Arrested (Sort of) at 12

Brannen Oaks closeup

Brannen Oaks Closeup

I got arrested (sort of) when I was twelve years old. That summer my cousin, Lewis, and I spent a lot of time driving his go-kart on a dirt road near his house. One day a teenager rode by on a motorcycle and stopped to talk. Just for fun, he and I decided to have a drag race.

I stopped fifty feet into the race because the motorcycle literally left me in the dust. I was   surprised when I turned around and saw a police car’s flashing lights. The policeman lived on that road and had been sitting in his patrol car in his driveway talking with his wife for the last hour while we rode up and down the road in front of him. Our five second “race” had apparently interested him enough to leave the driveway and join us.

He “arrested” me, loaded me in the back seat of the squad car and told the motorcyclist to follow. At the police station, he took my fingerprints and “booked” me for drag racing on a city street. The motorcyclist never showed. When I called my father to ask him to pick me up at the      police station he laughed, until I assured him it was no joke.

The officer told my father the motorcyclist was his real target (“a licensed driver who should have known better”) but he also wanted to teach me a lesson so, thankfully, no real charges were made. He thought we were “daring him to do something.”

The officer was successful in teaching me a lesson, but probably not the one he planned. As I rode home in silence with my father, and since this was my first encounter with a policeman, I was sitting there thinking that police officers are apparently stupid jerks. He told his “real target” to     follow him to the station, so, the motorcyclist went the other way when given the chance – well, duh. And, I can say “daring” him never crossed my mind since he had been sitting there watching us and never said a word.

Thankfully, since then I have learned great respect for police officers and what they do. And, concerning that particular officer, stories around town and his short career in law enforcement revealed that he apparently was a stupid jerk.

I still shake my head in disbelief when I recall the incident. I’m sure it was and still is against the law to “drag race” on a city street. But all he had to do was get out of his car, tell his wife “excuse me a minute”, walk the 50 feet to where I was sitting on the go-kart and tell me not to do that because it’s illegal. Simple and done – while some 12-year-old grumbling under my breath may have come, no more drag racing would have happened.

So, what’s to learn from the story? One thing is, no matter how slow your vehicle moves, don’t race on a street, especially if there’s a police car sitting there. The other is to consider the phrase that comes to my mind a lot these days – From Ephesians 4:15 – “But speaking the truth in love…”

While the phrase has a much broader context in our following and teaching the Word of God in every situation, it often comes to mind regarding disagreements or the need for correction. And these days there are a multitude of contentious disagreements and much need for correction. But, in those situations, if our unloving focus is that we need to “teach them a lesson”, instead of being a witness for Jesus Christ, we’ll come across as just another stupid jerk.

Got Any Fallow Ground?

Break Up Fallow Ground

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12
(For those unfamiliar with the term, fallow ground is ground that is left untended and unproductive. Breaking it up means plowing it to remove the weeds and get it ready for sowing seed and being  productive.)

Someone asked me the other day how my garden was going. I’m thinking they could have been referring to the theme I adopted for my retirement – “Break up Your Fallow Ground.” In the last couple of years, I’ve written and talked about my need to break up the fallow ground in my garden after a time of neglect.

I replied that I had thought long and hard about it but hadn’t made any progress. I told them I definitely decided I don’t need a big garden. When two tomato plants can supply all Sharon and I want for the summer, it’s hard to take the time and effort to plant and tend a row of them. Since Sharon no longer does any canning, you can apply that to most everything that would be grown in a big garden. But I still want to rebuild the raised beds, re-establish the cypress mulch paths, and grow a few things in part of the garden. So, maybe as the weather cools, I’ll make it out there to do some work.

But, I’ve discovered in the last couple of years that the most important “fallow ground” we need to break up isn’t “out there”, it’s within us. The Scripture above doesn’t say go out and plow up your backyard and plant a garden. It says that we should open our heart and renew our mind with the Word of God and that we should diligently pray. It says we should obey and follow Jesus (Love the Lord, Love your neighbor.) It says we should get rid of the weeds in our hearts and mind. As Hebrews 12:1 in  effect says ”lay aside every weight (distraction) and the sin that holds us back and run the race of life God has given us.”

I’m thankful the Lord has shown me areas of my “fallow ground” and helped me to start breaking some of them up. The largest chunk of rock-hard land he’s shown me concerns The Great Commission. Jesus commanded us to be witnesses and make disciples for Him. Yep, the dreaded “evangelism.” Our Bible Study class did a study on evangelism and it opened my eyes to what I was more or less ignoring. Other members of the class (and some not in the class) agreed they had, too.

But we’re working on that now. The word “evangel” means good news—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s become clearer to me that while we should be ready to explain the basics of the Gospel (to evangelize) if opportunities arise, The Great Commission covers much more than that. It involves showing Christ in us to those around us. Telling of our relationship with Him—what He has done for us. It’s being part of the community and going out of our way to help others and to make friendships and build relationships, with believers and unbelievers alike, to open doors of opportunities to show and tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s inviting someone to Church or someone to return to Church. Or checking up on someone who’s been absent from Church. Etc. Etc.

So, if the Lord has used these words and His Scripture to reveal some of your fallow ground, pray hard, and get to work plowing it up! God will help as He promised.

Just Getting By With a Busted Mailbox

Mailbox with cows

It was the middle of the night when some scoundrel swerved off the dirt road and flattened our mailbox.  It would have been better if all had been demolished, but it happened to be salvageable. I stood it up and tamped the dirt back around it. A couple of pieces of 2×2 nailed between the post and the landscape timbers around it made suitable braces. The contraption worked but had a slight forward lean and twisted to the left and looked like a busted post held up by two sticks.

“New post and mailbox” went on the to-do list that day. My wife, Sharon, and I thought maybe it was time for a change – perhaps, a different style. After several tries to find something different, we gave up and decided on a mailbox identical to the one we had, and a post only slightly different from the old one.

“Put up mailbox” went on the to-do list that day. But everyone knows you can’t rush out and just do it. You must think and plan, consider the weather, decide to paint or stain the post, etc. etc. And, with a mailbox, you need to make sure you have the time to complete the installation without being interrupted (after all, the mail comes every day except Sunday, so you must have a place for it at delivery time.) So, the mailbox and post sat under the carport where I laid it when I brought it home from Lowes. After that, anytime I got in or out of the truck, I had to step around the post and mailbox.

I’m not sure why, but one Saturday morning I took down the old mailbox and began the installation. The post was standing, and the mailbox labeled and attached when the mail carrier drove up. I asked her if the height met the regulations, and she said it was great. I tamped the post in and stained it, and the task was complete.

And, it only took me two years.

The problem was the old mailbox worked in its catawampus condition. It was ugly, and the door might flop open if you didn’t close it just right, but it held mail just fine. The alert flag was broken off so there was no way to let the mail carrier know we had mail to go. As I said above, it would have been better if it had been a total loss. Then, I would have had to get a new one and install it quickly. But we could get by with the old one and did, for two years.

Just getting by can become quite comfortable. The knowledge of something being out of kilter becomes blurred or filtered out of our vision. The thoughts of “I need to fix that” come farther apart and last shorter and shorter times, until the response becomes “Well, it’s not really that bad. I can get by with it.” And, we do just that – get by with it.

The physical things in our lives, such as catawampus mailboxes, should be fixed. But it often happens the top of our to-do list should come on the spiritual side. “Just getting by” in that area could mean we’re saying we obey the commandment to not murder anyone. But, as Jesus would respond “That’s good, but have you been angry with your brother or insulted your sister? If you have, don’t speak too quickly of your obedience.” (see Matthew 5:21-22)

Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 13, our faith, knowledge and charity might appear to be commendable, but we are just getting by if we aren’t acting with love.

Jesus, in Matthew 23, berated the Scribes and Pharisees for just getting by with tithing of their herbs and spices, while neglecting more important matters like mercy. I picture them proudly going to the Temple with their pouch containing an ounce of mint and five grams of cumin, while stepping around the blind beggar on the steps outside. “Get out of my way! I have something important to do!”

As I said, just getting by can become quite comfortable. In some areas, such as mailboxes, it may not be significant. But, if we discover we are just getting by concerning our walk with God, it’s time to stop “stepping around the post and mailbox on the carport” and address it.

It’s possible that may be easy to do, but usually it won’t be comfortable, and it won’t be instantaneous. It may take two days, or two years, or a lifetime of continuous work, but thankfully we don’t have to do it alone (because we can’t).

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10

Push People, Around Here?

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At our boss’s staff meeting years ago, I suggested we give an employee’s son a job for the summer. Everyone thought it was a good idea – everyone except the manager of the department I proposed the young man work in. That manager made it clear he didn’t like me getting into his business. One of the others around the table spoke up and said he could find something good for the student to do, so we moved on.

After the meeting, the aggravated manager told me he thought I was “always pushing people around, here.” (note where the comma is.) Since, at an electric utility, system reliability (my job then) involves everybody, I replied I thought it was part of my job to “push people, around here.” (note comma location change.) He obviously couldn’t see where my verbal comma was placed, so he thought I agreed that I pushed people around and I thought it was my job to push ‘em around whenever I wanted. So, we parted and went back to our offices.

I thought of that exchange the other day when I read Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” (KJV.) Other translations use “stir up” or “stimulate” instead of “provoke.” So, I’m thinking that “push” would work just as well. I could go back and tell that manager I was following the Bible when I pushed him to do a good work and hire the employee’s son, couldn’t I?

Of course, I couldn’t. I neglected the key phrase in the verse – “let us consider one another.”  Those years ago if I had considered the other manager and asked him what he thought of the idea before I sprang it on him in a meeting with our boss, he probably would have agreed to give it a try or given me a reason why it would be difficult to make it work. Then, if necessary, we could have worked on the difficulties together.

Brother Emerson Proctor once said: “In our Christian walk, if we’re not moving forward, we will begin to move backward. There is no standing still” I find it can be easy at times, after a bit of discouragement, or fatigue, or laziness, etc. to drift backward from acting in love and doing good works.

At those times, we should trust God, pray, and follow the Holy Spirit to turn us around. But, do you know what else helps a lot? A loving push from a Brother or Sister. The push may be just from their example of faithfulness, or a word of encouragement and thanks. But it can also be a stern warning to avoid something or a strong encouragement to do something (yes, those can be loving, too.) (See Col 3:16, 1 Th 5:11, Heb 3:13, and other “one another” verses)

In a church, we need others to push us and we need to push others for the Body of Christ to be what it’s called to be. As we consider one another, the difficult part is figuring out the best way to push them, around here. (Yes, the comma placement is critical.) The “how to” varies from person to person, and from situation to situation, but it always has its foundation in what Jesus told us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

Captain Ahab, Khan and Diotrephes

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I thought of the novel Moby Dick today. In case you forgot – Moby Dick, the great white whale, bit off Captain Ahab’s leg, and Ahab spent the rest of his life in hatred, peg legging around his ship as he sailed the ocean chasing the whale. The most memorable lines from the book were the epithet that Ahab screamed at Moby Dick as they battled to the death (or at least Ahab’s death).
I think it was memorable, also, because those same words were what Khan cursed at his longtime nemesis, Captain Kirk, in the final battle of the movie Star Trek II– the Wrath of Khan, as Kahn set off the Genesis machine to destroy both of their spaceships. (Captain Kirk and the Enterprise survived of course)
Ahab and Khan said: “To the last, I grapple with thee. From hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”
What a terrible way to spend and end a life.
Alistair Begg is preaching a sermon series called “Useful to the Master.” He was preaching from 3rd John and mentioned Diotrephes, who the Apostle John describes as a malicious malcontent. Then John mentions Demetrius as having a good testimony from everyone. Alistair Begg said Demetrius, unlike Diotrephes, was useful to the Master. And then said, to the effect, “wouldn’t that be a great testimony to be able to have on your gravestone – “He (or She) was useful to the Master.”
So, I thought of the end of life, and with the description of Diotrephes, Ahab’s and Khan’s final words came to mind. I thought of, instead of hatred, ending life like Demetrius, having been useful to the Master.
So rather than ending so pitifully with such hateful words, like Ahab and Khan, may we work every day to be useful to the Master and may the Lord bless us to be able to say “To the last, I have fought the good fight. From Heaven’s doors, I behold Your glory. For love’s sake, with my last breath on earth, I will praise thee, my Lord and Savior.”

Black Widow Bite

black-widow-spiders_thumb.ngsversion.1482872403820.adapt.1900.1My wife, Sharon, is the only person I know who has been bitten by a black widow spider. One day she took her sweater from the coat rack, put it on and felt a sharp sting on her arm. She smashed her hand on the stinging spot, shook her sleeve and the flattened spider fell out. The telltale red hourglass-shaped marking on its shiny black body confirmed what it was. Sharon sealed her attacker in a plastic bag and took it with her as she drove to the hospital.
Everyone at the emergency room was excited because no one had ever seen, much less treated, anyone with a black widow bite. It seemed to Sharon the entire hospital staff stopped by to inspect the spider and the bite marks on her arm.
I was excited too when summoned from an out of town meeting to take a phone call. Sharon told the story and assured me the doctor said everything was okay. The anti-venom was on its way from Atlanta and would be at the hospital in a few hours. Most importantly, she had no extreme symptoms. I trusted her assurances, but it was still a long trip home to see for myself.
The doctor administered the anti-venom when it arrived that evening. Sharon spent the night in the hospital for observation and was released the next morning. Thankfully, the worst effects of the bite were the five days of mental fog she endured from the prescribed mega-doses of antihistamines.
“How did a black widow spider get in her sweater?” I claim the dubious honor as the agent of that. It was winter and we were using the fireplace. At times, I brought in pieces of wood and stacked them on the floor next to the wall. If you picture the wood piled on the floor next to the wall, and move your gaze up, you come to…the coat rack. Apparently, the spider hitchhiked inside on a piece of wood, crawled up the wall looking for a dark hiding place and chose Sharon’s sweater sleeve.
Like most people, it wasn’t our practice to bring poisonous spiders into our house. However, the one that got Sharon was sneaky – we didn’t notice it because it was hiding in something useful that we often brought inside.
Spiders aren’t the only sneaky things we need to watch for. Every day we bring useful things into our homes through television, books, and the internet. These can help us learn and grow, make us think, or simply entertain us. Most importantly, these media are powerful tools that can help us as we seek to be closer to God.
But there is a negative side to the words and images they contain. Those that are blatantly evil are more easily avoided, but we might miss the sneaky ones unless we’re diligent. Subtle messages can hide among the action, information and laughter.
A scene can have a funny line, but the action may portray sex outside of marriage as not only acceptable but expected. Scripture can be taken out of context or given a slight twist to make a misleading point. Tolerance of sin (sin, as defined by God) may be constantly presented as a greater virtue than living by Biblically based standards.
As subtle messages like this sneak into our mind, they can eventually harden our heart to what is truth. Thus, we should constantly watch for them and as Proverbs 4:23 says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” ESV
Sharon and I don’t have poisonous spiders sneaking into our coats or sweaters anymore because I carefully examine all the wood before I bring it in. Perhaps that’s the process we should follow with all things we bring into our homes.

The Cricket in the Bushes

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On a Columbo TV show the other day, a car drove by in a night scene. The camera was in the edge of the woods so we (the viewers) were, in effect, standing in the bushes as we watched. The car was too far away to hear the motor, but you could hear one of the cast members making noises in the bushes. The sound of a cricket’s chirps rang out, trying to convince the viewers they really were outside at night.

I’m sure he wasn’t listed in the credits, but he was probably the main cricket cast member for Columbo. Anytime there was a nighttime chirping part to fill, I imagine the sound effects editor pulled out the “cricket #1” tape and over-dubbed it on the soundtrack. Perfection every time. Never had to do a re-take.

I wondered if this cricket was featured in other soundtracks. Had I heard him before but didn’t         recognize him? Maybe he was a mega-star among crickets, and recordings of his chirp were shared among the studios and his “voice” heard in hundreds of shows and movies. Or was he even an international star – you wouldn’t need subtitles for that, because they all seem to speak the same in any language. (Actually, not speaking, of course, but rubbing their wings together.)

I don’t know the answer to the cricket’s stardom status. It’s likely he’s just another “extra” that remains unknown. Like the extras I point out to my wife, Sharon, now and then. I’ll pause the TV, rewind a bit, start it again and excitedly say “See me? See me? There I am, over the star’s left shoulder!” as someone walks through the background of the scene. Only him (or her) and their family has a clue who they really are.

I once read extras are there to enhance the ambience (the mood or character) of the scene – to make it more enjoyable. Most of us are extras in the sense we remain unknown to most folks. We may be heard and not seen, like the cricket, or seen and not heard like the person in the background of the TV scene. Now and then, we may be seen and heard for a few minutes as we pass through. And, in all those moments of  being extras, our job is to enhance the mood or character of the scene and make it more enjoyable to those involved.

Jesus gave us instructions to enhance the ambience of any scene we’re a part of when He said “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Then, He made it clear that we are the extras, and the glory goes to where it truly belongs:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)