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

Friday, December 30, 2016

An Incredible Presentation



I just witnessed what in my mind was one of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever heard.  The occasion was the wrap-up of a week-long crafts fair for girl scouts held at our church building.  The girls made their own crafts, many of them clothing or articles of bling of some kind.  Several older women mentored them during the week.  At the craft show today where the girls showed off the fruit of their labor, the mentors held a panel forum that consisted in part of the girls being able to ask questions of the panelists.
The questions from these 4th to 6th grade girls were pertinent and on point.  The panelists gave what I considered an incredible presentation and answering of questions.  The women on the panel were all academically gifted and had vocations to match.  Engineering, graphic design, microbiology, aerospace engineering and more were represented on the panel.  The women talked at length in answering questions, and gave a lot of advice as well.
“Learn to code,” one woman said.  Coding is the language of today.  If you don’t think you’ll ever use it, learn it anyway.
“What role does dance play in your vocation,” one girl asked.  I thought there would be no answer for that from these women, but two of them talked at some length about how dance played a part in what they did or a project they had worked on.
One woman talked about the challenge of moving from a literal wind tunnel for the testing of aircraft to a virtual wind tunnel, how that transition took place and what was required to do so.  One talked about what happens when, due to no one’s fault, there is a layoff and you’re suddenly out of work.  One spoke of how much she loves getting out and meeting new people in her line of work (she’s now an outreach coordinator for a university).
The women talked about education, goals, challenges, the good and the not so good.  But more than anything, these women demonstrated to the girls (and to the greater audience) that a woman doesn’t need to be a dependent doormat or continually barefoot and pregnant.  A woman can indeed achieve, and do so with dignity and with class.  These women were great mentors, not only in the crafts portion of the week, but especially during the panel presentation.
It is refreshing and energizing to hear such testimony, to know that there are many successful people in the world.  Whether a person (man or woman) has chosen to make a home for children or create the latest wing design for a new fighter jet, there are opportunities.  There are challenges.  There are obstacles.  But there are also the mountain tops and there are the times of great satisfaction at having done a job well.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

You'll Have to Decide



My wife says I haven’t written in my personal blog since Thanksgiving.  My, has the time gone by that quickly?  It’s Christmas already??  It seems the calendar just (as my sister says) “whings” by.  With all of the goings-on a the church the past month, it’s been difficult to even think of writing a personal blog, let alone actually doing it.
I looked back on this blog to the beginning.  The first post was in the first part of December, 2005.  That’s eleven years.   And that year, Christmas Day was on a Sunday, just as it is this year.  Much has changed in the last eleven years, and much has stayed the same.  We’ve all aged, of course.  Hopefully, we’ve all also grown a bit wiser, and have settled into a general peace with where we are and who we are.
Christmas is an enigma among enigmas.  Life itself seems to be an enigma.  And Christmas is one of those days that means so much to so many; yet there are so many different takes on the holiday that it boggles the mind.
Some take trips to Mexico, the Florida Keys, Tahiti, or some other exotic place for the holidays.  Some go on trips, but to less exotic places.  They go to Grandma’s home, or go visit the kids.  Maybe they make a once-in-a-few-years trip to Aunt Martha’s.  Or they might just go somewhere where they don’t know anyone and enjoy the holiday in a hotel or resort of some kind.
Still others plan to have family and friends over.  They cook, clean, and prepare.  They decorate and round up extra tables, chairs, and other necessities.  They look forward to having the grandkids over, or to having family over to watch football and munch on goodies.  They make candy and cookies of various kinds.
And yet others don’t do much of anything.  They are alone…some by choice…some not.  They don’t buy, give, or receive gifts.  Maybe they don’t have the money.  Maybe they don’t celebrate for religious or other reasons.  Or maybe they don’t have a home to celebrate in.  They may be on the street or in a shelter of some kind.  Or they are in the hospital or long term care center.
And then there are the various ways and means of celebration in other nations and other cultures.  Time and space won’t permit me to go into any detail, but you have to know that there are about as many ways to celebrate this holiday as there are nationalities and cultures in the world today.
So, what do we make of a holiday that by all accounts is one of the most popular holidays in history, but celebrates not some government or national event or person, but rather celebrates, at its core, the birth of a Jewish baby born to dirt-poor parents in a nondescript village in a forgettable part of the world about 2,000 years ago?  Muhammad never has had such a celebration world-wide.  Nor the Buddha, or any of the great men or women of history.   What is it that makes this birth so special?
You’ll have to fill in that answer for yourself; I can’t do that for you.  You’ll have to decide what you’re going to do with Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate.  He said he was God Incarnate.  His followers said he was bodily resurrected after suffering death by crucifixion.  Secular history records that such a man existed, and that such a man died on a cross.  It hints that he was bodily resurrected.
Was he God incarnate?  Was he a crazy man?  Was he a bald-faced liar?  You’ll have to decide for yourself…somehow, some way.  Today might be a good day to make up your mind.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Go Figure



Well, it’s Thanksgiving Day.  Celebrated since the Civil War, Thanksgiving has become a national holiday that has evolved in meaning over the years of my lifetime, just as have many of the other holidays on the calendar.
The US Congress decided years ago that some of the holidays on the calendar would be combined, moved to Monday, or some such other thing.  Their fiddling with the holidays probably did more to secularize them and cause them to evolve into what they are today than anything else.
Memorial Day is one example.  It used to always be on May 30, but was moved to the last Monday in May in the late 1960’s by an act of Congress.  Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Washington’s birthday were also changed.  Washington’s birthday is now known as President’s Day.  The days were moved in order to provide federal employees (and by extension everyone else) with a three-day holiday.
Thankfully, they decided to leave Thanksgiving alone.  However, many times it seems that the holiday is overrun by the commercial aspects of Christmas, what with the black Friday and other related promotions.  And now black Friday starts earlier in the month for some and extends through the holiday season.  I’m not sure which I like less…the political ads or the black Friday ads!
But for those who still celebrate the original meaning of Thanksgiving at least somewhat, the holiday is a time to take a breather…to step back from the politics, the commercialism, and the crassness of what the season has become.  To remember our frailty and our reliance upon Someone greater than ourselves is in no small measure the purpose of the day.  Of course, in this society of self-reliance and individualism, it’s difficult for some to realize that they are fallible, fallen, and needy.  But it’s the truth, whether we like to admit it or not, and we would do well to take that truth to heart.
As a side note, we’re now watching the Macy Thanksgiving parade on TV.  The cast of “Cats” is performing out on the street.  Go figure what that has to do with Thanksgiving…

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Words of Wisdom

Words of wisdom this election day, 2016 from Kristen Bennett Marble, a dear friend.

I write this devotion on Election Day, having stood in line at my polling place for almost an hour, and now proudly wearing my “My Vote-My Voice” sticker. Around the nation, American citizens are gathering to cast their vote in local, state and national elections. But regardless what is on your individual ballot, it is the presidential race which has clearly garnered more attention, airtime, division, and even hatred than many of us ever remember. And when the polls close, the votes are counted, and the projections made, what will have changed?
Yes, our country will have elected a new president. And given recent poll numbers, half of the nation will be elated. The other half will be devastated. Half will excitedly look forward to the Inauguration in January. The other half will dread that day, sure the world will soon end. There will be rejoicing and tears. There will be mourning and tears.

And yet, the God who created the heavens and the earth - the God who knit you together - the God who loves you - the God who sacrificed His Son for you - will still be on the throne. He will still extend his hand, desiring redemption and reconciliation among His people. And His Word still stands.

That word for today, taken from 2 John, offers us the way forward. The way out of the conflict and hatred. The way toward hope. But it isn’t easy.

God’s ways rarely are.

“And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 5-6)

Walk in love. Toward your neighbor who proudly displayed “that” campaign sign. Toward your friend who shocked you by voting for the candidate you opposed. Toward your family member who never seems to “get it” no matter how often you try to persuade them differently.

Walk in love. Toward the candidate you embraced. Toward the candidate you resisted. Toward the victor. Toward the loser.
Walk in love. And as we walk in love, we reject anger and hatred. We let go of fear and violence. For these things cannot exist alongside love. They cannot. Either we commit to God’s ways or the world’s ways.

The world’s ways are to respond with vile hatred and violent evil. The world’s ways call for rebellion and instill fear. God’s ways respond with unfathomable love and nonviolent grace. God’s ways call for prayers of thanksgiving and bring peace.

You see, the world will be watching to see how we - who call ourselves disciples of Christ - respond to the results on Wednesday morning and beyond. Will they recognize our commitment to God’s ways? Will they see an outpouring of love? Will our witness be one that honors our Savior? Or will they see confirmation that what we profess on Sundays does not apply on Wednesdays? That our beliefs don’t really work in today’s day and age? That Jesus doesn’t offer any true hope for what ails the world?

Half the nation will be hurting tomorrow. The hopes and dreams they placed upon their candidate will be dashed. Yet we know - we have confidence in - the hope and truth that supersedes every election result. That goes beyond any earthly candidate. Demonstrate that hope. Speak of that truth. Model that trust. Strike up a conversation with whom you disagree. Extend kindness to whom you dislike. Listen to new perspectives. Find common ground. Pray - truly pray - for our leaders.

And walk in love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Snipers and Such



Early today, a Tulsa, Oklahoma police sniper shot and killed a man who was holding a two-year-old girl hostage.  The man appeared outside of the home he had commandeered with the girl, and had for several hours been threatening the girl, the police, and anyone else.
Back in July a police sniper in Florida mistakenly shot and killed a hostage instead of the kidnapper.  The kidnapper would not allow anyone in to get the injured woman and she died from her injuries.  The kidnapper later committed suicide.
Have you ever considered what it would be like to be a police sniper?  If you served in the military, perhaps you knew someone who was a sniper for the military.  More probably, though, none of us has ever known anyone who is specifically trained to surreptitiously kill people.
When I heard the news about the Tulsa incident this morning, I put my spoon down that I had been using to eat my cereal, and I just thought for a moment about the man who shot the kidnapper.  I marveled that there are people willing to do that kind of thing, and was extremely saddened at the same time that sometimes people are put in positions of having to do that in order to protect someone else or maintain societal order.  I also decided very quickly that being in that position (as a sniper) was something that was totally outside of my realm of experience, knowledge, or even thought process.  I couldn’t remotely fathom the notion that I could be in such a position and wondered how anyone could.
As a society, we sometimes put our public servants, whether police, military, fire, or others, into positions that we find revolting and undignified…positions into which we would never place ourselves.  Yet we expect someone…someone…to come to our rescue when we foul up in life and living, and cause their services to be needed.  It doesn’t make much sense to me, and probably not to you either, but that’s the way it is.
Sadly, people whose job it is to kill other people will always be needed in this or any other society on the planet.  We will always have those who have no regard for life, law, society, or living.  We will always have need of the services of those whose job it is to do what we could not do ourselves.
Thankfully, there are such people among us who are willing to take on the hard things.  There are people who are willing to do what we can and will not do.  There are people who believe law, life, and living are worth fighting, and in some cases dying for.  These are the people we entrust with the foundations of our society.
So, while you’re eating your cereal, your bagel, or your bacon and eggs, stop for just a second and think of those who are on duty, alert and ready at a moment’s notice to respond to a need.  And give thanks that they are there.