Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Power of Grace and Forgiveness


Earlier this week, Amber Guyger, former Dallas police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Bothan Jean.  You’ve probably heard about this if you follow the news at all.  It made national headlines.  You’ve also probably heard about people who are protesting the sentence, demanding justice for the young man who was killed in yet another seemingly too familiar scenario of police versus minority.
Let’s try to go beyond all of that for a moment.  Some facts are crystal clear.  First, this event was a tragedy for everyone involved.  There are no winners.  Everyone loses.
Second, the circumstances surrounding the incident are unique in nature.  Normally, things like this don’t happen.
Third, many lives were unalterably changed forever.  The police officer and her family.  The family of the young man.  Friends, business associates and others all have suffered unwanted change in life.
Fourth, there is a place here for justice.  Someone has to pay the penalty for what was done.  Otherwise, the rule of law is worthless.
Fifth, there is also a place here for mercy.  If ever there was a need and a time for mercy, this situation…this circumstance…would be it.
And last, if there ever was a time for the Christian virtues of love and forgiveness to come out, this would be it.  And those virtues were very much on display when Brandt Jean publicly forgave Ms. Guyger, wished the best for her, said he wished she would not have to serve time, said he loved her just as he loved everyone, and asked the judge if he could give her a hug.  The judge approved, and there was a tearful, emotional scene in the middle of the courtroom that shook those watching to their depth of their souls.
One more thing.  This is an opportunity…an opportunity for redemption, healing, and love to prevail over hate, politics, and ideology.  This is an opportunity for Christians to show what we are made of, and to demonstrate in stark and unmistakable terms the love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.
Just like the Nickel Mines tragedy, when several Amish school girls were murdered in their school some years ago, the world witnessed here what love and forgiveness can do…the power that is in grace extended to the undeserving.
May the world take note and follow the example.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Of Cold Fronts and Gratitude


Have you ever been outside when a cold front air mass came through where you were?  Before the front comes through, the old warm, humid air mass that has kept everyone miserable for several days blows in with southerly winds.  Then, for a brief moment, the wind subsides and there is a calm.  And in just a split moment, there is the first whiff of cool, fresh air on the north side of the front.  The breeze quickens and continues to cool things off in a very, very refreshing sort of way.  And you know that the big blue line you’ve seen on the weather maps in the last few hours has gone through you.
If you’ve never experienced that, you need to do so once in your lifetime.  There are several reasons for doing so.
1.       Change.  Things change.  Situations change.  Life changes.  Change is all about us.  We can embrace the inevitable, or we can continue to rail against it to no avail.  As Archie Bunker once said, “I like change better when everything stays the same!”
2.      It DOES get better.  The staleness and stagnation of the old, humid air mass gives way to refreshment and coolness.  The spirits of people are lifted, and things perk up.  It’s the same with life.  It WILL get better.  There are many downers in life, but there are the peaks as well.  Look for them.
3.      Provision.  There is indeed a Provider who knows what His creation needs and sees to it that those needs are met.  Colliding air masses promote rainfall, change of season, and other benefits.  Our needs are being met as the blue line of the cold front passes through us.
4.      Gratitude.  We live in a generally ungrateful world.  We humans believe, for the most part, that we make ourselves into what we are and have to look out for ourselves.  To an extent, that’s true.  But there are many things about life and living that we haven’t any idea how to control or manipulate.  The weather is one of them.  That front will come through regardless of what humanity may do to slow it down or speed it up.  We need to have a measure of gratitude for those things which come our way purely from the grace of a merciful Creator.
Whatever your taste in weather…rainy, foggy, snow, cold, warm, cloudy…whatever it is, some time take the time to follow an air mass as it creeps closer to you, then plan to be outdoors when it comes through.  And think of the lessons that it brings to you.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Only By Grace


I was sitting out on the back patio of our home over the weekend.  In a quiet time, I started looking around at all that I saw, thinking about how it all got there and why I was so privileged to enjoy it.
I must confess that I don’t have answers to those questions.  Ultimately, I believe that God created all that we see and know, and all that we don’t see and don’t know.  However, just how the park woods which borders our back yard came to be, and how the tallgrass around the fish pond came to be what it is, with its seed pods high in the air this time of the year…I haven’t a clue.  And even the goldfish, the roses, the birds…all of that and more are beyond me in terms of how it all got there for me to enjoy.
The question of why I was privileged to enjoy it is even more puzzling for me.  I don’t deserve any of it.  I don’t deserve to have a back patio that borders Pawnee Prairie Park.  I don’t deserve to have a fish pond or tallgrass surrounding it.  I don’t deserve to have rose bushes that bloom even now.  I don’t deserve to have eyes, ears, or a brain to perceive, understand, and enjoy these thing.  I don’t even deserve to be here.  Yet here I am…in the middle of all of this beauty and enjoyment.
One might say, “You’ve worked hard all your life.  You deserve to have some nicer things.”  No, I don’t.  Yes, I’ve worked hard.  But no, there is no guarantee that any of that will result in enjoying nice things.  I’m not even guaranteed to be alive tonight, let alone next week.  Why should I think I’m entitled somehow to have running water, air conditioning, transportation, and a bed?
No one owes me anything.  God owes me nothing.  The government owes me not one thing.  If anyone is indebted, it is I.  And I’d better make sure I understand that.  If anyone is indebted, it is I.  I am indebted first to God.  I am indebted to those who have sacrificed to make this nation what it is.  I am indebted to the sheepdogs who keep the wolves away from us sheep.  I am indebted to my family, my parents, my ancestors, my friends.
The next time you get the feeling that the world owes you something, or that God is repaying you for some great thing you’ve done for Him, remember the story of the rich fool in Luke chapter 12.  After surveying all that he had accumulated, he decided to take it easy and live off of his largess.  But that very day, God comes to him and says, “‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
It is fine to enjoy the things God may grant to us from time to time.  It is good to benefit from the grace given to us.  But we must remember…it is only by grace that we can enjoy these things…and that they are in no way guaranteed to us.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

American Prosperity


One of the announced candidates for President in 2020 has reportedly said An entire generation, which is now becoming one of the largest electorates in America, came of age and never saw American prosperity.”
I am not naming the candidate as I don't wish for this to become a political article. But just stop and think for a moment about this statement. While I understand that “American prosperity” can mean different things to different people, let's look at it from a rational point of view.
Has the generation the candidate references (a younger generation) had the privilege of clean water? Showers? Toilets? Hot water? Microwaves? Refrigeration? Transportation? Communication? Education? Health care? Energy (electricity and heating fuel)? Shoes? Underwear? If so, the generation HAS indeed seen American prosperity, because those things are sure signs of it...signs that most of the world can only dream about.
It is disingenuous to say the least to talk of an entire generation of Americans not seeing American prosperity. It is also incorrect in so many ways. American prosperity does not mean all are millionaires. It does not mean that there is no need to work hard for a living. It does not mean that all have everything they may desire. And it doesn't mean that anyone owes that generation...or any generation...anything or should collectively feel apologetic for the state of the world today.
No generation is entitled. No generation is deserving. No generation has an automatic lock on wealth or the American dream (whatever that means). Each generation must work, be good citizens, demonstrate a pragmatic and decent moral compass. Each generation must find its own prosperity, for only in doing so will that generation appreciate, cultivate, and hold dear to the principles which have made this nation the envy of the world.
American prosperity? If you have running water, you are ahead of most of the world in terms of prosperity. It's time we began to appreciate and cherish what God has given us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Factual Evidence Matters


I just started a book called “The Virgin Birth of Christ by J Gresham Machan.  Published in 1930, it remains one of the apologetic standards regarding the birth of Jesus Christ.
In a preliminary discussion on opposition to the virgin birth, Machan has this to say about those in antiquity who were anti-Christian, and of course dismissed the virgin birth as a figment of the imaginations of Christians.
“…the early denials of the virgin birth by opponents of Christianity have no weight whatever against the historicity of the event.  The opponents presuppose the Christian doctrine, and have no historical tradition of their own to substitute for it.  The mere fact of their opposition is of no importance whatever, for it is only what was to be expected.  Unless they were to become Christians, they could hardly accept the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.”
Going beyond the doctrine itself, do you see what Machen has done here?  He has dismissed as having no importance at all the mere opposition to the doctrine.  And he has done so at least in part because the opponents have offered no contrary evidence…they are just opposed…which, he says, they naturally would be since they are not Christians.
OK.  Carry that forward to today’s world.  The mere fact that someone is opposed to something is of no importance UNLESS and UNTIL they can offer some concrete evidence supporting their opposition.  This works in all arenas of life…politics, family relationships, religion, education, and so on.  For example, the fact that you may be opposed to tariffs on Chinese imports has no standing unless you can offer some solid, factual evidence that supports your opposition.  Or as another example, the fact that you may be opposed to instrumental music in worship carries no weight unless you can offer some solid, concrete evidence that supports your assertion.  Or you may be opposed to vaccinations for your child.  You need to support that with good, solid, factual evidence or your opinion matters not.
Let me say it again…just being in opposition to something has, or should have, no importance unless you can offer a reasonable alternative and support it with good evidence.  It’s time we ceased being noisy opponents without solid foundation and started looking at all kinds of issues in life reasonably and carefully.  In so doing, we formulate our opinions based on factual evidence and can support our opinions with that evidence.
And let me clarify here that good, solid, factual evidence does NOT consist of Facebook memes, what your brother-in-law thinks, or what you heard on talk radio.  Factual evidence is evidence that has a solid, proven foundation compiled by people who are as unbiased as can possibly be regarding the subject.  This means that sellers of homeopathic remedies are not the best source of evidence for the ingestion of those remedies.  It means that athiests are not the best source of evidence contradicting Christian doctrine.  And it means that Democrats generally are not the best source of evidence to oppose a Republican idea or ideology (and vice-versa).
So, before you become a noisy opinion-teller, stop and think about the facts that support your opinion.  And do so with as much of an unbiased heart as you can muster.  Then realize that other people of good will, intelligence, and patriotism have opinions that are the opposite of yours, and speak with care and with love.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Such Should Not Be


A long-time Facebook friend and fellow church-member unfriended me yesterday.  I’m not exactly sure what the issue is, but suspect that it has to do with the fact that I called him out on a post he made that was political/societal in nature.  I happened to not agree with the tone of the post, as to me it seemed as if it was advocating an attitude that in my mind is unbecoming of a Christian.
He is more to the right than I am.  I consider myself more middle-of-the-road and in fact am an Independent.  That had little to do with the post, however.  The post called out those rich who would sleep well at night even though they know that they are accumulating wealth on the backs and with the lives of many in developing nations.
My comments had to do with the fact that we all are rich in this nation and we all are guilty of doing much the same, while sleeping very well at night.  We purchase and possess diamonds and gold that could well have been mined in Africa by laborers making pennies a day in work conditions that would shorten the lives of anyone who labored there.  We buy sneakers, underwear, and other apparel that may well have been assembled by people in sweatshop conditions earning a dollar or less a day.  We know it; we know where the stuff we buy is coming from.  Yet we do anyway and think nothing of it.
The post itself, in my mind, presented the author (and by extension those who posted it) in a “more righteous than they are,” attitude.  Such an attitude is, in my view antithetical to the Christian world view.  And I let him know that.  And I was unfriended as a result.
In this global economy, it would be very difficult to divorce oneself from all instances of worker abuse.  We can try as best we can to do so, but the fact is that we will not be able to eliminate it from our material lives.  That wasn’t my main point, however.  My point was the apparent “more righteous than they are” attitude.  Just the fact that it was posted betrayed, at least in my mind, that attitude on his part.
So, for one Christian to unfriend me based on that exchange…I can’t help that.  I wish him well and trust he will continue in his walk with God through his life and I will see him again.  I have to wonder, though, just how many of these kinds of relationships have been damaged by a Facebook post or a Twitter comment.  How many people have severed ties with someone else based on an ideological disagreement or a political difference of opinion.

Such should not be.

Christians are not all Caucasian, heterosexual, western culture Republicans.  Christians come in all colors, flavors, and ideologies.  People from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” are even now gathering at the throne of God to praise and worship their Creator and Redeemer.  We’d better be ready to be surprised at who gathers ‘round with us when that great day comes.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Wondrous Apprehension


Today, I hung a framed, 11 by 14 photo of the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters constellation, on the wall of our church office.  It joins an enlargement of the earth as seen from the moon, the Pillars of Creation, Horsehead Nebula, and a Hubble Ultra-Deep Field photo, along with a photo of the full earth and a full shot of the dwarf planet Pluto.  I have another photo…a panoramic photo taken on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew…in process.  If you can’t tell by now, I like astronomical photos.
I’m not sure why I have a fascination for these kinds of things.  After all, I can’t see this stuff with my eyes only, nor do I have the telescopic means to observe them directly.  I must rely on someone else to see the beauty in the skies and take a high-enough resolution photo that I can have it enlarged and printed.  (The photos themselves, by the way, are in the public domain, having been taken by one or the other governmental agencies.)
For me, observing the beauty in the skies through these kinds of photographs is a kind of worship.  I know how they came into existence and know who holds all of it together.  Of course, I don’t have the scientific knowledge…I have the knowledge that comes by faith…the preponderance of the evidence accompanied by a stepping out of the bounds of mere human experience and into the realm of the reality of the spiritual.
You may have some other means by which you approach the God of the universe in worship.  For you, it might be music.  Or perhaps the miracle of metamorphosis or migration in nature is your thing.  You may look at the human body and marvel at the design.  Or you might see the intangible things such as love, joy, and peace and see their origin in the God of it all.
Whatever it may be, know that you aren’t alone.  Untold millions have looked at the Pleiades, a newborn baby, the monarch butterfly, and other untold phenomena and have broken out in unbridled worship and praise to the God who made it all.  It is a glorious and wondrous thing to be able to transcend the scientific explanations (or lack thereof) and grasp a truth that begs to be apprehended…begs to be known…begs to be embraced.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The Manifold Wisdom of God


I have always had a special fascination for a portion of the Bible found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  In chapter 3 starting with verse 8, Paul says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Just what is it that the church is doing here in conjunction with the “manifold wisdom of God?”  If I am part of the church, do I have a role in whatever this activity is?  Who are the “rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places?”  And just what is this “mystery” which Paul talks about?
This is deep stuff.  I would suppose that, were I teaching on this passage, I would say something like, “It doesn’t get any deeper than this.”  This passage affects everyone who is part of the church of Christ (church of Christ is meant in the universal sense throughout this blog).  For (according to Paul) it is the Church that reveals God’s wisdom…even to those spiritual beings in the heavenlies.
James Montgomery Boice in his pinnacle work “Foundations of the Christian Faith,” says this about this passage.  “Any reader of the New Testament will understand that the church is important in this age, just as God’s dealings with Israel were important in the Old Testament period.  But the text from Ephesians says more.  The fullness of God’s wisdom is being revealed in the church even now, and the principalities and powers—the phrase refers to spiritual powers such as angels and demons—are scrutinizing the church to learn of the wisdom and plan of God revealed there (emphasis mine).  It is as though the church is a stage upon which God has been presenting the great drama of redemption, a true-life pageant in which it is shown how those who have rebelled against  God and wrecked his universe are now being brought back into harmony with him, becoming agents of renewal and healing instead.”
Do you see that?  Do you understand what Paul is saying here?  Do you truly “get it” in that a part of what you as a member of the church of Christ do is display the awesome and unfathomable wisdom and plan of God in the redemption of His creation?
So, dear reader, how are you coming along with that?  How is that going for you?  How are you working to display the marvelous wisdom of God and in the revelation of what, until the days of the church, was a great mystery, seen only through a glass, darkly?  Are you doing your part in demonstrating to even the evil spirits and demons the wondrously incredible plan of God to redeem not only his people, but the entire creation?
OK, it’s time to do some soul-searching.  It’s time to understand truly what it means to be part of the church of Christ.  We may be pressed on every side by evil, indifference, ignorance, intolerance, and apathy.  But God is bigger than all of those things.  And it is His power, working through us, which enables us to show even those satanic, evil spiritual beings the power and wisdom of God.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Glorifying God


Have you ever wondered just what it means to “glorify God”?  If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lifetime with some sense of that phrase, but never really sure just what it means.  And it’s important for the Christian to know what glorifying God really is and means, because we are called to glorify God just as Jesus recognized that his work was to glorify the Father.  (Romans 4:20, I Corinthians 6:20, Matthew 5:16, and many others)
In reading through the book “Foundations of the Christian Faith” by Boice, he gives a good, succinct definition of glorifying God.  He uses Jesus as the ultimate example.  Here is the quote taken from his book.

Glorifying God means “to acknowledge God’s attributes” or “to make God’s attributes known.”  God’s attributes are best seen at the cross of Christ.  There above all other places God’s sovereignty, justice, righteousness, wisdom and love are abundantly and unmistakably displayed.
·         We see God’s sovereignty in the way in which the death of Christ was planned, promised and then took place, without the slightest deviation from the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning it, or adjustment to meet some unforeseen circumstance.
·         We see God’s justice in sin’s actually being punished.  Without the cross God could have forgiven our sin gratuitously (to speak from a human perspective), but it would not have been just.  Only in Christ is that justice satisfied.
·         We see God’s righteousness in recognition of the fact that only Jesus, the righteous One, could pay sin’s penalty.
·         We see God’s wisdom in the planning and ordering of such a great salvation.
·         We see his love.  Only at the cross do we know beyond doubt that God loves us even as he loves Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish by have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)
Jesus fully revealed these attributes of the Father by his death.  Hence, his obedience to the Father’s will in dying fully glorified him.

-----James Montgomery Boice in “Foundations of the Christian Faith”

When we glorify God, we acknowledge all that God is.  We also express thanksgiving to God for who and what He is, because it is the attributes of God…His righteousness, justice, mercy, wisdom, love, etc…that have made it possible for us to be sons and daughters of his, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that unvarnished gratitude should be at the foundation of any glorification efforts on our part…gratitude for all that God is and is to His creation.  For we can offer nothing to God other than our devotion, gratitude, and love because of His great work of salvation on the cross.
“To God be the glory; great things He has done!  So loved he the world that he gave us His Son; who yielded his life an atonement for sin; and opened the life gate that all may go in!”
“Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  Let the earth hear His voice!  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  Let the people rejoice!  Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son; and give Him the glory, Great things He has done!”

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tribute to Bill Altaffer


A good and humble man is no longer with us. Bill Altaffer passed away today after a long bout with cancer. No longer suffering, Bill now is in the presence of the God he loved, and is thanking his Lord Jesus for taking the penalty for his sin.
Bill was a different sort of guy. I guess I am sort of attracted to that type of person for some reason. He and I just seemed to know each other well, and got along from the first. He was the kind of man who made friends easily, and just as easily shared his faith. Here is one example of that.
I recall one trip he and I made to Oklahoma. We weren't in a hurry to get there, and it was a good thing we weren't as we had to stop at every rest area on the interstate so he could drop off some homemade gospel tracts in the men's restroom and wherever else he could leave them. Those tracts asked anyone who responded to contact him. I don't know if he ever got a response, but he wasn't afraid to put his name out there for the cause of Christ.
Bill loved the Psalms and was a sort of local expert on the poetry that makes up that book of the Old Testament. He expecially liked Psalm 119...the one that talks over and over about learning, loving, and meditating on the Word of God.
He wasn't afraid to go door-to-door, "cold calling," trying to find someone who would hear the Good News.  He expected results from the presentation of the Gospel. He never talked about “If” we would get a response...but “when.” The community where he and I met...and became friends...Oakley, Kansas...was a difficult place to share the gospel. He and I talked a lot about that difficulty, and what could be done to break through, so to speak. Although he never had the apparent success in converting many while in that community, he left a lasting mark on many, and demonstrated to many what true humility and service were like.
Rest now, my friend. There are no more doors you need to knock. No more tracts you need to hand out. No more sermons or lessons to prepare. You'll not need to wonder any longer what some passage in the Psalms means. The glass that you have been seeing through darkly is now removed and you are seeing face to face. You'll never need to present the Gospel ever again to a lost and dying world. Your work is done.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Communion


I’ve been doing some research into Catholic teaching, especially as it pertains to the Eucharist or Communion.  As you may or may not know, Catholic teaching is that once the bread and wine are consecrated by a priest, they become the actual body and blood of Christ.  Protestants generally believe that the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, with some variation of that among the high church Protestants.
Although I don’t believe that Christ’s body is actually present in the elements, I do believe that we Protestants many times approach the communion service with a less-than-appropriate attitude and thought process.  It is just something we do along with everything else on Sunday morning, and many times is relegated to second, third, or even a perfunctory place in our services.
We do, or should, understand the literal presence of Christ as we take the elements and celebrate the Communion.  Again, the elements are just that…bread and wine.  Christ’s presence is not in the form of his literal body and blood, but is indeed truth.  After all, he said that he would take it along with us in the Kingdom (Matthew 26:29).  Just how his presence manifests is and should remain one of the mysteries of the faith.  It is sufficient that his word said he would be with us.  We need not have a scientific explanation for it.
We need to remember that and approach the communion as if Jesus Christ was standing in the front of the auditorium, he himself offering thanksgiving for the elements.  Because somehow, some way, brothers and sisters, he is.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Quiet


I've just come into the house after spending 20 minutes or so out on the back patio. It's cloudy out, cool, and recently rained. I wasn't out long before I started trying to identify the sounds I was hearing. I was especially interested in doing this, because we spent most of yesterday evening at a wedding and after-celebration that just seemed to get louder and louder as the evening wore on. I was really enjoying the quiet out back.
In the few minutes I sat there with my eyes closed, I heard the faint sounds of a train whistle (the nearest tracks are several miles away), an aircraft taking off from the nearby Eisenhower Airport, a very faint, low-frequency rumble from the direction of the airport that I never could identify (just above the threshold of hearing), an evening dove, a cardinal, the occasional shriek or noise of kids playing down the street, a dog barking far away, the occasional goldfish jumping at the surface of the backyard pond, quiet conversation of hikers or walkers on the path in the park just behind the house, once-in-a-while vehicle noise...but not loud, and my own breathing.
It is fascinating to me how many sounds one can pick out when in a quiet place and is intent upon listening. It's also a reminder to me that there are times to be in a noisy place, and there are also times to be in a quiet place...and to quiet one's mind and heart and understand what is surrounding me.
I don't know about you, but the older I get, the more I like to just sit and listen. Sit and meditate. Sit and think. Sit and be quiet. No phone. No TV. No music. Just quiet. Just me by myself. We have enough time in the day when we are busy with something else. We have constant bombardment of television, movies, music, and general noise...both environmental and otherwise. We need to rest our ears. We need to calm down our brains. We need to just be quiet for awhile.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Blessings


It has been both a busy time post Memorial Day, plus it has been a time for great reflection on some things that are often overlooked in a life of busy-ness and the Internet.
We have taken time off, the two of us, to sit our six grand kids so their parents can take a much-needed vacation…just the two of them.  They went to Miami, Florida and had a great time there doing the things people do in that part of the world.  We were at home with the six kids, doing what people do when they are thrust into that kind of environment.
We gave them back to the parents a week ago yesterday.  We finally got the house back in order last Saturday by cleaning, washing, carrying out trash, and all of the other things we needed to do with 8 people occupying the house for the week prior.
We also learned of the passing of our niece Robyn, and made several trips to see the family.  We went last Wednesday afternoon, and the wife made a trip by herself to be with her sister, Robyn’s mom, the next day.  Sunday we went to the “viewing,” and Monday was the funeral.
Of course, being off work for that amount of time resulted in lots of sticky notes on my desk that I only this morning got cleared.
Catching up on the goings-on of the church organism was another thing that I just now am getting back up to speed.  And in the middle of all of this we had an adjuster take a look at our slightly hail-damaged roof and are having our car’s windshield replaced due to a crack that developed due to hail damage.  The car itself seems to be fine otherwise; it just is an additional thing…the repair of the hail damage and the adjuster…that we have to include in the schedule.
So, what to make of all of this?  Most of what we have been working with in the past couple of weeks has been first-world.  That is, the problems that we’ve faced are a result of living in the middle class culture of a first-world nation.  Had we been living in some other culture, much of what we’ve dealt with (except the death of Robyn) would not have been an issue.  Of course, there would have been other issues that we would have to have worked with, such as clean water, something to eat for the day, or some kind of illness and no health care for hundreds of miles.
Sometimes, we complain about our circumstances, but fail to appreciate the blessings that are also part of those circumstances.  The blessing of healthy grand kids.  The blessing of a house that is large enough for 8 to be there comfortably.  The blessing of transportation that is comfortable, convenient, and available.  The blessing of family and friends.  The blessing of knowing Jesus Christ.  The blessing of a church family who loves us.
All of these and more are blessings from God Himself.  We dare not disparage them, complain about them, or look disdainfully at any of them; rather we need to give God thanks for those things He has provided in abundance.
And so I do that just now, and ask that you take a moment to reflect as well on the blessings that come your way each moment of each day.  Praise be to God for His bountiful grace and mercy.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Memorial Day


Memorial Day is coming up yet again.  It seems that the months fly even more quickly than they did just a few short years ago.  Some of our Memorial Days in Kansas have been hot and sticky.  Others have been so cold, rainy, and dreary that we had to wear coats.  And a few others have been, as the old nursery tale suggests, “Just right.”
This holiday is a time for many to go to the lake or the beach and soak in some time off from work and the grind.  For others, it is a time of reflection on their friends and loved ones who have served (or are serving) in the military.  For still others, it is a time to visit the cemetery and reminisce about relatives and friends who have passed on into the next life.
For us, it’s a time for all of that in some form or another.  We make the annual trips to the various cemeteries where our relatives and friends are interred.  We place flowers and French gardens near the stones.  We also usually get together for a time of fun with family.  And we remember those of our number who have, and continue to serve.  It truly is a time for reflection for the Plank and Vincent families.
“Coming from a Mennonite pacifist background,” you might ask, “How can you celebrate those in military service?”
Fair question.  Sometimes people change their perspective, and in so doing change their opinions regarding such things.  I never believed, and still don’t believe, that the military and I would have gotten along very well.  It isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t for me.  Thankfully, I received a high lottery number, and didn’t have to serve in any way, although I would have if called, to the best of my ability.
I wasn’t lazy.  I did find other ways to serve society.  EMS was a good fit for me for many years.  And I served civically as well in city government, Lions Club, and other endeavors.
But for those for whom the military is a good fit, there may be no better way to obtain an education, develop a lot of maturity quickly (read that “grow up”), and serve society.  I am in awe of those who serve in this way.  And I support them wholeheartedly.
So, whatever you do this Memorial Day weekend, take some time to celebrate the holiday as it was intended.  Remember.  Be thankful.  Support.  The lakes in the Plains states are overflowing anyway this year, so a trip to the lake is probably not in the cards.  Try something different.  You might just find a new tradition to keep.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rossini Revisited


Today as I was coming back into work, I had the pickup radio on Radio Kansas, the public station out of Hutchinson.  I didn’t pay much attention to what was playing in the first few seconds, but a sliver of the classical piece that was on caught my ear after a minute or so.  Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” was playing, and was in about the middle of the piece.  I immediately turned the volume up to max and set in to enjoy the piece all the way in to work.
The Cincinnati Orchestra didn’t disappoint.  The work stirs up more than just musical emotions in those of us old enough to remember old radio and TV shows.  As you may well know, the final movement of the work is the theme of the old Lone Ranger shows.  And when I hear the overture, I think of that relationship and all that goes with it.
In 2006, I had a similar experience with the overture and wrote a blog post about it.  I’m repeating that post here, as I cannot say it better than what I did 13 years ago when we lived in Topeka.  Here is that post.
When in the pickup going somewhere, I usually am tuned to a public radio station.  In this area, it’s KPR from the Kansas University campus.  I can also receive Radio Kansas out of Hutchinson, as they have a transmitter in the Manhattan area.  Public radio is so much better than the drivel of 100 commercial stations all vying for my ear.  Does that mean I’m getting old?
I was coming back from a “pastoral” visit today and was tuned to KPR.  They started the Overture to William Tell by Rossini.  As I listened, I saw that I would arrive home before it was over, so I pulled into a parking lot in a public park, under some shade, and listened to the rest of the overture.
I know that much guffawing, many jokes, and a lot of fun has been poked at the overture, as it is the basis for a lot of the old cartoon background music, and was the theme song of the old series, “The Lone Ranger.”  But as I listened to it…all of it…I sort of came to a different point of view.
Yes, I recall the cartoons and the TV shows (I’m not old enough for a lot of radio).  I know the Ranger was an extraordinary shot, always shooting the gun out of the bad guy’s hand, but never wounding him.  I know that he always managed to rescue Tonto as well as the people in distress (often children), and that he never wanted thanks for his work.
But I was also drawn back in my mind to a simpler time both in my life and in the life of our society; when it seems right was right and wrong was wrong; when decency and morality meant something other than as fodder for ridicule; when heroes were indeed heroes, worthy of emulation; when funny was funny, when entertainment was just that, and when times were more innocent.
I’m grateful to Rossini for his composition.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Helpers


These past few weeks have been a little more trying than most recently. And the thing is, not much of what has happened has happened directly to me or to my wife. Here's a summary.
Two weeks ago mynephew, the Rice County Sheriff, was shot in the leg trying to apprehend a scofflaw. His deputy was injured more severely. They are both on the road to recovery. A week ago four of my grand kids along with their dad were involved in a head-on collision. The Prius did its job in protecting them, and they came away with scratches and aches. The other driver was arrested at the scene for DUI at the 7:30 AM crash scene. My niece, who has been battling cancer for the past two years, was placed on hospice care and is expected to succumb to the illness in the next few days to weeks. She's in her mid-50's
Those are the big ones. Then there are the little things. The continual battle with allergies and vertigo. The press of the work of an Elder in the church. Church family members having surgeries, discovering cancer, and undergoing tests and further treatment. Other church family members having domestic issues, child issues, or blood family issues. It's a never-ending cycle, it seems.
I sometimes feel a little like the Apostle Paul (although in no way do I claim to be the person he was in life), when he said that he had a continual burden for the churches in II Corinthians 11. Paul had his own issues, but seemed to concentrate his prayers and concern not for himself, but for those who did not know Jesus Christ, and also for the churches he helped establish.
Life is sometimes difficult. One's own physical limitations, a sapping of emotional strength, the inability to be everywhere one is needed, and obligations one has for one's own family and life make life and living rough in spots. Were it not for the spiritual strength that comes from a relationship with the God of Heaven, it may well be unbearable at times.
I don't mean to take anything away from those who are suffering from disease, injury, or mental illness. I don't mean to be cavalier about domestic troubles, issues with family, or mental health issues. Those are very real, very tangible evidences of the fallen state of the creation. And people suffer, greatly, because of it.
Then there are those who are on the periphery of some of these events. I often find myself there in my work and life. We pray. We agonize. We comfort. We aid and help. We do what we can, even though it almost never seems to be enough, or even helpful at times. There is a real burden on the helpers as well. It wears. It is stressful. It is indeed a burden.
Thank God for those who will stand with those who are suffering from cancer, liver disease, mental illness, marital issues, job loss, and a host of other ailments in this modern culture and life. To suffer alone has to be one of the worst things anyone could do. If you are a helper, be compassionate. Be there. Be available. Be a prayer warrior.
And if you are one who is suffering, know that others are going on the journey with you. And if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, know that He is beside you as well.
This has been a difficult blog to write. I didn't want to minimize the suffering that people go through in life; yet I also wanted all to know that there are others who walk on the journey of suffering with them, and suffer in their own way. Praise God that there will come an end to the suffering, the pain, and the loss.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's That Simple


At RiverWalk, we have a rather eclectic group of men who stay under our drive-up canopy overnight.  We also have guys that camp out by the dumpster, behind a bush, and out on the front lawn.  These guys are some of the homeless on the streets of Wichita.  Many of them are semi-permanent residents of this part of town.  Some show up for a day or two and then move on.  Once in a while I have to tell someone that they are no longer welcome on church property due to the mess they leave or for some other reason.  And rarely, we have to call in the police or the ambulance to take care of a specific situation.
I’ve gotten to know several of the frequent or long-term guests on our property.  Rick, Brian, Mike, and others appear to be decent individuals who have chosen, for whatever reason, to spend their time on the street.  They see that the property is cleaned up when people camp out, maintain some order and peace, and generally look after the church building and the grounds.  They’ll tell me if someone is a troublemaker or doesn’t clean up after themselves so I can send them on their way.  They see to it that whenever there is an event or meeting at the church building, they and the others are out of sight, because they know that most people aren’t used to the homeless and have a fear of the unknown.
In return, the church allows them to stay under cover.  We allow them to use the restroom facilities when needed, and can provide some simple food items from time to time.  We keep their personal property in our building for a couple of hours should they need to leave it for some reason.
But more than that, and I think most importantly, we provide them with a sense of dignity and no judgment.  We treat them like human beings.  We sit with them from time to time on the river bank at the back of the building and just visit on a nice evening.  We ask about their welfare.  We listen.  We interact.
Yes, the odor is sometimes not the most pleasant.  No, we don’t ever expect that they will attend worship services (although some have).  Yes, we hold no illusions that we will be able to somehow get them a house and two-car garage.  And No, they don’t always use the best and finest language when they visit with us.  We just serve.
We have a few simple guidelines that they, for the most part, respect.  No alcohol or illegal drug use while on the premises.  Clean up after yourself (you’re welcome to use our dumpster).  Don’t use our yard as a bathroom.  Take any fighting, carousing, or other disruptive activity somewhere else.  And I believe they respect us enough that these guidelines are pretty much followed.  They know that if they mess it up, and we know about it, they’ll be told to move on.
This is, in a real way, the meeting of two cultures—the middle class with the homeless.  The homeless culture is not the poverty culture.  It is not the low-income culture.  It is its own culture with its own norms, standards, and customs.  And those of us in the middle class culture can no more truly understand the homeless culture than we can the culture of the Mayan Indian tribes until we put in some effort to learn about it from those who are part of it and those who know that culture through study and observation.
Our effort to “help” those in this culture to become “normal” like us is doomed to failure unless and until we make the effort to see, hear, and understand.  Our attempts to “normalize” them will be fraught with failure unless we see them as human beings, hear their stories, and understand their way of life (at least to some degree).
Many do not wish to make the leap into a different culture.  Many have been in the middle class and decided, for whatever reason, that the middle class is not for them.  Some do not have the capability or capacity, intellectually or emotionally , to make the decisions necessary to leave that culture and enter into another.
So, what to do?  Love them.  It’s really that simple.  Not always easy, but simple.  Try it.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

A Wondrous Creation


Often, especially in the spring and fall, as I go on the streets of Wichita, I see people running. Many times these people are young people anywhere in age from 8 to 28. I presume that some are running just for the exercise. Others, especially school-age young people, may be running to get or stay in condition for track, softball, or some other school sport. And each time I see someone like that, I remind myself that I once was able to do the same thing in as effortless of a manner as these people are seemingly running.
They go along the walk, the path, or at the side of the street in an effortless sort of way, some of them with a rather good kick, and others in it for the long haul. Their bodies are in shape, muscles toned, and coordination at its best. They seem to be enjoying what they are doing, often running in a small group, talking to one-another as they run.
I then wonder if they truly appreciate what their body is able to do for them. The fact that they can be upright, running, remaining balanced, and burning enough calories to provide the energy they need for what they are doing. Their muscles work in coordination with hundreds of other individual parts of their body, propelling them along. And all the while, their brain is working both consciously and sub-consciously, regulating everything from heartbeat to blood sugar level, and giving them a sense of presence and consciousness while it looks out for oncoming traffic and other dangers.
At my age, there are some things that I can no longer do, and other things that it would be best if I didn't do. Oh, I know that if I put my mind to it, got more in shape physically and emotionally, and did the proper training, I could give running a decent effort. But I have to wonder if even that is something I might want to think twice about, given my impaired sense of balance, the constant tingling in my feet (not diabetic neuropathy...had it checked out), and arthritic joints. Maybe it's better if I stick to the 20 to 30 minutes of mostly-daily walking and the occasional work in the yard and let the younger people enjoy the hard stuff.
Yet, I am grateful even for what I am able to do. Yes, my body is wearing thin and wearing out. But I can still function at a reasonable level, both physically and mentally. And on those days when things are a bit worse, I need to continue to be grateful for a body that mostly works, and does what it needs to do to get me through the day. Headache or not, achy joints or not, dizziness or not, I have had, and continue to have use of a wondrous creation of God.
No, I'm not 16 years old anymore. I don't run the 1500 meters (used to be the mile) any more. Nor do I jump from heights above my head and land on my feet anymore. But I do what I can do, and praise the Maker of Heaven and Earth for each day He gives me.

Friday, April 26, 2019

A Wondrous Gift


On my way to work this morning, I stopped by a branch of the bank we use to get some cash out of the account.  I like to carry some cash, and usually get a “refill” every couple of weeks on payday.  And, as I like to have tens rather than all twenties, I go into the bank rather than use the ATM.
After greeting the security guard, who held the door open for me, I entered the building.  I stopped at the only window that had a teller.  Ashley (not her real name) was “manning” the station.  After a greeting, I told her I wanted some cash out of the account and prepared to swipe my card.  She looked at her computer screen and told me she would have to re-login as something had kicked her off of the system.  In trying to log in, she got an error message which wouldn’t let her log in.
While she was trying to fix the problem, she apologized to me for the wait.  I told her in the most cheery voice I could muster at that time of day (I’m not a morning person), “It’s OK.  I’m not in any hurry.”  And I just casually waited.  There was another teller in the building, but he was helping a customer at the drive-in window.
Ashley told me that she was re-booting the computer, and that it was being slow.  We had a brief conversation about the Windows platform the bank was using (Windows 7), and a little about the weather.  Finally, the other teller was finished at the drive-up window and helped me at another station.
On my way out, I checked in with Ashley.  She said, “It’s working!”  I responded with something I can’t even recall now and gave her a thumbs-up.  I then thanked the guard at the door and went out to the truck.
On my way to my vehicle, something washed over me.  It was a kind of combination of an “Aha,” moment and a feeling of gratitude and worship.  Yes, worship.  I had just had interaction with three other people…Ashley, the other teller, and the security guard at the door.
Do you realize what a gift that is…the gift of interaction with others?  Do you understand that it is interactions with others, even in that kind of setting, which give us our humanity, lighten our mood, and validate our place in the world?  We have the incredible God-given opportunity to communicate with other beings in His creation…to share life and living, even in the briefest and most routine circumstances of our day.  We have the wondrous opportunity to affect another human being in ways that we may never, ever know or understand, even to the point that such can happen when we smile, do business with, or greet them in a casual way as we go about the course of our day.
I have the pleasure of interacting with several people many times a week…Curtis…our preaching minister, Doug…our evangelist, Linda…our office manager, Eric…our worship leader and children’s minister, Jonathan…our youth and family minister, Pat…my wife, and many others.  I also have occasion to interact with others such as wait staff at a restaurant, the check-out person at the grocery, church family, those who need benevolence help, my relatives and blood family, and a host of others…many of whom I don’t know, and will never know their names.  And that interaction is my opening to make their day a little better and brighter, as well as keep me grounded in terms of who I am and Whose I am.
God has given us a gift…a gift that we mostly take for granted as we do most of the gifts He lavishes on us.  Please use the gift of interaction with others wisely and for the glory of the God who created you and those with whom you interact.  Blessings.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Teach Us to Number Our Days


Every so often, when I am driving from point A to point B, I take a side trip of some kind, “just because.” Sometimes, when going to work in the morning, I'll go South into the county, then back East on one of the county roads until I get to Old Highway 81...then go back into Wichita proper that way. Sometimes, when I have an errand to run before I get to work, that errand takes me to a part of town I haven't been to in awhile, so I sort of meander to work from wherever that errand had taken me.
Such was the case when I found myself driving past my old Alma Mater, Newman University. When I attended, it was Kansas Newman College. I slowed down and turned into the campus. Driving around the campus a couple of times (it's a relatively small place), I reminisced in my mind about some of the buildings I had been in, the new buildings that had been constructed since I had attended, and a few of the people I had classes with back in the mid-1990's. I saw some of my favorite parking places, and even thought about a kind of circular path I would take at times if I had some time and needed some exercise.
I took a degree-completion course there in business management, and did not participate in the extra-curricular things, or have much to do with college life. I had a full time job at the time, a family, and had to drive 50 miles one way just to attend classes (there was no on-line then). Each semester was a 9 credit hour semester, with three classes, each five weeks long. So it was indeed an accelerated curriculum. Not much time for ball games and the like.
I've done the same in other locations in Wichita and surrounding area. I lived here for a time in the late 1960's, attending WTI (Wichita Technical Institute) and still recall some of that experience. Some of the neighborhoods are still somewhat familiar, and some of the buildings still stand that I haunted back then.
I also like to, from time to time, just go for a drive in the country. Yes, there is country in and around Sedgwick County, although it's getting harder to find nowadays. I enjoy going when I can roll down the window, drive 40mph or less, look at the crops (really!), the farmsteads, and the livestock.
And I enjoy going back to Harper County, where I was born and raised, and raised my kids. Some things have changed; a lot has stayed the same. I'll take off in the rural area of that county too, thinking about families who used to live here or there, or who farmed what land. And, of course, look at the crops, the farmsteads, and the livestock.
I think the older I get, the more I enjoy such times. I don't know if that's a natural by-product of older age, or if it's something I just seem to enjoy. But those times seem to take me back to a younger time in life. And I usually manage to recall the more pleasant of those times and put aside some of the less pleasant aspects of those days.
The Bible talks of someone living about 70 years, or if by reason of strength 80 (Psalm 90:10). And in that verse, it also talks of those days being filled with trouble and sorrow. I know that chapter also talks of God's eternal nature and our sinful nature, and that the key point of the Psalm seems to be in verses 12, which says, Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And verse 14, Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
No matter the days we have “consumed,” or the days we have left; no matter how often we reminisce and long for a simpler time; no matter how much we may spend some time in the past, we dare not lose sight of the fact that we are to be aware of our limited days and use them consumed in the love of God, singing and being glad in all the days He chooses to give us.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Faith and Belief


An interesting question was brought up in class last Wednesday evening.  “Is there a difference between belief and faith?”  My response was that yes, there was a difference, but I hadn’t studied that in awhile and wanted to do more research.  So today, I did.  Here’s what I found.
The Greek for both belief (or believe or believing) is the same as the one for faith…some derivative of the root peithow (πειθω).  The word has a variety of derivatives and translations.  Depending on the exact spelling of the word and the context in which it is used, it can mean “to be of the opinion, have a mental persuasion, to give credit to.”  Those definitions fit best the English word “believe” or “belief.”  It can also mean “assurance, firm conviction, confidence in, sure, certain, guarantee.”  These definitions best fit the English “faith.”
As you can see, the word has a wide-ranging definitive stable, which depends in large part on the exact derivative of the root, and the context of the text it is part of.
As an example, in James chapter 2, the text talks about faith and works.  In that text, both the English “faith” and “believe” are used.  Both terms are translated from some form of the Greek pistis or pistos, which of themselves comes from peithow.  Yet the meanings are very different.  Take a look at this example.
“James 2:18-19”  But someone will say, “you have faith, I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that-and shudder!”
The words that are underlined in that passage all are translations of the same Greek word.  Yet their place and context in the text give a very different meaning to each one.
As Christians, we need to take advantage of any textual helps that may be available to us.  Yet we also need to rely heavily on the translations to give us the proper nuances and shades of meaning.  We also need to have some mind of the context of the text as well as be familiar with other texts that speak of the same topic.  To consult only one source of information may well lead us into a place we did not desire to go.  May God bless us and His Spirit lead us to a greater understanding of His Word and Will.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Stagger Onward, Rejoicing


The Hutchinson News this week, an editorial mentioned something that Kelsey Grammer, an actor in several television shows, said about something he found in a poem when he was a youngster. Here is what he had to say. “'Stagger onward rejoicing.' That line came to me at age 15 in my little refuge, my bedroom, after my dad was murdered and my grandfather died. Eleven years later, I found the line in 'Atlantis,' a poem by W. H. Auden. He became my touchstone. I named our youngest child Auden.”
This is Jay again. Now, I don't normally quote actors in my posts, and I've really never watched (or wanted to watch) Mr. Grammer in any of his shows. I always felt like I got enough of real life in my real life, and besides, I had better things to do with my time. That's also, by the way, why I usually don't watch movies, either at a theater or on television.
But this quote from the poem by Auden gripped me somehow. “Stagger onward rejoicing.” So much of life seems to be in the staggering onward department. We do the best we can in life, making decisions as best we know how and pressing onward as best we can. But often, something gets in the way of our plans...sickness, financial reversal, job loss, death of a loved one, auto accident, or some other malady. And we often just seem to stagger onward in spite of the obstacles in our way. In reality, if we don't stagger onward, we cease to function, as there is but one way to go in life...and that's onward.
Just as remarkable is the “rejoicing” part. Especially for the Christian, rejoicing brings to mind an inner peace and joy that can't be fully understood, but can indeed be experienced. Even in the face of the most terrifying circumstances, we can indeed find rest, peace, and joy in the God of the Universe.
I don't know if you are staggering right now in your life or not. My guess is that there is something in your life that isn't like you'd like to have it. And my guess is that you just “stagger onward” at times. In those times, remember this quote, and add that word “rejoicing” to your thoughts. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Are You a Festus?


I like to peruse YouTube videos.  I like to view science, railroad, music, and other videos.  But once in awhile a video will pop onto my initial YouTube screen that is special.  Such was the case a day or two ago when one came up featuring Ken Curtis (Festus on the old “Gunsmoke” TV show) singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”
As you may or may not know, Curtis himself was nothing like his alter-ego Festus Haggen.  Curtis was a singer and performer, having done so professionally for many years before Gunsmoke came along.  He was a lot like Jim Nabors, whose alter ego Gomer Pyle seemed to be unable to carry a tune in a bucket; but Nabors was a great singer.
I watched the video and did a little research on Curtis.  I remember him well as Festus Haggen, as the weekly ritual at our house on Saturday nights (the show moved to Monday night after I left home) was to be sure the TV was tuned to channel 12 for Gunsmoke.  It was a family affair, with Dad being the one who really wanted to watch it.
I recall Dad’s fondness for the show and for the characters.  He was especially proud that Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams, was a Kansan.  And he thoroughly enjoyed the shows where the outcome was firmly in favor of the good guys.  Some of the shows had endings that were a little on the “confusing” side with no apparent, obvious winners…with these shows, Dad was somewhat confused by himself, often saying something like, “Well, that was a strange ending!”
As often happens when being reminded of things like this, my mind went back to those years, and there quickly developed a longing for those days when life was simpler, television was more family oriented, and intact families were more the norm.  Yes, there were issues even then…life wasn’t a bowl of cherries, as Erma Bombeck would say.
However, watching Curtis sing in his Festus costume on that video, with many of the same mannerisms of the character he portrayed, was a real treat.  Maybe one reason Festus sticks with me so much is that he reminds me of some people I have known…rough and gritty on the outside, unshaven, prone to imbibe if free beer is offered to him, a little on the stinky side (not bathing until really necessary), and not one for the niceties of polite society.  Yet, Festus also has a moral code that upholds honor, truth, honesty, dignity, and reliability.  And he’s not afraid to demonstrate that in his everyday life and living.
Festus is Festus.  He is who he is.  He doesn’t pretend to be anyone else.  And he doesn’t allow political correctness or politeness get too much in the way of his way of life.  But he also has the qualities that make him someone you would want for a friend.  When push comes to shove, and you’re between that rock and hard place, you want Festus with you.  You’ll choose him first.  Because you know he will go the full ride with you.  He’ll have your back.  He’ll come through for you.
I have one or two Festus friends.  And I trust that I can be counted on to be that kind of a friend for someone else.  There are scriptures that deal with friendship.  “A friend loves at all times.”  “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”  “Better is a friend who is near than a brother who is far away.”  There are others as well, and different translations may have slightly different wording.  The point is the same.
Strive to be a Festus friend to someone.  Live your life in such a way that people will know you can be that kind of a friend.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Small Things


For the past several days, I’ve had a pain in my left foot.  Right below my big toe, in the fleshy “ball” portion of my foot, I would experience some rather sharp pain from time to time.  It was so bad at times, I would be gimpy, and favor that foot when I tried to walk.  I thought, though, that it was probably a strain of some kind and would get better with time.
Over the course of a few days, however, it did not get better.  It seemed to be getting a little worse.  I wondered if I needed to make an appointment with my provider to check it out since it was some kind of internal thing.  Maybe it was more than a strain.  Maybe it was an infection or some kind of misplaced bone or something.
This morning, after my shower, I walked out of the bathroom and almost fell to the floor when it started hurting.  Sitting down on the cedar chest at the foot of our bed, I thought to myself what I needed to do, and decided to just take a look at the bottom of my foot, not expecting to see anything as the pain seemed to be internal.
To my surprise, there was a sort of “pimple” there right where it hurt the most.  Fumbling for my glasses and making my eyes focus, I looked at it closer and noticed a dark line about 1/8 of an inch long sort of imbedded into the thickened skin.  Could it possibly be?
I went to my junk drawer and found a hypodermic needle, one of three or four that we have specifically to remove splinters.  I will tell you now that we have those needles, sans syringes, from our time in health care…they’re great for digging out splinters!  I dug around a bit and out popped some kind of splinter.  I cleaned up the blood, bandaged up the wound and dressed.
An hour later, I marveled at how much better my foot felt.  And now, toward the end of the morning, I can barely feel where that thing was.  There has to be some kind of life lesson here.
Something about 1/8 of an inch long, imbedded into a thick skin so superficially that it could be readily seen without digging at it had caused me some considerable grief over the past three or four days, even to the point of making it difficult to walk at times, and uncomfortable most of the rest of the time.
One can reap a multitude of life lessons from my experience.  The one that comes out for me is how such a small thing can cause such a great (relatively speaking) pain and disruption in the normal course of life.  A slender piece of wood almost too small to see gave me moderate pain, difficulty walking, and was a constant reminder through the day that it was there.
In the same way, seemingly small things in life can cause great heartache, disrupt one’s day (or week, or month), and change relationships.  We need to be especially aware of the little things that come our way, as they have a habit of causing big waves in life.
So, the next time you have one of those nagging little splinters in your skin somewhere, remember the lesson…it’s the small things that sometimes cause the biggest problems.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Driving the Streets


Every time I drive the streets of downtown Wichita, and even at times when I look out the door or a window of the church, I see people.  But the people that I see many times aren’t like you and me.  These people, many times are the homeless or the near homeless.  And they are easy to spot without being stereotypical.  Many are carrying oversize backpacks or trash bags.  Some are riding bicycles with backpacks hanging off of the handlebars or fenders.  Some are pushing shopping carts.  Most are disheveled, have clothes that don’t fit, and need some basic hygiene.
And although I am happy to see the development that is taking place in the city…Old Town, Delano, the baseball complex, the apartments, the new library, a new Century II, and other areas of development, I have to wonder what all of this development will do to the population that I just spoke about in the prior paragraph.
These people are already marginalized.  They already are on the outskirts of society.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to be on the upper end of the scale enjoy the new shops and restaurants.  We like the new entertainment venues and the upscale apartments.  But for those who are on the other side, my fear is that it will only drive them farther from the possibility of redemption and extinguish what little hope they may have for a somewhat normal life.
Oh, I get it.  I understand that in many cases, it was the prior choices of these people, or choices made for them that put them where they are now.  And it is their continuing choices which many times keep them in the poverty whirlpool.  But there are many who have no choice but to continue to make those choices; because any other choices are not within the realm of possibility, or are not within the capability of the person to execute.
But does that mean that we just turn our gaze away and pretend they don’t exist?  Do we spout worthless platitudes like, “Well, if they would only get a job…?”  Do we go ahead and build and develop knowing that it will only drive them to another part of town that is less foreign to them, but is out of our sight?
Or do we at least develop some compassion for them and try to find what little we can do that would bring about a productive change in their situation?  Do we at least try to get to know some of them in terms of hearing their story, treating them like human beings, and offering that proverbial cup of cold water?
We will never, in this universe, solve the problem of poverty and need.  Jesus himself said that we would always have the poor with us.  And although with a wave of his hand he could have fed everyone in the world, he didn’t do so.  But he did develop relationships.  He treated individuals like the human beings they were.  He gave them not only food for their stomach, but also spiritual food for their soul.
We would do well to look at the life of this Great Teacher of ancient Israel and emulate him as best we can.  The poor are all around us.  The need is right outside our door.  The impoverished are on the next street corner.  The poverty whirlpool is actively seeking, finding, and devouring human beings at a dizzying rate.
I can’t do everything, but I can do something.