, taking their own life; others simply waited it out, longing to die. I'm not at either place. God has as the Scripture says, "drawn the lines for me in pleasant places," and I am humbly grateful for all he has given me. Like Alex, I've become acculturated to the world I've inhabited, but which is not my real home. As much as we talk about the glories of heaven, I suspect it will take some getting used to, and I'm not sure how to prepare for it, other than to familiarize myself as much as possible with its customs and inhabitants. It's an odd task, living with one foot in two different worlds, but it is the task to which we as Christians are called. I'm grateful for that calling, even as I'm not always sure what to do with it. At least I've been given the time and the tools to prepare for it. The primary tool is prayer--learning to align my heart with the realities of God's eternity. The time is now, so I think I'll get busy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Old as Dirt

August 10, 2015

Yesterday after church, little Nathan wanted me to pitch to him so he could practice his batting. I had changed my clothes and was in the entry room putting on my gym shoes while he waited as  patiently as an almost eight year old can. I reached behind me and grabbed the shoehorn I keep on my shoeshine kit that sits on the window ledge. "What's that?" he inquired.

"It's a shoehorn."

"What's it for?"

"It helps me put on my shoes so I don't break them down in the heel."

"Is that what they used to use in the olden days?"

I wouldn't have minded the question if he had asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, but he was deadpan serious. Linda and I have been blessed to enjoy almost daily interaction in the lives of our grandchildren, and have often wondered how we are perceived by them. We both remember our grandparents, how old they seemed to us when we were growing up, and how humbling it is to know that we are older than our grandparents were in the years we remember them most. We wonder if they felt as youthful as we feel (except of course, first thing in the morning when we try to get out of bed), or whether they saw themselves as old as we saw them. It's that perception though, that I'm thinking of tonight. I guess I don't have to wonder any more. In Nathan's eyes, I am...OLD!  But I am also in good health and ready to tackle the next challenges God throws my way, thankful for innocent questions that make me laugh as they remind me of my mortality and the beauty of life. I am thankful too, that age is an experience that will someday be as St. Paul said, "swallowed up in life." The Ancient of Days sits ageless on his throne, readying all Creation for that day when time shall be no more and we enter eternity, nevermore to be weary, alive forever in a way that makes aging meaningless.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mr. Mullet's Lesson

August 9, 2015

Friday night Linda and I attended the Beach Boys concert at Chautauqua. It was a great concert, given the fact that there are only a couple of the originals left with the group. I was disappointed that Al Jardin was not with them, but the music was the same as I remember from fifty years ago. Yep, it's been that long. They played a few songs I didn't know, but had the crowd on their feet for "Surfin' USA," "Barbara Ann," "Help Me, Rhonda," and "Kokomo," among others. There was a minimum of banter and a maximum of music as they moved seamlessly from one song to another, with a level of musicianship that was expected of a band of their renown. It was a memorable evening. In more than one way.

We had center seats in the third row (my choice so I could actually see what they were doing instrumentally), right behind a row of guys decked out in hawaiian shirts and Beach Boys baseball caps. They were unmistakably ready to rock. As was a somewhat stocky fellow in the front row sporting khaki shorts, hawaiian shirt, a mullet, and a very attractive younger girl friend.

It only took a couple songs before the fun began. After opening with "Good Vibrations" (or perhaps it was one of their other really upbeat songs), they soon moved into a slower set, at which time Mr. Mullet jumped up, grabbed his girlfriend, and began to dance as close to the front of the stage as he could get. This went on repeatedly, and not only with the slow songs. It was pretty obvious he was attention-seeking, and initially it bothered me that someone would try to grab the spotlight and spoil the view for the people behind him who paid dearly for those down front seats.

My initial irritation dissipated after a few songs as I began to take stock of things in the light of the Gospel. Pastor Joe touched on the core of the issue in this morning's sermon in his reading of Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." Anger often reveals more about the angry person than about the recipient of the anger, and in this case, it revealed a judgmental spirit in me. I began to wonder what this man's life was like, why he felt he needed to show off, what were his insecurities, hurts, disappointments. Before the concert was over, I was actually happy that he enjoyed himself; it may have been the only respite from an otherwise futile existence. His antics no longer bothered me, but became the occasion for my prayers for him. Behavior which could have spoiled the evening was robbed of its power when I chose to bless instead of curse him.

Too often I've watched people give others control over them by their refusal to forgive. Someone does some real or imagined hurt, and long after the offense, the recipient continues to relive the incident, giving the perpetrator a continual presence and power over them as they fret and stew, forfeiting the joy of life that could otherwise be theirs. Last night God gave me the opportunity to practice my preaching, and I am grateful for this unnamed Mr. Mullet who was the unwitting teacher.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Worn Out for Jesus?

August 8, 2015

St. Paul must have been thinking of Hosea 6:3 when he penned Philippians 3:12. Hosea encouraged us to "press on to know the LORD," while Paul gives his own personal witness: "I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Any way we look at it, Paul is describing significant effort. His walk with Christ is not a stroll in a garden, but a strenuous engagement of the will that requires his complete attention and dedication. I spent the day from about 10:00 am till 5:30 pm cutting and stacking wood. It's that time of year, and Nate is working hard to get his winter's supply in. I had told him I would help whenever I could, so we headed for the woods. Actually, the field. A couple years ago, Gram's woodlot was logged and the tops left scattered about. There was quite a pile of them in the field before we get into the woods, and it was this pile Nate was determined to decimate today. We hacked our way through waist high goldenrod and got to work. He skidded the logs into place with his tractor, while I blocked them up. I hasten to add that this means he sat all day while I did the backbreaking work of hunching down over the logs with a chainsaw. Actually, he was up and down, chaining and unchaining the logs. We both worked hard. Tonight I am sore and tired. And thinking of St. Paul's words.

When was the last time I expended similar effort in order to know Christ better? Most of us tend to think of our Christian life as something easily entered and casually lived. The fact is, there is nothing casual about it. Our life in Christ was obtained through his suffering and death; the expenditure of a great deal of spiritual and physical energy. It cost him his life. Am I to then treat it as something I can stroll in or out of at will? Sad to say, I cannot remember the last time my walk with Christ left me wiped out and spiritually sore. What does this say about me, that I am willing to work hard physically to accomplish the task of getting the winter's wood in, but not willing to put myself out in any significant way to know Jesus better?

Although my ruminations are challenging tonight, I am grateful for the Scripture which commands my attention, for the day's work that wore me out, and for the ability to connect the two so that I might possibly live more faithfully tomorrow than I did today.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Contentment. It's a Beautiful Thing!

August 7, 2015

The notice didn't come when I was expecting it, which could only mean one thing: I didn't win the bid. When we moved here a little over two years ago, we had a small riding mower that was perfect for our lot in Cassadaga, but totally inadequate for the acreage we have here. So we gave the mower to Todd and Jess, who have a lot about the same size as our Cassadaga lot, and took to using the old John Deere 216 we've had for a few years. That thing is a rock; it just keeps working. Well, except for the mower deck. A couple weeks ago Linda was mowing. She made a couple passes around the yard then came in for a pit stop, telling me that it wasn't cutting anything. I checked it out, and sure enough, the blades weren't spinning. Upon dismantling the deck, I was easily able to diagnose the problem: a pulley bearing had disintegrated. I took the deck to Edge 'n Engine, left it with Kyle, and mowed with the big zero turn Husqvarna.

That particular machine I bought last year for Linda, the only problem being that she didn't like it. Zero turns operate differently than conventional mowers, and Linda doesn't like the fact that it didn't have a brake pedal. After trying it a couple times, she decided it wasn't for her, and refuses to use it. I don't blame her; it does take some getting used to, and can be pretty squirrelly on a slope. So I decided to get a real lawn tractor. I had seen a used Kubota with a bucket and a backhoe, but missed the deal because I thought it was too expensive. Linda chided me for not getting it, so I've been on the prowl ever since.

After checking out the Kubota and the John Deere dealers, I've decided against Orange. After all, I see used Kubotas in the John Deere dealership, but I don't see used John Deeres in the Kubota dealerships. That tells me something. I'm not sure what, but it tells me something. I've also been checking online. The bottom line is, I thought I had a deal at the dealership a couple weeks ago, but the guy who had put a hold on it bought it. I have sold the zero turn, so it's a bit more urgent to replace it, so I've even checked out eBay, putting a bid in on a nice one down in PA. Tonight, the notice didn't come in. Someone else won the bid, so I'm still tractorless. But it's OK. It's taken me a long time, but I am finally at the place where my trust in God is such that it doesn't bother me to lose the bid. There was a time when I would have been almost distraught, second-guessing my bid limit, and fretting over not having what I want. But not tonight. My contentment doesn't rely on a tractor. I can afford to be patient, knowing God is in control. He knows my need, and is better able than I to distinguish between my needs and wants. Like I said, it's taken me a long time to get to this point, but I am so grateful to be here. Not fretting is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Shoulder to Shoulder

August 6, 2015

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us to "take up the shield of faith, with which we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the Evil One." These words that come in the midst of his mini sermon on spiritual warfare offer a hint to an important insight. Paul was a citizen of the 1st century Roman Empire and as such, was familiar with things of which we know little today. The Roman soldier utilized two different kinds of shields, the aspis--a small, rounded shield that was strapped to the left arm to be used in close hand-to-hand fighting, and the scutum or thureon, a large, cylindrical shield made of wood or metal and covered with leather that though less maneuverable, provided greater protection. It is this shield St. Paul references in Ephesians.

In close battle formation, the Roman soldier would hold his shield in front of him, covering about two-thirds of his body, and about one-third of the soldier next to him. This battle formation was all but invincible as the legion moved as one body into battle. No soldier was entirely on his own. They fought together, and in that unity found greater strength than had they merely fought as individuals.

This afternoon I received a call from our granddaughter Alex, who is in Uganda. The young woman with whom she is working hasn't been feeling well, and went to the clinic only to discover that she has contracted both malaria and typhoid. I immediately contacted the prayer chain, and we now have a legion of people praying for Aly. Years ago a member of the little church I pastored became deathly ill. It took months for her to recover, and when she did, she gave testimony at church. "I was so sick I couldn't even pray for myself," she said, and added, "I needed your prayers then, and thank you for them now."

I don't know if Aly is so sick she cannot pray, but I know that in this battle, she is not alone. We close rank, covering her with our shields of faith and prayer, quenching the fiery darts of the Evil One before whom, were Aly all alone, would be vulnerable. This is why what I and others do is important. Everything is connected spiritually, and if I fail in faith and holiness, I leave a gap through which the Enemy is able to attack. So I am praying tonight, not only for Aly, but for myself and the others who stand by her, that we would hold our shields firmly before us, protecting this servant of the Lord who right now is wounded and vulnerable. The Enemy shall not pass because we are engaging him in the strength of Christ who has won the victory through his death and resurrection. All hail the power of Jesus' Name!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Clean Underwear

August 5, 2015

"Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and...put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness." --Ephesians 4:22-24

When I was a little boy, I couldn't get away with anything. Back then, parenting didn't include accompanying a child everywhere he went, or defending bad behavior. On Saturdays, I could be gone from right after breakfast till dark without anyone panicking. Come to think of it, there might have been some sinister family plot behind my parents' unconcern!

There were however, some areas of maternal concern that despite my six or seven years' experience, I was never able to overcome. I always had to wear clean clothes. It didn't matter if I had planned on spending the day rooting around in a sewer, I had to start out with clean clothes. There was no getting around it. No prison guard could hold a candle to mom's diligence in making sure I didn't leave the house with yesterday's dirt on my shirt. Of course I tried, but she always caught me. She would ask, "You put on clean clothes this morning?" I would answer truthfully, but perhaps not completely, and she would nail me with her follow up question: "Clean underwear, too?" I would skulk back upstairs, strip down and dutifully, if not cheerfully, put on clean underwear. "You don't put dirty clothes on a clean body," was her motto.

I think that's what St. Paul is getting at in these words from his letter to the Ephesian Christians. We must take off the old dirty clothes of our sins before we can put on the clean clothes of Christ's righteousness. But lest we imagine it's all our own doing, a spiritual pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, he inserts these words: "the new man which was created according to God." I have my part to play, but this new life I am commanded to put on is not my own doing; it is a creation of God. Tonight, I am grateful that I have a part to play in salvation; otherwise, I would become lazy and careless. But I am also grateful that it is God's doing, because without the righteousness of Christ, anything I put on would be just another set of my dirty old clothes.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blessings out of Buffetings

August 4, 2015

Some of God's choicest blessings come in disguise, in much the same way as luck comes disguised as hard work. When they come incognito, it is easy to miss or even reject them out of hand. It didn't feel very blessed years ago when someone in the church became angry that she didn't receive the recognition she felt she deserved (her words, not mine), and began a campaign to divide and destroy that very nearly succeeded. The years I battled melancholy certainly didn't bear obvious marks of blessing, and those many times I've sat with people whose lives have been torn apart by divorce, drugs, or disease, not knowing what to say and feeling like I failed them--none of these times had little identification tags that said "blessing" on them.

Today I sat with three friends going through difficult times. I can't say as I had answers for them, but each situation was similar to things I've been through, so although I couldn't do anything to change their circumstances, I did have a measure of understanding, and was able to share with each one how I discovered God's hand in the dark hours of my life. I hope that just seeing someone who walked into that valley and came out the other side will be an encouragement to my friends. And those days, weeks, months, and even years when I doggedly trudged my way from one day to another; those times when God seemed to be uninterested in my pain, turned out to be the very tool he uses to comfort others in their time of need.

St. Paul said it best: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer."

God never wastes anything, and the difficulties that often seem to be interruptions and distractions often are the very means by which he reveals himself to us, and become tools in our hands and hearts by which we can bless and comfort others. It has often taken a long time for me to see the blessing in the buffetings, but I am thankful tonight that my trials have become God's trails to mercy and grace in the lives of my friends.

Monday, August 3, 2015

You Can't Fix Stupid

August 3, 2015

"Not yet." That was what the physical therapist told me when I asked how soon I can resume my workout routine. It turns out that not wearing the proper footwear (as in none at all) while working out is the proximate cause of my plantar fasciitis. In other words, it is my own fault, as is most of the trouble I get myself into. Things I could get away with at twenty...not so much at 66. Things went pretty well for the years I was using the Total Gym, but I didn't believe I was getting the workout I wanted, so over a year ago I bought the T25 DVD set. Twenty-five minutes a day that made me sweat like I never had done with the machine; it pushed me to go deep.

But about two months ago, my right foot started hurting. It got to the point where even the pressure on the heel from pushing on the gas pedal of the car was almost unbearable. Three trips to a podiatrist, some new shoes and arch supports made a huge difference, but then a seminar on foot problems offered a free consultation (of course, with the goal of gaining new customers) that led to my appointment this morning and for some mornings to come. But no workouts yet. I'm looking forward to getting back into the routine, and am grateful for the professionals who can diagnose and treat my foot. Now if someone could do the same for my stupidity, I'd be golden!

The Harder Part

August 1, 2015

Galatians 2:20 was a formative Scripture for me as I was just starting out my Christian life. In the old Authorized Version it reads, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." I remember memorizing it, but I don't remember thinking deeply upon it. We like the part that speaks about Christ living in us, about his love and sacrifice for us, but I wonder how it escaped me that these soaring words begin with the harsh reality of being crucified with Christ.

How much do I really know about being crucified with Christ? What does that even mean? Elsewhere, Paul speaks of putting the Old Man to death, of dying with Christ in baptism, that we may be raised to new life. Yet the old life often seems very much alive, doesn't it? In ancient times, crucifixion was a ghastly form of torture-death that wasn't even allowed to be used on a Roman citizen. The procedure itself has been vividly portrayed in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," and in numerous scholarly articles readily available online. But none of them touch on the one aspect of crucifixion that Paul hints at here: the utter surrender of oneself (whether voluntary or not) to death. To be crucified means one has lost all power to decide and control one's future. That future is totally in the hands of others who have chosen to degrade and destroy you in the most humiliating of ways. The victim was hung totally naked upon the cross, exposed for all to see.

I don't want to be totally exposed to those around me. We all have secrets we want to keep buried. Yet, before God, all must come to light. Crucifixion means nothing is left to the imagination, and God is allowed to see. The defenses are down, self-determination is surrendered, and we hang helpless.

And still, resurrection awaits. In Colossians 3, Paul says, "[You were] buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

We were crucified with him, but we were raised. Our sins however, remain judged, remain nailed to the cross. It all hinges on the Cross, and on our willingness to be judged, to with Christ yield control of our future to the Father. Christians in Islamic lands know what that means; we have yet to learn. Surrounded as I am by the visible blessings of God, am I willing to surrender them if God wills? I guess the only way to know for sure would be to be placed in that situation, a prospect I do not relish. In the meantime, I strive to hold onto the visible blessings with a loose grip, that I might hold to the invisible ones more surely. I give thanks for those blessings I recognize as such, and pray for insight to recognize those that come disguised as difficulties, that I might receive them with gladness also.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tingly Legs

August 2, 2015

It is a strange day indeed, when it has been so busy that I haven't taken time to give thanks. Yesterday, two funerals and a graduation party filled the time from breakfast till nearly dark. We never made it to the family reunion. This morning, worship, another memorial service, family and friends at the house till five thirty, then with Linda's sisters till after 8:00. I am "peopled out." Even Linda who thrives on people is feeling the strain. Oddly enough, it's not the people, but at the risk of sounding like a cranky old man griping about his gout, it's the strange tingly feeling in my legs and the throbbing down my neck and right arm that is pushing me to the edge. Normally, I brush off going to the doctor, but I'm actually looking forward to the two appointments I have tomorrow. Something is apparently out of place in my neck or back, and I'm eager to have it put right.

So in advance, I'm thankful for chiropractors and physical therapists who ply their trade with skill. I've not made a habit of giving them my business, having been twisted and jerked around by one or two who despite their pleasant demeanor seem to harbor hidden sadistic tendencies. A couple weeks ago our granddaughter Alex had a bug bite that was nothing here in the States, but which quickly became infected with African pathogens when she took up residence in Uganda. It was a mildly harrowing experience for her, and for us, knowing that medical service there was not quite to the standards we're used to. She's OK, but the experience drove home for us how we've come to expect a level of care that is unheard of in most of the world. Prayers for healing take on new and heightened meaning where medical assistance is lacking.

So even though I've not thought of it through the day, as my body sabotages my struggle to get to sleep tonight, I am grateful that in the morning I have these appointments and the hope that all shall be well.