Monthly Archives: March 2018

Do dogs act their age?

In her book, Really Important Stuff My Dog Has Taught Me, Cynthia L. Copeland had this to say about how dogs age gracefully.

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“Age neither defines a dog, nor overwhelms his thoughts.  Because they live in the present, dogs don’t see time the way that we do, regretting years gone by and obsessing over the days that are left.  An old dog doesn’t focus on what he can no longer do, but what he still can do.  Dogs cope, they adapt, they look for reasons to wag their tails.”

 

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Psalm 119:97-120 Find time alone with God

What is it about God’s Word that the psalmist is so enamored with?  Answer: he has a personal relationship with God.  If we were to characterize this relationship as a two-way street, one side is the psalmist’s side of the street lined with worldly buildings and distractions, and the other, God’s side of the street.  So what is it about God’s side of the street that makes the psalmist want to cross over and devote himself completely? (Hint: did you have a best friend in your youth?  Was being able to stay at their house the best and most exciting thing ever?)

book-863418_960_720These three stanzas of Psalm 119 highlight the importance of finding time alone with God in prayer and Bible study.

(97) Your law – The God given Law is found in the Old Testament.  God have us his son, Jesus, in the New Testament.  The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  (98) Makes me wiser – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  (99) I have more insight – those who sit at the feet of Christ often have more insight than Doctors of Divinity (Charles Spurgeon).  (100) I have more understanding – Trust in God with your heart and don’t rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  A regular time of private devotion also yields guidance (101), learning (102), and a hunger for more (103); an example being to your favorite food that tastes so good you can’t get enough of it.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

In the next stanza God’s word lights my path (105), preserves my life (107), is my heritage  (111), and gives me hope (112).  If so much joy and happiness can be found spending time alone with God, why would we ever want to return to our worldly side of the street?  Spurgeon reminds us that, “We are walkers through the city of this world, and we are often called to go out into the darkness; let us never venture there without the light-giving word.”

The third stanza uses language one would find of a war being carried out in enemy territory.  (113) I hate double-minded people (frivolous, indulgent, worldly thinkers).  (114) God is our refuge and shield.  We must remember to wear the whole armor of God against the enemy (Ephesians 6).  (116) God’s word sustains and upholds us and is proven. (120) He alone is the right (true) one to worship.

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Matt Chandler offers three points for those who have a relationship with God, addressing our need to find alone time with him.  (1) Staying connected carries us through life’s ups and downs.  (2) When we remain near to God, it leads to a sustaining love. (3) We produce fruit when we stay connected.  Staying connected allows us to be transformed by him (Romans 12:1,2) and enables us to make a difference in the world in which we live (our side of the street).

“We are walkers through the city of this world, and we are often called to go out into the darkness; let us never venture there without the light-giving word.” C. Spurgeon

Fish, part 2 (revised)

IMG_0392St. Andrews Lake was not huge, but you couldn’t see the far end of it even from our elevated vantage point. The lake was kidney-shaped and its clear water darkened to blue as it deepened…Most importantly, lurking in the water like buried treasure, were largemouth bass, northern pike, pan fish and perch. All of them hidden from view…  

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

The August sun beat down on Dad and me as we waited for the fish to surrender or make another run for it. Impatience bubbled up inside me. Holding on to my fishing pole kept my hands occupied but the rest of my body squirmed, longing to do anything but remain pinned against the sun baked boat seat. The life vest hanging around my neck made me hot and sweaty. The vest’s past history became evident as it wicked up the moisture from my body and produced a rotten smell.  My standoff with the fish showed no sign of ending. The huge northern pike had done something to prevent me from reeling it in. My head hurt and I was ready to give up.

“Dad, the fish isn’t tugging on the line anymore,” I complained.

“That doesn’t mean its not there. Don’t give up,” Dad said trying to encourage me.

My father wasn’t ready to give up. An engineer by profession, part of his job involved coming up with solutions to problems. He took an oar out of the oarlock and pushed it into the water following the fishing line down, hoping to gain some understanding of why I couldn’t bring up the fish. Unfortunately, the depth of the water exceeded the length of the oar. Dad also rowed the boat in a wide arc around the spot where the line plunged into the water. He stopped four or five times during the trek to give me a chance to pull on the line from different angles. Nothing he tried worked.  We both knew there was only one thing left to do.

“Billy, pull steadily on the line so you don’t break the pole,” Dad said, voicing his solidarity.

“Like this,” I replied as I stood up and leaned back against the line.

The tension broke before I had a chance to brace myself.  I was pitched backwards by the sudden release of the line and landed in a heap between the seats.  I didn’t cry as I reeled in the empty line. Instead, I felt more like one of Dad’s fishing buddies and less like a kid who got to sneak off early that morning to fish with his father.

Fish or fishing in my earliest years validated the idea that just because something couldn’t be seen that didn’t mean it didn’t exist.  Fish, though unseen, were real and could be interacted with. To this day one of the most exhilarating things about fishing is the feeling of an unseen object tugging on your line. Being a person of faith, the picture of unseen fish models the existence of God who is present though not seen.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

My fish story does not end here, however.

The next decade of my life was one of drastic changes. Our family vacations to Canada continued. Fishing became truly a family affair. As our skill improved, so did the number of fish we caught. For me, fishing with Dad became an important way of relating to him.

Those carefree years came to an abrupt end, however, when I graduated from high school. I no longer had time for family vacations. Holding down a job and going to college were my priorities now. The remaining years of my second decade afforded me little or no time for fishing.

In my second year in college I happened to meet a freshmen who turned out to be a very funny guy. I don’t make it a habit of hanging around comedians but for some reason we hit it off and become good friends. He made me laugh more than anyone I knew.  Our definition of fun, however, sometimes clashed with the college rules.   In an effort to protect his identity, I’ll call him Boris.

Boris and I made plans to room together our senior year. Oops, I just gave away his identity. Anyway, we arrived early on campus in the fall and immediately began decorating our “bachelor pad.”  Because we arrived early, we were able to pillage the best room furnishings out of nearby dorm rooms. Conversations between us went something like this.

“Boris, our room is missing something.” I said

“All my stuff is here,” he countered.

“I’m not missing anything either. The room is missing something!”

“You mean besides the stereo, speakers, sofa and television?” Boris said.

This was 1979, before the widespread use of cell phones, personal computers, flat screen TVs and all of the game consoles we can’t seem to live with out.

“I need something for my desk.”

“How about a lamp?” He said, chuckling as only Boris could.

“I’m being serious.”

“How serious can getting something for your desk be.”

His cackle was contagious and soon he had me laughing.

“Let’s go down and take a look at brother Jim’s room.” Boris said pressing his palms together as if to portray himself as a wise sage.  Boris was studying to be a minister and often got carried away with the whole brother/sister thing.

“What does Jim have that we don’t?” I said, suddenly curious.

“You’ll see.”

We went down the hall to Jim’s room but he was not there. His door, however, was slightly ajar.  I had just recently met Jim but already I had him pegged as a bit of an eccentric.  Living in a dorm, it had been my practice to give eccentrics a wide birth until I understood them better.  Boris knocked hard on the heavy oak door, hard enough to make it open completely.

“Brother Bill, shall we enter?” Boris stated like he was rolling out a welcome mat.

“Can’t we get in trouble for doing this?” I said more afraid of being misunderstood by Jim than anything else.

“I’m an RA.”

I should explain that each floor in our dorm had a resident advisor, or RA, who was the liaison between the students and the dorm’s resident director, or RD. Boris was permitted to enter rooms on our floor as part of his responsibilities.  Tentatively, I entered Jim’s room and Boris followed.

“What do you think?” Boris said, gesturing towards the aquarium in the back corner of the room.

“Yeah, that would do the trick.” I said growing excited about the possibility,  “I wonder why it looks like he’s trying to hide it behind the door.”

“Are you working for the FBI now?” Boris said sarcastically.

“You’re the RA, you should be investigating stuff like this.”

“What kind of fish do you suppose those are?” he inquired, taking a closer look at them.

“Okay Sherlock, lets go get the fish tank.”

IMG_0374I can’t remember exactly how we acquired a fish tank, but I’m sure we did it legally. Putting fish in an aquarium drew me closer to them, close enough where I could fully appreciate their beauty. I felt a part of their world as they swam by me at eye level.  It’s a much different perspective than viewing fish from afar or looking down at them from above.

I would characterize this decade of life as the discovery of genuine relationships. These were more personal and fulfilling than the juvenile ones of my earliest years.  I fully immersed myself in these relationships and learned the joy of putting effort into them rather than just taking what I could out of them and moving on.

Spiritually, I was going through a major transition as well. As a child I believed in God because my parents did. It was their faith I held on to. In my second decade of life I discovered the beauty of a God who didn’t look down on me from above, rather his habitation was with me. He became my God.

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16

As wonderful as this realization was, I was unprepared for what was about to happen.

To be continued…

Psalm 119:81-96 Trust in the God of Hope

What do you do when a trial or threat you are facing wakes you up in the middle of the night?  Your mental, physical or emotional stability is hanging by a thread.  Do you get up out of bed and go to your safe, pull out a stack of bills and start counting your money?  Does that give you comfort? Do you pull out a prized collection and handle the objects of your desire for relief? Or, do you close your weary eyes and sing with all your heart, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  What, or who, do you place your hope in?

questions-1922477_960_720This stanza appears to describe one of the psalmist’s seasons in the life; he is in a place so dark and desperate, a place where none of us wants to go, let alone think about.  My soul faints (v81); my eyes fail (v82). Whatever it is we put our hope in better be big enough, sure enough, true enough, strong enough, to bring us back from the brink.  (Remember: God is my portion in Psalm 119:57)

(v83) Wineskin in the smoke – Empty wine skins were strung up in tents.  The fire in the tent turned the skins black and sooty and caused them to wrinkle and shrivel, rendering them useless.  Are there times when you feel useless?

(v84) How long must I wait – We need to remind ourselves that God never tires of us asking him (Isaiah 40:28-31).

(v86) Your commandments are faithful – unlike the society in which we function, we don’t have to learn some new software or worry about something we learned being obsolete.  God’s truth is able to meet any present or future need.

(v88) The word of God is a life preserver – the living word of God speaks to us when we need it.  Jesus has saved us by the power of the cross (John 1:14 the word [of God] became flesh and lived among us).

If the previous stanza portrays the psalmist as being at the brink of ruin, this stanza is filled with great certainties. Derek Kidner reminds us that God and his commandments extend beyond the limits found in the world in which we live.

(v89) God’s word is eternal; (v90) he is faithful; (v92) your word saved me (don’t forget to stand on the promises found in scripture).

(v96) There is a limit to perfection we see in our world – a confusing verse but consider that in any situation we deem “perfect” such as witnessing a perfect sunset or a picturesque fall day, there will always be a limit to how long it will endure. Contrast this thought with:  But your commands are boundless – There is a spiritual (eternal) side to everything we experience that can only be truly be satisfied by God’s word (a.k.a Jesus Christ)

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Matt Chandler in his video series on Psalm 119 stresses that there is hope found in God’s word.  It is a deep hope based on God being enough regardless of life’s circumstances.  Hope is not crossing our fingers, it is placing our trust in the God of the universe.  Finally, rejuvenation can be found for those who place their trust in God.

Fish, part 1 (revised)

IMG_0360As I stumbled around my bedroom getting ready for work, I had no clue that inspiration was about to strike. I placed my wife’s coffee on her nightstand as a beeping alarm clock roused her from sleep. Being thoughtful, I shuffled across the floor to her aquarium thinking its light would be easier on sleepy eyes. The instant the tank flooded with light the epiphany came. I felt the need to write about fish. What? I questioned the thought immediately.  What does writing about fish swimming in an aquarium have to do with anything other than lowering someone’s blood pressure?

Immediately, I concluded two things. The thought had nothing to do with work since I am not a commercial fisherman, nor was it about food, because I don’t normally think of fried fish immediately after breakfast. I left the house confused.

I arrived at work and began making my way through the building. Robotically, I turned on a light to illuminate a corridor I had walked down a thousand times. On my left I noticed an expanse of blue paper hanging on the wall. Pasted on the paper was an assortment of hand-colored fish of the sort you would find in a coloring book.

I wonder how long it had been there?

Another light revealed more fish. Hmmm.

I made my way to my desk. Certainly a cup of coffee would help me think more clearly. I retrieved my thermos and a coffee mug I stored in a drawer. Placing both items on my desk, I flicked on the overhead light and sank into my chair, already anticipating the positive effect pouring hot black liquid down my throat would have. As I reached for my cup, I noticed a card lying beside it. Believe it or not, it was a subscription card to the “In-Fisherman” magazine. My immediate thought, you’ve have got to be kidding me. I seemed to have just experienced a three-fold affirmation to write about fish. Since I subscribe to the belief that there is a Divine Being who works in all areas of my life, I resolved to give the subject matter a bit of serious thought.

I reflected on what I had to work with. All three instances involved fish-related subject matter already present in the darkness and appeared visibly when I turned on a light. I spent the rest of the morning physically working on maintenance projects while my mind tried to determine what direction to take on this project.

Just ask the animals, and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you. Let the fish in the sea speak to you. Job 12: 7-8

I began by tapping into my earliest memories of fish or fishing. Several hours later I had a shirt pocket stuffed full of notes written on paper scraps spanning six decades. I’ll begin with my earliest recollection.

During the first ten years or so of my life, going fishing with my dad would definitely make my highlight reel. Our family began taking vacations to Ontario, Canada about that time. Somehow my parents managed to get in touch with a farmer who rented out a pair of cottages on a private lake. My most special memory while staying in one of those cabins involved Dad taking me out fishing early in the morning while my brothers and sister slept. This I imagined equated to having a position of privilege.

The expedition began before dawn. We were in the boat as a pre-dawn mist rose up from the tranquil waters.  Dad rowed into the mist.  The oars creaked as he drew them through the water. This felt to me like an adventure.  Once my father reached the intended spot we cast our lines in the water.

My excitement quickly waned, and the hours began to drag slowly by. No fish were biting.  By late morning my stomach was growling.  I’d already consumed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich earlier.

I remember boredom biting me as I sat in the front bench seat in the nose of the boat. Sometimes the best games grow out of boredom.  I decided make a game out of leaning over the side of the boat and trying to get my face as close to the water as possible. My father was oblivious to this folly as he occupied the middle seat and had his back to me.

It was hard leaning over the side with a faded orange life-jacket on but somehow I managed it. I decided to add some interest to the game by grabbing the middle of my fishing pole and dangling a lure into the water close to my face. The green rubber frog appeared lifelike as I manipulated it like a marionette.

IMG_0369I stared into the dark void as I played.  Suddenly, a pair of ghostly eyes emerged from the black depths.  A large gaping mouth full of teeth opened, inhaling the frog bobbing on the water.   My face was so close to the water that I fell backwards into the boat trying to distance myself from the creature. A mammoth northern pike sunk back into the depths without the slightest splash, my lure still in its mouth.

Had I imagined the whole thing? No way. The fishing pole I still held was pinching my hand against the side of the boat. A grating sound emanated from the reel as line peeled off it. Filled with excitement, I felt the need to stand up. The boat rocked wildly as I rose to my full height. I almost fell overboard as I grabbed the pole with both hands and yanked upwards, attempting to set the hook. From behind me I could hear my father yelling, “Sit down!”

His words did nothing to quell my excitement, as I watched the tip of my pole bend down below the water line. The fish swam away from the boat taking fishing line with it and I could do nothing to stop it. Dad got excited once he saw what was happening. He spun around quickly to face me.

“It’s a monster, Dad, I saw it,” I screamed, trembling all over.

“Don’t pull to hard, you might snap the line,” he advised.

The fish suddenly stopped. My line, now taunt as a guitar string, felt as if it had the anchor tied to it.

“Dad, it won’t budge,” I said quickly growing frustrated.

My father never attempted to take the fishing pole from me; he instead concentrated on offering me encouragement. He rowed the boat towards the fish to take some of the pressure off the line. We left a cove overrun with lily pads and edged closer to a rocky bank that tumbled into the lake.

“Reel in some line Billy and take up the slack. Keep tension on the line.”

He stopped rowing when the angle of the fishing line running into the water appeared straight up and down. An occasional heavy tug was the only evidence something was still on my line. The fish and I had reached a stand off.

“Billy, the fish may have wrapped himself around something on the bottom,” Dad offered.

“Dear God, please don’t let this line break,” I prayed out loud as only a child could.

To be continued…