Just a Day Sail

23 Mar

SpreadersSpring is officially here and to celebrate we took a lovely day-sail on Santa Teresa. Yes, the rails need to be sanded and varnished. Yes, the brightwork needs to be sanded and varnished. Yes, there are a thousand and one things to fix, replace, and adjust, but sometimes you just have to put down the brushes and tools and go sailing.

On Friday Jan and I unmoored and sailed up the bay to the docks on Shelter Island to wash Santa Teresa down, top off her batteries, water and fuel. I spent the night aboard and four friends — and a puppy — joined me for a delightfully relaxing day on the water. I don’t believe we topped 4 knots, even with all the sails set, but the sun was warm, the air fresh and the water was clear.

Davey, Tom, Brett & Rob

Davey, Tom, Brett & Rob

Coco & Tom

Coco & Tom

No, there aren’t any good sea stories to report. Nothing broke or caught fire. No sign of pirates or vicious marine life to report, just a lazy spring day with good friends and an unhurried afternoon. Life is good!

Santa Teresa's Bow

Santa Teresa’s Bow

Your Sins Will Find You Out

9 Mar

Once a lady visited a coffee shop for breakfast. The place was packed and the waitress couldn’t find a table for the woman to sit at, so she invited her to sit at the counter. There was a big man sitting beside her with a steaming cup of coffee and two beautiful powdered sugar donuts. The woman stirred her herbal tea and watched him devour the first donut and wash it down with his coffee. Then he got up from the counter and left an empty mug and his plate with one, lone donut.

It was the most beautiful donut she had ever seen.  It was calling her name. It had been so long since she had enjoyed a pastry – you see she was on a very strict diet. She looked left and she looked right. No one was watching. She thought about it for another moment and then decided, “Why not?” The lady snatched the donut, bit into it and went to heaven. It was wonderful! She quickly finished it, but then the man came back from the bathroom…

Once Jesus said, “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known,” (Matthew 10:26). I wonder how many people give in to temptation because they believe no one will ever know. How many people sin under the cover of darkness believing they won’t be caught? The test of integrity is isn’t how you behave when everyone is watching. The measure of integrity is how you act when you are alone.

In Search of Simplicity

23 Feb
Our little cabin on Center Island, Washington

Our little cabin on Center Island, Washington

Jan and I just returned from our vacation up in Washington state. We have a tiny cabin on a tiny island far away from everything. Now I know many people dream of a “simple life” far from the maddening crowd. A place where you don’t have to shave and the height of fashion is an old woolen shirt and a pair of work boots. Center Island is just that.

To get to the island you must drive almost to the Canadian border and then hire a boat to take you to the island. Our little property is a half-mile walk to the other side of the island. I emphasize walk because there are no private motor vehicles (although the community owns a fire engine, a tractor and an old pick-up truck).

The Olympic Mountains

The Olympic Mountains

The good news was, it was too cold for bugs and a tiny space heater warmed our cabin nicely. (The outhouse was another matter.) It rained two days out of three and Jan broke her foot the day before we left for the island. Despite her injury, she baked bread, cornbread muffins and homemade pizza. (She whipped up a cake from bits of leftover flour, canned peaches, and some walnuts, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone about that.) I sat on the porch (in the rain) and did the dishes.

Woods

The road home

So what did I learn sitting under the giant cedars and Douglas firs? I discovered the answer to the search for simplicity isn’t to be found on a boat or in a cabin in the woods. The answer to the search for simplicity can be discovered in the observation of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23) During one of my early Bible studies, shortly after we arrived on the island, I discovered the phrase “if your eye is healthy,” in Greek, literally means “if your eye is single.” In other words, the key to simplicity is “singleness of vision” and what I discovered in my daily walks around the island is, it is too easy to become distracted. As I would walk I could easily become lost in my thoughts and when that happened I didn’t see the world around me. I didn’t notice the doe and her fawns. I didn’t see the beautiful little mushrooms growing in the forest or the eagles soaring overhead. It took a great deal of energy to focus my attention and not become distracted by thoughts of the past (“if only!”) or worries about the future (“what if?”).

I’m glad to be home. For awhile there I was afraid moss was growing on my back and I think I was actually beginning to develop webs between my toes, but the one lesson I want to cling to is to simplify my life by focusing on right now.

Sunrise over Puget Sound

Sunrise over Puget Sound

 

 

From Bitter to Better

7 Jan
In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Things hadn’t worked out the way Naomi had planned. She, her husband, and three sons made a move they believed would provide them with a new life. Things had started well, but then one disaster after another befell her. Life had become so hard she wanted to change her name from “Naomi” (which means “pleasant”) to “Mara” (which means, “bitter.” See Ruth 1:20.)

Life is hard. The world is full of injustice. Bad things happen to good people, but is it inevitable that age sours us? How can we become better instead of bitter?

Cut bitterness off at the roots.

Some people feed their bitter roots, but the Bible teaches us to get rid of bitterness as soon as possible (Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:31).

‘Fess up!

Of course that’s not always possible. Circumstances often blindside us, but Helen G. Lescheid wrote, “Coming to terms with bitterness seems to be the first step toward getting rid of it.” That’s a two-part process: (1) admit your pain, and (2) stop making excuses for what happened. How many times have you heard someone you love say through clenched teeth, “I’m not angry!” Come on! Admit it before bitterness bites you.

Become a forgiver

Here is the Christian key: Don’t let anyone tie you to the past. Stephen forgave his killers even before they threw the first stone! (Acts chapter 7) Forgiveness is liberating! But if that’s true, why don’t we forgive people? A simple answer can be, “They hurt me. I want to hurt them” or “I forgave them once and they didn’t change. Why should I let them continue to hurt me?” We forget that we have been forgiven!

So what’s included in forgiving? Forgetting for one. Let it go, but there is a time for confrontation. God doesn’t expect his children to be doormats. Sometimes we hurt the ones we love and we don’t even realize it. Confrontation doesn’t have to be hostile. In fact confrontation always has the goal of restoration. We value the relationship. Love can conquer.

Finally, forgiveness is empowering. Refuse to allow anyone to crush your spirit. Forgive and prove you are indeed a child of God!

Temptations

18 Dec

asa_johnOne of the first temptations I experienced was being asked, “Hold my Popsicle – but don’t lick it!” Do you remember that situation? There it was: in your hands! It was probably dripping down over your fingers and you were struggling. You gave your solemn word you wouldn’t lick it. The excuses come pouring in: “It’s dripping!” “She won’t notice one little lick.” “She wouldn’t mind.” “She owes me.” And so you struggle. What are you going to do?

  • You can do as you’re told and live with your frustration – the first of many.
  • You might just go ahead and eat it anyway. After all, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
  • You could refuse to hold the Popsicle, but that might cost you a friend.
  • You can try to convince yourself that you don’t really like Popsicles.

It’s tough. Maybe there is another way to deal with temptations. First, we need to understand everyone is subject to temptations — everyone. We’re not all subject to the same temptations (Since I have a childhood fear of needles, I’ve never been tempted to shoot up drugs), but we are all subject to temptation. (It’s very personal.) Armed with that knowledge, like a good Boy Scout, we can be prepared. We can avoid those situations and people that tempt us, and we can prepare our responses in advance.

Second, Remember: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” If I told you not to think about deadly, black vipers sitting under your chair, you probably won’t be able to think about anything else until you look to make sure I’m joking. On the other hand, if I told you to think about the most delicious hot fudge sundae, complete with whipped cream and a bright red cherry, you probably wouldn’t be thinking about that black snake.

Jesus told a parable about an unclean spirit: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45 English Standard Version)

If you want to escape temptation, you need to fill your mind and your life with good things.

Finally, when I was a little boy, my family lived on the edge of a soybean field in Kansas. My mom hated mice, but try as she might; there was no way to keep them out of the house. Of course my mom learned to swing a broom faster than any woman alive too! WACK: flat rat. Now imagine you are a tiny mouse nibbling on a crumb of bread in my mom’s kitchen one night. Suddenly you hear the door open behind you and the light falls across the floor. Your life is about to be measured in milliseconds! What can you do?

You might, John Wayne fashion, turn and face your nemesis. Shake your little defiant mouse fist and WACK: flat rat. A better choice is to run with all of your strength towards the safety of the mouse hole. After all, mice are incredibly fast. However, you hear mom’s footsteps following you. You might be tempted to divide your attention between the mouse hole and looking over your shoulder: mouse hole – mom, mouse hole – mom, mouse hole WACK: flat rat.

No, the only hope you have is to focus all of your attention on the mouse hole and run with all the strength God gave you towards safety. No looking back!

Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 English Standard Version)

The 14 Pointed Star Revisited

10 Dec

It may be one of the two ugliest churches in the world, but the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is a special place. It is a UN World Heritage Site – the first in Palestine and Israel. Constantine the Great’s mother, Helen, was responsible for building it in 339 A.D. Since then it has been rebuilt, survived destruction by the Persians (614), a mad caliph (1009), earthquake (1834) fire (1869) and an Israeli army siege against suspected Palestinian militants who had taken refuge there (2002). The Church of the Nativity was constructed over the traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus, a cave below the church.

If we were to climb down into the cave by the circular staircases on either side of the altar, we wouldn’t recognize the grotto below the church as a cave. Today it is hung with tapestries and lit with lamps. There is a simple altar and there on the floor, supposedly over the very spot of his birth, is a fourteen pointed Silver Star. While it is likely that Jesus was born in a cave (they were used as stables in those days), it is highly unlikely anyone would remember exactly which cave much less exactly which place in the cave was the exact location of the birth of a carpenter’s son almost 400 years earlier!

The 14 Pointed Star in Bethlehem

The 14 Pointed Star in Bethlehem

That Silver Star itself became one of the reasons for the Crimean War (1853-1856, famous for the charge of the light brigade and Florence Nightingale). There have been hostilities between the Roman Catholic Church (West) and Greek Orthodox Church (East) for centuries. Different churches control various parts of the shrines of Christendom in Israel. For example, the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopic churches control the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These groups have often fought with each other (literally – imagine a brawl of monks using crucifixes and candlesticks as bludgeons). In fact today the keeper of the keys to that church is a Moslem!

In 1845 the Roman Catholic Silver Star, which supposedly marks the very place where Mary gave birth to Jesus, was stolen. Napoleon III of France proclaimed himself protector of Catholics and insisted that he was the protector of the holy sites in Israel as well. The Russians had already claimed to be the protector of the holy sites in Israel and of the Orthodox Church through the Turks. Napoleon demanded the keys to the front door of the Church of the Nativity be given to the Romans who were having to use a side door to get in and he also demanded the silver star be returned. This became one of the causes for the Crimean War. The irony breaks my heart: people fighting over the right to protect the birthplace of the Prince of Peace!

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need the “peace that passes all understanding” to take control! With thousands of warring factions each claiming to be the true church, I want nothing to do with “religiosity.” I am neither Protestant, nor Catholic, nor Jew. I am just a Christian. Want to know more? Drop me a line: john@CanyonView.org.

 

(For more information about the Star, please see my previous article: Jan. 6, 2014.)

Peanut Butter and the Bible

24 Nov

 wax tablet

Our English Bible is a translation of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) originals and it is impossible to completely convey all of the meaning of one language into another. That’s why a computer will never replace a human interpreter.

 

There is a very funny example of what happens when once scholars tried to use a computer to translate the phrase, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” from Matthew 26:41. The scholars fed the Greek original into the computer and the computer printed out its translation: “the wine is good, but the meat is lousy.”

 

Preachers – myself especially – often try to explain the meaning of the original languages. How often have you heard me say, “The Greek word means …”? My grandfather hated it when preachers did that. Papa would shake his head and say, “It could mean peanut butter for all I know.” He felt the minister was just showing off; then he’d add with a twinkle in his eye, “I know a little Greek – he owns a restaurant down on the corner.” Later, when his grandson became a Greek major, he changed his mind and was very proud of me. I miss Papa.

 

There are some great word pictures in the Greek Bible though and I’d like to share another one with you. The word for today is hypogrammos and is only found in one place in the New Testament:

 

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

Here it is translated “example,” but it literally describes a model or pattern to be copied. In Peter’s day, they didn’t have paper and papyrus was far too expensive to let a child scribble on, so they would fill a small wooden frame with colored wax. The teacher would use a stylus to scribe the alphabet into the wax. Then the student would put his pen in the grooves and trace the letters until his hand remembered their shapes. That line of letters – the perfect example – was called the hypogrammos, the “above writing.” Then the student would try to write the sentence on his own on the line beneath.

 

Jesus is our example. We practice following in his footsteps and then launch out into our lives looking at the line above ours asking, “What would Jesus do?” Are we following the perfect pattern?

 

By the way Papa, the Greek word for “peanut butter” is fystikovoútyro, but I promise I won’t use it in a sermon!

From the Mailbag

17 Nov

Occasionally I am asked questions about what the Bible teaches. Here is one from my inbox.

“I would like to put up a Christmas tree, but my boss says it’s not a Christian symbol. In fact, he says the Bible teaches against it. I think he’s just cheap.” – R. Cratchit.

Bob, you’re really asking two questions. The first one asks, “Is it wrong to celebrate Christmas?” Let’s deal with that question before we look at your second question, “Are Christmas trees sinful?”

First, there are no commands or examples of Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. The Christmas holiday probably didn’t exist. On the other hand, we can reason, Jesus had a birthday and the story of his birth is an amazing part of the Bible. (See the first three chapters of Matthew and Luke for more details.) Why not set aside a day to re-tell the story and celebrate this incredible event?

Historically, Christmas was an early Christian attempt to re-frame a popular pagan holiday (the winter solstice) in Christian clothes. This practice of taking something from the culture and giving it a new meaning is called “co-opting.” It’s very common. For example, the popular hymn, “He’s the Lilly of the Valley” was actually taken from Jack Thorpe’s 1908 song, “Little Joe the Wrangler” (from the first published collection of cowboy songs). We just changed the lyrics. This has been a common practice for millennia and if it is acceptable to co-opt music, why isn’t acceptable to do the same thing with a holiday too?

Second, it is also important to note the distinction between a “holy day” and a “holiday.” Holy days serve an efficacious purpose: if you observe it properly, you will receive a blessing. Yom Kippur and the other Jewish holy days are examples of just that.

As far as I can see, we have no commands or clear examples of the early Christians observing holy days, although the Apostle Paul told the Romans: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord,” (Romans 14:5, 6). The closest thing we have in Christianity to a holy day would be Sunday – the Lord’s Day, which is celebrated in worship every week.

Third, Bob, perhaps your boss is thinking about Ezekiel’s condemnation of the Israelites: “they put the branch to their nose,” to object to Christmas trees (Ezekiel 8:17). In Ezekiel’s day, people falsely worshiped trees by breaking off aromatic branches and sniffing them, but I fail to see how that is relevant in rejecting Christmas trees, unless people are worshiping their holiday decorations!

Likewise some people say the Christmas tree traces its roots to dendrolatry (the worship of trees). These people claim the old, pagan, Germans worshiped trees and this story claims when the Germans became Christians, they continued dendrolatry by dressing up evergreen trees in Christian garb. This, they claim, is the origin of Christmas trees. Yes, the Germanic people worshiped trees (see “Donar’s Oak” in Wikipedia), but they worshiped oak trees not evergreens.

So let’s come back and look at symbols again. What does a Christmas tree represent in modern times? Hold up a picture of a Christmas tree and ask 100 people what it represents. How many people would answer: “Christmas!” Even if the evergreen tree was a pagan symbol a thousand years ago, it’s not now. That is crucial. What does it represent today? “It’s a Christmas decoration!” is the overwhelming answer.

Finally, let’s look at another symbol: the heart. Hearts represent love and romance, but the heart symbol looks about as much like the human organ as Teddy Roosevelt looks like the MGM lion. So where did this symbol come from? The answer is, it came from the giant fennel seed. You’ve probably never seen giant fennel since Nero ate the last one at one of his famous suppers in the First Century. So how did the “heart-shaped” giant fennel seed come to represent love? Because it was used as a birth control drug in Nero’s day! It represented love, but it represented a very erotic form of love.

Does that mean when someone gives you a heart-shaped valentine, they are suggesting something illicit? No more than erecting a Christmas tree means you want to worship an ancient fertility goddess. Bah humbug!

Five Loaves and Two Fishes

4 Nov

Today’s post is from Philip Clarke Brewer.

Fall in Colorado

Fall in Colorado

God uses
what you have
what you have
to fill a need which
you never could have filled.

God uses
where you are
to take you where
you never could have gone.

God uses
what you can do
to accomplish what
you never could have done.

God uses
who you are
to let you become who
you never could have been.

Another Conversation with Epaphras

27 Oct

Epaphras1This past week my old friend Epaphras stopped by the office for a chat. (And I mean old friend. He’s the 2,000-year-old founder of the church at Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis.)

“Say, isn’t that a new donkey Ep?” I asked watching his burro nibbling on the grass in the courtyard.

He smiled, “Why yes it is. Customs wouldn’t let me bring the old one across the border.” Epaphras offered me a falafel as we sat in the shade. “So how are things going at Canyon View John?”

“Great! We had nearly 500 people here last Sunday night for Trunk or Treat*.”

“That’s wonderful. I would have stopped by but my burro doesn’t have a trunk,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye. “Now if I rode an elephant like Thomas, that would be a different story.”

I had to think about that for a minute and then I laughed. “Seriously Ep, it’s great to see all the kids coming to Canyon View, but I worry. So many of them leave the church when they go off to college. I don’t know what to do or say.”

He thought for a moment, then leaned forward and answered. “That’s the challenge John. There is a critical moment when children must decide whether they truly believe or not. They need to discover if their faith is honestly theirs or if it is just something they inherited from their parents.”

“But think about all the things we are doing as a congregation! We have a children’s minister and a youth minister and Children’s Bible Hour, Bible Classes, Bible Bowl and all kinds of activities too.” I objected wiping the crumbs off my shirt. “Isn’t there something we can do?”

The old man raised his eyebrows. “Those are all fine programs I’m sure. I wish we could have done some of those things twenty centuries ago, but it would be hard to have Children’s Bible Hour in a catacomb.” He thought for a minute and then continued. “But John some things – the most important things – don’t change. If you want your children to have faith, you have to have faith. If the church isn’t important to you, don’t be surprised if it’s not important to your children.”

Then, as usual, he got on his donkey and rode away leaving me with something to think about.

 

* Trunk or Treat is a wonderful program for all the children in the neighborhood. Members (and neighbors) decorate their cars and trucks and provide a safe activity for kids. We have games and prizes and dinner and a costume parade the last Sunday of every October.