Time Like an Ever Rolling Stream

I love this picture. Years ago, when I was in Athens, Greece, while strolling through the city, I happened on this intersection. The old church caught my attention. Nestled in a bustling shopping district, somehow I thought it looked out of place, out of time. Yet I was inexorably drawn to it. I wondered if the people casting about with their shopping activities had any compassion, or even interest in it. Did they even notice it? I’ve kept this picture in my laptop photos ever since. Every time I happen upon the picture, I pause and give thanks for the church of Jesus. 

I don’t know how old it is, but, whatever it’s age, I have no doubt the old church is still there now. The promise of Jesus is, “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it.” (Matt. 16:18b) The church is an ever rolling stream. As I stood observing the indifferent passersby, my mind settled on several points of gratitude.

I’m aware of the greatness, the vastness of the church universal. The Holy Spirit has, for two thousand years, worked in different cultures to produce the promise of Jesus. When I see this picture, I see how it signals the plan of God to build his Kingdom. The church is an ever present reality. From  Genesis to Revelation, he speaks to us disclosing his plan of creation, redemption and restoration.

The church is relevant to all times. It speaks of stability, perseverance, and endurance. Isaac Watts was correct to express a paraphrase of Ps. 90 in his hymn, “time is like an ever rolling stream.” The three streams of the traditional church, Eastern Church, Western Church and Protestant, continue to roll on, toward consummation in eternity. 

The Spirit is preparing the Bride of Christ around the world. People from every tongue, tribe and nation. 

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, 

Bears all its sons away; 

They fly forgotten, as a dream 

   Dies at the opening day. 

Like flowery fields the nations stand, 

   Pleased with the morning light; 

The flowers beneath the mower’s hand 

   Lie withering e’er ’tis night. 

Our God, our help in ages past, 

   Our hope for years to come, 

Be thou our guard while troubles last, 

   And our eternal home. 

(Taken from Watts’ hymn, “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past”)

The old church stands today as a testimony to the faithfulness of God and the worship of people in that culture. By its presence it’s saying to people all around,”Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt.11:28)

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A Special Day

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday: a truly red letter day for the Church universal. Red is the traditional color for that Sunday from the calendar of the church year. I did some holy, celebratory musing as I worshipped with the faithful who gathered at our church. It was my joy to sing in the choir and invite others of the congregants to embrace the Holy Spirit and give themselves to full celebration of their spirits. It was truly a joyous day.

Here is a quote from Irenaeus, one of the early church Fathers from my morning devotionals to help set the scene of what took place the day of Pentecost as reported in Acts chapter 2. 

God “had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in them and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in people who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ. Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that the people of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the gift of first fruits of all nations.” (Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons c. 202) (Italics added)

It was at Pentecost when the Spirit came on the disciples to open the way to all nations for life in this new covenant. In reverse action of the sinful act of the people of Genesis 11 who were judged by God for their haughty response. As the result, God created language barriers to destroy their vaunting pride. The Spirit used language the day of Pentecost to unify his universal church.  And today all three streams of the church, Eastern, Western and Protestant, respond in celebration of the birthday of the church. It is the Spirit who always brings unity, from then till now.  I ask myself this question, “Why do we who are members of his church, engage in so much injurious criticism of our brothers and sisters? If the church is being formed by the Spirit, why do we think we have the right to criticize what he does?” As our ancient brother Irenaeus said, people of every language,…sing one song of praise,…scattered tribes, restored unity,…gift of first fruits of all nations. 

When the Spirit unifies he does so in ways that allows us to decide our preferences as to style of worship, polity of governance, etc. Thus the church has a vast array of expressions as demonstrated in the numerous cultural perspectives. To be unified does not mean we all have to be the same. Just as the three persons of the Trinity are distinct yet unified as one, so we may display to the world we are one. For as Paul says to the Ephesians and to us, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” 

(Eph 4:4-5) To respond as Jesus prayed for us, is to “become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn 17:23b)

Knowing these truths, I had a wonderful sense of gratitude on Pentecost Sunday, that God would allow me to be part of what he is doing in the world. Once a year the church can have a festive birthday party as we bow in worship of the Triune God.

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Profile of a Gentleman

(My thoughts here are for our American culture only. I’m aware my summons is not a universal truth, although I wish it were.)

I fancy myself a gentleman, at least I diligently try. I don’t really know where or how that value was born in me. Yet, it is my motivation to pursue living up to it. Thus I want to be a gentle- man. Our culture has lost what it means to be gentle. Now you may be thinking, the Don Glenn Quixote, like the mythical Don Quixote, is just an old guy pining for what he had “back in the day”. To that I say yes, I am a senior. But is that wrong? What will a man today have lost of himself in order to be gentle? And to be clear, I am not speaking of a return to striated society of peasants and nobles, as in old England. 

I’m advocating for an approach to life and it’s machinations with a gentle, reasoned response.

I believe a man should walk with his wife, not a hundred yards in front of her. Hold her hand. Show deference to her. He should open doors for her, be kind and tender to her. He should be courteous, open in his communication, hospitable, accommodating, patient, and generous in every way. He should honor and respect all women as his equal in dignity. A gentleman is, above all, meek and loving. Meekness is not weakness. It is maturity, confidence and self respect under control. There is no room for macho-ism, offensive speech, selfishness, jealousy, or narcissism.

For an illustration, a short anecdote from the life of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will do.

“General Robert E. Lee was on his way to Richmond, and was seated in the extreme end of a railroad car, every seat of which was occupied. At one end of the stations, an aged woman of humble appearance entered the car, carrying a large basket. She walked the length of the isle and not a man offered her a seat. When she was opposite General Lee’s seat, he rose promptly and said, “Madam, take this seat.” Instantly a score of men were on their feet, and a chorus of voices said, “General, have my seat.” “No, gentlemen,” he replied, “if there was no seat for this old lady, there is no seat for me.” (taken from “The Book of Man” complied by William J. Bennett) This was a man of importance, stature and power, who sublimated all that to be gracious to someone else. 

In our first term as missionaries, Dianne and I lived in Vienna, Austria for four and half years. We learned early on, when on the underground, bus or tram line, the custom, and expected response, is for younger people to give up their seats to elderly people. Even older men will do the same for a lady, as well as, older men. This is a way of showing respect for age, wisdom, endurance of life. There is a dignity that is underscored by these kinds of actions. 

My charge to all males, regardless of age, is to show respect to women and men, beginning with one’s wife. To my way of thinking, we men do not lose one iota of ourselves, nor our dignity, our status nor respect from others. In fact we gain from it. This is also the way the Don Quixote treated the Lady Dulcinea. 

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Intricacies Leading to Worship

Surprised by Inanimate Objects as Guides

I sat poised for worship at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte. The church is nearly one hundred years old. I found myself focusing on the marvelous interior design of wood, stone and high vaulted ceilings. I studied the incredible wood carvings, contemplating how they assisted me in worship. The detail of the sacred space was absolutely masterful, the kind I experienced in the cathedrals of Europe. I thought how precisely the stone was laid, giving me the impression they were ancient stones carved for the purpose, much as are the great edifices of Europe. These stones had to be planned and laid as a master puzzle by masons decades ago. I marveled at the craftsmanship.

It seemed as though the stone then yielded its hold on me to further observations of the wood and I recognized the blending and lending of themselves to form a cooperative effort. It lured me in to worship and adoration of the triune God. It was as though the stone and wood collectively were saying to me, “we’ve done all we can do to assist you in your worship. Now engage yourself and rest in peace as you connect and commune with your God.” In my spirit I responded much as Isaiah, “I saw the Lord …high and lifted up.” And then the Lord said, “Whom shall we send and who will go for us? In my heart I responded, “Here am I, send me.”

But there was more. I began to indulge in the sounds of beauty coming from the massive pipe organ. I was carried along, in this epiphany of God’s created objects, to understand how all creation displays the very One who made them. How could I not have noticed the stained glass with light illuminating the Apostles who seemed to lend their voices in the call to me? And what about the flowers, the fabrics of the clerical vestments, the banners, the carpet down the center isle, the symbols in procession of the cross and the enormous Bible, with the musicians’ contribution to vocal and instrumental expressions of majesty and praise? 

The music then became the vehicle God used to bring it all together. The inanimate objects all lended their presence to the rhapsody that pointed me to Jesus, the great Pantocrator, the ruler of the universe. Without all these elements the sounds of the music would not be heard in their fullness. I was carried along as though floating in this palpable experience of worship. When the organist finished, the music faded and the overtones died. It left a lasting memory sustaining me and promising me another episode if I returned. 

From week to week, the whole of the worship in that sacred space lingers in my memory, enticing me to do it again. This mixture of sight and sound, wafts through the air and settles on molecules of overtones drifting heavenward. I imagine them to be my post card of praise and worship to my Lord. 

When I think of my experience in worship, Ps. 27:4 comes to mind. “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

It’s phenomenal how inanimate objects of God’s creation can guide the heart to worship the triune God. Praise and thanks be to God! Amen

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Words Have Consequences

I like words. They fascinate me.That makes me think about language and its use. I’m thinking about how words can be good and bad; how with words we build up or tear down. I’m too free with them sometimes, using them to be funny, puns, etc.  They can also chastise, correct and manipulate. Best of all they can raise up with encouragement, motivate, instruct and enable.

Words can become weaponry; as in a social context of belonging to a group; empowering and cheering someone on as in a game or sporting event. 

There are categories of words which become insider language, in the context of the Christian Church, of politics, of people in the medical field, of sports and so forth. 

I’m concerned about the “intrusion” of inappropriate words in to the wholesome way Christians ought to speak. When I say they are an “intrusion” what I mean is how easily we can imitate the world around us. Too many people, including Christians, are too free to use the D…, H…, S… words… and worse. 

I consider this to be coarse language which can be offensive. Certainly scripture has some words of correction, admonition and warning about this. In the letter written by James, half brother of Jesus, speaking about the power of the unbridled tongue, he says, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6 This scorching remonstrance we dare not forget.

In Ephesians, Paul states the case for good speech and appropriate deportment this way. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking which are out of place.” Eph 5:4 “Let there be no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as it fits the occasion,” (and here’s the kicker), …”that it may give grace to those who hear.” Eph. 4:29  

Using God’s name loosely is the warning that comes from the Ten Commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” 

Ex 20:7 Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not take an oath at all,” “Let what you say be simply yes or no; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matt 5:34a, 37 In this matter of oaths, Jesus ties his instruction regarding speech to the OT by requiring truth in all manner of communications. Certainly the context has to do with truth telling and not false telling. But even when coarse language is used it broadcasts a falsity of who God is, thus using his name in vain.

Jesus call us to accountability. Seems to me our words, as Christians, should be used to attract others; build them up, entice them to live lives of fruitfulness, faithfulness, quality, etc.

I want to increase my vocabulary and be able to use words with depth of meaning. I want to  express myself with the right emotion, without equivocation; without redundancy. I want to be a truth teller. I consider myself somewhat educated which for me is a way to rise above in communication of the sort that tears others down. I don’t want to make others feel creepy, as  I sometimes fell when inappropriate language is dumped on me. I feel like I need to take a shower and wash off the volley of words. 

Words are a treasure chest of viable, valuable, voluminous options to communicate. I want to let my yes be yes and my no be no as Jesus admonished/instructed us. While I don’t use coarse language, I certainly don’t need to vilify others, even if I use good words but have the wrong motivation. I do need to work on consistency of words that build up, encourage and reward. And when I need to speak truth in to someone’s life, I need to do it with truth and love. Again, Paul defines this for us, “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is head, into Christ…” Eph 4:15

Oh that we all would understand our lives to be hidden in Christ and resolve to endeavor to speak appropriately. 

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God, the Ultimate Communicator

John 1:14

When we read this verse in John our first thoughts take us to the sanctity of family life and the birth of the new born child. The wonder of life is repeated by all humanity as the natural outflow of God’s love to all mankind. Procreation reflects the dignity and sacredness of husband and wife. Life itself is created and perpetuated by God. Yet, far greater is the predetermined act of God to send his only begotten Son to become fully human. This is his plan of redemption of mankind in order that he might create a people for his own possession. The Apostle John captures this powerful truth with full authority.

In John’s day the church was growing with a significant presence among the Gentiles. He writes to strengthen the faith of this nascent church against the many heresies beginning to develop. John was uniquely qualified to address this problem.

Three years he walked and talked with Jesus. He observed him, touched him and knew his voice. John was present when Jesus performed many miracles, followed him to the Mt. of Transfiguration where he witnessed the glory and heard the voice of God saying this is my beloved Son. John remained at the cross during the crucifixion; was one of the three discovering the empty tomb. His testimony, we beheld his glory, has weight, gravitas. 

God is self revealing. Unless he discloses himself we cannot know him. The Son has no equal, no peer and is fully able to to reveal the Father. John wants to cause us to remember that Jesus was pre-existent with the Father and became Jesus the God-Man. This is an expression of unity with God in intimate communication with humanity.

The artist, Grace Bomer, my personal friend, helps us visualize this event with her painting titled “Incarnation.” Her image of the invasion from the heavens, much like dividing the waters of the Red Sea, sets us to ponder this glorious event. We can appreciate her skills using abstract techniques to represent the transcendence of the God-Man. Grace’s creative contributions invite us to engage the Word. We must implore the Holy Spirit to enable us to grasp the magnificence and wonder of Jesus the God-Man and to commit our lives to him. We stand in awe of the majesty of this act of God who startled humanity with his presence.

This verse signals the fulfillment of God’s promises. Our attention is arrested as we begin with the incarnation. Immanuel, God is with us. The Word appeared with stunning suddenness. It was the fulness of time. God the Son communicated himself as one from another sphere, bursting on the scene as a laser beam splitting the atmosphere. “If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who live on earth, how much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God!” (Irenaeus 202 AD)

We rejoice in the first Advent. But we anticipate his coming again. 

We are called to worship the Son of God. “For he became the Son of man, who was God’s own Son, in order that he might make the sons of men to be children of God.” (Chrysostom died 407 AD)

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I have always had a desire to pass on the legacy of my life to all my descendants. I recognized years ago the basic fact that everyone leaves a legacy. The abiding question is, “Is it the legacy you want to leave?” Many people go through life never having thought about the question. My appeal to all within hearing of my voice is to come to awareness and take it seriously. 

When I lived in Vienna, I had a sudden inspiration to think of my legacy as a way of living beyond myself; extending my reach to generations yet unborn. I was aware, the Austrian ruling family of the Habsburgs who held sway over much of Europe, was a dynasty lasting almost 700 years. I fantasized I could do that.  

My adult, married kids, engaged with my wife and me in developing a Family Covenant.  After several exchanges via e-mails, we came to agreement on the content and wording of it. Once finalized, we had it printed in calligraphy and framed. Now each family has a copy hanging in their homes.

The Collard Family Covenant states, 

We covenant together to live our lives in pursuit of God, serving our local churches, our community and the world.  We will develop the whole person and celebrate our uniqueness while practicing forgiveness in an atmosphere of grace.

We sought to enfold numerous concepts that were both externally and internally focused. These are high values of principled behavior and character development issuing from our Christian commitment to live Godly lives. 

I’ve been profoundly affected by Psalm 78:2-7a 

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and his might and the wonders he has done.  He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God.

These short verses capture the essence of the teaching of scripture on this subject.  As parents, we have responsibility and accountability. The scripture arrests our attention, helping us focus first on ourselves, then our descendants, the children, grand children and great grand children, should we be so fortunate to live that long. 

My point can be illustrated effectively in the popular story, made into a musical, of Camelot. In medieval England, Arthur rises from humble beginnings to become king. He brings to his reign a deep seated desire for righteousness to rule the kingdom. Laws governing the behavior of the knights as well as the people are set up to create fairness and an orderly society. Respect of each person is a high value. Ruling is approached more as a committee by the 12 knights along with Arthur.  War is forbidden. No more of the dystopian fiefdom or of a narcissistic king.  All is well for a while, until power and control manifests themselves resulting in a war, destroying the utopian dream.

We pick up the story at the last scene, after the knights have gone to battle and Arthur stands alone lamenting all he thinks he has lost.  And that would be true were it not for young Tom whom Arthur discovers in the background.

 From the shadows emerges this twelve year old boy named Tom.  Arthur and Tom begin a conversation. When asked of Tom by Arthur how he knows of the Knights and the Kingdom rule and order of Camelot, Tom replies,“I onIy know of them, from the stories peopIe tell.” Then Arthur admonishes the young man, Tom, whom he has just Knighted,

Arthur: Now listen to me, Tom of  Warwick. You won’t fight in the battle, understand?

Tom: Yes, my Iord.

Arthur: You will run behind the line and hide until it is over. And then you will return home to England alive. To grow up…and grow old. You understand? You will remember what I, the King, tell you and do as I command.

Arthur wistfully sings,

Each evening

From December to December

Before you drift to sleep

Upon your cot

Think back on all the tales

That you remember

Of Camelot

Ask every person

If he’s heard the story

And tell it strong and clear

If he has not

That once there was

A fIeeting wisp of glory

Called Camelot

Now say it out

With love and joy

Yes, Camelot…

…my boy.

Where once it never rained

Till after sundown

By eight a.m.

the morning fog had flown

Don’t let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment

That was known as


Referring to the boy Tom,  Arthur says,

 And here…

…is my victory!

What we did will be remembered.

It will be remembered. Remembered that is, through the stories people tell and the lives lived, such as Tom, who experienced the dream and carry the possibility of extending it far in to the future.

These are the ingredients of a legacy:  a life lived well; intentionally taught; subliminally caught; remembered and rehearsed orally;  and transmitted and recast in writing for future generations. 

Hear the instructions God gave Moses for his people. 

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-10.)

Dianne and I are tremendously grateful for adult kids who have embraced and live out our family covenant. They have embodied the need for an intentional legacy for their own kids. I’m looking forward to great grand children and if the Lord allows I’ll live long enough to see them take their place in the Collard dynasty of people living well, loving and serving the Lord, passing on the heritage to their children also. So that’s four generations and counting. How many more will it take to out live the Habsburgs? 

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Friends for Life, Friends Forever

All humans are social beings. I’m aware the older I get the more I realize this truth is a fact of life. There is something rich and rewarding in the cultivation of friendship. A peculiarity of friendship is the more friends I have the more I want. I never reach a capacity ceiling; I never have too many and thus no more to accommodate. It’s also true, new ones never replace the ones we already have. It’s not as if I have to discard one to embrace the new one. Friends are not Legos, as though interchangeable parts. 

Friends who are closest in geographic proximity are the ones with whom we commune regularly. To live in community is to live out our Christianity. The New Testament clearly appoints us to live in communion with one another. It’s in community we grow in our faith, in maturation of every realm of human existence; physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and mentally. 

To be clear, I offer a definition of the term community as I understand it.

A community is a group of people who share the same basic values and world view. They live in close proximity, (geographically), and intentionally engage in living life deeply for their good and for the good of others in the community. They share a personal bond and commitment to each other for the purpose of growing in Godly character and personal development. They provide nurture, encouragement, accountability and motivation as well as multiple role models for themselves and their children and grand children.

(I adjure you to note I distinguish between friends in general and those with whom we draw close as we traverse the vagaries of life with all its blessings and difficulties. These are the ones I’ve identified in my definition.)

Our culture tells us we are individuals and as such we are entitled to that which we claim as our right(s). This concept sets us up for isolation as islands of human existence. Many Christians hold to the truth of the “individual priesthood of the believer.” While there is theological truth in that statement, it sets us up for selfish behavior and makes us vulnerable to the machinations of the Evil One. It promotes  an unhealthy and unrealistic approach to life that can become a trap to put us in bondage. I think of the poem by the great John Donne, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1621 he wrote these lines as part of a greater work titled “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,” published in 1624. No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.”

Comparing a man to an island Donne posits the concept that life lived alone can never achieve all the potential of personhood. No one is self sufficient, everyone relies on others. “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” To lose one clod of dirt from the whole continent is the same as losing a mountain. 

I believe this kind of living in community takes a certain intention and willingness to give of oneself for the greater good of the whole. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians his admonition to us is to recognize “we are members of one another,” (4:25b); “walk in love as Christ loved us,” (5:2); “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, (5:21). In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul instructs us saying “you, yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,”  (4:9b); “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” (4:11)

In Romans 12 Paul reminds us to “love one another with brotherly affection,  outdo one another in showing honor, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Then he says “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep; live in harmony with one another, live peaceably with all, never avenge yourself.” (Rom 12:9-12, selected). 

The issues of life we all face such as uncertainty of the future; problems of current living; loss of jobs; destroyed relationships; overcoming evil; and unresolved issues of the past, is where Christianity lived out in community, helps us to address these issues and challenges of life.

Community speaks of encouragement; can become a beacon of hope to overcome life’s challenges; provides direction in personal growth in character, wisdom and faith; and encourages developing and maintaining a life style of Christian principles lived in a godless world.

I have friends I’ve known since the late 70’s who embody these very truths. For years I’ve watched them live out a life deeply committed to each other. They rejoice with all successes of the others, they pray and interact with each other. When families have broken up the friends in community support one another. They are  good examples of all I’m saying here. Even though I’m not geographically close to them any longer, I observe their community behavior from afar and take great joy in watching them grow ever older together. These friends have become my teachers, instructing me in the ways of Christian community. I’m blessed to know them.

My invitation to you is to join me in a renewed commitment to live a stronger, bolder life in community. I ask myself questions such as these: “Do I seek and accept counsel from others I call friends?” “Do I make myself available to others when needed and give myself for whatever is needed to live well and help them live well?” As an elder, “Do I think of the good of friends first or take from them what I think I need to advance my own cause?” 

I hope you will join me in my endeavor to grow in my commitment and practice what I preach. 


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Reluctant Obedience

Reluctant Obedience

Jonah is a picture of a reluctant servant. His response of reluctant obedience is centered in his attitude toward the people of Nineveh. That he shunned his privileged position as God’s spokesman is clear by his aggressive response to ignore God’s call—he ran in the opposite direction.

We can understand Jonah’s tension when we review the circumstances of his day. The Assyrians were a cruel people who maintained control over Israel. We might say in sympathy for Jonah it is no wonder he was reluctant and rebellious to respond to God’s assignment. While we can sympathize with him, the fact is, Jonah was blinded by his own prejudice. He judged the Ninevites and condemned them as worthy of annihilation and unworthy of God’s mercy.

If we use our imaginations we can feel his experience of the intensity of his feelings. He had an overwhelming emotional conflict of strong tension and anxiety. For those of us who remember the movie Jaws can feel the sheer panic he must have experienced in the fish. I have no doubt he lived the rest of his life with these nightmares. His experience must have changed him.

God’s call came a second time, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” Even though he was loathe to respond, still he went to Nineveh. Upon arrival he preached the world’s shortest sermon, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The message was powerful resulting in guilt, shame, and despair. I suggest to you this miracle is far greater than the others in the story. This city with upwards of a million people, ALL turned to God.

Poet Randall Jarrell (1914–1965) was an American poet noted for his acerbic, witty, and erudite criticism. He captures Jonah’s deep crisis of faith and struggle to respond to God’s call on him in his poem Jonah.

Randall Jarrell

As I lie here in the sun
And gaze out, a day’s journey, over Nineveh,
The sailors in the dark hold cry to me:
“What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise and call upon
Thy God; pray with us, that we perish not.”
All thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
The waters compassed me, the weeds were wrapped about my head; The earth with her bars was about me forever.
A naked worm, a man no longer,
I writhed beneath the dead:
But thou art merciful.
When my soul was dead within me I remembered thee,
From the depths I cried to thee. For thou art merciful:
Thou hast brought my life up from corruption,
O Lord my God. . . . When the king said, “Who can tell
But God may yet repent, and turn away
From his fierce anger, that we perish not?”
My heart fell; for I knew thy grace of old—
In my own country, Lord, did I not say that thou art merciful?
Now take, Lord, I beseech thee,

My life from me; it is better that I die. . .
But I hear, “Doest thou well, then, to be angry?”
And I say nothing, and look bitterly
Across the city; a young gourd grows over me
And shades me—and I slumber, clean of grief.
I was glad of the gourd. But God prepared
A worm that gnawed the gourd; but God prepared
The east wind, the sun beat upon my head
Till I cried, “Let me die!” And God said, “Doest thou well To be angry for the gourd?”
And I said in my anger, “I do well
To be angry, even unto death.” But the Lord God
Said to me, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd”—
And I wept, to hear its dead leaves rattle—
“Which came up in a night, and perished in a night. And should I not spare Nineveh, that city
Wherein are more than six-score thousand persons Who cannot tell their left from their right;
And also much cattle?”

Randall Jarrell points out Jonah’s demeanor was one of total self absorption. The “I,” “me,” throughout the poem reveals Jonah is all about himself. Even when he recognized God’s mercy, it was a “mercy for me.” The poet reflects on his condition with phrases like, “my heart fell; for I knew Thy grace of old” and “it is better that I die.”

Here is a lesson for us. Reluctant obedience causes us to deceive ourselves to think God is pleased with our effort. We assume half hearted obedience is good enough. Fact is, incomplete obedience is the same as disobedience. As I define it, obedience is doing what I’m told, when I’m told to do it, with the right heart attitude. God works through us, even when we are reluctant, just as he did for the Ninevites through Jonah. But in responding the way he did, he missed God’s blessing. He sacrificed the best for the good.

Another challenge to us is Jonah’s ethnocentric judgment of his enemies. We need to gain God’s perspective on all the peoples of the world. That perspective includes his command to to love our enemies.

Jonah’s tension was never truly resolved. Like hanging chads the story concludes with unresolved dialogue. Pondering the message of Jonah I ask myself how many times and ways, have I reacted as he did. The Lenten season leads me to repentance of attitudes and actions that were not completely obedient.

A prayer to offer our God:
“In this Lenten season, help us to see our half hearted and incomplete obedience. Lead us to repentance we pray. May we catch your heart for all peoples, to learn to think your thoughts after you, to show love and compassion as you do. Help us to take the yoke of responsibility to spread the Gospel as you commanded all disciples, to go to all peoples and set aside all prejudices. We repent of our selfishness. In the name of our blessed Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen”

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The pursuit of my vision for life and ministry sometimes is clearer than other times. Life brings a fog that obfuscates that vision. The fog is somewhat intermittent, sometimes being thick as pea soup, other times wispy, clear enough to see some images, then sometimes bright and clear with no obstructions. Pursuing that vision requires passion. Passion comes from an enigmatic stirring of the soul for what satisfies deeply and gives meaning to life. I’ve figured out, there are three interlocking pieces to this puzzle; vision, passion and time. Vision requires passion, and passion takes time.


Without passion to pursue the vision, (remembering the clarity of vision can go in and out of the fog), the vision would be lost. Passion takes time to perfect. Time is the crucible that forms the passion and gives clarity to the passion to relentlessly pursue the vision.


One of the ways I’ve found to stay on track, when the fog descends, is by searching out the traces of God in my life. There are numerous meanings and uses for the word trace. Consider for now, these dictionary concepts encased in the word. ”A visible mark (as a footprint) left by the passage of a person; an indication that something has been present; follow, discover, or ascertain the course of development of something; make one’s course of travel along a path.” Traces are those pathways that demonstrate the presence of God for us. Just as animals leave paths as evidence of their presence, so God has traceable paths to remind us of his presence.


In fact, Scripture tells us to pursue paths ourselves to create habitable traces. (Those traces become markers to point our offspring to a permanent presence, even after we’re gone. This is legacy.) “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” Ps 84:5 God’s advice to Israel through Jeremiah, was, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

Jer 6:16


I like the way song writer Babbie Mason expressed this truth in her song, “Trust His Heart.” The chorus of the song teaches us, then admonishes us…

“God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His Heart”


Recently I’ve been contemplating the traces of God in my life. I’ve discovered when I trace his hand but have trouble finding it, I’m challenged to rely on his heart, as the scriptures faithfully teach us. That’s when I find rest for my soul, as Jeremiah promised.


I’m sure I’ll go through the rest of my life pursuing my vision. I’m passionate about it. I accept there will be times of intermittent fog. Yet, in the thickest of fogs, when I can’t trace his hand, I know his heart can be trusted.

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