Monday, March 30, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/29/09

I mentioned Creeds the other day. I also mentioned Athanasius. History records that the Church Council of Nicaea had written the Nicene Creed which contains these lyrical words, “God of God , Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, one substance (or being) with the Father.”

As soon as it was written, it was attacked. A Greek theologian named Arius argued that God alone was without beginning, and therefore the Son (Jesus) could not be equal to the Father. He called Jesus a demigod, and that was familiar to the world, for Emperors had their demigods, all of them. And Arianism began to take hold as a way of understanding Christianity. It soon had supporters even in government circles.

During this time, Athanasius became Bishop of Alexandria , one of the great centers of learning of the ancient world and one of the outstanding centers of Christianity. Athanasius began to launch broadside after Scriptural broadside against Arianism. He was attacked by Arian sympathizers. They moved to quash him. He prevailed. The emperor, no theologian, ordered Athanasius to accept Arius himself as a priest. Not on your life, was the reply, and the emperor backed down.
The turmoil caused emperor Constantine to exile Athanasius for two years. The first of many, for he was thrown out of his diocese 5 times. A record. His fellow bishops, trying to reach agreement, waffled and wavered, and finally condemned him. But Athanasius kept up a drumbeat of Scripture truth. Finally, in 364, after 39 years of struggle, the pope in Rome confirmed Athanasius in his teaching.

Today, millions of Christians confess their faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, “very God of very God.”

[I quote liberally from “Condemned to Repeat” by Allison, Adams & Hambly]
GPD 3/29/09

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/26/09

We did something in the service Sunday. Well, we do it every Sunday. We stood as a body and said the Apostle’s Creed out loud, together, and confessed what we believe right there, “out loud, before God and everybody,” as my father often said.

It was not as if we did something unusual, but it suddenly struck me again what we were doing. We were saying, THIS is what I believe. In this changing world, when everything seems to be at loose ends, when nobody seems to know what will happen next, we said, This is what we believe. This is our Lord. This unchanging, ever-lasting, always true, God is our God. It’s like being on a trip and watching the compass carefully, or checking the map to be sure we are still on the correct highway heading the right way, and so finally ending up at the friend’s house exactly. And I thought, “I am not alone in this” for thousands around the world are confessing the very same belief. It is not a heroic thing that we do, but it is simply saying to ourselves, “We know He is our Lord, because he sent His Son to die for our sins, so we have the promise of eternal life. And we believe that.”

So we recited the Apostle’s Creed, or sometimes the Nicene Creed, or, on Trinity Sunday, many use the Athanasian Creed. {sometime look up the story of Athanasius and thank the Lord for his fervor and his determination in expressing that faith).

So we said the Creed again. And as we speak it, maybe the words will remind us of who we are, and mostly, who our Lord is, and thank Him for His presence in our lives.
May He bless us, every one.
GPD 3/26/09

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/23/09

The St. Louis Cardinal baseball team of the ‘40s had a short-stop named Marty Marion. He covered his position superbly. He seemed to be everywhere, graceful, expert, and a fine bat also. Sports writers often used the term ‘graceful’ when they spoke about his game. He moved with great ease, seemed almost fluid in his actions. Graceful indeed.

Ever watch people walk? Some sway from side to side, some sort of bounce with each step, others walk with hesitation. A child runs with exuberance. But some folks sort of glide along, they seem almost to float along, a pleasure to watch. I had a choir director who wanted his choir to walk that way when they processed. It takes effort, and attention, but it can be done. Try it. It’s called graceful.

But there is another grace I want to talk about. A fine example comes from the life of ancient king David. Before he got to the throne, he had promised king Saul he would not kill any of Saul’s family.(1 Samuel 24,22). It was the habit of kings to kill any family members left so there would be no threat to their power from that quarter. Politicians always see to their power base. That’s almost a rule for them.

So, when David became king, first of Judah, then of all Israel, he asked, “Is there any family member left I can show a kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9,1

A man named Ziba who was a servant in Saul’s household told him there was a lad, crippled in both feet, who was named Mephibosheth. David had him brought from where he was living, sort of in hiding.

Can you imagine his feeling when the messenger from the king came to get him? But David treated him kindly, invited him to be a permanent guest at the kings table, and said to him, “For the sake of your father Jonathan, I will restore to you all the lands belonging to your grandfather.” 2 Samuel 9,7. AND, he ordered Ziba to till the soil, harvest the crops for Mephibosheth, so he was never destitute. The records adds that Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.

That’s grace in the deed, isn’t it.

But let me speak of another grace. It is mentioned plainly and often by St. Paul especially. He writes in Ephesians 2,8, “for by grace you are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is gift of God. V.9 not of works, lest any man should boast”.

And that happened, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. In this way, St. Paul teaches, “God commended His love toward us”. Romans 5, 8. And the Apostle begins chapter 5 of Romans with this word, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand”. So, our salvation is God’s gift by grace, and we have it when we receive it by faith.

So, while you are practicing your graceful walking, let your memory dwell on this great truth during these Lenten days.

GPD 3/23/09

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/19/09

A quarter moon hanging in the sky, the early morning is quiet, except for birds chirping and that roar of traffic on the distant parkway. So it is a time for quiet reflection, and there is much to think about, isn’t there? My mind runs to the lines of the hymn:

Change and decay in all around I see,
But, Thou who changest not, abide with me”.

Maybe that thinking lies behind the letter St. Paul wrote from prison to the church at Ephesus, meant as well probably, for all the churches in Asia. For us as well, most certainly.

St. Paul starts by reminding them of who they are in Christ Jesus. And all of this is “by grace, not of works, lest any man should boast." 2, 8.9. So they are Christians by God’s grace, it is a gift, not earned, not deserved, given simply out of God’s love.

Then he goes back to what they were, and explains that: “11 But don't take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways 12 had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. 13 Now because of Christ, dying that death, shedding that blood, you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. “ 2, 11-13 MSG.

What he is saying is reminding them they were simply clueless about things of salvation. Outsiders, he called them. “Darkened in their understanding, and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them . . . so, having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality.” 4,18.19

He tells them, “Be very careful how you live, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil” 5,15. Then comes that section about arming ourselves with the “full armor of God” 6,17. ending with “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”.

With that I leave you. It is, I believe, a good thought for the middle of the Lenten season when we linger on the events of the Passion of Christ, who died for US.

GPD 3/19/09

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/17/09

It’s time for migrations. I remember as a youngster on that Wisconsin farm hearing flocks of geese fly over, honking. And when they were flying during daylight hours one could watch them change leaders every so often. That’s the secret of their long flights, changing leaders, flying in a V formation, thus raising the ‘lift’ of the flights by 70%.

Studies have also shown the weaker geese fly in the rear, if one is wounded, another lands with the wounded one and stays till, either it gets better or dies, only then does the other leave.

Wonderful, isn’t God’s creation?

But migrations reminded the local paper, the Houston Chronicle, to run an article on the abundance of birds along the Texas coast, nearly 300 miles of coast, with birding sights everywhere. World travelers migrate here to do their ‘birding’, yet birding remains a mystery to many Texans. All one needs to do is pay attention.

The largest and most accessible wild flock of whooping cranes in North America can be found here. In 1941 only 16 whooping cranes were left, but intensive and careful management has brought the flock up to 230, but it remains on the endangered list. It can be found in Aransas National wildlife refuge just north of Corpus Christi. The Whooping Crane is nearly 5 feet tall and has a wing span of 8 feet.

One interesting bird, the black skimmer, nests in Matagorda Bay National Park. Of interest is that it drags its lower bill through the water as it skims along, catching small fish as it goes.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament showeth His handiwork.
Day into day uttereth speech,
And night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech, nor language,
Where their voice is not heard”. Ps. 19,1-3

GPD 3/17/09

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/15/09

Rainy this Sunday, and I can think of nothing better than to write a word or two about events of the day, and the Christian response. Try to answer the question,
“What, if anything, ought we to do?”

The Books of Chronicles in the Bible are written, some think, by Ezra. They open with a list of names, gobs of names, hundreds of names. Some call this one of the most boring sections of the Bible. God has a purpose, and the reason is this. After king David and several later kings, things started to go downhill. Kings forgot the Lord, grew careless in their worship, and Egypt, then Assyria, Babylon, and finally Persia, attached, captured, and took captive many of them. They were in danger of forgetting who they were. Hence the list of names, starting with Adam, Enoch and down to the present, to remind them they were special, God’s chosen people.

So the Chronicler reports the building of the temple in detail, and then, after Solomon finished his prayer of dedication, gives us this promise:
“14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” [2 Chron 7,14].

We are the people God calls His children, His sheep, and can do no better than follow that direction; repentance, humility, following His will, and Jesus adds this promise to prayer, “If you ask anything in My Name, He will do it.”

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Prov, 3, 5.6.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil.4, 4-7.

So, let’s begin with thanksgiving for this rain, for our faith, for God’s faithfulness, and God’s ability to be God still. For the psalmist assures, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” Ps. 34,15 Luther never fails to remind us that “The word of the Lord is true and right”. Ps. 33,4.

GPD 3/15/09

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/13/09

Dreary, and rainy, for which we are really grateful, since we needed it so badly. It’s the sort of day where nothing much gets done. O, lots of stuff gets looked at, some even more than once, but nothing gets done.

Well, I am retired, so you will have o excuse the laziness.

But just for you, here is an item I picked out of the paper recently. When Ray Kroc opened his first McDonalds in Des Plaines, IL in 1955, the menu had hamburgers, cheeseburgers, soda, French fries, coffee, and milkshakes. The cost, hamburger 15 cents, cheeseburger 19 cents, fries 10 cents, soda 10 or 15 cents, coffee 5 cents, shakes 20 cents. Hey, seniors can now get a very good cup of coffee for 50 cents.

So, I quote Robert Browning

“Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first is made.
My times are in Thy hands.”

GPD 3/13/09

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/11/09

Here is an amusing truth, “We are not what we are. We are not even what we think we are. We are what we think other people think we are”.

That is why we keep lent, study again Jesus’ final days on earth, His message, His final prayers, and then what happened at Golgotha, and the Resurrection, with such intensity.

For the Bible sets forth truths we often would rather not face. The Bible helps us see reality, call a spade a spade. If something is wrong, the Bible says so. It does not rationalize, it rips off the masks we wear, it tears away the fences we try to hide behind, and shows us the WAY.

And that is what we want. The CPA to tell us the truth, our doctor to be specific, our druggist to be exact, our mechanic to be diligent. We want such people to deal honestly with us. And that is what the Bible does. It never dodges around, it speaks truth, God’s truth, for eternal life.

St. John was instructed to write to the Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2,8-11). “These are the words of Him who died and came to life again. I know your affliction and your poverty. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer, the devil will test you and you will suffer persecution ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Finally, that is what the result is, eternal life because of the terrible days Jesus spent being judged, condemned, crucified, buried, to rise again in Glory. For indeed, “By His stripes we are healed.”

And so we praise and thank our God daily for His mercy and grace.

GPD 3/11/09

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shade Tree Wisdom 3/8/09

Surely you’ve heard or read about “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” or “The wonderful 'one horse shay’?” Well, you can look it up in Google. The Shay is a buggy that the Deacon has built. He used only the best woods, the choicest irons and materials so it would not break down. It ran for one hundred years and then crumbled altogether.

“You see of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once.
All at once, and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.”

Holmes ends the poem with:
“End of the wonderful one-horse shay.
Logic is logic, that’s all I say”

And that’s just what happened to my computer. It stopped. The first diagnosis, power pack. That proved defective, the mother board was limping, etc, etc, so the man said, “Better to get a new one than to get it fixed. (And he was kind enough to tell me they sold computers too.) [these folks are soo helpful that way].

To the rescue came my son-in-law who had a computer. He put my hard drive into this machine and it worked just fine, so I am back in business.

It delighted me that several of you asked where I was. But the experience makes it really hard to sing that ditty which seems to be the theme song of so many. It runs like this:

"Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble,
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror,
cause I get better looking each day.
To know me is to love me,
I must be a heck of a man.
Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can.”

All it takes is an experience like that, humbled by a machine, out-classed by stuff, undone by pieces of material, held at bay by a mindless thing!

It goes to remind us that we are but dust, as Ash Wednesday reminds us, and that the Lord did say, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return”. That is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to save “His people from their sins.” And that is what comes out of this experience, that God yet has a hand in my life, as He does in yours, loving, caring, nurturing, and drawing to Himself.

GPD 3/8/09