Archive for July, 2009

A Teddy Bear From God…

teddybear          “In the Bible clouds are always associated with God.” Oswald Chambers, July 29

          Almost everyone has at one time or another laid on the ground and stared at the clouds trying to figure out what they might represent. Clouds come in all sizes and shapes. Some fly at high altitudes, some hang low to the earth. Some are cheerful and some are dark. I have always been amazed when flying on an overcast gloomy day as the plane ascends to greater heights, then suddenly you rise above the dark cloud formations and bright sunshine and blue skies appear. There is always a nice day up there somewhere.

          Clouds give warning of a change in the weather. (Luke 12:54) Jesus ascended on a cloud (Acts 1:9) God guided Israel through the wilderness during the day by a cloud. (Ex. 13.21) Moses approached God who was in the thick cloud on the mountain. (Ex. 20:21)  The Son of Man will come again on the clouds. (Matt. 24:30) All the saints will meet the Lord in the clouds. (1Thes.4:17)  Clouds are used by God for His purposes in our lives.  They are signs of His providence and He uses them to guide us, to warn us and to earmark His movements.

          God provided a cloud for Peter, James and John during the “Transfiguration”. (Luke 9:34) They were afraid as they entered the cloud but God spoke to them and told them to listen to His Son (v.35). As the low lying clouds form in our lives and we see the storm approaching  are we looking for Jesus in the cloud or is there someone else? That someone else might be self or it might be the enemy. Either one can only have a place in the cloud if we invite them otherwise Jesus is always in the cloud. He promised that He would never leave us. There is always a brighter day when we rise above the dark clouds and let His light shine in. It’s always after the storm that God places His rainbow in the sky as a reminder that He is the original promise keeper.

          One of the most popular ways of describing the trinity is that of the example of H20. It can be water, ice or vapor. These are the same elements that clouds are made of. Perhaps we have the opportunity to meet Jesus in the clouds everyday. Truth be told, most of us probably spent more time staring at the clouds when we were children. When once again we  “become like children” (Matt.18:3), the next cloud God sends us  just might be a Teddy Bear.

Oswald Chambers quotestaken from “My Utmost For His Highest – July 29, Biblical quotes taken from NASB version

Where Have All The Followers Gone?

ducks          There is a presumption about leadership that is seldom discussed today. Leadership has no meaning without having someone who is willing to follow. I’ll admit right upfront that this seems a little like the chicken/egg scenario in determining which comes first, leadership or followership? (OK, I just invented a new word but it seemed to fit.) As a culture we seem to only follow when we agree with our leaders. Prior to the Vietnam war it would have been unthinkable to run to another country rather than serve but during the sixties many decided to reside in Canada and abandon the good old USA. Then they were pardoned and all came home without performing service in the armed forces. What message were we sending to our citizens about commitment? Follow only when you agree?

          Deciding whether or not we should follow someone or something is really a value judgement we place upon the related authority. If the speed limit for driving is 55 mph and we decide to drive 65 we make a value judgement that this is OK. (At least until the police officer persuades us to think differently). It all began when we were children. I might have decided to disobey if I thought I could get away with it. The value was in doing what I wanted to do, hoping to escape the consequences. So there seems to always be an element of risk involved. I suppose there is always a risk in following as well. We might be taken where we would rather not go. The question then becomes one of authority and whose or what authority do we place ourselves under.

          What an oddity we are as a nation. We elect leaders who are supposed to represent what we think. I guess that might make us the alleged leaders and the elected officials the followers. Oh if it were only that simple. I’m starting to get confused and I’m doing the writing. I believe the original premise was that we would elect or appoint people with experience and an expertise to fill each position. That notion seemed to vanish when we started electing wrestlers and actors to run our state governments. Now we appoint czars without experience to oversee government owned corporations that are already in trouble. Perhaps an important ingredient for the leader/follower equation is that the leader should be believable and we as followers begin by giving them an even chance to prove themselves. In a society that possesses a micro-wave mentality we seem free to change with every new politically correct wind that blows our way.

          In order not to be driven by every wind suggests that we need to be grounded by something. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:14) he states “…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; (vs.15) but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the Head, even Christ,”…  I left the first three words of vs. 14 off in order to come back to them. “As a result…” For us not to be subject to every wind of political correctness or the trickery and scheming of men we must arrive at a point where we are a “result”. A result of what? For that we need to consider the previous verses that tell us about His ascension and the gifts freely given to us in order that we may be equipped to be saints in His service. Verse 13 describes  the “unity of faith”, maturity and stature “which belongs to the fulness of Christ;”  We can only stand against the trickery and schemes of our times by being committed followers of Jesus Christ. We cannot gloss over the committed part. This process implies sacrifice and cost but promises freedom and deliverance. Before any of us can be a respected leader we must first become a committed follower.

          In summary it would seem that each of us must choose what authority we come under and make a conscience decision to commit to that authority, taking the risk that there is something of greater importance than self interest alone. This may be the first giant step in learning to be a follower and subsequently learning to become an even better leader.

          Biblical quotes taken from the NASB version.


chevelle 021

          As far back as I can think I have been crazy about cars. I’m sure we can find a lot to blame on the sixties but it was a great time to grow up being a car nut. The big three were in their heyday and there was an excitement in the air each fall when the new models would arrive. Early in September there would be those teaser commercials where they would pull back a part of the sheet placed over the car to reveal just enough to wet your appetite. When the new cars finally hit the showroom the public would flock to the dealerships to see what the new styles had to offer. A new breed of cars had been brought to the market later to be dubbed as “muscle cars”.  (They are now highly prized by collectors and car buffs.) What would the manufacturers give to have that kind of excitement back at such little cost in advertising? In fact, where did the excitement go?

                    There were several contributing factors that caused the buying public to lose their enthusiasm. In 1970 the EPA dictated certain emission control levels and the muscle car era came to a screeching halt as horsepower became more restricted. Foreign imports were gaining in popularity and consumers began to favor smaller, more economical cars. The quality of the foreign cars were deemed superior to the American product. Most families were becoming two car families as more than one paycheck became necessary to keep up with the Joneses. The biggest factor killing the fall anticipation levels happened when the American car manufacturer decided to keep the same body styling year in and year out. The reason for the September excitement was gone forever. The problems facing the big three today actually have their roots in the events of the late sixties and seventies.

          What does all of this have to do with RESToration? Let me begin by reminiscing about my first new car purchase. It happened 1967 when I placed an order for a 1967 Chevelle from Chevrolet. It took approximately eight weeks to have one built and delivered and I thought it would never arrive. Once it did, needless to say, I was quite pleased. Dad wouldn’t allow me to have many options (nor could I afford them) but it was all mine, payments included. The picture above is of a 1967 Chevelle that I now own and love to drive. When I’m behind the wheel it reminds me of a simpler, perhaps clearer time in our country. This car has been completely restored and it now reflects what the manufacturer intended back in ’67. Restoration for a car is taking it back to new, making it like it was when it was created. Spiritually speaking God offers us the same sort of renewal. One that reflects the intent of His creation rather than the worldly, worn version we become without going through His restoration process.

          When a car is restored, it still must be maintained in order to keep its shiny new image. For Christians, we also require regular maintenance in order to walk in the newness of life. Cars require tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotations, cleaning and tinkering. Spiritually we require prayer time, time in the Word, fellowship and solitude. Solitude is where the rest comes in RESToration. God gave us the concept of Sabbath rest for our own maintenance. Each of us need to spend reflective time before our creator, contemplating His word and listening for His direction. This allows Him time to fine tune His will for our lives. We get a new spark, recharged with hope and faith that otherwise erodes under the strain of daily life. Restored cars need to be used otherwise seals dry up and things don’t get lubricated as they should and performance suffers. Restored people need to be used by the creator for His intended purpose or we dry up and our performance will suffer. If you don’t plan for quiet time before the Lord it will never happen. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature…” 1Cor.5:17 (NASB)

Who is Vinko Bogataj?

          I remember when we only had three channels to choose from on the TV, one for each of the three major networks. If you are over forty and of pre-ESPN vintage you will undoubtedly recall ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”. I may be a bit nostalgic and perhaps you will call me crazy but there was an excitement about TV programming in those days that seems to be missing now that we have a couple of hundred channels to surf. Every week from 1961 thru 1998 WWS gave us great fast paced sports coverage from around the world. For more than a decade the show began each week with this moniker: “SPANNING THE GLOBE, TO BRING YOU THE CONSTANT VARIETY OF SPORTS. THE THRILL OF VICTORY, AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT. THE DRAMA OF ATHLETIC COMPETITION. THIS IS ABC’S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS.”

          If you are young enough not to remember the show you probably are familiar with the phrase “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. On March 21, 1970 Vinko Bogataj competed in West Germany in the world championship ski-jumping competition. Although he never ranked high as a world class jumper he managed to capture fame on that day. It was not for his earlier spectacular jump but rather for his spectacular crash later on that caused him to become America’s symbol for the “agony of defeat”.  America watched Vinko crash every week at the opening of the show for probably more than a decade. As I look back I cannot think of any particular footage used for the victory side of the equation but the ski- jump crash will forever be embedded in my mind. 

          In his own words Vinko states “the difference between victory and defeat is very slight”.  As the jump iced up and his descent became faster than he expected Vinko tried to stop which resulted in his horrific crash. Fortunately for him, he only sustained a slight concussion. There are several interesting points concerning this story. Vinko achieved fame but was unaware of his celebrity status for twenty one years. With the advent of the Internet that couldn’t happen today but back then he was behind the “iron-curtain” and communications were severely limited. He gained no worldly fame for his success that day only his failure. He was courageous enough to compete in what I think is a very challenging sport yet his courage wasn’t up to the unforeseen icy conditions.

          Vinko could not have foreseen the outcome of that memorable day. He didn’t foresee the change in the weather conditions before attempting his ill fated jump. I wonder what would have made the “slight difference” for him between victory and success? What a great analogy for life. We don’t always foresee the changes in our circumstances before we collide smack into them. We are never sure of the outcome of any particular day. Our challenge is to have the courage to face life with the preparedness to draw upon that slight difference that will result in the “thrill of victory” rather than the “agony of defeat”. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”Ps. 27:13 (NASB) Perhaps that slight difference rests in the gift of faith from God himself.

Golf and God

July Pics 008
          I can think of no other sport that emulates Christianity as does the game of golf. It seems the harder you try to improve your game the more difficult it is to achieve the desired outcome. Anyone who has played the game for any length of time will confirm the necessity of relaxation. When you try to force a shot with all your strength the ball seems to have a mind of it’s own. When you relax and let the club do the work it seems so easy and you become self assured. Sometimes when you are tired and not doing well it seems that you cannot summon any ability whatsoever. It’s difficult to achieve consistency and when the ball finds a sand trap, water or lands out of bounds temptation may set in to behave badly in a total fleshly moment. It would seem that the man who invented the game understood the struggles of the Christian life quite well.

          Between the sport and the desire to live a spiritual life I have discovered how desparetly I want to be in control. The secret in each case is submissiveness not control. When you think about it, there is very little we can control. We are at the mercy of our environment. For example the weather will be what it will be no matter how hard I try to change it. We age and there is nothing we can do about it. The need to accept the external pressures of life and trust in divine intervention is crucial for all of us.

          With that said let me make it clear that life isn’t a journry of mindless acceptance. Whether you are playing golf or trying to improve your walk there is an effort required. We must apply ourselves to certain disciplines that will develop  the characteristics  needed to perform at a higher level. A devotional comittment is required in any area of life that will serve to enhance the results we would like to achieve. In golf it may be require regular trips to the driving range or lesson from a pro. It takes constant practice. As far as spiritual development goes, devotional time, time in the Word, time for rest (Sabbath type rest), prayer and a close one on one relationship with an other believer or mentor can be of great value.

          Great golfers struggle less. They don’t swing the club as many times. They don’t miss the mark quite as much as the rest of us. Great disciples can find that same consistency in addressing the issues of life that we all struggle with. In both cases we must apply our efforts to devotion and discipline . We must stop trying so hard and surrender to a new set of abilities that aren’t so natural to us.

Dog’s Have Great Personalities

dog          Have you ever been to one of those shows where the animals are so well trained that they seem smarter than the humans. We recently saw such a display at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster. Animals run down the aisle, across the stage and fly through the air all on cue. A few years ago I saw Siegfried and Roy and was amazed how the wild animals performed during the show.

          With this in mind I’ve been having a little fun in my own neighborhood. Several of my neighbors walk their dog past my home at least once a day if not more frequent. I like to spend time in my garage so I keep a bag of dog treats on hand and as the dog walkers come by and I treat each pooch to a tasty snack. It’s amazing how quickly they catch on. My favorite dog is an older black lab named “Wrigley”. (They moved here from Chicago) Wrigley weighs a good seventy pounds and he scopes out my house every time he comes by. His owner swears he gets excited just seeing my truck in the driveway. When I appear in the driveway his ears perk up and he comes running, dragging his master behind practically dislocating his shoulder.  I’ve been thinking about appearing a little sooner to see how the dragging works out for about a block or so.  Ok, maybe that’s a little sick.
          Wouldn’t it be great if people had the attention span of a dog. Whenever I walk up to the counter and place my order at a fast food restaurant – “I’ll have the number three to go please”, why is it that the next question is always, “will that be for here or to go? ” Maybe I should carry treats with me and after a few trips they would remember me. I would simply pull a cookie out of my pocket and hold it at eye level as I place my request. Upon successfully executing my order I would flip them the cookie.
          There was a joke circulating around the inter net that went basically like this. Lock your dog and you wife in the trunk of your car for an hour and see which one is going to be the happiest to see you when you open the trunk. Dogs have an amazing capacity for love and loyalty. They can be very sensitive to the moods and needs of their master. Maybe by considering the dog you can teach an old human a new trick.