Monday, October 28, 2013
Madonna and Child, London, EN
During a ninety year period from 1850-1930 around 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children from the teeming cities were placed on “Orphan Trains” and most were adopted by families throughout the expanding American West. In Romans 8 Paul reveals that we received the spirit of adoption from the grace of our Creator and “by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”.
We were created in the divine image with qualities of mind and spirit that separate us from all other living beings. One of the basic aspects of our humanness involves our relationships. When it comes to family relationships we can be a son, daughter, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. But when it comes to our relationship with our Creator, we are all simply sons and daughters.
When Jesus taught us to pray The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he started with the words “Our Father, who art in Heaven” and he addressed God as Abba or Father a total of 170 times in the Bible. Jesus created a new way of praying that is as natural as a child talking to his father. By creating us in his own image, God truly wanted someone to love and someone capable of returning that love.
And that qualifies all of us on this spinning orphan train of life as sons and daughters of one universal and eternal family of God. Ultimately, we need to take better care of each other and start treating each other like the sons and daughters we were created to be.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Warmth of Fire, Seagrove, NC
Isn’t it interesting how we human beings can establish a relationship with our creator and then backslide away from it? Even the ancient Israelites as a chosen nation drifted away from their creator God who withdrew His protection and they were ultimately invaded and carried away into slavery in a foreign land.
We can find warmth close to a blazing fire, but the further we walk away from the flames, the colder we become. Likewise, we can find abundant light close to a bright lamp, but the further we drift away from it the darker our world becomes. If we move into a garden of scented roses and honeysuckle, the sweet aroma fills the air all around us, but the further we amble away, the fainter the fragrance becomes.
So it would seem that we can develop a close relationship with our Heavenly Father as a son or daughter. But we have a nature that can cause us to drift away if we do not stay close to the source of our life. And we stay close by remaining in daily communication and plugging into the power source, so that our life remains firmly on track between the navigational stars on our circular trips around the sun.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Divine Light, Jamestown, NC
I lost my mother and then my wife in the span of six months five years ago. A person could be very bitter and angry after experiencing such a loss. But the love and outpouring of support my family received from our Jamestown church family sustained us, along with the Easter hope in Jesus’s resurrection that we will all meet again in a beautiful forever. It’s a belief that is reinforced every Sunday and one that I would like as many others as possible to know. I understand that we all share a common destiny, but the Bible has taught me that once we depart this mortal life, those who believe in Christ’s salvation and the unconditional love of our God need only look to the cross for affirmation of His promise for an eternal spiritual life in His presence. In the meantime, Jesus left us with three years of teachings on how to live our lives and a model of the God who created us in His image. He distilled all the commandments into five simple words; “Love God and love others”. As a body of Christ, we have lots of opportunities to learn about this and to do this every day of the year, as the Light of God’s grace is generally dispensed through other human beings like us these days.
Our commitment pledge cards enable all of us to stop for a moment and evaluate our giving, what it means, and how much it should be for the coming year. It gives our church leaders a much better picture of how we should plan our ministry for the coming year based on our members’ giving plans and not guesswork. Our financial commitment to God is both a reflection of our faith and a critical part of what makes it possible to shine Light into the dark corners of people’s hearts.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Betsey's Rock Falls, NC
I had finished my preparation to facilitate our adult bible class, so I made a last minute decision for a road trip to the North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway. The early morning weather reported a peak color advisory for the leaves in the soft mountains that are only a two hour drive from home. So I assembled my camera gear, filled up the gas tank and headed northwest to the high country.
This week’s class relates to God’s providence in our lives. One of the discussion questions asks us to share a situation of providence that we have experienced in our lives. I can reflect on a number of occasions where providence guided my life such as the day I washed out of mechanical engineering and finally chose to grow up and get my college degree in another field I liked; the day I met my future wife of forty years and chose a committed relationship; the day I chose to leave for another company and stayed for thirty years to advance my career; the day we chose to move to North Carolina, stretching our comfort zone; the day we chose to join a community church and began to serve using our acquired skills; and the incident on the mountain today.
I arrived at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside Boone, North Carolina by late morning. My intention was to drive southwest for a number of miles and then make my way on up to Blowing Rock for a late afternoon lunch. But as I exited highway 421, I approached a construction road block for that section of the parkway. So, as fate would have it, I chose the exact opposite way I had planned to go. After driving about twenty miles and taking a number of photographs of the blue hued mountains in the background along with vibrant autumn colors in the foreground, I pulled off onto one of the many scenic view parking areas.
I grabbed my trusty Nikon and took a much needed stretch out of the car into the brisk fall air. A gentle mountain breeze was rustling the colorful leaves all around me and the sun was intermittently highlighting the ridges and valleys below. The area was aptly named Betsey’s Rock Falls in recognition of the seemingly cascading rock formations across the valley. Unfortunately, there was a lot of underbrush obscuring my view. Then I noticed a narrow rocky trail leading off the parkway that had the promise of an unobstructed angle for my camera. Once I had located a clear view, I raised my camera with my left hand and began shooting a panoramic image from left to right. As I moved to my right while focusing on the viewfinder, my right foot slipped off the mossy rock under me and both of my feet were down in a flash. I only had a split second to unconsciously extend my left hand to protect my camera as my right hand attempted to break my fall and I did an Olympic face plant on the offending rock under me. My eyeglasses were knocked away and the knee that I had replaced seven months ago was bleeding through my denim jeans. I took a quick inventory with my bleeding right hand and discovered more red blood oozing from my forehead. Only then did I have the clear mind to look around to see if any strangers had pulled into the overlook to observe my athleticism in action. Thankfully, I was spared an embarrassing YouTube debut, so I gathered my bent eye glass frame, inspected my camera for any damage and managed to right myself. It was only then that I noticed there was a sheer drop off within about six feet of my fall. It was then that I realized my rocky path had been providential today.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Providential Creation, Wrightsville Beach, NC
The concept of providence is a belief that God is active in the human journey to fulfill His purposes for the world. Those who read life with a certain kind of faith will recognize divine intervention after it is past. One of my favorite scenes from the classic movie, The Longest Day, about the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in WWII was two flashes from both sides of the war. When queried about the critical outcome of the battle, an allied commander confidently replied that “God is on our side”. Then the scene immediately shifts to the German Third Reich commander who responds to the same question with the same reply. Obviously, one of the two commanders is deadly wrong. I like the response of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War who famously responded differently, “My concern is not whether God is on our side—my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”.
James Howell writes in his book on The Will of God that God is in control “long term, eventually; big picture, yes. But day in and day out, no, God does not control things that happen, or you and me. At times I do God’s will, but often I do not, and you don’t either. God chooses not to determine everything: Love does not insist on its own way”. We live in a broken world that won’t be restored like our spiritual bodies until the creation of a new earth and a new heaven.
There would seem to be specific situations where God won’t generally interfere. For instance, He won’t change the natural laws of nature which He set in motion. If you build a house in a flood plain or on a beach where house guests and hurricanes visit, you may be on your own. If you build in southern Oklahoma, you’d be advised to add a tornado shelter. He generally won’t violate someone’s free will. So you may be wasting your time if you’re praying for someone to return your infatuation for them. And James Howell observes that in his long ministerial career, most all of the people that were diagnosed with a terminal illness succumbed to it, despite fervent prayers to arrest it. No one escapes the common destiny of mortal men. The hope for all Christians is that prayers for healing are always answered, just not always in this mortal life.
Finally, there are still countless examples of how God has indeed invoked providence throughout the human experience for some divine reason—and we call them miracles!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Park Bench, Greensboro, NC
"I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish...
I see Jesus in everyone."! --Mother Teresa
An adventurous boy decided to find God one morning at a family picnic in a neighborhood park. He had packed a bag with a box of Krispy Krème donuts and a six-pack of Cheerwine soda. He noticed a white haired man sitting on a bench next to a woman and a wheel chair by his family’s table. The boy walked over to them, sat down on the grass and opened his picnic bag. He was about to take a drink from his soda when he offered them a donut. The woman declined, but the man gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. His smile was so pleasant that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a can of Carolina Cheerwine. Again, he smiled at him. The boy was so delighted he smiled a big smile back!
They sat there eating and smiling, but they never said a word. After they were finished, the woman helped the man into his wheel chair and everyone started to leave. But before the young boy had gone a few steps, both of them turned around and smiled a bright smile.
When the boy returned to his family’s table, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, "Why are you so happy? He replied, "I just had lunch with God." But before his mother could respond, he added, "You know what? He's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!"
Meanwhile the elderly man, also radiant with joy, returned to the assisted living home with his wife. A nurse was stunned by the look of peace on his face and asked, "What did you do this morning that made you so happy?" He replied, "I had Cheerwine and donuts in the park with God. And you know, he's much younger than I expected, but he’s got a beautiful smile."
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. And most often, God’s priceless grace is dispensed through folks like you and me. When have you had the sense of joy as God blessed someone else through you?
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Sands of Time, Jamestown, NC
Today marks the seventy first year I’ve been active on this planet. And I’ve received many best wishes from friends that have crossed paths with me over the years. We all know that we encounter thousands of people during our lifetime, some more often than others. People come into our lives for a lifetime, an instant, an hour, a season or a reason. But of all the billions of people that are available at any one moment, we really interface with just a chosen few. Certainly some have a profound influence on the direction of our life and others are simply fleeting images. But I think they all matter in some way.
We briefly exchange carefully considered words with a nameless and faceless person at the fast food drive through. We donate life giving blood to nameless and faceless people who may actually walk up to us at some point in our spiritual future and personally thank us for selfless giving. There quite possibly have been encounters with spiritual beings that have enabled us to avert tragedy or worse and we may have never known it. We may have entertained strangers and not realized they were very unique beings. I’ve played many hours of sports in my day and knew teammates for a literal season that then faded out of my life forever. I worked with hundreds of people for thirty years and then departed one day, never to see most of them again. And then there’s the close circle of friends and family that I have known most all of my life who have had a profound effect on me.
I frankly never expected to live this long. When I was younger, seventy one years seemed like a very long time. But now it doesn’t seem like it took that long from this perspective. I’ve had a rather adventurous life with more than one close encounter. Not everyone has the benefit of pausing to reflect on a full life that has included innumerable blessings, including even the dark patches along the way. I’ve always believed that mistakes and failures, and even tough times, were never regrettable if you were smart enough to learn and grow from them. They come with the territory. If you’re living without many failures, you probably aren’t stretching the boundaries of the life you’ve been blessed to receive. Of all the zillions of human beings created over the shifting sands of time, your soul was uniquely created for you--and all those journeymen that have passed through the hourglass of time with you in your moment to shine have either influenced your path or been redirected by the language of your life!