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Archive for January, 2020

On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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Other responsibilities and stresses, consistently rainy weekends, injury and sickness do not make for consistent climbing or staying in shape. And they also discourage training for a better day. But if you sit down and give up you are not likely to ever get up again. After 2 months off and only sporadic climbing before that, I got to go out on MLK Day. The temperature was a crisp mid-thirties with a chilling breeze, but the boulder field we chose is south facing with bare deciduous trees. As you might imagine the friction was exceptional. I had not been to Rumbling Bald in quite some time. The “new” parking area that was put in a few years back when it became a state park was now more recently doubled. The effect was to remove the scrub Virginia Pines opening up a huge view of the various faces of the Bald. I was climbing with a teaching colleague for the first time. Having never been there, he was excited, and we were both very talkative. I headed straight for Trailside Boulder to warm-up. We met a couple there from Greenville, SC. They were fairly new to outdoor climbing and first timers at the Bald as well. I had beta on easier climbs, so we fell in together for the rest of the day. My stamina was low, but with four people cycling through, I had no trouble giving my best tries. Next I took them to Bart Simpson Boulder, played around, took pictures, and enjoyed the sunshine and conversation. After that they left and my partner and I hit the Cave Boulders for a few last tries. Our conversation picked up on the ride back home. Sunshine, rock, tree silhouettes, brisk temperatures, plenty of clothing, pleasantly tired muscles, getting to know new people, and visiting well-known places, I would say constitutes a good day.

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May

Before this most recent seasonable cold snap we had a strangely warm period. The appearance and feel was of a different season.

The sun arises, oh glorious day
Herb’s fresh flowers along the pathway
Mist arises, dew will not stay
Soon birds will come out to play
Grass grows, soon cut for hay
Horses graze and neigh
All bright, all gay
Warmth now lay
All say
May

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Knowledge is a tool box
With tools for life within
Add wisdom and discernment
At difficulties grin

Knowledge is not a school box
Housed totally within
But truth and experience
Not mere discussion, paper, pen

Knowledge can be a fool’s box
All plushly lined within
With arrogance and falsehood
Leading astray to sin

Knowledge may be a cool box
Understand workings within
It is so satisfying
To know how and why and when

It was poem writing season recently. Knowledge is a gift from God that may be used for His glory and our good and the good of others or used to promote ones self and deceive and control others. Absolute truth is the basis of knowledge. Sharing ignorance does not lead to knowledge or wisdom. Greater knowledge can lead to greater good or greater evil.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1;7

“The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.” Proverbs 15:14

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Who looks happier in this picture, Mamaw or the grandbabies? It was good to see them, talk to them, and hug on them this past weekend. It just doesn’t seem to happen enough. I also helped out my son-in-law a little with a room addition. Time and weather didn’t allow me to help much. We had good conversation and a blessed church service.

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With grandchildren 1 and 6.

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Preachers love “p’s”, because there are such a variety of meaningful words, and particularly theological words, that begin with p’s for those three point sermons. One of those very memorable “triple p’s” concerns the progress of salvation in a person’s life that is summarized in Romans 8:28-30. Salvation has sequential nature to it.* My experience of salvation is past, present, and future. At the moment of my believing in Jesus, God justified me. Now He is sanctifying me. In the future He will glorify me. In the Romans passage, Paul speaks of all three of these in the past tense. I think there are two possible reasons for the past tense. For one thing, these events are so certain that they are completed even though not presently carried out. Secondly, it seems like to me, that since God is eternal and timeless, He sees the whole progress of the salvation He is bringing about in us as one event. He has accomplished it, it is complete, and it stands fast. Frequently this sequence of salvation is taught as God saving us from the penalty of sin in the past, the power of sin in the present, and the presence of sin in the future.

As I was reading in the Scripture yesterday, this triplet of penalty, power, and presence came afresh to my mind. Then I paused for a moment and reflected on the fact that this view of the work of God centers on His process to remove sin from us and us from sin. That is a good emphasis and right. But with what was it replaced, I mused? The answer is not hard; it is righteousness. And how might we think of His imputation of righteousness to us in terms of the progress of salvation?

In the past, we were saved for (by) the provision of righteousness. “ He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) This verse most clearly communicates the great transaction, the glorious transfer. Jesus provided me with His righteousness, therefore, I am justified in His sight.

In the present, we are saved for (by) practice of righteousness. “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) As God is at work, he calls us to work along side Him in the power that He provides. He gets all the glory and we get the benefit of being changed and participating. As one of my pastor’s favorite** verses says, “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) Perseverance of the saints is not merely hanging on by fingertips, but the ability to fully succeed as a believer.*** God and we are active in our sanctification.

In the future, we are saved for (by) perfection of righteousness. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2) If you want to understand better what glory and glorification will be like, dwell on Jesus. (John 1:16-18) This realization is a great motivation to live a more godly life, as the next verse in 1 John 3 confirms: “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (v.3) God will one day glorify us so that we may see Him (Matthew 5:8).

In summary, and more concisely,

     I am saved from the

            penalty of sin (past),

            power of sin (present),

            presence of sin (future),

                         and

     I am saved for (by)

            provision of righteousness (past),

            practice of righteousness (present),

            perfection of righteousness (future).

*I do not say a “time element” because God’s predestination before time and our life in Him for eternity are timeless. However, there is both an order (sequence) and a time element to the moment of salvation, the process of sanctification, and the inception of glorification.

**And it is quickly becoming one of mine, given the great encouragement it gives that God cares and has already cared enough to provide all that we need to please Him and succeed.

***Those few who would shame Him by consistently only surviving are disciplined. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

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I could see this backyard lawn without any detail other than the fairly short grass. As I observed, I* walked over to the center of the yard and drove a narrowly triangular stake into the ground. Then I tied one end of a small rope that was curled up on a spool onto the stake and began unwinding it as I moved away from the stake. I always kept the rope taut but it danced up and down as I went. After a few moments I paused and looked back at the rope and the stake. As my eyes focussed on different segments of the rope, I saw knots tied at irregular intervals. I compared these knots to their distance from and similarity to the stake. Only in daydreams and dreams can Physics laws be overcome. For then I released the rope, which stayed taut, walked back to several of the more noticeable knots and drove stakes into the ground through the knots. I stood back, observing, as the rope continued to unfurl for what, with a pause**, would be eternity future. 

When the scene vanished from my mind, I immediately realized that it was a metaphor for my life and salvation. The ground, which like a plane, receded off infinitely forward and backward, but unlike a plane had depth of soil, represented salvation. I was being grounded in a salvation that was decided in eternity past and would be executed throughout all of eternity future.

The stake was my moment of salvation. And here is the reason that I believe this line of musing came upon me. I had been considering Jesus’ words to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, he, too, is a son of Abraham.” When I read “today”, I understood that Jesus meant that in that moment, in space and time, Jesus had come to Zaccheus in salvation. I have been among varying brothers over time as concerns their understanding of Jesus’ work of salvation. Some say you must receive Jesus; it is your choice. Others say that to ask someone to receive Jesus is wrong and counter to God’s ordaining of salvation in a person’s life. Salvation is wholly of God and “it is your choice” puts man in the driver seat of a vehicle he can’t control. It is wrong. But God is both eternal and transcendent while personal and present. He works in eternity and He works in time. He has predestined those who will be saved and brings it about- all glory to Him. But we do not know the when, the how, or the who, so we plead with people to believe and receive Jesus. When they do, God has accomplished in that moment what He ordained long ago. There is a stake planted in time and eternity. 

Some people know when that stake was planted; some do not. It is planted nonetheless. When a person does not know, perhaps it is obscured by the fog of life or the mysterious moment and work of God was not by Him revealed to that person. When a person knows the when, it may be a helpful source of assurance. Our little rope is firmly attached there and our life is subsequently unfurled. But the main source of assurance is those ancillary stakes in our lives resulting from knots or difficulties in our lives. When we continue to believe and act on that belief throughout our life, we confirm and deepen that faith by driving another stake into salvation. We become more assured. God provides the event in our lives, the stake of faith, the hammer of confirmation, and the strength of remembrance. He animates every part of our faith, but He involves us. All of those stakes ground the rope of my life in the ground of eternal salvation. Jesus holds them firm in Him.

I feel certain that someone could punch holes*** in my metaphor, but the the points I intend are 1) God accomplishes salvation in time and eternity, 2) God involves us, and 3) We have assurance through faith in God throughout the events of our lives. That assurance is described in the letter of I John. One phrase, “by this we know”, occurs 8 times in the book along with other similar affirmations of assurance God gives us that we belong to Him. The best way to have assurance that you believe is to believe right now, which builds more assurance for those trying times when it is harder to believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) is a stake in the ground of salvation then and again and again and now and in the future. Faith does not provide salvation; Jesus provides salvation. Be always clinging to Him.

*It is weird to think of yourself as watching yourself in a dream or daydream.

**For the believer death is not an annihilation of life but a mere transition or pause.

***That pun has holes all in it, but I’ll stake my writing on the truth of it.

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I had a conversation today that was weird. I don’t mean the contents but the timing and process. I had decided that I was far enough distant from injury and sickness to try to start running again today. I had intended to walk a 1/2 mile, run a 1/2 mile, and walk back 1 mile. Just as I approached the entry to the Greenway, a man, perhaps in his late 30’s or early 40’s walked by at a moderate pace, followed by what I estimate to be a 9 year old boy, running to catch up. Both sported headphones, his avocado green and his son’s white. I was walking faster than them and slowly was catching up. As I followed, I thought how the father should remove his headphones and just talk to his son. As if on cue, the father uncovered the ear toward his son and glanced back at his son and said, “It will quit hurting soon, I promise.” His son took off the speaker toward his father and replied, “But it hurts.” “It will stop hurting, I promise,” he rejoined, and put his head set back on. In my mind I imagined, based on the evidence of the conversation, that the boy had a stitch in his side. I wondered how I might be able to encourage the boy if the father and I were to trade places. Such a thought came to me possibly for two reasons. I commented to my principal a few days ago, about a student of mutual acquaintance, that one of the things I dislike most is wasted potential, particularly in someone who has so much potential to waste as the topic of our conversation has. The other reason was the rarity with which I have succeed in spurring anyone, and particularly young people to try hard. When it has happened, I have wondered how it happened, and why it doesn’t at other times. So, as I paced along to gain passage by this father and son, my thoughts went as follows. “Son, walk the stitch off, and then push on. Finding your limits increases endurance and pushing your limits increases toughness.” At this point we had traversed one tenth of a mile, indicated by a blue 6 x 6 post off to the left. Just as I was two steps behind the father, and as if all of my thoughts had been part of the audible conversation in which I had not been involved, he turns and says to me, “I don’t want to walk the whole Greenway. This is enough for my needs,” glances at me and turns sharply. I replied that the whole of the Greenway is a nice walk and said over my right shoulder, “Well, enjoy. Have a good day.” He waved and was off, but the conversation was not quite over in my head. He was content to have enough. Now contentment is good, but I don’t want to be content about everything, because some contentment is denial or laziness or weakness of spirit or I don’t know what. I don’t know what the man meant and have no reason to think ill of him, but I want to be content with what God has given me but not content to merely hold it, or bury in the ground like the lax servant (Matthew 25:24-29). I want to grow. Now growth looks different at different stages of life. Sometimes maintaining is more than enough to keep you busy, and as we get older that is not even possible. But as I slide into final departure from this world into the glories of the next, I am determined to not be content with a quick slide, if God so allows it, but grow by maintaining physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health to extent that effort might allow. And concerning the spiritual health, I may even grow as I better understand the fleeting nature of life here. That does not mean that I will or should give in to lax and lack luster living as I approach the other side. All of the other healths may increase my spiritual health as well, because I am not a dichotomous* or trichotomous (etc.) being, but one whole person focused increasingly on the mark.

And I appreciate God’s humor when I understand it. My thoughts fell away as I turned thoughts of walking into the increased intensity of running after so long a time off from running. Then I turned to walk the one mile back, enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet walk. At six tenths from the end it began to rain lightly. The sky looked threatening and I didn’t know what was moving in, so I ran the last 1/2 mile*.* I stopped at the car, did a hurried stretch and jumped in. Before I could drive out of the park, not 30 seconds later, it poured. So, you want to push your limits, be tough? Then run, now!

The only additional thought I had on the whole subject was, with whom was I having a conversation: myself, God, the father and his son, or all of the above?

*A dichotomous view of the human is the heresy of the Gnostics and others. They thought spirit was good and body was bad. But God has created both and declared both good. Yes, we have fallen into sin, but the spirit as well as the body is in sin. God brings our spirits into life and will resurrect a glorified body. Not only is this theology a problem for my understanding of me, it also caused the Gnostics to believe that Jesus was not fully God and fully Man, but only appeared to be a man, not really existing in the flesh to be hugged or crucified.

**A slight shortcut at this point alleviates one tenth of mile distance.

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I am thankful to God for life and grace. Today I am 60 years old. I appreciate all of my friends who have said, “Happy Birthday”. I got to thinking. I am twice as old as one of my colleagues, four times as old as most of my students, six time older than the students of my Sunday School class, and about 9 to 42 times as old as my grandchildren, oh, and about 1/16th the age of Methuselah. I pray that God may sustain me for better service in the coming years that He has ordained for me than in the ones past. He is the one to whom I give glory and thanks for health, purpose, ministry, direction, freedom, family, knowledge, opportunity, possessions, and comforts. This life is short with joys and struggles. I came in with a snowstorm and have no idea how I may go out, but I best put away futility and enjoy what God has given me while I may, not is a lackadaisical way, but in diligent life and service with thanksgiving. For He is worthy and life is short. I want to choose joy and decisiveness and humility over worry and regret and need of self justification. May it be so.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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