Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sweater Weather!

Summer, 2017, is history.  As the cool weather arrives, we reach for our sweaters.  We need to cover ourselves more than we did during the summer because we prefer comfort to shivering!  It is fascinating to consider that the time that Adam and Eve spent in the Garden of Eden was much the same story.

We read in Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.  It was apparently an ideal climate, and beyond that, our ancestors had nothing to hide.  They enjoyed the earth that God had created for them to govern, and they enjoyed unhindered relationship.  It was summer, so to speak, in the Garden.

And then came the fall.  Goaded by the serpent, Eve took the forbidden fruit, ate, and shared it with Adam.  Then they discovered they were naked.  The shame of their nakedness—not a change of season—prompted them to sew fig leaves together to cover themselves.  Fall had come to the Garden.

When the LORD God came looking for them, they hid out of fear, and in the subsequent conversation, we see them desperately grasping for moral covering: When God confronted Adam about his eating the forbidden fruit, Adam promptly blamed Eve and God for giving Eve to him.  Predictably, Eve blamed the serpent.  Now they were living in fear, shame, and broken relationship; and there was no place to hide.

I have to think that fig leaves sewn together did not make for particularly comfortable, effective, or durable clothing.  And before He evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden, God kindly made them clothing out of animal skins.  The animal-lover in me cringes that animals had to die because Adam and Eve sinned.  While their new clothes undoubtedly made it easier and more comfortable for them to live and work in a newly fallen and hostile world, the real problem remained: Adam and Eve had no moral covering, no means to cover their sin and sinfulness.  Fear, shame, and broken relationship become the warp and woof of the Genesis narrative as we read about Cain murdering Abel, Lamech’s boasting, Jacob’s deceptions, and Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. 

Ancient history is filled with the saga of sin compounded by sinners trying to cover up, justify, or blame others, or to “make up” for their wrongdoing by becoming do-gooders.  And the struggle continues to this day.  How many times do we excuse our bad behavior by saying we were tired, stressed, or someone “made” us angry.  Or we choose an alternate route and decide to “make up” for our sin by being law keepers who obey but do not love.  The “sin clothes” we construct to deny, minimize, or mask our sin are no more comfortable, effective, or durable than the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve. 

So here we are.  Dead in our sins and trespasses, as the Apostle Paul would say.  Our own devices of excuses and/or self-righteousness are no better than fig leaves.  But thanks be to God!  Once again, the loving, merciful, God has provided.  This time, it was not the blood of animals that was shed in order to clothe mankind; rather, it was the blood of God’s own Son that was shed to cover our sin.  Fear and shame, as well as the Law that would condemn us have become obsolete, as the author of Hebrews reminds us.

What are we to do with this glorious truth?  We have two choices.  We can give in to our sin nature and take the fig leaf route to dealing with our sin; or we can accept Christ’s covering and no longer hide in our fear and shame. 

While it is, I hope, obvious that the second path is the wiser of the two, it may be less obvious that it is vital to walk it in the company of God’s people.  Try as we might to avoid it, our sin nature provokes us to hurt one another, and the more we work together, the more our sin is exposed.  That is a good thing!  It is as our sin is exposed that we have the opportunity to confess and repent and experience forgiveness, love, mercy and grace.  And those blessings are even greater than a sweater in October.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Legacy of Winston Churchill

During World War II, while England was being battered by Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Winston Churchill's advice to the people was to "keep calm and carry on."  In our own time, the phrase has enjoyed countless permutations, most of them fun and entertaining.  A recent article in the Parade section of our newspaper put a new spin on Churchill's advice: "Be kind and carry on."  The article marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, who dedicated her time as a member of the royal family to touching the unfortunate with compassion and compassionate help.

I find this new wrinkle on Churchill's words to be a wonderful bit of advice: to make kindness a part of our daily business.  To be kind as we carry on, so to speak, does not make kindness an event; rather it makes kindness represent more and more who we are becoming.

The Apostle Paul included kindness in his list of gifts of the Holy Spirit, a reminder that kindness extends well beyond any effort on our part to be nice.  Kindness is the work of God, in us and through us.  As we depend on the Holy Spirit to conform us ever closer to the character of Jesus Christ, we will find that we will be able to offer kindness to others as an extension of who we are in Him.  Being kind as we carry on will then become the rhythm of our days.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Adventure of Phinneas P. Phoxmore

Once upon a time there was a large red fox named Phinneas P. Phoxmore.  Phinneas lived in a lovely forest just outside a small village.  The forest was green and lush and home to a delightful variety of creatures.

Phinneas was most definitely not an ordinary fox.  He paid very close attention to the condition of his fur and kept himself scrupulously clean and neat at all times.  But beyond that, Phinneas had developed the marvelous ability to walk upright on his hind legs, and he did this so frequently that he had lost the ability to move like a lowly four-legged beast.  Although Phinneas was on civil terms with his neighbors, he was not particularly friendly with any of them.  Of course not a soul in the forest would consider addressing Phinneas as “Phinny” or “Phoxy,” and Phinneas kept pretty much to himself.

One fine summer morning, Phinneas rose from his soft featherbed and stretched a great stretch.  He proceeded to dress himself with his usual attentive care: grey trousers, white silk shirt, black vest with a pocket for his gold watch, black velvet jacket, finely knit black socks, and shiny black leather boots.  After he combed his whiskers until they were glossy and straight and spritzed himself with rose water, he strode out into the sunshine.

As Phinneas walked down the path that led from his perfectly shaped oak tree home, he noticed a squirrel precariously hanging from a branch above him and considered how undignified he looked.  Next, he noticed two chipmunks dashing around bushes.  “How fortunate that I take my time to walk this forest and breathe this fine air,” he mused.  As Phinneas reached the stream that bisected the area, a startled frog hopped into the water.  Phinneas gazed at the ripples created by the frog’s entry into the water and shuddered at the thought of being green, slimy, and required to swim in cold water.  He had never learned to swim and couldn’t think of any reason why he should.  And as Phinneas noticed a robin gracefully fly from one tree to the next, he thought, “It might be nice to fly, but not if I had to be naked like that bird!”  A ground hog popped his head out of a hole.  Phinneas didn’t really hear his friendly greeting as he considered the poor ground hog’s disheveled whiskers, filthy nails, and clumps of dirt that clung to its fur.  Phinneas quickened his pace and turned toward home.  Soon he came upon a bear taking a drink from the stream.  As Phinneas neared, the bear lifted his head, water dripping from his tongue and mouth and wetting the fur under his chin.  “Doesn’t he know to use a gourd cup and leaf napkin?” Phinneas asked himself. 

Phinneas arrived home and spent the remainder of the day tidying his cozy den, sunning himself, trimming the tip of his sparkling white tail, and roasting a brace of quail he had caught in a trap (of course he would never risk getting his fine clothes messy).  He enjoyed a quiet supper and a good book before washing his face and paws, removing his day clothes and donning his night clothes, and going to bed.  Phinneas immediately fell into a deep sleep. 

As Phinneas slept, tragedy struck in the nearby village.  After sundown, the villagers gathered for their annual midsummer festival.  A huge bonfire was lit as the music began.  In the excitement, a young girl raced too close to the fire, and the rag doll that swung in her hand caught fire.  In terror, she ran to her mother, who grabbed the burning doll and flung it from them as far as she could.  The doll landed in a small pile of hay which quickly caught fire, and in a blink an entire row of cottages was engulfed in flames.  The dry brush along the edge of the village soon caught fire as well, and before long flames extended into the forest.

Phinneas awoke to the sounds of frightened animals and tree branches crackling and crashing.  He arose, and grumbling about the disturbance, looked out his window.  What he saw brought him to a full state of wakefulness: he hurriedly dressed himself and dashed out of his tree just as its outer branches caught fire.  It was impossible to see clearly in the dark and with all the smoke, but the encroaching wall of fire was unmistakable, and Phinneas joined the other residents of the forest in fleeing from its path. 

As he fought his way through the dense underbrush of the forest, Phinneas noticed a family of squirrels wildly swinging from branch to branch and tree to tree as they avoided the confusion underneath them.  The chipmunks he had observed that morning were still running, though now with purpose.  With their speed, agility, and small size, they were soon out of sight and well out of harm’s way.  When Phinneas reached the stream that divided the forest, he watched enviously as frogs and snakes and other creatures plunged into the water to swim to the other side, and safety.  He began to grumble as he considered his long hike around the forest, and the fear of not making it out of the forest in time began to creep into his mind.  He began to move as fast as his two legs would carry him. 

The fire was moving faster than he was!  Close to panic now and becoming hot and breathless, Phinneas admired the birds flying unencumbered overhead as he threw off his jacket; he rounded a corner and encountered a wall of thick shrubs.  He squeezed through a small hole, knocking his hat off, but before he could break completely free, the chain that held his watch caught on a protruding branch and would not release him.  He tugged and tugged but finally had to detach the chain from his vest, leaving it and his watch hanging in the shrub.  He staggered forward and hurried on, driven by the wall of heat and smoke that was catching up to him. Before long he encountered an immense tangle of thorny vines.  He would be shredded if he attempted to push through it, but the fire was right behind him.  What to do?  At the last second, he noticed a small, dark tunnel that another animal had carved through the earth to tunnel under the thorns.  Phinneas hesitated for just a second, and then cautiously put his front feet down onto the ground, crouched low, and lowered himself into the tunnel.  It was quite a tight fit, and Phinneas felt like he was going to suffocate.  The second’s hesitation entering the tunnel had cost him, though, and the white tip of his tail was singed as the proximity of the fire reminded him to press on. 

Phinneas came to the other side and once again encountered the stream.  He understood that he needed to get across the stream, but he couldn’t swim!  He staggered along the edge, sometimes on two feet, sometimes on four, trying in desperation to put distance between himself and the fire.  But as long as he was on the near side of the stream, he would not be safe.  He removed his boots from his blistered feet and hobbled forward.  Finally, he came to a makeshift bridge made of stones and boulders.  It appeared dark, slippery, and unsafe, but it was Phinneas’s best chance to escape the oncoming flames.  Standing upright, he put one tentative back foot on the first boulder.  The rock remained in place, and Phinneas started to make his way across the stream.  It didn’t take long for him to start to slip and slide, and before long he was on all fours, wet and muddy and clinging to any surface he could.  It was a slow and terrifying journey, but he eventually made it to the far side of the stream and to safety.

Phinneas collapsed on the stream bank and caught his breath.  His thirst was overpowering and without a second thought he plunged most of his head into the cool water.  He took a long, long drink, and then with water dripping down his face and throat, Phinneas retreated to a soft bed of brush and curled into a tight ball.  Although he could hear the rustlings of other animals who had fled the blazing forest, he could not keep his eyes open, and soon he was in a deep sleep.  He awoke several hours later to a bright, sunny day.  The once lush and green forest was charred and smoking.  Nothing was the same, and neither was Phinneas.  He was filthy and unkempt; he was half-dressed; his whiskers were crumpled and his tail was singed.  But he alive and able to appreciate the strengths of his fellow creatures, who, he was grateful to discover, were kind and helpful.  And so Phinneas lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Thought For Times Like These

"We believe those who rest firmly in Jesus Christ can act calmly and deliberately in the face of the most troubling news and opinions that swirl around us.  No need to panic; Jesus is still in charge."

                                                                                                        Mark Galli
                                                                                                        Editor in Chief,
                                                                                                        Christianity Today

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Living in the Truth

"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

                                                                                                       Ayn Rand

Monday, July 3, 2017

In The Image of God

"Our mission in life is to create out of a wellspring of joy.

                                                      Dr. Curt Thompson
                                                      Christian Psychiatrist

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thought For The Day

"Honesty becomes me."

                 D.C. Talk

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Case For Forgiveness

"Bitterness is like swallowing rat poison and hoping it hurts the other guy"

                                                                               Dr. Paul Meier

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Relationship Thought For The Day

"Assumptions are the termites of relationships."

                                                 Henry Winkler