The Path

a little bit of time for some introspection and a chance to talk with God about life, love and the meaning of the universe

A walk along a mountain ridge outside of Keezletown, Virginia on an early morning recently allowed me a little bit of time for some introspection and a chance to talk with God about life, love and the meaning of the universe.

As I looked across at the hills in the distance and then glanced down the path in front of me, I was struck by how barren it looked. The brown and dead look of winter seemed to hang over the path like a dreary curtain pulled over the sunshine of the blue morning sky. There was no sign of green life anywhere… or so it seemed.

It seemed odd, it was late March and April was only a few days away, where was any sign of spring? I had to stop on the path, quit my focus on just moving forward and standstill to look more closely. Every brown twig that looked so bleak in passing actually held a small bud of a new leaf about to sprout. Within the next two weeks, this same path will be bursting forth in green and already some signs of pink on the cheery blossom trees were there for those who stoppped long enough to see them.

Life is like the path I was on… there are times our path seems so bleak, so dreary and there are no signs of new life. Down right depressing! But then we stop and we look a little more closely and sure enough, there are signs God is turning the world a little at a time and the change of seasons is still happening even when we fail to see it. I was blessed God allowed me a minute to stop on the path and notice the hope of spring. Maybe, I’ll be a little quicker to stop more often and take in a fesh breath of springtime to push away some of the dark winter has left behind.

Holding the Line

A citizen, then, who stands alongside one whose faculties may be diminished, or who, simply, is under duress by persons in some place of authority with the power to negatively impact that person’s standard of living, the protector is most honorable.

Perhaps few people will be required across their life time to take a stand for their principles on behalf of others. It is a noble thing to be true to one’s self and to maintain those principles one has decided for themselves, “this is a truth I will not disavow, for it is a belief, a practice, or a rule for my own self-care, which I know is best for me to follow for my personal well-being.” A person who struggles with alcoholism may maintain such a personal practice, knowing that to violate this one specific rule, such as the frequenting of a certain tavern, will lead eventually to his own self’s relenting to drinking which will lead to negative consequences.

Wise individuals will set and adhere to such personal lines of discipline. Such is not uncommon and often, these wise folks will enlist the aid of friends or confidants to provide help in times of temptation. For these people, the issue is personal, the negative consequences are personal as well. The line that they have drawn is a personal one and, other than those who will provide assistance, everything about the possible challenge to it will come to the individual as a private matter. The individual is motivated to keep his or her standard out of a sense of care for one’s self.

Fewer are the people who are in situations where they have either a moral or legal obligation to maintain a specific principle or uphold a value on behalf of someone else, not a family member. Certain professions have a code of ethics that demands certain discretions. Others have legal mandates requiring such privilege. An attorney may hold to an attorney-client privilege that forbids the attorney from disclosing specific types of information, except under very narrow circumstances. A physician holds a moral obligation to privileged communication which is enforced in the U.S. by very specific federal legislation, which places the physician in the position of legal liability if they or a member of their staff discloses medical information considered privileged. Clergy also hold to a strict level of confidentiality between the clergy and a counselee and on a higher moral line is the revered sanctity of the confessional and the priest and petitioner. In each of these, some higher level is enforcing the maintenance of the confidence. Avoiding legal liability or a perceived moral or spiritual liability is often the primary motivator for adhering to the standard.

What is most unusual currently in the 21st Century is a person who, by the profession in which they are employed has access to another’s personal information and chooses. because of their respect for the privacy rights of their client, their own personal moral or spiritual convictions, to protect the privacy of another person, whether client or other similar relationship, at the risk of their job, their career standing and their own personal well-being.

When such a person takes a stand to protect another individual’s privacy and there is no information on a criminal act or information that could harm someone if not released, our American society is the better. Our founding fathers prized personal freedom and the protection of privacy higher than any other. A citizen, then, who stands alongside one whose faculties may be diminished, or who, simply, is under duress by persons in some place of authority with the power to negatively impact that person’s standard of living, the protector is most honorable. When those unconscionable persons put an individual in a situation where they need a protector, the guardian should be given every assistance possible by others within our society who have the potential to be a positive help. When the protector-guardian is threatened with a loss of job or other punitive action and the protector remains resolute in their protection of their charge’s privacy, every person with any voice should raise a clarion call to aid the protector in their role.

When the guardian’s charge, who requires the protection of their privacy is a veteran of the United States’ armed forces, the guardian is, without hyperbole, a hero. A veteran, who, because of their own service to protect the rights of others, now faces some diminished capacity and becomes a victim of duress by a bureaucratic organization and that organization then terminates the job of the guardian and verbally assaults the protector of the veteran’s rights – that organization should feel the full weight of the federal government charged to protect the inalienable rights of its citizens. A full and formal investigation of the company is in order. May the protector of this veteran experience the gratitude and respect of our nation at the highest levels.

May God richly bless the guardian and all who walk in their shoes.

SCANDALOUS

“As Christians, our purpose is to love those people the way Jesus loves them – with generous compassion, scandalous grace, and undeniable truth.”

ONE of my favorite Bible passages is John 1:16. In the NKJV it reads, “And of His fullness we have all received and grace for grace.”  It can also be rendered, grace upon grace’ , that is over and over again, never stopping, just continuous grace! I  heard it described once in this manner…

GRACE. God’s wonderful, matchless, unwarranted riches of forgiveness and love lavished upon people like me who were enemies of God, not loving, nor caring about Christ, God’s only Son who, not only was with the Father as the Creator of the universe; but, became the sacrificial lamb. Beaten so horrifically and murdered in a way by which no human, nor any creature should ever be subjected. Yet, by His grace, He made me an heir to His kingdom, a son, righteous only by the blood of Christ; but loved with a love so deep, so pure, and never ending.

Imagine a beautiful mountain stream, fresh, sparkling clean, amazing in taste and unmatched in its refreshment and with the sound of the water flowing along, the wind wafting along, lightly in the trees, birds and animals gathering to enjoy the wonderful early afternoon sight. For me, the smell of lilac, fresh and flowing on the air makes the scene complete. In that scene, the flowing water is God’s grace. One pastor described kneeling at that stream and drinking in the cool water to his heart’s content. I picture it differently. I throw myself headlong into the water, submerging myself and coming to the surface where I stretch out in the stream and allow the water to flow over me, knowing that every second the grace is new, it is fresh, and it will never run out. Every part of me completely engulfed by the refreshing stream. I find myself completely lost in its embrace.

Bighorn Mountain Lake

In a session for the Bible study, ROOTED: Connect with God the Church your Purpose, in teaching on GRACE, is written… “As Christians, our purpose is to love those people the way Jesus loves them – with generous compassion, scandalous grace,  and undeniable truth.” (emphasis added) I love that term! Scandalous grace! Defined, scandalous is at once, shocking or outrageous. That describes such love, particularly in Jesus’ time when He was seen lavishing love on an adulterous woman of the street by forgiving her of all she had done. Jesus love was certainly not the physical love we are drawn to imagine, but for the religious folks of Jesus’ time, the other definitions would fit HIS grace…  Think about how the self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus time (and perhaps even ours) might picture Jesus’ grace on those they saw as too low to speak with, to reprehensible to share a meal or clothing. Try these: disgraceful, immoral, shameful, indecent, disreputable, appalling, reprehensible, wicked… For Jesus to sit at the well and speak openly to the Samaritan woman, really! It was not just a woman He was lowering Himself to address, not just a poor woman, but a Samarian!

In a session for the Bible study, ROOTED: Connect with God the Church your Purpose, in teaching on GRACE, is written… “As Christians, our purpose is to love those people the way Jesus loves them – with generous compassion, scandalous grace,  and undeniable truth.” (emphasis added) I love that term! Scandalous grace! Defined, scandalous is at once, shocking or outrageous. That describes such love, particularly in Jesus’ time when He was seen lavishing love on an adulterous woman of the street by forgiving her of all she had done. Jesus love was certainly not the physical love we are drawn to imagine, but for the religious folks of Jesus’ time, the other definitions would fit HIS grace…  Think about how the self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus time (and perhaps even ours) might picture Jesus’ grace on those they saw as too low to speak with, to reprehensible to share a meal or clothing. Try these: disgraceful, immoral, shameful, indecent, disreputable, appalling, reprehensible, wicked… For Jesus to sit at the well and speak openly to the Samaritan woman, really! It was not just a woman He was lowering Himself to address, not just a poor woman, but a Samarian!

Then, of course, we have Mary, a woman no stranger to immorality and demeaning relationships with apparently multiple men… not only did Jesus love her with grace unmatched by anything the world had ever known, but He allowed her to express her thankfulness by pouring rich, fragrant perfume in his hair and by that publicly show the depth of her love for Him… certainly the religious leaders thought it disgraceful, immoral, shameful… Jesus’ grace to them was all of those. Even to Judas, an apostle… he could not fathom how Jesus would allow such a thing. Although Judas’ concern was more for the money he was losing by not having his own hands on that perfume than the indecency of Christ’s allowing such a show of affection!

THE GRACE of GOD,  poured out on mankind by CHRIST… absolutely SCANDALOUS!

PRAISE GOD!

WAR ZONE

…we live in a war zone. There will be casualties

I have written in past days about my first experiences in Bosnia Herzegovina not very long after the cessation of open war. I use the term open war because the hatred and the racial and societal issues still divide the country and corruption stops any real forward progress in defeating the enemy.

It is difficult to describe a war zone. The buildings that once were homes, businesses, churches are just bombed out shells, with no life save the foraging insects and vermin that root among the remains looking for what else they can devour.

A hand painted sign reading welcome to Sarajevo covered in shrapnel caused pock-marks
Iconic Sarajevo sign 1995

Where people still reside, apartment buildings have shell holes that allow in the winter wind and the outside is pock-marked, the results of shrapnel tearing apart at the structure trying to weaken it.

There is a stark analogy between the physical war zone I witnessed in Sarajevo and remote areas of the countryside and the spiritual battles we face today. In Bosnia, no place was left untouched. Specific places had horrific stories of hate-driven carnage and we see the same in the battles Satan wages upon our world. I have felt the darkness of Satan’s demonic power more in Bosnia than anywhere else I have traveled but, it is only because there the mask of civilization was ripped away, and Satan’s plans were open for anyone to see. In the rest of our world, often, we keep the mask of civility and Satan’s attacks are, perhaps, not unseen, but unnoticed  by an uncaring society too wrapped in their own pain and secular drives to respond.

In the Bible we read, Satan is a roaring lion, prowling around seeing whom he may devour, just like the vermin crawling among the carnage of Bosnia’s war. Paul tells us our war is not against flesh and blood but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)

A fierce looking lion crouched as if to pounce surrounded by a black background with the words Our Adversary the Devil

God has permitted Satan to have dominion over the world until the time He finishes it and brings Satan to destruction and all who believe in Christ are His forever in peace. God waits, not because He is cruel but because He is patient and loving. Peter explains it, writing that God is “not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9)

Until then, as one writer put it, “Satan’s attack means that we all are vulnerable to sickness, betrayal, financial meltdown, relational loss, emotional despair and other hardships… bad things happen to good people… we live in a war zone. There will be casualties.” (Rooted, Mariners Church 2011 p 85)

In our spiritual battles, there will be homes empty, just shells remaining where once there were families. There will be businesses and churches gone, only the few, scattered remains from a bombing by sin and failure. Where people still reside, there will be shell holes letting in the cold winter wind, chilling the soul and hardening the heart; the explosive remains of  damaged relationships, lost trust and horrific sin. The lives of those struggling to survive are pock-marked by the shrapnel of sin which has left its mark upon them.

There is hope.

The damage of war can be overcome and what was once uninhabitable shells of homes and broken down lives can come to life again like spring after a hard winter. The refreshing breeze of peace and love that comes only from Jesus Christ through His victory over death and sin.  When it coms to spiritual battles, as the ‘Rooted’ book spells out, “And (the Lord) wins. Every. Single. Time.” (p 85)

Someone once wrote how, in the darkest of places, a single candle burns brightest. I saw such a candle in Bosnia. It came in the form of a simple, unpretentious man who loved His Lord and loved every single person God sent his way in a very dark place. The flame of his candle lit many small candles which will burn for generations when the Spirit moves to set those candles within His lampstand.

A completely dark black frame with one bright flame from a candle visible in the darkness

John writes, “We know that we are children of God and that the world is under the control of the evil one.” That is disconcerting to say the least. But in context, we find hope. The verse just before this one reads, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God (that’s Jesus)keeps him (that’s you if you truly believe)and the evil one (that’s Satan) does not touch him. Jesus told us we would have trouble in this world, but the Good News is that Jesus has overcome the world! He said so! Jesus doesn’t lie. Satan’s attacks will be all around us, but as believers, saved by grace through faith, even if we die because of a sinful world’s sickness, we are safe, secure, in heaven forever with Him.   

We live in a war zone. Live under the banner of the victor. Take heed to what He teaches about daily survival and keep a long-view, looking toward the completion of all things under Christ.

THE LAST BREATH

They’ll keep the flag flying with a fresh and freeing breeze… not by death; but, by freedom from the highest mountains to the seas!

It’s been said our great flag flies not by the wind which rustles the leaves;

But, with the very last breath every fallen soldier breathes.

When on nights, so cold the air freezes in your chest, the flag flies high and brings a tightness to your breast,

Then come the memories of those past wars, the wounds, the faces and the scars.

Each one is reflected in the colored stripes and bold stars.

Every generation past and yet to come, will certainly be asked

To share their best for freedom and faithfully complete the task.

They’ll keep the flag flying with a fresh and freeing breeze… not by death; but, by freedom from the highest mountains to the seas!

Line of Duty

Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

How wide is the Line? How straight the path? What is it within a person driving them to take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, to uphold the laws of the city, county or state for which they serve? For so many, it is a dream of a lifetime to someday become part of the Thin Blue Line. Just last summer, Natalie Corona fulfilled a lifetime dream of receiving her commission as a police officer for the City of Davis in California and on January 10, 2019, Officer Corona was gunned down while responding to a traffic crash.  She had told her father, before attending the police academy, “Dad, this is what I want to do.” Her father is a retired Colusa County Sheriff’s Deputy. No doubt her Dad is asking the same question  many retired law enforcement officers ask themselves each time another officer is killed in the line of duty. Why them? Why not me?

No doubt, most every retired police officer has faced a share of hard times, even wounds and some debilitating injuries. This author is one of those who has shared in instances where life was on the line and has scars and pain to remind me of the good ol’ days. I survived. I lived long enough to be able to complain about the pension fund and look with envy upon the young officers who are now walking the Line, praying for them daily because the threats are real, and the Line is narrow. I fulfilled my early life’s dream to be a police officer like my oldest brother and I have seen, now, my son pin on the badge. How the Line will fare for him, only the Lord knows and thankfully, my son trusts in Christ’s capable hands.

Each year, as the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty increases, there are thousands of officers who bend their knees in prayer to ask the Lord’s grace upon the families and department for each one. The Lord knows when every sparrow falls and, so much more, when servants of the public lay down their lives. Christ spoke highly of those who lay down their lives for others.

Recently, I wrote an article titled Survival Strong which I hope will appear soon in the POFCI magazine. In that article, I wrote:

“I can also assure you of two things. First, God sees everything that you do in His Name. Second, He will reward you for it some day in the not too far distant future. Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

Again, to the family of Natalie Corona and the Davis Police Department, I send our prayers and deepest sympathies. To Natalie’s father, I give the assurance of Scripture when Jesus says, “No greater love has any man than this that he lay down his life for a friend.” May she be remembered always for her zeal and dedication to law enforcement. Would it be Natalie’s would be the last line of duty death for 2019, though we know such is not to be.

May God bless each and every officer and keep them safe, trusting in the strength of Christ.

Clouds on the horizon create a reminder of the Thin Blue Line
Photo by Daniel W. Riggs, used by permission from “Stretching the Thin Blue Line: Policing America in Times of Heightened Threat”

A Watering Trough or Mountain Spring?

Reflections on John Piper’s devotion,

Serve God with Your Thirst

Please take a few minutes to read John Pipers, Serve God with Your Thirst, before enjoying this reflection.

At a recent gathering of Christian men; a dear brother read to us John Piper’s Serve God with Your Thirst. I was hit square on by the passage  and want to share some of my own reflections from that first view  of this work. In his devotional titled, Solid Joys, Piper has penned this short piece and he makes the analogy between a watering trough and a mountain spring. Having been the keeper of horses, (I’m not certain anyone truly owns a horse, but they allow themselves to be kept, fed, cared for and, upon occasion, will acquiesce to a rider), I found the analogy striking. Piper writes, “God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket.”

Something Piper did not report was that a watering trough is a breeding ground for all types of yuck. Without a good power washing or scrubbing, before long there are more things living in the trough than are supplied by it. Mosquitos, fly larvae, and some bacteria without nice names will soon make the trough not just unusable, but unsafe. A mountain spring, however, is forever new, refreshed, clean, crisp and clear. Piper’s analogy, of course, is succinct. Our indwelling in Christ is not of our work, but His.

He goes on to write,” If you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough, you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring, you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction, until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell the people what you’ve found.”

Recently, my wife and I sat on the patio of a restaurant along the bank of a river. As we watched, the river run past. The cool breeze of the afternoon was a welcome relief from the hot summer sun over us, shaded just enough by the grape arbor and magnificent oak that grew along the water’s edge. I remarked how the water pushing past us just then, rushing toward the Ohio River then working its way south to the Gulf of Mexico, would not come past us again. It was gone. But, even before it was out of reach, new water arrived to replace it. And so, it is with God’s grace. A mountain spring whose waters are fresh every second invite you to drink deeply, even wade in and allow the water to cover you. That the grace of God could be felt like that cool, mountain spring, pouring over us, new every minute.

https://desiringgod.org/articles/serve-god-with-your-thirst
trough photos courtesy of West Fork Ranch – Western Country Realty and Current Events in Historical Perspective The Ohio State – Dry Days Downunder
Smokey Mountain Spring Photograph courtesy Don F. Bradford