Monday, April 28, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/28/08

“The heights of great men, reached and kept,
Were not obtained by sudden flight.
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”
In my walk this morning, a bit cooler again, this thought popped into my mind as I watched the yellow boxes chugging along, sweeping up future scholars and men and women of distinction and high achievement, that some among them indeed would attain much, perhaps even invent some labor-saving device or record some other event that will be noted with pride and marked with honor in the future.

I thought of a Doctor DeBakey, sitting at his mother’s knee, learning how to sew. Using that bit of learning in future heart surgery.

And that’s never by accident.

The Bible speaks about being diligent. It has this bit of advice: “”Everything your hand finds to do, do it with your might, because there is no work or planning, knowledge or skill, in the grave where you are going” Eccl. 9,10.

The Message translates this like so: 10” Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there's neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you're most certainly headed.“

One practical result of lazines, says The Preacher, is this. “Laziness makes the roof collapse, and taking it easy makes the house leak.” KJV writes, “By much slothfulness the building decayeth; through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through”. Eccl. 10,18.

St. Paul mentions the practical result of diligence and effort. ”That he may have to give to him who has need”. Eph. 2,28

The other result, of course, of work is to glorify God. Let our lives show that we are truly ‘marching to a different drummer’, serving God in whatever we do. This brings Him glory, and you rich blessing.

GPD 4/28/08

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/26/08

I noticed while going to Senior Class Thursday there was a small hole in the pavement. Not large, just an inch or so. The sort that gets left when a larger stone in the mix lands near the top and works loose, so leaving a bit of a hole, maybe an inch or so wide and less than that deep. And dirt eventually settles in. Thursday I noticed a blade of grass coming up. A seed had blown in and started to grow. It wouldn’t be there long, of course, either pulled by someone, or destroyed by a car running over, or something. But why was it there for me to see just now?

Well, the Lord who says His are “The cattle on a thousand hills”, and who is the eternal God. Who created and said, “Let there be” and there was. He is saying to this pilgrim, “Remember that I am God”. What I promise, I will do. And I have promised that “I will be with you to the ends of the earth”. He who clothes the lilies of the field will take care of my every need.

It reminded me of Longfellow’s poem, “The Psalm of life”.
The final verses;

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(1807-1882).

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, so let us make an helpmeet for him”. And so He created Eve as a companion. We are really social creatures, here to serve one another. Maybe that blade is there to remind this pilgrim of that part of life. A warm smile, a ready hand, an eagerness to serve, these things often are sort of lost today in our hurry to get ahead. And that blade reminds us all that we reach farther and achieve more because we do stand on the shoulders of others. On the southwest corner of the intersection of Grogans Mill and Research Forest in the Woodlands is an art piece that tells this story.

One blade of grass brings many thoughts. I just hope the message for us is clear. We are there for others too. So the question always must be, Am I?

GPD 4/26/08

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/24/08

Bracing this morning, and the walk was quiet. Now and then when I am coming toward the end of the morning walk, two students are still waiting for their bus. I raise a bored hand in greeting, they wave bored in return. So, amenities taken care of, the bus comes and sweeps them up.

All sorts of things in the news to comment on. Here is the report that Houston is home to 58 Fortune 500 company corporate headquarters, but it is also beginning to feel more of the housing pinch that other parts of the country are mired in. And now authorities learn the phone call that started this whole mess with all those children was based on a hoax by a person under court order not to make any calls for a year.

And, jobs for teenagers will be harder to come by this summer.

And the Congress has honored 99 year old Dr. DeBakey of Houston, premier hearty specialist, with its medal of honor, the highest honor congress can bestow on a citizen. I am glad for this recognition for a man who has done so much pioneer work with heart ailments and surgery. etc.

Five years ago the Congress ordered the IRS to get 80 percent of all tax payers to file electronically by 2007. Last year 58% did so, the rest still used paper. Problem is it costs the IRS $2.67 to process each paper return, while to handle an electronic return costs but 29 cents. What will happen next is your guess.

Turns out the golden years really are more golden. An eye-opening new research shows older Americans really are happiest, and also are more active socially than the picture of lonely old age seems to indicate. Yes, years do bring aches and pains, but the study shows the years also bring more contentment with life as it is. Younger people strive more for “having it all”, and baby boomers, now retiring, have yet to learn that contentment means satisfaction with what there is, not with what one yet has to do to reach fulfillment.

So, yes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain”. As Scripture teaches us.

“Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way,
Thou are the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

GPD 4/24/08

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/22/08

Well, this morning it was warm enough so that I did not need any jacket. Now, if it would just stay this way till about October and then start cooling off!

But I started thinking a bit more about that money. What St. Paul writes sticks in my mind. “Which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Tim. 6,10.

Think about that. They took their eye off the goal. The result was disaster for them. “Many sorrows” describes so much that need not happen, doesn’t it?

And the most troubling word is that they “erred from the faith”. Something distracted them, and they left their first love, as St. John writes to the church. They lost their faith. The pursuit of ‘things’ took their attention from what was real, their faith and trust in God to provide as He promised He would. They forgot they were a children of the heavenly Father.

Which reminded me of the Church today in this culture. Just this morning I was reading of a church that had met in a bar, using one of those mechanical bulls as an illustration. “We seek to be relevant” said the pastor who did this. He attracted about 100 people and termed it a success. Relevant to what? The world we live in?

Today more and more people are attracted to liturgy. I find this interesting. Attracted to a form of worship that has existed for a thousand years. Why? Because the liturgy begins as a real separation from the world. In order to make religion understandable to modern man we forget this separation.

And the very first thing the liturgy does is draw us into a place where God is taken seriously, and where worshippers are taken seriously. The liturgy, from beginning to end, is not about us, but about God. It is about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The liturgy show us someone more worthy of our attention who lies outside ourselves.

The liturgy shows us God who comes because He wills to be present. In the Sacrament, in the Scripture readings, the very words of God, and in the sermon , which show how that word applies to us today where we live.

That is why liturgy is relevant. It is not shaped to attract one “target audience’, but is useful, and is prayed for kings as well as slaves. It directs our gaze from self to God, and when we return home, we are never quite the same.

Just some food for thought about the state of the church in today’s world.

GPD 4/22/08

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/20/08

The morning was brisk, rain-washed air, comfortable with a medium jacket. The rain had stopped. But the pavement was still wet. So it was nice. And the big yellow boxes came rumbling to sweep up their precious cargo right on time. And, I spotted a rabbit browsing on some green. Hardly ever see that around.

This comes two days later than I had planned because I have been slow to sit down and finish it. That is a malady than seems to afflict us all. I remember a fellow student who said he would wait for inspiration when it came time for the class recitation. He stumbled and failed miserably when it was his turn and the prof said, dryly, “Hans, you have been lazy”. OK, I admit to it.

But last Thursday at Senior study we got to talking about giving, and money, and similar topics, and what tithe meant. For Abraham when he met Melchizedek, a priest, after he had rescued Lot, it meant, well, the record says, “Abraham gave him a tenth of everything”. That is, of the loot that came from his battles.

In the New Testament St Paul has much to say about giving. He commends the Macedonians who gave “as much as they were able, even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own”, and then ”they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord.” 2 Cor. 8,3-5.

Then, in 2 Corinthians chapter 9, follow that famous line about sowing sparingly, and reaping so, or bountifully, and reaping so, for “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Then comes this word of comfort in verses 10 and 11 in which God promises that He will supply “so that you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” Which results in expressions of thanks to God.

Then comes this from St. Paul: 1 Timothy 6:6-11 (KJV) 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

That pretty well puts it all in the proper perspective. Being content with what the Lord gives us. Being satisfied with our basic needs. Being able to tell the difference between need and want. I pray your heart will always be generous in your planning and your giving to whatever needs that fall before you. And may God supply, and bless the work.

GPD 4/20/08

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/16/08

Man, it was noisy this morning during my walk. Sounded like fire engines either out for a morning run or having fires to attend to. And sound like that always sounds louder when it is otherwise relatively quiet. [you know, like the stuff your child says when there is a calm in the room. Embarrassing, isn’t it?] Oh, you’ve forgotten that time, haven’t you?

Something like when we get caught out. You’ve heard the story of the woman who was following in traffic and the car in front of her slowed and stopped at a yellow light The woman, in a hurry screamed in frustration, hit the horn, and gestured angrily. Then, in midrant, she heard a tap on her window and a police officer ordered her to step out of the car, arrested her, and took her to a holding cell at the station. An hour later the officer came and released her with an apology. He explained “It was all a mistake, but when I saw you in action and noticed the bumper sticker that said, ‘follow me to Sunday School’ and the ‘what would Jesus do’ license plate holder, I assumed the car was stolen.”

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it then be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. . .let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven: Matthew 5, 13 – 16.

There isn’t much to add here except to remind us all that Christ lives in us, as St. Paul teaches. What sweet comfort that truth gives.

GPD 4/16/08

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/13/08

Really a pleasant day today. No, I usually don’t walk Sunday mornings, rather spend the time preparing for worship at Church.

In doing that I was re-reading Psalm 139, and this verse, 16, struck me as filled with comfort. “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book before one of them came into being”. The Psalmist is speaking about the Lord who is all-knowing and ever-present. Who even “perceives my thoughts from afar”, and “before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely”.

In his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, King Solomon prayed, “But will God really dwell on earth” (1 Kings 8,276). And the answer4 came in that manger in the stale at Bethlehem when Jesus “became flesh, and dwelt among us”. There lies Solomon’s answer. Yes, God did indeed come to earth, became one of us, suffered, died, and rose again so that our sins would be paid for.

And that is a truth the world does not want to know, or hear easily. So we keep hearing and reading wise people, presumably, who have an answer to the many problems facing us. And the make wrong choices because they fail to understand this basic truth, that mankind is sinful from birth, and simply cannot help that condition. The Only One who can and does is God. By sending His Son Jesus to pay the penalty for that sin.

I mentioned we had a circuit conference last Thursday. In my presentation I mentioned that I was the oldest in the room, and just a little while ago I was the youngest at such a gathering. One friend said, “”How do the years feel?” I said, “I am forgetful, though I do remember the important things. I have enough years to know what I worried about at 30, ‘what will people think ?’ to know they don’t care.

Over the years my heart has been broken. How can a heart not break when you stand at the graveside of an infant, or when a child suffers, or a good friend dies, or parents leave this vale of tears. But broken hearts is what gives us understanding and compassion. Hearts never so touched will be sterile and never know the joy of forgiveness.

I am blessed to have lived long enough to see the laugh lines of my youth deeply engraved on my face. I can says “no” and mean it, and “yes” and mean it too.

It is easier to see the bright side, and I’ve earned the right to be wrong without apology.

I like the person I am. I won’t be here forever, but while God allows life, I will enjoy what He lays before me every day, and I can leave my life in His care knowing “the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

GPD 4/13/08

Monday, April 7, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/7/08

Beverly Sills, singer and president of the N.Y. Opera, said one time “There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going”. I thought of that because this next Sunday April 13th, 2008, Christ Lutheran Church in Chalmette, La is rededicating its rebuilt and refurbished church building. When Katina hit, New Orleans suffered from wind and water damage, and Chalmette, just east of there, came under ten feet of water. The Church was damaged badly, furniture destroyed, books and items water-damaged beyond repair. But over the next months volunteers from many areas came with helping hands and helping dollars. They mucked out homes, cleaned yards, swung hammers, rebuilt, and replaced, so that today the Church can rededicate the building to the glory of God and the teaching of the way of salvation in Christ Jesus.

That’s a success story. If you wish, a Congratulatory letter will reach them c/o Pastor Philip T Miller, 106 Cedarwood Dr, Slidell, La 70461 (The Pastors home address). After Sunday the Church address is 3300 Jupiter Dr, Chalmette, La 70043. To God be the glory.

Other bits and pieces. Here is a book, Nudge, Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, Happiness, by two University of Chicago Professors. Their thesis is that if we give people a choice with a sort of nudge, they will make better choices. For example, in a cafeteria line, placing health foods first before the chips and cookies will have children select more healthy choices.

Or if companies offer corporate retirement savings plans in which the companies make matching contributions [free money], and make such plans automatic unless new people ‘opt out’, inertia makes more people simply do the right thing.

One more bit. UPS, you see their brown trucks everywhere, plan routes so the drivers turn right. The company shaved 30 million miles off delivery routes, saved 3 million gallons of fuel, and reduced emissions by 32,000 metric tons. Now, doesn’t that urge one to plan to turn right when driving?
And this, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” .Ps. 37, 4.7.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom Envy 4/5/08

Yesterday morning when I passed maybe the third house on my way, a little dog started to follow me. I stopped and said, “Go home”, using my best preacher voice. He didn’t listen. But stayed with me, Now and then checked out a bush on the side, or looked at a tree, but always returned to stay at my heels. Then, when I got back around, he left at the third house.

Unusual because we don ‘t often see dogs running loose here. There is a leash law. Usually we see them being taken for walks, or panting in a car in a parking lot, but not running free like that. Well, I didn’t step on his toes and he didn’t nip at my heels, so we got along pleasantly.

But this business of envy. There is much more to say. For example, it shows how temptation works. Temptation to sin is not sin, you understand. Temptation is the thought or urge to do something forbidden. When you follow that urge and do the wrong, that is sin. Sin is always going against the will of God.

Envy is a terrible thing to struggle with. There is a word, Schadenfreude, you hear it sometimes. It means being glad over another’s misfortune. Like, “Sorry you had a flat on the way to work”, but secretly saying, ‘ you deserved it’.

Envy lies behind negative statements, or bitter gossip, or stuff like ‘keying’ a car. It means, I see what you have, I’m jealous, and I’ll try my best to spoil I for you. The “Dog in the Manger” attitude, The horse has worked hard, the farmer waters and feeds it, but the dog in the manger nips at the horse every time it wants to take a bite.

Here is a good word to remember. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.. . .it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Cor. 13, 4-7. And then this, “Be kind to one another, and tenderhearted, and forgive as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Eph 4,31.

The warning stands, Envy starts lots of misery for us. Best to avoid it.

GPD 4/5/08

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/3/08

Light jacket weather this morning, and spring is really on the way. Well, the trees are nearly all in leaf, and the light green of the early leaf is starting to turn a deeper color now. Soon to be covered with dust. Well, rain usually makes them sparkle again, and rain is a little short right now, but some more is promised.

The word ‘sin’ is little used among religious people today. The emphasis is on us. If we can just muster more effort, we will be OK. It is significant that in the Bible, the Book of Genesis starts with “In the beginning God”, and ends with this statement, “In a coffin, in Egypt”. That shows plainly that the man who was created to live, died. Why? Because “There not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not”.

Lately I have been re-reading a little book that deals with temptations and wrestles with understanding the cause. The Book, title: “Hurdles To Heaven”, explains how temptations come from envy, for example. Pilate knows that the Religious leaders have brought Jesus to him for trial “because of envy”.(Mark 15,10). Jesus was wiser than they were, a better person, and people “heard Him gladly”. They could not tolerate that, so they conspired against him.

The root of envy is discontent at another’s good fortune. A little tale of a hermit in the desert is being tempted by devils, and he easily resist their lures. Then another comes along and whispers to the hermit, “Your brother was just appointed bishop of Alexandria” and a scowl of envy crosses his face. “This is the temptation I would recommend” he tells his fellows.”

Envy is what makes someone murmur, “He got that promotion, but I can’t go into the details”. That is why James writes of the tongue, as “an unruly evil that no one can tame”. For words, once spoken, can’t be taken back. St. Francis was once approached by a woman who had gossiped much, admitting her guilt and offering to make it well. St. Francis told her to take goose feathers, and place one on the doorstep of each person she had talked about. So she did, and when she came back to say the task was done he said, “Not quite, now gather them all in again” “I can’t” she said, “The wind has scattered them all”. “Just so.” was his reply.

The 8th commandment teaches us to “Put the best construction on everything”. That is wise. Is what I do or say helpful, or not? Does it hurt, or heal? That is one struggle we all have. Envy is the cause of many sins. We do well to be aware of this, and the terrible consequences. May God help us.

GPD 4/3/08

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Shade Tree Wisdom 4/11/08

Walking was pleasant, and uneventful, though it looked a bit cloudy.

Yesterday we had our monthly pastoral conference and one of the assignments was titled “Wisdom of the ages”. Isn’t that a pretentious title? They asked older Pastors what they had learned, some thoughts on ministry. I offered this story.

What I learned in ministry.
When Pastor Henry Gray accepted the call, he saw it as a church where he could do some very effective work. He saw a field where his special talents and growth in ministry would be most useful for the kingdom. So he accepted the call after much prayer and thought. An interesting sidelight was that the District President was a son of this congregation and had urged Pastor Gray to accept it. He was installed as Pastor on a June evening service by the District President. The service was well attended, and the reception after while showed a membership excited to have a new Pastor after nearly a year of having none.
Of course there were problems. The circuit Counselor and the congregation’s leadership had been forthright in laying out the work that Pastor Gray faced here.
What he was not aware of was the table. Grandma Schmidt’s table. Grandma Schmidt, long time and respected member of the church, had died in the past month. She was mourned by all. BUT, two of the daughter laid claim to a rickety table they said “Mom told me I was to have it”. As happens now and then, neither was giving in, and the result was two camps. The Ladies Aid was divided, the voter’s meeting was divided, children fought. The congregation really was in turmoil over this table.
The congregations’ chairman and the chairman of the board of Elders had told Pastor Henry Gray this horror story the morning after his installation. What to do.
He called the ladies and their husbands into a meeting at the Church that week Wednesday. They came, reluctantly, and sat down with Pastor Gray. He thanked them for coming, and prayed, and then told them the story of Jonah. They listened, thinking ‘what is this”, for they knew the story of Jonah. But they really didn’t. Because Pastor Gray opened the bible to the last chapter of Jonah and asked them to read it again while he stepped out for 15 minutes or so.
When Pastor came back he asked them about what they had read. Then he pointed out that Jonah was angry about a vine, while God was concerned about the 120000 in Nineveh, and the city’s souls.
Then Pastor Gray said. You are tearing this church apart because of a rickety table, while I am the Shepherd concerned for the 800 souls here now. Last week what happened here didn’t bother me, because I did know of it. Today it does, because I made a solemn promise to serve as God’s shepherd here, feeding ‘The flock of God which He purchased with His own blood”. Please, for your sake, and for the sake of many souls, for the sake of unity, settle this matter today, one way or another, but settle it.
They did. And they used that rickety table to make a fire to prepare a peace meal to celebrate the event with the entire congregation.
The entire family lived and worked in that congregation for years. And Pastor Gray served that congregation for many years with rich blessing for everyone, and glory to our God.
GPD 4/11/08