Resting in the Everlasting Arms

 Everlasting Arms

Deuteronomy 32:27: Our eternal refuge with Our Creator eternal, and God’s almighty arms underneath are everlasting.

I am almost three weeks into my radiation treatments for prostate cancer (my prognosis is positive and the treatments are quick and painless, and I am thankful that so far I have had no adverse effects), and share a ride with a woman whom I’ll call Sharon from our church. It’s nice to have company on the 32-mile round trip drive, and I’ve gotten to know Sharon better over the past couple of weeks.

The past couple of weeks, Sharon has shared a number of stories from her past with me. She grew up in Derry, a small town in New Hampshire and went to the local high school, where Robert Frost taught for a while. (She told me she did not have him as a teacher.) The population was so small that one school bus covered the entire attendance area. And I thought I had a long bus ride in high school! Sharon went on to say that buses were only for students through grade eight. After that, they were on their own. Her father went to work at 6:30 AM and dropped her at a traffic circle about a half mile from school. The janitor lived at the school so he had the building open and stoves going when she arrived. I imagine it was a glimpse of Paradise to come in to a warm building from the New Hampshire winter.

Sharon’s older brother was born in 1930. While he was still an infant, his mother stood holding him in their living room while an electrical storm raged about them. Lightning struck the house, traveled into the room and hit the baby, not harming the mother at all. Of course the infant suffered neurological damage and had seizures and other medical problems the rest of his short life. He passed away at age seven when Marge was four, and she spoke with great tenderness of taking care of this unfortunate child.

I had never heard of a babe in arms being struck by lightning, much less while being held in loving arms. It seems to me a parallel to how God treats each of us as God’s eternal children. We are babes in this world, and as the storms of life rage about us, sometimes we are struck by any number of destructive forces. But no matter how we are harmed or the extent of our injuries and diseases, the arms that hold us are everlasting. Let us praise God for God’s goodness, care, compassion and eternal vigilance over us, who are to the Creator as babies to their mothers.

 

 

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Facts and Theories

Image

John 14:6: Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

I don’t know how you feel about facts. Maybe you are a Sergeant Joe Friday type and want “just the facts. M’am.” Perhaps you’re more a theoretical person. I believe this world needs both kinds of people, and you can put me down as theoretical or moonstruck or absent-minded or whatever you wish.

The most dramatic example of this collision of two worlds came when I was student teaching with Helen Leach at Oakton High School in 1970. Helen is an editor now for The Manassas Observer. You may hum “It’s A Small World After All” at this point if you wish. Anyhow, as a graduate student, I was full of theories (and other things). Whenever Helen and I were talking about some issue, I’d say something like, “Well, there’s a theory that applies here.”

And Helen would say, “I’m sure there is.”

“What’s the matter, Helen? Don’t you believe in theories?”

“No, I don’t. I believe in facts.”

We never did resolve our differences, but we both survived student teaching and went on to long careers in which we didn’t traumatize too many students, in spite of many of them deserving it richly.

 Anyhow, this pertains to the present situation in that I still like theories and testing them out no matter how crackpot and benighted they may seem or be. Take the idea (that I read on the internet so I knew that it was true) that turning off your car engine at stoplights and at other times when you’re idling saves gas. I tried this method on both my cars for a tankful of gas and found my mileage was worse, probably because of the gas used by restarting the engine. So facts overcame theory in that case. It should have worked, but it didn’t.

 And so, you’d think that would discourage me from trying to prove any more theories correct. You’d be wrong if you thought so, because I started thinking that if I drove at or below the speed limit and not like a banshee late for a goat sacrifice and coasted whenever possible or prudent, I’d save gas. And money. And the environment. It could be a trifecta of theorizing.

 And I’m here to tell you that it worked! My Impala, which normal gets 17.6 mpg, got 20.1 using this method. I haven’t quite rule out a tank on the Mazda, but I’ll tell you about it when I do.

 I was telling our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, Joanne Hazlett this, and she commented that that’s the way they learn to drive in England, where gas (or petrol) costs four times what it does here. So, I now call this method of driving the Hazlett Method. Be sure to tell Joanna when you see her.

 And so, in this case, facts proved the theory. I’m glad they did, because the bigger kids are starting to make fun of me and beat me up at recess. Being beaten up is a fact I can’t handle.

 Theologically, I think that this pertains because Jesus was not just a theory or an idea or a sprit or a concept. His presence here on Earth was a fact, as was his death on the cross, his resurrection, his teachings, the love of God, the provision for each of us at God’s hand and the community of brother and sisterhood under the benevolent care of the Creator. Let us praise the God who created all tings for facts—and for theories.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happy Boy Flier

Matthew 5: 12: Be filled with joy and be happy…
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. -Denis Waitley
I don’t know if you heard about an editorial in The New York Times by Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, who wrote explains happiness stems from three sources: genetics, events and values.

While half of one’s happiness is genetic, Brooks wrote that 40 percent of happiness can be attributed to events in one’s life and 12 percent boils down to circumstances well within one’s control.

“Everybody’s got these cheerful co-workers who are very annoying, and you think they must have some sort of secret potion. ‘What are they drinking, man?’ But the truth is, half of your happiness is genetic. And understanding that only about 12 percent of your happiness is under your control … you really can control it.”

What are these circumstances one can control to achieve 12 percent of total happiness? Brooks noted that there are four: faith, family, friends and work.

“Don’t waste your time on money, don’t waste your time on these things, spend your time on faith, family, friends and work, making sure that your work serves others and creates value. And if you do those four things, you’re going to get the maximum amount of happiness.”

While a promotion at work, a new house and even a chocolate sundae bring joy, Brooks wrote that the resulting state of euphoria is fleeting — a temporary feeling.

“People will work for years, just to make a boatload of dough and buy that dream house, and six months later, they’re back to their old bummed-out ways,” Brooks wrote.

So while 40 percent of happiness is attributed to events in one’s life — such as that new house, or a professional accomplishment — the happiness experienced from these milestones is short-lived.

Because of this, Brooks advised not to “bet your well-being on big one-time events.” Instead, investing energy in faith, family and friends is a better investment for long-term happiness.

“Knowledge is absolute power in this case. It’s so important. Every time I write about (happiness), it reminds me of the things that I am doing wrong, and it makes me a better dad.”

Mr. Brooks’ reminder is an important one, but it is only a reminder. An itinerant rabbi told the world the same thing over 2000 years ago when he sat thousands of people down on a hillside in Palestine and reminded us of the source of joyful living. Praise God for the gifts of joyful living and for his one and only Son.

 

One Way

One Way Sign
John 14:6-7: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

I don’t know if you have ever driven yourself to distraction. I used “to distraction” rather than “crazy” in an attempt to be sensitive to mental health issues, but every time I hear either phrase, I think of my mother who used to say to my brother and me, with great regularity, “Boys, you’re going to put me in Staunton!” By this, she meant the men in the white coats were going to take her away to the Western State Hospital, a state run mental facility located in the Shenandoah Valley. I assumed all the mothers whose kids drove them over the edge were taken to Staunton until I met some people from Tidewater who talked about being taken to Williamsburg, the site of the Eastern State Hospital. I don’t recall how state mental hospitals came up in conversation, but apparently it did.

I was thinking about being taken to Staunton about a month ago when I realized I have been driving myself to distraction by trying to multi-task. I know, multi-tasking is the hip and fun thing, and all the cool kids are doing it, but just trying to do so had just gotten to me. (I’m even not sure it is possible to multi-task: some studies indicate that when people are multi-tasking, they’re not really doing several things at once, but rather shifting their attention rapidly from one task to another. And, as you might imagine, it’s rather easy to drive yourself to distraction doing this as well, multi-taking or no.)

I realized I needed to stop trying to do more than one thing at a time as the result of what psychologists call a “precipitating event.” Paul being knocked off his donkey is a classic example of such an event. I had come home one afternoon and, as was my custom, as I climbed out of the car, I took up in my hands the bag containing leftovers from lunch, about three Food Lion bags of groceries, a stray tool that needed to come in from the car and mail for the day. Before I loaded myself down, I had put the strap from my laptop case over my shoulder. And because I had my hands full, I held the key to the door in my teeth (don’t try this at home and don’t tell my dentist) so I would be able to open the door without having to take the key out of my pocket. I did all this because I am a guy and I am too lazy to make another trip. Hence, multi-tasking.

Being right handed, I needed to use my right hand to open the door, so I shifted the grocery bags so that their handles hung from my left wrist, which also had the effect of turning the thin plastic straps into a rather effective and extremely sharp blade. You know what I’m talking about.

So, as I was trying to get the key from between my teeth and hold on to my heavy burden, disaster struck. It was a disaster of my own making, but it was a calamity nonetheless. As I took the key from its resting place, the plastic bag garrote cut into my poor defenseless extremity and then parted in the middle. My food supplies for the next couple of days landed with a crash on the hard porch and, suddenly relieved of about thirty pounds on the left side of my unfortunate body, I lurched to the right under the malevolent influence of gravity and my fourteen-inch laptop. The net result was that I fell over in a heap, twisting my torso to avoid falling on the computer and pulling some very large abdominal muscles in what turned out to be an extremely painful episode.

As I said, it was my fault for trying to multi-task, save some time avoid walking an additional 100 feet and get on to something else. I had no need to hurry: it was a pleasant 70 degrees; there was no precipitation, and I wasn’t being pursued by wolves, jackals, ocelots, zombies or middle schoolers.

It was at this point that I began thinking seriously about doing one thing at a time and doing it well And so I have tried to do so this past month, and I think it has created a remarkable change not only in my behavior and also my attitude. I relax and take my time. As a result, I’m not frustrated or harried as much, and I haven’t damaged $17.00 worth of groceries so far this month. I feel more relaxed, and even find myself driving slightly below the speed limit, that is, if there isn’t a BMW hot on my bumper.

The spiritual implications of this are, I think, clear. We need to relax, slow down where possible, do what we do well and take the opportunity to use and enjoy the gift of each millisecond that God has given us. We won’t do everything God has for us to do in this life, or even half of it the tasks God has for us. God is bigger than that, and because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have all the time of eternity. Amen.

Poem: Ladies of the Church

I posted my piece on the ladies of the church last week, and my friend and former colleague Mary McElveen and also former Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, put this on her blog.

She wrote, I wrote [this] for a friend who was asked to say a few words about a lady at the church who died of cancer. Gloria was one of those indefatigable volunteers, and probably has heaven organized and running like a top.

Thank you for letting me post your poem, Mary. Every church has its church ladies.
They are legion,
the church ladies:
the hands that smooth the tablecloths, brew the coffee,
bake the cookies, make the sandwiches,
arrange the flowers.

They think of everything,
then do it.
They are the voices on the phone
the fingers on the keyboard,
the gentle nudge
reminding, recruiting,
reorganizing and regrouping—
doing the things no one has time for,
for the people no one has time for… and for us all.

They are all things good:
secretary and sorceress,
chauffeur and counselor,
teacher and student,
greeter and galley slave…

And I can’t help thinking that if Jesus is among us,
He is cleverly disguised
as a church lady.

The Ladies of the Church

Church Ladies
 
1 Timothy 5:1-3 (selected): Treat…older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters… (and) give proper recognition to widows…

 The title of this piece this is not a reference to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady, a hilarious send-up of an uptight, self-righteous judgmental church lady on Saturday Night Live several years back. No, these church ladies are a group of ladies of a certain age at my church who are at opposite poles from uptight and self-righteous. Many (though not all) of them are widows, and they are faithful supporters of the church and its people. I see them sometimes sitting together in services. They are always immaculately dressed and well turned out and don’t seem to change or age that much.

 The ladies of the church have been through more than most of us. They have suffered the deaths of spouses, children, friends, and losses of all kinds from financial reverses to illness. I would not minimize their sufferings, but they have an indomitable faith, and a spirit that bears them up and carries them on. I feel better just seeing them wherever they are, and they are in most places around town—at plays, concerts, restaurants and sporting events, making a contribution to the life of the community just through their presence and good cheer.

 The ladies of the church have children and grandchildren of their own, and they are actively involved in supporting their families. They baby sit, take the kids to rehearsals, attend performances and games and celebrate birthdays. In some cases they are raising the grandchildren because their children are not able to do so.

The ladies of the church have a wide range of interests. One is involved in a book club that has run for years; she always has a good recommendation for me of a book to read. Another is a Nationals fan like I am and we share in our team’s suffering. One coordinated and taught in our ESOL program for decades. She lived all over the world and has a deep appreciation of other people and their culture. Another oversees a quilting ministry at the church which involves dozens of people. Another is a master gardener and leads the effort to keep the church grounds beautiful.

 I have identified the church ladies by their interests instead of their names because they would not like the attention. In fact, some of them will probably smack me in the head for implying that they are any more special than any one else. But they are, and I value their good sense, insight, sense of humor and their wisdom, although they would not claim any special qualities for themselves.

 When there is a funeral, they are there in the kitchen, making sure the family and friends are fed and insuring that they will have enough food during the trying days after the service. They supply food and help at church dinners—and you’re lucky if you come to a meal where they help provide the food—they are all excellent cooks.

 They are women of faith, with beliefs that have been tested by trial and trouble. They are involved in the Sunday School, music program, missions activities, women’s ministry and senior adult program, just to name a few. They serve without notice, but they are the quiet mainstays of the fellowship.

Of course, there are many other groups within our church family—the smallest babies, the children, the young people, the couples, the singles, those who are middle-aged and the seniors. They’re what helps make a church a church. Every church seems to have them, and each group contributes something special to the community. This time, though, I want to salute the ladies. I hope you’ll recognize and encourage them as well.

 So, here’s to you, ladies of the church. May you prosper, and may you continue to inspire and lead the rest of us. May you keep on keeping on for a long, long time.

 

 

 

No Greater Love

Greater Love
John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I don’t know if you saw or heard the news reports this week about five members of a family who were killed in a rock slide while hiking in the Colorado mountains.

The thirteen-year-old daughter of the family was the only survivor. She told authorities her father shielded her as boulders crashed down on them and likely saved her life.

Rescuers dug Gracie Johnson out of the rubble after Monday’s slide, and she was airlifted to a Denver-area hospital with a broken leg.

“She told me at the last second when the boulders were coming down on top of them that he covered her up and protected her, which I believe it saved her life,” said sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tolsma.

The Deputy said he was one of the first at the scene and heard screaming from beneath the rubble. He saw Gracie Johnson’s hand sticking up through the rocks.

“I started digging her out until I had more help come and we got her all the way out,” he said.

When I heard this sad story of loss and the bright note of salvation, I immediately thought of what Jesus said about great love. He was talking about giving up one’s life for a friend, or a family member. While either one would be difficult, I would suggest that most of us would find it easier to sacrifice ourselves for a friend or family member than it would be to give up our lives for someone we don’t know.

And yet that is exactly what Jesus did—he sacrificed himself for friends and family, certainly, but he also died for his enemies and those he never knew, and those yet unborn—and that would include each of us. Thanks be to God for this love which reached out to us and came to us through the centuries to redeem us. Amen.