Monday, March 31, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/31/08

The last day of March and it seems to be ‘going out like a lamb’. At least the morning air was rain-washed and refreshing, and the walking was just fine. It has been pointed out that the internet says that 2,000 steps are equal to a mile. Well, I didn’t get quite that far. The problem is counting my many blessings added to counting steps is a bit of a stretch. In the early morning my motto is “Keep it simple”.

But the steps show again that little by little any task gets done. It is often not the big thing, it is often, or is it always, the little things that matter most. We learned to read bit by bit, or mastered a bit of history bit by bit, or learned our understanding of how things work bit by bit. And in that process, there are set-backs, mistakes, frustrations, and “I will never get it right” thinking too. That’s all part of the learning process, isn’t it?

Just finished reading a new book on Martin Luther and his times by British author Derek Wilson. It’s interesting and quite informative and balanced, I thought. One thing about humanity that made his struggle so harsh is that, and I quote Mr. Wilson, “The overriding preoccupation of any human establishment is self-preservation”. So when Luther posted his 95 thesis to discuss the sale of indulgences, Tetzel, who was the chief salesman and whose sales presentation Luther especially found offensive, protested vehemently. In doing so, it was Tetzel who really stirred up the debate, for he brought in many items that Luther had not even mentioned.

But isn’t that the nature of debate? Much of it never really touches the point at issue, it is mostly hot air and just meaningless words. And that leads others astray, till there is general anger, angry speeches, and stirring up of passion, an endless rousing that settles nothing. Out of this comes mob rule with a “we’ll show ‘em” attitude. Most people don’t even know what it is all about except they like to yell and stir things up.

How did I get here?

Ah, the refreshing morning walk. Then my thoughts usually are on God’s rich blessings to me, mine, and those around me I care about. And those blessings are really too numerous to count. I daily give thanks to God for them. Don’t we all?

GPD 3/31/08

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/27/08

The walking was just fine this morning, cool, crisp, just a slight movement of the air, and the moon was still bright. And the birds were starting to chirp here and there. What could be better than that? Well, the fact that I was able to get out and do that is something I am thankful for every morning, even though I wear a name tag with name, phone number etc. People tell me that’s a smart thing to do. You know, just in case.

I read that people who study such things tell us every person should walk 10,000 steps each day. This activity will make sure the body gets some exercise, instead of spending the time sitting at a desk with a computer or simply sitting in a chair watching TV.

So I found myself counting steps this morning just to see what 10,000 are like. Well, I reached 2,000 and stopped counting, but I never did reach 10,000. I suppose the person working around a house takes that many, or if a person is rather active at work, yes, but 10,000. Try it.

But it’s really not the number of steps we take, it’s being active. And that is the start. Take the first step, never mind the 10,000. Take the first step. You have probably even quoted that famous line, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

That’s the secret of successful living, isn’t it? Do what lies at hand to do, give it your best effort, and then go on to the next task.

A friend who did some running in college told me his coach always said to his teams, “Guys, never look back. When you do, you lose a step, and the next runner will beat you. Never look back, always keep your eye on the goal.”

Jesus sets the example, “He had his eye on getting to Jerusalem”. So live your life with that perspective, and the Lord will bless.

GPD 3/27/08

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/25/08

What a fine morning for the walk. Moon is still up, air is calm and brisk, dogs are silent, birds are chirping, and all’s right with the world. (I haven’t seen the morning paper yet, you understand).

But we did celebrate Easter, and things are right on God’s schedule, so I am content. For the Psalm speaks a truth I cherish. It is “Your word, O Lord, is eternal. It stands firm in the heavens”. Psalm 119,89. There’s my standard, as it should be yours too.

A recent book tries to lay out rules for building trust in business relationships. The author tries to lay out some ways to do this, but he says there is one thing no one can teach anyone, that is integrity. Someone said character is what you are when no one is looking. The author Macauley said, the measure of a person's character is what he would do if he never would be found out.

David speaks much about this. “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than my elders, for I obey your precepts.” Ps. 119, 97-100.

Then comes that verse we all memorized in confirmation class.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet,
And a light for my path”. V.105.

The family was leaving the service after Easter worship. They are greeting the Pastor on their way out and the little boy asks – and you know how penetrating those voices are in such times – he asks, “Mom, is there Church every Sunday”? She assures him there was, “Then”, he asks”, why do we only go twice a year?”

We chuckle. But it strikes a deeper chord, doesn’t it? Christ is Risen, and we rejoice, because He lives, we too shall live. Now, how do we live our lives in the afterglow of Easter? That is a question each answers with their own life, isn’t it?

I pray blessings, rich blessings, on your daily days.

GPD 3/25/08

Monday, March 24, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/24/08

The cross was empty. The body was gone, and their hopes and dreams lay shattered. Their hopes turned to shutting themselves in “behind locked doors for fear of the Jews” reports John. They heard some women telling of finding the grave empty, “but they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense".

Two men, one identified as Cleopas, the other remains nameless, decided to go back home to Emmaus, about 7 miles from the city. On their way, they chatted, as friends do while walking along, and their topic was the events of Golgotha. Then Jesus joins them, That happens too during such a walk. This one asks them what they are discussing so seriously. They “stood still, their faces downcast“ is the report. They explain the events, really amazed that the new person seems to know nothing of what had just happened.

Then, we are told by St. Luke, Jesus explains the Prophets to them, and what Moses had taught, and told them Jesus had to die and then enter into glory. So Jesus really threw light on their understanding, and during the evening meal, as Jesus asks the blessing, “their eyes are opened” and they see, “Why, it’s Jesus”.

So they rush back to the city and spread the news. Jesus Himself appears to the disciples, to small groups, to Peter and John, to Thomas, to five hundred at once, to make sure they knew He was alive, “Just as he said”.

So the whisperings turns to reality, hope blossoms, and they boldly proclaim, “The one You crucified is alive”. Jesus lives.

Therefore we say it. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed, Hallelujah. Our Easter Hope becomes our Easter certainty, and we live with the comfort and promise of eternal life in Him.

So I Pray your Easter celebration was wonderful, for Christ is alive.

GPD 3/24/08

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/20/08

The first day of Spring, and when I came back from my early morning walk I saw something on the front porch that took me back to days when we were busy milking cows in the barn in Wisconsin. There was the neighbor’s cat playing with a mouse! The farm’s best mouser did that now and then. He would stroll in after a night spent decimating the mouse population under the corn crib with a live mouse dangling in his mouth. He’d put it down and play with it, it would run here, he’d stick out a paw and turn it back, and that went on till he would finally tire of it and quickly dispatch the little critter.

Anyway, here is the cat playing with the mouse, When the cat saw me come, he went one way, the mouse the other way, and that was the end of the play. First time I ever saw a mouse here. Snakes, yes, raccoons, yes, possums, deer, but never a mouse.

The paper this morning tells me Montgomery County is adding $50,000.00 to its budget for fighting the dreaded hydrilla in Lake Conroe. The best way to fight this invasive weed is with hydrilla-eating fish, and to stock these costs money. These fish thrive on hydrilla and have been found to be effective in fighting it. But let that weed grow and the Lake would soon be dead, for this weed is so invasive it simply kills all oxygen and so fish and finally, the water.

Hydrilla is like sin. It too is invasive, and we need to fight it. And the on way we have is our Lord Jesus Christ, who fought the devil for us and defeated him. So Luther was right when he wrote in the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, “He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.”

Maundy Thursday we celebrate especially the Holy Supper, where our Lord offers us, again, His body and his blood, “for the forgiveness of sins”.

What a rich gift this is, and what a comforting remembrance, to celebrate, and to partake of this food, and go again, knowing our sins are indeed forgiven, and, as the prophet writes, drowned “in the depths of the sea”.

I trust and pray your week will be a time of spiritual growth and strength. Draw that from the Scripture, and from the faith that is fed through those words.

GPD 3/20/08

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/18/08

Tuesday in holy week 2008 already. For further Lenten reading I picked a book called The Hinge from the shelf. It is the story of 7 who stayed after the cross was empty, and the crowd was gone, and they are wondering what this all means. All are touched by the Spirit, and all see this happened for them.

That is always how it happens, isn’t it? One by one the Holy Spirit opens eyes and hearts to see Jesus as their Savior.

So you and I have come to faith. The Lord chose us, as He said, “You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you.” We admit this truth in the words of the hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling”.

We get used to it. Another Lenten reading is a recent book by E C Peterson called “The Jesus Way”. In it he is talking about the Mt, Moriah incident where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. It is a test of Abraham’s faith. The faith that has been tested many times in the years since Abraham left Ur. Then he speaks of our faith, and here is the sentence I want to share. “It is both common and easy to develop a concept of faith in which God is pledged to give us whatever we want whenever we ask”.

Then he continues, “have we slipped into the habit of insisting that God do what we ask or want or need Him to do, treating him as an idol designed for our satisfaction?” Because faith involves trust. I might not always understand what is happening, but I trust that God does.

Holy week teaches me that again. I see before my eyes the price being paid, the price in blood and pain and suffering, and finally death, and then the glorious resurrection, all just as He promised, and all just as had been prophesied ages before. So I believe it when He tells me, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” John 11,25.

Satan knows his time is short, so he is very busy. But what God offers me is sure, paid for, sealed with His blood, and promised to those who believe. May this Holy week strengthen your faith and lengthen your steps along The Way, in Jesus name.

GPD 3/18/08

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/15/08

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
The skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech,
Night after night they proclaim knowledge.
There is no speech,
Or language,
Where their voice is not heard” Psalm 19, 1-3.
I just love this time of year. The flowering trees, the bushes with color. In our backyard there is a little kumquat tree, doesn’t look like much, but its flowers now are really something. And soon there will be a dogwood flowering in the back. And those delicate flowering trees, along the parkway, spectacular. The Psalm has it right.

And that is what St. Paul speaks of when he writes, “What may be known of God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” Rom 1,19.

Look at this letter. Written to Rome where there was much to read, imperial decrees, great poetry, finely crafted philosophy and various religions and gods and goddesses. Written by one who had no connections, was really unknown, and yet, this letter soon caught attention because it came to grips with things that troubled people.

Paul takes the glorious fact of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, and asks “What is God up to, and why?” So He begins by saying, “I am proud of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of salvation to everyone that believes, Jew first, and then everyone”. Paul explains it is God’s way of putting people right with God”.v.16.17.

So St. Paul starts as he does. The question is troubling, “What kind of life does your philosophy really offer you? Now, he writes, You do know God, for his works can be clearly seen, then why ignore Him as you do? For “what happened was this, people knew God perfectly well, but didn’t treat Him like God, “and their foolish heart was darkened”. V.22.

And it goes down hill from there, but “God gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done.” To follow their own devices. And the evil life that followed is described in verses 28 – 32.

These verses could be describing the America we live in, in 2008. Rom. 1,28 Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. 29 And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, 30 fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. 31 Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. 32 And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! So the letter to the Romans offers the only solution to the problem of sin. We read it, take comfort in its rich promises, and depend on it for the hope that is in us in Christ, the Risen Savior. Food for thought in this Holy Week.

GPD 3/15/08

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/11/08

It was really pleasant this morning. It had rained a little more during the night and the air seemed washed clean and invigorating. And what’s more, the doctor was right, ”the more you walk”, she said, “the easier it gets. Muscles will respond and the ache in your legs will go away.” And that is right. A bit farther each day, and thank God for this improvement.

Look at the news. The Houston Rockets, that’s our NBA team, has won 19 in a row, some kind of record, and that’s with their big man, Yao Ming, out with an operation on a stress fracture on his left foot. Out for the season.

And for the rest of the news, mostly downhill, isn’t it? The governor of New York found to be consorting with prostitutes, the Harris County in Texas resigning because of some hanky-panky with a secretary, the mayor of Detroit under the same sort of cloud. These are people who ought to set an example by behavior.

St. Paul found this sort of thing when he wrote to the Romans, a cosmopolitan city, powerful, to be envied, highly regarded, the Master of the world. St. Paul points out they were “very religious". There were many gods and temples. Yet, he asks, what did it get you, this plurality of religions? He points out that mankind lives under the wrath of god. People, Paul points out, know about God, yet ignore Him. So they fall under God’s wrath. And it shows. “Look at them,” Paul writes in Roans 1, “mean spirited, venomous, God-bashers,. . .they keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. . .they know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care.” (MSG gives one the full flavor).

From that start, St. Paul gives them the reason why Jesus Christ came. And there is help for the sinner.

That’s the story that God has given us to tell. There is help, there is a solution to the problems that we are born with, there is a loving God who sent His only Son to die on the cross that we might be saved. It’s a simple solution, yet it is the one solution that meets our desperate needs. Let us then be up and doing, living in that faith, and gladly sharing that faith with the world we live in.

GPD 3/11/08

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/9/08

The Preacher writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falsl down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and there is no one to help him up.” Ecclesiastes 4, 9.10.

There’s something therapeutic about friendships. Solomon, I believe, put his finger on it. He wrote, proverbs 27,17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the wits of another”. That’s just the way I work. When two people work at something, one thinks of something the other may have overlooked, or one spots a weakness in a plan that a little adjustment will straighten out.

So friends are important, cherish those you have and make others.

No, this is not a lecture on friendships. But I had the strangest feeling this morning that I know very few people. New faces, people whose names I don’t know. And I used to know the family history of some 450 families, from grandma to the youngest grandchild. And could walk into a room filled with people and everyone had a welcome hand and a smile. Ruth and I have been members of this congregation for nearly a quarter of a century. Of course it is here where people do move often, and new faces replace them, and then, we are no longer involved in the day-to-day life of the church. Yet there it was.

And yet, when I had that heart blockage a while ago, suddenly people came, just to let me know they cared, some prayed, others just had a warm greeting and expressed concern and offered help. And it was heartwarming.

That’s what our Church offers us, isn’t it? Fellowship, friendship. St. Paul commented on this in his letter to the Philippians. 1,3 “I thank my God every time I remember you, because of your partnership in the Gospel from this day up till now.” V.5.

Strange, in this day of easy instant messaging, we no longer seem to be together. Have you ever read letters written, and saved by a wife left at home when her husband went to war? The longing, the expressions of endearment, the rich use of words to describe the hardship, the longing expressed to be home again? We don’t often experience that do we.

Solomon is right when he speaks highly of “there is a friend who sticks closers than a brother” Prov. 18,24. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from the Father I have made known to you” John 15,15.

No, this is not a lecture on friends, but I do urge you to make, and keep, friends, and cherish them. For “One friend sharpens the wits of another". There is nothing quite like the fellowship and the friendships generated in God’s own Church.

GPD 3/9/08

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/8/08

The walking was – what is the word here? Breezy, no bitter, harsh, brisk, wintry, bone-chilling, cold, frigid, arctic? Well, for this time of year, here, it was rather brisk, but refreshing. After all, it was 15 degrees in Michigan and they were having snow. And we used to live there.

Have you ever thought of the advantages we have now. No, you and I don’t have to get up in a cold house, start a fire, and then maybe crawl back under the quilt till the house warmed up. We just have to set a dial on the wall and gas comes flooding in from who knows where provided faithfully by a company we never meet and we have comfort. And we even have the advantage of not even writing a monthly check. We can arrange for this company to draw it from our bank account. One less worry and think of the saving in stamps!

But what I was getting at above is the amazing quantity in words we have of expressing some facts. I checked my Thesaurus and it offered 29 words to express the thought that it was cold!

Brings to mind the Proverb, “A word spoken at the right time is like olden apples in a silver background” 25,11. So the Bible says this about the Preacher. “The preacher tried to find delightful words, written honestly and telling the truth” Eccl.12,10.”Did his best to find the right words and tell the truth” MSG. That’s really good advice. Language does have power. It can either build up, or destroy. We in the love of God should always be looking for the right word to help another. His becomes ever more urgent when a person is really troubled or is suffering great stress under a burden we know nothing about.

So, like the preacher, let us take the trouble to say the fitting word, the word that will bring a lift to the step and a light to the eye. The word that will refresh the weary and give added strength to the burdened. Yes, a word fitting spoken is like apples in a silver frame. Speak that word, beginning with “You know of course, that Jesus Christ died for you.”

GPD 3/8/08

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/6/08

Well, according to instructions, I am back to walking, but doing quite a bit of groaning as well. The years do take a toll, and my muscle and legs cry out for some relief, but the doctor tells me this is natural, and it will go away. I pray she is right.

Spring seems to be right around the corner. Though the paper reports snow in Michigan yet. Daughter-in-law says she drove in 6 inches of new snow on the way to work.

Here in Texas the spring flowers will soon make their appearance. The Woodlands seeds a Texas/Oklahoma flower mix along the roadside. It strikes me that the seeder they use to plant them is the same kind my father used probably 60 years ago to plant his oats, wheat rye, barley, and alfalfa. The mix used in the Woodlands includes bluebonnets, scarlet flax, tickseed, lemon mint, purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan, corn poppy, and Texas paint brush. They even offer a map locating areas seeded. Now, all we need is warmer weather, and the Lord will send that directly.

I can write about this, and it does nobody any good unless they see it for themselves, the beauty that God offers with His left hand, as it were, sort of by the way, to make our world a more pleasant place. It sort of reminds me of life. In these Lenten hours we are thinking of Jesus’ final hours. On the way, finally, to the Golgotha, the soldiers spot a fellow who had just arrived, we think, from Africa, and say, “Here, under the cross, carry it” Luke 23,26.

This is a sharp picture of a man taking of the greatest steps he can take in life. He got down from the sidewalk into the street, he joined the parade, instead of watching it. He became part of what was going on. He became a participant. And that ought to be our theme in these days.

A picture of two tourists come to mind. One asks the other whether she saw the cathedral of Saint Chappell in Paris. She marveled at the beauty of it, the magnificent colors and the structure. The other said, “W saw it from the tour bus”. And she did not appreciate the work at all. She couldn’t, one has to be inside to really observe.

So it seems to me, it is with us. We can either watch the parade, or be part of it. Either our faith means what we say it is and we live it, or not. A brief "for instance”. A friend makes purchases for his firm. One agent offered to set prices so there would be “something for you”. He said to this agent, “Please get out.” The man, somewhat taken aback, said, “Why, for God’s sake?” “That’s why. For God’s sake”. And that ended the discussion. He was in the parade. He was a Christian.

I pray all of us can and do live like that, may God bless such living.

GPD 3/6/08

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/2/08

In 1456 Johann Gutenberg and Peter Schaeffer printed the Bible. In the next 42 years, 15 million books had been printed. Most of them the old familiar ones. But William Caxton in England established a press in Westminster Abbey ands printed books such as The Canterbury Tales, and others written for people. Books about botany, mathematics, and sciences flourished as did books like novels or philosophy. Luther early on recognized the value of the printed page and used it very much.

The point is people had no idea where it would lead, this new printing press and ability to spread the word rapidly. In 1500 a man named William Brant said, “there is nothing our children do not know”.

We cannot know the future, but we do know it will change. Take the computer. It used radio tubes at first, fragile, easily broken. Then came the integrated circuit board. But the real growth came with the invention of software, so one no longer needed to know how to operate the computer, software did it all. Change.

Where were you 42 years ago? See any changes? The 60’s, rebellious youth, women’s rights. Vietnam war, Desert Storm, Watergate, Civil rights, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. etc. Changes.

And the great change is the way people look at religion. People used to respect the Bible, the Gospel. No longer. A newspaper article today applauds the fact that America offers a shopping mall of religions to chose from. New Age, The Secret, and so many others. “We shop for everything else why not religion?”

What does this mean for the command to “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”? It is a question the Church today struggles with. How do we, what do we, why not try, etc.

I find the Bible offers me a picture that is much like this. Rome, ancient Rome, was the city of power, prestige, and accomplishment. It was filled with philosophies and many gods. And Paul came with his message, the very same message we have to offer today. It is interesting to watch him in action. Maybe he can give us some hints for action. Look at how he starts his letter to the Romans. In v.16 he says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God”. He doesn’t debate, or argue, or say “try this for a change”. He simply offers, this is the solution.

Does he argue about their false gods, their philosophies? No, he asks them a simple question. “Look at the result of your way of life. Read verses 18 to 30 and see the truth Paul brings out.

Paul also points out something else. He says what they sees is the result of the Wrath of God. In short, there is always a consequence to ignoring the truth of the gospel.

That was Paul’s program. It succeeded, did it not. In a few short years the truth of Jesus Christ found itself even in the seat of the palace. It is ever so, and we should not despair. Paul also teaches us that “All things work together for good to them that love God”. So the kind of life we are living in is the place where we are also to “Go and preach”. And it happens usually from one Christian to another person, in love, often offering calm and serenity and peace to a troubled soul. For the Spirit of God is ever there to bless.

Read Romans, and the Book of Acts to see how the Holy Spirit sent His people to spread the Word to the world.

GPD 3/2/08