Greetings fellow travelers… I believe that was a line from an opening of The Night Gallery with Rod Serling many ‘moons’’ ago (Pun intended!) We will get back to the story behind that photo for the Genesis 2:7 Voyage. First though it is time to celebrate Thanksgiving! Isn’t it incredible the speed at which this year has flown past? Many people I know are very happy to see this year fade soon into the history books and begin again. Congratulations to those elected this past election day. Our prayers are with them as they begin their service in a new role or another term to continue the service they have been performing. I think it is truly important we hold these men and women in our prayers. Their jobs are not easy ones. Our nation, our states, and our communities need godly leaders who view our world through a biblical lens and fulfill their roles justly. My voyage has allowed me to see the importance of these leaders who are setting the stage for our children’s tomorrows. We have entrusted to them the future and I believe we need to ask our God who holds and shapes those futures to be with them in every decision.
Thanksgiving – the giving of thanks our appropriate response…
A brief note about the Riggs Family Thanksgiving held here today for this corner of the much larger Riggs Family Tree! (Ours is the one with most the nuts in it!) This is to be the last Thanksgiving in this house after almost thirty years of Thanksgivings. By springtime this house will be on the block and be sold. Most of the stuff will be auctioned and will be officially ‘downsized’! Major changes in life come in all forms and such change is part of the voyage.
30 years ago this photo would have had just Ross, Karin, Heidi, Suzanne, and Sarah… Ross’ Parents Ralph & Glyndyne Riggs and Karin’s Mom Ruth, with Inga, Skeeter and Taylor King From ten to twenty-eight!
In the photo – Far left Front to Back
Aaron Snyder, Paula Hernandez, Inga King, Nathan Booth, Scarlett Smith, Annabelle Snyder, Fiona DeVore, Audra Booth, Emelia Smith, Ross, Allyson Snyder, Trevor…… back to camera Rhett Smith, Sarah Smith, Taylor King, Cyd DeVore, Dave Snyder, Suzanne Snyder, Leland Riggs, Wesley Riggs, Daniel Riggs, Sarah Riggs with Everly Riggs, Lona DeVore, Andy DeVore, Nick Booth, Heidi Booth (Not pictured Karin Riggs)
David, King of Israel had a very exciting life with many blessings from God during his military career and as the leader of his people. Even with his failures, God called him a man after God’s own heart. Can you think of anything you would long for God to call you more gracious than that? A favorite Psalm of mine I reprint for you here because it fits directly with where my heart is in these last weeks.
Not Alone: Test Results and a Glass Half Full
Because of medicine changes and on again off again steroids, Dr. N has been keeping a close eye on everything and about two weeks ago I had another PFT, pulmonary function test. My lung capacity is at 66% and my pulmonary function (the ability to move good air into the lungs and eliminate the bad air) is at 62%. These are both down from the last tests and down from last November specifically. I may have those numbers slightly off but no matter you get the gist.
One of the great things about Dr. N is his unrelenting optimism. He doesn’t sugar coat and he calls it like it is but he will always inject something like what he said to me this last time… ‘Yes both the numbers are down but they aren’t as far down as they could be so they aren’t declining as fast as they might…’ So, I take that as good news and thank God for that!
We have to have three consecutive tests to determine a pattern for what to expect in the year ahead… so this is test 1 of that series (the previous ones aren’t used because of the medicine changes during that time).
There were times in these past weeks where I felt very much alone, like the astronaut in the photo. I know during those times that usually the mood swings are due to the changes they are making in the steroids. I also know intuitively I am not alone. Your notes, your calls and your felt prayers help me greatly. Those who text me sometimes every day, your encouragement is so great! I hope the mood swings will subside as I come off the steroids here in the next few weeks. If they don’t then I know for certain I will have a doghouse in the back yard made available to me to stay in!
This coming Wednesday I have a sleep study. I will try to prepare for that and make sure I take my Goofy doll and my Coca-Cola blanket both of which are provided by my grandchildren!!! I don’t expect any great revelations that is just to confirm what we already know intuitively. Probably there is a C-PAP in my future.
I want to thank everyone for your prayers from my recent trip to the ER. I had been feeling poorly all day one day last week. It was as if I was just getting weaker as the day progressed. I went to the Y to get some hot tub time in and when I came out, even with my O2 on but by the time I got to my truck my O2 saturation was down in the 70’s. I got home and made it to the bed but I walked past my in home O2 and failed to pick it up. When I felt strong enough I went to go get it and coming back out of the kitchen I got really dizzy the room began to spin and I fell against the wall with my shoulder. No damage to the wall or my shoulder. I got my bearings and pushed off against the wall to go to the bedroom and immediately the room was spinning and I was face down on the carpet. My phone, of course, was in the bedroom. Thankfully a few weeks ago I began carrying the Life Protect button (yes, yes I know the commercial and I’ve heard all the jokes) This button will pick up anywhere in the world. I hit it and after a coupe of seconds with a computer put me with a live operator who called the squad and then my family and she stayed with me on the line until the paramedics were with me. Long story short, dehydration, medication and some other things took me down. Thankfully no COVID and nothing more serious.
Merry Christmas –
In case my next Voyage is not out BEFORE and I pray for all of you that God bless you greatly in the coming year. Please pray for God’s will for me and the family in the year ahead. Uphold the family and those closest to me. Often times I believe their battle is harder than mine.
Every Friday night in almost every community across the U.S. and on most college campuses each Saturday afternoon in the Fall, history repeats itself. I invite you to travel with me to the stadium. Feel the brisk, fresh fall air. Hear the noise and excitement. Somewhere off in the distance a drummer and a coronet player are just hitting some notes to a rhythm, no reason. The ticket takers are in place. The concessions stand is open, manned by overworked yet mostly willing booster club members.. The time is perfect especially if you are young and strong, part of all that is going on.
Your first step in making our trip is to be yourself. Not the self which is frustrated by the small event yesterday or the ache you were getting last night as you tried to sleep. You cannot let homework or a work assignment which is eating away your duodenum with an ulcer which is growing .5 mm a day interfere either. Rather, just be you. Be the you which you have been since you can remember being you. This is easier for the senior citizens in the reading audience. Usually by the time we reach ‘senior’ status, each has usually been able to detect the seemingly unageing part of ourselves which feels the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Okay, now we can go to the football game. It is there we will find our friend, the old man in the stands.
If you are currently in high school or college just be your you-you. The you which is you today. If you are beyond college age for any number of years, be the you who was at that game every Friday night as a teenager. You all have your part in mind. Think back and see your hometown crowd. There is always one, at least one, an old man who comes to mind.He never misses a game, no matter what sport. He is faithfully there in all kinds of weather and you know exactly who you are looking at. He is almost always in exactly the same seat.
Here it gets a little tougher because we have to be honest with ourself. The good part is you do not have to tell anyone. What did you think about that old man when you saw him – if you thought about him at all? Allow me to guess… ‘there’s that same cranky (weird, odd) old man. Why does he come all the time? Is he going to stare at the cheerleaders or is he just being anywhere other than home for something to do? Unless he came with someone, very few people talk to him. He doesn’t react to the plays just watches, same with the halftime show. In fact, he barely moves. Sometimes, our particular old man in the stands would be in a cranky mood and take it out loudly against the referees but usually, he just sat. If, by now, you have no recollection of such a man, maybe you were so caught up in all that was going on around you, you simply never even saw him. Maybe you found you so important you missed other things. That is a legitimate answer.
On Friday of this week, I was in the stands watching my grandson play football. I had a few other family members there but mostly it was just my nephew and me near the aisle, just watching the game. I took a moment to look around at the crowd and that is when I noticed it. I was the old man in the crowd. I realize 65 is not that old but in this particular crowd my age was skewing the median by its uniqueness for this crowd. My white hair and beard added to the picture and the oxygen type of tank I wear on my back with a hose up my nose certainly added to my appearance of aged. Because of multiple surgeries I walk slowly more like Lon Chaney’s stand-in than a human being so again it draws attention. I had one nice lady sitting on the aisle as I was making it up the steps caution me to ‘go slow and be careful’ in her most ‘how to talk to the aged and infirm voice’. I could not shake off the image that I must portray to those around me, particularly the teens either there as spectators or players and cheerleaders. Several I knew but for the purpose here, I’ll focus on those who did not know me. To them, I was that old man. I wondered if they thought the way we had thought as teens and I’m pretty sure they did.
There was a difference, of course. My granddaughters came up to me during the game and we laughed and talked. They are cheerleaders so that helped my image greatly. I don’t recall ever seeing that with the old man in the stands I remember. That would change some views but still, that perception, expectation, or maybe that prejudice when we see a person who is older, if we are younger, then we seldom take time to imagine them when they were young, vital, involved in the same activities with which teens at this game are now. He was then what they are now. However, they don’t realize how quickly what he is now, they will be then.
But what about our old man? Remember, the caveat if we are reading this as a senior person, we are not remembering how long it took us to get out of the car and into the stands because of our arthritis, surgeries, shortness of breath, or any other malady. We are remembering our real person the one that doesn’t age but is, I believe, who we are in our soul. That timeless person, who doesn’t think about the white hair and wrinkles but feels the same, is our eternal self. That is who we are in heaven for eternity. So, what about him, our old man in the stands?
He may be remembering his Friday nights or his Saturday afternoons. He may be feeling the same spirit, the same rush of excitement at the big play as if he were the one crossing the goal line like he did for records long forgotten at his school. Maybe he recalls the thundering crash of bringing down that huge Tight End during the state finals and how as he hit him it was like every bone in his body reverberated at once and all he saw was stars until halftime! Perhaps he remembers the night at halftime when he was featured as a coronet solo and how scared he was, only a sophomore and doing a solo. The horn may be put
away now for decades but that night is as fresh in his mind as ever. He sees the student section and remembers the bon fires and pep rallies. He remembers going to Homecoming with the prettiest girl in the school who, much to his surprise not only said ‘yes’ to Homecoming but said ‘yes’ to marrying him. He saddens for a minute thinking how she’s been gone now these ten years. All of it seems like only yesterday. None of these students he watches on the field have any idea about the game he is playing in his own mind, a game that was picture perfect forty or fifty years before.
I wrote at the beginning that the old man in the stands you recall may have sat emotionless, maybe with a partial smile detectable, or maybe as stern a face as can be made. I suspect the only difference is contentment. As he sits watching the game with memories flooding back as if they are held in the stadium seats and when all the people arrive, those memories are unchained and they flow easily back to the ones occupying that seat. If he believes his life to have been well-spent, then likely he is content. If the opposite is true, he may be overcome with regret for actions not taken, decisions made, hurts caused… too many things of which he cannot let go. Even though those hard memories come inside this magical place, he comes each game religiously to be stirred again to action or perhaps he sees it as his penitence. How sad.
I have found, as it is my turn to play the iconic role of the old man, lessons learned. First, this time to play the old man comes much too quickly and second, we never notice life’s youthful moments are gone until they’re gone. More importantly, I have two choices evident to me each time I go to the stadium. I am the only one who can choose whether I am coming to be rewarded with wonderful memories of my past or to expect pain. With great memories I can spend an hour or so both enjoying the feats of this young generation and to regale myself with youthful memories that make me smile. This is because I have chosen contentment. The other choice is to come expecting pain and receive penitence. Still, though one seeks penitence, he chooses to never forgive or forget. Such is a discontented soul. It seeks solace in the pain and it never comes.
For those who know Christ, there is still this decision to make because regardless of how great it is that Christ has paved the way to contentment, Satan puts up Road Closed and Detour signs everywhere to try to make us forget. So, if you are younger and want advice from the old man in the stands… enjoy every moment and live so you won’t face regrets.
For most of my years I could mimic the line from the Sinatra song, ‘regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…’ That is until recently. Under the scourge of a terminal illness I have let slip from me what is perhaps the thing which is easiest to lose and the hardest to regain. I have not held up as well as I should and it is difficult to still see in the eyes of some who mean so much to me such disappointment. This is a regret one cannot shake off like Sinatra might sing. So, I must learn that even with regrets I must seek contentment even if it never comes. If you are where I am and you battle these choices, again get to know He who is Christ. Once you have accepted Christ’s forgiveness… chose memories – no regrets, just right! If regrets remain, reclaim the good memories for claiming the regrets will lead only to a lonely and dark place.
It is here I must tell you the story about the man I met and became friends with almost immediately in the men’s restroom at the Wayne County Fair Grounds! I realize how completely odd that sounds. We were, at least, not near the sheep barn. This man I found amazing. Here is how it began. I saw him go in at the same time I did. He was wearing a U.S. Air Force veteran shirt and hat so already we had a connection. As I left a high school age young man went in who apparently knew this other gentleman and they talked inside for a time about the younger man’s thoughts about joining the military and the elder man was attempting to steer him toward the Air Force. Eventually the young man left and soon after the elderly man came out. I introduced myself and told him about Legacy of Honor. Then the best part happened… we talked. This gentleman is 88 years old. He was in the Air Force at the end of the Korean War and was assigned to the crew of a B-29 bomber. By the time he was twenty-two he had been promoted to crew chief of the aircraft and then the aircraft’s engineer. He laughed and said, ‘not bad for a farm boy from Wayne County’.
Had I never taken the time to wait for him to exit the lavatory and strike up a conversation he would have been just another old man in a veteran hat and shirt. Instead I met a new friend who had incredible adventures flying the B-29 thousands of feet higher than it was supposed to be able to fly and so low that the icy waters near Thule, Greenland got sucked into the engines directly of the ocean. I met a new friend who was content with few regrets. Just because one is content with where his lot in life is currently, it doesn’t mean he’s glad those younger days are gone. He is glad the memories are intact.
The old man in the stands will probably always be part of our lives. Maybe it’s time we notice him and learn something from him. It will do both sides good. And if we are the old man, maybe we need to be willing to share our contentment and how we found it and learn the way for dealing with regrets.
Since there is no way my being in heaven is dependent on what I do then obviously it must be based on what someone else has done and I’m not referring to another sinful mortal like myself who is lighting candles or saying mantras over me to try and get me accepted into heaven.
It has been a while since my last posting to Ministry Minute, my blogs have been involved with the posts from Voyage over on the www.rossriggs.com site dealing with my terminal illness. Current events have taken place though which compel me to return and enter a short piece on the assurance of salvation. For those who follow my post, you would just know that I will start out my writing with a famous movie line. This one brings us the title of this blog and comes to us in the re-release of some of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic roles. This one, his first ‘Dirty Harry’ movie when his lunch is interrupted by a bank robbery in downtown San Francisco. One of the bad guys is injured and trying to escape. He falls to the pavement, his shotgun within a handbreadth away and ‘Harry’ points his S&W Model 29 6 inch revolver at him and says, “I know what you’re thinking, punk. You’re thinking “did he fire six shots or only five?” Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?” The ‘punk’ acquiesces and as Harry walks away the would-be bank robber asks him if he had any bullets left… he says “I gotta know” – click Harry’s gun was empty. That’s a long way around to get to my point but I think you’ll find it worth it!
Allow me to set the stage for you. It is the middle of August, a hot day for anyone and this day, hotter and muggier than most, a definite ‘dog-day afternoon’ but that’s a different movie with Al Pacino! I have had the honor of officiating funerals for friends, relatives, and some folks I barely knew. There is one thing the family needs and that is the truth of the Bible and Jesus’ own words that provide a hope for heaven for even His worried and weary followers. On this particular day, however what the family and their friends receive from a pastor who does not believe in the doctrine of grace and those attending instead receive a hodgepodge of a theology not at all based on Scripture. Rather, he shares his belief that there is no way to know for certain if one will go to heaven when they die. Their only hope for heaven is their own good works and maybe, just maybe, if their friend and family member laying in the coffin there in front of them did enough good things and had enough people praying for him, then also to have as a real stroke of luck, someone standing near Jesus when he arrives at the gate to put in a good word for him. Then, maybe Jesus will let him in.
I am so glad that God’s Word makes it clear that there is NO WAY I can ever be good enough for heaven! Whew! That’s settled! I never have to try to work my way into heaven again! I don’t have to because Jesus said that only those who are perfect in their works can get into heaven and that there is no one perfect, not one! There, settled. No sense worrying about that for He said, as Matthew quoted Him, “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”[i]
Since there is no way my being in heaven is dependent on what I do then obviously it must be based on what someone else has done and I’m not referring to another sinful mortal like myself who is lighting candles or saying mantras over me to try and get me accepted into heaven. The person who has already done everything that needs to be done for me to be in heaven is JESUS. I can lay before you several texts that speak to the issue and persons like that pastor (I use that term loosely) would say I’m ‘proof-texting’ which means just going through and finding Scriptures to back up what I am saying and they would be right if I was taking the verses out of context and twisting their meanings but the meanings in these verses are clear.
Let’s begin with Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” That seems fairly clear that our salvation has little or nothing to do with what we have done. Another important verse comes also from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 1 let’s just glance at verses 4 through 6, 13 and 14. “4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.’” Adoptions as sons (daughters). Let me just ask if you know of anyone who was unadopted? Once you are family… you are family. Then in the following verses, “13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Check the part that says, marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit – our guarantee that we are God’s possession.
There is one final set of verses I want you to consider and though the list is very long and could be a long Bible study, which it has been many times before, I’m keeping this one short for your reading pleasure. This comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He asks the question as to what can possibly separate us from the love of Christ. Here is Romans 8:38-39, Paul writes, “38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am going to give you one last very short verse which provides me great comfort as I move down the path of this horrific disease that is robbing me of air, the ability to simply breathe. Even now as I sit at my desk in the study where for almost thirty years I’ve been writing and studying, I have to sit here with oxygen being pumped into my nose so I can breathe. Still, as I understand this verse, when I look toward the day when my lungs take their last labored breath of earth’s air and my human eyes with their lenses replaced due to cataracts close in death, I have not reason to fear. Listen to the words of Paul again writing to the church at Corinth concerning his own short time left on earth. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8-9, 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” There is no intermediary state, no roaming the earth looking for that one thing we did not complete in this life so we can to on to the next. Immediately, we are ushered from this existence into the very presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. No worries. I am not now, nor will I ever be in this life good enough to merit heaven. That doesn’t mean I quit seeking to grow in faith, that is part of sanctification, growing to be more like Christ each day but I’m doing so because I love Him and want to be like Him. Should any who have been subjected to the false teaching of those who proclaim there is no way to know for certain you or your loved ones will be in heaven upon your death, I encourage you to study not just these few passages but get with a solid Bible teaching church and grow in your faith!
1 All Scripture texts have been taken from BibleGateway.com and are NIV or NKJV.
Other than staring out into space, there are few things in nature to help a man understand his diminutive stature in relation to creation then to look out across an open ocean. As long as history records, the ocean has been, for mankind, a place of danger, a place of life-giving food, a place of adventure and a place of mystery. Ancient sources in mythology refer to creatures of the deep that defy explanation or even description. Some of those are even known in theological references specifically, the Leviathan.
Wikipedia has this in regard to Leviathan. “The Leviathan of the Book of Job is a reflection of the older Canaanite Lotan, a primeval monster defeated by the god Baal Hadad. Parallels to the role of Mesopotamian Tiamat defeated by Marduk have long been drawn in comparative mythology, as have been wider comparisons to dragon and world serpent narratives such as Indra slaying Vrtra or Thor slaying Jörmungandr. Leviathan also figures in the Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for a powerful enemy, notably Babylon (Isaiah 27:1). Some 19th-century scholars pragmatically interpreted it as referring to large aquatic creatures, such as the crocodile. The word later came to be used as a term for great whale, and for sea monsters in general.”
Yet, God, Himself, the Creator of all heaven and earth spoke directly of and named Leviathan in his word in several places specifically in talking with Job. God replies to Job‘s challenge to him. God asked him several questions about Job’s own ability to build, create, and control the universe. One of those questions involved Leviathan as we read in Job chapter 41 verse one. God asks Job, “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope?”
God is very clear about this amazing sea creature of His. He extols it’s uniqueness in the following verses:
“Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? Will traders barter for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me. I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth ringed about with fearsome teeth? Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth. Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it. The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable. Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. Arrows do not make it flee; sling stones are like chaff to it. A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance. Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair. Nothing on earth is its equal— its a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”*
What an incredible description of an amazing creature. And yet we know that there are many more. Still, mankind in all of his “wisdom“ or scientific exploration have never seen them. In thousands of years of searching the planet, not all has been found. The world is God’s world and we are to be reminded of that fact.
We can search creation and the descriptions of creatures found throughout that creation and in so doing we find the minuteness of our beings. Yet, that search reveals an even more amazing fact about mankind. In all of its smallness in comparison to creation, there is only one of God’s creatures that was made in His image, is immortal, and was the object of a depth of love so deep, God allowed His only Son to die to save us.
For you, what part of God’s creation reminds you of your place in His world? Is it looking out across a vast ocean wondering at what lies beneath the surface? Is it staring into a vast night sky considering what lies beyond? Is it looking into the face off a newborn baby or into the eyes of an elderly person? Perhaps you’re just clinging to the fact that God is God, He is still there, and He is still in control.
Often times it is a natural disaster or dramatic weather events that remind us that we as human beings are not in control. It’s also likely whenever there’s a good outcome to a natural event there is no mention of God. If there is a horrific outcome there is a chorus from people wondering ‘How could a God of love allow this?’
May it ease our minds in times of distress, if we are fortunate to hear the sound of rolling waves in the ocean or in wilder times the crash of the waves wave against a stalwart rocky coastline or seawall, to know that God who created and controls without issue Leviathan and so much more, remains in control, and He loves you more than mere words can express.
You have seen it. You have seen it and perhaps smiled at it or cursed it. It comes at either the most opportune times for appreciating it or at the worst possible time when it can be almost deadly. Snow with the sun upon it can create amazing views.
I refer, of course, to the amazingly bright reflection of the sun off the snow. For snow enthusiasts looking across the mountainside at the reflection atop the deep layers of freshies it brings joy. A fresh layer of new powder delights the skier and photographer alike. With the right alignment of sun, snow and slope, the skiing is perfect, the photographs awe-inspiring and the day a complete success. The wrong direction of the sun’s rays, however, brings difficulty seeing, treacherous downhills and even when driving to the slopes, it can be a hazard.
For those who do not ski nor even care much about venturing out into the snow, except perhaps to track a deer in the last bit of the hunting season, the sun’s rays across the field of snow can still be breathtaking. If your only plans involve being indoors near both a wide picture window from where you can see the sun play across the snow and a brisk fire blazing within a few feet, your concerns are few. Particularly if the fireside holds with it a welcoming easy chair summoning you for an early afternoon nap.
I am in the latter rather than the former group. My biggest fear when receiving our first assignments from Air Force Basic Training was that mine would include names like Thule, Greenland, Minot, North Dakota or even Clear Air Force Station, Alaska. Beside the geographical locations, the assignments there in the 70’s included fun things such as Minot’s CATs and it was not a musical! These were Camper Alert Teams where a team went out for a 3 day stint (sometimes longer depending on how deep the snow had gotten) at a remote missile site. The emphasis is on the word, REMOTE. Checking radar installations near the Arctic Circle from Clear would have been a world of fun, I’m certain! And note the name Clear Air Force Station. A station is not as big as a base which means it has less of the everyday necessities like a full size BX (base exchange), a laundry, proper housing, maybe a theater or a physician on staff, perhaps not even a ‘real’ cook… you know, basics. Thankfully, I never had the joy of visiting Clear so I cannot say what it was like in the 70’s or even now fifty plus years later.
When I left Ohio for San Antonio in 1975, I swore I would not return. I did, however, and now I’ve been here about 65 years. I stood traffic duty in a full size blizzard in 1978. I took my wife, whose water had broken and she was about to deliver our son, to the hospital 48 miles away through swirling wind and temperatures with windchill in the minus 50 range. We had a city snowplow get us out of our driveway to begin that trek. We have endured horrific winter storms and we have had mild, nothing to recall kinds of winters. Still, though, they were winters.
I recall having snow tunnels as a kid built from the snow blown against our house and one winter, our small dog ran off and my elder brother and I went in pursuit. Several blocks away and about an hour into the search, I could not go on, being so cold and the snow so deep. My brother built a small igloo kind of barrier from the wind where he placed me as he continued on and there I sat. It was almost dark when he came back by to retrieve me, our small beagle happily bundled in his jacket.
Years later as a volunteer firefighter we responded on a horrifically cold night to a barn fire at the edge of town. Jumping off the truck, it was obvious the ground was ice covered. I wrapped the inch and a half firehose under my arm and went as quickly as possible toward the barn. The pump operator charged the line, unbeknownst to me. The charged line under 110 pounds of pressure at the nozzle sprang to life, jerking my feet out from under me and slamming me backward on the ice. Recovering, I got into the barn where a calf had tangled himself in a pile of farm tools trying to escape. As I tried to free him from his snare, the frightened calf leaned forward a bit me with all the force he could muster on my right thigh. His teeth went through the rubber thigh high boots we were issued in those days. Although my thoughts were to leave him where he stood, I freed him anyway hoping to someday see him again on a large barbeque pit.
I’m sure I could regale you with more yarns of misadventures in the snow, ice, and cold but suffice it to say, I am much more at home in a hammock, swaying lightly on a sandy beach somewhere in the Caribbean than in anything that begins with the reference to snow. God spoke to Job about snow and asked him an incredible question. “Have you visited the treasuries of the snow, or seen where hail is made and stored? For I have reserved it for the time when I will need it in war.” (Job 38:22-23 NLT) Such an amazing thought particularly if you consider history and how the snow was decisive in so many battles, the most poignant in recent history, the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. Job had declared previously, “For he directs the snow, the showers, and storm to fall upon the earth.” (Job 37:6 NLT) To consider that God uses bitter weather toward His own purposes brings a deeper meaning to the white stuff we so long for on Christmas Eve and despise on March 1st
Winter, I know is God’s method of bringing nature to a time of rest before a new season of spring life and growing begin. That is a wonderful miracle and how some animals change over the winter months or those who hibernate so that their systems are rebooted before spring is certainly God inspired. The beauty of a field covered in a fresh snow can truly be an awe inspiring sight. I thank God for His gift of the seasons and I am thankful as well that just three weeks from tomorrow which will be Saturday Feb. 26th, the Cleveland Indians (aka guardians….) will take on the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Park in Phoenix as the Pre-Season begins and SPRING Training is in full swing!
Have you ever thought through as to what will remain of you, your memory, your legacy when you are gone? Most of us try to never think about what it will be like when we are gone because we cannot imagine the world going on without us. We like to be part of the everyday routines, the family gatherings, and the career we have spent so much of our life trying to build. Even those of us who count ourselves Christ-followers and have no fear of death but anticipate only the joy of heaven seldom try to imagine what the world, our world, our house, our home, our everyday interactions could be like without us present. Ebenezer Scrooge got a foretaste of his cronies gathering in the marketplace and doing business without him there and talking badly about his demise. The idea of us being anywhere but here and those we see every day going on about their life without us is just something we would prefer not to consider. Perhaps, though, we should.
I wrote, early after my diagnosis, that more people should take the opportunity to follow the song-writer’s admonition and “live like you are dying[i].” Part of living like you are dying is to treasure each day and take stock as to what kind of impact you are having on others each day. The smallest of gestures, the smile to a stranger you pass on the street, stopping to help a person whose car has left them stranded along the roadside, and the thank you to your hostess may do more good than you can ever imagine. The random acts of kindness may just lighten the load of your fellow life travelers a bit and they may help define the length of your shadow.
The Psalmist asks of God, “Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.”[ii] Other Scriptures speak of the brevity of life with similar analogies. This one, however, is poignant to me. Shadows do fade as quickly as they appear, it seems. As I walked along the wood-line, returning from a short trek into the woods, I noticed my own shadow clearly against a tree. As I moved, or as the sun continued to slide to its horizon, my shadow would disappear among the other shades of gray in the midst of the fallen leaves and branches. The sharp monochrome image of me disappeared as quickly as it came.
I know that I cannot change the duration of my shadow here but, by the grace of God, I can change the impact my life may leave on others. There are those who seem to struggle against doing random acts of kindness, as if something inside of them drives them to remember wrongs, real or perceived, committed against them. These must be carried about to throw, like a snowball rolled in a cow pasture, at any who commit a trespass against them, no matter how slight. Some of these folks you will find in a church pew on Sunday mornings. Rather than be railed against, they should be prayed for. They are losing what joy can be had in sharing joy with others.
Still, I am responsible for me, for my shadow. Though its physical presence may appear for a short time and be gone, the shadows which linger in the memories of those we have touched with our life have a much more persistent existence. How we are remembered by those closest to us matters greatly, for me at least. I am genuinely blessed with a loving family and many grandchildren. Each of them is eager to see me come and prefers not to see me go. The news of my disease struck harshly with them and it is nearly impossible for them to fathom. I have had much more time with some than others of my grandchildren and I hope the Lord will allow me many more years to share with them. I ask that He allow my shadow to gain a deep, rich quality that time alone will not quickly erase. James writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.”[iii] What better a perfect gift than that of sharing the joy of Christ with another.
[i] Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, Performed by Tim McGraw, Curb Records, 2004
November is upon us and so comes the Thanksgiving holiday, celebrated in American Christian circles for honoring a specific time when God provided safety and refuge for the initial inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony supported by their ‘Indian’ aka Native American neighbors.
November is upon us and so comes the Thanksgiving holiday, celebrated in American Christian circles for honoring a specific time when God provided safety and refuge for the initial inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony supported by their ‘Indian’ aka Native American neighbors. Here are historians’ recounting of the event: Thanksgiving. In fact, it took place over three days sometime between late September and mid-November in 1621, and was considered a harvest celebration. This year, 2021 is exactly 400 years since the very first Thanksgiving! Let us see what else the Historians tell us about it…
“Basically it was to celebrate the end of a successful harvest,” says Tom Begley, the executive liaison for administration, research and special projects at Plimoth Plantation. “The three-day celebration included feasting, games and military exercises, and there was definitely an amount of diplomacy between the colonists and the native attendees as well.
Just over 50 colonists are believed to have attended, including 22 men, four married women—including Edward Winslow’s wife—and more than 25 children and teenagers. These were the lucky ones who had made it through a rough entry into the New World, including a harsh winter during which an epidemic of disease swept through the colony, felling nearly half the original group. Some 78 percent of the women who had arrived on the Mayflower had died during the first winter, a far higher percentage than for men or children. “For the English, the first Thanksgiving was also celebrating the fact that they had survived their first year here in New England,”…
“We don’t know for sure how it came about that they were there,” Begley says of the Native Americans at the first Thanksgiving. “Some native historians have suggested that Massasoit and his men were in the area anyways, because at the end of the harvest was when they typically made their diplomatic rounds to other native groups. Also, Massasoit commented to the Pilgrims in March of 1621 that they would be back to plant the corn on the south side of what we know as Town Brook in Plymouth. So he still recognizes that there are some planting grounds that are his peoples’ in Plymouth.”
So, we know that as Americans, the first Thanksgiving and those to follow were to give THANKS to God for His provision through the year past and looking forward to His goodness in the year to come. That first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims were thanking God for their own survival, mourning the deaths of those they had lost and praying for protection upon them as they entered the new year. Is that not a sufficient understanding and a foundation for our Thanksgiving celebrations this day?
And soon comes DECEMBER a month within which Americans and people the world over celebrate CHRISTMAS!! I will be blatantly honest, if I hear another ‘Seasons Greetings’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ because someone FEARS offending another person’s religion, I will likely blow a gasket. (Not that I have any gaskets, but with all the metal that has been installed in me in the last 20 years, I would not be surprised to find not only gaskets but leaking valves and metal connections that require a lube and oil!)
Allow me to simply outline a couple of the ‘holidays’ that are celebrated in the next month and then go from there. First, right at our Thanksgiving time, the Sikh mourn the death of a prophet Guru Tegh Bahadur. He was martyred for his faith on November 24, 1675, three hundred and sixty-four years ago. Only 36 years after our first Thanksgiving. He displayed an act that no other Sikh prophet had ever done. He sacrificed his life to protect the right of any individual to practice a faith of his choice and to not be pressurized into conversion. His was a sacrifice to protect the right of Hindu Pandits of Kashmir to be allowed to wear Janeau (sacred thread) and Tilak (marking on forehead), even though the tenets of Tegh Bahadur’s own belief laid no importance on these articles of faith. The Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, was trying to convert all of India to his faith, even at the cost of their religious freedom. You could convert or lose your life. For over four years, this practice was continuous with many losing their lives. A group of Kasmiri Hindu Pandits asked Guru Tegh Bahadur for help. He advised them to tell Aurangzeb they would convert if he could convert Bahadur to Islam. Under Aurangzeb’s orders, he was arrested in July 1675 and kept in an iron cage in Delhi for over three months, till November 1675. To break his spirit, he was tortured immensely.
To instill the highest element of fear, in front of his eyes, his three disciples were tortured to death in a most inhuman manner. Bhai Sati Das was wrapped in cotton and set to fire. Bhai Mati Das was tied to two poles and sawn alive in two parts, from his head to loin. Bhai Dayala was boiled alive in a cauldron full of water.
Guru Tegh Bahadur’s spirit to stand firm for the cause of freedom could not be weakened and when Aurangzeb failed to persuade him to abandon his faith, he was finally beheaded in public at Chandni Chowk on 24 November 1675.
My prayer is that the faithful followers who mourn Guru Tegh Bahadur would, this Thanksgiving, November 25th, consider the prophet, the King, the Messiah who is not dead but is alive forever more who honors them as people and children of His own and He seeks to draw them close to Himself.
As Christmas comes upon us, so many religions of our world have celebrations that rival or attempt to assimilate the Christian celebration of the birth of the Christ child who came to earth to save us from our sins.
The religion most closely associated with the Christian religion is the Jewish faith whose God, Yahweh, is the God of the Bible, the One and Only God of the Universe. He is the author of Creation and His story is throughout the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the Jewish history has stories replete with the acts of God on behalf of His people. The Jewish faith sees Jesus Christ as a prophet, a good man, a teacher but they do not recognize Him as Messiah although countless scriptures point to Him and His miracles lay before us as undisputable evidence. In December the Jewish nation will celebrate Hanukkiah and the protection of the people by the continuation of Light throughout the time of battle. May, in 2021, many of our Jewish friends find that Christ is the Light and it is He who perpetuated the salvation of the nation on that historic night. May they find the Light of Christ in 2021.
The Wiccan religion will celebrate the SOLSTICE over our time of Christmas. My prayer is that they may come to see light in their darkness. Deuteronomy 4:19 God tells us: “And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.” The Psalmist writes in Psalm 8:3-5 “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit[c] him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than [d]the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.” May our Wiccan friends come to know that the Angel of Light, not that of the darkness, is the One who can provide you with life eternal and a life on this earth more than worth living.
The Islamic calendar holds no celebrations of their holy days in this month of December, based as they are on the time and location of the moon and stars.
The Winter Solstice and religions over time have found December 25th at as a key date for honoring those of their faith who were, in their eyes, equal to Christ. Here is a short list of those who share December 25th and some of the reasons behind it:
So who else celebrated the 25th of December as the birthday of their gods before it was agreed upon as the birthday of Jesus? To be correct, the Christian church has long understood that December 25th is unlikely the actual birthdate of Christ. From the 2nd Century, however, Christian tradition has placed it on this date for whatever their purpose and it has held across the centuries. Biblical scholars debate the actual date and many expect it was closer to the spring of the year. Much is based on the time of Julius Caesar when Quirinius was Governor of Syria and issuing and order for all persons to be registered for taxation. Let us review a few of the religions who use December 25th as their celebratory day.
In India there is the Hindu festival to honor the Hindu deity, Ganesha, where people rejoice, decorate their houses with garlands, and give presents to their friends on this day. The people of China also celebrate this day and close their shops. Buddha is believed to have been born on this day. The great savior and god of the Persians, Mithras, is also believed to have been born on the 25th of December long before the coming of Jesus.
We add only the note that Buddha, though reported as coming “long before… Jesus”, he died, long before Jesus’s death and resurrection. Jesus is the only one still alive. Some say Buddha died in 843 B.C. and others in 949 B.C. This quote from Buddhists.org is instructive, “Did Buddha die a legendary death, choosing the very moment of his passing and calling on his friends to gather round him? Or did he die normally, of old age, an elderly man poisoned by pork or mushrooms…or maybe poisoned by nothing at all?
“Both versions of the death of Buddha are defended by scholars. The more mythic versions are romantic and appealing, but some evidences (sic) suggests that even the poisoning explanation is myth. Many have argued that it is likely that Buddha died not of poisoning but of mesenteric infarction, a condition of advanced age.”[i]
The Egyptians celebrated this day (December 25th) as the birth day (sic) of their great savior Horus, the Egyptian god of light and the son of the “virgin mother” and “queen of the heavens” Isis. Osiris, god of the dead and the underworld in Egypt, the son of “the holy virgin”, again was believed to have been born on the 25th of December. Some claim the story of Horus being born of a virgin, laid in a manger came from the times of the prophet Jeremiah, even that he would have heard these stories while traveling in Egypt. Other times seem to focus on the first to third centuries A.D. but most claim the ancient dates to be the accurate ones of his birth and no records at his death. There is no expectation that the god Horus remains alive, however. They are accepted by most as mythological gods who protected Pharoah in the early years of Egypt.
The Greeks celebrated the 25th of December as the birthday of Hercules, the son of the supreme god of the Greeks, Zeus, through the mortal woman Alcmene Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry among the Romans (known among the Greeks as Dionysus) was also born on this day. According to www.mythologysource.com, “Hercules was born in the last months of 1286 BC. It may seem impossible to pinpoint the birth of a demi-god so precisely, but ancient Greek legends provide all the clues needed to create a timeline of mythological events. The Greeks did not place their legends in a time so far removed from their own that it was forgotten.” “The early poet Homer believed when he wrote the Iliad and Odyssey that he was describing events that happened only a few hundred years before his own time. The Greek Age of Heroes roughly corresponds to the archaeological Bronze Age.”
Adonis, revered as a “dying-and-rising god” among the Greeks, miraculously was also born on the 25th of December. His worshipers held him a yearly festival representing his death and resurrection, in midsummer. The ceremonies of his birthday are recorded to have taken place in the same cave in Bethlehem which is claimed to have been the birth place (sic) of Jesus.
The Scandinavians celebrated the 25th of December as the birthday of their god Freyr, the son of their supreme god of the heavens, Odin.
The Romans observed this day as the birthday of the god of the sun, Natalis Solis Invicti (“Birthday of Sol the invincible”). There was great rejoicing and all shops were closed. There was illumination and public games. Presents were exchanged, and the slaves were indulged in great liberties. These are the same Romans who would later preside over the council of Nicea (325 CE) which lead to the official Christian recognition of the “Trinity” as the “true” nature of God, and the “fact” that Jesus was born on the 25th of December too.
In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon says: “The Roman Christians, ignorant of his (Christ’s) birth, fixed the solemn festival to the 25th of December, the Brumalia, or Winter Solstice, when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of Sol ” vol. ii, p. 383.
In summary, allow me to simply say two things. The actual date of Christ’s birth is not known although for whatever reason the early Church fathers chose December 25th.
It is now the customary date upon which western Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. We as Christians should worshipfully declare, Merry Christmas! to everyone we meet! Jesus sits now at the right hand of God in heaven. He has been seen post-resurrection on several occasions by scores, literally hundreds of individuals whose testimonies are part of written history. Don’t let the declaration and celebration of His birth end with us!
Men and women who followed Him, who saw Christ post-resurrection, went about giving testimony to what they saw even under the penalty of death. Not a single one recanted of their testimony and all but the Apostle John died a martyrs death rather than recant. John lived to fulfill the assignment given to him by Christ on the cross. He died an old man having survived prison, being exiled to a remote island, and then still continued to care for the mother of Christ, Mary. (John 19:27)
So… there it is… the myths, the mystical, the real, the One and Only. You choose. For me and my house, we will serve the Lord. I shall give thanks to God this Thanksgiving and in the weeks ahead say Merry Christmas to everyone I meet. If they decry my blatant declaration of my choice for celebrating Christmas, then I will happily share with them the reason for my faith. May God bless them and bring them to a saving knowledge of Him! MERRY CHRISTMAS!
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.