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.

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.

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

 

per-spec-tive {pƏr’spektiv}, n

This morning I had been awakened sometime after four with some nagging issues on my mind. It was meant for me, I think, to sit in the dark room, in my grandmother’s rocking chair; listening to its almost melancholy creaking noises, as I slowly rocked back and forth. (At least I think it was the chair that was making the creaking sounds!) My thoughts were mostly about a teaching assignment. The assignment turned in by one student had me concerned. As I worked through the issue, I could hear the gentle sounds of two of my pre-school age grandchildren asleep in the same room where I was sitting. The soft rustling by the children against the creak of the old rocker and the dark of the room contrasting the bright light of my computer screen, as I penned a response to my student, all sought to give me some perspective. A short time later, I looked out the window to see the sun slowly breaking through the eastern sky and almost straight above it was the crescent moon, as if it was battling to keep its place in the sky from the on-coming day. Perspective.

I know I have written before about my father who was aboard a PC boat, a patrol-craft, the 1261 which was the first recorded ally ship sunk at the D-Day invasion. My dad lived, though many of his shipmates did not. To this day, it is not known for certain whether my father’s ship was sunk by a shore battery or a torpedo from a U-boat that hit the PC1261 mid-ship, directly below where my dad was manning the radio room. The complement of sailors aboard the 1261 was usually just under sixty. My dad’s ship spent most of its duty hours escorting ships across the shark and U-boat infested waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic When the 1261 was sunk, she lost 13 of her crew to the Channel.

This morning, I read an article about German U-boats, the scourge of the Atlantic during the war. According to an article on the PC Sailors Association website[i], the presence of the PC boats (sixty in all) deterred the U-boat activity and were credited with only a few U-boats sunk; but, the threat of their depth charges was real.

According to the U-boat article, there were 1154 submarines commissioned and, of those, 795 were sunk. Of the 40,000 German sailors assigned to U-boats, 30,000 men, or 75 percent, were killed when their ships were sunk[ii]. Over sixty-five percent of the ships were lost at sea.

The fear of an unseen enemy deep underwater for those on the PC boats and the terror of the sound of a falling depth charge which could mean your U-boat becomes a steel tomb at the bottom of the ocean – perspective.

trolls

Don’t get me wrong, here. I know, as well as most, that life is not all “cupcakes and rainbows” and no amount of glitter can just make everything Okay. Cooper and Sky Diamond could follow you around all day and you will still have all the concerns with which you started! Do you really want your day determined by trolls, anyway?

The key to perspective is who is in charge. When I am in charge, I am the center and everything must be about me. It is my pain, it is my inability to sleep, or my… you can fill in the blank. If God is in charge then there is a reason or something to be gained by everything. My not sleeping gives me time to appreciate the night, the children and the chair. My care is for the students, the people I will meet in the day and finding ways that God intends for me to be a blessing for them. Does perspective make the pain and problems go away? No, but it can shrink them to the right size for them to fit into God’s plan for your life and He will be at the center. Someone once said if you are down at the bottom of a very deep well, the only way to look is up!

frog

 

[i] http://ww2pcsa.org/patrol-craft.html

[ii] http://usasocialcondition.com/incredible-facts-that-will-give-you-a-new-perspective-on-world-war-ii/6/

When Life Doesn’t Fit

God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His!

 

Have you ever had times when, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot make life fit into that perfect little box you have been constructing all your life? You know the box I’m talking about. Your parents and even your grandparents probably helped you build it. Certainly, in today’s world, the media helps you build it. Back in my day, shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and a dozen more fantasy television shows built the box that most of us in our WASP worlds saw as normal family life. Movies showed us patriotism and that things ALWAYS worked out happily ever after in the end. Even when you fall off a 150-foot cliff and an anvil slams down on top of you, you will be just fine; at least if you are Wile E. Coyote.

If you went to the kind of church many of us did, you also had neatly tucked into the back of your mind the list of Do’s and Don’ts that make for good people. Some churches would even give you a box to keep that list in! There was a definite line between good and evil. Such things were black and white. Why else would the good guys on the late-night westerns always wear a white hat and the bad guys a black one? It was all part of our box that we had so carefully constructed. We couldn’t even consider that our boxes could be made to come apart.

Is there a certain amount of pressure that, when applied to the box, makes things fit the way they should? Can that unknown amount of pressure cause the box to go flying into a gazillion pieces across the room?

It is difficult enough when the box you have with things sticking out in all directions that is starting to come apart is your own; but, what if that box you had built was one you had constructed for your child? You know, that precious wonderful child of yours, no matter what age, that you love more than life itself… you have in your mind, in your heart really, as to how their life will be so much more comfortable, less stressful, less hurtful than yours was and that all their wondrous dreams will come true. That is the special box you have built for them. Then, for what seems like no fair reason, nothing is fitting in that box. Your heart is absolutely crushed as you see your child now faced with a life that is nothing like you would like it to be. Sometimes, maybe it is because of their own bad choices; yet so often, it is because of someone else’s hurtful actions. Boxes can also be smashed by something even more difficult to get a handle on, a vicious disease that has grabbed hold of your child, sending your box careening across the room.box

Whenever our boxes get busted, there is a great tendency to blame just about everyone, including God. It took quite a bit of time for me to work through how my own box just couldn’t possibly hold all of what I expected life was supposed hold. I finally learned that much of what I thought was supposed to be in my box was just completely unrealistic, too much Loonie Toons and not enough 60 Minutes. Now that I’m pushing the door open on my sixth decade, I know that a portion the box busting was because of my own bad choices along the way too, although at the time I wouldn’t have seen it.

What about those times when your box starts breaking apart and it is because of the horrific actions of another? Is it better when there is someone to blame? Is it worse when there is just an organism or a genetic anomaly to blame and not a person? Does God take the heat even more when what appears as such a senseless hurt has no one at which to point your finger?

Certainly, there can be very real times when the grief caused by the bursting of one’s life expectations is the result of the sin or evil actions of another. Not a day goes by when there isn’t a crime committed by a person with no regard for life, whether his or another’s. The multiple boxes that can be shattered by that one person’s actions can result in a firestorm of anger and resentment and some of that will still be shoved on God. We shake our fist or scream out at God and demand to know why He allowed such hurt.

As I have studied the wondrous Scriptures with this question in mind, I have come up with one very profound truth. To be quite self-asserting, I don’t know that any student of the Bible, any theologian, great preacher or teacher of the holy book has ever found this particular bit of wisdom, at least not in the way I have discovered it! (Okay, I said all of that just to whet your appetite for what I am about to share… even Solomon once said there is nothing new under the sun!)

When we are ready to demand from God why He would so destroy our boxes, the truth that the Bible will make clear to us is: God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His! It is true that Jesus was a carpenter, a very well-trained one to be sure. It is also true that He is the master creator of everything. God’s Word tells us in the book of John that without Him nothing was made that was made!

God doesn’t build boxes and He doesn’t design boxes either. People who are big on ‘RELIGION’ like to believe that their boxes are uniquely designed by God to make certain that His people do church the one right way. They are mistaken. One box may be three hymns and an offering or a sermon with three points and a prayer. Another box may be candles in the corners and censers flying in all directions while a low voice mumbles a liturgy that no one can hear and, even if they did, they wouldn’t understand a word of it because it is in Latin! Boxes like those into which people have stuffed their religion are usually rectangular and have a lid. It’s appropriate that they resemble a coffin.

God did provide us with a framework for how He would have us to live out our lives here and even about how to do church. The base boards are these: Love the Lord your God all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.  That’s for us as we seek to live in community with one another. As to how we are to pattern ourselves individually to please God, He gave us three side boards. They are: Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God. Then when it came to being useful as a Church body, He gave us two great handles for us to hold: Baptism and Communion. Finally, God knew that the living of life and the doing of church would often require us to bear some burdens, our own and one another’s; so, to the framework He gave us he added an axle by telling us to ‘GO’ and He added two wheels, evangelism and discipleship.

If LIFE doesn’t FIT in your BOX, try Christ’s push-cart instead.pushcart

 

The Loss of One

When an officer is killed in the line of duty, the Thin Blue Line becomes, at once, thinner and still stronger.

Who has not suffered loss? Who has not, in quiet of those moments as the soul awakens at the dawn of a new day, sought to understand the questions of why? In searching to understand the nature of loss, I find that those who have written before me seem to be focused on the how and why and not the more important questions of why not and what’s next? Certainly, there are those who have penned volumes on how to overcome grief, to move on in life; but, that is not my meaning.

The question of what is next, when we face the loss of one so dear to us, is not one of, how do I cope with life without my loved one; nor is it, what comes next for the soul who has ceased to walk his earthbound road. For the Christ-follower, those questions have been answered through the lives of those before us and in the sacred pages of Scripture. The sure and certain hope of a resurrection to new life answers the latter and the former is clearly understood by our desire of the heart to serve the Lord no matter what station of life He has allowed for us. Our direction for the way in which we should go and the strength by which to travel that road are found in the Apostle’s words, ‘This life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Strength of resolve, strength of faith is given to us by God’s Holy Spirit as we have both the need for it and the vessel within which to carry it. One of our purposes before such a crisis is to grow closer to Christ so that He may form us into just such a vessel.

I have also found in my years of observing our human condition that intertwined with our spirituality is that a true sense of immortality is present in each of us. We know, even though we may not understand, that our being realizes that we are meant to live forever and that there is only but the changing of one form, destructible, for another, the immortal. Even the most secular of minds seems to realize that even as his body has aged, the person that he is, inside, is the same as when he was decades younger. Though certainly wiser, we hope and matured. One author wrote that, as we age that which we express as virtue is more related to a lack of energy than a strength of will. Still, we move forward in the ever-diminishing race of time and, as we go, we find that with each loss of some part of ourselves there is a corresponding increase in another for which we had little awareness previously. The loss of the ability to move any great distance is replaced by an appreciation for those things close at hand. It is with this line of thinking stirring inside of me that I pause to consider the loss of yet another law enforcement officer at the hands of a felon.

The Thin Blue Line stands as a symbol of the impervious nature of our commitment to keep anarchy from reaching the civilization, seen in the microcosm of our homes and neighborhoods, our communities and towns that we so dearly love; more for the people who are in them than for the brick and mortar of which they are made. When an officer is killed in the line of duty; the Thin Blue Line becomes, at once, thinner and still stronger. The loss of one may be but a ripple in the thousands who bear the badge of authority daily to keep The Line strong here in America; yet, still that ripple will reach every single member of that army of knights sworn to do battle for the king. Not only the knights, but each of their respective families. There is a true sense of there but by the grace of God go I. None are immune to the possibility that each day that shift may be their own EOW (End of Watch) so every single death is felt by the thousands.

One would think that such thoughts would have a debilitating effect upon the forces of good who seek to restrain evil that raises its repulsive head. Like the nemeses of ancient times, the Hydra – as each vile head was cut off, another grew in its place; the strength of the Thin Blue Line seems to react to the loss of even a single officer by becoming even more resilient. If human characteristics can be given to an image like The Line, its determination grows with each strike against it. Any attempt to breach The Line by an assault against one of its own can be the precursor for its growth in its ability to endure and its resolve to never fail. Perhaps those human characteristics that we confer to The Line are merely reflections of those characteristics of the men and women and the families that make up that very real personality that we respectfully call the Thin Blue Line. It is humbly, then, that we come before God and ask that He continue to bless all who stand The Line; that He would protect the warriors as they seek to battle the forces of evil who seek to destroy. For we know, just as we sense our own immortality; that this battle is not ours; but His, and that He has already won the ultimate victory. We know, too, that our job is to stand strong in His strength and to be girded with the armor that the Apostle Paul described in Ephesians chapter 6; the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the sandals of the Good News of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.

Perhaps the resilience of the Thin Blue Line comes from the blessings each member of The Line receives from God. For as Paul writes in the same passage in Ephesians, “For our struggle 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.” 1 Certainly the death of one of our own diminishes us all, in some regard; but, it also brings us back to the source of our strength. Our strength can be renewed and we then can fly upon eagles’ wings.