Friday, July 22, 2011

In the Grip of His Grace

As a child (as well as an adult) one sound always made me scan the skies; the drone of an airplane engine. I grew up with a fascination with these amazing machines that could transcend the surly bonds of gravity and frolic above the wispy clouds. Some of my favorite memories of childhood revolve around planes. Going to air shows (that’s me in the ball cap, shades and shorts) and visiting an aircraft carrier fueled my passion, which led to building (and flying) paper, wood, and even a plastic model airplane.

The plastic model airplane was of an F-15 fighter similar to the one I’m standing in front of in the above picture. It required a pair of model rocket engines as well as “a bit” of modifications. My brother and I ran a large spool of wire from one end of the yard to the other (roughly 141 feet) attaching it to the fence on either side. We created a cradle for the model so that it would be guided along the wire. We fully expected to see the F-15 “fly” across the yard and coast to a stop by the time it reached the other side.

With great anticipation, we inserted the safety key, counted down, and pressed the control button on our rocket launcher.

This was in the days before YouTube videos, and I have always felt a (slight) pang of regret that we didn’t SOMEHOW capture what happened next for future generations to behold.

Only one of the two rocket engines ignited, and yet the F-15 shot forward like a bucking bronco that was stung by a hornet. It rotated on the harness after twenty or so feet down the wire, broke free of it and flung itself skyward where it exploded into a thousand pieces about thirty feet above the ground.

As an amateur pyromaniac, this was the crowning achievement of my childhood. As a wannabee aerospace engineer, NASA must be grateful that I never joined its ranks of rocket scientists (my inability to pass calculus in college kept that door of opportunity bolted securely shut).

Airplanes of all types fascinated me, but I knew I’d probably never be a pilot. The clouds always seemed to be just out of reach.

A few years ago, however, I got the opportunity to fly in a small private plane. A church member who knew about my interest in flight offered to take me up one Sunday.

With pride and joy, I climbed into the cockpit with him and we took off. It was a little windy, but I didn’t mind the bumpy ride.

I was in heaven.

About halfway through the flight, he asked if I’d like to fly the plane a bit. My mouth went dry as I took the controls.

He explained that I should hold the controls as if I were holding a bird. Too loose, and it would fly away. Too tight, and I would crush it.

I gently gripped the control yoke and began piloting for real for the first time in my life.

When we look back at our lives, we can see where we have been held in the grip of God’s Grace. This past week especially has been a series of proofs that God has been gently but firmly holding onto me.

My seizure on the 4th of July eventually led us to a neurologist who had the foresight to order a MRI. Finding out hours later that I had a mass in my frontal lobe, this doctor promised us that he would get us to the best doctors available ASAP. The next morning, we were sitting with a neurosurgeon at the renowned UVA hospital and scheduling surgery. The doctor was very confident that the surgery would be successful given the location of the mass. After lunch, we visited with a neurologist-oncologist across the street. Another MRI was scheduled for Sunday, and brain surgery was scheduled for sometime Monday.

Kathy and I have been amazed at the speed at which this has all taken place and are very grateful for how God has opened doors for this procedure.

Thank goodness that this is only brain surgery and not rocket science.

God willing, my recovery will be swift and complete. May we always look back and remember how God has carried us through the trials of life.


The following is from Charles Spurgeon.

"Forget not all His benefits."—Psalm 103:2
It is a delightful and profitable occupation to mark the hand of God in the lives of ancient saints, and to observe His goodness in delivering them, His mercy in pardoning them, and His faithfulness in keeping His covenant with them. But would it not be even more interesting and profitable for us to remark the hand of God in our own lives? Ought we not to look upon our own history as being at least as full of God, as full of His goodness and of His truth, as much a proof of His faithfulness and veracity, as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before? We do our Lord an injustice when we suppose that He wrought all His mighty acts, and showed Himself strong for those in the early time, but does not perform wonders or lay bare His arm for the saints who are now upon the earth. Let us review our own lives. Surely in these we may discover some happy incidents, refreshing to ourselves and glorifying to our God. Have you had no deliverances? Have you passed through no rivers, supported by the divine presence? Have you walked through no fires unharmed? Have you had no manifestations? Have you had no choice favours? The God who gave Solomon the desire of his heart, has He never listened to you and answered your requests? That God of lavish bounty of whom David sang, "Who satisfies your mouth with good things," has He never satiated you with fatness? Have you never been made to lie down in green pastures? Have you never been led by the still waters? Surely the goodness of God has been the same to us as to the saints of old. Let us, then, weave His mercies into a song. Let us take the pure gold of thankfulness, and the jewels of praise and make them into another crown for the head of Jesus. Let our souls give forth music as sweet and as exhilarating as came from David's harp, while we praise the Lord whose mercy endures for ever.

Related Verses
Psalm 103
A Psalm of David

Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.

My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here. But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!

The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands. Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! Praise the LORD, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the LORD.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Boom Box

Every visit to Radio Shack as a child of the eighties was a trip into an electronic wonderland. They had everything from robot arms for picking up small objects to TRS-80 Micro Color Computers (with FOUR kilobytes of RAM)! Over the years we collected quite a haul from this store.

It turns out, however, that our most “hair-raising” purchase was a grey, rather pedestrian looking, portable cassette radio.

Before the days of isolating ourselves in our own private “pods”, music was seen as something to be shared with those around us. The bigger, the badder, the louder the better!

Enter the “Boom Box”.

Now boom boxes came in all sizes, from petite to truly gargantuan. The trick was to find one that you could JUST rest on your shoulder so as to get your auditory canal as close to the ear shattering blasts of sound waves as possible.

People would actually walk around with these monstrosities perched on their shoulders like noisome robotic parrots.

Years later, legions of chiropractors are reaping the rewards.

Our boom box was on the puny side. It could receive its power from a trunk load of batteries or from an electrical cord. Batteries costing what they did, we made do with the power cord.

Now we didn’t exactly ABUSE this radio, but it did get a fair amount of use. Enough use to rub a bare spot on the power cord. A bare spot about six inches from the radio that sizzled with 120 volts of Alternating Current.

I was unaware of the existence of the aforementioned bare spot; I just wanted to listen to music from a boom box like “everyone else” did.

Now who hasn’t done something to make themselves feel a little normal?

So one day, I turned on the radio, cranked up the volume, and planted the box on my shoulder, pinching the power cord onto my left collarbone.

At first, I thought I was stung by a bee. I heard a very angry buzzing sound coming from my clavicle. As I thrust the radio off my shoulder, the buzzing stopped and I saw a welt where I had received the electrical burn.

I have never, to this day, placed a radio on my shoulder again.

Great power flows through the electrical circuits in our house. When this power is allowed to “run its course” as intended, wonderful things come as a result. Light to banish the darkness, heat to ward off the chill, and microwaves to cook food for our nourishment.

The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also gives power that can revolutionize our lives.

The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal source of power or energy that flows from God. He is God. He leads us towards truth. He fills us with peace that surpasses our understanding. And by living inside us, He transplants His very nature within us.

It is His work within us that sets us apart as a curious people.

God the Father created us, God the Son saved us, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us.

May His Power flow through us.


Related Verses
Genesis 1:1-2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 14:15-31
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.

John 16:5-15
“But now I am going away to the One who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tempus Fugit

I run on Cuban Time. If all the activities I had to go to were scheduled half an hour later in the day, I would be early for everything! Then again, I might end up arriving a half-hour later anyways (one should be consistent, you know).

“Real” time runs at a different pace than my internal clock. Have you ever tried to count sixty seconds inside your head? I’ve tried when attempting to only rest a minute between workout sets in the gym. This always yields varying results, so I “count on” my watch (or iPod timer) to tell me when I’m due for my next set.

For me, this weird sense of time also extended to my early understanding of history. Don’t blame Mrs. Murphy (my beloved kindergarten teacher), but as I watched the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, I was surprised to find out that he was NOT our country’s THIRD president (after George Washington and Abraham Lincoln). People seem to pay more attention to the bigger events in our history, which sometimes serves to compress time.

One example is that I thought for years that Jesus had a REALLY short life. You celebrate His birth in December, and then around three to four months later, you jump into talking about His death (as an adult) on a cross and subsequent resurrection.

As I grew older, I came to understand that Jesus also grew up. He went through childhood (and adolescence!) and grew into maturity. He taught us how to live trusting in Him and suffered and died for our sins. He proved Whom He claimed to be by conquering death, and then returned to heaven to rejoin God His Father.

One day He will return to call His own.

In His time.

God, you see, is not bound by time as we are, and yet God the Son entered time and enveloped Himself with living breathing flesh. And this is just one of the reasons why God the Son is so amazing. He chose to give up His privilege and position to meet us face to face. To literally point the Way to Life.

The story has often been told of a man who decided to stay home on a wintery Christmas Eve instead of attending a Christmas Mass with his family at their local church. He was not a bad man; he just didn’t understand all the hoopla about the incarnation. “Why did God have to become a man?” he mused to himself as his family left the house singing carols.

As he reclined by the fireplace reading a book, he was startled to hear tapping on the window. He got up and cautiously approached where the noise came from, but saw no one.

Just a wintry blanket of snow across his property.

Suddenly, a tiny bird rammed into the window. That’s what was making the noise. The bird must have been desperately cold, and was seeking refuge in his warm house. Out in the fading light, the man saw other birds huddled in the cold, and his heart became tender.

He decided to open up his barn to keep the birds from freezing to death.

Bundling up, he walked outside, opened the barn door and tried to shoo the birds in. But all his efforts only served to terrify them and they scattered as he approached. They would then weakly head back to the window.

“If only,” the man thought, “I could become like a bird, they wouldn’t be frightened and I could tell them how to get in the warm barn.”

At that moment, the church bell sounded, and he finally understood.

The reason I believe that Jesus is the only hope of this world is because I believe His claim that He was the Son of God. He not only came to show the Way, but rising from the grave proved His mastery over death and disconnection.

While God the Father created us, God the Son redeemed us.

Power to change lives comes through the Third Person of God, the Holy Spirit.


Related Verses
John 1:1-18

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ ”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Colossians 1:13-23
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.

He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.