Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pamplona or Bookstore?

Lemuel stopped in Barnes & Noble Thursday – the place was packed, the checkout line was long, people were walking from aisle to aisle in a hurry, some had their eyes glued to their smart phones.

He asked me, “Where are they all going in such a hurry? Will they know when they’ve arrived?”

“Bob, why go to a bookstore if you are going to have your nose in contact with your smartphone?”


Bookstores used to be peaceful places, somewhat like libraries. Maybe there are times they are still like that, maybe there are times when you can still browse and peruse without risking being trampled on, without thinking you are in Pamplona – but according to Lemuel it wasn’t like that this week.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jake and Gloria’s Christmas Eve


One of the blessings I’ve enjoyed the past few years is working with Gloria Jacobs. I first met Gloria in the early 1990s when we were both involved in our industry’s state trade association. I always considered Gloria “Ms. Drucker & Falk”, the firm she was with for 35 years and the firm I’ve been with for almost 6 years. While Gloria has been “retired” for over a year now, we still keep in touch for we were more than business associates, we are friends. There are many reasons I’m thankful for Gloria, and one of them is that, as friends, we can talk about life, not just business – which is now behind us – but life; there is nothing quite like sharing the essentials of life with friends.

A few days ago Gloria wrote the following to me and when I asked for her permission to post it on a blog she gave it – it’s a story worth telling.

Good evening Bob.

There is a story I want to share with you tonight.  You asked if we had a good Christmas, but I want to share something that happened 50 years ago on Christmas Eve in Pennsylvania.  Jake's dad had suffered a heart attack and we were at the hospital when a blizzard began. We left the hospital to return to my mother's home about 20 miles away.  It took us about two hours to get home.  Roads and conditions were terrible.  When we arrived home, thankful to be there, my mother met us with two suitcases and told us that Jake's dad had passed away.  She knew we would want to get to Jake’s mother, who was at her home, as soon as possible since she was alone.  

We left my mother's home and tried many roads to get to his mother's, only to turn around and try another route.  We even ran into a snow plow driver and told him what had happened.  He told us if he believed everyone he wouldn't get home that night so he refused to help us.  After many hours in vain of trying to get to her, we ended up on a country road and our car went into a snow drift.  This was before cell phones and it was already some three hours after we left my mother's home.  We left the car and carted our suitcases and found a telephone booth.  We called the State Police to see if they could assist and were told that nothing was moving.  Fortunately, Jake was involved with a Boy Scout Explorer Post (older teenagers) and one of them lived within three miles of where we were.  Jake called them and they told us to get to them as soon as we could.

We walked those three miles in snow that was to our knees in a blinding snow storm.  It was the first time in my life that I actually laid down in the snow after walking about two miles and felt warmth like I had never felt before.  Jake forced me to get up and continue the walk with him.  When we finally arrived at the home of the Boy Scout parents they were waiting for us with blankets and warm food.   We felt good to be safe, but felt we had ruined their Christmas.  We told them we would try to keep quiet until after they celebrated Christmas.  We were able to contact his mother and mine to tell them where we were.

The next morning we slept late as we were both exhausted.  When we entered their kitchen food was waiting as well as information about our vehicle. They had alerted all of the Explorer Post’s teens to what had happened.  They not only had dug out our vehicle, but had plowed the road in the neighborhood, and our car was waiting outside the home we were staying in.  They did this during the early morning hours of Christmas Day.   We were able to get to his mother that morning.

I've never shared this story with anyone before, but for some reason felt I needed to tonight with a dear friend.  It has been 50 years and I can still remember almost every detail.  GOD is Great and he certainly was with us that night.

Also, my mother passed away on December 27th many years ago, so you see Christmas has different meanings to us, but we believe that my mother and Jake's dad are in HIS loving care.  We certainly believe HE was watching over us that Christmas Eve.

Thank you for being my friend, Bob.


g

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The House of Christmas

The House of Christmas

By: G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth 
Out of an inn to roam; 
In the place where she was homeless 
All men are at home. 
The crazy stable close at hand, 
With shaking timber and shifting sand, 
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand 
Than the square stones of Rome. 

For men are homesick in their homes, 
And strangers under the sun, 
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land 
Whenever the day is done. 
Here we have battle and blazing eyes, 
And chance and honour and high surprise, 
But our homes are under miraculous skies 
Where the yule tale was begun. 

A Child in a foul stable, 
Where the beasts feed and foam; 
Only where He was homeless 
Are you and I at home; 
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, 
But our hearts we lost - how long ago! 
In a place no chart nor ship can show 
Under the sky's dome. 

This world is wild as an old wives' tale, 
And strange the plain things are, 
The earth is enough and the air is enough 
For our wonder and our war; 
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings 
And our peace is put in impossible things 
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings 
Round an incredible star. 

To an open house in the evening 
Home shall men come, 
To an older place than Eden 
And a taller town than Rome. 
To the end of the way of the wandering star, 
To the things that cannot be and that are, 
To the place where God was homeless 
And all men are at home. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

No Church on Christmas


If we choose to meet on Sundays on a regular basis, and we do not meet on Christmas Sunday – what exactly does that say to the world? To other religions?

What does that say to our children and grandchildren?

To our coworkers?

Our neighbors?

What does this say about whether we see ourselves as God’s People before we are any other people?

What does this say about our desire to witness?

What does this say about us being in the world but not of the world?



Monday, December 19, 2016

The Shopping Cart – Part 2


Just a few days after the shopping cart experience I related in a recent post I returned to Walmart. I selected a cart from the group at the entrance, tested it by rolling it back and forth and sideways, and satisfied that the wheels were good I embarked on my shopping quest.

For the first few aisles things went smoothly…until…thump, thump, thump. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to immediately return to the store entrance and get another cart. When I got there I saw a cart that a lady had just returned on her way out of the store, so I thought, “I’ll take that cart, it must work because she had a few bags of merchandise, if it hadn’t worked she wouldn’t have used it.”

For the first few aisles things went smoothly and I congratulated myself on switching carts. But then…thump, thump, thump. How could this be? Were the shopping-cart gods conspiring against me? Were they making sport? Did they have an office pool on Mt. Olympus to see how many carts I would go through before giving up?

I pushed my cart toward a mother with a young child in the child’s seat of her cart, as my cart approached with a “thump, thump, thump” and squeaks and groans the child started crying and the mother looked at me as if to say, “Couldn’t you be more considerate of others? You are frightening my child.”

I saw a group of employees hiding behind a display and looking at me. I am sure I heard one of them say, “That’s the guy who was in here last week who abandoned his cart – you’d think he’d learn.”

Well, you would think they’d number the carts the way NASCAR numbers cars, that way the poor customer would have some defense. We could have a smartphone app that tracks bad carts and warns us not to use number 54, or 35, or 678.

After a few more aisles I did what any self-respecting shopper would do, I once again left my cart, picked up my merchandise, and headed to a checkout line. At this rate I’ll be making multiple trips in and out of the store on each visit.


That night I awoke at 3:23 AM, I was certain I heard “thump, thump, thump.”

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Shopping Cart


I often take a shopping cart from the parking lot into the store for two reasons, one is that I am saving a store employee a little work, and the other is that with the cart in front of me that cars are more likely to let me traverse the crosswalk. With this in mind I took a shopping cart from the cart corral in Wal-Mart’s parking lot into the store and started shopping for a few items.

At first the cart was fine, but then the right front wheel began to turn and squeak and rumbled and it was as if I was driving over logs – and the noise! I turned the cart this way and that, thinking that the right combination of twists and turns would remedy the problem – to no avail.

Unfortunately the few items I needed were at opposite ends of the store. Well, I would do my best to make it from the hardware section to the grocery section. It got worse. I used a store phone to call customer service to request that someone bring me another cart, no one answered. Then, since we have road service through our insurance company, I called the 800 number only to have the person on the other end hang up as I was explaining my dilemma.

Thump, thump, thump went the cart. I was halfway through the store, from the hardware section to the grocery section. Thump, thump, thump went the cart. (You would think they’d supply spare wheels for such occasions). I still had to go to the back end of the grocery section and then to the front of the store. I was surprised the thump thump thump wasn’t registering on the Richter scale. There were Gremlins in the wheel. I needed a NASCAR pit crew to change this tire but there were none to be found. There were employees hiding behind displays looking and laughing. Security was having a hoot observing me on cameras – no doubt betting on whether I would make it to the front of the store with the cart. I was amazed that the thump thump thump didn’t crack the floor tile. I was surprised that the vibrations from the thump thump thump hadn’t caused pyramids of merchandise to cascade to the floor burying customers and employees under an avalanche of Walmart falling prices.

A filling was jarred out of a tooth.

I stopped the cart. Gathered what I had in my arms. Quickly walked to the grocery section and picked up one more item, found the cashier with the shortest line, and mercifully ended my travail without dropping anything.

I got in the car and called the dentist. “I just had a filling fall out while I was shopping. It was the strangest thing,” I told the receptionist.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Mind if I ask what store?”

“Walmart.”


“I bet it was the shopping cart wheel, we get a lot of those.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This Didn’t Feel Right Either


The day that I attended the Celebration of Life service began with a men’s breakfast at another church, not the church I attended for the Celebration of Life. As with the latter church, the former church is a church that believes that the Bible is the Word of God. The food was good, the conversation was good; I was pleasantly surprised when a man sat down at my table and reintroduced himself to me as someone who had been in a small group with me at least 20 years ago.

When the food portion of our morning was concluded a speaker began a presentation – no Bible, no Biblical content, no focus on Jesus. Where is the public reading of Scripture? The presentation was “self-help” – when will we learn that only Christ and His Word is transformative?

Where is our passion for the Word of God? We desperately need to regain Biblical literacy; part of this recovery must be modeling the Bible in our leadership, our teaching, our preaching, our gatherings, and our conversation. Our generation, our society, needs the transcendent Word of God. The argument that, “I don’t use the Bible when I’m talking to unbelievers because it doesn’t mean anything to them”, is not a Biblical argument – how will others believe the Gospel if they don’t hear the Gospel, and how will they hear the Gospel if it isn’t the Biblical Gospel, and how will they hear the Biblical Gospel if it isn’t from the Bible?

Of course we can use contemporary words and images and concepts in our communication, but they must be clothed with Scripture, built on Scripture, and submitted to Scripture. Everything we do in terms of contemporary concepts and images and words must be so that we can share and proclaim and communicate the Bible, the Word of God.

If we aren’t communicating the Bible when we gather as believers, it isn’t likely we are going to communicate the Bible when we are scattered in the world at work, at play, or in our communities.


Have we forgotten that this is a matter of life and death? This isn’t about marketing, it isn’t about being “relevant” in an earthly sense – it is about eternity. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

It Didn’t Feel Right


I recently attended a “Celebration of Life” service. While I appreciated many of the thoughts that were shared by those who knew and loved the deceased, when the pastor spoke something seemed amiss. I could tell that he had prepared for his part, and I always appreciate that, but there was something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Yes, I did think he was too folksy and informal, at a time when I think we really do need to speak as we are speaking the utterances of God (1 Peter 4:11). Yes, I was dismayed when he told those in the audience that receiving forgiveness of sins and salvation was simply a matter of saying a few words (I’ve been guilty of that myself) without further explanation, without a call to repentance and discipleship. However, there was something else bothering me that I couldn’t identity.

Then, later in the day as I was sharing my experience with Vickie it hit me – there had been no Scripture reading. The pastor may have quoted a verse or two, and others who spoke previous to the pastor quoted and read a few verses, but the pastor’s message did not have Bible reading and it was not grounded in a Biblical passage.

Knowing the reputation of the church where this took place, I know that the pastor believes the Bible, I know from his comments that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Of all the times when people gather together to hear the words of a pastor, the time of death and grief is the time when there needs to be a clear reading of Scripture about the matter of life and death and eternity and resurrection. People need to hear what God says about life and death, they need to hear 1 Corinthians 15:3ff or its equivalents, they need to hear God’s words of comfort and truth – while we may mingle our words of comfort as well, our words are never a substitute for God’s Word.

My words are not transcendent, and as sacramental and incarnational as my thinking is, I know that unless my words and actions are wrapped in Scripture that they never get off the ground – I want to be reminded that my calling is to deliver the Word of God to others and that it is His Word which will not return void (Isaiah 55).


Sadly, it seems that more and more churches which profess to believe the Bible give little actual time to the Bible in public worship. Funerals are a time when we have a mixed audience; those who know Christ, those who think they know Christ, and those who for a few minutes are in a place where perhaps they will hear the Word of God read and come to meet Christ - where perhaps a seed will be planted, where perhaps they will come to know Jesus Christ. The Word of God must increase, but I must decrease.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Chicago Cubs and Prophecy


I hear there is a book coming out linking the World Series win of the Chicago Cubs to Biblical prophecy. It seems that the author was given a “word” from the Lord years ago that a sign of the end times would be when the Cubs won the World Series. The Championship Pennant is supposedly an ensign that will draw the world to the Kingdom of God – after all, when this “word” was given some decades ago the thought of the Cubs winning the pennant was in the same class as the earth reversing its rotation.

Who knows, maybe there is something to this. At least it is a refreshing change from the steady stream of End-Times books I’ve seen since the 1960s that are forever claiming divine-Biblical insight into world events, playing off fears and our appetite for speculation.

Maybe more of us will go out to the ballpark next baseball season to discern the signs of the times in each game. Maybe prophetic prognosticators will search the standings for insight into unfolding world events. Come to think of it, I might investigate this more closely – it just may be a good thing

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Zombies In The Building


I walked down the hall of our office building and passed them; I walked back down the hall and I passed more of them. Everyone I passed was the same – they all were fixated on tablets or smart phones – zombies in the building, zombies living isolated lives, zombies devoid of recognition of their fellow man.

I wanted to stop and shout, “Is anyone home?! Does anyone see anyone else?!”


Maybe next time. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Wheelbarrow – 4


Our home on Beach Road sat on an acre. Other than a birch tree in the front, planted too close to the house, there was nothing in the yard (my memory is hazy, there may have been shrubs off the front porch). When we left Beach Road, some six years later, we had planted 15 – 20 trees, an extensive border garden, an herb garden, and numerous shrubs. All of the foregoing required topsoil and mulch, and it was all hauled in the wheelbarrow. In addition, in order to plant the gardens and trees and shrubs sod had to be removed and placed elsewhere – this was also hauled in the wheelbarrow.

We ordered dump truck loads of topsoil and mulch and hauled it around the yard in the wheelbarrow – how many trips we made to and from the piles of mulch and dirt I have no idea; I do know the wheelbarrow was essential to bringing gardens to life, it was essential for bringing Vickie’s vision of our own Eden into manifestation. We also had an extensive vegetable garden in which the wheelbarrow played its part.

What was once a plain barren yard became a place of color and texture and beauty and interest, it became a place of definition. We could not have done it without the wheelbarrow – such a basic tool, such a basic idea, such a basic necessity for the gardener. A box on a wheel with handles – pretty simple, pretty important.


One great point about having a wheelbarrow is that should the power grid ever fail that the wheelbarrow will still work – it may be one of the few things that will. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Things that Happen


My cousin Clyde was in a staff meeting the other day when his left arm began to itch. As he scratched it he felt something beneath his shirt sleeve. What could it be? Was it moving? Would the itch stop? Was it living? Would it bite?

Since the meeting had only just started, and since the agenda was long, he knew he needed to deal with it sooner rather than later. Because he was seated in the middle of the conference table he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, and so while his right hand remained over the unidentified object beneath his left sleeve, he waited for everyone to turn their attention to the Power Point presentation on the screen at the far end of the room.

After a few minutes had passed, Sam, to Clyde’s right, asked Clyde to please pass a pitcher of water; without thinking, and being left-handed, Clyde dropped his right hand from his left sleeve, reached his left arm out to grasp the pitcher of water, passed the pitcher to Sam…and as he withdrew his hand from the pitcher what should come out of his sleeve…but a dryer sheet.

Clyde, being quick on his feet quipped, “No wonder I was feeling bouncy this morning!”


These things happen in life. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When Jesus Christ Is Not Everything, He Is Not Anything


“But by His [the Father’s] doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:30 – 31.

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ…that I may gain Christ…that I may know Him…” Philippians Chapter 3.

The warnings of Jesus Christ to the church in the book of Revelation contain the words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What the Spirit says to the church is that Jesus Christ is to be our all in all; our words, our actions, our loves, our thoughts – are all measured according to their fidelity to Jesus Christ and love for Him and testimony of Him. The same book of Revelation portrays a world intoxicated by power and commerce and money – with people selling their souls, worshipping the beast, in order to pursue the love of gain, of wealth. Revelation portrays a religious system committing fornication with the governments of the age, no doubt foolishly thinking that it can maintain an alliance for its own preservation.

When the professing church looks to man for salvation, when Jesus Christ ceases to be everything, then He is not anything. Jesus Christ is either all or nothing – He has not given us another option and He will not accept anything less than our all (Mark 8:27 – 38). He will not accept nationalism, He will not accept an economic agenda, He will not accept a political agenda – He will accept no other gods before Him, He will accept the names of no other objects of worship – and He will not approve the church assuming any other identity than the identity that He has given it – the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Flock of God – a people belonging to Him and to no other.

Better to leave this life in the rags of the world but in the riches of Christ than to leave this world a whore.


If Jesus Christ is not everything then He is not anything. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Wheelbarrow – 3

A quick online search indicates that the Chinese invented the wheelbarrow around 100 A.D. If this is true, it is much to their credit. We could have done without gunpowder but not the wheelbarrow. Think of all the lives saved if they had passed on gunpowder…but the wheelbarrow…now there is a worthy invention.

Perhaps a man was riding a unicycle with a basket of produce on his head. Perhaps he passed another man carrying produce in a box. Perhaps a third man saw them and put two and two together (or is that put one and one together?).

When we moved to Chesterfield the closest hardware stores were Lowes and Tom Brown’s – not the Lowes at Winterpock Road but the Lowes in the K-Mart shopping center. The Lowes by the K-Mart eventually moved to Winterpock Road…at least as I recall. If your memory is different I’ll defer to you.

There was a Hechinger’s hardware store, or home center, or whatever they were calling it then, down on Midlothian Turnpike at the Route 288 junction. Growing up in the D.C. area we had Hechinger’s around town, however, like many companies they expanded, and expanded, and acquired, and expanded some more; now they are out of business.

Tom Brown’s Hardware was a local chain of stores, they’re gone now – the big fish swallowed the little fish. The Leviathans Lowes and Home Depot are on a mission to rid the sea of competitors. Maybe Darwin was right.

There was a Tom Brown’s in the Ukrops shopping center at Hull Street and Courthouse, I still think about it at times when I drive by. I know it is weird to think of a hardware store that has been closed for years.  I also think about McIntyre’s Hardware back in Montgomery County, MD. That was the local hardware store in the Kensington area when I was growing up. I just checked the internet, that infallible guide to everything, and it looks like there is a McIntyre’s Hardware in Damascus, MD.

Speaking of Tom Brown’s Hardware, do you remember Buster Brown shoes? I see the name used but I don’t know if the shoes are still around.

Anyway, we purchased a wheelbarrow and I would really like to remember if we bought it at Tom Brown’s or Lowes or Hechinger’s or Builder’s Square, but I can’t remember. I do know that we didn’t buy it from a shoe store selling Buster Brown shoes. 



Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Supreme Court


“I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened,” Daniel 7:9 – 10.

How sad that our gaze was diverted to the composition of an earthly court in the expectation that an earthly court could reform the hearts of mankind and thus relieve us of the command to make disciples of Jesus Christ and live as citizens of heaven. There is only one court we should be concerned about, and it is a court whose decrees never change, a court where righteousness does not compromise with unrighteousness, a court that does not take into consideration public opinion or what the majority thinks.

Our failure to read Biblical history means that we do not count the times the kings of Israel and Judah sought ungodly alliances for pragmatic reasons - alliances viewed by the Court of Heaven as a repudiation of the true and living God – Israel rejected Yahweh as its husband. Can the professing church learn nothing from this?

So-called Christian leaders (certainly not all, for the faithful seldom receive “press” – and seldom are popular with the sheep – those leaders challenge us to think Biblically, to be conscious of the Gospel, and do not give us easy answers or easy ways to live) entice the Christian masses with one-line philosophies and emotional appeals to our economic and social well-being, drawing us into a cult of the patriotic that entertains no self-criticism and that is antithetical to the Biblical teaching that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is as if we have a national glory that eclipses God’s glory.

We had a witnessing opportunity to stand apart from the kingdoms of this world and stand with the Kingdom of God, we had an opportunity to first and foremost be the faithful Bride of Christ identified with Jesus Christ.

It is one thing for others to not recognize the church as the church because it is of Christ; it is another thing for the world to not recognize the church because it is of the world.


Which supreme court is the one that really matters?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Socks


Next to the cosmic mystery about where socks lost in the washer go (a few years ago I tried to establish the fact that they are transported to Planet Sock, a planet that must be constantly repopulated by abductions from washers because none of the inhabitants have matching mates), there is the sock question, “Why do socks that seem fine in the morning decide to descend on one’s legs during the day until they arrive below your ankles?”

Is this an insidious tortuous design? Are these socks with a sick sense of humor? Why does this often occur during meetings in which any attempt to pull the socks up will likely be noticed? And why are we so gullible?

We inspect the sock drawer, considering what pair goes best with the day’s attire. Our eyes alight on a pair of socks that harmonize, but then our memory says, “Don’t you remember that the last time you wore these they played Chutes and Ladders, with the pair insisting on descending and you fighting against the pull of gravity? Don’t you recall how preoccupied and uncomfortable you were that day, in the midst of the people you were meeting with?”

But then we inspect the socks and they seem fine. Perhaps our memory is playing tricks on us. Perhaps it is another pair of socks that did the deed. We surely would have tossed the offending socks away after such a day of mockery and discomfort.

So in good faith we select the socks in question and wear them. All is fine for the first hour, the second hour, and then, as we sit in a room with thirty people, we have an uncomfortable feeling above our ankles…creep…creep…creep…down go the socks. We have been suckered once again, taken advantage of, in our effort to grant the socks a reprieve we have once again played the fool – oh cruel unforgiving world.

The best we can hope for is to catch the socks before they drop below our ankles, before they hide within our shoes – otherwise we will either be digging within our shoes to pull the socks up, or we will simply have to remove our shoes and adjust our socks – all the while providing entertainment for our fellow workers.

Are there mischievous socks lurking in your sock drawer?


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Wheelbarrow – 2


It was apparent that we required our own wheelbarrow, but where to buy one? We lived in the Winterpock area of Chesterfield County in the days before they widened Hull Street Road, before the Walmart at Hancock Village Shopping Center, before the traffic light at Winterpock Road and Hull Street Road, and before the Lowe’s at Hull Street Road and Winterpock Road.

If you’re wondering why Hull Street Road is called Hull Street Road and not just Hull Street or Hull Road you’ve come to the wrong place for a certain explanation. My best guess is that in the City of Richmond it was Hull Street but that when it was in the county that folks knew it wasn’t a “street” because it was a road – you don’t have streets passing through farmland you have roads. No self-respecting rural area has a street running through pastureland – it’s got to be a road or a route or maybe even a highway, but it can’t be a street. Come to think of it, in the city it is simply Hull Street.

The nearest thing I can come up with is that the state highway department (VDOT) put in an order for dozens of signs for the street and the road; a few dozen destined for the city were supposed to read “Hull Street” and a few dozen more were supposed to read “Hull Road”. The problem was that the foreman of the sign shop in the state prison, Clem “Four Eyes” How’dIgetthisjob, had broken his glasses the day before the order came in and misread the order, thinking through his blurry vision that “street” and “road” were to appear together on the sign. When VDOT received the signs the area resident engineer didn’t pay any attention to the wording and told his crew to install them. Before long signs for Hull Street Road stretched for miles and miles, from the City of Richmond all the way to Out Yonder.

About six months later the head of VDOT was driving down what he thought was Hull Road and noticed that it was Hull Street Road. He called the resident area engineer and asked who made the mistake and what it would cost to rectify the problem. The resident engineer, having seen the error shortly after installation, had a ready answer – it was not a mistake, but rather a cost-saving measure designed to save the Commonwealth of Virginia thousands of dollars over future years. By putting the words “street” and “road” on the same sign the commonwealth did not incur two setup fees for sign production, because it could abbreviate “street” to “St” on the sign it saved on the cost of ink, and it saved labor hours in trying to figure out just where the street ended and the road began. The engineer also told the head of VDOT that part of the test was to see whether people would notice, and if they noticed, whether they would complain. Few people had noticed and no one had complained – other than one person from Out Yonder who wanted to know whether Hull Street went west and Hull Road went east, or was it the other way around. He said no self-respecting rural area had a street running through pastureland. The resident engineer’s response to this complaint was to encourage Walmart to build Out Yonder – no more pastureland.

The head of VDOT, Mr. Leanonmyshovel, nominated the resident engineer for an efficiency award – which he won. The resident engineer in turn called the warden and gave credit where credit is due to the foresight of Clem Four Eyes. The warden told the governor and Clem got a pardon. Now Clem works for VDOT in the “consolidation of signage” department.


As I mentioned above, if you want a certain explanation of how we came to have Hull Street Road you’ve come to the wrong place. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

God and Country? (2)


While there are followers of Jesus Christ who strive to speak above the political chaos in the United States, and speak with the voice of eternity, the media has focused on those who have wrapped the Cross of Christ with a political agenda.

As I have written before, all history ought to be read through the lens of Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just as we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have individual histories without sin, so we can delude ourselves that our nation has a history without sin.

Nations often think that God is on their side and God is a helpful propaganda tool for governments. One can be patriotic and recognize this. One can also be patriotic and fear the power of the delusion that God and country are inseparable. Patriotic fervor is religious fervor, and it is usually a fervor which allows no criticism. When patriotic fervor is christened with God it explodes in a flame that devours critique – it is a flame and heat akin to the fiery furnace of Daniel Chapter Three.

Singing “God Bless America” has become popular at sporting events. What does this have to do with a baseball game? Are we baptizing ourselves with holy water that is meant to ensure our military and economic superiority and which deludes us into ignoring our rebellion against a holy God? Those who love this country will weep for this country, they will not cover its sins, they will not dilute the Gospel, and they will not preach “peace, peace” when there is no peace. Christians who love their land will clearly articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ as citizens of His kingdom.

Followers of Jesus Christ ought not to be endorsing a national delusion of righteousness – either present or historical. Our nation has done much good, we have also done much evil – all have sinned. This delusion of national righteousness is not patriotism, it is idolatry.


The church of Jesus Christ cannot serve the world, or the nations of the world, if it is of the world. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Wheelbarrow


It is black with rust spots on a wooden frame. I’ve scrapped and painted it more than once, but it looks as if the rust is winning…rust can be relentless. An engineer once told me how much stronger rust is than concrete, I don’t recall what the factor was, but it got my attention as we were inspecting balconies on a high-rise building in Richmond. If you have metal railings attached to concrete it is wise to keep the metal painted and not to allow water to pocket where the railings go into the concrete – the rust will always win. I once had a high-rise property in Baltimore on which the concrete balconies were spalling and falling onto the street below – that’s what we call liability in the property management business.

I realize that rust on the bucket of a wheelbarrow is rather mundane, but it isn’t just any wheelbarrow, it’s our wheelbarrow with a history. A wheelbarrow with a history is something to pay attention to; if I had a museum I’d have a conservator preserve it and put it on display and have a nice narrative printed on plaques in front of it – I might even have some retrospective photos of places it’s been.

Wheelbarrows are not something you purchase every year – a good wheelbarrow ought to last for years, even decades. I’ve seen some old wheelbarrows that were likely used to haul dirt around Richmond for entrenchments during the Civil War.

When we first moved to Chesterfield County in 1989 we didn’t have a wheelbarrow. We had lived in a townhouse with virtually no front or back yard and whatever earth we needed to move could be moved in a child’s beach bucket. Of course Vickie planted flowers and plants in our little yard, she is always planting, but there was no need for a wheelbarrow.

Our first home in Chesterfield was begging to be beautified with flowers, perennials, and trees. It didn’t have to beg long before Vickie went into action. She went into action so quickly that we needed a wheelbarrow before we had a wheelbarrow. I had dirt to move that wouldn’t wait for me to go to the hardware store and purchase a wheelbarrow. What to do?

I went to our neighbors Bill and Gayle, two doors down, and borrowed a wheelbarrow for that first project. It was a wheelbarrow with a shallow bucket, but it did the job. You may recall from a previous post that we met Bill and Gayle shortly after we moved to Chesterfield through our “rescue” dog Mitzi – or “the Mitz” as she was also known. Vickie rescued her from the streets of Richmond and whenever we’d let her out of the house she’d run through our backyard, then through Doug’s backyard, and then to Bill and Gayle’s house – so we got to know Bill and Gayle because of our numerous trips to their home to retrieve Mitzi. It’s good to have neighbors who have wheelbarrows to lend.


Since I’ve had a lot of demand to write about my wheelbarrow I’ll continue this…

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Revive Us?


Some friends are talking about an event/movie by Kirk Cameron called “Revive Us”. One of my friends, who hasn’t gone to see it but apparently is going, has a friend who had a powerful spiritual experience at the event/movie (it was originally simulcast but is now being shown as a movie). This should be frightening – this is strange fire.

Below is my email response to an invitation to attend. I am not attending. This is exactly why we need to distinguish between the Cross of Christ and a national flag and agenda and a whitewashed view of history.

Hi Everyone:

Well here is the thing about the movie; what looks nice and feels nice may not be nice and as nice as it might feel it might not be the truth.

Eric Metaxas has written some books that feel nice but are not well founded, his most recent one about America is a case in point, and his one about Bonhoeffer is another. He has also disparaged academic critics of his books rather than provide reasoned responses to them.

Kirk Cameron has a pretty naive perspective on US history - a number of people do.

And Ben Carson? He might be a great surgeon, but his defense of the indefensible words and actions of one of the presidential candidates is, to me, beyond words.  Carson's words and actions betray the absence of a well-thought-out philosophy - he is navigating by a weather vane rather than a compass.

Anytime people wrap the flag, any flag, around the Cross of Christ there is a problem, and when it is in the context of a highly-charged environment with music and appeals to revival and patriotism and Jesus - that is dangerous. 

So my advice is that if folks go to go with a critical mindset and then do follow up homework - because if what Cameron and Carson and Metaxas have to say is based on what they've already said and already written then much of it isn't going to be true...and the premise will unlikely be untrue. 

Frankly they are using the Cross and (sadly) Christianity to promote a political agenda - Metaxas and Carson are strong supporters of Mr. Trump. I don't know about the other folks. I think this is dangerous - regardless of the candidate. 

The very fact that people are saying they're having a spiritual experience at the movie underscores my point - if we can't distinguish between the Kingdom of God and a nation, any nation; if we wrap the flag around the Cross...we are on dangerous ground.

Here is a professor of history at Wheaton - if you go to this and search for Cameron and Metaxas you'll get some hits.


Here is a professor of history at Messiah.


And here is a post I did on my blog this past Monday that better expresses my own thinking:


Much, much love,

Bob


Monday, October 17, 2016

Which Kingdom? What Voice?

This is the only time I've posted the same thing on both blogs, but since the readership is not identical I am posting this on both Mind on Fire and Kaleidoscope.

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm,’ ” (John 18:36).

What would have happened had the followers of Jesus Christ stirred up the populace and attacked the Jewish and Roman leaders? Could they have freed Jesus? Could they have freed Jerusalem and Judea from Roman domination? Would the church have been born on the Day of Pentecost? Would there have been a Gospel? Would we be yet in our sins? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, today be associated not with a cross but rather with a bloody sword due to the actions of His followers?

One of His followers did indeed use a sword in Gethsemane and was rebuked by Jesus. Prior to arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday this same follower sought to convince Jesus that Jesus should save Himself from rejection and death and was not only rebuked by Jesus but told that he was playing the role of Satan and not setting his mind on the things of God but the things of man (Matthew 16:21 – 23). Jesus followed this rebuke by stating that to follow Him meant taking up the cross, denying self, and losing one’s life for His sake and the Gospel’s. This remains the call of Jesus Christ, it remains the requirement of Jesus Christ – as Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Do we desire the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man? Are we seeking to preserve the Gospel by loving Christ and others and peacefully articulating, in word and deed, the message of Jesus Christ? Or, are our hearts and minds engaged in self-preservation – desiring the kingdoms of this world, the American “dream”, and agendas which draw our souls away from the Kingdom of God?

At a time in our nation when our nation needs (as it always does) the church to be the church, the voice of Jesus Christ, articulating the hope of the Gospel and the coming Kingdom of God; our shallow theology and thinking, our tenuous confession of Christ, and lack of identity as the People of God, has shown us to be a confused and manipulated people – without unity, without the confession of Jesus Christ, and without moral courage – for it takes courage to say in word and deed, “I will stand with Christ and with Him alone. His kingdom is not of this world and I am in His kingdom.”

We can only have one God and we can only serve one master and we can only desire one kingdom…and we can only look to one savior. Our nation or political or economic agenda must not be the god of the Christian nor can these things be our savior. To be sure we must pray for our leaders and be good citizens, but no earthly citizenship should take precedence over our heavenly citizenship, and no interest should take precedence over the interest of Jesus Christ and His kingdom and His Gospel.

Where is the clear articulation of the church in America that we are the people of God and that we will live within a nation in chaos loving people, serving people, and clearly sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peril of our own well-being? Where is our willingness to suffer and be marginalized for the sake of Jesus Christ? Where is our voice for the defenseless, for the stranger, for the politically and economically and socially disenfranchised?

Are we able to say that we will love and minister to people of all political agendas? Or are we so embedded in the political and economic life of this nation that we can no longer live as citizens of God’s kingdom? Have our actions and words renounced our heavenly citizenship?

Two of my historical mentors are Fran├žois Fenelon and Andrew Murray; the former a French Roman Catholic archbishop and the latter a Dutch Reformed pastor in Africa. During wars between the English and French, Fenelon ministered to soldiers on both sides – yes, he was a subject of Louis XIV but he was first and foremost a subject of Jesus Christ.

During the Boer War Murray also ministered to combatants on both sides. In Fenelon’s case both sides respected him for his ministry; in Murray’s case many on both sides disdained him for they thought he should choose sides. Sometimes people will understand us and accept us, other times they will not – that should not be our consideration. Both of these men were citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost – there could be little confusion about their testimony.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often quoted by religious people with political agendas, using him as an argument to vote one way or another. What these people miss is that Bonhoeffer came to the place early on, during Hitler’s rise to absolute power, when he realized that the church must stand as the church and speak from the Kingdom of God into the world as a distinct voice, the voice of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer realized that the politicization of the church would be the death of its testimony to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer became increasingly isolated, he was considered too radical, he was not taking political and economic realities into consideration, those who had once stood with him separated themselves. Yes, there were others like Bonhoeffer, but they were few. Pragmatism and self-preservation caused many pastors, theologians, and the church to capitulate to evil – foolishly thinking that things would get better, stupidly arguing that they could moderate evil. They used the “lesser of two evils” as an argument and found that the lesser of two evils is still not only evil…it is absolute evil – for evil is evil and when we baptize an agenda as the lesser of two evils we anoint it as the authority in our lives – we subject our hearts and minds to it – we pollute ourselves and those around us. The lesser of two evils becomes the evil in our hearts and minds.

The choice of the church is not a choice to vote one way or the other – the choice before the church is whether we will live in the Kingdom of God and speak from that kingdom and live as citizens of that kingdom – serving all around us in love and charity and grace and seeking to bring them to Jesus Christ. If we must vote, then let us vote with our lives and not with our ballots – the world does not need our ballots, it needs our lives – it needs to hear and see the clear articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


We have lost our voice for Christ for we have not used our voice for Christ; let us recapture an awareness of who we are in Jesus Christ – let us return to our first love – perhaps the light of our candlestick will be rekindled. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Benefit of Immorality and Unethical Behavior


If we can’t have people with a sense of morality and ethics, let us at least have people who have a sense of what is immoral and unethical. Such a sense, on either side of the divide, indicates an awareness of the divide.

In our current situation we have neither morality or immorality; we have neither ethical thinking and behavior or unethical behavior and thinking – we live in the land of the Greek prefix Alpha – “a” – a prefix which indicates “the absence of” – we have arrived at being a people of the “amoral” – having no sense of light and darkness, no sense of good and evil, no sense of morality or of ethics – we are a people lacking sense, whether the common sense dispensed to all mankind or the particular ethical sense of past civilizations, or the moral sense that was once at the core of humanity – especially that segment of humanity graced with the heritage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Let us not loath our political leaders unless we first loath ourselves. And let not the church loath the general society unless it first repents of its own moral and ethical and spiritual promiscuity.

At work I find myself requiring my team members to observe ethical standards which are pretty much nonexistent on Wall Street, in Washington, and even in much of the church.  I ask them to take a long-term view of life and business when all around us is short-term thinking. I ask them to put others first when few put them first.


Never, in my life, has intercessory prayer been so precious; never so critical.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Many Times Can We Watch A Person Die?


How many times can we watch a video of a man or woman being killed? What does this do to our minds, our hearts, our consciences?

Vickie and I find ourselves watching a segment of “news” here and a segment there because we will not watch people being shot – not even once; let alone watch the same video clip again and again and again.

What does this do to a society? This is not a sporting event (many of them are becoming increasingly violent), this is not a video game (can we tell the difference anymore?), this is not a fictional television show (can we tell the difference?) – this is video of a human being created in the image of God being killed by another human being created in the image of God – these are images of lives being shattered. But can we tell the difference between pixels and humanity?

We are becoming a society of collective judge, jury, and executioner – the irony is that we are executing ourselves. Photojournalism has its place – but when the horrific becomes commonplace and is presented without reverence for the sanctity of life, without a sense of the sacred – when it becomes “reality television” – then what do we have? What have we done? What have we become?


We ought to weep. Instead we watch it again. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lemuel and Home Depot


A number of customers were traversing the garden department at Home Depot; after a string of hot and humid days there was a break in heat and humidity and people were taking advantage of the relief to catch up on outside projects.

As Lemuel negotiated his way through the aisles of the open-air department he noticed that there was only one cashier on the busy day. He thought, “I wonder why no one scheduled an additional cashier on a Saturday when you would expect more business from homeowners? People are out buying plants and landscaping supplies – this is a weekend for outdoor projects – look at the line of people to check out.”

After loading eight bags of pea gravel onto a dolly Lemuel pushed the dolly to the end of the line and waited. Soon another customer pushed a dolly laden with material behind Lemuel. Lemuel looked at the man and said, “It sure is great weather.”

“Yes,” the man replied, “This is a welcome change from what we’ve been having.”

The two exchanged more pleasantries before Lemuel reached the cashier. As Lemuel was leaving the cashier’s counter he turned to the man and said, “Good talking with you, have a great day.”

“You too,” the customer replied.

Out in the parking lot, as Lemuel was loading the bags of pea gravel into his pickup truck he noticed the other customer pushing his dolly to a pickup truck parked facing him just a couple of spaces away. Lemuel thought, “Should I speak to him again. Should I ask him if I can pray for him? I’ve been gone too long and want to get home. I spent more time at the bank than I intended. I have things to do. I’m tired and don’t feel like asking him if I can pray for him – there is always a risk of rejection involved and I don’t feel up to the risk.”

As Lemuel sat in his truck with the window down he said to the man, “It looks like you have one of the last Ford Rangers made before they stopped production.” The man told Lemuel the year of the truck and made a few other comments about it. Lemuel thought, “Ok, I’ve had some more conversation with him, let me go now.” But knowing that he had a sense that he needed to continue the conversation he said to the man, “I’d like to ask you something that maybe you don’t get asked a lot. I like praying for people and I’d like to know if you have something that I can pray for, for you or your family.”

What that the man came over to Lemuel and shared a need in his family. The two talked for a while longer, they introduced themselves, and Darryl asked Lemuel if Lemuel had something that Darryl could pray for and Lemuel shared a prayer need with him.

It was a Divine appointment and Lemuel has continued to pray for the need Darryl shared, continued to ponder some of the things they talked about, and also has continued to reflect on the fact that if he had not waited at the bank that he would have missed Darryl and that if there had been more cashiers at Home Depot that he may have missed Darryl.

Had Lemuel become angry at the wait at the bank he may have not been sensitive to the Divine appointment at Home Depot. If Lemuel had been impatient at Home Depot, due to there only being one cashier, he may have missed the Divine appointment. If Lemuel had not surrendered his wait at the bank to God his soul may not have been quiet enough to sense the nudge of the Holy Spirit toward Darryl. Stormy souls are souls that cannot hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit over and above its selfish turmoil – Lemuel knows this from experience. But of course this was all about God and about God enabling Lemuel to wait, to be patient, to ponder, to risk, and to realize that all time and space is God’s – including the time and space in which we wait.

We wait so that we can respond.