Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Sometimes it is hard to find Jesus in our modern culture. The vortex of consumerism seems to have swallowed Him.
In my neighborhood, some folks have put up their Christmas decorations. They have these blow-up things you might have seen, including a snow globe with Santa and a reindeer, a blow-up Abominable Snowman from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, a blow-up Santa, an archway of lights, and another blow-up snowman (I don't know if it's Frosty or not; it's a snowman). And their house is covered in lights and I imagine their electric bill is probably going to inflate this month.
But one thing -- or one person -- who is missing from the festivities is Jesus. It's not that He is in the corner somewhere, in the K-Mart Plastic Nativity, He's not there at all. And I found myself asking "Where's Jesus!?"
I don't want to sound like some kind of killjoy. I just noticed that He was nowhere to be found. And I wondered, if He were born today, would anyone still seek Him? Would the astrologers of our day (the Magi of ancient times) look for Him or would they be somewhere else. Would the ruling power even care that a baby had been born in a stable?
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend $439.5 billion this year, with consumers spending on average more than $700. On so-called Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the average shopper spent $302.81, bringing total weekend spending to $27.8 billion!
Don't think me a Scrooge, but man that's a lot of dough! And it is not even December. Contrast that with a man who was so poor and plain that He could move through a crowd and not be recognized. His garment was hand made by His mother and His meals were most often barley cake, fish and maybe some wine. But wrapped in that plain human body was the Creator of the Universe. The one who spun the stars and spoke the oceans into being made Himself of no report and washed the feet of firshermen. And in that human form he suffered a death that few of us could imagine. But thanks be to God He didn't stay in the grave. On the third day His Majesty was made manifest.
So in the midst of the much-many-noise-hurry-crowd world where we are bombarded with images to make us buy things we do not need with money we do not have, let's remember to look for the real "reason for the season," Jesus Christ.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Indeed, we have much to be thankful for.
Perhaps there are those who - like the victims of Hurricane Katrina or the families who have lost sons or daughters in Iraq - might find it hard to thank God for this year. And the last thing I want to do is minimize or in any way lessen the importance of what happened to the folks in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. But even in the midst of devastating natural disaster or war, we have much to be thankful for.
I got an example of this earlier this week. A colleague of mine has a son who was in Afghanistan for three months. He is a soldier, and I guess every soldier knows that dying is a part of his business. But I also know this man's father, a Vietnam vet, was poignantly aware of what sending his son to Afghanistan could mean.
We told the father we would pray for his son to return safe, and last week, he did. He came home, in his father's words "with no more holes in him than the standard number for humans." And I was deeply grateful.
Partially I was grateful for the young man's return, but I was most grateful that God had answered our prayer! But I also saw the names of those who did not come home - 19 and 20 and 21 year olds who will never see another Thanksgiving. And I was grateful for them too.
We also received a World Vision notice about helping people in the developing world through donating a cow, or a goat, or chickens, or building a school, or donating a radio for education. And the lives of these people - the large majority of them children - are heartbreaking. But we can do something about them. There are still lives that can be changed. We can take the cost of our Thanksgiving dinner, and change their lives forever.
Something to consider as you make your way through the maddening crowds tomorrow.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
And I don't like stealing. I don't like being ripped off and I don't want to steal from anyone.
You will notice that I try to use some images in this blog. Some of them are mine, some of them I copied from other websites. It's one of those things that you can do if you search "Images" on Google or some other search engine. And I thought that since I was not making any money off the images, that it was okay to use them. Well my conscience tells me otherwise.
I don't know how to do captions - put the photos in a nice box with a caption line giving the photographer credit and all that underneath the shot. I have seen other blogs that do that, but it was a function of the old "hello" photo server they had on Blogger and since Blogger has its own photo server, I have not learned how to do it. I have tried in some of these posts to do that, but the results have been cruddy, so my solution was to do what MSN.com does - put the attribution in the rollover tag, the thing that pops up when you roll your mouse over a photo or graphic.
I'm no lawyer, but I am not sure that what I have been doing is enough. So, from now on when I use an image, I will cite the author, like in an academic footnote, at the bottom of my posts. Starting with this one.
As I said some of the images - including all of the ones from my cruise last year and from various trips Cornelia and I have taken - are mine. But if you like the look of the waterfall or sunset or conch seller or other things I have shot, and want to use it, great, just give me credit for it. Like I said, I don't like being ripped off, and I don't want to steal from anyone else, either.
Gustav Dore. "Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law." n.p. Online:http://lexicorient.com/e.o/moses.htm [23 Nov 2005].
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I am not here to rave about who shot Kennedy - more learned and informed minds than mine have worked that subject for years. But his death did remind me of something - that God is the only one we can trust.
This is a reality that should make us both sober and joyful. When we look at all that we struggle to achieve or possess or maintain, none of it will really be ours eternally. If it exists in time and space, we have to leave it behind. God is the only one who endures, even though our loved ones and friends are also eternal spirits created by God, they ultimately belong to Him and not to us.
But this is also a source of hope, because the One who owns everything, even the life of a President, is kindly disposed toward us. John's gospel puts it simply - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." That should give us great reason for celebration, if we indeed know Him. If we do not, then we need to make that a priority.
Nothing - no business, no government, no family - is more important than knowing Christ. Much of our life is eaten by the demands of everyday - groceries, cars, plumbing problems, work, school, etc. But it all pales in comparison to knowing God.
Even in the midst of our current world situation, where young men and women die every day, where children starve, where natural disasters wipe all that people knew off the face of the earth, we can have peace through knowing Christ.
Choosing any other course leaves us with the futile end David warned against in the Psalms. "Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish."
Images: "The Presidential Limousine." n.p. Online http://www.republiquelibre.org/cousture/JFK.HTM" [22 Nov 2005]
News Headline of Kennedy Assassination. Online: http://www.click-here-now.com/jfk/GEN0018.HTM"[22 Nov 2205]
Friday, November 18, 2005
As part of my studies at Regent University I took part in a group project on the life of A.W. Tozer. Some of you might be familiar with some of his books, including The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy and The Root of the Righteous. I have not read any of his books except Whatever Became of Worship, but I will now.
As part of this project I looked up audio files of some of his sermons, and this brother pulls no punches. If you are looking for an easy salvation message, where you coast through life, consider what he said in "The Plague of Your Heart"
"The plague of sin is not accidental. The plague of sin is not something of which I am an innocent victim. It is a bent to love and choose evil and I am responsible to God for the plague of my own heart. For remember now, when you come to sin we talked about the plague in nature [he had previously talked about the American Chestnut blight and the Dutch Elm disease] and that is a figure by which we may reason from the known to the unknown, from the tangible to the intangible. So we reasoned across by way of analogy and illustration from a plague that is a disease to a condition of the soul which is not a disease but which is a bent to choose and to love sin. Now God would not send a man to hell for having cancer. Neither would God send a man to hell for being born in sin. But God sends men to hell because they love it, they choose it and they practice it ... My friend you will not go to hell because Adam sinned. You will go to hell because you sin, and because you chose it and love it. And knowing the judgment of God against such things, yet practiced those things knowingly and willingly."
This is a strong saying that we do not often hear nowadays. The last thing I want to do is put anyone under condemnation, but Tozer does not do that either. He just doesn't try to candy-coat things and let people sleep in their lostness. He confronts us, sinners and saints alike, with the truth of God's holiness as well as His lovingkindness.
My wife listened to some of these sermons (and some entire series are available on the Christian and Missionary Alliance website) and she said "you don't hear that kind of preaching any more!" And sadly, she's almost right.
Most of what we hear is about God's grace, but not much about what receiving that grace is supposed to do in our lives. The righteousness Jesus gives us before God is not a stopping point but a launching pad. We are supposed to grow in grace, and while a plant does not grow by itself, it has to respond to the conditions in which it is planted.
If I put a seed in the ground, water it, fertilize it, make sure it is free of bugs and other predators, I expect that seed to sprout and bear fruit. What kind of seed would I think it was if it looked exactly the same after a month as it did when I put it in the ground? That would lead me to think that one of two things: (1) the ground is bad; or (2) the seed is dead and will not germinate. So what am I to do? I can fix the conditions -- maybe it got too much water, or not enough; maybe the fertilizer burned it; maybe an insect ate it and it was damaged. But if I have done all that and it still stays the same way it was when I put it in the ground, what can I do but throw it away?
I'm not saying this to be "fire and brimstone" but to be sober, to myself first. Reading -- and hearing -- Tozer has made me take a look at myself. Am I being what God has called me to be and am I walking worthy of the calling with which I have been called (Eph 4:1)? I want to be. Yet I know that even the desire to do that comes from Christ!
My previous post on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe talks about the movie. But the Chronicles of Narnia also features a quote from Aslan the Lion in one of the other books, which is both sobering and hopeful "You would not have called to me if I had not called to you first." So while I am challenged by Tozer and other authors, I can know also that it is the One who loves me most Who wants me to grow. Just a few thoughts. More later.
Image: A. W. Tozer. The Christian and Missionary Alliance: Who We Are. n.p. Online: http://www.cmalliance.org/media/sermons/tozer/index.php [18 Nov 2005]
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
This is the perfect time for these stories to come to life. With the C-G animation and the power of Disney behind it, not to mention Andrew Adamson, the director of such hits as Shrek 2, Toys, and Batman and Robin at the helm, this promises to be one for the collection.
I just perused Disney's website for the movie and the website looks like it's as much of an adventure as the books!
This is especially poignant for me because Cornelia and I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series last year. And I think other than this first one, my favorite was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The reviews I have read of this movie say it is every bit as beautiful as The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and both were shot in New Zealand, so expect more breathtaking shots of the Kiwi nation).
The article I read (in the November 7th Edition of "Newsweek") also said this movie is faithful to the book without being preachy, and the movie has war but no gore. Apparently the Disney folks knew that there would be plenty of curious children at this flick.
But I am chomping at the Bit waiting for this one. I will probably see it three or four times. I hope they do the whole series!
Image: Chronicles of Narnia Poster. n. p. Online:http://adisney.go.com/disneypictures/narnia/index.html[16 November 2005]
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Actually I have seen a several crests that bear the surname "Byrd" and this is one of them. There are also several mottos attached to them. One of the mottoes is "Cruce Spes Mea" or "My Hope is in the cross." That happens to be on this crest, which I found at houseofnames.com but again this is not the one that our family had. The one we had was closer to the one at the top of the page. And our motto reads "Nulla Pallescera Culpa" which I once learned translated into "Never Pale at Any Crime."
Then I found this intimidating looking thing from heraldry.ws ,which is also listed as the Byrd crest from Northamptonshire in England and I thought was quite sinister looking. But I must admit it would be a badass thing to have on your armor or shield when you were on the battlefield. I couldn't find the motto for it.
But all this heraldry and pomp must belong to another branch of the family because my grandfather was poor. I found him -- and my grandmother -- in the 1930 census at the National Archives in Washington. They are listed in Patterson Township, in Durham County. There are several things this one piece of microfilm told me:
- My Grandfather was born around 1900 (really 1898) and was listed as 30 years old when the census was taken. He was actually 32, but the census taker did not list his actual birthdate. From the records in Durham County, he died in March of 1974, and lived to be 76 years old.
- He married early -- he was 23 and my grandmother was only 16 when they married.
- My grandfather could not read or write by the time he was 30 years old.
- He rented their house on a farm in Durham County;
- He worked in a cotton mill as a laborer and was employed the day before the census was taken in April of 1930. (I thought that was impressive, at least a little because he did have a job. There were some folks in 1930 that did not, with the Depression just starting a few months before).
- He had two sons -- William Aubrey (my uncle) who was 6 at the time, and "Bobbie R." -- my dad -- who was listed at 3 months old.
I looked up John W. Byrd in the Durham County records and found that he is buried in Maplewood Cemetery located in Durham on Maplewood Avenue and bounded by Kent Street, Chapel Hill Road, and University Drive. Ironically he is not far from Duke University's Wallace Wade Football Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium. You basketball fans have surely heard of that. Both my parents and my elder brother attended Duke, but my grandfather never went to college.
My uncle, William Aubrey Byrd, is buried in the same cemetery along with my grandparents. He died in 1985 at age 61. My dad? He's scattered over the Atlantic Ocean -- he was cremated after he died in August of 1995.
I also learned a few things about Willie Mae Byrd, my paternal grandmother. She was born in South Carolina, not North Carolina, in 1906. She died September 22, 1938 -- she was only 32 years old. My dad had talked about her dying of breast cancer, but I am not sure. One thing I do know: my dad lost his mother when he was eight years old. That must have had a devastating effect on him.
I know my grandfather remarried; her name was Nancy Jacobs and she worked in the cotton mill in Durham catching bobbins. That's what destroyed her fingers. She lived to be in her 90s, I think, but my grandfather died in 1974. I never met him.
So why compose this post? Why should the public care about my search for granddaddy John? Because my dad hated him, and I never knew the truth about him. I know he abandoned Nancy Jacobs (and the rest of the family) when my dad was in junior high school or high school, but I don't know much more than that. So I wanted to find out where I came from. I know which family motto fits me now: Because I am a Christian My hope is in the Cross. I have a new family, a new lineage -- that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Lord Jesus Christ. But I was still curious about the old one.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
This is another of the waterfalls Cornelia and I saw recently on our trip to western North Carolina. This one happens to be on my mother-in-law's property, even though the family whose house sits next to it has named it something else, the water, and the waterfall, are actually not on their property.
But so what? They have built a lovely deck and stairs and all kinds of stuff to enable them (and presumably their guests) to see this waterfall. My mother in law made a joke that if the neighbors gave her any grief about us visiting the waterfall, maybe she could build a wall to block it from their view.
Everybody knew it was a joke. But it stirred my thinking. Though she possesses the property right now, there will come a day when she is no longer here. And who will own it then? (Ostensibly her children will, but that's not the point) . The waterfall was there before she was born, before anyone reading this was born, and it will be there (I hope) after we are gone.
So it puts things in perspective -- a perspective which is sorely lacking inside the Beltway. We don't own anything. All of it belongs to God, and He has the final say over it. That's humbling.
I have been to the beach, and I have been on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and both places have made me feel small. But God is Sovereign over all of it. Even though it might not appear that everything is acting as He intended, He still is in charge.
It reminded me of God's dialogue with Job. God never explains why He did (or more accurately allowed) the things that happened to Job. He simply appeals to the creation and asks Job "where were you?" So looking at this waterfall or the ocean reminded me of how much we are really dependent on what some call the "general grace" of God.
But the neat thing is that the One who controls the sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans -- and the waterfalls -- is kindly disposed towards us. He is so in love with us that He became one of us and not only "walked a mile in our shoes" but also died the death that we deserved in order that we might live the Life that He intended.