This has been a big week or two here on-board the GENESIS two-seven. First, a praise with a shadow, the OXYGEN is here! Even as I write this, fresh oxygen generated through a machine tucked neatly behind my chair is my new medical marvel, O2 delivered through a plastic hose! I and the crew are very thankful this finally came through. For now it is just for nighttime use for helping me keep my O2 levels up while I sleep. Extended use of it will follow when I have more difficulties moving about during the day. I call my new friend, Gerald. This is Gerald.
Of course, he sits in the dark, back in a corner. I added another photo to sh9w what Gerald looks like when you shine a little light his way. Gerald prefers to remain in the dark, however.
I wrote that this was a blessing with a shadow. I don’t know how others react in my situation but I must tell you, the first night I slipped the nasal canula around my neck, even though I knew this was a benefit to me there was a strange feeling about it. Yes, this will help ease my struggle to breath at night and will help me sleep. Within the shadow is the truth that there is no going back. Minus a lung transplant or a divine miracle, once I start this oxygen therapy my reliance on it will only grow stronger. But such is life. I remain thankful for the O2. I have a least one granddaughter who struggles seeing Papaw wear the O2. It reminds her that Papaw may not live as long as she would like. I took some time with her to reassure her that the O2 is just a tool to help me and that God will decide how long I will be aboard this ship.
I’ve titled this post, MISSION 64-1 and here is why. Part of the activity of the week included the celebration of my birthday! On the 27th of August I turned 64. Although I was diagnosed in February 2021 with IPF, the doctors said it is slow to appear so I am guessing that by February, I had probably had IPF five months already which would be August of 2020. That means, this year on my birthday, I can celebrate one year of surviving this disease. That also means that on my 84th birthday I can celebrate it as 84-20! Each year that another number advances is a victory!
Also this past week, on the 25th and 26th, the GENESIS two-seven was hovering over Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. Celebrating our 42nd wedding anniversary, Karin and I drove to Marblehead, Ohio where we boarded a ferry to the island. Arriving at a B&B, the Inn on Kelley’s Island, we hustled ourselves down to Dockers to eat dinner just before the kitchen closed but also in time to enjoy the view of a beautiful sunset. The next day we enjoyed just traveling the island and taking in the sites.
What’s next? I’m being scheduled now for a new set of breathing tests, x-rays and a new CAT scan to see how much, if any the IPF has advanced. Once those tests are done it is time for another visit to Dr. N. And so it goes.
Verse 16 from Psalm 139 goes like this: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.”
Every day of my life was written down by God before there was even one. Knowing that God knows and cares about every day of my life, even before they happen, is more comforting than this Passenger can describe. May God bless all my crew and shipmates and bless each of you in the days ahead!
Jesus said that one must have the faith of a child to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Elsewhere the Bible teaches that a ‘child shall lead them…’ What has the counter-everything culture of the 21st Century done to the minds of children and how they perceive things, including the basic truths of scripture?
I had a very interesting talk with one of my granddaughters, age 9 who recently professed her faith in Christ. She is sharp, as sharp as they come. Incredible for a progeny of mine! Thankfully there were others who donated genes that off-set some of mine! She has the ability to see some of the strangeness of this brave new world of ours and can be quick to realize there is a great deal of hypocrisy particularly in what she hears about politics and government. At age 9, to her, some things just “Don’t make sense!” Perhaps age 9 should be the only voting age…
We were out camping a few days ago and I began to share with her about how Christ, Father God and the indwelling Holy Spirit knows our thoughts and words before we ever think them or say them. This wasn’t a scare her into being ‘good’ kind of talk but a reassurance that when she feels alone, she never is. Jesus is always there with her. The Bible, I shared, talks about how there is no place we can go to hide from his presence. We even looked up the total earth population and we talked about how God loves every single one and knows and cares about what is going on in each of those lives.
As I shared about how God is always with us, no matter where we go, she made an amazing observation… “If Jesus were on earth today and it was known he could do that, someone would accuse him of stalking!”
Tell me that isn’t true! You know that it is! Forget the reassurance of his comforting and guiding presence, find a way to keep Christ out by accusing him of having the evilest of intentions. Twist about what Jesus does to keep us and protect us and make him the villain of the drama of our lives. Does that not sound like the 21st century thus far? You know that it does.
Such begs the question, what are we to do about it? Recently I read a quote from a newspaper columnist. He said to the effect, ‘those who want to share their religious views with you seldom want to hear yours.’ Sad but true. Christians, Evangelicals are swept up (some of them) in sharing the Gospel, as well they should be but sharing requires communicating and communicating involves listening. Maybe before we give them our five verses, a short testimony and the example of faith is sitting in a chair… we should take time to listen, really listen. We need to get to know people to know what they are about, how they are hurting and maybe, just maybe, how we can help. Once they know we really do care, then perhaps they will want to hear why we have hope in a world full of hopelessness.
I love spending time with my grandchildren. I learn so much!
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”[i] The thirteen colonies unanimously endorsed the Declaration of Independence which spells out the reasons the colonies felt compelled to break from English rule, knowing that it would come to war. The vast majority of the men of the Continental Congress that drafted the Declaration would consider themselves Christian or members of the universal church.[ii]
The Laws of Nature, as understood by the writers of the Declaration means that “all people have inherent rights, conferred not by act of legislation but by God, nature, or reason. Natural law theory can also refer to theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality.”[iii] In God’s relationship with His creation, according to Thomas Aquinas, He placed within each human a realization of natural law which teaches the person that “good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.”[iv] A mistake man makes, according to Aquinas is to believe that natural law, because of its name is non-religious but rather it is an instrument of God which helps draw true believers to salvation in Christ while also arguing implicitly against false religions.
If Natural Law and Nature’s God entitles humans to assume the powers of political sovereignty and separate from other political powers it is the responsibility of those seeking separation to state their specific reasons. A general consensus of the need for separation will benefit the fledgling country or political entity and its leaders should attempt to avert any opposition to their cause through reason, when possible.
One such reason for which such separation is demanded is the physical threats of death inferred and consummated against Christians by political leaders and national powers. This can extend as well to the evil done in the name of a national power which is threatening the same and even committing murder against non-Christians. Christians understand a responsibility for protecting all persons and in so doing are doing good in the Name of Christ. Good is to be done and evil avoided (Aquinas).
The logic of such an argument for the use of all legitimate means, including war, against the offending realms must then be weighed against the biblical commands to honor political leaders. Paul writes in Romans 13, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”[v]
It is believed by many that the creation of the United States through the Revolutionary War was divinely blessed by God. In the Twentieth Century, most who sided with Allied Powers against the mass murderers of the Third Reich and the Japanese Imperial forces believed their cause to be just and true. They believed their cause to be blessed by God and many believed that their protection of the Nation of Israel and Jews the world over was divinely orchestrated and victory was assured. How does that square against Paul’s writing that occurred during a time when the Roman government was sending Christians of all ages to be torn apart by vicious lions and gruesome deaths in spectacular arenas?
Was Paul declaring a submissive attitude or a respectful attitude and what is the difference? An examination of the Greek verb phrase be subject in the Strong’s Concordance, is defined as:
ὑποτάσσωhupŏtassō, hoop-ot-as’-so; from G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively, to obey:—be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.
An explanatory example of the verb phrase is:
“a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[vi]
The question comes, is Paul directing his submission command to the church or to individual Christians in their daily walk? The statement Let every soul is a clear answer to this question. How does that play out in ‘real life?’ Let’s review one simple biblical event that creates a conundrum for us in this discussion.
When God, through His angel, released Peter from prison and he fled after making himself known to the church in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, was he not breaking the law and not submitting to government? According to the biblical record in Acts 12, the church was praying for Peter’s release and God answered their prayer. There are more examples of Christians fleeing persecution in the New Testament. If they were to submit in the way we are defining it here, shouldn’t they simply have gone to the officials and stood in line to be executed rather than fleeing? Recall that in the 1st Century, when the church fled Jerusalem, God used it to spread the Good News across the region. Peter broke the law yet God ordained it and used it for His good.
Evil seems to be ever present in our society. How can a true Christian stand by and watch immorality such as mass arrests, deportations to concentration camps, and murder of people for any reason continue? Is there no command to combat evil?
…any disobedience is allowable only if a person is fully convinced that we stand at the eschaton and that this state is actually the particularized embodiment of Antichrist, which is to say totally of evil, the very incarnation of the demonic (which, by the way, is a judgment I would think sinful human beings are hardly qualified to make). And, Bonhoeffer continues, if that state is Antichrist, then Christians dare not render it obedience in anything. If the state is not Antichrist, total obedience; if it is Antichrist, total disobedience–these are the only options Bonhoeffer considers. Thus he leaves himself no room for the other biblical command about our obeying God rather than man.[vii]
During World War II, one Christian pastor in Germany knew he could not just stand by and watch. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Vernard Eller, writing on the works of Bonhoeffer, makes this conclusion based on earlier Bonhoeffer’s earlier writings:
The passages Eller uses to sustain the idea that Bonhoeffer felt so strongly about simply submitting to government were all written before Bonhoeffer became part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. That is an obvious indication that he had come to a point where he either, believed Hitler to be an anti-Christ if not the Anti-Christ, or he had come to rethink Romans 12:21. I will illustrate what I mean there in a moment.
I think perhaps Eller would have done well to explore further one of his own earlier points. The conclusion that Bonhoeffer left no room for anything but submission and no room for the commands to obey God rather than man. Earlier in his thesis, he quoted Bonhoeffer, “The whole of Paul’s doctrine of the State in Romans 13 is controlled by the introductory admonition: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It is immaterial whether the power be good or bad, what matters is that the Christian should overcome evil by good.[viii]” He quotes him again on the point of the world versus Christianity. “The world exercises dominion by force and Christ and Christians conquer by service”[ix] In this treatment of Bonhoeffer and the view on what Eller describes as Christian Anarchists, it is important to understand Eller’s own pro-liberal viewpoint. He writes, “I am not surprised to find a conservative, legitimizing tendency surfacing in Bonhoeffer’s thought.” Rather than see Bonhoeffer’s re-thinking of his position as growing in an understanding of the full meaning of scripture, Eller sees it as Bonhoeffer’s conservative values twisting the Word to fit the conservative narrative and supporting action against the state. An analysis of the change in his position is warranted to help us better understand what our role should be as Christians in the 21t Century.
Let us go back to our original question of how revolution, civil disobedience, the work of undergrounds to save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, in the days of slavery in the U.S. and opposing Hitler in WWII. Are these actions legitimate when it comes to Romans 13? The entire book of Romans, remember, is one text, not written in chapters or in numbered versus when Paul penned it to the church in Rome. So, one needs to read the letter in whole and, in this case, go back a few paragraphs to what we know as Romans 12:21.
“21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”[x] Overcoming evil with good is a command from Paul to the church. I am not playing a game of semantics here to justify something that would be illegitimate for a Christian to become involved. A misapplication of this command would be to infuse a political change of power only to replace one set of politics for another, neither God-honoring or divinely ordained. Seldom is that an answer and it does not fit in the schematic we have here of a Christian doing good in the Name of Christ to overcome evil. A Christian’s allegiance is always to God not to party.
When the cattle cars are lined up and your neighbor’s family is being herded away with certain death the end result, finding a way to stop that or prevent their arrest is doing good. Sending a runaway slave farther along the Underground Railway is doing good but against the law. When we can say our actions are in the Name of Christ and not in the name of the GOP, we are on the right track. We must never wrap the cross in the flag. Hitler did until finally his flag replaced the cross. The question comes to each individual member of Christ’s body and to the body as a whole. Church leadership must be certain of their own theological understanding of Romans 13. To read into it a one-way only with submission the singular path and no contextual connection to Romans 12 is to err in such a way as to leave too many believers struggling with how they are to contend against evil in their own roles.
The church in America and around the world showed itself susceptible to the manipulation by governments during the recent pandemic when isolation, closures, edicts of masks and physical separation all but silenced the church for over a year. Sadly, the silence of the churches sent a message loud and clear. Driven by a narrow focus on Romans 13 and fueled by the fears of the congregants, the churches capitulated.
The church, not simply the pastors and leaders but every member of the Body of Christ must know scripture and must know how to read it correctly. Proof-texting, of which some may accuse me even in this instance, by taking one set of verses outside of their context to support a cultural stand is dangerous, divisive, and perhaps even, demonically driven. The whole counsel of God, the Bible in full must be brought to bear on such serious decisions as when to obey God and not man, not government. Our founding fathers took their role very seriously and much prayer and much contention came as they argued the merits of their actions. Each knew they could be killed under the current law for the insurrection they were planning. It was, without a doubt, treason under English law. Under God’s law, it was the right thing to do. Can we today, draw our line in the sand and say, ‘to here and no further for in all things I will obey God before man?’
Allow me to close with a movie quote. You knew you would not get all the way through this sincere effort to bring today’s struggles with evil and the response of the church to bare without at least one good movie connection! It comes from the movie, The Patriot. Reverend Oliver surprises everyone when he prepares to join the Revolution. His response is timely. “A shepherd must tend his flock, and at times, fight off the wolves.”[xi]
[ii] Universal church is not to be confused with the Universalist Church which accepts all gods, all religions. The Universal Church is the body of true believers, followers of Christ across time, across all political and denominational boundaries that are the hands of Christ reaching out to the world in His Name.
This Father’s Day I have been thinking a great deal about my own father, Ralph Riggs, who went to be with his Lord back in 2000. It is hard to believe that 21 years have come and gone. I was always glad that Dad did not have to be around for 9/11. His heart would have been broken. A survivor of D-Day, he had seen enough.
I have his picture in my study and in my bedroom. I say good morning when I see it and I often long for one more time to talk with him. When I think about Dad, I begin to understand that FATHER is a verb as well as a noun. Let me explain.
A verb denotes action and, of course, there can be a great deal of activity for dads. That isn’t exactly the activity I was thinking of, however, Being a dad is a learning process. If you are a father, think about what it was like the very first time you realized the implication that you were about to be a father and how this huge weight seemed to appear on your shoulders. It wasn’t an oppressive weight, but a weight nonetheless and it remains there as long as you have children, no matter how old they are.
You immediately realized how totally unprepared you were to be a father. And then the day came when you laid your eyes for the very first time on your son or daughter. You looked on their face and, if walking on Cloud 9 is a real possibility, that is what you were doing.
Over the years, maybe more children have come and so do the days when you watch them begin to crawl and soon to walk. The first time your toddler reaches up and takes hold of your little finger and walks beside you, it is a feeling you never want to lose. Then, there are the hugs. When they are little and they haven’t seen you for a while, maybe all of 30 minutes, they come running to you and hold you in a hug that has got to be the same feeling we will have when Jesus hugs us.
There are the prayers for your child and they change drastically over the years. There are the nights when you cannot sleep and you stare out into the night sky wondering what you are supposed to do to make things right when you messed up big time. The nights that tear at you when you realize maybe you’re not the sheepdog you are supposed to be.
Hopefully, God has blessed you with a help-mate, a MOTHER for your children who seems to be the glue that holds it all together. If you have been given a godly wife, you are, of all men, most blessed. I thank God for my wife every day.
After many years, if you’re lucky, your children are still telling you ‘I love you” when you talk with them and they still actually want your advice on something. You see them grow into young men and women and you realize how much of their success is due to God’s grace and not much, at all, to your wisdom as their father. You thank God every day that He has your children in His hands and at some point you realize they aren’t your children at all, really. They are God’s children and He has trusted you to raise them and teach them, prepare them for what He has for them in this life. It breaks your heart when you think that they are missing out on what God has for them and you are elated beyond compare when you see God blessing them. Father is a verb.
Perhaps I have figured out why being a grandfather is so great. You finally get to settle in a little bit and enjoy all the growth you have had being a dad. Father is a verb because it is an action – it is continual growth. You never stop growing as you go from father to grandfather. As grandfather, you have just enough wisdom given you that you can watch your son or sons-in-law grow as fathers and share their joy in the good times and help them with the weight of the hard times.
Rejoice in the sunshine of the smiles of your children. Thank God that He will continue to hold them in His hands when your time on this earth is over. Praise God that He has blessed you with one of the greatest blessings in life, being a DAD.
I see you… you’re sitting over there waiting. It seems like we spend so much time waiting. We wait for our ride. We wait for the next meeting to start or the class lecture to begin. We wait for the ‘waiter’ at the restaurant. We wait for the nurse to check our weight. We wait…
I’m not certain if anyone has done a study on this idiosyncrasy we have developed when we are waiting. I am sure it has some cultural nuances but more similarities than differences cross-culturally dependent on the modernity of one’s surroundings. I also suspect the time which lapses between when a wait begins and this thing which we do almost subconsciously is initiated has decreased dramatically in the last two years.
What I observe in Americans, as I’m not traveling as much any more for a plethora of reasons, is also something I do. Like most, I do it when waiting and without even thinking about it. By now you may know of that which I speak.
Let me pose it to you as a question and I want you to NOT answer it now. I want you to, yes, wait until the next time you have to wait for someone or something and then, when you catch yourself doing it… consider how long it took you to begin. Better still, ask someone with whom you spend a good deal of time to watch for you to do it and to time how long it took you before you began. That may be a better measure. I’ll get back to that concept in a moment.
What is the idiosyncrasy, the thing which we do almost subconsciously? Check our cellphones. Yep, the second we have to sit and wait for something or someone, we pull out our cellphones and look at them. We are probably not expecting any major news item, or phone call, or text. We just need to look at our phone. It didn’t ding to tell us there was a message. It just draws us to look because what was on it the last time we looked has changed and we haven’t seen it yet. We constantly check our cellphones and when we do it, we rob ourselves of real human interaction.
I believe some of us do it to avoid real human interaction. Think about it. You are standing in a line or in a small group waiting. Most, if not all, of the people around you are unfamiliar to you. In ‘old days’ we simply avoid eye contact, maybe look at our newspaper. (I’ll explain that to those who have never seen one or maybe suggest you watch an old Sam Spade detective movie and watch the private investigators hide behind a newspaper while surveilling someone, usually in a hotel lobby… nowadays, a spy cannot hide behind a cellphone like they could a newspaper!)
Avoiding eye contact, though, is uncomfortable if you don’t have something at which to stare. Of course, once you make eye contact with a stranger standing a few feet from you, you are forced to acknowledge that they exist and that you can see them. Then they are forced to return the acknowledgement and now, it’s blown. You both know the other exists and the other knows you know they exist so you almost have to speak to them. You have to use real words and your voice and make a facial expression to coincide with the words so as to communicate with them. WOW! If you had just looked down at your cellphone earlier, you could have avoided this whole uncomfortable situation! You are now perhaps forced to get to learn a little bit about someone you did not know before.
This may come as a surprise but you may find that in meeting someone like this, in human form, with a body and a smile and eyes that respond back to your smile, there could be a new friend or at least an acquaintance. It may be someone interesting and enjoyable.
Even better, they may be someone who needs to know Jesus.
“Oh no!”, you say. “You’re not taking me down that evangelization path where I have to give five points and a prayer to everyone I meet!”
NOPE. Maybe they just need someone to say “Hello” to them and smile at them so they know they exist. You’ve heard the story, I’m certain, about the man who was walking to the bridge to commit suicide and decided that if one person smiled at him on his way, he would not kill himself. I don’t know if that story is true but what if it was and that one person was the person standing in line in front of you at the grocery store and they happened to turn and look at you? Would they get a smile or would you be staring at your cellphone?
I have another thought on the subject and that is the actual reason for this message and its title, but before that, one quick rabbit trail about eye contact. If you are a parent or grandparent of a child – any age – even grown with children of their own, but especially the littlest of the brood, answer this. Think about the last time that they came to you and just had to tell you something at that moment, it could not wait another second! They just had to tell you something so important! Did you stop whatever you were doing, (like staring at your cellphone) and look in their eyes as they told it to you or did you just tolerate it for a second and go, ‘un-huh’? If you did the latter, I guarantee you they walked away knowing you didn’t hear them and they suspect you don’t care about what they have to say. What would it have cost you to really listen and be there? Imagine what you and they would have gained if you had!
Okay, that was a freebie thing to think about. Back to the real purpose.
Even if we are not using our cellphones to avoid human interaction, we may be robbing ourselves of important uses of our wait time.
Are you like me and get every single red light?
WOW! Don’t you hate that! All that wasted time waiting for the light to change! Once, when my children were small, pre-school age but very verbal (too verbal sometimes), I was behind a car at a light and the light changed to green. Almost immediately, my child blurted out from the back seat in a voice determined to be heard by the driver in front of us… “What are you waiting on, the Spirit to move you?” Oops… I was teaching impatience. At least it wasn’t, “There’s only one shade of green!” or something worse!
I started trying to use the ‘wait’ time to talk to God or at least think about Him. For someone I love and to whom I owe so much, I spend so little of my day thinking about Him or talking to Him… I’m getting better at that.
Some of our wait time would be great prayer time. It could be a time to simply think about God, too. Maybe, our wait time should be time when we fill our minds with the good things in life and not the fake news or gossip texts or the less than appropriate jokes we share. (I use the pronoun ‘we’ for a reason).
Do you know what got me thinking about this? I came across a small crucifix necklace that I really liked the look of and on it was engraved the well-known Philippians 4:13 passage, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” This one is sold by Heavenly DivineCompany and it got my attention because of some of the things I’m experiencing right now. I thought, ‘You know, that might be a good witness statement and a conversation starter, as well as a good reminder for me.’
So, I went back to Philippians and read the chapter wanting to make certain I wasn’t taking something Paul wrote out of context and retro-fitting it to my current day thinking rather than Paul’s intended meaning. When I did that, I came upon these words from Paul:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV biblegateway.com)
How different would our moods, our attitudes, our human interactions, and our listening to our children be if we did what Paul suggested – commanded- rather than staying buried in our cellphones during our wait times?
Maybe we should think on these things.
I said earlier I would get back to you about measuring how long it takes us to look at our cellphone when we suddenly have ‘down time’ or ‘wait time’. What if there were an app for that? Wouldn’t that be an interesting bit of data to see when you look at your daily usage? Just thinking out loud on that one!
This is a new WELCOME page to a blog that has been up and posting for almost a decade! In September of this year, 2021, it will be 10 years since I first started writing to you in the Ministry Minute. Over time it has taken on different aspects and its topics have been varied, sometimes wide, but never far, I trust, from the TRUE NORTH – a name we gave to our ministry back in the first decade of this century. I’ll try to come up with a count of the number of articles buried here in this blog… you may find perusing some of them fun! I am working on compiling these plus the articles I have written for various publications and those now being posted on my other blog at rossriggs.com with the focus on The Voyage.
So, with a new OLD welcome – come a new, or at least remodeled logo. Hope you like it!
God bless each of you and never hesitate to send a comment or two and pass along any you find worthwhile!
What in the world does that mean? Why is it a title to a ‘Ministry Minute’ post?
The line was quipped by a master comedian of the last century, Groucho Marx. He has become a kind of philosopher in residence when it comes to the voices in my head. Okay, I know, Mr. Editor, a couple of more quips like that about myself and the Red Flag cops will be after me and my benevolent voices! So, “blessed are the cracked… for they shall let in light!” Allow me to let in a little light from the wisdom of Groucho Marx!
I have a walking stick with a handle which is a silver head of a black lab, resembling my dog Gunner. Gunner is my own black lab but with shepherd and chow mix. He was a service dog, working with me at local hospitals including Akron Children’s. On the stick is an inscription with Gunner’s name and ‘Comrade’ then a quote. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” You guessed it, Groucho Marx.
I’m not as devout a follower of Groucho as I am, say, The Three Stooges. They are a class of philosophy and lunacy all their own. Still, Groucho is a bit of a conundrum. Cynical mirth on the outside but, scratch the surface and the thoughts of someone much deeper emerges.
Long before Charles Dederich, a self-help guru from California, said in 1978, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’, Groucho Marx understood it much more deeply. Allow me to introduce, Julius, aka Groucho, the leader of his brothers in a comedy team. He was born in 1890 and died in 1977. A master comedian, he never cursed in any performance which speaks to his character. Groucho became famous in radio and later, the 1950’s, began the televised ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show. So, consider now, Groucho’s philosophy on living a happy life:
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it will be. Yesterday is dead. Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today and I am going to be happy in it.”
What if most of us would latch on to that sentiment, particularly those Christians among us who feel compelled by the weight of their calling to go about as if dragging Marley’s and Scrooge’s chains combined? But, then again, we live in an era of not needing to take responsibility for anything. Why should we take responsibility for our own mood? Those who throw rocks at cops or blow up buildings to voice their angst have seldom felt compelled to take responsibility for their actions. Society is rampant with those not accepting responsibility for anything. Their poor health after a 40-year 3-pack-a-day smoking habit is the fault of the doctor who doesn’t have a pill for that. The drug addict turned thief, once caught, regales us through the media about how life has cheated him. Society is to blame for all his trouble.
“I …have the power to make me happy…I choose…” A Christian with the joy of the Holy Spirit can rejoice regardless of circumstances. It is not that they walk around with a silly, ‘I’m in love with life and I want you to have a daisy in your lapel’ kind of irrational rot. They have, though, an inner peace, a joy that comes not from circumstances but in spite of them.
Have you ever heard someone say, “You make me so angry!”? That is an incredible amount of power for anyone to give someone else, the power to create your mood. More accurately, it could be said: “I dislike your actions so much, I am choosing to be angry!” Of course, we don’t speak in such a way, but it is more accurate. Why would you want to let anyone else choose your mood? If you put that on ‘auto-pilot’ and walk down the street, you’d be schizophrenic after two blocks!
I am going to choose to walk daily in the joy of the Holy Spirit and trust in Christ for what comes. Groucho is an interesting fellow; but, when it comes to directing my life, I’ll go with the Holy Spirit. Still, there is room for considering the philosophy of Groucho and his wisdom. For example, it was he who made it clear, “A black cat crossing your path… is going somewhere!”
Groucho understood the brevity of life and the problems of health care even back in the mid-twentieth century. He said, “Growing older is easy. You just have to live long enough!” And that brought him to the problems of medical care. “A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running!”
Of course, like many in show business of his day, marriage was not a generous endeavor for him. Married three times for 22, 6 and 15 years respectively, Groucho said: “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury!” And on the topic of divorce, his wisdom came through his cynical wit. “Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse!”
Here though is the quote of his which spurred my thoughts in writing this today.
“The first thing that I can record concerning myself is that I was born. These are wonderful words. This life to which time nor eternity can bring diminution. This everlasting, living soul began. My mind loses itself in these depths.”
Not much is written about the Marx family’s faith or Groucho’s own walk with God, but this quote betrays a depth of understanding that perhaps he did know our Creator God. That, of course, is between him and God. Let’s consider his quote…
Groucho was awed by the concept of a person being born and more so, born with an eternal soul. He calls it an everlasting, living soul and such shows an understanding of the depth of the miracle, which is man, which is creation. Few sadly take the time to consider how incredible, how amazing the birth of a human being is and that it involves the beginning of a living soul that will never die. No where else in all of creation is there such an event. Humans alone can mirror the Creator God by having an eternal soul. Groucho understood.
No doubt, it seems that Groucho was a little cracked and thankfully so because he has allowed a little light to shine on his understanding of an eternal soul. Perhaps if we could capture some of Groucho’s awe over our eternal soul and the miracle of our birth, we might stop to appreciate each day of our lives a bit more and the Creator who gives each to us!
Are you old enough to remember an old television ‘soap opera’ that began in 1965 … “Days of Our Lives”? I understand it is still running today, obviously different actors but I wouldn’t doubt the story line is the same! The opening segment showed an hourglass, and the narrators mellow voice came in saying, “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” If our mother missed a few days of it, no worries, the situations were dragged out for so long, you could keep up even after a month sabbatical! I remember that my mother would do her ironing in a room where the tv was visible from where she stood. For those of you who do not know what ‘ironing’ is, Google it. You’ll find that Meriam Webster defines it as: “the action or process of smoothing or pressing with or as if with a heated iron.” But I digress.
Like sand through the hourglass… Jack Nicholson playing in The Bucket List describes life as ‘like smoke through a keyhole” and the psalmist wrote in Psalm 90:6, “In the morning they are like grass which grows up: 6 In the morning it flourishes and grows up; In the evening it is cut down and withers.” He goes on to write, “We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
Moses wrote Psalm 90 speaking toward man’s frailty. Solomon, a king who wrote many psalms, and wrote Lamentations echoed the despair of Moses often saying that life is vanity and striving after success in life is all vanity for another man will come and receive all of the bounty from your work. WOW, a total downward ride at the beginning of this paper. I wouldn’t blame you if you quit reading right now. But I suggest you keep reading for there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train! Maybe.
What spurs the thoughts of sand through the hourglass, smoke through a keyhole and grass that grows up and then is cut and thrown to the fire? This past weekend and, in fact, the entire last few months have brought into very sharp focus the brevity of life and my own mortality. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.
It is interesting that before everything that has taken place in the first quarter of 2021, for Christmas 2020 my daughter Suzanne got me a “Bucket List” book you fill out the list and then describe how it was fulfilled. Now, with the stark realities of life bearing down on me a bit, that list is all the more important. A top priority on it is for my oldest grandson Aaron and I to get to Colorado to see the Air Force Academy and simply just be together. That is a priority more so now than when we first talked of it last fall.
Notice what Moses wrote, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”Now, Moses has been wandering in the desert for 40 years because of a stubborn bunch of people, a million or so, I believe and all they did was complain. I can understand why Moses would be a bit sullen! Still, God’s word is inspired writing. Moses wrote what God wanted him to write. As far as the 70 or 80 years, Moses lived to 120 and he started the wandering when he was 80! No wonder he was sighing when he came to the end of his time and after all the wandering in the desert, he did not get to enter the Promised Land. He died before they went in! But what about us? What is our attitude? More importantly, what is my attitude?
I haven’t hit the 70 mark just yet. Six more years plus a few months. With the lung disease with which I have been diagnosed, I can still make 70, good Lord willing, but it might not be a race where I’m coming in full speed, pedal to the metal at the finish line. It may be more a tortoise kind of finish, but we shall see. Still, I don’t see me ‘ending my days with a sigh…’ I don’t see that the best of my days are trouble and sorrow. Quite the opposite!
I am, among men, most blessed. I have a loving wife of 40 plus years, five wonderful kids and their spouses plus 12 amazing grandchildren all who love me far in excess of what I deserve. I have a nice home that keeps me warm in the winter, dry during the rain and pleasantly cool in the heat of summer. I am retired from a career which I deeply loved, and I believe was successful at it. I can get up and go when and where I want, most of the time, my surgeries past and, hopefully even future, have not prevented that. I have time to fish and ride my Harley and I have a new amateur radio transceiver for my hobby time. I can walk out my back door and see my horses or walk to the pond to fish. There is food in the pantry, fridge, and freezer – plenty to go around and some for those in need. I could count blessings on, and on, but you will think me bragging so I’ll stop there.
The admonition that Moses gives which I try to hang on to is: “Teach us to number our days so that we may gain wisdom.” Two events recently and a phone call I just completed even as I write this remind me of my own mortality and the importance of this admonition to number our days. First was my eldest brother’s death in late November. This past weekend my remaining two brothers and I headed for West Virginia to the mountainside where we roamed as kids. There we planted a rose bush for our brother in a small cemetery on the side of the mountain and placed his and his wife’s ashes there, completing a committal service for him. Now there are but three of us. The ‘fab four’ we jokingly labeled a silly photo we took several years ago at a family get-together are now not four but three. That is a stark reminder that life is not a forever event, at least not the physical life in these mortal bodies. Every soul ever born lives forever. The question remains for each, where does it spend that eternity? For the Christ-follower, the end is sure. A new body and our souls will continue for eternity in the presence of our God whether in a celestial realm or walking the new earth that God will make (Revelation chapter 21). Those who reject Christ will spend an eternity separated from their physical body but in physical torment for all of eternity. It is wise to know our end and to, as the old knight in the ‘Holy Grail’ movie with Harrison Ford admonished him, “choose wisely.”
The second event of these past several weeks, as I mentioned a bit ago, is the diagnosis of a lung disease. The initial prognosis is not a good one but, that is, as I say, “a God thing.” If you want to follow along on the voyage of the adventures with a terminal illness – life is a terminal illness! – but check out VOYAGE at www.rossriggs.com On the Welcome menu you will find the links to the current and past postings. Getting a diagnosis out of the blue when you really don’t think anything is going on other than aging and being out-of-shape is a real kick in the pants! It will help you re-focus what is going on in your life!
The phone call I just completed from a dear friend who is not able to travel. He received word just a few days ago of his mother’s death, fairly suddenly from a pneumonia complication. Unable to get to her bedside before her death or even attend her funeral, he grieves in solitude. Reminded of his last visit with her over a year ago, he longs for a time to see her again. Thankfully, both have Christ and know their hope is certain.
So, now there are three and, if the doctors are right, in a decade, maybe less than a decade, there will be two. Thank God for the hope of heaven. Without such a hope there is no hope. Keep up that ever stretching, reach for all that God has for you. Try not to get caught up in the negative and worry about whether you will end your years with a ‘sigh’. I probably will end my with “Whew!”
There is only the truth of God’s word. It is timeless and it covers every possible contingency.
There are times when I listen to a speech or sermon; even read an article, and I find parts of the message which are inconsistent appear clear to me. Inconsistencies within an article on the components of a spiritually filled life, such as trust in God for allthings has been troubling me. The article was all about trust and how we can completely, totally rely on God, the magnificent Creator. Yet, I look around at our society with the folks, those who claim a Christian faith, so terrified about being without a mask, searching for places to get their vaccine and even churches still doing only parking lot services and I am deeply concerned. I was beside myself! (Not literally, that would have been a violation of the six foot rule!)
I thought, who are we trusting? Is it God who created our bodies with our amazing immunity and a protection system of skin and noses with membranes and cells designed to stop infection or were we trusting some politician who was told something by someone, not a believer in Christ? We must not be trusting God because now we wear man-made masks not designed to prevent infection. Instead, these masks are more likely to hold onto germs and nasty things in the air so we can breathe them directly into our own lungs? It is not possible to believe what was being taught and rely on masks which are proven to do more harm than good. That was where I came down on the question. How would God respond to such a lack of faith? I began to chew on the spiritual questions here. Realizing that at least more than once in my life I have been wrong about something, I decided I needed to think and pray this through.
When it comes to the issues with COVID, I know all the data, the 99.5 plus percent that survive COVID, the numbers of people who are affected even worse by the flu, those mostly at risk being over 70 years of age, same as the flu. I was pretty certain I was on the correct side of the issue. We trust God, toss the masks, and get our churches open and running!
Then, Matthew 7:3-5 hit me like a wooden spike right through the eyes.
Years ago, my doctoral dissertation was titled, “In Times of Crisis: A Plan for Creating Contingency Management Teams in Missionary Sending Churches and Agencies.” Based on scriptural truth including the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the temple with workmen and armed protectors working side by side, the entire concept is that God gives us the tools and ability to help ourselves while at the same time being completely in charge of all events in our lives. Our natural fears which prevent us from stepping in front of a train are part of God’s survival system for us. With the violence in our world and because of my experience as a police officer, now retired, I carry a firearm every day, everywhere. It provides me the capability of intervening on behalf of those at risk of serious harm. There are people within certain church circles who would say (and have said directly to me) that my contingency planning and other preparations are hypocritical. They say, God is in charge of all things so any preparation on our part is a sign of not trusting in Him. One mission agency leader staunchly opposed my arguments for preparation, and made his opinion quite clear. (Anyone who says Baptists don’t ‘ex-communicate’ don’t know how some organizations work!)
It was time for me to really get down into the desert and wrestle this one out. I already have severe hip pain so, here we go! Where is the line between using the tools God has given us to prepare and protect ourselves and others and ‘letting go and let God’?
I still maintain the truth worked out within my dissertation is correct. God is in charge of all things. The day we are to die is known to Him before we are born, as is every day of our life. From before time began He knew this of us. Nothing is outside His control. He also gives us the ability to protect ourselves and others. If this weren’t so, we would have no need of police. Jesus taught in some instances to go prepared for whatever might come and other times He instructed His disciples to go and allow God to provide completely for them. I believe God has given us gifted physicians and surgeons, researchers, and care-givers. God still determines our length of days, but these gifted persons help us preserve our quality of life, if not our quantity. The planning by Nehemiah was with God’s favor and the use of armed men guarding the workers was prudent because of the risk. Could God have totally protected them? Of course. Most often, particularly in today’s economy, He chooses to work through humans, often Christians. Could the guards have also been a ‘Linus VanPelt security blanket’ to ease the minds of those under the threats and with God’s approval? I believe the answer to that is also, ‘yes’.
So, what about the masks and opening services? I passionately believe they should be open and, if anyone feels the need to wear a mask, whether because of age or illness, they should do so without any awkward stares from folks who suddenly judge themselves as ‘more spiritual’ because they are ‘simply trusting God.’ Still, my time woodworking (or perhaps in the woodshed) was not finished. I still had some wrestling God wanted me to do.
There is an old story of a young farmer trying to get his mule to move. Pulling and tugging on the reins, screaming, and cussing at the mule were all to no avail. An old farmer stood watching with interest. He told the young farmer the only way to get the mule to move was to talk softly, lovingly, encouragingly to the mule. The young farmer scoffed and, handing the old farmer the reins said, ‘Go right ahead!’ The old farmer smiled, picked up a 2×4 and smacked the mule right across the head. The young farmer was shocked! “I thought you said to talk kindly and softly to him?” The old farmer replied, “You do, but first you have to get his attention!” Sometimes, I can be a mule in need of a 2×4. (More woodworking!)
As if it was important to test my thesis, before I finished writing this short article, I had to see the doctor to determine why I was having such extreme episodes of shortness of breath. The doctor’s visit turned into a CAT scan which led to appointments with a pulmonologist and in-home oxygen. As I write this I am waiting for a biopsy of my lung tissue to be scheduled. I’m told it’s not expected to be a cancer. It isn’t COVID. Could it be the remnants of an old Covid infection? Possibly. Still, though, there are a lot of variants that don’t fit that. I’m also told that if I get COVID now, the flu, or a similar infection; it could be life-threatening. Do I make sure I wear a mask now every time I go out? Which side of the faith fence does that fall on?
After much consideration of this new question, I can say to you I am 100 percent comfortable not wearing a mask anywhere. I am not afraid that I will get an infection and I totally trust God to do whatever He wants to do. However…
What about the oxygen? That becomes a common-sense method to help with quality of life, not quantity for me, at least.
There is yet another consideration. If my family, those I care for more than any, ask me to wear a mask and do other things to prevent the risk of any infection, what would I do? If the doctor, who is a born-again believer tells me to prevent infection of any kind I should mask up, what do I do? If I wear it to keep them comfortable and because I respect their wishes, but I know God knows my heart and He knows I trust Him, is it Okay? What if it impairs my Christian witness for others who do not know the back story, they just see me, “Mr. No-Mask” suddenly wearing one. Is my testimony hurt?
Sometimes a question doesn’t have an immediately clear answer. Sometimes, maybe there is more than one good option. That is where we can trust God’s word. You can be certain, there is only one truth. Regardless of what the Oregon school board believes, 2+2 still only equals 4. There is only the truth of God’s word. It is timeless and it covers every possible contingency. The truth is that God is in control. He will always do what is best and will bring glory and honor to Himself. If I can trust God with my every breath, I can trust Him to make certain my testimony is not damaged while I take the prudent course of action and do as I am asked by family and instructed by my physician. If I say that God has placed physicians in our lives to help us with our quality of life and then I refuse to follow their admonitions, I am not honoring God. I will do as I am told.
According to God’s word, every individual is responsible to God for his or her own actions, for the condition of their heart. That said, no one can dictate to you on an issue such as whether you are trusting God either by wearing a mask or by not wearing a mask. That is between you and God. He knows your heart and you can always ask Him to strengthen your faith. I am certain I will do that as I go through whatever lay ahead. I believe our churches need to open up and trust God and not allow politicians to push us by decrees that are not laws and are not passed in an open session of our legislatures (state or federal) to make laws, by votes of elected representatives. That, honestly, has always been my biggest sticking point regarding ‘mask decrees’.
If the governor decreed all Christians to wear a yellow crucifix sewn to our outer garment, would we do it just because he said so? Just wondering. If it is under the threat of death, would we? I am not judging any past groups of peoples. The Jews persecuted by the Nazi 3rd Reich showed incredible fortitude and no one can walk in their shoes today. But we, as a church, better decide now, before it happens, where do we draw our line in the sand? The time is coming when we will either hold that line or acquiesce. Prepare now to stand strong when it comes, not if it comes.
My time woodworking has been beneficial to me. I hope maybe it might help you think through some things for yourself. I’m not as ‘spiritual’ as I was before. Now, I am just thankful for each breath and I’ll keep on, one breath at a time.
Our pompous politician pontificating on the penetration of the police palisades protecting the parliamentary proceedings was anything but profound.
On January 6, 2021 something incredible happened on the streets of Washington D.C. I have witnessed over six decades of life in America including all kinds of demonstrations and riots on the Mall in D.C., particularly during the challenging 60’s. What I saw, Wednesday, is still a bit hard to believe.
What isn’t unexpected is the haughty, self-righteous indignation by Democrat politicians who lionized the rioters of 2020’s summer of discontent who killed, kidnapped, held entire communities hostage while burning private businesses and public property, toppling historical landmarks all in the name of Black power, to coin a phrase from the 60’s.
Like the ancient god for which January takes its name, the Democrats, from their second face, castigate Wednesday’s demonstrators as un-American, insurrectionists to be sent to the stocks or perhaps drawn and quartered if some would have their way. The D.C. demonstrators’ zealous exercise of their First Amendment rights eventually carried them to inside the Capital building. (It should be noted that a video released today (January 8th) shows Capital police opening a fire door to allow demonstrators inside the building, so it was not by force. They did not bust down a door or break a window but merely walked inside as police stood by.)[i]
I’m not here to argue the validity or the criminality of what was done. I want to merely point out some grievous double-standards and one very amazing lack of any understanding of history by a high-level U.S. politician. I wish I could give you his name. His comment came in the immediate aftermath of the Wednesday debacle and after reading it, initially, I dismissed it as blatant ignorance. Oh, that I would have kept that news snippet for I cannot seem to find it now. Here, though, is the crux of what he said. Again, this is a national level politician who happens to be a Democrat. (I don’t believe Democrats have a corner on the ignorance of history market, probably many Republicans are just as clueless.) This one happened to be a Democrat. Please, if any reader happens to come across the quote, I’d be indebted for having it sent to me.
Our pompous politician pontificating on the penetration of the police palisades protecting the parliamentary proceedings was anything but profound. He declared their actions were un-American. Claiming that America was always a place of peaceful transfer of power, he attempted to belittle the actions of those who sincerely believed in their cause by saying ‘we are not a bunch of French revolutionaries.’ Allow me to say with all the educated wisdom I can muster, “Huh?!” To be compared with those who dared storm the Bastille on the 14th of July in 1789 is
A magnificent and certain compliment of the highest regard
Exactly to the point of what the demonstrators themselves believed
Allow me to attempt to educate our ill-advised Congressman.
The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 in Paris was the beginning of the French Revolution. In power was King Louis the XVI, a man whose crimes against his own people were heinous, innumerable and beyond any standard of humanity. “The success of the revolutionaries gave commoners across France the courage to rise up and fight against the nobles who had ruled them for so long.”[ii] According to historians, the final straw was that the commoners, or the ‘Third Estate’ had demanded the king give them more say in their own governance. Those high in power had forgotten that their role was to represent and not dictate, to protect and not disenfranchise. Finally, the people who truly were the nation of France had taken all they could bear. Their response was, ‘No More!’ Sound familiar?
This particular politico apparently believes that Americans are not like those people who took a stand for their own liberty and fought against injustice. He thinks Americans will kowtow to the whims of the Deep State. He is wrong.
America, throughout its time has amazed the world at our ability to have a peaceful transition of power. That peace has always been undergirded by our faith and trust in our elections and our belief that our votes mean something. We could make the changes we sought at the ballot box. These last few years have taken away any trust in our elections for many Americans. Without that trust, a peaceful transition of power is not possible.