Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Cross and Apple Blossoms

I traveled to the bottom of the state of Illinois today to the town of Anna. I met with a group of pastors and we dialogued about evangelism. I decided to take a scenic route home. I drove on west about 5 miles and then headed north on IL Route 127. The next 25 miles is one of the most scenic in our state, especially this time of year when the apple trees are in full bloom. As my truck groaned up the hills I marveled at the freshness and newness of life.  I smiled at the potential of fruitfulness that danced upon the landscape. I glanced to the west and saw the large white cross perched atop a hill known as Bald Knob near Alto Pass, IL. I exited the highway and drove a winding road five miles through the timber and then walked to the foot of the cross. The wind was brisk so I did not stay long. But I tarried long enough to reflect upon how a cross, a cruel instrument of death, became God’s tool to bring life and salvation to the world. Since that time, while the cross may remind of us death, it has become a symbol of life and hope.

I have been weepy all day. In fact, I have been weepy for a week or so. I needed to see the apple blossoms. I needed to see the cross. I am not sure why I have been weepy as of late but I think it is because I have been feeling, or at least trying to feel, some of the pain that exist in the hearts of my brother Bryan, my sister in-law Renee, and my nephew Andrew. April 16, 2014 marks the 7th anniversary of my niece Austin Cloyd’s death. She was killed along with 31 others at the shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University in 2007. Though I make a feeble attempt to feel their pain I cannot imagine the depth of their hurt. But through my weepiness I found hope today. The apple blossoms prove that winter has been overtaken by spring and summers warmth will bring a harvest. Life can be good even though it has been bad. And that cross on top of Bald Knob shouts to my soul. Death may have its sting, but Christ has the victory.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Faithful Servant

I just sneezed. Immediately my 28 year old autistic son Brock  got up from his chair and soon he was standing beside my desk with a box of Kleenex. It is the same pattern every time Brock hears my sneeze. The pattern got started I guess a couple of years ago when I sneezed and then asked Brock to get me a Kleenex. He graciously performed the task. Every since that time whenever I sneeze he will stop whatever he is doing, go to the bathroom and come back with the box of Kleenex. Sometimes I try to stop him by telling him that he does not need to do or that I do not need a Kleenex. But there is no stopping him. If he hears me sneeze he is off to the races to perform this service for me. He has been known to interrupt his meal or get out of bed at night to attend to my need. Service has become a habit for him. He appears to do it not just as a duty but with love and joy. The scriptures teach us that the greatest among us are those who serve others. I sure do have a great son.

But I am left to wonder this morning how difficult it seems for most of us to develop a pattern of being a servant. And when we do develop that pattern it often becomes a duty and drudgery rather than an exercise of love and joy. How easy it is to become weary in well doing. Being a servant is not the normal pattern of the general populous. Being a faithful servant is unusual. Yet we have been called to develop this attitude and to perform service to others. It is this rarity of becoming a servant that makes us great.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Thousand and Three Boxes of Girlscout Cookies

While driving down Main Street today I saw two girls standing in the cold and snow flurries dressed up as cookies. One was a Thin Mint and the other was a Samoa. I am a sucker for this scene. Not because I cannot live without the cookies. But because I appreciate the work of the Girl Scouts, like to support their work, and contribute to their entrepreneurial education. The look of satisfaction on the face of a Girl Scout when she makes a sale is worth the $4 price of the cookies. So today I drove around the block, stopped, chatted with the Girl Scouts, and bought 4 boxes. 

I have a soft spot for the Girl Scouts because of my experience with my daughter when she was a Girl Scout. She was the cookie seller and I was her sales manager. Honestly, I think I enjoyed the experience more than she did. I like selling things and I was determined I was going to make a salesperson out of her. I also had a rule that I was not going to sale them for her but that she had to make the contacts and take the orders. So on the first day of cookie sales we would hit the streets together and with my encouragement she would ring the door bell and when people came to the door she would ask “would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies”?  Some would buy and she would be happy. Some would say no and sometimes she would get multiple “no’s” in a row and would get a little discouraged. I tried to help her understand that often in life the answer was no and that a negative answer just gives you the opportunity to move on to the next door. We learned to take orders in places of business and that the orders were often larger there. She took her order sheet to church and found lots of friendly buyers there. We learned that repeat business was best and having secured phone numbers from the previous year’s sales sheet she was able to take a lot of orders by phone. Over the years she took special interest in some of her customers. Like the widower who lived a few blocks from us, had a house full of cats and always had to show her the weaving work he was doing with rugs. He would buy several boxes but the sale was never quick. You had to give him 15-20 minutes of your life. But he needed that and we were enriched by the experience. We thought she had sold a lot of cookies one year when she sold 737 boxes. But the next year she sold 1003 boxes. To put this in perspective, if you take the back two rows of seats out of a mini-van and fill it with 1003 boxes of cookies you have just enough room for the driver and the Girl Scout. Of course then you have to deliver all those cookies and collect the money. But when it was over she had helped her troop earn some money and she earned for herself some “cookie dough” to pay a large part of her way to summer Girl Scout Camp. Perhaps my daughter would say I was a tough sales manager. But for me it was a treasured experience that I got to share with her. And if I see Girl Scouts selling cookies I am going to buy some.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Souvenir Christianity

Last Sunday I shared about our Lord’s Supper service in which we used olive wood cups to serve the juice. I relayed how that after a two and one-half hour time lapse between filling the cups and partaking of the Lord’s Supper that some of the cups had completely absorbed the juice and that the juice having taken on the taste of the olive wood tasted bitter. Each participant took the used cup home with them as a souvenir. When the cups dried however we noticed that the juice had left a crimson stain. No amount of rinsing could wash it away. I noted that these facts reminded me of how we are supposed to absorb Christ and how having absorbed him our lives are changed. If Christ does absorb us we will be stained and that stain is His identifying mark upon us. I noted that the bitter taste of the juice reminded me of the bitter cross Christ had to bear. As followers of Christ we also are sometimes called upon to be involved in bitter work. My friend Pat Pajak told me afterwards that I should have used white grape juice and waited to fill the cups about 30 minutes before the Lord’s Supper service. That way less juice would be absorbed by the cup, it would not take on as much taste from the wood, and the cup would not be stained. That sounds like good logistical thinking. It would be less messy and the people could go home with a less blemished souvenir.  

On the other hand maybe we have just identified a problem of the Christian faith. We engage in to much souvenir Christianity. We have no desire to absorb very much of Christ. We come to worship looking for a small and quick dose of Christ and if we discover we got a little to much we can rinse it off. It does not change us much. Therefore it does not prepare us to taste the bitter cup of suffering nor does it compel us to drink the often bitter cup of service. It is a stainless faith. I guess that kind of faith makes a good souvenir. But it does not identify us and it does not make much difference in the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Memorable Lord's Supper

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper last Sunday morning. We served the juice in cups made of olive wood that had been made in Bethlehem. I had bought the cups on my recent trip to Israel with the intent that after using them each partaker could take the cup home with them as a souvenir. It was a different experience with observations worthy of notice. We had filled the cups before the Sunday School hour. By the time we served the cup at the end of the worship time two and one-half hours had lapsed. When I stepped down from the platform to serve the Lord’s Supper I noticed that the olive wood cups had absorbed some of the juice. In fact a few of the cups had completely absorbed all the juice that had been poured into them. It occurred to me that as God’s chosen vessels we are to absorb Christ becoming more and more like Him each day. When we drank from the cup it tasted bitter. The fruit of the vine had taken on the flavor of olive wood. It reminded me of the bitter cup Christ had to drink in bearing our sin on the cross. From a different angle I thought of how the presence of Christ changes the flavor of our lives and how His love and mercy and grace and peace can change the flavor of the world. I thought of how Christ drank a bitter cup in order that the world might taste a sweeter cup. The folks took the now empty and juice saturated cups home with them. I took mine as well and sat it on my desk to dry. When it had dried it was left with a reddish stain. The stain reminds me of Christ’s mark upon our lives. For when we truly absorb Christ we are not the same. We have been changed. We are different. His mark is upon us. That mark is left to remind us of who we are. It is left to cause those whom we encounter to inquire about who we are.

What Should I Do With These Stones?

When I was in Israel I saw a lot of houses made with stone. Timber was scarce in Israel but stones were plentiful. I marveled at the stone structures of antiquity. It required skilled engineering and craftsmanship and an enormous amount of labor to build the theaters and arches and walls and roadways that are still with us today. They managed to turn rocks into an asset and did so without benefit of modern technology. I was amazed at the walls and buildings of Old Jerusalem. How did they get two and a half-ton rocks in place in order to build a high and mighty wall? I saw a rock in the rabbinical tunnel that was part of the retaining wall of the old temple area. It would have been at street level in the day of Jesus. That means I was looking at the same rock Jesus would have seen. It is calculated that it weighs 580 tons. How did they get it there in one piece? I do not know. But the ancients were really good at turning the common materials available into a valuable asset. But when you cut and craft stone there is going to be some waste. That means that somewhere there were piles of sharp, rough, jagged rocks lying around. They were not big enough to be useful but they were big enough to be dangerous. Maybe that is why one of the preferred methods of mob violence was stoning. We read that the Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. It occurs to me that rocks when coupled with intelligence, desire, planning, skill, and hard work can be turned into walls and roads and buildings. But when anger and misunderstanding prevails rocks can be turned into weapons of destruction. We can pick up rocks to build or we can pick up rocks to kill. Makes me wonder what I am doing with the rocks that are strewn along the paths I walk.

Monday, February 10, 2014

At Galilee

I walked one day where Jesus trod
In a village along the shore
I stood upon a sloping hill
Where he preached to five thousand or more

I ventured out onto the sea
Where Peter and John plied their trade
With mine own eyes I saw the place
Where Jesus taught and disciples made

I viewed the hills panoramic
Stoic, stately, still, and compact
From this backdrop He gave meaning
To faith, hope, and love so abstract

I recalled Peter and the others
When a fierce wind they had to face
Then came Jesus on the water
Reaching His hand of saving grace

I thought of how much in common,
Though it has been two thousand years
We have with those who lived in that day
How Jesus still can calm our fears

Jesus did not consider great
Those who held power in their hand
But had respect and compassion
For the weary who worked the land

I was there with many travelers
In their tears I discovered a clue
In each was a burdensome story
They had only told to a few
As I looked upon the marvel
I sensed a word to my hungry soul
Take my yoke upon your shoulders
Together we will reach the goal.

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