Lucky Cat

22 Jul
Bathing Lucky after she fell off Santa Teresa into the bay.

Bathing Lucky after she fell off Santa Teresa into the bay.

This week our little black cat (and shipmate) Lucky passed away. She died in our arms after a long illness. Jan had been feeding her with a syringe and we gave her water through an eyedropper, but it was her time and it broke our heart.

Lucky truly was lucky. We found her twelve years ago cowering under a black car on hot, black asphalt in Phoenix, Arizona. The thermometer read “117 degrees.” The little kitten fit in the palm of my hand and was nearly gone. Only Jan’s sharp ears heard her little cry for help. We raced to a drive-thru and got a cup of ice water. Jan piped water into Lucky through a straw while I drove home wondering where I was going to bury this kitten, but Lucky was always a scrapper and made it through the night and then lived with us on our sailboat, Santa Teresa for five years before moving with us into the parsonage.

During her life, Lucky fell into the ocean twice, accidentally hitched a ride out to sea on the San Diego Pilot boat, chased our other cat Phoebe from boom to boom and up the mast while we lived on board. Together they loved to watch the fireworks over the bay each night.

I don’t know that we will ever adopt another pet. It is just too painful to say good-bye. Even King David was enraged when the Prophet Nathan told him a story about a rich man abusing a poor man’s pet (1 Samuel 12). Lucky – like most pets – gave us so much more than she ever asked for.

“So do our pets go to heaven too?” I am asked. While the definitive answer to that question must remain in my famous notebook (where it awaits God’s answer after I die), I am strongly inclined to say, “Yes.” Even Solomon contemplated this question in Ecclesiastes 3:19-21. So when I think about Lucky, I take comfort in Paul’s observation:

Romans 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Lucky and the rest of creation is waiting for that great day but there is a difference. Lucky might have been naughty (ask me about the mattress on my bunk), but she never sinned. Can we say the same thing?

Novus ordo seclorum

1 Jul

“Charles Thomson (November 29, 1729 – August 16, 1824) was a Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence.” – Wikipedia

 ThomsonThomson had a tragic childhood. His mother died when he was just a boy and his father took the family, five boys and a girl, from Ireland to America to begin again. Within the sight of shore, Thomson’s father died and the sea captain embezzled all of their money. Thomson closed his father’s eyes after hearing his final prayer, “God take them up.” The children were left at the mercy of the New World. Charles rose above it all and became a true American patriot. He became the leader of the Philadelphia “Sons of Liberty” and a good friend of Benjamin Franklin.

When the Continental Congress was formed, Thomson became its secretary – a post most scholars equate with a Prime Minister. For fifteen years Thomson served until the congress was finally adjourned. At its conclusion in July, 1789, Thomson retired to work on a translation of the Bible and wrote a synopsis of the four gospels published in 1815. You see Thomson was a Greek and Latin tutor for the famous Philadelphia Academy and what he is best known for today is his work on the Great Seal of the United States.

It’s on the back of a one-dollar bill. Do you see the Latin motto “Novus ordo seclorum”? It comes from the fourth Eclogue of Virgil:

Now comes the final era of the Sibyl’s song;

The great order of the ages is born afresh.

And now justice returns, honored rules return;

Now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.

“Novus ordo seclorum” means “New Order for the Ages.” Medieval Christians believed Virgil’s poem was a prophecy of the coming of Christ and Thomson, a Latin tutor well acquainted with Virgil, believed the founding of the United States was also part of God’s plan.

It is popular today to tout the separation of church and state, but for the founding fathers there could be no separation of God and state. Think about that the next time you spend a dollar bill.

God’s Swiss Army Knife

24 Jun

swissarmyI love to hike and climb and I love all the gadgets that go with it. Once, for my birthday, my mother gave me a Swiss Army knife. You’ve seen them. It’s not only a pocket knife, but it also folds out into a spoon, a screw driver, magnifying glass, leather punch, and a host of other tools including a toothpick and tweezers!

In churches, deacons are God’s Swiss Army knife. In every congregation there is a need for men to take responsibility for a whole host of activities from keeping the books to mowing the lawn. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he could have told the young minister to appoint accountants, teachers, gardeners, watchmen, technicians, and ministers. We tend to look for jobs and then find men to fit them but God is concerned about the kind of man first:

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (English Standard Version)

In other words, look for a man with the right stuff and he will make sure the right stuff gets done!

The Holiday that Almost Wasn’t

11 Jun

John on VacationLeigh Eric Schmidt writes in her fascinating little book, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, “The success of Mother’s Day was an inspiration.” (Mother’s Day was first celebrated as a recognized American holiday in 1908 after Anna Jarvis led a national campaign. Later Jarvis campaigned against the holiday claiming it had become too commercial!) In 1910 Sonora Dodd promoted the idea of Father’s Day among churches in Spokane, Washington. It only seemed fitting to honor Dads as well as Moms. Father’s Day was celebrated first at the local YMCA, but people were opposed to Father’s Day on two counts. First, it was too feminine. For Mother’s Day people were encouraged to wear carnations. For Father’s Day they were told to wear red roses.

It took some strong sermons to make Father’s Day masculine. One of the first was by a Presbyterian, Conrad Bluhm who titled his sermon, “The Knight That Never Retreats.” Fathers were “rugged, husky, [and] stalwart.” He went on, “It was Father’s Day when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. It was Father’s Day when Noah built the ark. It was Father’s Day when Christ chose the Twelve… The Bible is a man’s book and its lessons are his life-task.” Bluhm continued, “The word Father is found in the Bible 1650 times; mother but 311 times. It is a Father’s book!”

Father’s Day may have become more manly, but people were also tired of commercialism and it seemed like Father’s Day was just another ploy by retailers to sell pipes, socks and neckties so by the 1920s the fire of Father’s Day had nearly gone out – even in Spokane. Schmidt observes, “Father’s Day exchanges appeared as a kind of practical joke; Dad was bewildered by the attention or even somehow duped by these tokens of affection (some of which were clearly purchased more with the giver than the receiver in mind). Also, and this was a source of popular satire, Dad was seen as the one who, in the end, would have to pay for all these gadgets and trinkets. The bills for Father’s Day gifts were viewed as circling back to him, so that he was made to pay, quite literally, for his own undoing ….”

No wonder then it took so long for Father’s Day to be recognized as a national holiday. The first bill was introduced in congress in 1913. Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak for Father’s Day in Spokane in 1916. Calvin Coolidge recommended it in 1924. The bill was defeated three times in congress. (The last one was rejected in 1957.) In 1966 Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972 that Father’s Day became a national holiday.

Of course God was way ahead of congress and told us to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) As Paul observed, this is the first commandment with a promise. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

Giddy for God

5 Jun

asa_johnSunday, June 8th is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Everyone is familiar with Christmas and most recognize Easter, but Pentecost is relatively unknown. In my mind, that is a great shame. It marks the coming of the promised Holy Spirit and the dawn of the Christian Age. Here is an excerpt from my book The Wind from the Shadows (Available from Amazon.com).

 

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

17      “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams;

18      even on my male servants and female servants

in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

19      And I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;

20      the sun shall be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood,

before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

21      And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Have you ever been “giddy for God”? After hiding in the upper room for nearly two weeks with doors and windows closed, on Sunday, Pentecost, at nine o’clock in the morning, the apostles along with over one hundred others, spilled out of their room and into the street praising God. It was a burst of joy so enthusiastic the neighbors thought they were drunk!

But notice the point of Peter’s message: These are the “last days” – the final age has dawned (v. 17)! All history has been pointing to this moment and we are part of it.

Second, God is pouring his Spirit out on everyone, not just a select few: men, women, young, old, slave, free. Holiness isn’t just for a tiny minority of prophets and priests. God’s Spirit is for everyone!

Third, and this is the most difficult point for us to understand, “and they shall prophesy,” (v. 18). We equate “prophesy” with “prediction” and “inspired speech,” but it is so much more than that. Turn with me to the Old Testament:

Do you remember the story of Saul, the first king of Israel?

 

1 Samuel 10:10 When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11 And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12 And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

 

Does that mean Saul suddenly began foretelling the future? No, he became “giddy for God.” Let’s look at another passage from the life of Saul. King Saul sent messengers to capture David, but:

 

1 Samuel 19:20 … when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

 

I’m not suggesting that we should lose control like Saul did, but I am saying the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives should make us happy and maybe, just sometimes, “giddy for God.” Don’t hold back. God loves you and his Spirit is with you – SMILE.

 

All Scriptural quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (R) (ESV (R)) Copyright 2001 by Crossway publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.

 

Isla Coronado Sur

29 May
Anchored just south of the Mexican Navy station

Anchored just south of the Mexican Navy station

Jan and I celebrated Memorial Day with an incredibly relaxing visit, just across the border in Mexico at one of our favorite anchorages on the east side of South Coronado Island. It is always surprising to us that more boaters don’t take advantage this nearby treat. The islands are a nature preserve so it’s true that you can’t land but there is a feast for the eyes. Over sixty species of birds are reported to call the islands their home and there are several varieties of seals and sea lions. The water is incredibly clear and from the number of commercial fishing boats visiting for the day, there must be something for them to catch.

We left our mooring beside the Coronado Bridge at noon on Monday and motor-sailed out of the bay before catching a fair wind south. The seas were very calm and we made about five knots to the anchorage. We anchor on good sand bottom in thirty-six feet of water. I made a dumb mistake and let the anchor chain get away from me with the handle still attached to the windlass. Fortunately I had the good sense to stop it with my left wrist — shattering my watch and seriously bruising my arm. Fortunately the pain dropped me onto the anchor line arresting the run away chain with my rear end. Fortunately my howling sounded very much like a bull seal looking for a date which brought two harbor seals out of the water onto the rocks beside us for Jan to photograph. Then she got the first aid kit to splint my arm. We went to bed early and I got out of doing the dishes!

Watching the Wildlife

Watching the Wildlife

Tuesday was a long leisurely day filled with snacks and barbecue. I managed to reel in an amazing piece of seaweed after “fighting it” for nearly an hour. I was sure it was a record breaking halibut, but fortunately no fish were harmed during our vacation.

The anchor came up on Wednesday much easier than it went down on Monday and the winds had shifted fair for another downwind run back to San Diego.

I suppose what keeps most sailors out of Mexico is the paperwork. Yes, you need your passports. We also have our Mexican import permit, fishing licenses, our VHF marine radio station license, and our annual U.S. Customs inspection tag, but it is well worth the trouble in our estimation. We have never felt in danger, nor have we had any bad experiences in Mexico. In fact, it has always been just the opposite. Of course my arm is in a sling and I need a new watch, but the only real damage was to my pride.

Some Day

21 May

Santa Teresa under sail in San Diego

The temptation was overwhelming. Jan and I were at the San Diego Municipal Docks on Shelter Island this week. It was good to see old friends and make new ones. I was able to help a new friend, William, a sailor from Alaska, repair one of his sails. We really hit it off and I discovered he was looking for two more crew members to help sail his beautiful 50 foot sailboat to the South Seas. As we put the repaired sail back up, William turned to me and asked, “Well, how about it? Can you and Jan break away for six months? You could fly home from Tahiti. I’m leaving in four days.” Sigh. Warm clear water, swaying palms and desert islands. Sigh.

As I write this column sitting in McDonald’s, reminder alarms are going off on my phone and messages are flooding in on my laptop. People are rushing to work balancing hot coffee, cell phones, and egg McMuffins. It’s a hectic world and I’m just as guilty as anyone of being distracted by it and I’m far too busy.

Sigh. Tahiti. Then it dawned on me, the same thing can be said about our spiritual lives. Jesus is inviting us to join him on a grand adventure – destination heaven! Life with a capital L! But I’m distracted, too busy. I make excuses for not putting God first. Someday maybe I’ll find time. Someday I’ll slow down and focus on spiritual matters – after the kids are gone, after I pay off the house, after I retire. Someday. Someday. Sigh.

“Today, if you hear his voice” the Hebrew writer exhorts us (Hebrews  chapters 3 and 4). Today if you hear his voice, enter the kingdom. Today if you hear his voice, start living, really living. Today is the day! Don’t wait! Don’t put it off. I’m going to do it. Will you join me? Please forward my mail to heaven. Let the adventure begin! (I’m still considering Tahiti.)

 

 

Bad Moms of the Bible (and one terrific mom)

5 May

Bad Moms of the Bible

Every year on Mother’s Day, ministers typically choose one of the great moms of the Bible to talk about. This year I considered looking at the “Bad Moms of the Bible.” There are actually quite a few to choose from: Athaliah, the wife of King Jehoram, the daughter of King Ahab and the only queen of Judah, was certainly bad (2 Kings 11). After the death of her son, she killed all the members of the royal family and took the throne, but I guess we can’t count her since technically, she was the worst grandmother of all time. If only she had remembered the names of all of her grandchildren, she would have realized she missed one (who was crowned king a few years later, 2 Kings 11).

My nomination for the worst mom in the Bible is Herodias, Herod Antipas’ wife. She was responsible for the death of John the Baptist after her daughter’s famous dance (Mark 14:8). We don’t give Herodias the credit though for taking Salome to all those dance lessons and recitals. Why she may have even worn her fingers to the bone making those cute little costumes for her daughter, although I doubt it. Apparently there wasn’t much to them.

 ******

Wanda McKeel

Wanda McKeel in Petra, Jordan

On the other hand, I had a great mom and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to just have fifteen more minutes with her to tell her so. She died suddenly during a routine procedure. I had taken her to the hospital where we told stories, laughed together and shared a hug I will always treasure before they wheeled her into the operating room.

Mom’s death was sad, but it wasn’t a tragedy. Dad died a few years before and I always had the feeling she couldn’t bear to be apart from him. In fact, when we buried dad, mom had her name written on the grave marker with her birthday and a place to fill in the date of her passing. It gives me great joy to know they are together again and it fills me with great anticipation to look forward to the day when I will see them once more.

Happy Mother’s Day mom!

 

The Great Easter Controversy

17 Apr

John sitting on a benchIt seems the date of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been a source of controversy almost from the beginning. There is no doubt that Jesus was crucified during the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate on Friday, the eve of the Passover, nearly 2,000 years ago. However the exact date of that Friday is a matter of controversy.

We know that Passover fell on the 15th day of Nisan, but because the Jewish people followed a lunar calendar based on cycles of the new moon, the exact date is difficult to determine exactly. Pontius Pilate ruled from 26-36 A.D. so that narrows the date down to a decade. People have also used a chronology based on the life of the Apostle Paul to narrow the date down a bit more while others have appealed to astronomical models to determine when Jesus died. Since Matthew tells us there was an earthquake during the crucifixion, scientists are even analyzing the geologic record to find the date (although I have yet to find an earthquake fault with the day of the week inscribed on it). The two best dates based on all these facts are April 7th, 30 A.D. or April 3rd, 33 A.D. (I personally lean toward the earlier date, but certainty is nearly impossible to achieve.)

So when is Easter? Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday, so rather than celebrate Easter on a fixed date, most Christians celebrate Easter on a fixed day: Sunday.

Even here there is division. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) decreed that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon (the Jewish Passover moon) following the March equinox. Once again, there is controversy because on most years the actual equinox falls on March 20th, but for church purposes it was decreed the equinox is on March 21st. Wait! It gets more complicated than that because we have to ask, “Which calendar do we use: the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar?” (The Gregorian calendar was adopted by Catholic countries in 1582 to ensure that Easter would fall in the right season.) Right now the two calendars are about 13 days apart. Generally speaking the Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar while the western churches follow the Gregorian calendar, hence two different dates for the celebration of Easter.

Let’s add one more controversy: “What shall we call this holiday: Easter or Resurrection Sunday?” While most people connect Easter with the resurrection of Christ, the historical background of the name “Easter” seems rooted in a English pagan holiday for Eostre – a fertility goddess or perhaps the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar (thus bunnies and Easter eggs) .

Confused? Don’t be. The one thing we know for certain is Jesus really lived and really died and Christians celebrate his resurrection every Sunday not just one day a year, so celebrate every Sunday of the year!

Three Keys to Sharing the Good News

26 Mar

Stammer Park ChurchI’ve heard a lot of talk lately about how we need to reach out to non-Christians. It seems everyone has an idea about a program or a method for evangelism – and that’s great, but I believe it should be easier than that. I’m not enthusiastic about learning what is the equivalent of a sanctified sales pitch. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from our car radio.

As you are driving down the road, you attention is arrested by a great tune. Something speaks to you. It captures your attention and then you begin to listen to the words so you can sing along. We should be like that. Our lives are the music. If we live them well, it gets people’s attention. They begin to observe and listen and perhaps even ask questions. They want to learn the words so they can sing along too.

If I was going to write my own program for teaching people how to share their faith, it would have three parts. The first is simple: smile. Try this experiment. Smile at a perfect stranger. Chances are they will smile back. Christians have a lot to smile about so how did we get such a sour-puss reputation? If thinking about what God has done for you doesn’t make you smile, please do us all a great favor and don’t tell anyone you’re a Christian! We need to talk!

The second point of my plan came from an avowed atheist, the magician Penn Jillette (the talking half of the team Penn and Teller). He made an excellent point in a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhG-tkQ_Q2w). If you really believe in life after death, you must really hate me not to tell me about it. Ouch! So why is it easier to go on spiritual safaris to share the gospel with perfect strangers and we can’t talk with the people we love? Don’t we want to see them with us in heaven?

My final point is closely related to the second. Perhaps we don’t share the good news with the people we love because we’re not sure what to say or we’re afraid we won’t know the answer to a question they might ask or perhaps we were taught it’s not polite to talk about religion or politics. The solution is honesty. Just share why you are a Christian: If there is a God – and I believe there are great reasons to believe there is – then it makes sense to listen to what he has to say. (You’re not one of those guys who is afraid to ask directions or read the instructions are you?) Honesty. If you don’t know, just say, “I don’t know – but let’s find out!” Honesty. Do you need to ask someone’s permission (just to be polite) before you push them out of the way of moving truck? So why is it impolite to talk to people about hope and love and the Abundant Life?

So start smiling! It’s the first step.