Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Just Be...



I attended a memorial service this past week.  During the service, the minister (our own Rick Cline) mentioned a passage in Ecclesiastes.  The wise man, in chapter 7, says this:  “It is better to go to a funeral than to a banquet because that is where everyone will end up. Everyone who is alive should take this to heart!”
At the first, this would seem an appropriate verse for a funeral, and an appropriate verse if one wanted to cause everyone to be depressed and sad.  But that’s not the intent of the wise man.  His intent is that everyone know and understand that from time to time we need to stop and think…ponder our life, our existence, and our destination.  It’s time for some quiet reflection on life lived and what remains of life.
We are a distracted and busy people.  We’re always going somewhere.  We’re always moving.  We’re always inundated with sight and sound.  Our minds are going in fifty different directions.  It’s like we don’t WANT to slow down and think, ponder, and reflect.  For if we do, we have to do some serious thinking about life.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?
Those questions…oldies but goodies…remain the basis for our discovering the meaning of life.  And the fact that those questions are best answered during times of quiet reflection lead me to ask you to set aside some time to just be.  Just be.  No earbuds.  No phone.  No TV.  No ROKU.  No noisy restaurant.  Just be.
And while we’re “just being,” perhaps it would be a good time to find God;  to open the lines of communication with Him.  As the old hymn says, “Take time to be holy; speak oft with thy Lord.  Abide in Him always, and feed on His word.”
It can be a scary time; this time of reflection.  It can also be some of the best use of time that you’ll ever have.  Try it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Under All Is the Land



We have just come back from a ten-day trip to the Great Southwest where there are miles and miles of canyons, mountains, valleys, and generally rugged country.  While we were there, that area was also suffering from a heat wave that even natives were complaining about.  Temperatures of 115 degrees or more were common.
When this farm boy travels and looks over the countryside, he thinks about how the land is useful in some way.  Farming, ranching, irrigation, growing things; these are things that make the land valuable.  Human beings always seem to find ways to make the land work for them and be productive in some way.
But out in the Great American Desert, there isn’t really much that can be done.  Much of that land has never been touched by human feet, and may never be.  Water remains scarce, with just a few patches of valley or mesa here and there being irrigated and suitable for some kind of crop or livestock operation.  Deep canyons, steep mountain sides, dangerous weather conditions, remoteness and lack of availability of basic services…all of this and more make the notion of putting the land to productive use even more remote.
Yes, I know there are great scenes out there.  I know there are fantastic and incredible views.  I understand the magnificence of the mountains, canyons, and starry canopy.  There are truly great wonders of the world in the Great Southwest, and you should strive to see them at least once in your lifetime.  But the thought remains…what good is the land?  Are the thousands of square miles of this kind of country useless?  Is there no purpose in it?  Should we just write off this entire area as flyover country as we travel from Chicago to Los Angeles?
I don’t think so.  I came up with a statement during our trip out that I kind of like.  “We should appreciate the land for what it is; not for what it can do for us.”
It’s great to be able to work the land.  It’s a wonderful thing to coax the land to produce crops…fruits, vegetables, grains.  It’s good to use the land in some useful and productive way.  But it’s also good to understand that we aren’t masters over the land.  The land allows us to be stewards of it.  The land allows us to work it.  The land allows us to profit from it and have better lives because of it.  And it tells us that by holding back some of itself in the form of impenetrable wilderness and wild country.  Try as we might, we find it virtually impossible to tame all of the land.  So we go for only the small part of it that it allows us to have.
Our Lord created the land for many reasons.  Among them, I believe, is so we will appreciate that we are not the masters, but the caretakers.  We aren’t the dominating influence; we are part of the whole.  We don’t dictate the eventual outcome; we ride along with the creation as God moves it through time.
The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Realtors begins this way:  “Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.”
It seems to me that the wise utilization of much of the Southwest Desert should be to remind humanity of the greatness of the God who created it (and us), and that we are the caretakers …not the masters…of the land upon which we live.  If we get it…if we understand that…the land will have done the job for which it was created, and we will be enriched immeasurably.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Little Yellow Reminders



Last Friday was a dreary day.  It was, or had been raining, the clouds were gray and low, there was no sun anywhere to be found.  It was cool, with just a hint of a breeze.  I had come to work feeling the end of the week.  It was kind of like Mondays, except I knew I had to get through this day to get to the weekend.
The day didn’t start out well.  I wasn’t feeling very well.  I was getting over some kind of virus my wife brought home for me to try on for size.  I had work that was piling up that I just didn’t want to get to.  It was the dreary day outside that I described earlier.  And besides all of that, it was Good Friday…the day Christians remember the death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross some 2,000 years ago.
I got up from my office chair about mid-morning and walked around in the building.  Looking outside to the north, I decided to go on out and see what the weather was doing.  I looked around there for a minute and saw several bright yellow tulips in full bloom.  They seemed to be chasing away the gloom...doing exactly what the Creator wanted them to do.  They also seemed to give me a lesson that day.  Here they are in the middle of  gloomy day, doing their job of encouragement and serving to shine in nature in a wonderful way, in spite of all of the negativity, cloudiness, and darkness around them.
After I took a photo of them and sent it to Google for storage, I went back to the office refreshed and at least somewhat revitalized.  The weekend was better than I thought it would be, and Easter Sunday was a wonderful day spent with family and friends.
I won’t soon forget those tulips.  They taught me a valuable lesson.  Maybe they have something to say to you, too.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Numbers



A thought occurred to me a couple of days ago.  I was thinking about a number, and how that number fit into the knowledge base that I have in my head.  As I thought about it, I then thought how there were other numbers that also fit into my knowledge base somewhere, somehow.  I wondered how many such numbers there were, or if I could list even a few of them.  So, here goes a sort of experiment to list some of the numbers that are in, have been in, or somehow have encountered my life, either in thought or experience.

55:  The national speed limit put into place during the oil crisis from 1974 to 1995.
66.  The number of books in the Bible (Protestant version).
4’ 8 ½”.  The distance between the rails of a standard gauge railroad.
26,800,000,000.  The known breadth of the universe, in light years.
3.  Number of “persons” in the Godhead Trinity.
1.  The loneliest number, according to Three Dog Night.
100.  Highest denomination of circulating U.S. currency, in dollars.
13.  Baker’s dozen.
5.  The pink money in a Monopoly game, in dollars.
96.  The age of my paternal grand dad when he died in 1966
3.14159  The (approximate, since pi is an irrational number) value of pi.
180.  The sum of the angles of any triangle, in degrees.
10.  The height of a basketball goal, in feet.
365 ¼   Approximate number of days in a calendar year.
666   A number frightening to many, but holds no special meaning for me.
256  My EMS radio call number in Harper County.
2,000   Number of pounds avoirdupois in a short ton.
   Member of the set of imaginary numbers
50  Number of sprinkler heads on our small farm irrigation system when I was a youngster.
16 ½   Length of a rod in feet.
320   Number of rods in a mile.
(274,207,281  1)   The largest known prime number (as of the beginning of 2017).  It has over 22 million digits in it.
6   The number of my siblings plus myself.
4.  The width of overturned dirt, in feet, that a 3-bottom plow will make in a field.  Plowing a quarter-section of land with one three-bottom plow is a daunting and humbling experience.
2  The number of tools used in Euclidian geometry construction (compass and straight-edge).
2.71828   The number whose natural logarithm is 1 (aka the constant “e”).  e, like pi, is an irrational number, so this is an approximation.
24  My age when I married.  Best thing (almost) that ever happened to me.
776  My EMS radio call number in Harper County after the reorganization.
300,000,000  The speed at which my text message travels from my phone to the cellular point, in meters per second.

As you can readily see, numbers that may mean something to me may have no meaning for you.  You may not have thought about imaginary numbers recently, or the speed of light, or even a baker’s dozen.  But you do have numbers in your life, and numbers do mean something to you.
Take a little time and think of some numbers that have meaning for you and why they mean what they mean to you.  It’s a pleasant exercise, and one that is sure to get you thinking past what’s for dinner tonight.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Are You Willing to Bet Your Soul?

I'm sitting here toward the end of the afternoon listening to a cassette tape...yes, a cassette tape...that I made some years ago. I took the liberty of hooking my computer audio output to the cassette recorder we have and recorded some of my favorite tunes from over the years. You might be surprised, if you don't know me well, just what they are.
Music Box Dancer, Nadia's Theme, the theme from “Gunsmoke,” I Hope You Dance, the theme from Captain Kangaroo, Both Sides Now, Downtown, and others are here. I'm really not finished with the tape yet, and probably will put some more on it, or convert it to digital somehow and listen to it that way. But the songs that are on here are those which are indelibly etched into my memory, and each evokes a particular thought. If I thought I had the room and the time, I could write down each thought and memory, but you probably would be bored to tears.
I use this as an intro to this blog to try to get you to recall music from your past, that evoke strong emotions, pleasant or not, within your soul. Music has a unique way of doing that, as you probably already know. There's something about hearing music for many of us, just as for some of us there's something about observing artwork or reading a well-written piece of prose or poetry that brings back a flood of emotion and memory.
There can be a danger in this, however. It's not wrong to remember. It's not a bad thing to go back in time,for a time. The danger is if we begin to live in the past as if it's the present. The danger is if we lose track of the reality that is the present. We dare not...we cannot...go back and live as our lives once were. Much as we'd like to be back in the home where we grew up, with mom, dad, and the siblings all gathered around the black-and-white TV watching the Red Skelton show, it just isn't going to happen.
Like it or not, we are in the present, and the present is ever changing...ever encroaching on the future. The future that was ten seconds ago is now the present, and now is the past. It flies by so quickly, we hardly are able to catch a glimpse of it before it's gone. Like it or not, we are moving through time to some destination. For, you see, time will not always be for us. There will come a time (if I may put it that way), when we will no longer experience time. Our impending meeting with death will come upon us all.
Some of us believe that when that happens, not only will we no longer experience death, we won't experience anything because we will cease to be. Others of us believe in some kind of afterlife that is different from what we are now experiencing, but nevertheless will be timeless. Still others of us believe that we eventually will be reincarnated as some kind of living creature...human or animal. And that the cycle is unending, which is another way of saying it's timeless.
Whatever you may believe, know that at some time, we will no longer experience time. And while you're thinking about these kinds of serious things, think seriously about your relationship with the One who created time and created you. Creation demands a creator. You are a creation. And regardless of what you may or may not believe about things, there is but one Truth. There is but one Correct. There is but one Way. There can be many falsehoods, but only one Truth. Are you willing to bet your soul on what you believe now? Or do you think you should take another look? Your choice.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Have You Ever Noticed?

Have you ever noticed that when you're first in line at a red light alongside someone else in the other lane(s) that many times they won't start out on a green until they see someone else start out?
Have you ever noticed that when there's a line of cars being held up by someone going more slowly than normal, often the “slow” vehicle is one with a handicapped tag on it?
Have you ever noticed that sales clerks seem to “perk up” a bit when you call them by name and engage in some polite conversation with them?
Have you ever noticed that when a grocery store marks down an item, often it is near it's end date...but they don't tell you that part of the deal?
Have you ever noticed that hospital corridors and rooms are sometimes just about the noisiest places on earth with all of the carts rumbling by, people chattering nearby, and televisions blaring in rooms and waiting areas?
Have you ever noticed that people riding together in elevators seldom recognize one-another, except maybe to say, “what floor?” Otherwise, it's eyes down or eyes ahead.
Speaking of elevators, have you ever noticed that the etiquette of allowing women to enter and leave a car first, and allowing all to exit a car before anyone gets into a car seems to be going the way of the dinosaur?
Have you ever noticed that the more hurried you are, the more people in the line ahead of you stop and visit with the clerk or cashier?
Have you ever noticed that children tend to behave in accordance with expectations, and that they will behave much differently at school (for example) than at home...primarily because of differing expectations?
Have you ever noticed that all vehicles have a “seat crack of no return” where anything unfortunate enough to fall down into that crack cannot be retrieved for at least a year and a half?
Have you ever noticed that the sun generally makes an especially brilliant and colorful sunrise or sunset at times when your camera is far, far away?
Have you ever noticed just how prevalent “There you go,” and “Here you are,” have become for store clerks as they complete a transaction?
The corollary to the above “Have you ever noticed” is the noticeable disappearance of “Thank you for shopping with us,” and one's surprise anymore when he hears it.
Have you ever noticed that the “acceptable” amount for tips for service in a restaurant have climbed from 15% to at least 18% and beyond?
Have you ever noticed just how little you the customer have to say about how businesses deal with you...that the pendulum has seemingly swung in the direction of the businesses always being right instead of the customer?
Have you ever noticed that people who write blogs called “Have you ever noticed?” usually don't have very much important to say?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What is Really Important

Sometimes I read something that gets a message across better than I ever could, even though I'd been thinking about that topic or message for some time.  Today, I ran across a post by Paul Tripp, Christian author and teacher, about why we are Christians...what we expect God to do for us as a result of our following Him.
I suspect many of us follow Christ because we want God to be some kind of cosmic vending machine that dispenses blessings, healing, and wealth to us in this life.  In this post, Tripp reminds us of what is really important in our relationship with the Maker of the universe.

He was an exhausted and discouraged husband and father. He said, in so many words, "I pray, read my Bible, and go to church. I struggle to do what's right, and people tell me to trust the Lord. But God just sits up there and lets it all happen. What good has being a Christian done for me!?"
A different lady, unrelated, was married to a difficult man. Her dreams of the perfect marriage had long died. I was trying to help her understand her identity in Christ and the love God had for her, and she finally had enough. "Stop! Don't tell me any more that God loves me. I need a husband who loves me!"
Without a doubt, both of these people were suffering from the realities of life in a broken world and from the sins of others. But more than that, they were suffering the consequences of their own poor theology and misplaced desires. In other words:
To the degree that we base our hope in something or someone other than the Lord, to that degree the hope of the gospel will not comfort and satisfy us.
In John 6, Jesus confronts the crowds who have been following him with that truth. He says, in summary, "You are pursuing me out of a selfish motive, in the hopes that I will meet your physical needs. You're excited about me, but for the wrong reasons."
Let's be honest with ourselves. We too sometimes follow the King for the wrong reasons. Yes, we're excited about salvation and redemption, but we're equally as excited to experience physical blessings and a comfortable life, straight from the hand of God.
What does this have to do with your words? Remember, if "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," then what we say to ourselves, to others, and to God will reveal what we truly desire from the Lord.
If you were to listen to an audio recording of what you have said this past week or month or year, what desires would you discover? What theology would be revealed about how you understand and interpret God?
Are you following King Christ because you hope he'll deliver you the good life? Are you asking him to only provide you with blessings in the here and now?
Life today can be good. It's not wrong to have physical blessings shower down on you, nor is it sinful to desire comfort. But our Savior is a Savior, not a genie.
Let's open our ears and listen to how we speak, aloud and internally. The reflection questions below are intended to help. May what we hear convict us and mold us more into the likeness of Christ!
God bless