Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I've Got My Wood Cut Out For Me

Moreover, the fleet of Hiram, which carried gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a great quantity of almug wood and precious stones. From the almug wood the king made supports for the house of the Lord, and for the king’s house, lyres also and harps for the singers; no such almug wood has come or been seen to this day. - 1 Kings 10:11-12

I didn't have any almug trees cut down this year, but did have a couple of oaks taken down.

As summer winds down, and it starts to become almost bearable to work outdoors, we have been busy adding to the woodpile. Unfortunately for me, the bugs have been doing their best to slow my progress. Work was temporarily halted after a very hungry caterpillar got under my shirt and expressed his dislike for his new home.

Now I know how Solomon's workers must have felt.

I took this picture about a third of the way through the job.

It needs to cool off another 10-20 degrees or more for the bugs to get less aggressive so I can start splitting wood.

I recall that Solomon had plenty of hewers of wood available.
"And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains;" 1 Kings 5:15(KJV)
Oh, how I wish I had a wood splitter.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

“Compulsion is repugnant to God.”

Today's readings were Exodus 3:1-15, parts of Psalm 105, Romans 12:9-21, and Matthew 16:21-28.

The reading from Matthew contained the line: "you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

I thought about that last night as we watched endless news reporting on the latest hurricane, Irene, when one news station posed the question, "Does anyone remember the storm of 1938?" I kept thinking about all the storms and natural disasters that seem to fade all too quickly from memory.

With the anniversary of 9/11/2001 coming up, I thought to myself, "How long will it be before that also becomes a distant memory much like Pearl Harbor day, or Armistice Day, or August 24, 1814?"

Yet we still remember an event, little noticed at the time, that occured 2000 years ago. What makes that piece of history so endearing to us that it is burned into our hearts and minds so strongly that even our natural tendency to forget is defeated?

Are we being forced to remember? Are we compelled to come to God, and what holds us together with Him once we have accepted Him?

As a teenager, I grew to dread Sunday mornings and being made to get up and go to church. Like many others, I was one of those who had to be persuaded to step away from my world and to give up all those thoughts of self in order to open my heart and soul to the saving power of Jesus.

It just so happened that the following sermon popped up on my reading list today,

..."In a sense, God presents the sight of the burning bush in order to persuade Moses to agree to this task. When dealing with human beings, even God – our Creator – works by persuasion and not by compulsion.

Consider the so-called 'Mandatory Evacuations' that have been in place over the last few days along the east coast. They are called 'mandatory' but I’ll bet that you’ve seen folks interviewed who have decided to stay put in some coastal town. Thankfully, it seems that our government authorities are not able to force people to live. And that is as it should be.

St. Clement of Alexandria is reputed to have written this axiom of deep truth: 'Compulsion is repugnant to God.' It is repugnant to God and it is also repugnant to human beings!"...
Read the rest over at the Father Ferrell Post.

Goodnight Irene by Leadbelly

I have been through a lot of hurricanes in my time, and the lessons I learned in childhood still hold true even in these days of more accurate tracking and forecasting. Lesson #1: never trust a hurricane. Fortunately, we are sufficiently inland that we only got a pleasant breeze yesterday from hurricane Irene. Sadly, others lost their lives, and others are suffering from this slow moving storm.

Lesson #2: If you have a hurricane party, don't have it at your beach house.

Leadbelly's lyrics are unique, listen to it all. I challenge you to understand all the words.

As one commenter said, Leadbelly invents rap in this one.

Lesson #3: Lay down a lot of Leadbelly at your hurricane party.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sexual Orientation Questions Appear on College Application

I heard this on the radio this morning,

(CNN) -- Elmhurst College, a private liberal arts school in suburban Chicago affiliated with the United Church of Christ, has become the first college in the country to ask an optional question about a student's sexual orientation and gender identity on an undergraduate admission form, according to the school and a gay rights advocacy group.

"Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community?" the new application asks prospective enrollees.

Students can answer "Yes," "No," or "Prefer not to say."

That optional demographic question is among others about religious affiliation, language spoken at home and whether they have worked with a community-based organization, according to the college and the advocacy group.

The sexual orientation question is designed to help the college advance diversity and connect prospective students with school resources such as scholarships and campus organizations.
Read it all at CNN.

No surprises that this school is affiliated with the U.C.C.

The radio announcer said that this might also move LGBTs up on the admissions list, but I could not find support for that elsewhere.

I found the scholarship idea also quoted at the Chicago Sun-Times,

Those who answer “yes” may be eligible for a scholarship worth up to one-third of tuition, not unusual because about 60 percent of incoming students receive some type of scholarship aid, Rold said. More importantly, he said, knowing students’ sexual orientation will help officials direct incoming students toward services or groups that might help them make an easier transition to college life.

What would keep a straight person from identifying themselves as potentially bisexual on the admissions application in order to get a reduced tuition?

How might the admissions committee verify the sexual orientation claim of the applicant?

And is there any affirmative action going on behind the scenes with the deliberations of the admissions committee?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Coast Guard Forgot About the Wine Skin Problem (Good Story For a Sermon on Luke 5:36-38)

I come from a long line of Coast Guard servicemen, and when this article crossed my computer screen, I had to read it. As I did, I had a sense of déjà vu.
"In the early 2000s, the Coast Guard awarded a contract to Bollinger Shipyards Inc. to convert its 110-foot patrol boats to 123-foot vessels. Starting with eight ships, the contractor attached new steel to extend the hulls of the ships by 13 feet. The results were disastrous.

'What we found out was when you put new steel on old steel, it flexes,' Papp said. 'Those patrol boats were unusable afterward and there was a chance of a catastrophic failure.'
He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. Luke 5:36-38(NIV)
Last month the Justice Department sued Bollinger Shipyards, accusing the Lockport, La., company of 'making material false statements to the Coast Guard' about the hull strength of the converted ships...

...The upgrades in question cost about $95 million and the eight boats had to be decommissioned." By ALICIA A. CALDWELL - Associated Press
Read it all here
They should have read their Luke!

I need to remember this the next time I am asked about remodeling the house.

On 27 March 2004 the MATAGORDA the first 123-foot cutter conversion

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Does Jesus Want?

Today's sermon focused on the Matthew 16:13-20.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Peter got it that time, but two verses later (not mentioned in the sermon) he rebukes Christ.

Typical Petros.

How typical of us as well. Most of the time when we try to figure out what Jesus means, we guess wrong, and when we do get it, the next minute we screw up.

And what does Jesus say when Peter screws up? Not, "There, there, don't fret. Everything is going to be all right." No, instead of soothing words, Peter, and we, hear:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

The other day I was watching Mother Angelica's Greatest Hits, and she said something about confession and how it is not something to be done every ten years. She said that once a week was doing good. I think that Peter's example shows the need for confession to be a bit more frequent because no sooner than we walk out of church on any given Sunday we are going to screw up, and when we do, like Peter, we become an obstacle to Him.

It is hard for us to see ourselves as God does. When we do get a glimpse, and we get it, it is a very humbling moment, and it makes me want to confess right on the spot.

Scroll to 15:19-17:03 and then to 41:00-42:20 of the Mother Angelica video below.

Give thanks to God that He wants to save us from ourselves.

Now, go treat yourself to a chocholate sundae!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Harvesting the Figs

"Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, 'No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.' And at once the fig tree withered." Matt. 21:18-19

Unlike the lone fig tree in Matthew 21, I have been blessed with a large fig tree and some surrounding smaller fig trees. I wonder if the fig variety in the Bible story was one that needed cross pollination? If that were the case, you might look at the story with a somewhat different perspective. Maybe there is a message that we can't be fruitful if we try to go it alone.

At our house, with our small family of trees, each year's harvest of figs is different. Some years, I am out of town and the birds get them, but other years the neighbors (one of whom we call "Big Bird") or passers by sneak in while my back is turned and reduce the harvest.

This year I was watchful, delayed my vacation, and we harvested a bumper crop.

The problem with having so many figs come in all at once is that no one can eat them all.

Give him credit for trying.

With such a mighty surplus, the kitchen was turned into a cannery, and forty-five jars of preserves were made by the helpful kitchen gnomes. Most of those jars will be given away except for the few set aside for the chief cook and bottle washer.

Bless the Lord for this fruitful harvest!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pluralistic Creep: Keeping an eye on those lectionary edits

Today's reading from Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
leaves out a lengthy explanation of how Paul comes to his final conclusion. Here is how the lectionary plays it,
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (Skip to verse 29)

...for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Paul's words "so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy" might be difficult to understand without having heard the lengthy arguments in verses 3-28.

I realize that many Sunday morning pewsitters might have a hard time following all of Romans 11 in one sitting, but the inclusion of a few more lines (such as 11-16 for instance) might have sufficed to help us figure out what Paul was trying to communicate,
Romans 11:11-16
"So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling* (Gk transgression) salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel* (Gk them) jealous. Now if their stumbling* means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people* (my flesh) jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy."
Okay, for me, that helps, but when I read the missing lines, I get the message that Paul hopes to see some of them saved, because not all will accept the Gospel. Whereas, when I read the shortened lectionary selection, I am left with the impression that all Israel will be saved whether they accept Christ or not.

Is that also why verse 28 is omitted?
As regards the gospel they are enemies of God* (Gk lacks of God) for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;
Note: this translation has added "of God" following enemies.

Maybe "they are enemies" crosses a line the church does not want to go over on a Sunday morning?

I think Paul is being very inclusive in this Chapter, but the edits in today's lectionary might be letting a little hint of post-modern pluralism creep into the message.

Sorry Sancho, there I go tilting at windmills again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When "How do I live" is the most pressing spiritual question

From the Washington Post "On Faith" pages,

"...Believers ask me: What gives you comfort? What gives you hope? What explains suffering? What explains love?

But I don’t have answers; that’s the point. I cannot explain, I do not know; and therefore I have wonder. I have awe. And given all that I do not know, all I cannot answer or explain, the most pressing spiritual question becomes not What do I believe? but How do I live?

What do I choose, how do I act, here and now, in this crush of seven billion bodies, on this spinning sphere? What can I give?

Last week, I sat in my Twelve Step meeting and watched as the heavy green sky lifted and late-day light poured into the room. I thought of what Martin Luther wrote: that the only necessary prayer was ‘thank you.’ So I prayed.

And how is it that both calm and violent things,

Like star and storm, know you so well? —Because I praise.

Marya Hornbacher is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated national bestseller Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. Her new book, WAITING: A Nonbelievers Higher Power was just published. Marya is an award-winning journalist, who lectures nationally on writing and mental health and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota."

Read it all here.

Contrast this with St. Paul who in the course of his letter to the Romans (which was Sunday's epistle reading) takes the "What do I believe" side of the argument.
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ Romans 10:5-15

"How do I live" is no longer a pressing spiritual question once you accept and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and savior. The answer has been given to us, freely in His life and sacrifice. The spiritual problem is listening to that answer.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Following Him

Today's Gospel reading was Matthew 14:22-33, and this was one of those stories that I just could not believe when I was younger.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
When we were kids, we sometimes would try to walk across the water of my best friend's swimming pool. We never got very far. At first we assumed it was due to our lack of faith, but as we got older, we began to believe that the whole idea of people walking on water had been proven impossible by our personal experience and by what we had learned by studying the laws of physics and chemistry. Its a good thing the second temptation of Christ was handled the way it was in Matthew 4:5-6 or else kids might be tempted to try to jump off of tall buildings.

My denial of Christ in denying this miracle occured before I re-discovered that simple faith of childhood. The faith that returns in a glimpse, or in a lightning bolt, a faith that grows with the understanding of the revelation that for someone who can rise from the grave, nothing is impossible. Indeed, to say that Jesus could not walk on the water would be to deny Him, and that is something I can no longer do.

Now, wherever He goes, there isn't an ocean too deep, I will follow Him.

Yeah, I know this was used in "Sister Act," but it just so happens that the oldies station was playing this version as I was working on this post.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

There Are Smiles That Fill Our Lives With Sunshine

Remember the old song, "Smile?"
"If you just stop to think, here's a lesson for you
What a word or a smile can convey
With a word you can make someone happy or blue
With a smile you can make them sad or gay

So be careful what you say
And be careful how you smile
It's so easy for us to make
Someone's life worthwhile

There are smiles, that make us happy
There are smiles, that make us blue
There are smiles, that steal away the teardrops
Like the Sunbeams steal away the dew

There are smiles, that have a tender meaning
That the eyes of love alone can see
But the smiles, that fill my life with sunshine
Are the smiles that you gave to...

But the smiles, that fill my life with sunshine
Are the smiles that you gave to me!"

Smile (1954) lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons

That song came to mind the moment I watched this these images of the Sun,