Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blood for Blood: Prologue

As promised, here's the prologue to my new novel. You may not  be able to tell it by this, but it's a Christian novel and God will end up right in the midst of the action. I can't wait for you to read this whole story. It turns out that I have become very attached to these characters and I will be surprised if they don't have a long tenure with me in numerous adventures.


     The boy was no longer responsive and was barely breathing. With a fever of 104 degrees, hemorrhage under his skin, and bloody vomitus, the prognosis was an obvious one. Back home, there might be a chance. Here, there was nothing they could do, at this advanced stage, but try to make him comfortable in his last hours. The doctor looked at the father. “I’m sorry, sir. This boy will not make it. He is too far gone,” the interpreter translated. “What?” the father shouted. No translator was needed to know that the father was irate and irrational. “The boy will not make it. He is very close to death now,” the doctor tried again. “NO!” the father roared. “You save my son!” he demanded. 
     The doctor looked at the staff. This would not end well. “Move the boy to a cot in the hospital tent and let’s get an IV started. Maybe some fluids and antibiotics will help.” Though nothing was likely to save the boy, it was reasonable to try to treat the dehydration and the infection. 
     After a night spent at his bedside, the father pacing beside the child, the doctor could see the boy was fading. Again, the explanation of the boy’s condition enraged the father. Couldn’t he see the boy was worse? Couldn’t he see he was barely breathing? Apparently not, as he demanded again that the staff save his son. 
When the end finally came, the doctor looked at the father with dread. “He is gone.” His face went white, then red with fury. “NO! You save him or die!” he shouted. “He die, you die! Blood for blood!” he screamed, as he pulled a long knife from the scabbard at his waist. He lunged just as the aide saw the move and made a leap to tackle him. The aide and the father went down in a mass of screaming fury, but not before the knife had imbedded itself deep in the doctor’s thigh. You die! You die!” the father continued to scream.
     “Blood for blood!” It seemed like that was exactly what had happened. “Get him out of here and find someone who can help with the body,” the doctor said as he looked at the knife protruding from his thigh. “And send someone to help me with this knife, too.” Utter calm under pressure.
     Ramil was devastated by the loss of his son and enraged that the American doctor had not saved him. He had walked for days, carrying the boy down from the mountains. That doctor took one look at Yahriel and made up his mind right away. He wasn’t even going to give him a chance. “He won’t make it,” he had said. Well, he certainly wouldn’t make it if the doctor didn’t try. He gave him those needles in his arms and tortured him all night, and for what? For nothing! Yahriel had died anyway. The son of my heart is gone and it is all that doctor’s fault. 
     Stabbing was too good for him. He should have died, too, Ramil thought, and began to plan his revenge. There was surely someone who would help him. He will die. I don’t know how I will do it, but one day, that doctor will die if I have to hunt him down like a wild animal. I WILL avenge my son!
     Ramil Miagkov spoke of his anger and his need for vengeance constantly. Before long, people were talking. Bad people. That anger, that need for vengeance could be used, they thought. Ramil’s anger made him malleable to the terrorist cell who contacted him. They promised both vengeance and all the assistance he would need. Ramil had never been involved before. He could travel freely without raising international alarms. There was just one little thing he would need to do first. They would make all the arrangements, but it would not be rushed. He must go home, be quiet, and silence his threats. His turn would come, they promised. All things come to those who wait.

The persistent father

On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, "Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy, and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves. I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not." (Luke 9:37-40 NASB)

The next day, after the transfiguration, Jesus with Peter, James, and John, came down from the mountain prayer retreat, and, as usual, a large crowd had gathered. In that crowd, there was a father whose son had seizures. They were severe and unpredictable. No one had been able to help him. In desperation, the father had brought the boy to the disciples (the ones who were not at the prayer retreat). They had tried to heal him without success, but the disciples had not been able to help the boy either. 

We will look at this passage in greater detail later, but there is a lesson in the father's perseverance. He did not lose hope because the disciples failed. He clearly understood that Jesus had greater power than the disciples and that a failure on the part of a disciple was not a failure on the part of Jesus. That sounds intuitive, doesn't it? 

It's surprising, though, how many of us become angry with God when one of His servants fails us in some way. We equate man's failure with God's failure (a lie from the enemy of our souls), and allow the hurt, disappointment, and anger to create a stronghold in our lives that becomes a barrier between us and God. It weakens our relationship with our Lord and robs us of the joy He longs to give. 

All too often, we encounter a "disciple", whether clergy or laity, who fails in a spectacular way. They may even have hurt us or one we love. It is easy to assume all ministers, all laity, all disciples, are the same as the one who has failed. We may even, in some mixed up way, equate God with the one who has failed, but how foolish this is. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us that God will never fail us or forsake us. Even when His answer to our prayers is not the one we want, He does not leave us nor fail us. 

This father took his son to the disciples and, when they failed to help, he took his boy directly to Jesus. He wasn't angry because of the failure. He was simply seeking a solution from the One he knew could help. This father did exactly what we should do with our needs. He was not discouraged by man's failure. His trust and his hope were in Christ alone, and that is exactly where he took his need. 

Do you have a need or concern for which you have been unable to find help? Take it to Jesus, like the persistent father, and let Him do what only He can do. He may not do what you "want", but He will neither fail you nor forsake you. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The thanksGiving series: making dried celery

The last time I considered buying celery flakes, I actually looked at the price and was shocked. I had just been through the produce aisle and seen the price for fresh celery. Whew! Big difference! Of course, I thought, how hard can this be? I think that a lot, which leads me down paths that are best confessed another time. Fortunately, this little project turned out well. I've been drying my own celery ever since. 

Since my supply was getting low, and because I thought you might want to try this too, I bought some "name brand" celery yesterday at the little grocery "down the road from my house". They only had one kind and it was $1.39. 

I washed and dried my celery, then sliced it in 1/4 inch slices. (Really, I just sliced it on the thinnish side. But 1/4 inch sounds good, doesn't it?) put it on a parchment-covered baking sheet in a single layer. One stalk of celery needed two baking sheets. I put it in a preheated oven at 170 degrees and left it there for eight hours. Maybe nine. When I finally made it home from errand day, feeding livestock, and hauling water (which is not my favorite) I remembered the celery and took it out. It was fine. You might call it leather hard. It was not hard crispy but not at all soft. If you are making celery flakes, you've seen them before. It's like the ones in the store.

I actually weighed the dehydrated celery and one stalk had yielded 1.3 oz of celery flakes. My favorite place to buy herbs and spices is Penzey's, so I checked their catalogue. They don't have a 1.3 oz jar, of course, but a 1 oz plus a 0.3 oz supply of celery flakes sells for $7.34. I saved $5.95! It took me less than 5 minutes to slice the celery, tear the parchment paper, put it on a baking sheet and slide it in the oven. That's not a bad savings for five minutes of work. 

I don't know if this worked or not, but I sliced a thin slice off the end of the stalk and stuck it down in some water. It may or may not root (which would make my savings the full $7.34) but romaine roots pretty well like that, so we shall see. 

This has been a crazy week, and I've been a little disconnected with the savings jar totals, but at last report, it contained $210.81.  With the addition of the celery savings of $5.95, the savings jar total is up to $217.76! 

Even if you are not trying to save money, drying your own celery is so easy that it's  a shame not to do it (and now you know how!) In case you are new to this series, the purpose for all this saving is so that we can become extravagantly generous and splurge on giving. Don't forget what it is that God loves - God loves a cheerful giver and that is exactly what we hope to become. 

The Recognition, part 25: intimacy

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen. (Luke 9:36 NASB)

The cloud descended, the disciples were engulfed, the Lord spoke aloud, and then Moses and Elijah were gone. "And they kept silent." The disciples did not speak about what they had seen and heard. They didn't tell anyone about their experience. They simply kept quiet. 

Because Scripture reports the story, we know that they did eventually tell of their experience, but Luke is clear. At the time, the experience was for them to treasure alone. It sounds like a secret between them and Jesus, doesn't it? 

Imagine that! They saw Moses and Elijah standing and talking with Jesus. All three were in glory, clothed in robes so white that they appeared to have flashes of lightning coming from them. The cloud of God's presence descended and they were engulfed in the presence of God. They heard His voice. It was an incredibly intimate heavenly experience, and the three disciples understood instinctively that it was meant for them alone. What they had just experienced was, perhaps, because they were Jesus' closest disciples, His "best friends", and this treat was not for everyone. 

We may not realize it, but this passage speaks of the intimacy of God with those who love Him. These men were engulfed by God and the experience was not for telling, but for savoring. They would ponder it and treasure it, but years would pass before they actually told what they had experienced. 

Have you been engulfed by God? Have you had one of those life-altering intimate times with our Lord that leaves you in awe of His presence and pondering it for years to come? How precious those times can be, but they only come out of a  relationship with Christ and in a time of utter stillness before Him. He loves us "with an everlasting love". He longs for intimacy with us, but we are the reason that the intimacy is lacking. It is we who are too busy, too distracted, too focused on the world and ourselves. It is we who will have to change if we are to have this divine engulfing, this intimacy beyond all others. It is we ourselves who must be still and silent before our Most High God and allow His presence to descend and engulf us. Though it sounds difficult, and it is, when we are quiet in words and spirit, we will find that the intimacy that results will leave us astounded by His grace, treasuring His presence, and hungering for more. 

Be still, dear ones, and allow the presence of God to engulf and surround you. You will treasure it for years to come. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The thanksGiving Series: the road to hell

My grandmother used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." I'm pretty skeptical about her theology, since it is sin that paves our road to hell and nothing else, but she meant well. One of the reasons my grandmother used that adage so often was that I sometimes have the tiniest of problems with good intentions. 

On an occasion or two, well okay on many occasions, I have gotten distracted and missed whatever it was I was supposed to do. Today was one of those days. 

I bought celery this morning to dry it in the oven as celery flakes so I could demonstrate how to save money by making your own dried celery. Unfortunately, I got distracted by the novel I am writing, ended up researching Uzbekistani terrorists for longer than I could stand, and developed a very wild twist for the story. The celery is still in the refrigerator, stalk still intact. 

I'm disappointed by my failure because I think it's cool to dry your own celery. I am very certain, however, that these good (but unfulfilled) intentions did not pave the road to hell for me! I did that with my own bad choices. I'm not on that path now, though!

Isn't it amazing that we can be headed right down the road to hell, end up right against the very gates of hell itself, yet our Warrior Redeemer can roll up His sleeves, wade into the fray, and, with His strong right arm, demolish our path of destruction and set us free? It was for freedom that He set us free. That's an odd turn of phrase to me but full of such promise. He set us free and He means for us to stay free. Neither terrorists, nor novel competitions, nor potentially dried celery should distract us from freedom. 

In the midst of all the distractions of life, let's be sure we do not become distracted from the path of freedom. Let's stay free and live free that the world might know the Redeemer who released us from our bondage and freed us from our sin. 

The Recognition, part 24: hearing and obeying

Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35 NASB)

The word translated as "listen" is, according to Thayer's, used to indicate much more than just hearing with our ears. The idea is that we are to not just listen with our ears to the words of Jesus, but we are to understand them so that we can obey His words. "Hear and obey" was the instruction God gave the disciples, and it is a good instruction for us, as well. 

Since Jesus is in heaven, how do we hear His words now? We read and study our Bibles, with special emphasis on the "red letters", the words that Jesus spoke.  This is not a "scanning" read, but a slow, deliberate reading that seeks to understand all He had for us in every word. This is a reading that longs to incorporate the words on the page into our flesh and blood lives, that meditates on the words, and hides them in our hearts through Scripture memorization. It is "listening" that allows the words to transform us. 

It would be really nice if the disciples had responded to God's command to listen and obey with instant compliance, but that's not what happened. Understanding came slowly. Change was gradual. So, too, it will be with us and those we love. The life of a disciple is a journey. We do not begin with maturity, but, along the way, we should develop maturity. 

As you look back over your life of faith, do you see clear evidence of maturity, of increased faith and faithfulness? If not, perhaps the problem is not a lack of hearing but a lack of obeying. God's instruction was not just to listen, but also to obey. May we and those we love do more than hear the words of Christ. May we also be so filled with His words that they spill out in our lives as obedience, demonstrating the truth of Jesus to all who see. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The thanksGiving series: Maggie helps give thanks

Maggie the Wonder Dog has a past. I hate to bring it up, since we like for the past to stay very firmly in the past, but she had a little temptation today that threatened to drive her back to her evil ways. Maggie, dare I say it, was overcome by blood lust. Chicken blood lust to be more specific. When she was younger and much less wise, she noticed how fast a chicken would run when she chased it. One thing led to another, as these things will do, and before she knew what had happened, she found herself deeply involved in chicken-shaking. She would not only chase the chicken; she would catch it and shake it for all she was worth.
It is a sordid tale, but as time progressed, she found that shaking a chicken was not enough. If she grabbed the chicken by the neck, the chicken would squawk and fight like always, but the more she shook it, an unexpected thing would happen. The chicken would suddenly go limp. Maggie had broken its neck. Before she was done, she began to sink her teeth into the chicken and draw out its lifeblood.

It was not an easy thing to break Maggie of this blood lust. No amount of scolding helped. Even a shock collar was ineffective. The only thing that was effective was to restrain Maggie with a leash when the chickens were out. Restrained was exactly what Maggie was. She was not relieved of her blood lust. She was simply restrained. The penalty for chicken killing on this farm has always been severe, but somehow Maggie encountered the grace that gave her that restraint. 

Maggie is older and wiser now, although she is still a dog. Chasing chickens is part of her nature and it will likely always be a problem for her. As a result, the door to the chicken coop stays firmly closed when she is around. 

Today, she was at the barn during feeding time. She raced past the chicken coop and noticed a large tail feather. She sniffed all around it, nosed it a bit, and finally picked it up in her mouth. Lest someone notice, she took it to the pecan grove where she could enjoy her feather in private. She licked that feather until it was completely soaked. I expected her to go back to the chicken coop and stay there, waiting for her chance. Instead, she dropped the feather and moved it away from her, removing her temptation. As she moved away from her temptation, I thought about those days gone by when I cared little for the things of God and quite a bit for the ways of the world. Those things have been put away and it is the love of Christ that keeps them away. As I watched Maggie with her feather, I remembered how costly the ways of the world are and considered how much money I've saved by letting go of that old lifestyle and those old worldly ways.

Im not sure how to quantify it for the savings jar, but the saving jar would not be possible without this laying down of a life I didn't need in order to have the life I could not do without.  As you look at your savings and consider ways to save even more, don't lose sight of the incredible gift of freedom God has given. Make sure that, thought it may not fill your jar, the love of Christ infuses everything you do with the sweet aroma of freedom 

The Recognition, part 23

While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen. (Luke 9:34-36 NASB)

The recognition of Jesus as the Son of God came gradually. By the time Jesus asked the disciples who they said He was, Peter knew He was the Christ. Knowing something with your head is one thing. Knowing it with your heart, knowing it with every fiber of your being, is a little different. That knowing came gradually, and this experience on the mountain was a significant part of their understanding. 

When the cloud overshadowed them and the disciples began to enter the cloud, they knew this was no ordinary cloud, and they were afraid. Thayer describes their reaction to the cloud as being "seized by alarm" as one "startled by a strange sight or occurance". It would be odd if they hadn't been frightened. What came next, though, must have been even more frightening. They heard the Voice of God speak audibly, instructing them to listen to Jesus and affirming Jesus as God's Son and Chosen One. That voice left no doubt about Jesus and His identity. 

You might think that the cloud and the voice would be such a memorable experience for them that these men would never fail Jesus again. Even after this dramatic experience, however, Peter, James, and John would struggle with faithfulness. Having heard that voice and seen those sights, Peter would still deny Him and the rest of the disciples would run away when He was arrested. Years later, those three men would be willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. John would be exiled to Patmos. Peter and James would die martyr's deaths. That willingness to put everything behind them and follow Jesus without reservation did not come all at once. It did not come with any great burst of insight. It did not come when they were overcome by the cloud and heard God's voice. Total surrender came a little at a time, relinquishing one bit of control after another, until obedience to Christ was all that mattered. Their personalities were much the same, but their flaws were changed, their rough edges smoothed. 

Our tendency is to see Peter in terms of his denial of Christ, to remember the disciples in terms of their desertion of Jesus in His most difficult hours. It is our tendency to see others in terms of their failures, but Our Lord gave incredible grace and mercy to His followers. From all their failure, He brought growth and maturity, and, ultimately, victory. He could be patient with the process because He knew the end result. He did not plan to leave them as they were, nor does He plan to leave us the way He found us. 

Just as He is patient with us as our faith and our understanding of who He is grows and matures, we, too, must be patient with those who are not as far along on their journey. It will not likely be in a flash of insight that maturity comes, but, over time, God will give the increase to the seeds that are sown along the way. Growth can come, even for those who seem most unlikely to mature as disciples. 

Be patient. Extend grace. Treat others with the mercy Christ Himself has extended to you. The end of our earthly maturing hasn't come until that last breathe is drawn and we step into eternity, so keep hoping, keep sowing seeds, and most of all, keep praying. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

thanksGiving series, Part 11

Are you tired of reading about saving money yet? Hang in there! We may be heading into the annual shopping frenzy, but there are things we can do to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us. It's probably not popular, but it sure is fun! 

Tomato soup was my mama's favorite, and it hurt her terribly when she was diagnosed with Celiac disease and had to give up her favorite Campbell's soup. Nothing I tried really came close to reproducing the flavor she preferred. Truth be told, it's my second favorite (next to pumpkin soup) and my all time favorite when served with a grilled cheese sandwich. If you haven't tried my recipe for tomato soup, you should. It's wonderful and, if not as convenient as the prepackaged Panera Bread soup, it is definitely as good. Maybe better. 

I've bought the Panera Bread soup before, and was happy to pay $10.98 to have it. Actually, I was happy to pay that price until I started this savings/giving project. I took a look at the price and thought, I can do that myself without much trouble and save a considerable amount. It turned out that I found the canned tomatoes and canned tomato paste on sale for 50 cents a can, grew the onions and basil (I count that as free), and bought a gallon of milk for less than $4.00. A very rough estimate of my cost for making the soup is less than $2.00. That's a savings of $8.98! Not bad for making soup that tastes better than what I would have bought! What's not to love about the last of the basil in the garden in homemade tomato soup? Yum! The savings of $8.98 for making the tomato soup brings the total in the savings jar up to $210.81! 

If the truth be told, I'm tired of adding the savings up. I want to write something funny! I want people to laugh and be moved by a touching moral. I don't really want to write about saving money every day. Apparently, what I want to do and what I need to do are not quite the same. Learning to be frugal and a good steward is an important life lesson, but choosing to be frugal and a good steward just for fun and in order to give what we save away is a little different, isn't it? It's not about us at all. This saving to give IS fun to me, but there is a part of me that wants to entertain the ones for whom this is not fun. When that temptation surfaces, I have to remind myself that the One for whom I write takes great delight in saving to give and choosing to invest in the Kingdom of God rather than in my own selfish desires. 

When I look at what that $210.81 can do for the Kingdom of God, I'm stunned. Bibles for young men and women in jail and ready to consider, perhaps for the first time, that they don't have all the answers, fruit baskets for senior citizens living below the poverty level, and blankets for the homeless are all things my Savings Jar can fund. Now, eleven days into the project, that Savings Jar can fund all of that (not just a part of it), and it absolutely astounds me! This is worth doing, and it will make a difference, so if you are ready to move on, too, let's choose to hold still a bit, deny ourselves a little more, and take up the cross and follow the One who denied Himself for us, sacrificing His very life to save us.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-36, 40 NASB)

The recognition, part 22: the Cloud of God

And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Luke 9:33-35 NASB)

Peter awakened to find Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. His first words were an offer to build tabernacles for all three. It wasn't a well thought out plan, it was simply the first thing out of his mouth, a spontaneous offer of service.

Suddenly, a very surprising thing happened. A cloud began to form and overshadow them. The word used here is the same term to describe the cloud that led the children of Israel by day and rested over them. Thayer's describes this as a "shining cloud, surrounding and enveloping them with brightness". Exodus 13 tells us that the Lord went before them in the pillar of cloud, and He was in this cloud, as well, surrounding Jesus, the disciples, and the heavenly visitors. Imagine this, if you can. The cloud of the presence of God gradually overshadowed them and surrounded them on all sides with incredible heavenly brightness and the presence of God. 

Pause and consider. 

Surrounded by the presence of God. How amazing would that be? What is even more amazing is that we can be not just surrounded by the Spirit of God, but filled with His Spirit. Jesus promised that, when He left, His Spirit would remain as our Comforter to lead us in the way in which we should go, helping us to have fruitful lives filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We do not experience God's presence in a single once-in-a-lifetime cloud on a mountain. We can experience His presence through His Spirit on a daily, continuous basis, if we will. 

Oh, dear ones, reach out to our Lord, who longs to fill us with His Presence and lead us with His Spirit. Our lives can carry  the presence of God as we go, infusing our world with the light of God, if we will allow it. 

There's a prayer that captures the essence of this infilling. "Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love." Indeed. Come and fill us. Give us passion to change the world with God's love. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The thanksGiving series, part 10: Life Well Lived (Gene Grubbs)

You may be surprised to learn that we are not talking about saving money and living well tonight. We are talking about a life well lived. Gene Grubbs and his wonderful wife Kitty have been friends of mine for years. We met through our involvement in a non-denominational Christian organization developed to build leaders for the church, and I loved them and their family from the first. When I think about them, I think of loving, giving, generous people who see a need and meet it without waiting for anyone else to notice. They have quietly, steadily changed the world around them by the goodness of the lives they lived. 

Gene died this weekend. That hardly seems the right way to describe what happened, but it is what we call it. Gene sat down at the computer while he was waiting for Kitty to finish fixing breakfast. When the biscuits were ready, she called him, but got no response. Kitty called again and still no answer from Gene, so she sent a grandchild who reported back. "Grandaddy's asleep in his chair." When Kitty went to see, Gene had already stepped into eternity. 

It was just that quick. He was here when Kitty started stirring the biscuits up and by the time the biscuits were done, his time on earth was, too. 

Oh, how his family will miss this kind and funny man. You could never find a more gentle, humble fellow. This morning, I was studying in Luke about the transfiguration and looking again at the "gleaming" garments that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were wearing. The word for "gleaming" literally means "flashing like lightning". If all three of them were dressing in flashing-lightning outfits, maybe that's what everyone wears in heaven. Maybe that's what Gene is wearing in heaven. I laughed right out loud at the image of precious Gene Grubbs striding down the streets of gold (a very impressive sight in itself) in one of those flashing-lightning outfits. I could just imagine his face and how he takes delight in everything that comes his way. He's probably still laughing about that heavenly outfit. 

Somehow, the image of Gene and the lightning robe has made his move to heaven a lot easier to take. I know Kitty and Jerome and Marty and their families will miss him terribly, but when we think about all the fun Gene is having, it seems like a mighty good thing for Gene. It's a little like a promotion. 

I hope, when my turn comes, I step into eternity just as quickly as Gene did. Even more importantly, I hope I leave behind the kind of legacy of love, goodness, and generosity that Gene left. I hope I've impacted my world the way Gene did his. (To be honest, I also hope I get to wear a flashing-lightning robe, too.) 

Gene wasn't expecting to step into eternity Saturday morning, but he did, and he was ready. We never know when our time will come, so we would do well to live ready, too. 

The Recognition, part 21: desire to serve

Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-not realizing what he was saying. (Luke 9:32-33 NASB)

Poor Peter. He gets much criticism for the things he says, and this is one of those times. There is, however, something beautiful about the words he said here. He had been asleep, as had James and John. When he awakened, Peter opened his eyes to see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in heavenly attire, their clothing so gleaming it had the appearance of lightning flashes coming from it. Peter's first response was one of worship, honor, and service. He wanted to build tabernacles (movable tents made of branches or animal hides) to honor all three men. The glory he saw before him inspired service. It made him want to do something, and isn't that what understanding Who Jesus is should do for us? Should we not also want to serve Him when we understand that this Son of Man is the Son of God? 

Perhaps Peter wanted to build a tabernacle much as the early patriarchs set up stones of remembrance. He may have wanted to commemorate the experience and have a place to which he could return and remember the glorious sight. That was not to be, but Peter would carry that sight of the glorified men with him for the rest of his life. He didn't need a tabernacle. The vision of glory was so profound that he would never forget. He, like Mary at the birth of her Son, would treasure and ponder for years to come. 

Moses and Elijah were leaving Jesus, heading back to heaven. The home to which they were returning was so much more beautiful than that one which Peter would build that there is no comparison. In heaven the streets are paved with gold. That which we hold as so valuable in this world is nothing more than gravel and pavement in heaven. A home of branches and skins is such a meager offering in comparison, as are the things we treasure here on earth. 

If we could open our eyes and see Jesus in all His glory, as the three disciples did, we, too, might be moved to do great things for God. We, too, might want to serve. May God grant each of us the kind of vision that sees the permanence and glory of heavenly things and the transience of earthly things, and moves us to value them accordingly. May our vision, our understanding, of Christ move us to serve with enthusiasm the One to whom all honor is due. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The thanksGiving series, part 9: The not-so-restful Sunday

My hair was still in a sock bun, but I had begun to get dressed for church when the phone rang. It's usually a telemarketer when my home phone rings, but it was Sunday and I was feeling particularly charitable, so I answered. It was a good thing I did. Sam was calling to tell me my cows were out. I left the sock in my hair, switched from skirt and boots to jeans and coveralls and headed to the barn. 

My first trick was to fill a bucket with feed and rattle it. The cows usually come running if they hear that beautiful sound. Sure enough, I walked to the gate, rattled the feed, and looked for cows. They were just outside the fence. When they heard that lovely rattle, their heads shot up, they saw me, and started running. Mama cows running is a sight to see, and I laughed out loud. They came right up, ate their feed, and relocated to a secure spot. 

They had clearly been out, so I started walking the fence. As usual, I found some crummy areas that needed repair. I was nearly to the end of the fence before I found the problem. An ENORMOUS tree had fallen on the fence. Much to my surprise, the tree didn't look dead. It appeared to have been struck by lightning. I have had quite enough of this lightning strike business recently, but there is nothing to do except keep repairing the damage it has caused. This tree had fallen right in between two brace posts. Oddly enough, it had smashed the wire down, but did not appear to have broken it. There was no way to get to the wire or to fix the fence until the tree was out of the way. 

There was plenty of other fence work to do, so I text'd Bill the Magnificent to let him know there was serious tree cutting in his future and to come on so I could get the fence fixed. Unfortunately, he had worked last night and was asleep. Sam, my neighbor who is 84 years old, is 6'4", recently gained up to 120 from eating peanut butter, and has bad double vision as a complication of cataract surgery, was going to help me. We started at the corner, where the fence was loose and soon to be down. I took the fence down so I could put it up correctly. Since Sam is about the size of a breath of air, I was going to pull the wire and he would hammer the staple. It seemed like a good plan until I realized he was hammering all over the post but never hitting the staple. I said to Sam exactly what he'd have said to me. "Sam, that's some bad hammering you're doing. You haven't hit the staple yet, but you've come close to my nose and my hand!" He shook his head and said, "Well, you know I see two of everything, and I can't tell which steeple to hit (that's what he calls a staple), so I'm trying to hit all the steeples I see. I thought one of them might be the real thing." None of them were. We switched jobs. I would pull the wire, Sam would hold it, then I would hammer the staple. It took us a long time to get the fence fixed. 

I walked along the fence that joined the one I was repairing and saw a sight I hoped never to see. Someone had tried to repair my fence and had used baling string to connect two pieces of barbed wire. I wanted to howl with indignation. Really, I like fencing. All that is needed is tell me a piece of my fence is down and I'm on it! There is never a reason to connect barbed wire with baling string. Just so you know. "Sam," I said, "We are going to have to take this down and get some barbed wire in here. Did you do this?" He wouldn't say. Finally, he found a good answer and used it. "Well, it looks like I should've known better than that." Indeed. I just shook my head and went to work. Once the fence was repaired, we had a good laugh about the baling string. Sam has a baling string collection and he uses it to repair everything. Apparently including barbed wire fences. 

Sam and I took a break for lunch and went back to fencing. We found more horrible repair jobs, took more fence down, and redid it all. When we got to the tree, there was no repairing it until Bill the Magnificent got the tree cut up. He worked on it, but it is so huge that he will not be through until Wednesday or maybe Thursday. I am just reporting what he said. 

At that point, Sam and I had literally done all the fencing we could do, and about all we could stand, so we headed back toward the barn. I fed the livestock, finally convinced the cows that I had water for them, and headed to the house. You might be surprised about this, but I was tired and dirty, and in serious need of a shower. 

Finally, we get to the point. I love great soap. Sometimes I make soap. Often, I buy great soap at my favorite "fashionista store". When I have wonderful soap that has been used down to the little scraps, I stick the scraps in my pink travel soap dish. I was recently at the end of some terrific soap and thought, "I need to go buy some more great soap," however, I'm doing this frugal, savings month so I hated to go buy overpriced soap. It turns out, however, that I was safe because my scraps of great soap have made a "greatest hits" bar of soap that is just wonderful. 

The soap is not at all pretty, but it has a lovely fragrance and the soap is all my favorites at once. Using this scrap-soap instead of buying more saved my $4.98. Incredibly, that brings the total to $201.83! In nine days! Without doing anything hard or strange, I have saved hundreds of dollars from simple, easy changes that will allow me to make an investment in the Kingdom of God. I can't wait!  

How's your savings jar going? Have you thought about what kind of Kingdom work you are going to do with your savings? I can't wait to hear what you all do, so keep me posted!

The Recognition, part 20: missed preparation

And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. (Luke 9:29-32 NASB)

Peter, James, and John had gone with Jesus for a mountain prayer retreat. As Jesus was praying, the three apostles had fallen asleep. While they slumbered, Jesus had been transfigured, clothed in glowing white with lightning flashing around Him. He was joined by Moses and Elijah, also appearing in glorified fashion, and they were discussing the upcoming culmination of Jesus' earthly ministry. 

The three men awakened to an astounding sight. Jesus, transfigured, standing before them in glory, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. We will see that the sight inspired worship, as  it deepened their recognition and understanding of this Jesus they followed. 

If they had only stayed awake, though, what inspiration might they have received? Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had been discussing the upcoming events that would take place in Jerusalem. Had the disciples heard the conversation, they might not have been caught off-guard when Jesus was arrested and condemned. Perhaps Peter would have understood what was happening around that fire on the night of the crucifixion and stood firm despite his fear. Perhaps they could have avoided regret and shame. And yet, they slept. 

Their dawning recognition of Jesus, the Son of Man, as the holy Son of God was pivotal, but how tragic to miss an understanding of the plans Jesus had for them! How tragic to endure what might have been avoided by staying alert and on their knees! 

We, of course, do essentially the same thing, week after week. Attendance at worship services should bring us into the presence of God Almighty and leave us changed in clear and discernible ways. How often, though, do we leave with comments about the sweet Spirit, but no recognition of that for which God drew us to the service. Words straight from heaven were spoken while the men slept, and they missed them all. We are also slumbering disciples in desperate need of arousing to the words of the Holy One. As we head to services this week, may our focus be on the One in whose presence we are, the words He has for us, and the change He longs to make in us. May we leave not just entertained but transformed into the likeness of our Lord.