Rocks, Lambs, Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Wicks and Other Matters

Rocks, Lambs, Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Wicks and Other Matters


Matthew 4:19: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said,

I don’t know if you pay a lot of attention to directions or other information. I know I don’t. Whenever anyone asks me when something is happening at church or where we were meeting, I never know. I can always ask the director (my wife Becky) and that seems to work out well except when someone asks me for information. I kinda figure out what’s happening when about the time Becky leaves to go to church. That’s my reminder that something is about to happen.

This even affected these devotionals. I was singing “Blessings” to myself early last week and thought, hey, I’ll write about that since we’re singing it Sunday. I even put it in my Friday Biscuit City blog that we were. But we weren’t. We sang “He Is the Rock,” which, if you will remember, is a very different song from “Blessings.” Sometimes I’m observant like that.

Anyhow, I was a week early with thoughts on “Blessings” and I could have written about “He Is the Rock” for this piece, but I like to look forward and I’ve already written about “Blessings.” So, I was thinking about “He Is the Rock” after we sang it Sunday. I think that’s why I goofed up in Sunday School last Sunday. Let me tell you all about it.

Because I just can’t do one thing at a time, I am one of the teachers for two (by actual count) Sunday School classes. I alternate between them, working with twenty-somethings one week and with first and second graders the other week. I am comfortable working with teenagers and adults, but have much less experience working with children. I wanted to learn how to better in case there was a children’s class teaching emergency or something. My nearly nine months in working with children (actually four and a half months’ actual experience) has paid off. Amy told me they were desperate for subs at the elementary school where she teaches and said I should sign up. See? A recommendation from a veteran elementary teacher! I suppose that with a little more experience I could be Elementary Teacher of the Year. However, I’m not ready yet. Under the influence of “He Is the Rock,” I didn’t handle a situation in the class very well. No one was hurt or traumatized, but I wish I had it to do over again.

I was teaching the children this past Sunday with the able assistance of Michael Hill, and after snack and a reiteration of the story of Gideon and a fun word search related to it, we made paper airplanes (representing the angel who visited Gideon since angels can fly and so can paper airplanes). We then took our airplanes to the playground to fly them during recess time. They didn’t really fly that well, so the children left them on the ground and went about enjoying themselves on the playground in their usual manner, trying to injure themselves on various pieces of playground equipment. Fortunately, everybody survived recess, so we went back to the room so they could finish their word searches (I think I used a word search that was too difficult, but they like a challenge). I pulled out my Martin D-18 I had brought so we could sing some songs while they worked. Actually, I’ve found that the children don’t sing along with songs like “Deep and Wide.” They like to listen, even to me, but they really like to dance to the songs, and play games like “Freeze Dance” where they dance until the music stops and then they are supposed to “freeze.” If they don’t, they’re out. I think they would play “Freeze Dance” all day although that doesn’t happen because their parents come get them before the sun sets or my hand cramps up, which would come first.

So, I was playing my guitar when a boy who had been singularly inattentive and uncooperative all class suddenly became very interested in my guitar. I think he had never seen one, and he showed his excitement by coming over and smacking hard with his fist on the body. I stopped playing and said, “What are you doing?”

“I’m seeing what it’s made of,” he said.

“It’s made of wood, and if you keep that up, it will be made of little pieces of wood. Please back up!”

He backed away a bit but then, as the rest of the children danced their hearts out, he came back and started twisting the tuning machines. This has a derogatory effect on the tuning of the instrument. I stopped playing, and the children stopped dancing. No one moved, but when I didn’t continue playing, they called out “Play some more!” Glad they like music. Bet they like it better in tune.

I said to my young friend, “Go away!” He responded by backing up a step.

I was telling Becky this story and she, out of her experience working with children, suggested I could have handled the situation better. And I should have. Instead of being a rock, I should have been a lamb. She said I could have said something like, “I don’t need a helper right now.”

It occurred to me that this is the sort of thing Fred Rogers would have done if some child had come up and done his best to disassemble his instrument. I took this as a sign that I needed to respond differently, even when a child has irritated the fool out of me for over an hour. I’m supposed to be in the business of being Christ to these children, of encouraging them, of not breaking off the bruised reeds or quenching the smoldering wicks.

I promise I’ll do better. The guitar is insured. A child’s future isn’t except in God’s hands and with the right words and loving actions from God’s helpers.


Wonderful Worlds of Life

Clouds at 30000 Feet

At 30,000 feet, ain’t nothing alive out there. Oh, wait…

Devotional #644

Romans 6:39: Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don’t know if you saw the news item which indicates that there are living bacteria at 33,000 feet. No doubt bacteriologists have known this for a while, but the article by Stephanie Warren had this to say about life at 33,000. (You may insert your own joy of flying joke here.)

Earth’s upper atmosphere—below freezing, nearly without oxygen, flooded by UV radiation—is no place to live. But last winter, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that billions of bacteria actually thrive up there. Expecting only a smattering of microorganisms, the researchers flew six miles above Earth’s surface in a NASA jet plane. There, they pumped outside air through a filter to collect particles. Back on the ground, they tallied the organisms, and the count was staggering: 20 percent of what they had assumed to be just dust or other particles was alive. Earth, it seems, is surrounded by a bubble of bacteria.

Scientists don’t yet know what the bacteria are doing up there, but they may be essential to how the atmosphere functions, says Kostas Konstantinidis, an environmental microbiologist on the Georgia Tech team. For example, they could be responsible for recycling nutrients in the atmosphere, like they do on Earth. And similar to other particles, they could influence weather patterns by helping clouds form. However, they also may be transmitting diseases from one side of the globe to the other. The researchers found E. coli in their samples (which they think hurricanes lifted them from cities), and they plan to investigate whether plagues are raining down on us. If we can find out more about the role of bacteria in the atmosphere, says Ann Womack, a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon, scientists could even fight climate change by engineering the bacteria to break down greenhouse gases into other, less harmful compounds.

I wrote about bacteria which live in the depths of the oceans under incredible extremes of pressure and temperature. This discovery is evidence of the creative power of God whose love and live-giving power reach through the whole universe. There is no place we can be anywhere in creation that puts us out of the reach of God’s greatness. Praise God for his providence to all of his creation and especially to us, his children!

Small Deeds of Kindness

Joe the Barber

John 6:9: (There was) a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish…

I don’t know if you saw the story this week about “Joe the Barber,” a retired Hartford hair cutter who has been giving free haircuts to the homeless for 25 years!!
Anthony Cymerys or Joe the Barber as he is better known began his haircuts for the homeless operation back in 1988 after he was moved by a sermon he heard in church about the homeless. He had just retired as a professional barber and was only cutting hair for friends and family, but after hearing this sermon he made it his goal to make a difference. He decided he wanted to help the homeless look less homeless and so he prepared a portable barber’s kit and set to work!

Since then he has been cutting hair and providing food for the homeless in Connecticut and his selfless actions have been praised and commended, as well as inspiring others to help those less fortunate than themselves.

At first he started by helping those in shelters and convalescent homes, before moving his hair-cutting operation to the downtown YMCA. After that he moved to the carousel near Bushnell Park before being asked to move on.

These days, he takes his 1996 Crown Victoria down to the Elm Street side of the park and is greeted by dozens of the homeless awaiting his services. Many of the people he cuts hair for have known him for years and he is always given an incredibly warm reception.

Joe connects his clippers to the car battery and sets to work, he discusses hair styles and the like with his clients and puts the finishing touches to his cuts with rubbing alcohol and gives out face and neck massages. He also gives out sandwiches and soup to the hungry!

All he asks in exchange for his services is a big hug, he said, “It really is love. I love these guys. That’s what it’s all about.”

By helping to tidy up the appearance of those on the streets, Joe hopes that he will help them to improve their situations by finding work or housing.

Sometimes I think we wonder what we can do with what we have to help others. Joe’s story is that of a man who considered that he had an ability, some tools and the desire to serve, and so he did.

I wonder what each of us can do, given all the God has bestowed on us.


All Nature Sings


(Devotional #643)

1 Chronicles 16:13: Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.

I don’t know if you listen to broadcasts originating from the glass-enclosed-nerve center of WTOP, 103.5-FM. I do when I driving around, and sometimes I think it’s so I can be glad I’m not driving on the Beltway as I listen to the traffic reports on the eights.
Another feature I enjoy is the Osgood Report, by radio journalist Charles Osgood. Last week he had a story on music from space. Well, sort of.

There are some people who use the sounds from a radio telescope…as a basis for tunes made by humans…

Astrophysics graduate student Wanda Diaz-Merced has lost much of her eyesight to diabetes, but she’s still able to take in the universe.

She relies on her hearing to listen to the hisses and pops of signals collected by radio telescopes. She began hearing patterns – rhythms that could be put to music.

Data from space, converted to synthesized musical sounds by a process called “sonification” – makes it easier for us humans to distinguish sounds and pitch.

Take that one step further by adding instrumentation…and you have music you could say was actually made in heaven.

Diaz-Merced has teamed up with another researcher who’s a musician – Gerhard Sonnert – and they’re now making beautiful space music together. Here’s a link to  a page with both “sonified” data and music created from those sounds:

There’s no sound in the vacuum of space, of course – but there is a lot of information out there – and now some of it’s being made into music we Earthlings can enjoy.

The universe, spoken into existence by God, does ring with the music of the spheres. Praise God for his wonderful and musical creation!


Our choir at church recently did an SATB version of a song by Laura Story called “Blessings.” The words and ideas struck me, and, when I heard the solo version on the radio while doing some painting at our church, I took that as a sign that I should post a link to it here. Enjoy!

Here’s a condensed version of an interview with Laura Story in which she talks about how the song came to be written.

Laura Story had a highly successful career as a contemporary Christian singer. She would have described herself as blessed in the conventional sense of the word. In 2005, she married a handsome athlete and began working in music and women’s ministry at the 4,000-member Perimeter Church in Atlanta. Her 2008 national debut Great God Who Saves, won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album and earned Laura two consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year.

But a brain tumor hospitalized her husband in 2006. The faith Story sang about was put through the unexpected fires of fear and loneliness. Most young newlyweds don’t imagine being kept alive at one point by breathing machines or having to find their way through significant post-operative vision and memory loss. Could grace notes resound from such a life-altering struggle?

The answer, according to Laura, is a resounding “Yes!” She declares, “We have a voice that wasn’t there prior to this suffering. I can hardly begin to tell you of the hundreds of hurting people we’ve prayed with, people going through more than we have. This is a chance to share the Gospel.” The song “Blessings” came from her experience.
She says of it:

The song shows that we still have more questions than answers. But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make. Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances, or are we going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God?

Our circumstances have magnified the blessing of marriage. As high school sweethearts, we faced the strong chance that our long-awaited marriage bond might last just two years. Once you’ve rallied through a life-threatening illness together, the rest of it is like a surprise; every day is a new gift that might not have been there. It’s not as big a deal now if he leaves his socks on the floor.

It hasn’t been easy. Everyone wants to be a mature and equipped follower, but would I have signed up had I known what it would take? God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for Him as a Savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it.

Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship Him. Martin hasn’t received complete healing, and that can be hard when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, “Yes, this is how faith works. God has proven to be faithful.”

We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all. God is love. He tells us so repeatedly in the Bible. Yet sometimes it doesn’t feel like He loves us. What if we pray for our loved ones to make it through, but they pass away before we even say goodbye? What if we pray for our children to grow up healthy but instead we watch them suffer a life-threatening illness? What if we pray for that little extra money to make ends meet, but we end up losing our home?

It’s devastating when we don’t see God’s answers to our prayers. “We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.” What if the very thing that is best for us isn’t the same as what we’re praying for? All the while, God hears each spoken need. He loves us way too much to give us lesser things. God is watching over always, directing every moment we experience. So if He isn’t answering our prayers how we think He should, does that mean He isn’t answering? Or could it be something else? Could it possibly be that He’s really blessing us?

These are thoughtful, heartfelt words from a spiritually aware young woman. May the song that she has written and that we will sing help people struggling to find the blessings in their lives.

Brown Thumbs and New Hope

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Devotional #642

Matthew 6: 25-27: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

I don’t know if you recall my mentioning in earlier devotionals that I have a brown thumb. In case you don’t remember this, I do. And I know it, and admit it. So when I got some day lilies last summer to go around the mail box, I wasn’t surprised when the leaves turned yellow and died. Maybe I watered them too little; maybe I watered them too much; maybe I planted them too deeply; maybe I didn’t plant them deep enough. I don’t know. I’ve killed plants off so frequently I just shrugged at this latest example of floracide and went on. The poor plants endured as some dry brown husks.

Then, this spring, I noticed that they were coming back! They had greened up, and one of the two plants started growing. Now it has nice yellow flowers. The other is still stunted but still, it’s green!

I reported my experience to one of our gardeners extraordinaires at church, who also happens to be in the choir, Mary Alice Corder. She knows a whale of a lot about plants and flowers, and I figured she would be impressed with my success at bringing back the flowers. But she said, “Well, you can’t kill day lilies. They’ll live in a ditch by the side of the road and they don’t care if it’s too wet or too dry.” I was glad to hear they were hard to kill, but then was not as impressed with my success in bringing them back. I really didn’t do anything, after all. Apparently, if I want real success with day lilies, what I need to do is dig a ditch by the side of the road, put them there, and ignore them. This would work well for me.

I think my experience with these poor plants has a spiritual dimension. Sometimes we try to get something going, something worthwhile and important. We do our best to try to grow something, somehow, and our efforts come to nothing or just flat out fail. We become discouraged and give up on whatever it was that we wanted to succeed so badly.

But, like my flowers, there is a power at work far greater than our poor pitiful efforts. We now that we plant the seeds or the flowers but it is God who makes them grow. We have to do our part, for sure, but by and large, we do not do the real work. The real work of God’s Kingdom is ongoing, and we have a part in it, but we do not need to concert ourselves with the success or failure of each little project or each little part of the grand design. That has been taken care of by the Master Designer, in whose care we all live and grow. Praise God for God’s providence and mighty power bestowed on his children!