Monday, March 17, 2014


There are nightmares that we dream and nightmares that we live. We have relief from the ones we dream when we awake; we have relief from the ones we live when we sleep. The latter, however, often invade our respite of sleep so that they envelop us in a continuum, a fog, a disoriented heaviness in which there are no bearings, no equilibrium – we grope, we feel our way, we wish that we were dreaming, we can’t believe what we’re living is real, we are numb one minute and we cry out in pain the next.

The chasm between our pain and comfort is beyond measure, the abyss is without bottom, when will we stop falling? What will be at the bottom of the crevice? The void envelops us, the darkness overwhelms us – how can this be? Why did God allow this?

Paul writes of a time when he and his friends despaired even of life. There is more than one Biblical passage in which the writer yearns for the relief of death, more than one passage in which he rues the day he was born.

In living nightmares we can but trust our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus and hope that we have friends and family who will gather around us…not with advice…but with love and comfort and presence. In living nightmares we need to know that we are not alone, that even in the darkest darkness that God is there, that friends are there – that the presence of God and others might assure the innermost recesses of our being that we are not alone.

We do not need advice, but we do desperately need prayers and intercessions – answers will not comfort us, no matter how driven we may be to seek them. Mortality and frailty are realities; while we may predict when sand castles will be washed away by tides, we cannot predict when the vicissitudes of life will sweep away those we love, we do not know which word will be our last word or which step will be our final step.

I grieve for my friend who lost his granddaughter.

The nightmare is real.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

You Can’t Know Them Unless You Read Them

“He bunted himself to first, stole second, was sacrificed to third, and scored on a wild pitch.”

“He what?”

“I said he bunted himself to first, stole second, was sacrificed to third, and scored on a wild pitch.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, not having grown up in America, is this football language?”

Bunting to get on first, stealing second, taking third on a sacrifice, and scoring on a wild pitch conjures a series of images in the minds of those familiar with baseball; even those only somewhat familiar with the game will likely have some picture of a series of events – at the very least they will visualize a baseball diamond and a player moving from home plate around the bases to score. On the other hand, someone who has not grown up in a baseball country and who has had no exposure to the game will not know what the language describes – it might be American football for all he knows.

Among the many reasons to read the Bible, to have a direct experience with the Bible, is to know the paradigms, images, and (if you will) “plays” of the Bible. No matter how many books we read about the Bible, no matter how many daily devotionals we may read, no matter how many preachers we may listen to – nothing compares or substitutes for us knowing the Bible directly. Why is it that we don’t get this?

When we don’t know the Bible we succumb to frameworks of thinking that are not Biblical – we don’t think God’s thoughts. The frameworks may be religious, they may make sense, they may appeal to our intellects or emotions, they may make us feel good – but all too often they are not God’s perspectives, they are not God’s thoughts, they are not God’s ways or God’s commands. More often than not when we don’t know the Bible we eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life.

I don’t know why there is so much resistance among professing Christians to reading and knowing the Bible; I do know the sad results of us not knowing the Bible – otherwise competent men and women walk and talk as though they were blind and deaf without knowing they are blind and deaf – speaking unintelligible words and continually running into furniture and thinking nothing of it.

When baseball fans get together they have no trouble starting and sustaining a conversation because they know the game – they don’t need anyone to lead them because the game is in their blood – the game is alive in their hearts and minds. But often when professing Christians come together there is no talk of the Bible or our Lord Jesus, it is not natural for there to be such discussion, and if there is to be a discussion all too often it cannot begin unless a leader is chosen – how can this be? It can be because we know the Bible less than baseball fans know the rules of the game; it can be because others love baseball more than we love Jesus.

A baseball fan checks the scores first thing in the morning, reads box scores, checks batting and pitching statistics – many fans can quote statistics and describe games from decades ago. Would that we had a passion for Jesus and the Bible to equal the passion fans have for baseball; would that we would be as hungry for the Bible and Jesus as followers of the Red Sox are for another World Series crown.

We can’t know God’s thoughts and the flow of Biblical thought unless we read and know the Bible, unless the Bible is woven into our daily lives, unless we have a personal and direct experience and knowledge of God’s Word.

Why don’t we understand this? Why do we resist it so? Why do we make excuses?

Saturday, March 8, 2014


This is a piece written by my friend George Bowers for the Shenandoah Herald, George is pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock, VA.

            My wife and I enjoy watching the Food Network from time to time.  In addition to Iron Chef America, America’s Worst Cooks, and the Next Food Network Star, we sometimes enjoy Chopped!  For those of you that have never seen this program, it is a competition between four chefs which are progressively eliminated until only one remains, who is then dubbed, the Chopped Champion.

            The process whereby the winner is eventually selected involves 3 rounds of cooking challenges.  All contestants receive identical baskets of ingredients that have been preselected by the organizers.  Contestants do not get to choose which ingredients they will use and in order to do well, each must be used and developed to its maximum potential.  I’ve never even heard of some of the ingredients that are used much less have any clue of how to cook them. 

When told to begin, the chefs open their baskets to discover what ingredients they have been assigned.  They are all given equal amounts of time for preparation and all have identical kitchens to use that are fully equipped with utensils, stoves, ovens, and appliances.  The frantic scurrying, searing, mixing and such is quite entertaining. 

When the time is up, they must submit their cuisine to the judges who determine which contestants did the best with what they were given.  Plates are not only evaluated on taste but also on appearance and presentation.  One by one, the field is narrowed until only one chef is left for glory.  

            It occurred to me recently how much this competition parallels life.  We are each assigned a basket of ingredients which we do not choose.  These include our physical characteristics of height, weight, and health; our mental abilities of intelligence and intuition; and our social settings such as our birth families, communities, and schools. 

It is our task to make the most of the ingredients God has given us during the time He has assigned us here on earth.  Unlike the show, however, we are not all given identical baskets nor do we have equal amounts of time.  One of the harsh realities of life is that some do get better baskets and some get worse ones. 

Some have more athletic ability, some have greater intelligence, and some have wonderful family backgrounds.  On the other hand, some of our life baskets include handicaps and weaknesses, accidents and unplanned downturns, or dysfunctional families of origin.  In fact, no two people get the exact same basket, but we do have the same goal: to make the most of what we have. 

The good thing is that life is not a competition.  Our goal is not to beat out all the other folks we share our kitchens with, but to produce a life that will please our Ultimate Judge.  He considers what we were allocated in our baskets as well the varying tools we each have at our disposal. 

Some with great baskets end up squandering their blessings and others with life baskets of horrible ingredients make some of the best meals.  Our task is not to focus on either of these, but to use the ingredients we have received to prepare a life that will cause the Judge to say, “Well Done, thou good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your Lord.”  Happy cooking!  George

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stop Payment?

Luke is my Gospel reading for March, and in reading about Zacharias in Chapter One I got to thinking about whether God let’s us put a stop payment on a prayer we’ve prayed the way banks let us put a stop payment on a check we’ve written.

Before I get to that, it seems appropriate that Zacharias and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, were of the tribe of Levi; after all, the Levitical Priesthood prefigures Christ in many ways, it goes before Jesus Christ – so shouldn’t the one prophesied (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5) to go before the Messiah be of that same tribe?

Now back to the stop payment question.

Luke writes about Zacharias and Elizabeth that “they were both advanced in years.” What he means is that they were old. Luke tells us that they didn’t have any kids and that they were old to the point where kids weren’t in their future…at least in their foreseeable future…at least in their future as near as anyone could tell. So imagine when Gabriel the angel shows up and tells Zacharias, “Do not be afraid, Zaharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.”

Now just when do you imagine the last time was that Zacharias prayed for a child? It wasn’t a year before Gabriel showed up, and it probably wasn’t five years or ten years; it may not have been twenty years or even thirty years – this couple was “advanced in years.” It had been a long time since either one of them gave any realistic thought to having a child and it had been a long time since old Zacharias had prayed for a child – he had written that check a long time ago and had gotten to the place where he figured it would never be cashed. There that check was, written years and years ago, all but forgotten; God had no doubt listened to his prayer, heard his prayer, but for whatever reason God decided not to answer the prayer, God had decided not to cash the check. Oh really?

“Your petition has been heard,” that’s what Gabriel said. I wonder if ol’ Zacharias thought, “Hold on here. It’s been years since I prayed that prayer, the statute of limitations has run out – this can’t be, it’s against the rules. You can’t negotiate that check now, it’s too late.”

I don’t know, does God allow us to put stop payments on our prayers? If He doesn’t then I guess we ought to be prepared for the answer to show up when we least expect it.

Zacharias didn’t believe, he doubted that God could cash the check, doubted that God could answer the prayer; I think he has had plenty of company down through the ages, I know I’ve kept him company more than a few times – I’d pray and then I’d doubt, and then pray and doubt more, and then see answers to prayers come and doubt some more – it’s a wonder I haven’t been stuck dumb like Zacharias at least once. 

Can we put stop payments on our prayers? Maybe I’d better go back through my checkbook and see which checks are still outstanding…you just never know when Gabriel is going to show up.