Summerland of Bliss

Over the past several weeks the local song leaders here at the Grinnell church of Christ have led the church in the song, “Beyond this Land of Parting” While I truly do appreciate this song and have always loved to sing this song, this winter it has taken on a new meaning for me.

I grew up in Illinois, where our favorite saying about the weather is “If you don’t like it, wait a minute.” It seems that it was always changing. I remember one winter in February the temperatures were hovering around 70. To be able to wear shorts and T-shirt to school in the middle of an Illinois winter is rare indeed. This particular February we went from a 70 high to a wind chill of a balmy -45 in overnight. It was one of the largest temperature swings in the history of Illinois. The crazy weather encouraged me to move south as soon as I could. I went to Tampa, FL for college. It seemed like it was always summer. Even the winters there were really nice, especially compared to the winters we faced back home. The temps were constant, comfortable, and with the exception of the daily afternoon shower… perfect. Flash forward 15 years and I am stuck in Grinnell, IA. This is not a bad thing. Grinnell is a wonderful little town. But stuck I was. For a solid 2 months, every time I tried to leave city limits 3-5 inches were dumped on our beautiful little town. And with the wind always blowing close to 20mph travelling where there are no trees and no building to block the wind made snowdrifts form rather quickly. So, I was stuck. To make matters worse, the weather all across this country has been cold. Here in Iowa, it has been really cold. We went more than a month without breaking freezing. There were a couple of days we didn’t see positive numbers. Wind chills dipped into the -50s on a regular basis. Some might call this a winter wonderland, but I have grown tired of the snow and ice. It has been so cold, I didn’t even watch the winter Olympics, it just made me colder. Ahh, summer. How I long for it. By bones aren’t young like they used to be and this whole winter I have had a constant aching of the bones. My muscles hurt. My back hurts. And I keep thinking summer is not that far away.

So, when this song, “Beyond this Land of Parting” was being sung, it really began to sing to me. The Chorus line speaks of going to the happy summer land of bliss. As I sang those words I began to understand the point of the song. It is hoping that “summer” is not that far away. All the pain, all the sorrow that comes from living in this “winter” land will come to an end just as soon as summer gets here. As the years go by, I know that my new aches and pains will give me yet another reminder that summer is almost here. And with each passing day, I know that I am one step closer. And this is what helps me get up each morning and deal with long winter day.

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Looking Back So We Can Look Ahead

I have often wondered what archeologists would think of our society 2000 years from now.  When we look back on ancient peoples many of their practices seem out of place.  For instance, Molech seems like a god that would be last on my list to serve.  Serving Molech required man to cause his children to pass over fire (that is to be sacrificed).  As a father of 4 I just don’t see how that is a good idea.  I love my children too much to offer than up as a sacrifice unto this Molech.  I don’t care what it is that he promised to his followers.  Of course, there are other practices that seem to defy logic to me.  Why would a person want 700 wives?  I have a hard enough time finding time to enjoy the company of one wife and her children, let alone 700 wives and all of their children.  I am sure Solomon had his reasons, but I look back and go why?  What about that scenario seemed like a good idea?  I remember talking to one brother in Christ that wondered how wrong we might have been when it came to certain archaeological finds.  Many of the fertility goddesses of ancient peoples had idols that featured beautiful woman, often in the nude.  How do we know these were idols and not just early pornography?  (I understand we have more than just household idols that we have dug up). The point was that we perceive things to be one way when we look back.  It changes how we view these people.

So, how would an excavation team view American culture today.  With all of the means of preserving video and information they will have at least a window into what we watched, do, etc.  Would they think we are a people that worship a television?  After all, it sits at a position of prominence in the most used home in the house (and for some homes it is in every room in the house).   We even have the rooms designed for easier watching of the television.  Think of it like this.  In old times their used to be a room devoted to the library.  You could walk into that room and immediately know that books are important to that person.  (If you know anything about Thomas Jefferson it should not surprise you that there was a shelf for books in every one of his rooms).  If we have a room (or rooms) completely devoted to this box whose shows teach us what to think, what to wear, what to eat, and what to fear what are we saying is most important to us?  Let me put it like this, if an alien were to visit your house and knew nothing about our culture, our faiths, etc could you prove to him that the word of God is more important to you than your television if you have an entire room devoted to your television and you aren’t really sure where you left your bible?

What would they think of our views on Christianity?  This weekend a reality TV pastor died from a snake bite.  He, along with others,   believe that a person’s faith can be identified by whether or not they can hold a snake without being bitten.  It is a belief based upon Jesus’ remarks in Mark 16:18.  This seems so backwards compared to mainstream Christianity.  Duck Dynasty, while not focused upon the religious practices of these millionaires, their faith is certainly at the forefront of their show.  Their faith is what drives them.  And yet, when I walk into Wal-mart and I see their faces plastered on all sorts of merchandise and I hear what people have to say about them I begin to wonder is this what people think of devout Christians?  Christians are some back woods, out of date knuckleheads incapable of living in the 21st century?   Add to this the slew of “famous” people that came out this past month and Christianity is certainly at the forefront.  But the light being shown upon us is one that we don’t want.  The Christians that oppose homosexuality are viewed as not up with the times and stuck in the dark ages.  I have even started hearing the term “enlightened.”  Those that accept homosexuality as a viable way of living are enlightened.  Those that don’t are ignorant, bigots, etc.

What can we do to change how the world views us?  We have to stop being bigots.  No, I do not mean that we change our views on sin and “catch up with the times.”  What I mean is that we have to stop the hate.  In the 1960’s Christians were still using the bible to justify treating African Americans like second class citizens.  Were they right?  Of course not.  Likewise, we can’t treat someone differently.  It isn’t our right.  Remember what Paul wrote in I Cor. 5:9-10,  “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world (NASB).”  We as Christians should never treat any alien sinner (no matter what the sin) like a second class citizen.  Quoting the bible to prove that they are “less than human” is what makes us look backwards!

Chasing Our Crown of “Gold”

Every two years I tend to get really glued to the television. I love sports, especially football. However, there is something just really exciting about watching the Olympics. When I was younger there did seem to be more of a national pride about winning the most medals during the games, but it does not change the fact that it is just exciting to see these amazing athletes compete at the highest levels of competition. This year I think I have enjoyed watching the snowboarding events more than anything else. Seeing these athletes fly through the air is just exhilarating. I did see several not stick the landing. And to be honest, my heart stopped on one. It looked like the athlete landed directly upon her head. I thought this is going to be really bad. She then bounced back upright, hit the next jump, landed her trick and finished the course. Obviously, I was stunned. I had watched several runs already this week and I hadn’t seen anyone fall like her. Furthermore, I have seen several runs where nothing went right for the athlete and the essentially quit halfway down the slope. But this young lady, despite having already ruined her run was not going to quit, even under those circumstances. She had a no quit attitude about her. Even as she finished her run, with the cameras zoomed in upon her as she waited for her results, she had the biggest smile on her face. She is exactly what these games are all about. No, she didn’t go on to win gold. I don’t even think she made it to the finals. But, you never would have been able to tell because she was ecstatic to just be there.

Of course, as I sat there watching these events unfold, my mind went to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (I Cor. 9:24-27, NASB).” These athletes exercise self-control. They watch what they eat. They take care not to put banned substances in their bodies, lest they be disqualified. They listen to the aches and pains to make certain that a major injury is not on the horizon. They do all of this so that they can train their bodies to do some spectacular things. Some do so to go down ski slopes faster. Others do it to jump and twist in the air. Others do it to be the best hockey player in the world. But all do it because they hope to get that chance to represent their country in the Olympic games. They all do it because every one of them hopes to take home the gold. And yet, as Paul said they all long for something that is perishable. All athletes eventually have to retire. Even the great ones cannot stay at the top of the sport forever. And in time they are forgotten. Some new athlete takes the sport by storm and the great ones are forgotten. Wayne Gretzky was once dubbed as the greatest hockey player ever. Before him was Gordy Howe. Today the hockey world is enamored with Patrick Kane. 10 years from now it will be someone else. What more, even that medal they long for is perishable. Gold isn’t forever. Sure, it might last their lifetime. Sure, they can give to their kids and grandchildren. But, it is not forever. Nothing in this world is. When they stand before the great judgment seat on high they won’t be able to take their gold with them. In fact, the gold won’t mean a thing. For those that go on to heaven it will fail to compare to the crown that awaits the saved. For those that don’t, it will give them no comfort. Paul’s point here is not to say they shouldn’t strive. No, he is telling us if people strive that hard for something that has no eternal value what does that say about those that know the crown of life that is awaiting the victors?

We need to be spiritual athletes. We need to be training daily. We need to be watching what we eat (that is what we feed our souls). We need to be paying attention to the aches and pains to determine if there is a bigger spiritual issue on the horizon. We need to do this because we want to compete at the highest level. Not because we have to be perfect to get to heaven. No, that won’t do. We need to do this so that like that young lady that fell along the way, we get back up and finish the course. We don’t quit. We don’t quit because we know what awaits those that finish. A crown of life. It doesn’t just await the one that did it perfectly, that is Jesus. It awaits that that didn’t finish first. It awaits those that fell in spectacular fashion. It awaits those whose fall left us stunned. But, but most importantly it awaits those that finish.

 

My Thoughts on the Superbowl

Yesterday the “season finale” of the NFL season came to fruition.  Two teams played their way into the Superbowl.  One was led by future hall of famer Peyton Manning.  The other was led by a defense that earned the nickname “legion of boom” which I believe was a play on words and tribute to an old WWE tag team known as the legion of doom.  For the first time, my kids sat and watched an entire football game with me.  Every one of them.  Normally, they are too busy reading, playing, and getting into things as I try to watch my favorite team.  It was nice to hear my youngest shout “Go Bears” even though the bears never even made the post season.  (I just didn’t have the heart to tell her not to say it).

As I watched the big game, live, something I have only done these last couple of years as the church here in Grinnell do not have a Sunday evening service, my thoughts continued to go back to the Lord.   By the time the final play was finished, I thought of 5 things that Christians should take away from this game.

  1.  If you don’t finish well, it won’t matter.  Peyton Manning and the Broncos set all sorts of records this year.  Manning passed for more yards and touchdowns than any other quarterback in the history of the NFL.  The Broncos in the process scored more points than any other team in the history of the NFL.  But, none of these accolades will be remembered.  What will be remembered is that the Seahawks absolutely crushed the Broncos.   In our own lives it does not matter if we spent 50 years walking faithfully but spend the last 5 fulfilling our own hearts desires.  God is not going to look at your past and say, “you used to walk well, therefore came into my rest.”  Israel also used to walk well, but their lack of faith ultimately resulted in their being cut off from the grace of God (Rom. 11:20).
  2. You have to get back up once you make a mistake.  Peyton Manning seemed out of sorts as soon as things didn’t bounce their way.  On their opening play, the noise was so loud that the center for the Broncos that Manning was calling for the snap when Manning was actually calling an audible.  The ball was snapped, Manning wasn’t looking, and the ball sailed over his head.  12 seconds into the game and the Broncos were down 2-0.  From that moment forward the whole team failed to get loose.  They panicked, they continued to make silly mistakes and before you knew it they lost in the 3rd worst beating in Superbowl history.  On the other side of the ball.  Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seahawks missed a wide open tight end early in the game.  I remember hearing how his nerves were getting the best of him.  Wilson made an early mistake which cost his team momentum.  They settled for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.  Being up 9 -0 on Peyton Manning is a lot better than 5-0.  Wilson learned from his mistake.  He never missed an open receiver the rest of the game.   We all sin.  We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  While it is not okay to sin, we need to react properly to our sin.  The answer is not to sulk, complain, and generally give up.  The answer is to dust ourselves off and try again.  The great thing is that God is ready to forgive.  Remember, the story of the prodigal son.  His father was waiting with arms wide open for his son to get up and try again.
  3. People don’t react this way about their faith.  Each Superbowl Sunday,  on Facebook and other social media there is always some comment or picture, or post about the fact that it is disappointing that people cannot get this excited about the going to services.  It is interesting that Paul never says something similar to this in any of this letters.  No, there was no football back in the 1st century.  However, the Greek games did exist.  There were marathons.  People did box.  People did wrestle.  People did fight and die in the Coliseum.  And there were massive audiences.  The Roman Coliseum was/is a massive structure.  To this day it is amazing to behold.  Just think, this place used to be packed when gladiators would meet and fight to the death.  They had their favorites.  They cheered them on.  Why didn’t Paul encourage Christians to get as excited about their faith as the heathens did about their gladiator games?  While I cannot pretend to know the mind of Paul one thing did strike me.  This is entertainment.  This is not religion.  Entertainment of this sort does not require you to think, ponder, love, etc.  Watching the behavior of some of the fans and it is almost animalistic without self control.  God does not want us being entertained, without self control and animalistic in nature when we worship Him.  While I believe in being fanatical about God (that is fully dedicated to him), I do not believe God is expecting us to work ourselves up like fans do when their team is in the Superbowl (I Cor. 14:33).
  4. Winning is a team effort.  Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.  I realize that I never saw Johnny Unitas play, but I have seen Montana, Elway, Young, Marino, Brady, Brees, Kelley and a slew of other hall of famers play and none command the field the way Manning does.  But on Sunday the best player did not win; the better team did.  While I cannot be held accountable for my father’s sins or the sins of my son (Eze. 18:20), God never intended me to go off into the game of life alone.  Do you not know that the 1st comment God ever made about man was that it was not good for him to be alone (Gen. 2:18).  Yes, God gave Adam a wife.  But, also gave the Christian the church.  We here at the Grinnell church of Christ are a team.  We should be.  Not one of us are perfect.  Not one of us is the best at what we do.  But, we make a good team.  Our goals are one.  We are doing our best to assure that each of us will hear those wonderful words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
  5. There is hope on the horizon.  For every losing team there is always the hope of next year.  (The motto of every cubs fan).  31 teams are now hoping that a year from now they will be the new world champions.  Hope is such an amazing thing.  Even the most unlikely of teams can have hope.  You see, hope is exactly what the downtrodden need.  If it were not for hope there would be no reason to get up.  For me, my hope is not in something as trivial as a game.  My hope is in Jesus Christ.  My hope is that heaven is indeed real.  My hope is that God is real.  My hope is that one day I shall see both.  This hope makes getting up when I fall easier.  This hope is what makes dealing with the downs of life easier.  This hope ultimately is what keeps me smiling.  And not just me, but all of God’s children.

(photo by Rob Carr)