Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Destructive Mind-Set

People don’t like to think, talk, or hear about sin. What is “sin”? Is that one of those old-fashioned thunder-and-damnation concepts?

Nope. It’s very modern. Sin is anything that keeps us from having a close personal relationship with God. Not counting the obvious mistakes of the flesh like pornography, drug abuse, and murder, we are besieged by obsessive resentment, stubborn self-reliance, deceit, anger, fear, intimidation, cynicism, anxiety......on and on, endlessly. Even if we are Christians.

In Jeremiah 8, God says people always turn away—they cling to deceit, refuse to return to him, don’t say what is right, won’t repent of their wickedness. They pursue their own course. They don’t know about God, and they don’t try to know. They aren’t taught the truth. People act like their wounds aren’t serious. Verse 11 says, “’Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

He was talking about the ancient Hebrews, but it sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?

Those are sin-sick souls—people who are for some reason separate from God, not coming to him for the peace and comfort he offers. By “sin” I mean anything that separates us from God—keeps us from seeking him.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers talks about maladies of the spirit. He says that when we come to the point where we believe in Jesus Christ, his mind comes into our minds, through the Holy Spirit, and we begin to see things the way he sees them. The temptations we face become different than before, designed by Satan for our new mind-set, which is the Christ-in-us instead of the way we were before we knew him. Because of Christ, we may no longer be susceptible to sin involving the body, so he tries to hook our minds on destructive ways of thinking. And he does a pretty good job of it.

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Urichsville, OH: Barbour, 1963. Sept. 18 entry.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Freedom and Soup

In my January 22 entry, entitled “Freedom,” I recommended that you look up a video drama by the youth of a church in Eastland County, Texas. I said you could see it by going to txol.net, the home page of an Internet provider. Then, about the next day, TXOL removed the “Freedom” link in favor of an audio clip of a young singer’s work.

Thwarted, I did a little research and found the “Freedom” video drama on the web site of the River of Life Church at this address: eriveroflife.org (I am still working on learning how to make links--sorry!)

So if you looked at TXOL and couldn’t find it, try the church web site!


Best Recipe for Chicken Vegetable Soup:

The amount you use of each thing depends on how much soup you want!

When I say “boil” here, I mean bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer and plop on a lid.

1. Boil some chicken tenders, in enough water to cover them good, until they are tender; then cut off those obnoxious little gristles on the ends (very inconsiderate of chickens to grow those things). Use a big pot. Season them with a little salt and onion powder. Actually, sometimes I use hamburger meat, browned first, or chopped–up, leftover roast.

2. Add some chopped-up potatoes, onions, carrots, and either rice or spaghetti (also celery if you like it, but my house does not hold with celery). Minute brown rice is best, or very thin spaghetti. Add water if you need to, to cover all that, and simmer it until they are done. (If you want broccoli, add some the last few minutes so it won’t be cooked to death.) Add parsley.

3. Add either frozen mixed vegetables or canned veggies: green beans, corn, black-eyed peas, hominy, diced tomatoes. Mix and match for different tastes. Add V-8 juice and tomato sauce to taste. Season it with seasoned salt and garlic powder. For leftovers, you can make a different taste by adding some Rotel tomatoes.

If you really feel industrious, you could make a pan of cornbread to go with it. Yum!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sacrifice--4: Sacrificial Love

Sacrificial love is love that is unselfish, given freely, without strings attached--without conditions. It means loving the unlovable and the difficult. The Bible says we should love others as we love ourselves. It does not say we should love people who love us, or people who are charming and nice to us, or people who are of the same nationality or belief system. It simply says we should love others--that means all others. Such loving requires the best of us.

I have found a couple of blogs that talk about sacrificial love. Here is, in part, what they say.

RLC of “Eternal Joy” (fightingforeternaljoy.blogspot.com) says the only truly rewarding kind of love is that which is based on giving of ourselves:

I think most people lack love in their lives because they give so little. The woman who neglects her children and her marriage will find very little fulfillment in either. She will spend her time looking for love when all the while it could be found in her home. When we invest in the lives of others, especially those who God has placed in our homes, we will find satisfaction. The world teaches us it is better to receive than to give, but our Savior said just the opposite. Throughout the Scripture we see that when we meet the needs of others God will meet our needs (see Isaiah 58).

I have seen countless young mothers refuse to discipline their child "because they just want to show them love." What they don't understand is that love often comes in the form of discipline. The Scripture teaches that if God does not discipline us then we know that we are not truly His children. Our culture is in direct opposition to a Biblical worldview. The world tells us to satiate our children's desires rather than train them. We must come to grips with the fact that we have been given a trust from God. Our children are given to us not so that we can give them what they believe is their hearts desire. Rather, we are the adults who have much more experience and wisdom. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. We are called to do what is for their benefit whether it pleases them or not. I once heard a mother say "we are not called to make them happy, but to make them holy." A superficial happiness that comes with always having things their way is not what will make our children truly happy or holy. Of course, we cuddle them and laugh and play with them, but if we refuse to cross their will to teach them self-control and self-denial then we are not truly loving them. If we love them we will prepare them for a life of obedience and service to the Almighty Creator of the universe. And if we serve the Lord with joy, by God's grace, so will they.

Steve of "Harvest Boston" (http://www.harvestboston.net) says that he and some people he works with are tossing around the idea of setting up a neighborhood housing program.

I can see that this idea is based on the concept of sacrificial love: They’re called “Friendship Houses,” and the idea is that Christians live in a house in a depressed area, offering physical and spiritual help to their neighbors on a daily basis, befriending people — that sorta thing. The project may even get some government grants because of its emphasis on community regeneration and social justice. I am thrilled by the idea of “Friendship Houses.” Thrilled because they really have the potential to change the spiritual and physical landscape of our city. Christians refusing to say “come to us” for help and ministry, but literally landing in the middle of people’s neighborhoods and lives. The house is going to be a “safe place” for neighbors to hang out, talk, eat meals, or seek guidance. Amazing concept.

“Friendship Houses” also sadden me a little bit as well. Not the concept, per se, but the fact that the concept is considered “radical” or “out of the box” compared to the traditional ministry forms in Abilene and in many places. Shouldn’t every Christian home be a “Friendship House? Shouldn’t the concept of being “salt and light” in our neighborhoods be embedded in each believer from “new birth”? Shouldn’t service to the needy around us be a natural part of the Christ-life? Isn’t “radical hospitality” (the radical openness of ourselves and our homes to those around us) a virtue that all Christians should espouse?

Yes. Amen.

And...........Help! I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make this blog accept links to other sites. I have read the help notes over and over, and when I try to publish it with links, it always says it doesn't have the right "tags" or something like that. I don't understand! Can anybody help me?

Thursday, January 26, 2006


This "Sacrifice" series is about sacrificial love: what does that kind of love mean for my life?

Jesus said that the whole law of Moses, handed down by God, could be summed up in two commandments: love God with everything in your power, and love others as much as you love yourself.

If we point our whole force of love outward toward God and other people, we won’t have much room for self-centered thinking. And our thinking determines our behavior. So if we are completely occupied with loving as the main focus of our lives, our actions are bound to be the loving kind. That means we could do things for other people, without demanding any kind of repayment. It means we would put other people’s needs before our own and be deliberate about fairness and justice. We would be merciful and forgiving. We would feel a responsibility to take care of the children, the needy and the oppressed.

We would try to be like Jesus Christ. Loving others above ourselves, I believe, is the way to live sacrificially. It all fits together, and the key to it all is love.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


This continues my thoughts about sacrifice. What does the ancient idea of sacrifice have to do with our lives today? I'm working on figuring that out.

Why sacrifice an animal? The concept of blood sacrifice is far from the understanding of us modern-minded folk. Sin was and is serious, leading to separation from God—blood was required. The Bible says life is in the blood, so blood had to be shed--the giving of a life, from a perfect animal—setting up understanding for the time centuries later when God would sacrifice his son, the perfect lamb, the lamb of God.

Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly told his people that animal sacrifices were good, but he would really rather see them heed his word (1 Samuel 15:22). He wanted them instead to be merciful and to acknowledge him as God (Hosea 6:6). He wanted them to first have a spirit that was not self-righteous but "broken," alive and open to him, grieving over their sins (Psalm 51:17). He wanted them to be faithful and fulfill their vows to him (Psalm 50:14). And sacrifices were fine as pledges or cleansing--as long as their hearts were right, as long as their need for his forgiveness was sincere.

But Old Testament people were much like us: sinful, inconsistent, unfaithful creatures, self-centered and too self-reliant. Their hearts were often wrong, like ours. And, fiercely independent like us, they tried hard to solve all their own problems and fulfill their own needs.

So when the time was right, God sent the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect unblemished lamb, Jesus Christ. He died at three o’clock in the afternoon, and when the shofar sounded that day, many understood the implications of the death of Jesus, the lamb of God. Through Jesus' blood, the tables were turned. God did a sort of divine switch on man, making the sacrifice himself out of his immense love for us, and everything changed.

This sacrificial lamb rose again, conquering death and giving hope and life to humanity. According to the new covenant, the covenant of grace, people did not need to make any more animal sacrifices, which they could not often get right, anyway. The punishment they deserved because of their sins was cancelled; they were forgiven and the huge burden of guilt laid on them by the requirement of periodic animal sacrifices was lifted. All they had to do was accept his love, his awesome, intense love. "Awe" in Hebrew means "heavy." And his love for us is, in both that language and today's slang, "heavy."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Several years ago, I read this passage by Martin Luther King to my adult Sunday School class: "What the world of today needs is a return to the sacrificial spirit of the New Testament . . . ." We all nodded wisely in serious agreement.

Then Matt, an intelligent young man who often has questions, asked, "What exactly does that mean?"

Umm, well . . . , we all offered interpretations, none of which seemed very satisfactory. Ever since then, that question will not leave me alone.

Now, I am not a Bible scholar, having been a decidedly lukewarm Christian until 1994 when God scooped me up and gave me the most incredible sense of his love. I have been trying to understand sacrifice so that I will know what Martin Luther King meant--and more important, so that I will know what Jesus meant. It seemed then, and it seems now, to be the key to everything.

At first, I tried limiting my study to the New Testament--but, of course, I found that I needed to be able to grasp the concept in the Old Testament. I saw Abraham taking his son Isaac, who was precious to him, up into the mountains because God told him to go to a place he would show Abraham, build a fire, and sacrifice this boy to him. I asked myself—and God—how in the world did Abraham feel about this? Did he know all along that God would provide a lamb, rather than requiring the death of the boy?

He must have had that kind of faith in God, or he would have refused to do such a thing, or at least hesitated. Abraham’s calm confidence in God must have been communicated to Isaac, or he would have had hysterics, or at least questioned his father. God loved Abraham too much to require the sacrifice of his son. And besides, Isaac was a big part of God's covenant with Abraham.

He is a God of life, not of death and sorrow. I believe God was showing his people—Abraham and those to come—that the ancient practice of child sacrifice was never to be performed again, for one thing. They were to use a perfect animal for the sacrifice. Every day at three o’clock someone blew the shofar at the temple to announce that the lamb had died, and the atonement was complete.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


How does the truth set us free? The youth of a church in Texas made a four-minute video called “Freedom Drama” that illustrates perfectly how this happens. You’ll find it at this link: http://www.txol.net . It is very much worth your while; though short, the film is powerful. The teenagers are pantomiming throughout the film as they show the "victim" being pulled farther and farther away from God by the attractions of Satan.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Magic of Place

My close friend Jan Sorrells wrote a story in her holiday letter that I have permission to share with you:

When I was a little girl around the age of five, my parents and I would often climb into our car on a Sunday afternoon to make an hour-long trip down an Alabama highway; then, we’d make a turn onto a narrow, bumpy dirt road that was surrounded by trees on both sides. Daddy drove carefully down the hill, so the car wouldn’t’ slide off the road. (I loved it when my cousins and I would ride in the back of a pickup and bounce down that road.) Then we crossed the little creek, and as we traveled up the hill on the other side, all of a sudden there was a clearing, and I could look up and see the old wooden house at the top of the hill. It seemed to me that the ride from the highway to my granddaddy’s house took forever, as I just knew my cousins would be there to play with me.

Twenty-five years later when my uncle took me to see that house, I was amazed at how short that same drive was, and I somehow felt cheated by the two-minute drive that day down that very same road.

There is something about our main places as children that makes them seem so much bigger, more impressive—maybe more magical, somehow, than they really are—or at least, more than they appear when we become adults.

The house where my family lived for ten years when I was a child is like that. We moved there when I was five and it was seventy-five; we moved next door to a brand-new house we built when I was fifteen. The old house gradually deteriorated for the next thirty years, thanks to renters and vacant times (houses seem to know when they are vacant and uncared for). Finally, we had it torn down, and now the lot is part of my mother’s yard. The best fine, straight wood in the flooring was reincarnated in a lovely two-story Victorian house across town; I visited it once. In my dreams, our house is still there.

When I dream about my childhood, the old house is there, with its wide front porch and long open windows, white ruffled organdy curtains gently blown about by a breeze. I can still hear the sounds of my brother’s feet on the wood floor, as he went tromping and running through the rambling rooms. I don’t have the same attachment to any other apartment or house that I have ever lived in, not even the place we live now, where we have lived for twenty years.

Adulthood comes along and cheats us out of the magic of the place.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

How to care

Once upon a time, a doggie with long, reddish hair and raggedy ears lived in our yard. Someone said she was a Sheltie mix. Wart was a timid soul who showed up in our front yard about ten years before, an adolescent pup frantic with terror. In her puppy-hood, someone had obviously treated her with cruelty, because she always cringed every time we made a sudden move or loud noise or came out the door with a broom. But she never ran from us and always submitted to anything—bathing, brushing, flea-powdering—with terrified trust.

Our oldest granddaughter, Allison, then about three, worried about Wart and tried to be her kindest companion.

One summer evening, Allison, her mother, and I set out on a walk down the hill. Wart came with us, as she always did, with a self-effacing doggie smile. Allison stopped in her tracks, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Let me show you how to care.” Wart sat down in the road and began to shiver at the unexpected attention.

Allison walked slowly and deliberately to Wart, both her hands extended. By that time, Wart was trembling with terror, but didn't move. Allison gently cupped her hands around Wart’s muzzle and said softly, “This is how to care.” She stood that way, looking directly into Wart’s frightened eyes—and about on a level with those eyes--for what seemed a long time, but was actually about thirty seconds, I imagine.

God taught that little child “how to care.” Little children don’t question those all-important lessons from God. Why do we older, wiser ones resist him with such stubbornness and self-sufficiency?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Way of the King

Nonviolent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.

Okay, I’m still thinking about Martin Luther King—can’t let that go. The paragraph above is part of a summary he wrote for Christian Century in February, 1957. He was explaining the basis for the nonviolent approach to resistance.

But I think it is very much the basis of all human relationships, as it comes from the teachings of Christ. Look at these wonderful ideas: the way of nonviolence . . . avoids not only external violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center . . . stands the principle of love. We must project the belief system . . .of love to the center of our lives.

Also, I can’t forget the father-son scenario I saw yesterday and described for this blog. It’s easy to see both physical violence and internal violence of the spirit in many families today. We need to see the teachings of MLK as meant for all kinds of human relating, not just the Civil Rights movement. If you think about the essential meaning of “Civil Rights,” doesn’t that mean rights of every human?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Peace is possible

Late this afternoon, I went to the grocery store, intending to whip in and out in a hurry. The check-out line slowed me down. As I stood there impatiently waiting my turn, I noticed a father and son, also waiting. They were snarling at each other.

The boy, about nine or ten years old, was hanging back at the end of the nearest aisle, his arms crossed defiantly, while the angry father was almost to the check-out counter. The boy muttered, “I hate …(something inaudible), and I always will!”

The man glared and pointed at him and said, a little too loudly, “Shut up. You. Now.”
Then he took hold of the boy’s arm and jerked him closer. Both angrily frowning, they cast mean looks at each other without saying anything more. As they left the store, the boy walked some distance behind the man, his arms still crossed. The man, of course, was much larger than the boy and could have ripped him to pieces; maybe he did, later. They got into a car with a woman who appeared oblivious and drove away.

I thought about Martin Luther King, whose life and dream we celebrated yesterday. King knew that the heart cannot be won by force, anger, and violence. Those who are weak may find that they have to cooperate with an overbearing, stronger force in order to survive—but only because they have been overpowered. Their hearts will smolder and eventually burst into flame.

And I thought about the example of Jesus Christ, who through love and sacrificial living gives hope and a promise of peace, even in the middle of the turmoil of living. Through Christ, that little boy in the grocery store could grow up to be whole, able to love and be loved. But without Him, the boy may never get beyond anger.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King

A few years ago, I was teaching my British literature class about the Reformation; I told them about the role of Martin Luther in that spiritual revolution, how he insisted that the Catholic church was disregarding people’s perfect right to go directly to God. A student raised his hand and asked, “Was Martin Luther named after Martin Luther King?”

A handful of students laughed, and the rest just looked curious, because they probably wondered the same thing. Oh, dear. No concept of time.

Martin Luther King’s name was a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way. He, too, was a leader of a revolution, one that was both earthly and spiritual. I looked up the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute web site, where I learned that King first heard of the concept of nonviolent struggle when he was a freshman in college, studying Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. (I made a mental note that I will tell my students that.) He was at first skeptical “about its potential as an instrument for social change.”
The methods that King taught required great courage, faith in God, and solid grounding in love.

The web site tells how King eventually became a dedicated believer in the power of nonviolent resistance:

It was the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 . . . that would demonstrate to King the power of nonviolent resistance as a tactical weapon against racial discrimination. With guidance from black pacifist Bayard Rustin, King personally embraced Gandhian principles and chose not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life. King recalled, “Living through the actual experience of the protest, nonviolence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life. Many issues I had not cleared up intellectually concerning nonviolence were now solved in the sphere of practical action.”

The experience in Montgomery enabled King to merge the ideas of Gandhi with Christian theology. He recalled, “. . . my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. This principle became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the sprit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Country Editor: "The Gay Philosopher"

When my dad first began to write his column for his newspaper in the fall of 1948, he called it “People and Things.” That was a bit bland, so after a few months, he decided to set up a contest of sorts to find a new and more intriguing title. He got a letter from an “HTR,” who proposed the winning title. (I have an idea “HTR” was my dad’s business partner, but I guess I won’t say any more than that.)

HTR sent him a picture of “The Gay Philosopher,” a comical man with a high collar, a jaunty hat, and a big, mischievous grin. HTR’s letter says this:

Dear Sir:
Recently you advertised for a name for your column. I’ve read Texas newspapers a good many years—have even worked on a few. Amarillo has their “Tactless Texan”; Fort Worth has their “Home Towner.”

Why can’t we have “The Gay Philosopher”? The enclosed picture isn’t original. I forget the guy’s name who painted it. Anyhow he says if it looks as much like you as we imagine it does, you can use it. It’s copyrighted. So don’t try to sell it.

So, as “The Gay Philosopher,” I salute you. Have a good time.

My dad continued in the column,

We believe firmly that we’re much handsomer than the picture. The guy in the picture probably doesn’t have any more hair than we do. If he did, he wouldn’t be wearing his hat. Anyhow, as pictures go, the GP is a pretty interesting-looking character. Moreover, we’re wondering what HTR looks like, after seeing a sample of what he considers good pictures.

For many years, the column was called “The Gay Philosopher”; the GP’s picture was always at the top of it, with my dad’s initials, “JWS,” under the picture.

I never knew where it came from, but the GP phenomenon grew through the years. People sent him all sorts of pictures of the Gay Philosopher, his wife, his son, and his daughter; eventually, my dad had on his office wall a large family portrait of the four, as well as individual portraits of the GP, his wife, and his son. I always gave him a hard time because he didn’t have a single portrait of the daughter. For my birthday about fifteen years ago, my mother did a pastel crayon portrait of the GP’s daughter. It hangs on my office wall at the college and gives me sweet memories of those years. I get some funny questions about it.

Who originated the Gay Philosopher? I looked it up on the Internet yesterday and found a 1950's calendar through an antique dealer, featuring the GP throughout. (I bought it and eagerly await its arrival.) The picture of the GP has this description:

An original Brown & Bigelow published illustration for calendar use by their art director Clair V. Fry . Fry studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, the Chicago Art Institute and the Minneapolis Art Institute. He was Art Director of Brown and Bigelow for 35 years, working with Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N. C. Wyeth.

Eventually the word “gay” changed from “happy and carefree” to what it means now. So JWS’s column went back to its original bland title: “People and Things.” And “gay” gives me a good example for my classes of how the meanings of English words are always changing.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Love is the reason

Love is the reason Jesus treated the sick and the needy with mercy, grace, healing, and a tender touch. He didn't just pat them on their heads and wish them well.

On Mike Cope’s blog (mikecope.blogspot.com), which I read regularly, I saw a reference to a blog (harvestboston.net). Mike said that the author, Steve Holt, is writing “Kingdom” stuff. I looked it up and became immediately involved with his subject for yesterday—he was chewing on how to help those deeply mired in poverty. Apparently, Steve works with the Christian Service Center, a benevolent organization. Steve said this (in part):

I believe the rehabilitation of our societies most downtrodden people also involves deep spiritual direction and support. I am beginning to believe more and more that few aspects, positive or negative, in our lives are disconnected from our spiritual condition. For instance, depression may be a diagnosed clinical condition, but it also is probably a spiritual oppression. The same can be said about poverty and the array of issues that accompany it. If we are going to offer people a “hand-up” rather than simply enabling a lifestyle of poverty, we must begin thinking seriously about each neighbor’s spiritual condition.

Spiritual direction has always been an aspect of the services provided at the Christian Service Center, but Jim Clark and I have begun brainstorming and thinking “outside the box” on ways to make this a more central part of what the CSC offers. For instance, instead of sending our poor neighbors away with a prayer and a Bible, how can we invite neighbors into the radical way of Jesus Christ? How can we more effectively interact “incarnationally” in relation to the spiritual condition of our neighbors who walk in for some food or clothing? What role might prayer or accountability play in such a scenario?

We are beginning to ask such questions at the CSC. From your experience, what input would you have regarding the role of spiritual formation/direction in a traditional benevolence ministry?

I said this in response to Steve's questions and also to the comment somebody else wrote :

I agree that the long-term help comes through long-term relationship. I don't have experience with the kind of ministry you do at CSC, although my town (near Abilene) does, of course, have its poverty-stricken people.

I am thinking about a woman who is as poverty-stricken as anybody I've known; she was in school with my daughter 15-20 years ago, and then I had her in CJC classes. I try to minister to her when I can. And it feels totally inadequate and drop-in-the-bucket-ish. Sometimes I see her walking down the street; if I can, I pick her up and take her where she's trying to go. Then when I take her home, she sits in the car for a while and talks. I have to pray hard not to be bothered by her smell. Once my daughter bought some groceries and left them on her porch anonymously. One summer I contributed to a fund the Baptists had to turn her electricity back on when it had been cut off for nonpayment. I don't know what else to do--I haven't seen her for several months now.

I am always touched by what I read in the Discipleship Journal about being Jesus to people. In issue 125, Walking with the Wounded, the editor points out that “Over and over, Jesus saw
people's hurts and responded with compassionate action . . . . As we follow Him, one of the gifts Jesus gives us is the ability to see the downtrodden through new eyes” (37). Then in an article in that same issue (“Called to Care”), Pat Banta Kreml says we have to be very careful not to snuff out their small hope or break their spirits. She says we must be prepared to “walk in love” with them, not just share a prayer and scripture. Restoration takes time and calls for relationship (42).

So keep on keeping on! I believe your CSC has the “new eyes” to see the needy—through the mind of Christ.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Many waters cannot quench love

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Solomon 8:7 NIV)

That means love is eternal and immoveable and indestructible. A massive tsunami or an enormous hurricane-force wind can’t destroy it or wash it off the face of the earth. You can’t buy it for any amount of money. You can't steal it or bribe it away from the heart.

Think about it. This is true. Asi es.

That makes love the most real, most powerful force imaginable. How, then, could fear or hatred or anger--or anything else you could come up against--overcome a heart full of love?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

WHY . . . ??!!

Why do so many businesses have those round-and-round computerized answering set-ups so that you can never get a human?

Why are packages of peanut butter crackers so hard to get open?

Why do doctors require you to come for appointments three times before they will ever schedule surgery that you know you will have to have and so do they?

Why do so many college students wait until registration day to register, when they could do it in a fraction of the time online?

Why don’t busy restaurants have more help so people won’t have to wait so long?

Why is it so hard now to find employees to help you locate something in large department stores?

I really know why. But I’m complaining!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The World Is Different

Amy, an elderly friend of mine, is concerned about her granddaughter. Sarah has drifted away from God, and she seems depressed. Sarah and her grandmother used to be very close, could talk about anything. Now Sarah tells Amy, “Oh, Grandmother, you don’t understand. The world is a completely different place now.”

Amy has lived a long life. She is old enough to know that it’s true the world has changed—but it’s also true that it is still exactly the same in many ways.

People seem more divided than ever. Technology makes it possible for us to be constantly distracted and disconnected, if we want to be. It is conceivable that we could have more possessions than ever before and be deeper in debt than we ever dreamed possible. Drugs seem to be everywhere. Many people appear completely uncaring, and they try to keep every emotion off their faces.

On the other hand, many of the same things that were vitally important fifty years ago still are vitally important. Good relationships are still where people connect at the heart, especially within families and close friendships. We still seek peace and joy. We still need desperately to love and be loved. God never changes—he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A Monarch butterfly is still beautiful.

I’d like for Sarah to know these things. I want her to have hope and to see that God loves her and will never leave her. I want her to see that the world is still beautiful, even if it is different, because it is still the same, too.

(Amy and Sarah are not their real names.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

“On the I-40 Bridge”: Afterthoughts

Yesterday, I wrote about the collapse of the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River in 2002, and some fishermen who helped with the rescue.

A few months later, a TV news crew wanted to re-create the scene for a documentary. Wilhoit tried over and over to shoot a flare that would reach the middle of the bridge, but they never went over forty feet, falling short of the bridge. He believed the expired flare shot sixty feet that morning only through the power of God. He said his grandfather, a minister, always told him God is with us in times of trouble—and he knew his grandfather was right.

It seems to me that the I-40 bridge is like life. It collapses now and then, without warning, and people plunge off into death and despair. The flare—the good news of God’s great love for us—gives us hope and rescues us from abysmal emptiness. We are not alone.

People who have already been saved from themselves by God’s love should feel compelled by urgency to shoot the flares and thus help those who are hurtling toward the edge, unaware. We see people all the time, in despair, drowning in anger, hurt, loneliness, or sorrow. We can’t just sit there in the boat, puttering along, tending our fishing while others crash into the darkness. We have to tell them.

The fact that our flares might be weak, even expired, doesn’t matter. God empowers us to do whatever is necessary. We have to pray, “Lord, tell me what to do to help” when we see someone sinking—someone who doesn’t have a clue that she is about to fall over the edge. We have to tell her that she is not alone; God wants to keep her from falling.

Wilhoit, Alton. "On the I-40 Bridge." Guideposts (Nov. 2004): 71-74.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"On the I-40 Bridge"

In the early morning hours of May 26, 2002, a barge ran into the pilings supporting the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River, the state line between Oklahoma and Arkansas. The center of the bridge collapsed. Five or six vehicles just drove off the edge at seventy miles per hour and disappeared into the river.

Two fishermen were in a boat down below, engrossed in a fishing tournament. Immediately, they called 911 on a cell phone, but even emergency vehicles would take some time. Meanwhile, one after another, cars and trucks plunged off into the water.

One of the fishermen, Alton Wilhoit of Harrah, OK, prayed, “Please, Lord, tell me what we can do to help.” He said, “An idea came to me. Or was it a voice? It was incredibly real. Fire your flare gun.”

The two men had the flare gun because of fishing tournament rules, but the flares were expired. Wilhoit loaded one and prayed, “Lord, make this thing work,” as another truck approached. He said “a red, meteor-like flare shot out and arced a good sixty feet in the air,” landing right in front of an eighteen-wheeler, headed for the edge. The driver slammed on his brakes and jack-knifed to a halt just at the edge, blocking traffic—so it was stopped. Emergency vehicles arrived, and the fishermen helped rescue people.

To be continued—

Wilhoit, Alton. "On the I-40 Bridge." Guideposts (Nov. 2004): 71-74.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Heavy Resolution

On Making Goals

Okay, here they are: my resolutions for the New Year. I’ve been working hard on this.

1. Lose ten pounds.
I have read that if you announce this goal to the world, or at least to somebody, it will be more likely to happen.

I actually do know how to lose weight. What I have to do is determine to pay attention to the signals God gave me. What signals? When I am hungry, my empty stomach growls and calls attention to itself with a gnawing sensation. When I begin to get politely full, my stomach calls attention to itself by feeling satisfied and filled. During the forty or so years that I have been interested in such things, I have learned that it takes about twenty minutes for the "full" feeling to travel from the stomach to the brain; therefore, I must eat slowly. If I eat fast, as I sometimes do, I may feel (and be) "stuffed," rather than "full" by the time that signal reaches my brain.

The problem is this: even though God planned the human body perfectly, the human has choice. I often choose to ignore those signals of hunger and fullness; I allow myself to be carried away by another part of this perfect plan—taste. I’ve been trying since last March to get myself to lose ten pounds, to no avail. It is not that I can’t do it—but that I won’t. I admit this truth to myself and hereby announce to you that I intend to do it.

2. Get organized.

Well, let’s don’t get too carried away here. One thing at a time. I think I’ll just concentrate on #1.

On Achieving Goals

The pastor of my church recently quoted a study done by experts in such things as achieving goals. This study said that only three percent of people actually achieve goals that they set for themselves. That’s discouraging.

However! The study added that of the three percent who do achieve their goals, ninety-five percent wrote down the goals. That means I am ahead of the game, already!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

1948—Red Cross

My dad was a Navy pilot during World War II. He spent a year in the Philippines, flying mail, cargo, and people back and forth between islands. He was shot at a few times, he said.

My brother Jim and I used to try to get him to tell us some gory war stories. But he would only shake his head and say, “Oh, you don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” No amount of prodding would shake a story loose. But he could be persuaded to tell positive, nonviolent war stories—no blood.

Part of my dad’s column on Tuesday, May 4, 1948, was about some experiences he had with the Red Cross during the war. He always used the editorial “we,” rather than “I,” as people do today, so it’s often hard to tell whether he meant he and others, or just he himself. Here’s his 1948 nonviolent story:

We visited in Boston once . . . . It was during the war and we were flying for Uncle Sam’s Navy. Our plane was endeavoring to take a load of patients to a hospital near New York City. We were to land at Floyd Bennett Field.

But the fog rolled in and the Navy sent us to Boston, the nearest airport open. We pulled in at 9 p.m. Looking over the weather, we figured that New York would be open by 4 a.m. So we contacted the good Red Cross ladies, and they sent out six women to serve soup to the patients and comfort them until take-off time.

As it happened the weather broke, and we got out by midnight. But we’ll never quite forget the Red Cross for this and other incidents that occurred while flying patients.

Once in the good town of Manila, P. I., we started flying south to Samar, P. I. And a pleasant looking civilian sent word forward that he’d like to visit the pilot’s compartment. Sure, we said. And he flew co-pilot for an hour. He was a fascinating talker. Landing at Samar, we started out of the transport. A group of attractive Red Cross girls was there to greet him.

“You’d think a big shot was aboard from the turnout of Red Cross girls,” we told him. Then he introduced himself. He was Mr. Basil O’Connor, national president of the American Red Cross.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My Father, the Country Editor

My father was editor and publisher of our small town’s newspaper for forty years, beginning in 1948. Sometime in the 1960’s, he extended his business by acquiring the three other newspapers in our county.

During all those years, he frequently wrote a column for the paper. It was thoughtful and sometimes educational; people in our town saw it as a focal point because it gave them the inside scoop on what was happening in town. Too, he often wrote about his personal experiences. He was a quiet, kind man, and he said much more in his columns than he ever said aloud.

He carried a pencil and a little spiral notebook in his shirt pocket so that he could jot down notes about anything of interest he ran across for his column, or anything newsworthy . People learned that what they did or said around him might turn up in his column unless they swore him to secrecy. He went personally to every important event—from city council meetings to Fourth of July celebrations—and reported on the personal side as well as the objective facts. He called himself a simple “country editor,” but he held his newspapers to the highest standards of journalistic excellence.

He found out what was happening if some huge boat or gigantic machine was being hauled through town, if a building project was started, if something was being bulldozed, if somebody caught a fifty-pound catfish or won a prize. He scribbled illegibly in that little notebook. He knew people would wonder, and he thought they needed to know.

After he died in 1988, people told me over and over how much they missed his column—how they felt sort of “in the dark” about what was happening around town. They said something vital was gone, a window was closed. We, his family, felt it, too.

Soon after he died, my mother and I decided we ought to copy down all his columns and make them into a book. But that was in the days of rudimentary computer technology, and we could soon see that it would take us forty years, just as it did him. So we abandoned the idea.

I believe that if he were still alive and healthy today, he might be a blogger. I’ve decided to share some of his columns in this blog. I realize that one reason I write this blog—maybe the main reason—is the old newspaper-column blood in my veins.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Small-Town Living--Best/Not Best:Top 10 Reasons

1. People say “hello” on the street and smile at you, even if they don’t know you. You see many of the same people for years, and even if you don’t ever know their names, you’d recognize them if you ran into them in New York City. It would be old home week, even without names. Life is kind of a common experience, so you could engage in a long conversation with them about happenings in town, and you’d both know exactly what you meant.

2. Children can play in their front yards, in most cases, without fear of dire results. Your grandchildren can go next door without invitations (and without fear) to play on the huge play set.

3. The whole town turns out for ball games and parades. The woman sitting next to you, whose name you barely know, might give you good-natured lessons in loud whistling. She would check on your progress when you saw her in the grocery store later, and you could hide behind the cereal display and perform for her. She might tell you to practice more.

4. You can see the stars—lots of stars.

5. You see wild animals—foxes, coyotes, snakes, skunks, armadillos, raccoons, deer. Once in a while, you run into a roadrunner on the sidewalk, and you both almost have a heart attack. You can hear owls and doves and all kinds of other birds. A possum might eat your cat food, and a beaver might show up in your garage; a flock of early-morning turkeys could have breakfast in your front yard.

6. If you lock your keys in your car or have a flat tire or drop your armload or have a heart attack, somebody will help you without pay.

7. A woman can go to the grocery store after dark without being afraid.

8. You have traffic jams for only five minutes at the two major intersections. You don't have to sit in traffic on bound-up "free"ways. It takes about three to ten minutes to get to work, depending on which side of town you live on.

9. At the grocery store, you can buy extra already-sacked food for five or ten dollars to give to the food drives for the needy.

10. At the public library, a kind woman everybody knows does story hour for children in the summer.

The top ten reasons why small town living is NOT best:

1. You have to go to the next town to find a Wal-Mart if you want Mueslix cereal or anything else out of the ordinary.

2. You have only one grocery store; sometimes they don’t have eye-of-round roasts, and they certainly don’t have Mueslix. You are held captive by their prices.

3. Many small businesses owned by people you know have died because of the Wal-Mart phenomenon.

4. If you have a medical emergency, such as a heart attack over the roadrunner, they have to send a helicopter to fly you to the nearest big city for treatment. They can usually stabilize you first at the hospital emergency room in the next small town.

5. You have five-minute traffic jams at the two major intersections.

6. The public library might be open only three days a week.

I know; that's only six. I couldn’t think of ten reasons, so you just have to deal with six.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sin of Murder, Part 3

On December 29 and 30, I wrote about the execution of Tookie Williams for the crime of murder, along with speculations about whether he ever repented--if he was guilty. No matter how hard he worked at trying to discourage teenagers from joining gangs, he could never earn forgiveness. Forgiveness by God is a free gift through Jesus.

I am not particularly picking on Tookie Williams as the ultimate example of evil sinner. He does, however, serve as a concrete person in my ultimate example of what happens when any human being deliberately commits a crime and then later seeks to be redeemed--or for that matter, when any human does any kind of mean or bad thing. The Bible says evil is just evil, and God hates evil. We are subject to the laws of the land. We must obey laws and accept consequences of our actions.

I can think of another concrete person for my ultimate example of what happens.

One February weekend in 1994, my daughter and I went to a literary conference at a lovely, cozy south Texas resort. When we checked out at the end of the weekend, the cost seemed low to me, but I have very little number sense. About an hour down the road, I realized that they had charged us for only one; we really owed twice as much as we paid. We were pressed for time, so I just told myself, “Well, it was their mistake. We don’t have time to go back. I’ll mail it to them.” It was easy to forget.

Then in March, I was swooped up by God’s love and set down by his power in a new place where everything was different. The next fall, I began thinking about that money mistake back there in south Texas and feeling pretty terrible about it. God wouldn’t leave me alone about it, constantly reminding me that it was wrong for me to just ignore it.

“When are you going to send that money?” the voice said. And later, “This month?” And later, “Well, then, when?” It probably didn’t hurt that resort business—they made plenty of money that weekend. But it was eating away at me, so I was the one it was hurting. Or . . . maybe some desk clerk had to make up the difference. I could see that it was not enough to be sorry. Finally, I saved up the money and sent it to them.

Ah, what a relief that was. I felt a huge burden sail away.

The point, I learned, was this: it was not enough for me to be sorry about intentionally forgetting that I had unintentionally cheated the resort out of their money. It had become almost like stealing. I had to be accountable for my actions and send them the full amount I owed. I had to accept that consequence of my behavior.

As for Tookie Williams, who was convicted of murder—execution was the consequence he had to undergo for breaking the law (assuming he was guilty). Maybe his work with teenagers helped make amends for his crime; maybe he helped others not to come under the same kind of influence he had as a youth. People no doubt felt better about him.

When we repent…what does “repent” mean!? It means to feel deep remorse about what we have done—to ask God for forgiveness, to desire to make amends--and to be willing to face the consequences.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Living the Sweet Life: Lucado, Part 2

How do we get out of being bored, stressed-out overworked drudges? This is the subject of Max Lucado’s new book Cure for the Common Life. We can live in the “sweet spot,” which Lucado explains is the convergence of three areas of life: the everyday life, the purpose of glorifying God, and the assessment of your strengths. “Here is the big idea,” he says: “Use your uniqueness (what you do) to make a big deal out of God (why you do it) every day of your life (where you do it) (7).

The major theme of the book is that God knew exactly what he wanted you to do when he made you, back before you were born, and he gave you the equipment you would need to do it. “You were born prepacked,” he says. “God looked at your entire life, determined your assignment, and gave you the tools to do the job” (13). The trick is to “unpack your bag,” which is uniquely yours, and see what is there; then do the job.

Lucado quotes Soren Kierkegaard, who wrote, “At each man’s birth there comes into being an eternal vocation for him, expressly for him. To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man can practice” (18). Kierkegaard was one of the foremost philosophers of existentialism, the philosophy concerned with meaning and purpose in life. According to the more positive existentialists, I always tell my literature students, man (and woman—I’m not trying to be exclusive here) is responsible for searching for meaning in life—for deliberately pursuing meaning so that life will be full and rich.

So this understanding that Lucado explains is important. Lucado does not write for theologians and philosophers; he writes for everyday ordinary people like me, in our language. He says, “When you live out of the bag God gave, you discover an uncommon joy” (19). He means essentially the same thing as Kierkegaard, just in more ordinary words, just as true.

I was telling my brother Jim about this the other day. He is a pilot who loves his work. He said he understands exactly what Lucado means. He said, “I still can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I love to do!”

On Lucado’s web site, you will find a free “webinar” based on his book Cure for the Common Life. He explains how to find that “sweet spot.” Look it up!

Lucado, Max. Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot. Nashville: W Publishing Group of Nelson, 2005.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Living the Sweet Life

Are you tired of your day-to-day life? Do you feel like you are trudging down a long and weary road in your job? Are you lonely and just feeling generally down and out--going nowhere and accomplishing nothing? Apparently, many people today do.

According to Max Lucado’s book Cure for the Common Life, this problem can be seen in some “mind-numbing” and alarming statistics quoted from various sources, which are listed on page 215:

1. Unhappiness on the job affects one-fourth of the American work force.
2. One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.
3. Seven out of ten people are neither motivated nor competent to perform the basics of their job.
4. Forty-three percent of employees feel anger toward their employers often or very often as a result of feeling overworked. (15)

Such feelings are bound to lead to mediocrity in performance--not to mention aimless unhappiness with life in general.

Max says that each of us is uniquely created with gifts we are meant to use to make much of God—to further his kingdom. He didn’t make that up. The Bible says so in a number of places. Max says,

God endows us with gifts so we can make him known. Period. God endues the Olympian with speed, the salesman with savvy, the surgeon with skill. Why? For gold medals, closed sales, or healed bodies? Only partially.

The big answer is to make a big to-do out of God. Brandish him. Herald him. “God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well…. Then God will be given glory” (1 Pet. 4:10-11 NLT). (5)

How do we get out of being bored, stressed-out overworked drudges? We can live in the “sweet spot,” which Max explains as the convergence of three areas of life: the everyday life, the purpose of glorifying God, and the assessment of your strengths. “Here is the big idea,” he says: “Use your uniqueness (what you do) to make a big deal out of God (why you do it) every day of your life (where you do it)" (7).

Lucado, Max. Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot. Nashville: W Publishing Group of Nelson, 2005.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The New Year: Hope

Possibility glitters like gold and draws us with its intrigue.

Why are we so taken with the idea of “starting over” at the beginning of a new year? I believe God made us that way. He created us in his image. He wanted us to be creatures who could perceive possibility. So when he was knitting us together, he installed in the control panel the ability to understand the concept of hope.

Hope looks to the future and helps us get over the past. At some point--the new year might as well be that point—we need to forget past failures and disappointments and put grieving behind us. Hope points ahead to better days and keeps us going, even through tremendous difficulty.

My son gave me an Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest journal for my birthday in 1996, when I had been a Christian for almost two years. I had bought journals before; I am a fool for small leather-bound books with silver or gold-edged pages. Always before, I wrote faithfully in my new journals for maybe two weeks—and then fizzled out. But when the My Utmost for His Highest journal came to live at my house, something clicked.

Now, almost ten years later, I am into my third Chambers journal. I read the Chambers dated devotional entry almost every day, and I write in the little half-page space about twice a week. Sometimes I fill up the entire space at once, and some pages have three years’ entries. I write about what I see God doing, about my thoughts, concerns, and prayers, about my children and grandchildren. It has been quite revealing to see how my thoughts change through the years. Sometimes when I read old entries, I am amazed to see how much my way of thinking has changed; sometimes I cry over old joys and sorrows.

This morning, I was jarred to read that even as far back as 1996, I was struggling with some attitude adjustments that I still need to make. That means I’ve been needing to change in a couple of important ways for ten years, and it has not happened yet. I am shocked at myself and glad that I have recorded it; otherwise, I would not realize that those same gooney-bird mindsets are still there. Once again, I will make some resolutions and keep working on those things. This time, I will do it—with God’s help.

Hope will keep me working on that. Vaclav Havel, a Czech dramatist, wrote that “hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”