Friday, March 25, 2011

Onward and Upwards

Of all the situations that I found myself in while a cadet in Reserve Officer Training Corps, none were quite as unnerving as leaping from a perfectly good platform that was sixty feet above very hard North Carolina soil. I mean, there’s something to be said for having the sense to be a LITTLE dubious of the ability of a thin rope to keep you suspended long enough to slowly make a descent to terra firma.

Truth be told, I got the willies early and climbed down the ladder for the forty foot rappel (at which point I got found out by one of the sergeants who “talked” me back up to finish the rappel). Rappelling isn’t rocket science. You have a harness with a clip that is attached around your legs and across your waist. You get clipped onto the rappelling rope, and it’s only a matter of stepping backwards towards the ledge until just the toes of your boot are keeping you from falling down.

For those who do not suffer from a fear of heights, this is called fun.

For those of us who do, this is called inhumane.

At this point, you are supposed to loosen the rope a little in order to lower yourself so that your legs are parallel to the ground.

Once you’re in this position, it’s a simple matter of pushing off with your legs while releasing a little more rope and you’re on your way, bouncing down the wall.

Going down the forty foot rappel, weighted down by a full pack (which makes you go faster), apparently wasn’t good enough for our supervisors. A stone’s throw away from the forty foot tower was the sixty foot one. After a little discussion, the leaders moved us over to the base of the big tower.

This was going to be a little different. We were about to do helicopter rappels. It’s the same idea, except now you step onto a round pipe that simulates a helicopter skid that’s sixty feet above the ground.

I began climbing, but got tired and had to stop and rest half-way up.

“Who’s holding up the line!” bellowed up from below.

I gritted my teeth and resumed the climb. Higher and higher up the ladder. Finally, I broke through the top and clambered onto the wooden platform.

I would like to say that I stopped and took in the view while I was up there. That I appreciated the vantage point and took a few pictures to boot.

But I didn’t. I did not look out. I did not look down. I kept my eyes glued to the top of the platform.

High buildings have always given me the willies. I’m not sure why. I have no problems with airplanes, but put me atop something that is high AND connected to the ground and my head will start spinning.

When it was my turn to go down, it was surreal. I remember them clipping me on, then stepping down and away onto the simulated helicopter skid. I lowered myself like a robot, and kicked off into nothingness.

It was all downhill from there. Gravity did the work, I just made sure to keep my brake hand where it was supposed to be so I didn’t break something as I neared the ground. It was FUN for a grand total of ten seconds.

I felt good when I finally got down, like I had accomplished something (more like I had escaped from something). Would I ever put myself through that again?

Um, no.

What I find strange about the whole ordeal is I have a clearer memory of climbing the ladder than actually rappelling down.

Life seems like a climb at times, doesn’t it? A long ladder stretched out above us; it can really be intimidating.

And when you get tired? Sometimes all you can do is wrap your arms around a rung and hold on for dear life!

God acts in ways that often seem strange to us…but He is at work and can see the light at the end of our tunnels.

He’s cheering us onward and upwards.


Genesis 28:10-16
Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said, “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”

Isaiah 55
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. See how I used him to display my power among the peoples. I made him a leader among the nations. You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey, because I, the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the LORD’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”


Friday, March 18, 2011

A Seeker

I have worn Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) contact lenses since the eighth grade.

I’ve worn my contacts everywhere. I even took them with me during field training exercises in ROTC where we spent days out in the middle of nowhere. It may not have been the most sanitary conditions for my daily lens cleaning and disinfecting, but I suffered no ill effects.

Lens cleaning has come a long way from when I began my contact lens odyssey. For years, I had to use separate cleaners and conditioning solutions. I’d remove a lens, wet it with water, put a few drops of cleaner on it, rub for twenty seconds per side (at least that’s what the instructions said…) then rinse with water, drop it in the lens case and fill the case with conditioning/disinfecting solution. I’d repeat this with the other lens. A few years back, however, they introduced a multi-purpose solution that would do both. I still had to rub my lenses with the solution then rinse, but only had one bottle to open.

This was progress.

But what always fascinated me was the prospect of letting something ELSE clean my lenses. I distinctly remember finding a battery-powered apparatus many years ago in a drugstore. You filled it with your solution and added cleaner and it rubbed the lenses with a foam disc for you! I did the math and realized how expensive it would be to use up so much conditioning solution per day and decided to forgo it.

I’ve never seen another since.

Well, lately, I’ve discovered a new solution that does the next best thing and is compatible with my RGP lenses. I place both my lenses in a little basket that I drop in a container filled with a solution. A disk at the bottom of the basket begins to let off gas and the resulting bubbles pummel the lenses clean over the next few hours. The next morning…clean lenses!

With all this in the back of my mind, I popped out my right lens the other night and attempted to put it in the basket just like I’ve done innumerable times before.


The featherweight lens decided to land in the sink.

I am familiar with that sound, having dropped my lenses more than a few times. It’s a scary sound, but is usually followed by a sigh of relief as I pick up the tiny lens from the bowl.

However, I quickly took notice of two things. Number one, a quick glance at the sink didn’t reveal where the lens was. Second, the drain was open.

The drain was WIDE open.

Not good.

As calmly as I could, I removed my other lens (being near-sighted is an advantage at this point) and searched all over again. Maybe it landed on the floor, on the toilet lid, or the trashcan.

But I knew the truth; it heard it plink into the sink and it must have slid down to the open stopper.

It was times like this that I wished I used disposable lenses…

Actually, this is my third set of lenses. My first pair I got in eighth grade, the second set I got in college, and I got these just a few years ago. I have always prided myself at NEVER losing a lens.

I have gone to great lengths to find a missing lens. I once found one during a middle school lunch period in the middle of the concrete bullpen. I’ve even found one sticking to the trash liner of our bathroom receptacle. I wasn’t about to give up without a fight.

I hadn’t run any water, so I knew that there was still a chance to recover it, but that it would involve taking out the plumbing. I explained the situation to my wife Kathy and asked her to bring my tool bag up from the garage.

As she went to get my tools, I removed all the stuff in the cabinet under the sink and looked at the situation. My first hunch was that the lens might be stuck to the stopper and so I unscrewed the housing underneath and gently, gently, gently lifted the stopper up and away.

Nobody ever cleans their stoppers. As you could imagine, there was stuff that is better left unsaid.

I looked carefully at one side of the stopper. Nothing.

I then turned it ever so slowly as I scanned the damp and grimy surface. I was about to give up hope when I finally saw the lens stuck on a green patch of something.

To say that I felt immense relief is an understatement. I was so happy to get my hands on that little speck of plastic that I felt like singing.

I quickly plugged up the sink and scrubbed the lens THOUROUGLY before placing it with its twin for their nightly bubble bath.

Isn’t that what God does for us? When we go off on our own path and lose ourselves to the world, God never takes His eyes off us. When we allow ourselves to be found, He rejoices and cleanses us of all our wrongdoings.

I am grateful for a Father God who doesn’t easily give up on us, a Holy Spirit who helps lead us back on to the right track and for a Savior who provides the only thing that’ll clean us up.

How do you feel when you find something long thought lost?

How can believing that God is searching for you revolutionize your life?

The following passage of scripture has Jesus telling THREE separate illustrations of this point to a single audience. In light of that, how important do you think it was to Jesus that He got this message across?


Luke 15
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Parable of the Lost Coin
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Parable of the Lost Son
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.” ’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’ ”


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shining Like the Sun

We were walking together down the row of trailer homes. I had just finished my coffee run for the morning and he had just emerged from a friend’s trailer.

He kept mumbling.

Words. I couldn’t make out the words he was saying, the questions he was asking.

Grimacing, I reached up and pulled off the Bluetooth headset that was connected to my right ear. My good ear.

It was in college that I hurt my left one. One beautiful day in South Florida, a buddy of mine and I decided to go target shooting. We met up with another friend who had access to a Chinese-made SKS assault rifle. I had my “trusty” black powder .36 caliber reproduction civil war revolver. After an afternoon of fruitlessly missing targets, I decided to take one more shot (right after I had pulled off my protective earmuffs).


I heard ringing for weeks afterward. To this day, if it’s very quiet, I can still hear it. It’s not going to go away, so I’ve learned to adjust. If I’m in a noisy environment, I turn my good ear towards whoever is addressing me. Even at the library, I sometimes have to lean over the counter and cup a hand over my ear (which is a polite way of saying “Speak up! You’re in a library, not a mausoleum!”).

I also typically keep my Bluetooth headset plugged into my good ear. I forgot I had it on when I began speaking with this guy. His murmuring made me take it off and drop it in my jacket pocket.

Unfortunately, it didn’t help very much.

“You are a good man,” he said.

“No,” I countered, “I just love God, and that’s why I give out coffee.”

He mumbled a few other things then refocused. I seriously began to wonder if this guy was drunk at ten in the morning.

“Are you Catholic?” he asked.

“I’m Baptist, but was raised Catholic.”

He shook his head, “But what about the Virgin Mary?”

“What about her?”

“Why is she given so little respect?”

I thought for a moment and replied, “She was a great woman; I have a lot of respect for her. But it was Jesus who died on the cross for our sins.”

He nodded, “That’s very true, but what about Mary? Shouldn’t she be loved too?”

I pointed to the blue sky overhead. It was stretched out like a canopy, with the mid-morning sun softening the chill around us.

“Mary may be like a star, but Jesus, Jesus is like the sun. He fills me with so much love that I don’t have room for another.”

He thought this over and smiled at me, “Well said.”

He warmly shook my hand and went on his way.

What is it that attracts people to Jesus? What might cause apathy in others? What about those who are afraid of him?


2 Corinthians 2:14-17
But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?

You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.

Matthew 17:1-8
Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter blurted out, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But even as he spoke, a bright cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked, they saw only Jesus.

Revelations 1:9-18
I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus. It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Letters Written in Fire

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved thunderstorms.

And that’s a good thing too, ‘cause Florida in the summer could aptly be described as the “Lightning State” instead of the “Sunshine State”. It seems we’d get a good thunderstorm every afternoon during those hot summer months.

One time, my family and I were at a picnic when we got hit by a storm. Huddled in the large shelter, we waited out the rain and got to see a lightning strike first-hand. This skinny finger of pure white-hot energy zapped a tree a hundred feet away. There was no warning, just BAM!

Even so, an oncoming storm never produced dread in me. I’d rush outside to feel the palpable drop in temperature as the winds began to rise. The sky would then grow black and I’d hear the distant peals of thunder. Closer and closer they’d come. A rumble that soon heralded the arrival of raindrops. First a few scattered drips, and then big heavy ones. You could see a wall of rain advancing. At the last possible moment, I’d jump inside my house to watch from within. My mom had to keep reminding me to stay away from the windows, but it was hard to resist the call of the ringmaster.

What a show!

I ESPECIALLY loved to experience thunderstorms at night while safely tucked away in bed. The flash of lightning would pierce through the edges of my pull-down blinds. This would be followed by deep peals of thunders that seemed to shake the house and filled me with awe.

No fireworks extravaganza could compete with this amazing display (even veiled as it was behind the curtains).

I would take these moments to ask God questions.

“If the answer is yes, flash once. If the answer is no, don’t flash at all…” (I interpreted little flashes to mean “Maybe.”).

These were always glorious experiences for me. It was one thing to TELL an invisible and all-mighty God what you praying for; getting an answer (seemingly) was exciting.

Somebody up there hears me!

It was around this time that I began making the shift from seeing my faith as a religion to experiencing God in terms of a relationship. Although I no longer ask God to speak to me through flashes of light, I can hear His voice through the Bible, through prayer, through circumstances, through nature and through people.

I’ve come to learn that when we’re hungry to hear God’s voice, He will answer. But it will often be in such a soft and tender way that we’ll miss it if we don’t stop to listen.

Why is it that we so often ask for God to speak to us in letters of fire that race across the sky?

How has God spoken to you this week?


Job 37:1-24
“My heart pounds as I think of this. It trembles within me. Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice as it rolls from his mouth. It rolls across the heavens, and his lightning flashes in every direction. Then comes the roaring of the thunder— the tremendous voice of his majesty. He does not restrain it when he speaks. God’s voice is glorious in the thunder. We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down. Then everyone stops working so they can watch his power. The wild animals take cover and stay inside their dens. The stormy wind comes from its chamber, and the driving winds bring the cold. God’s breath sends the ice, freezing wide expanses of water. He loads the clouds with moisture, and they flash with his lightning. The clouds churn about at his direction. They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.

He makes these things happen either to punish people or to show his unfailing love. “Pay attention to this, Job. Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God! Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds? Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill? When you are sweltering in your clothes and the south wind dies down and everything is still, he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror. Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God. We are too ignorant to make our own arguments. Should God be notified that I want to speak? Can people even speak when they are confused? We cannot look at the sun, for it shines brightly in the sky when the wind clears away the clouds. So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.

He is clothed in dazzling splendor. We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty; but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us. No wonder people everywhere fear him. All who are wise show him reverence.”

1 Kings 19:1-18
When Ahab got home, he told Jezebel everything Elijah had done, including the way he had killed all the prophets of Baal. So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.

Then the angel of the LORD came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.

But the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied again, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Then the LORD told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”