Monthly Archives: September 2015

Because

imagesWe face many obstacles in life.  Some of them deal with our physical reality such as illness, injury, competing against others and personal achievement.  Other obstacles challenge our minds and emotions like academics and relationships.  But what about spiritual obstacles?

Enter the word because.”  It fascinates me when I think about it in a spiritual sense.  Because seems like a harmless enough word.  I probably started using it when I was three years old (I’ll have to check with Mom on that one).  Used in a spiritual context, it appears to have a dual meaning.  On one hand, people believe, because?  When pressed, folks in this camp are not really sure why they believe what they do.  Perhaps belief stems from family tradition or a creed or simply just “because.”  On the other hand, there are those who believe, because!  These folks are speaking from personal experience. There is a certainty or conviction that supports their belief.  This dual portrayal of the word begs a question, “which camp do you find yourself in?”  Perhaps a story would explain my point more clearly.

I imagine Because to be like a mighty river snaking through the landscape of our lives.  And just like every other river it has two shores.  One shore is swampy, continually subjected to flooding and lacks firm ground.  This shore is canvased by travelers who are content with being told how to be religious.

The opposite shore stands high and dry and is established on firm ground.  I imagine its edge to be lined with boulders, making it impervious to erosion by the river.  On this shore are those who have a certainty about their faith, which comes from a personal experience.

Once upon a time I wandered the swampy shoreline, plodding through the muck and mire.  I tried hard to elevate my standing by being very religious.  As time passed, I congregated with others who shared my view.  Trying to be good should count for something, and we believed it would eventually get us to the other side of the river.  Surely there’s strength in numbers.  How could so many people be wrong?  The people on the other side of the river are no better than us.  Together we planned to build a bridge across the river.  We thought we deserved to be on the other shore.  The soggy, spongy ground was not able to support a foundation for the bridge, however.  I found myself becoming restless.

c49b083be3e74a0e2ad56f4d3267af75I decided to search closer to the shoreline of the river Because for another means to cross it.  I happened to discover a derelict one-person craft.  People on the opposite shore saw I had located the craft and began to shout, “get in the vessel.”  They called the vessel “Faith.”  These people claimed I could use the boat for free because its owner had paid for my passage.

I hesitated by the river’s edge.  The appearance of the water rushing past was intimidating.  It’s current was frighteningly strong.  I spotted whirlpools and rapids that I would have to engage if I attempted to cross.  The boulders lying just beneath the surface of the raging water would certainly destroy the vessel Faith.  I eyed the boat once more and noticed its interior contained only a simple wooden poll.

This looked more and more like a suicide mission.  There’s no way I could make it across on my own.  Overcome with sadness, I began to back away.  As I did, my eyes caught the movement of people on the other shore once again.  Hey, wait a minute.  Is this how they made it across?  Those people, the subjects of my gaze, were shouting more words of encouragement.  I strained my ears to listen, “come experience what we’ve experienced,” they cried.
I thought about what they said.  I was tired of trudging around in the muck with nothing but uncertainty to look forward to.  The people shouting from across the river had something I didn’t have and I found myself wanting it.   I turned back to the river and launched the vessel called Faith and jumped in.  There was no turning back, I was committed.  To my surprise, the moment I laid my hands on the wooden poll I was immediately transported to the other shore.images

Today, I stand on the rock solid shore of certainty.  It is a blessed and humble feeling to be here.  I have discovered a special kinship with travelers on this side of the river.  The belief we share is based on a personal experience, of being carried across the river in Faith.

Having once been on the other shore myself, I will not judge those who have not come.  Instead will I call out to them, “Come, experience what I’ve experienced.”  Take the journey in the vessel of Faith across the river of Because.

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What are you afraid of?

IMG_0434Whom do we fear God or man?  The Benham brothers ask, “are we laying down our lives to be the blessing or are we protecting ourselves to get the blessing?”  They go on to say “freedom is not the ability to get what you want, but it’s the ability to give what you have.  When you do that you are truly free.”

It is easy to fear men because they have so much sway over us.  We want to be accepted, to fit in.  Some people may have viewpoints that differ radically from ours and this may make them hostile towards us but we should maintain our viewpoint (fear God) and still love them.

We need to remind ourselves that God offered his son for us while we were still sinners so that we can have eternal life. (Romans 5:8; John 3:16)

A final thought on the Benham brothers book, Whatever the Cost, concerning trusting and obeying.  Be faithful by doing what God has called you to do in the present (the obeying part).  Know that God is working to bring about his plans for your future (the trusting part).

Don’t worry, be faithful!

My Secret Life

What happens when we learn someone we know has been involved in some kind of secret activity?  Don’t we rush to judge them?  They’ve been hiding something from us.  We thought we knew who they were.

Now for my confession.  For the past two years I have been engaged in an activity that I have kept secret from manyIMG_0383 people, including some of my family and friends.  I am a trap shooter, or to put it another way, I enjoy shooting at four-inch orange clay discs flung from a machine at 40+ mph with a shotgun.  Right away you can see why I would want to keep this activity hush hush.  It involves the use of firearms, a very volatile and divisive subject.  Tragic headlines appear all to frequently involving the misuse of firearms.  I understand and sympathize with people who are afraid of them and respect the opinions of others who hate them with good reason.

My problem with keeping this activity a secret is that it intentionally hides something I am passionate about from people who think they know me.

So, why do I like trap shooting? I like it because it challenges me personally.  After watching others enjoy the sport, my thought was, “yeah, I could do that.”  So I invested in the necessary hardware and then discovered it was not as easy as it looked.  There were so many variables to contend with.  This was going to require some effort – commitment!

My original goal was to see if I could actually break (hit) a few of the clay “pigeons” in a round of shooting defined as twenty-five attempts.  My efforts were successful after understanding the basics of aiming and gun safety.  Although the effort I put forth was successful, it felt more like luck than skill.

My second goal proved to be more challenging.  I wanted to see if I could break more clays than I missed in twenty-five attempts.  It wasn’t until I received the proper instruction, networked with others and practiced repeatedly that I was able to do it.  I was building faith and eliminating doubts.

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This is my third goal: to be perfect.  I want to break all twenty-five clay target in a single round. To even have a chance at attaining perfection I needed to examine every aspect of my approach to the sport.  These include my stance, contending with different weather conditions, properly leading the target, keeping my head affixed to the stock, keeping my feet still, taking my time, etc.  Each time I mastered one element I discovered there was something else I needed to contend with.  As part of this process, I have honed good habits and eliminated bad ones.  I have been pursuing this goal for over two years.  Over time my scores have inched closer to perfection.  I have broken 23 and 24 targets a handful of times.  Each time I am inspired to try harder, to try it again.

How many of us claim to have a relationship with God yet keep it a secret?  Why do we keep our faith sealed up inside us?  Most likely its because talking about God, especially His son Jesus Christ is becoming a divisive subject in today’s culture.  Do we love God enough to mention something about our faith to a friend in casual conversation?

The second point I want to make is how committed are we to our faith?   If we love God as much as we say, we should be working towards perfecting that faith.  Are we seeking instruction, networking with fellow believers and attempting to put into practice those things that will strengthen our faith?  Are we willing to eliminate everything from our life that hinders us from perfecting our faith?  I am constantly reminding myself that I need to put as much time and energy into perfecting my faith that I do a favorite pasttime.   (Hebrews 12:1-3; Matthew 5:43-48; James 3:2)

The beauty of it stunned me

Question-MarkI’m reaching back almost forty years with this post, to my POW class (Principles of Writing).  I have to say I was surprised to discover that I held on to these papers from my freshman year in college.  We submitted our papers in our own handwriting (pre computer days) on college ruled paper.

I had to give myself credit for coming up with something this creative for my final paper.  Can you guess what object I am referring to?  Remember this is 1976.

As I walked into the classroom on the last day of class, I suddenly became overwhelmed at the beauty of the object before me.  It seems as though I had overlooked it for ten straight weeks.  Most people would say that it looked queer, or that it was homely, but I thought it had a sense of royalty deep underneath it’s shell.

The thing that first caught my attention was the way its turquoise coat reflected the sunlight, while the rest of it absorbed the sun.  Four knobby little legs extended downward, magnifying the size of its remaining body.  Its overall appearance gave it a highly intellectual look.  Each multicolored piece of jewelry added to its appearance.  The thing that impressed me most of all was the way it draped its long sleek tail across its body.

Something must be said about its quietness, however.  It seemed funny to me that this particular object would rarely talk when it was light.  Instead it would wait until darkness fell upon the room, but even then it would never talk unless it was told to.    

When someone told it to speak, its eye would glow, shooting out rays of light in countless colors.  How I marveled at this object.  

Food was never a problem with it either.  You never heard the object complain about being hungry because it only got hungry when it talked.  Then it would eat whatever the people would bring it.1413_Question-Mark-Photos

We can learn very much from this object when it speaks.  It contains a vast storehouse of knowledge which is free to anyone who wants to listen to it speak.

I guess sometimes we look at something, and concentrate on how ugly it is and we seem to overlook its good points.  People should overlook their first impressions and really look at the inside of things.  That’s why the beauty of that ____________________ stunned me.

Re-release of Junior’s Hope

BookCoverImage (1)Junior’s Hope will be available for purchase within the next seven days (that is if everything goes according to plan).  I intend to make the book available in paperback and ebook formats.

To commemorate the book’s launch I will be pushing out a blitz of blog posts over the next seven to ten days, covering my earliest days of writing to the present.  I hope I can create a buzz bigger than the lazy fly that is flying around my living room.

Work or Worship

IMG_0402In Benham’s book, the brothers call our attention to the Hebrew word avodah which can mean work or worship.  God put a desire in us to do both.  The Benham brothers assert that as followers of Jesus we shouldn’t make the mistake of separating the two.  They had several things to say on the subject.  Here are three:

  1.  Whatever the task at work (no matter how menial), it can be done as an act of worship to the God we serve.  That means if we’re janitors (been there) or some other low link on the corporate food chain, our work is meaningful to God.  He sees it as such.
  2. We are strategically placed by God in our jobs as ambassadors for Him.  Not only are we serving our employer (work) we are serving Him (worship).  Your job is your ministry.
  3. Our identity should come from who we are not what we do.  “We are defined by the One who holds us in His hand.”  We must be careful that we are not pulled away from God by making what we do a priority over who we are.  (Colossians 3:23-24)

Fish, part 5

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I found myself in a proverbial small boat out on a large, familiar body of water when clouds began to turn threatening off in the distance. From experience, I knew I needed to break from my everyday routine and head for the safety of shore. The clouds turned angry as the storm brewed but my heart made it safely home.

The storm in the fifth decade of my life was unexpected and could not be avoided. Bill Sr., my friend and father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It proved to be the aggressive sort. After a two-year battle the doctors conceded the cancer was not responding to treatment. All the while the evil disease continued to ravage his body. Dad’s doctor now recommended palliative treatment and hospice care. Prayer, originally our first option, was now our only option.

How do you stand and fight when bad news rains down on you with the force a hurricane, trapping you in the wind and rain and denying you shelter from its fury? Raw human emotion like the tidal wave of a storm surge washed over our family, ravaging our souls and leaving us utterly defenseless. The force of these elements drove downward with such intensity that strongholds, including the place where the essence of hope itself dwells, was in danger of being lost.

An overwhelming and relentless attack bore down on our world. It was beyond our human strength to resist it. The teaming and pooling of water created rivers of destruction; flooding the very paths we once trod in safety and comfort. It changed our familiar landscapes forever. Was there a rock mighty enough to withstand such an onslaught, a refuge impervious to anything and everything in its path? Where does hope exist at such a time?

Our family knows first hand of such a rock because Dad guided us to it.   He helped us navigate through the maze of life’s distractions that might keep us from clinging to this rock of hope. Eventually we all found it and embraced it. We saw the value and the necessity of doing so because of Dad’s living example. I am of course speaking of Jesus Christ being our Hope, our Savior and a Rock without equal.  From the book, Junior’s Hope.

In his latter days the cancer began effecting Dad’s mind. The salmon hanging on the wall across cropped-img_0997.jpgfrom his bed became a single point of clarity. No matter how bad the confusion, if he
could train his eyes on the fish, he could figure out who and where he was. We all mourned when Dad went to be with his Savior in 2005.

Following his death, I came to realize two things. First, I was deeply committed to the existence of the unseen and my ability to interact with it. God alone is able to receive and keep those like my father who have a genuine relationship with Him.  Because I hold the same belief in God I will see my father again. Secondly, I needed to cherish the relationships I have now.

…I saw you fishing the other day as I was cleaning up the yard and stopped to sit beside you. You shared your fishing pole with me and we took turns baiting a hook with skinny little worms and dropping the line in the water. You caught a sunfish and I caught one too.

As we sat together near the water’s edge watching a school of minnows congregate on the surface of the water, my mind drifted back to my senior year in college.  I had almost given up hope of finding that one person who could bring me joy, not just for a season, but perpetually. This person needed to be special, a girl who could captivate my heart so completely that I would be compelled to love her…always…forever. That person needed to believe in God and love Him like I do.

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It was your beauty that first caught my eye but I resisted its appeal. Beauty, they say, is only skin deep. Then your eyes connected with mine and opened a window of kindness that my heart wanted to gaze into. A quiet smile complemented your eyes. I caught glimpse of the love you possessed in the well of your soul and I stood before you breathless, trying to hide my feeling of awe. I was not prepared to encounter real beauty that existed previously in my dreams.

We strode together into the movie theatre on that famed first date. I beamed with pride because I had the privilege of sitting alone with you for the next several hours. I wanted desperately to do or say something that would make a meaningful connection with you. A pang of fear pierced my thoughts, what if I was not your type of guy.

Time passed too quickly as we watched the double feature.  Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase found love in the first film; Warren Beatty and Julie Christie found it in the second. I wondered if Patty would remember me tomorrow, and the day after that?  Bravely, I reached out and touched your hand and you cradled it in yours.  My heart beat faster. I did not want our time together to end. When it came time to say goodnight, I brushed my lips across yours. In that moment, with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, I tried to gently convey my willingness to enter your life, your dreams and your future and offer you access to mine.

Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder.  We would experience that first hand. Christmas break immediately followed our first date and 150 miles of separation kindled our romance…

“Downstream” by Supertramp © 1977

(click on the album cover)

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Took a boat Sunday, down by the sea

It just felt so nice, you and me
We didn’t have a problem or a care on us
And all around was silence, everywhere

You are the reason I was born
Be with you through all seasons
I’ll always hear you
When you call

We’ll keep the love light shining
Through each night and day
A lonely life behind me
Oh, what a change you’ve made

So down here on the ocean
We will stay, we will stay, we will stay
Went through a lot of changes
Turned a lot of pages
When I took a boat on Sunday

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I count each day I spend with Patty a blessing. As we sit together in our Adirondack chairs overlooking the pond behind our house, fishing of all things, enters my mind.  What once began as a childhood experience (interacting with the unseen) has turned into a lifelong commitment.(Luke 5:1-11)   I look at fish today and see them as a symbol of hope.  One day all things will be revealed and on that day the unseen will be seen.  My prayer is that I will be remembered as someone who fished with patience and faithfulness. (Hebrews 11:6)
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