Friday, July 29, 2016

Heaven as Our Home

Heaven as our Home
C.S. Lewis said,” I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
 A friend is there, he has finished the coarse.
When I see ocean fish in an aquarium I know something is wrong- they don’t belong there. – They were made for the great green ocean.  I wonder if their instincts tell them like ours do – something better!
Bonhoeffer: “Our greatest affliction in not anxiety, or even guilt, but rather our homesickness- a nostalgia or ongoing yearning to be at home with God.”

Christian slaves sang ‘goi'n home to live with God and that a chariot is comin’ to carry me home.
We’ve always spoken it and so has Jesus- John 14-coming to take us with him to our mansion/home in heaven.
He is the Way the Truth and the Life.
Knowing we can come home is what keeps us going- all the good and none of the bad of here. My friend knew it and Christ and He are there.
We may grieve today, but don’t be disappointed if someone had to go home early- that’s where the party is. This place is eating drinking and being merry while uncorrupted with sin.
Eternal life doesn’t begin when we die- It began when we accepted Jesus’ gift of grace.

Heaven is our source of optimism. Our foundation in Christ and his redemptive work- our pain and suffering relieved in the next UNSEEN World.  Knowing that our suffering will be relieved doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it bearable.  Meditating on heaven is a great pain reliever.
Rejoice your names are written in heaven (LK 10:20)
Anticipating the GREAT ADVENTURE-
Joni Eareckson Tada- “ Can you hear the sighing in the wind? Can you feel the heavy silence in the mountains? Can you sense the restless longing in the sea? Can you see it in the woeful eyes of an animal? Something’s coming…something better.

“Farwell to Shadowlands” Lewis said.  “I in my flesh I will see God…I and not another (Job 19:26-27).
Peter Pan said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” Dying is merely the doorway to eternal life- just the beginning- death is the final pain and the last enemy. (Death- the last enemy to be destroyed and He/ Jesus did it on the cross. Through Christ and His resurrection (Easter) all in Him will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).

The fact that heaven will be wonderful should not tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. Your life has a purpose and this is exactly where God wants you now- while preparing you for another world. Through our pain and grief today for the loss of a friend He’s expanding our capacity for eternal JOY. Don’t listen to the liar; finish your God-given course on earth- finish strong by his grace.

The goal and end of a person’s calling does not terminate in this life, but makes sense only in the light of the life to come…the world to come is the one we are made for.
Christ-centered righteous living is how to get a head start for heaven. He gives us all we need to do it (Paraphrase of 1Pe 1:3-4).
To be heaven –oriented is to be goal oriented- “But one thing I do, forgetting the past and striving toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14).
Let’s start embarking on the ultimate adventure by knowing Jesus and living in his Holy Spirit power and word.

And right when we think it doesn’t get any better than this, it will.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Walking One Step at a Time

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6, ESV).
While the writers of Scripture use many vivid metaphors to describe the Christian life, by far the most common one in the New Testament is a walk.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, NKJV).
The theme of walking echoes through Ephesians: “walk in love” (5:2, ESV), “walk as children of light” (5:8), “look carefully then how you walk” (5:15). Walking depicts the course of an individual’s whole life: Enoch and Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22, 6:9); King Jehu did not (2 Kings 10:31). It is a dominant, inspired metaphor in Scripture, and a picture of what our relationship with God should look like. The Lord has invited you for a walk, with Him, together on the journey of life.
Along the way, God is changing you. Sometimes you may grow impatient and want instant victory over all your problems. Sometimes you’ll grow discouraged; a lifetime of battling sin can seem overwhelming.
But if you are ever going to walk with Christ and be the person God intended you to be, your focus must be on the next step. Just that step and nothing else. When you strain to see the future, or fear you won’t have the energy or strength for tomorrow, the enemy has succeeded in intimidating you, and you’ll have missed the opportunity to live for Christ in this moment.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6).

As you walk with God today, rather than scanning the horizon for all that’s ahead, just focus your eyes on the next step. Don’t miss the opportunity to live for Him fully today.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Art of Raspberry Picking Harvest

The Art of The Raspberry Picking Harvest

An art you might say? Raspberry season lasts almost a month at our patch. We started with a few vines transplanted from another Christian’s yard about 10 years ago. Now we have a band of bush or vines around our whole backyard. This year the harvest will be more than 30 quarts in the freezer while we have also eaten our fill. But more importantly, we have given away and/or invited many neighbors, relatives and friends to come and enjoy God’s bounty.


The Berries begin with the May and June blossoming. White flowers cover the yard as we wait for berries to grow in June for the harvest season.  In Matthew 9:27 Jesus then said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”  When the berries are getting pink and reddening we begin to invite pickers, not for our freezer, but for their own. Yet few come. Few enjoy the bounty of God’s harvest. Jesus said, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Ours’ have been ripe and few have come.

Thousands of ripe berries, pink, red and purple are there. The pink are not ready, the red, perfect and the purple too ripe. It is like the workers or people of the world. Many have need, but few would come. We don’t know why.  Jesus knew that the gate is narrow and few will enter therein. He knew that even when the harvest is ready, that hearts are not. Why? Too busy mowing the lawn, fixing or going somewhere. I suppose.

My hands are red with juice, just as Jesus’s hands were with blood. I am reminded of the sacrifice, not ours’ but His. We just invite.


We will try again next year, perhaps broaden the call. We will pick and enjoy the harvest throughout the year in pancakes, “kuchen,” ice cream and salads. But our minds are on how to call the workers to the harvest to find the bounty of the love of God in Christ whose blood stained like raspberries that we might live.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Valleys

I am becoming increasingly certain that life is meant or is like traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death or darkness” (Psalm 23:4).  David wrote this psalm near the end of his life speaking of how the Lord was guiding and protecting him as he walked through the valley. Here he was told not to fear for God was with him all the way, guiding and protecting him with his rod and staff. The rod also means that he might have had to discipline him with it as well; think Bathsheba. There “the man after God’s own heart,” learned about the trials of life and God’s ever present strength. Perhaps this journey also inspired his writing of the 27th Psalm, “the Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Clearly, God was teaching David and us as well, not to fear for He is near.

As I get older and spend more time around people of wisdom in my hospital ministry as a chaplain, I learn that this “valley theory” of mine has validity. Some would say it is a negative view of life. I understand that thought, as for many years I was a negative person until confronted by my wife. Patients in the hospital speak of life getting harder and harder and how all of life has seemed like a valley. They have also said, and I agree, that we learn primarily in the valleys. Remember that rivers flow and flowers grow in the valleys. As we journey through, we experience difficult trials, but as the Psalmist says, we are walking and we get through, because of God. He wants us to obey and submit to Him to learn the lessons He has for us. If we get out from under the strain, which is our instinct, we will miss the blessings. I ran for more than 40 years. It is only when I have slowed down and sought the Lord in the valleys that I have experienced God’s omnipresence and felt His guiding hand.  Yes there have been bruises and scars and the need for confession and His forgiveness. But I have been learning to stay the course even when it hurts. Discernment has been helping me know when it is unsafe or a bad idea to do something. My old attitude that you have to jump off a cliff to know what it is like is passing, thank God.

In David’s “Song of Praise” in 2 Samuel 22 he said,
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior…He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from the powerful enemy…He brought me out into a spacious place, he rescued me because he delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:1-5, 17)).

Again in Psalm 106 we hear the refrain of “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever…he rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert” (Psalm 106: 1, 9).  Here God is saving the Israelites from the valley of death with the Egyptians and leading miraculously to the Promised Land. But here would be valleys and death along the way. Many of these valleys were made worse by disobedience. Have you experienced this too?  Valley experiences can be deeper and darker as we are not obedient. And I think sometimes we might need to be sent through the same valley again, until we learn our lessons. This last thought may not be Scriptural, but I read that God had to lead the Israelites around and around Mt. Sinai for 40 years until they got it.

I think that Isaiah 22 in speaking of the “Valley of Vision” was telling the wayward Israelites and readers today about Himself. He spoke, “The Lord, the Lord Almighty has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains…your choicest valleys are full of chariots.”  God is challenging them for disobedience, even filling their best, the Kidron Valley, with enemy chariots. One commentator, Warren Wiersbe, taught some important lessons in this Valley Vision, “God is in control of the nations of the world, and He can do with them what He pleases…second, God especially hates the sin of pride…third, God judges the nations for the way they treat each other…Finally, God always gives a word of promise and hope to His people.”


The Prophet Ezekiel spoke when the hand of the Lord was upon him and when the Spirit of the Lord, “set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of dry bones...I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1-3).  God told him that He would come and make a breathe enter the bones and that they would come to life again. Then they would know that I am the Lord, He said.  Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the dry bones because these were the whole house of Israel that had lost life.  God did breath in life and He wants to do it for us. Our country has lost God as its center and taken Him out of schools, and almost everything else. The result has been an ever-escalating sinfulness and pridefulness in our nation.
“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
We need to know that God is alive, He’s not dead and He does rule and will not put up with our individual and collective sin much longer. The Day of the Lord is coming soon. Seek Him while He is still near. Come quickly Jesus.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The "Mighty MO"

The longest river in North America is the Missouri River that flows over 2,400 miles from the heights of Montana with its source in Brower’s Spring at over 8,400 feet down to the Mississippi in Missouri.  Its watershed covers one-sixth of the United
States and brings a history rich in ancient Native American lore and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Stories abound of its might force and power richness as the major source of water for every state from Montana.

It is known as the “Mighty MO” or “Big Muddy” in Montana where it flows through Great Falls, the second largest city of the state. Here there were once five cascading waterfalls that Lewis and Clark portaged to find their way West to the Northwest Passage and the lands and legends great that they discovered. It became part of the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1804 from France. The largest tributary is the Yellowstone, with the Gallatin and Musselshell being major tributaries along with Hell Roaring Creek and the Fire Hole out of the Yellowstone Park adding spice to its course. The latter typifies the Wild West story of the fur trade and pioneers heading west from the 1830’s.  The Native American nations spread out along the river including the Blackfeet, Flatheads, Lakota, Sioux and Mandan to name a few. They found their trade, food and transportation in the river.

It is in Great Falls that I take interest, as it is there that my two sons migrated and settled. It was the hunting and fishing that originally attracted them to settle and start a dental practice. Brady is a dentist and his brother Chad was a dental lab technologist until he became a building contractor. But that is another story. Over the last 15 years we have ventured out to visit and enjoy the wilds of the region and the majesty of the mountains and “Mighty” Missouri. My wife blames a close friend for luring the boys west, something common to thousands of mother’s through the past 200 years.

I tell the story of the Missouri and its history as part of the story of our family. The river is God’s magnificent creation, given to us as a gift. Many stories have flowed from the river that I want to share. We explored God’s beautiful world and His transcendence. Through our sorties into His wilderness we can know Him and ourselves better.

It was at “Pelican Point” near Cascade on the Missouri that I presided at the wedding of my son Chad to his bride Lisa on the fifteenth of May 2004. They chose the spot because of its history and beauty and it is where Chad had proposed marriage. Lewis and Clark had also camped there on their voyage to find the Northwest Passage.  Fast flowing current, fishing, swimming and mountains mark off this unique place. Above the river a dramatic ridgeline of the Big Belt Mountains creates a dragon or serpent back. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). They clearly guard the point on the river below where the wedding ceremony was held. It was a cloudy day that turned to “Big Sky” blue. In case of bad weather Lisa had chosen a nearby horse stable for backup. But instead that day we would have forest fires in the area and Forest Service helicopters filling their water buckets in the river in front of us to try to quench the flames nearby. The roar of jet blades created such a racket and wind that the bride to be ran up a nearby hill in her wedding gown waving her bridal bouquet at the pilots to find another place. With a wave of wings they headed down river in deference to the nuptials. It caused my mother-in-law to proclaim it is “just like a Hollywood wedding,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. But the excitement caused the ring-bearer, their English Pointer Hank, to run for the hills with the ring on his back until a swift groom was able to corral him and allow us to complete the vows. I guess in a certain way this simple ceremony had all the trappings of a royal wedding, just more memorable details.

Often the boys and I would head to Craig and Wolf Creek for the wily rainbow trout during a caddis or midge fly hatch. The river would be pockmarked by concentric circles of rising fish, creating artwork and a moving feast. The current is swift and cold so care must be taken to wade out to where the trout are rising. The tiniest dry fly or nymphs in the #19-21 range were required, tied to a #2 tippet of 6-8 pounds and ten feet in length so they wouldn’t see it easily. Casting is an art taking years to perfect as a trout might surface 60-100 feet away. The fly must alight above the rising trout ahead of the direction they are traveling with no draglines. False or practice casts held above the water are required until enough line is out to bring a perfect cast. The casting scenes by a Brad Pitt stunt man in the movie A River Runs Through It filmed on the Blackfoot some 100 miles north portray the kind of skills required. These were skills my sons had long since acquired.

If all timing and fly pattern are placed perfectly to a rising trout, they might take it. If so, instant reaction with a quick wrist action strike is required to hook the fish. With a barbless hook, the line must then be kept taught or the fish will easily throw the fly. When the hook is felt the trout might jump high above the water several times and run for hundreds of yards. This requires a quick rod to be lowered as the fish rises and the line to be released with tension as the fish runs. The drag must be set low enough so the fragile leader won’t break. A fight might last 15 minutes and moving up or down the river with alacrity on the slippery rocks. Deep holes can be a hazard and if the fisherman goes down, there is danger in drifting down the frigid and mighty current. This is a battle of wit and wile that tests the patience and skills of a fisherman or woman. It requires total concentration and no distraction. That is one reason why silent sport people worldwide are attracted to it. It is the ultimate sport with a ring as large as the Big Sky around it and the river running through it.

Landing a rainbow of several pounds is rare and difficult. Once tired, a fish can be led to a wet or gloved hand and carefully released in the water in order to keep the fish fresh and its protective oils intact. Holding the fish in hand lightly and moving it back in forth in the current might be required to bring life giving oxygen back into its lungs before release. Only if a fish is kept for eating should they be placed in a creel. A big rainbow from the MO will feed a family of four easily. We prefer the charcoal grill on aluminum wrap lightly oiled with salt and pepper.

Many times we have taken a float trips down the river in canoes or flat boats letting the current guide our way as we steer with oars or paddles. There is a specialized, double raised bow drift boat made for such a river as the MO. The fishermen stand in the bow and spot fish, casting for the risers. Someone keep the boat moving with the current and staying casting distance from the schools of fish. Eagles soar above and squadrons of large white pelicans cruise by looking for fish. These six-foot wingspan birds look like bombers going overhead. Occasionally mink, marmot and wolverines come down to drink with the deer streamside. We don’t have a fancy boat, so our flat bottom Arkansas traveler does the trick. On a busy summer day there can be a myriad of boats scattered up and down the river in search of trout. For the most part without engines, all we hear is the river and birds. Occasionally an Osprey will shriek on the way to a fish.

Picnicking and camping along the river has been part of our experience with the river. When pausing for a break, I have brought out an ancient Japanese art form, the fish print. Using the fish we have chosen for dinner, I will paint the fish’s side with acrylics to try to match the vibrant rainbow of colors. After covering the fish from head to tail I place rice paper over the fish and roll a road stick down it to ensure a full fish print. Then I pull back the paper and it produces a colorful fish replica upside down like a lithograph. The print often captures some of the fish’s natural gloss and sparkles. Several of these prints hang in my office as my trophies of Missouri River trips. A further upside is that the fish is still available for a sumptuous dinner.

This incredible river of God’s making never freezes, so we can fish or boat year round if properly dressed. There are still insect hatches in the winter on a sunny day.

 On our most recent trip down the Missouri, we borrowed a fast ski boat from a friend that was big enough for five adults and our three small grandsons. We headed out from a boat landing on Holter Lake, a widening in the river. It was Independence Day weekend and 90 degrees so we were not the only ones looking for cool. We cruised up toward “The Gateway to The Rockies” a spectacular canyon in the river. The mountain faces grew steeper and taller to a couple of thousand feet above the water, dotted with sturdy evergreens, as we proceeded toward Helena. We found several weed filled bays where we fished, taking over 50 jumbo yellow perch and a few walleyes. We released almost the same number on this prolific day. The fish would remain on ice until later when my sons would skillfully fillet them at a Riverside cleaning station. We picnicked at an open table rock in the shade of an enormous Ponderosa Pine. On the way back we spotted a tall rock chimney sticking up along the cliff sides of Montana granite. Led by my son, two little guys and I climbed up about twenty feet and jumped into the deep blue waters beneath. The exhilaration brought a new high energy level of whoops and song from the invigorated and brave troop.

After landing and filleting the fish we headed home for a perch dinner. The finger-sized morsels were dipped in olive oil and rolled in egg and panko flour. They sizzled to a golden brown in Ghee butter on a hot iron skillet. Tomatoes and avocados relished the delicacy washed down with Montana beer. It couldn’t have been a better day.

We will be back as the river draws us for more adventure and fun. We are pulled by the beauty of God’s special river made for all living creatures to enjoy and find life.  I don’t know whether I should post this on my blog as I’m not sure I want more people heading to the Missouri River and its’ many attractions. Until next time.