Monday, February 27, 2017

Bees in the Tree

My friend Carroll was sharing about bees in the tree.

“I grew up about 40 – 60 miles west of Asheville, NC. One day my friends and I were playing out in the soybean fields. It was after harvest and so the fields were bare except for the stubs of stalks sticking out of the ground.  All of a sudden a part of the sky got dark. We looked up and a swarm of bees was coming toward us. It passed over us and settled in a tree.

“When I got home I told my daddy about it. He said, ‘Come on son,’ and we headed over to a neighbor of ours who was a beekeeper. I took my daddy and our neighbor out to the tree where the bees were, and sure enough they were still there. The neighbor had brought along a hive.

“My daddy looked at me and said, ‘Son, climb on up the tree and shake the limbs and those bees will come down.’

“I said, ‘But daddy, those bees will sting me.’

“He said, ‘No son, those bees won’t sting you. Now you go ahead and climb the tree and shake those branches. It will be alright.’

“I climbed the tree, shook the branches, the bees came down to the ground, and then our neighbor found the queen bee and put her in the hive. As soon as he did that all the other bees followed her into the hive. No one was stung.”

I wonder how many times my heavenly Father has told me to climb a tree and I’ve refused due to fear? How many times has my fear been the determining factor in my decisions and actions rather than trust in my Father and Lord Jesus?

What about you?

What trees are there for me to climb today?

What about you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Three Harrys: Part 6

There is one other remarkable element to the story of Harry’s new employer.

A few weeks ago two friends and I went to visit Harry. When we arrived at his home he wasn’t there so we walked down the street looking for him, thinking that he had no doubt gone for a “walk” in his motorized chair with someone. After a couple of blocks we saw Harry motoring down the street, heading home, with Tom.

Now back to Harry’s employer. When the time was appropriate his company began looking for Harry’s replacement. I don’t know much about the propane industry but I know enough to know that there are many people out there who have experience in the business and I know they live in a variety of regions. I am also pretty sure that in the Mid-Atlantic region there are propane folks who live outside the Richmond area. I am equally certain that of those who live within the Richmond area that they likely live in various localities and subdivisions – in other words, they are spread out and they don’t cluster together in an enclave.

Harry’s company found a man to assume Harry’s position and they hired him – that man is Tom. Tom lives in the same subdivision that Harry lives in and has become a good friend to Harry and Elaine.

Do you think God guided Harry to accept the employment offer that I shared about in previous posts? Do you think God put it on the heart of his employer to continue Harry’s salary? Do you think Harry’s employer hiring Tom was an accident?

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup

A grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup rank as comfort food right up there with meatloaf and mashed potatoes - with the benefit of not taking as long to prepare as meatloaf. 

There is nothing like dipping the sandwich in the soup - better than a doughnut and coffee, better than French dip, better than peanuts in Coca Cola. 

Why is there no national Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day? 

Why doesn't the Food Network devote a day to grilled cheese and tomato soup?

Why isn't this served at state dinners in the White House?

Grilled cheese and tomato soup could very well unify our nation, if not the world. I think this is something that those who sow discord do not want us to discover. 

Imagine, people the world over sitting down together and sharing grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. 

It's actually not a bad imagine. Kind of comforting. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sitting on the Deck

“Is that call an owl or a dove?”

“An owl or a dog?”

“No, I said is it an owl or a dove?”

“You don’t know the difference between the sound an owl makes and the sound a dog makes?”

I said, owl and dove, I didn’t say owl and dog.

“Well speak up so I can hear you. I was beginning to wonder why you didn’t know the difference between an owl and a dog.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Three Harrys: Part 5

Shortly after Harry Hanger’s diagnosis of ALS he attended a company meeting in Canada (his employer is a Canadian firm). What would the firm’s reaction be to the news that their new hire was terminally ill? Would they regret their decision? Would they seek to cut ties with Harry? Would they expect him to resign?

When Harry returned to Richmond and shared his trip with our Tuesday-morning group we listened attentively. We had prayed with Harry and Elaine, asking God to make it clear to them whether Harry should accept an employment offer from the Canadian firm. Now that he was with them, and now that they had the news that their new hire was ill – what would the result be? How would God reveal Himself in Harry’s relationship with his new employer?

During Harry’s time in Canada the president of the company took Harry aside and said, “Harry, please tell Elaine that as long as you are here on this earth that you’ll have a paycheck.” (Or words to that effect, I don’t recall the exact quote).

There is nothing I can add to this, it speaks for itself, or I should say that God speaks through it. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Zombies in the Halls

I don’t get the fixation with zombies and vampires in our society, other than it is a manifestation of darkness – for these images are incompatible with light and life. Joke about it all you want, there is nothing funny.

There is, however, irony – I see it almost every day in the building where our offices are located. You see, you don’t have to look like a zombie to be a zombie. When I walk down the halls the people I pass have vacant looks in their eyes as they gaze into smart phones or tablets. People pass each other without recognition in the halls, they open and go through doors without recognizing others, and (at least in the men’s room) they attend to personal needs while fixated on electronic devices. Workers in our building crisscross parking lots oblivious to traffic – it’s a wonder numbers of them aren’t sprawled on the pavement continuing to send text messages while gasping a last breath.

Frighteningly, many people drive zombie-like as their eyes and minds are elsewhere than on the road.  Commuting is becoming ever-increasingly insane.

He has hears to hear and eyes to see…let that person see and hear…and be careful.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Robbed of Innocence

When I was in elementary school we used to bring decorated shoeboxes with holes cut in the top to class on Valentine’s Day. Those shoeboxes became mailboxes into which classmates deposited Valentine’s Day cards. We gave cards to all our classmates and received cards from all our classmates.

It was a day to express innocent affection and kindness.

With crass sexuality and violence permeating our society, with the violation and degradation of childhood innocence – the simple joys of kindness and affection have been robbed from our children. We have done this – we can mouth platitudes all we want, but the truth is that we have sacrificed our children on the altars of our own egos and materialism and wanton disregard for morality, ethics, and truth. We are selling our children for the sake of the economy and so that we don’t have to be ostracized for not going against the grain.

We are cowards for not owning up to this. We are cowards for not saying, “Enough. Stop this. Even if it means a diminished materialistic standard of living, stop it. I would rather have less materially so that my children may have more morally.”

We are collectively guilty of child abuse.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Three Harrys: Part 4

Harry Hanger has had an exceptionally stable career in the propane industry, in which he is known for his integrity and his Christian witness. A year or so prior to his ALS diagnosis Harry received a job offer from a competitor – since Harry was “mister stable employment” the consideration of this offer was a big deal. Also, Harry was in the stage of his career where he could see retirement on the horizon and most of us don’t want to change horses so close to the finish line.

Harry shared the fact of the offer and the process of deliberation with our Tuesday-morning small group, asking us to pray for Elaine and him as they sought the will of God. I don’t recall how long the deliberation process took, but it didn’t happen quickly. Throughout the process there were questions, hesitations, considerations – all the things one might expect from a prudent husband and wife, all the things one would expect from a couple seeking the will and direction of God.

Harry accepted the job.

Not long afterwards he was diagnosed with ALS. How would his new employer react? 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Greatest Super Bowl – Or The Darkest?

Give us what we want and we won’t be critical if you poison us. If it tastes good it must be good for us.

In terms of the game itself, assuming you could separate the game from television and tickets costing thousands of dollars, it was a great game.

But when will we say “enough”? Enough of the hedonistic insanity of purchasing tickets to a GAME for thousands of dollars. People are not going to a game, they are going to an event, a happening, a worship service where they will bow down to the idols of money and power and success. The NFL says, “Come and worship. Come and pay and worship.”

And we come.

Then we talk about the commercials – but do we talk about the darkness of the commercials? The commercials for movies and television shows were dark, darker, and darkest. If this is what we are watching on television, if this is what we are paying to see in the movies – and it must be otherwise these shows and movies would not be churned out – then our Monday-morning conversation ought not to be about the Patriots’ comeback win, it ought to be about whether our society can come back from the darkness into which it has descended.

But we check our critical thinking when we turn the television on, we check our critical thinking when we worship at the altar of the NFL, or most other places of worship coming to us via television or the movies or the radio or the internet (blogs must be the exception). We cannot see the darkness because we live in the darkness.

If we “are what we eat” then it is also true that “we are what we think” – if what we put in our bodies is important, then what we put in our minds is also important – and if the darkness and violence of what was portrayed in the Super Bowl commercials is what is in our minds then we ought to try to rouse one another to escape the opium den we are in. Is there no one awake in this place? Are we all consigned to the stupor of the drugs of violence and wanton sex and power and hedonism?

We ought not to be taking about what a great game the Super Bowl was, we ought to be asking what has happened to us. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

People in the Ocean

My friend Lemuel told me about a situation at sea having to do with two cruise ships and the passengers on those two ships.

The ships were sailing close to each other, with good visual contact, when an explosion occurred on one of the vessels – it tore the hull apart and immediately the ship began to sink – it was chaos; alarms going off, mothers and fathers clutching children, confused elderly, loud speakers blaring to abandon ship, the crew shouting instructions, people falling into the water, attempts to lower life boats, loved ones holding tight to each other.

Immediately arguments broke out on the other ship about whether to rescue the passengers and crew of the sinking ship.

Should they lower the life boats? Should they rescue only those who could swim to the ship and pull themselves up onto the deck? Should they only rescue those who could get into a life boat? Should they only rescue those who could provide a driver’s license or a passport? On and on the arguments went.

Finally someone said, “Look, you are not supposed to be on this ship unless you are a crew member employed by the owner of the ship, or you are a passenger who has paid a fare. That’s the way we left port and that’s the way we should enter port. No one has any business on this ship who hasn’t paid for a ticket. Now if some of those people in the ocean can pay for a ticket and we won’t be inconvenienced by their presence, then I guess we can let them on board – but they’ve got to pay before they come on board.”

The ship sailed away without rescuing anyone, after all, the people in the ocean were just “those people.”

Where is George?

I haven’t heard from my friend George Will for quite a few months. Where is he? Is he dead? That’s not a thought I like to think, but I do think it. After all, he is about 80 years old now and he’s been travelling for around 51 years – pretty much ever since I met him in 1966 in Greenville, SC. When is the last time I saw him? Around 1977 in Gainesville, FL. For the past few years we’ve talked every 6 months or so, he’ll call me when he is back in the US from Europe. But I haven’t heard from him for a long time. Where is he? Is he dead?

I’m going to have to call the numbers I have for him and see if anyone answers. He has a son, Art; and a daughter, Debbie. I’ve been praying for them for years and years. They are younger than I am but I’m not sure how much younger, probably no more than 10 years.

Of course if George is dead he really isn’t dead, he is with Jesus. Now I don’t mean he is in one of those “better places” that people talk about when they don’t know what else to say. I mean come on…in a better place? That could mean a sunny beach or a river cruise on the Rhine or an ice cream store – what is this “better place” business? None of that for George – George has always been a Jesus man – a man following Jesus. You can bet that if George laid his body down, if he breathed his last breath, that he just kept on following Jesus right into heaven.

I might have disagreed with George on a lot of things, but I sure do/did agree with him that following Jesus either means everything or it means absolutely nothing – there just ain’t no logical in-between. Friends can put up with a lot of differences between them if they are sold on Jesus, sold on Him and sold-out for Him. I have met few others as sold-out for Jesus as George Will. Yes, the old boy is/was eccentric, no doubt about it – he had/has his ways – oh but how good old George loves Jesus.

I guess I’d better call those numbers this week.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

No Breakfast for the Hawk

Yesterday morning a young hawk was perched on a decorative flag pole not far from our bird feeders. There were no birds at the feeders.

After a while the hawk flew to the top of one of the feeders and perched again. There were still no birds at the feeders.

A year or two ago another young hawk went through the same routine – but no birds showed up to provide either hawk with a meal. I imagine the hawks were thinking, “Where are the birds? I was told I could get a good breakfast here.”

The things that bite and devour us are seldom things we can readily see, and they are seldom things that want to be seen.

With more practice yesterday’s hawk will no doubt learn to catch breakfast, lunch, and dinner – but he’ll do it in such a way that his prey won’t know what’s coming until it’s too late. 

We just hope he dines elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Three Harrys – Part 3

The third Harry H. in my life is Harry Hanger. My first contact with Harry was when I received an email from him regarding the text of a sermon I had sent to our mutual friend, Hank Mattox. Harry was quite encouraging in what he wrote.

Perhaps a year or so after Harry’s email Vickie and I moved back to Chesterfield and Hank encouraged me to attend the small group of men he met with on Tuesday mornings. Knowing that I needed to be in a small group I accepted Hank’s invitation and that is where I met Harry. Harry soon asked me if he could pick me up on his way to the group and I said “yes”. I wasn’t working at the time and my job search wasn’t going well and I needed all the encouragement I could get. When we are in need it is good to have friends and brothers (and sisters).

I didn’t realize it at the time but Harry was driving about ten miles out of his way, each way, to pick me up and bring me home. I know the drive he took well because three years later Vickie and I moved to a home just down the street from where Harry and Elaine lived at the time he was picking me up. Those early morning drives with Harry were sweet. Harry is committed to Jesus and the Bible and he has a sharp mind that critiques things through Biblical truth and the centrality of Jesus – so our relationship and conversations started off at pretty mature level. Plus, both of us had been followers of Jesus for many years and so we could draw on experience and the ebb and flow of life as we discussed things.

Harry was the facilitator of the small group and he did a fine job, as he would continue to do until ALS forced him to remain home on Tuesdays, but that was in the future; when I met Harry ALS had not yet invaded his life – or if it had it was not discernable.

One of the ironies of me attending this particular group, which is associated with Needle’s Eye Ministries in Richmond, VA., is that around 1989 I was in a men’s group that met down the street from my current group and that particular group was a spinoff of the group I’m currently in. My current group had a member who left it (with its blessing) in 1989 to start another group of which I became a member. That first group was integral to my life in many ways, and in a sense continues to be even though it no longer meets. From 1989 – mid 1996 I met Wednesday mornings with men who had a significant influence on my life – without that group I may never have ventured to seminary.

Those early morning drives with Harry were refreshing and encouraging.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Wheelbarrow – 5

The yellow rental truck was packed tight, floor to ceiling, front to back. Everything was out of the house and on the truck, everything from the garage was on the truck, including the wheelbarrow.

Sasha from Ukraine, visiting our friend Joe (Sasha was built like an American football lineman), kept saying, “Books, more books,” as he carried box after box down the second-floor stairs, then down the porch steps and onto the truck. If Sasha could only see the books now he’d realize that he’d gotten off light twenty years ago. All pastors should have book allowances built into their compensation package; I had book allowances and I used them.

Even though the rental house we were moving to in Beverly, MA. was on a much smaller lot than our Chesterfield, VA home, we knew we’d take the wheelbarrow – for no matter how small the lot, there is always a place to grow plants. We also had house plants in the truck – we’ve always had house plants.

We lived in Beverly three years and we often think we should have stayed – but that’s another story and one which I may never write about, at least publically. Vickie worked her gardening magic at 3 Museum Road, Beverly, MA. There were flowers along both sides of our home, even tomato plants on one of the sides. Then along our rear fence she planted a perennial garden – this is when we learned about the “friendship gate” which I’ve written about. We discovered a paved path outside the back door which had been covered over the years by grass – we uncovered it. While we didn’t use the wheelbarrow as much as we did in Chesterfield, we did use it to haul dirt and turf and plants.

An important side benefit of gardening in a neighborhood is that it provides an opportunity to meet your neighbors. It works like this; you are outside gardening, your neighbor comes outside to do something, you speak to your neighbor and then your neighbor speaks to you – the whole thing is pretty neat. This is how we met our neighbors in the back and our neighbors on one side of us. The neighbors on our other side greeted us as soon as we arrived – that was an immediate answer to prayer…maybe I’ll pick that up on the next post in this series.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

“Good For All People”

This morning I was struck by the following:

“See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people,” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we sought good for others? If we sought good for “all people”? Sadly we are selective in who we seek good for – we have a screening process and if you don’t make the cut well then it’s your own fault. Who doesn’t make the cut?

Those who don’t think like we do. Who don’t behave like we do. Who don’t vote like we do. Who don’t look like we do. Who don’t speak like we do. Who don’t believe like we do. Who don’t fly the same flag as we do. How long is the list?

Thankfully a holy God died for me, an unholy man – someone who did not make the cut, who could not make the cut. Now what? Now what am I to do? Whom shall I love?

God loved all on the Cross, shall I do any less? God sought the good of all on the Cross, shall I do any less?

Better to be rejected by others while loving them than to reject them, to push them away.

Better to “always seek after that which is good…for all people” than to usurp the place of God as judge.

Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you,” (John 20:21).

Will I join Jesus in seeking good for all people? Will I do this today?

Will you?