Wednesday, September 19, 2012
I was out on the open road recently and encountered another of those “Aha moments” as a passing cloud partially obscured the sun and revealed the sun’s rays shining through to my line of sight. I had learned earlier that meteorologists have actually named these light shafts crepuscular rays. But what I finally realized was that those rays of light had been with me all the time. It was only when a passing storm seemingly blocked them from my sight that I took notice. And what I was really observing were the consequent columns of dark shadows that provided the contrast in the skies above.
Our Carolina church celebrates old time “camp meeting” services for a few Sundays in the summer time. We sing old time gospels and imagine images of folks gathered in gingham dresses and shirts goin’ down to the river for salvation during the Victorian farming days. The spirit of that service brought back memories of my youth growing up in a small church in central Kansas, with the windows open wide on a warm Sunday morning. You could feel the spirit of God coming into that sanctuary on those warm summer breezes. But the invited spirit of God can arrive in many different ways, as demonstrated by a little blond girl that was sitting next to me.
At the conclusion of his sermon, our pastor asked anyone who felt the need to come forward to kneel and pray at the altar for God’s healing touch. And folks of all ages and probable reasons did come forward to be closer to their creator to receive His blessing. As the kneeling rails were vacated, I noticed the young little blond girl nudging her parents. She then reached into the busy bag they had carried with them into the pew and retrieved a small, well-loved, wide-eyed, white lamb. Then the four of them made their way to the altar and kneeled to pray, as the little girl placed the little lamb at the altar among the family. The symbolism was quite touching as the Lamb of God revealed His presence within that family and our congregation to shed His grace among all of us on a bright summer’s morn down by the Deep River.
No one is exempt from the dark days we experience in life, not even God as demonstrated on that Black Friday. But a bright light did shine out of the darkness on Easter Sunday to reveal a way through to the other side. And just as the shadow columns had helped to reveal the rays of light that were there in my presence, the life challenges that were being experienced by those people who had come forward gave us all pause to reflect and be aware of the Eternal light that could help everyone get through those dark shadows.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
"The patriot's blood is the seed of Freedom's Tree."
I take a lot of photographs out in nature and I especially like to photograph images of light such as sunrises, sunsets and reflections. Not too many images of trees catch my eye, but one did as I was standing on the hallowed ground of the final battle of the American Revolution in Yorktown, Virginia. The graceful, wide ranging branches of a tree that was growing beside the York River immediately caught my attention. This living creation seemed to be bowing in silent reverence. Its symmetry and innate beauty is a visual testament to the last breaths taken by so many patriots that had fought and fell in the pursuit of freedom at this place. Their life blood had literally been spilled on this ground and it’s plausible that elements had eventually been drawn up by the giant tree’s life giving root system to sustain the organism.
I’m reminded of the writings of the very first Psalm in which those who place their faith in God are likened to a tree that is planted beside flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry. The Psalmist relates that your fruit ripens in its time and your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun. No matter what you do, you prosper, i.e., when we apply God’s wisdom the fruit or results we bear will be good and receive God’s approval. This doesn’t imply an easy life, but a worthwhile life of true value. The Psalmist continues that those who turn their back on Him are like fallen husks of wheat, tossed by an open wind, left deserted and alone. Their path will end tragically, but the journey of all has been charted by the Eternal if we choose to follow. Those first Americans sought individual and religious freedom and dreamed of a future where their descendants worshiped God in a grand experiment of diversity and the unbridled pursuit of happiness. They planted their dream of a new country and new beginnings beside a stream of living water and the roots ran deep and they were never thirsty again.
I just had the pleasure of visiting friends who are native to the historic Yorktown, Virginia area. Since I still find stories of human struggle and victory so fascinating, I also found the area to be equally fascinating, especially the final battle of the American Revolution at Yorktown! The end began for British General Cornwallis here in North Carolina when General Washington’s second in command, General Nathaniel Greene, engaged Cornwallis’ troops at the battle of Guilford Courthouse. Greene and his revolutionaries didn’t win this engagement, but they did cripple the opposition who marched on to the Outer Banks and Yorktown.
Destiny awaited both armies at Yorktown via both French and divine intervention. Cornwallis dug in with earthen redoubts and an escape route at his back across the York River if necessary. He knew reinforcements were sailing from New York in the form of 24 British war ships. But the French had deployed 36 warships from the West Indies to assist the young upstarts and they engaged the British ships in the Chesapeake and routed them out to sea. That victory left the ports open to sail ships up the river with siege mortars and reinforcements for the Americans. The French Comte de Grasse commanding his naval army and the Comte de Rochambeau commanding his auxiliary troops joined Washington’s troops and the Marquis de Lafayette to begin a nineteen day siege of Cornwallis’ defenses. He was outnumbered two to one and ordered a retreat across the York in numerous boats. One wave of one thousand men made it to the opposite shore before a severe storm scattered and sunk the next wave. Cornwallis understood the grave implications and surrendered to end the revolutionary war on October 19, 1781.
A 95 foot tall memorial rose above the shore of this hallowed ground near the York River to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the struggle. The chosen designer, Richard Morris Hunt, fittingly studied architecture in Paris and left an indelible imprint on the American landscape with such other designs as Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the Administration building at Chicago’s World Columbian exposition, the Tribune building, the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty in New York. Lady Liberty stands atop the site as the cool breezes off the York still power sailing ships and billowing storm clouds pass in remembrance of the deciding blow to the defeated army. And circling around the monument are kindred souls locked in unity for the hope of “One Country, One Constitution, and One Destiny”—One United States of America!
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Ground Zero, New York, NY
Peaceful Garden, Greensboro, NC
Four years after we met and were married, my young wife and I spent our honeymoon in and around the colorful Colorado Rocky Mountains and rushing river valleys. I still have a sharp memory of standing together early one morning at the rim of a deep gorge in the Mesa Verde high country. An eagle soared on the winds’ warm updraft and his call echoed off the cliffs. The ancients that had built the stone cliff dwellings in this gorge had mysteriously abandoned their village long ago. As we stood there in the shade of weathered pines and quietly listened to the wind singing in the needles and the great chasm below, we began to experience God’s presence around us. There was a keen sense of awe and inspiration that we were standing on holy ground in the midst of God’s magnificent creation.
Almost forty years later, my wife and I were in New York City in 2004 celebrating my birthday and we took a taxi to the recently cleared “ground zero” site. Our female taxi driver was on duty the morning of September 11, 2001 and soon afterwards. On our drive to the area, she respectfully shared her experience that day and of hearing pinging sounds coming from the destruction for weeks later. It is sound that she will never forget. We stood at the security fence quietly observing the stark area with a lone rusting iron cross that had been fashioned out of the rubble where almost 3,000 souls had perished. I took this photograph on my birth date of an inscription left by another pilgrim. We instinctively knew that we were standing on hallowed ground as we reverently read the heartfelt message.
Four years later, the two of us were sitting on a park bench near home viewing one of the most beautiful images I had ever captured in my camera lens. I had just wandered over to a Magnolia tree in the small garden park where we enjoyed walking together in the cool of the day. My wife was uncharacteristically tired on this morning after a rather severe chemo treatment, but we were both overwhelmed by the sense of peace and love this image gave us. We didn’t quite understand it at the time, but we were once again standing together on holy ground at that moment. Fifteen days later, I was standing with my family on holy ground as she was welcomed into His presence.
The experience of these holy present moments can be life changing.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
I recently received an e-mail containing a poem written by a terminally ill twelve year old girl. It was titled Slow Dance and included the request to slow down and not dance too fast. This young girl was forced to mature beyond her years as time was short and she knew the music wouldn’t last. She characterized a day filled with hurry and worry as an unopened gift thrown away. Her final admonition not to dance too fast was that life is not a race, so take it slower and hear the music before the song is over.
The poem reminded me of a baseball I saw in an impressive trophy case years ago in Kansas City. My wife and I had been asked to represent our company at a charity Las Vegas party. It was generously being held at the home of the professional baseball player I most admired at the time. He had lost a good friend to ALS and the event was being held to raise donations for a cure. My baseball possessed father had me playing baseball from the time I could hold a bat without dropping it on my feet. So I was transfixed and blown away when we discovered that we were free to wander around the home which included a workout room and awards den. Most of the rooms were a testament to a long and storied sports career. However, there was one trophy case of signed baseballs that immediately caught my attention. No, it wasn’t the signed Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig baseballs, as impressive as they were for me. After all, ALS has been called Lou Gehrig’s disease since it stopped short the career of this giant of the game all too soon.
There was a signed baseball in one glassed case that was addressed to our gracious host for the evening and it said, “You’d better slow down. I hear you’re getting to be a lot like me”. It was obviously given to our host during his early single years of fame and fortune before he settled down with a wonderful wife and family. And it was signed by another baseball legend that died after a contentious liver transplant. He'd been quoted as saying, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself”. The man’s father had died far too early in life and Mickey Mantle apparently assumed his was the same fate, so he’d lived fast and never slowed down before it was too late. But I believe that baseball did make an impression on our host and it definitely made an impression on me.
Today is a good day to tell someone close to you that you love them.
Today is a good day to hug someone so they know you care.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Today is a good day to be still and know your God.
Monday, September 3, 2012
When Jesus states in John 3:16 that everyone who believes in him should not perish, he is referring to hell. The short one chapter book of Jude likens unbelievers as clouds without rain blown along by the wind, foaming wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. Jesus tells of a rich man in hell who attempted to appeal to a beggar in heaven for relief, but the chasm between the two was impenetrable. It’s thought provoking to consider that if you were born in this great country of America, you are considered as rich by most of the world. One of the best definitions I’ve come across regarding the concept of hell is simply eternal separation from the love of our creator. We know that nature abhors a vacuum and once goodness is removed, evil replaces the void. Once light is removed, darkness fills the void. Jesus tells us that he is the light of the world.
One of the greatest benefits of being born in this age is our ability to fly into the heavens aboard commercial airplanes. On many occasions I’ve walked into an airport on a bleak and dismal winter’s day where the sky was overcast and dark. But just minutes later I was airborne and breaking out of the dense cloud cover into brilliant sunshine and dazzling white clouds that are illuminated from above. That experience is always a reminder that even on our darkest days, there is always a light presence even though there may be obstacles that obscure it from us at the time. And a normal night sky generally reveals the reflection of the sun from our moon as the earth completes another rotation on its axis and we are reminded that the light is still present.
I’m reminded of the human issue of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s now an acknowledged disorder that affects many of us in varying degrees during seasonal changes where sunlight is withdrawn from our presence. It manifests itself in the human psyche as a depressed feeling of hopelessness. The most common prescribed treatment for SAD is exposure to a bright light. One of the oldest questions asked by inquiring minds is “why would a loving God condemn someone to an eternal life of darkness in a state called hell”? The short answer is that he doesn’t—they volunteer. When the chosen people of Israel turned their back on God, His response was to simply respond in kind and withdraw his protection. Jesus says that in the final day, some will be confronted with the admonition, “I never knew you. Away from me.” Once we have breathed our last, our book of life is closed and the light may be extinguished forever. But there will be no need for a sun or a moon in the new earth, for God’s light will be then be present and unobscured forever.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
People often say that they'd believe in God if he would only show them a sign or appear to them. My response is that every day is filled with all sorts of miracles of creation starting with each new sunrise. Almost every recorded meeting of mortal man and a spiritual being begins with the words, "Fear not", as the experience will apparently scare the daylights out of you! I think I'll pass, thank you. And our creator actually did appear to thousands of people and even walked among us to tell us all we need to know for three years. But we killed him because the people were looking for a warrior king to free a nation instead of a peaceful savior for all mankind. Ultimately, we need that proverbial leap of faith from within to know Him.
There’s a story about a man wishing to know God by some sign. When he asks God to speak to him, a nightingale sings and distant thunder rolls across the land, but the man is wearing ear buds as he jogs and doesn’t hear. When he demands to see God, the morning star reflects in the sparkling waters just before a brilliant sunrise, but the man is running to the west and doesn’t see. So the man shouts to God for a miracle and a colorful flower unfurls its delicate petals while a child is born, but the man keeps his focus on running straight ahead and doesn’t notice. Then the man cried out in hopeless despair that life is meaningless and without purpose, and God revealed a book telling of the sacrifice of the Son he sent to guide him, always be with him, forgive him, and prepare an eternal home for him, but he doesn’t stop long enough to pick it up and read it. The man received many blessings that day, but he didn’t devote the time or attention that was necessary to recognize and receive them as he raced through his life.
We do live in a broken world with lots of trials and challenges along the way. And we can take heart in understanding that God has promised to be with us at all times, especially when invited. God doesn’t cause evil as much as he manages it and is always capable of helping us to bring good out of it. Just as darkness is the absence of light, so too evil fills the void in the absence of goodness. So those speed bumps on the road of life can actually prepare us for the major roadblocks that lie ahead. Every one that we successfully negotiate strengthens our character and faith for an eternal life after this mortal life. And guess what? Many times after we have awakened to a bright and clear morning after facing one of life’s severe storms, we actually find that we are the sign and blessing for others!