Only a Shred

Only a Shred

Acts 3:19  (CEV): So turn to God! Give up your sins, and you will be forgiven.

I don’t know exactly how many of  you have used a shredder, although I suspect that most of us have at one time or another. We’ve burned through several shredders because we generate a lot of paper we need to destroy

I was shredding something the other day, and when I finished I decided to look at the little warning icons that lie beneath the shredder’s slot where all the bad paper goes to die. This was the first time I had looked closely at the warnings, and I found these:

  1. An exclamation point, which meant either “danger” or “I’m excited about shredding.” Don’t laugh too much at that. Kathi Crowder says she enjoys “shredder therapy” and looks forward to tearing paper up. It is cathartic, I must admit.
  2. An icon of what I take to be a book which must mean, “Only shred the pages and not the hard covers, dummy.”
  3. An icon of what look like fingers. This must be a warning to not put your fingers into the slot, to which I say, “Duh!” The only fingers fitting into that eighth inch slot would be the legendary ribbon fingers. Or a baby’s fingers, although anyone who would let a baby near a shredder is seriously lacking. If you’ve wanted to do this, I have these words for you: “Don’t! And call your mental health professional yesterday!”
  4. A representation of a screwdriver. ‘Nuff said, except “Don’t!”
  5. A picture of a necktie. Don’t put that in unless you’d like to have a real necktie party.
  6. What seems to be an aerosol can. Don’t even try to shred that unless you’ve been aching for a new shredder. What I think they mean is, “Don’t try to spray the contents of the can into the slot.” But why would you want to?
  7. What I take to be a representation of a woman’s hair. No. Don’t unless you want a really funky hairdo.

The point of all this, besides advocating safety at home and office, is that all of us have things we’d done or thought that need to be shredded. We can try to be our own shredders and try to do something about the many ways that we fall short. But we can’t. Only God can change our ways for the better, and the ultimate example of that was Christ’s death on Calvary. And it wasn’t paper that God destroyed but rather the grip of sin and death upon our souls. Praise God for his love, grace and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that we don’t have to worry about shredding our lives. God had already done it before we were born. Amen.

Repair or Replace

Repair or Replace

Revelation 21:5 (NIV): He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’

I don’t know if you think much about the issue of repairing something as opposed to replacing it, but I bet you’ve had to contend with it. In most cases, if something is low-cost, it might cost more to repair than to replace. If the cost is higher, the same dilemma applies, although if you have an older car, the cost of repairs might be more than the car is worth, in which case you would replace it.

You might recognize the title of this as a reference to the Safe-Lite auto class replacement company as in “Safe-Lite repair, Safe-Lite replace.” Other than using the wrong form of the verb in the slogan (it should be, “Safe-Lite Repairs, Safe-Lite Replaces), but who’s counting except some anonymous grammar enthusiasts? I had occasion to use them two times, one when my wagon was fully loaded and I pulled into the driveway apron. The glass shattered, and it wasn’t me, honest. My mechanic told me the car had torqued and that flexed the rear window beyond its limits. The other time I did break the rear glass by sticking our mailbox through it. Don’t ask.

The point of all of this is that we are all broken, and although we try to fix ourselves, we can’t do it. God can, however and works with us through his grace and mercy to make us whole. Now, we don’t become totally whole in this life, but through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are joined with him in resurrection, and it is then that we are made fully whole. Praise God for God’s grace, mercy and love which makes whole what we cannot fix. Amen.

On Pens and Ink

On Pens and Ink

Psalm 139: 23-4: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

I don’t know how you feel about pens. I think they’re great. I even started a pen collection years ago. At its zenith, I had a Mont Blanc ballpoint which someone gave to me and a Parker cartridge pen I used in college. I had gone on to look at Waterman models from the 1930’s but gave up on my collection when I figured out pens, like weddings and boats, could be a money pit.

I didn’t always have such a good relationship with pens. We were exposed to writing using the Zaner-Bloser method, which used the ugliest pen on record. The business end was supposedly designed to fit young fingers while the other tapered to a point which had what looked like a small onion dome on it. Whoever designed this instrument of potential mayhem had never been around an elementary aged boy. When it came time for penmanship, we boys tried to stab our compadres with the sharp end. The pain served to keep our minds on how terribly awful our efforts at writing were. I was an “A” student otherwise, but for five years, my practice papers came back with “C’s” on them and the admonition, “Work on legibility, Danny. I know you can do it.”

It’s a good thing we didn’t have much access to the ballpoint pens of the era. A friend took one of his fathers and showed it to me at recess. Somehow we got the pen to leak all over us, ruining our shirts and incurring the wrath of our mothers.

I couldn’t write the way my elementary school wanted me to. I suffered through it and was happy to go to intermediate school where there was no talk of penmanship. I promptly abandoned cursive and resorted to printing, like every boy I knew. There was no talk of our doing this beforehand: we just did it.

About this time my father came home with a typewriter and I hunted and pecked my way through high school and college. In graduate school, I found I had to hand write my masters essay. We had a practice test, and I got the test back with this on it: “Nice work, Mr. Verner, but please work on legibility.”

I learned to type when my school acquired computers and we were required to take a course in programming using Basic, which couldn’t program enough to get anyone out of bed. But I could type.

About this time, I figured out the ballpoints had improved greatly. And ever better, businesses gave them away for publicity. My favorite pen is one given out by our mechanic, which seems to last forever and has a little squishy doughnut looking thing on the end that can be used for texting. With it, I could send messages at half the speed of a ten-year-old.

I generally have two pens on my person. Someone asked me why, and I said, “In case one fails?”

“Has that ever happened?” they asked.

“No, but it could.”

It seems to me that we are like the ballpoint pens in my experience. We start out messing up all over the place, but the God comes into our lives, and everything we do is improved if we follow God’s will. Because of his love and goodness to us, we grow in our spiritual qualities and are able to better to what God wants us to. Praise God for taking us as we are, loving us and making us into creatures that are even better than a 1936 Waterman. Amen.

 

Me, My, Mine

Me, My, Mine

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I don’t know if you think about yourself. I know I do, and I do that too much. If my mind were a house, the décor would be about thirty years out of date. It’s a place that even I don’t want to spend much time.

The cure for thinking about ourselves too much is, not surprisingly, to think about something else. It’s a matter of the old saying from the early computer age, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If we fix out minds on junk, we will soon be addicted to junk. If we fix our minds on the good around us, we will be filled with goodness.

Paul wrote about this truth to the church at Philippi. He knew that, if the church were to grow, it would be through the grace of God and the thoughts and actions of the believers. They had to think about admirable and loving qualities— and then put those qualities into action.

We must be about the same business. If we are outwardly directed, we won’t be paying attention to ourselves, but will be concerned for others and our world. And as we do, we will have a spirit of humility. The writer of Micah describes such a state in the sixth chapter and the eighth verse of the book: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. I believe that if we act justly and love mercy, then we will walk humbly with God. God has created us to live together with the Spirit among us. And this will keep us from being held captive in a house that is thirty years out of date. Amen.

A Wide Open Space

A Wide Open Space

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 : For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

I don’t know how you felt about our one-month choir vacation. I looked forward to it and then enjoyed it for a week. While having the time off was nice, it did pose some problems.

For one thing, I didn’t know what day it was. I have an infirm grip on this anyhow, but take away rehearsals for bells, Ensemble, Chorale and ESOL classes, and I also didn’t know where I was as well.

There were other problems as well. Without our special “choir seats” to sit in, we were thrown on the mercies of the nine o’clock congregation. I chose my seat carefully, trying to avoid those I knew who believed that sitting in any particular place enabled them to claim it in perpetuity. So, each Sunday, I chose a seat and cowered down, half-expecting to be swooped upon. My prayers worked, because no one accosted me. The experience did improve my prayer life.

Another problem is that we were more starved for friendship than we would have been otherwise. Our rehearsal time allows us to talk with each other (briefly as we learn anthems, to be sure) share the terror of going over a new anthem, indulge in inside jokes (as in “Does anyone have a problem with this passage or maybe your neighbor does?). And then we learn to depend on each other for direction and accuracy as we move from our places in the front of the sanctuary, scattering to places unknown and hoping that we chose a place to sit that is unclaimed.

I think that God has created experience so that we may have a time to learn music and a time to take a break from that, that we have guaranteed seats and we may have to find a safe place to sit and that we immerse ourselves in routine and we may give up our choir routines for a while.

“For a while” is a critical phrase. It’s good to have a break, as long as it doesn’t last too long. In a sense our life here on earth is “for a while.” We know that it will be over one day and then we may experience the life that lasts forever because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Praise God for routine and that lack of it, for an improved prayer life and for the community that nurtures us, wherever we go. Amen.

 

On Pens and Ink

On Pens and Ink

Psalm 139: 23-4: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

I don’t know how you feel about pens. I think they’re great. I even started a pen collection years ago. At its zenith, I had a Mont Blanc ballpoint which someone gave to me and a Parker cartridge pen I used in college. I had gone on to look at Waterman models from the 1930’s but gave up on my collection when I figured out pens, like weddings and boats, could be a money pit.

I didn’t always have such a good relationship with pens. We were exposed to writing using the Zaner-Bloser method, which used the ugliest pen on record. The business end was supposedly designed to fit young fingers while the other tapered to a point which had what looked like a small onion dome on it. Whoever designed this instrument of potential mayhem had never been around an elementary aged boy. When it came time for penmanship, we boys tried to stab our compadres with the sharp end. The pain served to keep our minds on how terribly awful our efforts at writing were. I was an “A” student otherwise, but for five years, my practice papers came back with “C’s” on them and the admonition, “Work on legibility, Danny. I know you can do it.”

It’s a good thing we didn’t have much access to the ballpoint pens of the era. A friend took one of his fathers and showed it to me at recess. Somehow we got the pen to leak all over us, ruining our shirts and incurring the wrath of our mothers.

I couldn’t write the way my elementary school wanted me to. I suffered through it and was happy to go to intermediate school where there was no talk of penmanship. I promptly abandoned cursive and resorted to printing, like every boy I knew. There was no talk of our doing this beforehand: we just did it.

About this time my father came home with a typewriter and I hunted and pecked my way through high school and college. In graduate school, I found I had to hand write my masters essay. We had a practice test, and I got the test back with this on it: “Nice work, Mr. Verner, but please work on legibility.”

I learned to type when my school acquired computers and we were required to take a course in programming using Basic, which couldn’t program enough to get anyone out of bed. But I could type.

About this time, I figured out the ballpoints had improved greatly. And ever better, businesses gave them away for publicity. My favorite pen is one given out by our mechanic, which seems to last forever and has a little squishy doughnut looking thing on the end that can be used for texting. With it, I could send messages at half the speed of a ten-year-old.

I generally have two pens on my person. Someone asked me why, and I said, “In case one fails?”

“Has that ever happened?” they asked.

“No, but it could.”

It seems to me that we are like the ballpoint pens in my experience. We start out messing up all over the place, but the God comes into our lives, and everything we do is improved if we follow God’s will. Because of his love and goodness to us, we grow in our spiritual qualities and are able to better to what God wants us to. Praise God for taking us as we are, loving us and making us into creatures that are even better than a 1936 Waterman. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Patched but Neat and Clean

Patched, but Neat and Clean

Psalm 51: 7: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to follow a dress code, whether for a school or a business or organization. I’ve had plenty of experience with these, starting with elementary school and continuing through high school. The college I went to didn’t care what we wore as long as we were decent, and I don’t want to describe some of the outlandish outfits my fellow students wore. One fellow from Wyoming dressed as Davy Crockett. I don’t know why, but he went on to start a million-dollar internet business. I tended to favor sweat suits, with occasional lapses for a shirt and tie for special occasions.

My high school probably had the toughest code. The boys were forbidden to have “beards, mustaches and other eccentricities,” the last being the elastic provision of the code to take care of every continency. The girls couldn’t wear slacks, and their skirts or dresses had to be knee-length. Violators would be sent home to change, and they couldn’t come back until they did. We had a boy move from the West Coast my junior year, and he was a die-hard surfer dude who dressed the part even though we don’t have waves like the left coast. He wore “surfer shirts,” which looked a lot like tee shirts to me. The rules required that shirts have collars, so when Mike showed up wearing his surfer attire, he was sent home. He was happy to be there, and stayed until the school threatened him with suspension, which made little sense since he was home already. Anyhow, he came back, wearing another surfer shirt. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think he went through this about four times before his parents gave up and put him into a private school without a dress code. I assumed he continued to hang ten there, and lost track of him. He wasn’t stupid or willful: he was trying to live his dream, and the school stood in the way.

Another code provision that I remember was one from my elementary days. The code for our working-class school read, “Clothes may be patched, but should be neat and clean.” My mom took care of this, so I was always neat and clean and sometimes patched. That was all right with me.

I got to thinking that, spiritually, we present ourselves of God torn and broken by our sin. Through His grace, he patches us so we can remain in his presence, and we become neat and clean. The hymn goes, “Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,” and that describes us in our state of grace. Thank God for healing, for sanctification and for our hope through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Out Here on My Own

 

 

Solitary Figure 2

Colossians 1:16: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

I don’t know how much writing you do, but I suspect that you must do some, from emails to shopping lists to cards. I do more than my share, and I’ve noticed something that might be of help to you if you ever do any kind of writing at all.

There are certain techniques that help to keep the writing flowing. One is to write every day at the same time, if you can, and in the same place. Your brain somehow associates the time and the place with writing, and so the words come more easily.

Something else that works for me (and different writers have different techniques) is to write half of my daily allotment of 1000 words and then stop and take a break. This allows my subconscious to come up with a way though the rest of the allotment. Sometimes I’ll stop at 500 words and have no idea what happens next. But after my break, I have at least one idea about how to continue, and sometimes more.

God created us in a wonderful manner so that we can accomplish something while something else is going on. Praise God for being the creator, for allowing us to be co-creators in so many ways and for showing us a way out where there doesn’t seem to be one, especially a way out of sin, which God accomplished by sacrificing his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Small Signs

small signs
1 Kings 19:12: And after the earthquake came a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire there was a still small voice.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about how many emotions we can convey with our faces. You’re in luck, because I can tell you that we can show about 20 emotions, They are happiness, sadness, fearfulness, anger, surprise, disgust, happy surprise, happy disgust, sad fear, sad anger, sad surprise, sad disgust, fearful anger, fearful surprise, fearful disgust, angry surprise, angry disgust, surprised disgust, hatred, and awe. I’d bet you’d never thought of some of these combinations, much less how they’re expressed.
So-called “micro expressions” are also part of the realm of facial and other expressions. We’ve all used them: they’re brief expressions, usually facial, which give anywhere from a hint to a good idea to what the person using the expression is thinking or feeling. A widely used and easily read example occurs when someone rolls their eyes. If it’s just part of a roll, it’s a micro expression, although the shorter version is rarely used by teenagers since they want their feelings fully understood.
My favorite micro expression is the “eyebrow flash,” which involves raising both eyebrows and then turning them quickly to their rest position. People using these may also smile, and generally no words are spoken but the message gets across. This expression is used after we’ve greeted someone at church or work for the first time. If we come across them again soon, we don’t repeat our entire greeting. Instead, the people involved use an eyebrow flash to indicate that they are still glad to see the person and that they have already completely greeted them. For homework, you can see if you can think of other micro expressions and maybe be aware of when they’re being used.
I was also thinking of micro expressions in the Bible, those small signs that God uses to convey messages. The birth of Christ is one example. In this experience, an obscure peasant girl gave birth to a baby. At the same time, the birth was attended by angels singing to shepherds and giving them the good news. In this case, God used the still small voice of the birth to convey a start to His message for the world and also the glory of the heavenly host to announce it.
We all have small signs that God gives us, and it is important that we be alert to them. At the same time, we experience the grandeur and glory of God in a way that is hard to miss. With both, we need to respond to what God is trying to tell us. Praise God for small and large signs, for this season of the year, for the birth of His Son, and for his sacrifice on the cross which gave us new life, now and forever. Amen.

Back to the House

 

House of the Lord

Psalm 23:6: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I don’t know what your family did for vacation when you were young, whether it involved the sea shore or the mountains or something else. I had a student once who wrote a story about a family spending their Christmas vacation in a hotel. I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing, so I said, “You have to change that. It’s not realistic. Families don’t spend Christmas in a hotel.”

She said quietly, “Mine does.”

Oops.
Our “vacations” involved visiting relatives, some of whom lived in the mountains, so it wasn’t a total wash. Since both my parents were from large families, there were endless rounds of visiting cousins and uncles and aunts as we endured countless hours of a grown-up conversations.

Our favorite place to visit was where we stayed at my maternal grandmother’s house, which lay across a gravel road from some railroad tracks. We walked the tracks (don’t try this at home, kids), gathered up candy thrown from train crews and reveled in the sight of something so large and so powerful. Behind the house was a sizable creek with a length of cable dangling from a tree growing from one bank, ideal for playing Tarzan or Errol Flynn. My grandmother owned a cow which she kept in a barn whose loft was filled with bales of hay. We climbed to the loft and made forts out of the hay, using dirt clods as “ammunition” for our pretend battles. And I loved working the pump to bring my grandmother cool, fresh water from the well. To this day, if anyone needs to have a pump primed, I’m your man.

On one visit when I was about ten, I noticed how my younger relatives referred to returning to my grandmother’s home. They said, “Let’s go back to the house.” I thought it odd they didn’t call it “our house” or “our home” or “where we live,” but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the expression. Calling it “the house” was reminder of the place where we sat in front of a coal-burning stove during our time there at Christmas and listened to our elders talk, where we ate sumptuous Southern meals at that time prepared by the women of the family, and where we snuggled under warm hand-sewn quilts when it was time to go to sleep.

I think it was no accident that Jesus spoke of his “Father’s house” as the place that faithful will live out their eternal lives. There we will sing praise to God without having had a rehearsal, eat from a glorious Messianic feast, be in the presence of all the believers we have known and more, and bask in in the warm love and experience the bountiful grace of our heavenly Father.

Praise God for our houses on this earth, which give us shelter and encourage community, and praise be to the Father for our eternal home in a world without end. Amen.