A Labor of Love

gene's info 120For over three years we were pastors of a church in Springer, New Mexico that was 200 miles from our home. Some routes went through winding mountainous roads and took longer. Living in the hills in northern New Mexico and driving the 6-8 hour trip to church and back every weekend – while working 50-60 hours a week at a national laboratory – we were late for church only twice. You may ask “Why did you accept that challenge?” That, and the results of our efforts, is another story for another time. Today’s story is about the trips; and of the eight possible routes to church, we found six that we took quite often.

In all our travels in over 52 years of marriage, we have had fun. Even when we made a wrong turn or were detoured due to highway work, we made a mini-vacation out of it. Last December, traveling from Missouri to home, we decided to take some roads we had never been on. We discovered only one problem: highway 221 turned into a gravel road. We laughed, turned around, and went another direction which took us through Eureka Springs; so we stopped and had dinner before resuming our trek. We make enjoyable memories out of potential irritations in life. But back to the story.

One Sunday morning, one of our deacons asked, “Pastor, what’s on your hands?” I told him I was bleeding. He said, “Blood isn’t that color. What’d you do?” Carol quickly said, “We went through Mora, and picked raspberries yesterday.”

mora, nmOne of our routes to Springer was through Espanola and up the canyon through which flowed the Rio Grande. At La Cienaga we turned east toward Sipapu then over the mountains and down into Mora. And that is where my hands turned red – or maybe, purple. Mora is well-known for its raspberry farm, and Carol had often asked me to stop and pick raspberries. Each time I said something like: “I’m going to be preaching and teaching, and berry-picking isn’t on my mind.” Although that was true, it was also a smoke-screen: I didn’t want to pick berries.

Now, for all you who have never picked blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., let me tell you: I don’t enjoy that activity. We reach inside the foliage to find the berries, and these bushes have thorns containing toxin. Picking berries was both painful and made my arms itch for over a week. Now you might understand why I don’t like picking berries.

But one weekend my Precious wife was so desirous for those delicious, reddish-purple clumps ofraspberries juice, and she was so gentle in her running commentary about how delicious those berries would be in ice cream or made into a berry jam, that my mouth drooled and I just had to stop. When Carol excitedly asked, “Are we going to pick berries?” I said, “Yes. I don’t want to, so this will be a labor of love.”

“Yeah, right! You just want berries and ice cream!”

She was at least partly correct.

That time of year the berries were ripe, and many of them leaked their contents because they split or crushed easily as we picked them. But we left with five quarts, and Carol kept her word: they were GOOD over ice cream, over angel-food cake, in fruit salads, and made into jam. In the long run, I was glad I stopped. (But my hands did get stained with the juice, and I itched for a week.)

But do you know that someone else performed a labor of love that far surpassed anything I could dscn0464do ever for Carol? Where I merely paused on my trip and received a few scratches on my arms, Jesus deliberately left His home in heaven and came to earth to rescue mankind from an eternal separation from God the Father. Jesus didn’t have mere scratches on His arms; the soldiers made a wreath containing inch-long needle-sharp thorns and jammed it onto His head. Jesus purposely allowed Himself to be killed in a gruesome manner in order to reveal the depth of the pain we would suffer eternally without God.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer, and because of Jesus’ labor of love, we can have a home with Him forever. (Romans 8:35-39)

The results of my labor lasted only several months; but the results of Jesus’ labor will never end. I hope you accept God’s Love through Jesus Christ, our Savior. (Luke 19:10, John 3:16)

Detours in Life

Have you ever encountered a road-block or a detour? Is it frustrating? Aggravating? Do you wish you could give someone a piece of your mind?

Throughout our many travels, Carol and I find ourselves on detours periodically. For example,thFS0NDQ2Y several years ago we were minding our own business heading west on Interstate 70 when, suddenly, the dreaded sign appeared: Detour Ahead.

Carol had been napping, and although I was tired, I decided to stay awake – primarily because I was driving. But when the monotonous road noise changed, she woke up.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Well, I was making a bee-line to Denver, but at present, your guess is as good as mine.” Watching the actions of other drivers, it appeared that they might not have been as nonchalant as I was about the turn-of-events. I chuckled.

Carol asked, “What’s funny?”

“Precious, those poor drivers have not learned that emotional upheavals cannot change the way the highway departments do things – either good or bad. And they haven’t yet learned the value of detours in life.”

“Yeah, I suppose you are right. But where ARE we going now?”

“We’re heading north on Kansas State Road 232. Anything interesting on the map?”

After a few minutes of confirming our location, she said, “There is something called ‘The Garden of Eden’ on highway 18 between Lucas and Luray. Wanna go?”

“Sure; why not?”

We discovered Wilson Lake, and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped at The Garden of Eden to check it out. (We don’t recommend it; it’s not what the name infers.) After a bite to eat, we continued to Walde, Kansas. There we could have followed the detour signs and headed south toward Russell, resuming our monotonous freeway noise again. But since we were having such a good time seeing part of the country we had never encountered, we continued going through the towns on highway 18 until we arrived at Bogue, Kansas.

There we got onto highway 24 and drove another 100 miles to Colby where we were reacquainted with I-70. Carol and I thoroughly enjoyed our detour and learned more about our country. The detour set us back almost 3 hours; but that was not lost time–it was time invested together. And more importantly, my Precious and I made new memories together.

IMG_1434On another trip, we were returning from Missouri where we spent several days with two of my sisters and a brother. We had a good time. On the way back I said, “Let’s go home on some roads we’ve never been on. Carol chimed in: “Then let’s go to the War Eagle Craft Fair.” I agreed.

We turned onto Missouri highway 86. At a small town called Blue Eye, we headed south and found Arkansas 221. Again, Carol and I were enjoying the beautiful scenery. But at one point without warning, the asphalt highway morphed into a gravel road.

“Are you lost?” Carol asked.

“No, but we ran out of 221.” We laughed.

When we stopped at a cabin for advice, the man told us how to get back to civilization, eventually getting to Rogers, AR.

“Where will that route take us?” I asked.

“That’ll take ya through Eureka Springs, less you wanna either truck on the way yer goin fer nuther two hours throwin gravel, or back-track cupla hours.”

I thanked him and got back in the GMC Envoy. After discussing our options, we laughingly headed up to Eureka Springs–on a road we didn’t even know existed–and had dinner at one of our favorite places. We barely got to the War Eagle Craft Fair in time to check it out.

Detours don’t upset or aggravate us. They’re part of life. Our traveling motto is: “If we hit a detour, make a vacation out of it.” We’ve learned, however, to schedule into our plans extra time to allow for such excursions. And if we encounter no detours, we arrive early. Yay!

Some time ago I learned the following: “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to letPICT0033 another person or event control your emotions.” I cannot control you or the highway department, but I can control my plans and reactions. I do this by asking God for direction in life which enables me to face life’s uncertainties with confidence.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Who knows? Maybe God purposely arranges some detours to gauge our maturity level.

Happy traveling, friends. 

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

Way up in the sky little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

A star, a star, shining in the night, it will bring us beauty and light.

It will bring us beauty and light.

    DSCN4172Thinking about that song brought many thoughts to my mind.  Allow me to share them with you.

     The shepherds, watching their flocks out in the field, looked up into the cool fall sky. Suddenly, one of the shepherds jumped up and cried out, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others quickly looked – and in Luke 2:10-12 the lead angel made the announcement as the other shepherds shielded their eyes from the bright light:

“Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a new-born baby wrapped in white cloth, lying in a manger.”DSCN0574

     The shepherds, following the heavenly directions, quickly went to the cave or animal stall where Joseph and Mary were. When they saw the new-born baby who was declared by the angels to be God, one of the shepherds slowly knelt down, and incredulously asked, “Do you see what I see?” And their lives were changed forever!

     Anna, the 84-year old prophetess, was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus in to be circumcised and blessed. When Anna saw the 8-day old Baby in Mary’s arms, she said gently and worshipfully, “Do you see what I see? I thank you, O Great Jehovah, for allowing my eyes to see the salvation of Israel.” She then prayed over baby Jesus, and began telling everyone what she saw: “People listen. This Little One is the Messiah for whom we all have been waiting. Let’s Worship the King!” And her life was changed forever!

     The Wise Men spent much time studying the sky. They were the scientists of their day and were advisors to their king. They were probably from Persia, which would include DSCN0309Iran and Iraq today. One night, one of the astronomers suddenly called to his colleagues, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others gathered around and were amazed at the startling message unfolding in the sky, for it told them that a new King was born in Israel. Because of the writings left by Daniel back around 560 BC, they had been expecting it, and within six months, they left on a caravan for the Promised Land. Finding the house and kneeling down in front of Mary who was holding the child who was nearly a year old, the noblemen worshipfully said:  

   Here, most highly honored King, exalted by God in the heavens. We give you Gold: a treasure which does not tarnish or rust, it is a gift to royalty and conveys our life-long worship to you.

   We give you Frankincense: an aromatic treasure which we hope conveys the aroma of our love and adoration of You to the exalted God in the heavens.

   And we give you Myrrh: to make Your life on earth sweet.

And their lives were changed forever!

     Do you see what happened? Whenever people encounter the Living God, their lives are changed! And when someone’s life is truly changed, that person will change the world around them.

     As the shepherds went back to their flocks, they told everyone they met about the new Messiah for months to come because their lives had been changed. And they changed their world as they spread the Good News.

     At eighty-four, you know that she told people about the new Messiah for the rest of her life because her life had been changed. And she changed her world as she told folk who came to the Temple to worship.

     And the Wise men made an international impact, for they changed their world whichPICT0057 was the Middle-East. They told people in the trade caravans, the scientific community, kings and nobility about the new King.  That’s because their lives had been changed.

     Has your life been changed? Do you tell people about Jesus our Savior, or are you afraid of offending someone? God is calling you to change your world by being a faithful witness about what you have both seen and heard. Go ahead – people need to hear the Good News.

     Have you seen what I have seen?

Christmas – X-Mas?

Through the years I’ve asked many folks what they thought about Christmas, and I was saddened at many of their responses. PICT0077Most of them talked about crowds in the stores, traffic-jams, discourteous people, gifts they had to return, the price of the gifts, how much to spend on family members, Christmas debt, and a lot more. Several folks even said that they wish Christmas didn’t exist. For them, the season was merely X-mas. Or more appropriately $$-mas!

Very seldom did I hear a response about Jesus, the Holy Son of God, His entry into the world, going to a Christmas Cantata, or worshiping the Lord for HIS gift to humanity. I’ll come back to this in a minute, and in more depth next week; but let’s look at some of the data related the seasonal stress.

Do you know how much a family spends during Christmas? Here are a few numbers – admittedly several years old, but it gives you an idea of the problem.

According to an MSN article in December of 2011, Americans planned to spend approximately $271 per child. When one mother was asked about that amount, she said that wasn’t nearly enough. In that survey, almost 10% of the responders planned to spend over $500 per child.

One father figured $50-$75 per infant or toddler, $100-$150 per elementary age kid, and $200 or more for high school age. Others said $400 per child is not bad.

Of course, the amount of spending can depend on where you live. Some shoppers in New York City (families of four) planned to spend a total of about $1200, while same-sized families in Texas wanted to top out around $700. I also found that some lower income families spend as much as upper middle-class families – they just go deeper into debt.

I read that the average spending in 2001 was $1,052 per family; dropping to a low of $417 in 2009; but back up to $882 per family in 2015. Please remember, those are averages.

Recently there has been a decline in the complaints of crowds, traffic-jams, and the rest because a tremendous amount of buying is done online. That does save money for the buyers. Another benefit is that it reduces traffic, which, in turn, which reduces traffic accidents. But buying online has also caused thousands of business – including many Sears stores across the nation – to close down. That eliminated many thousands of jobs.

But I have a question: Is any of that truly about Christmas?

To answer that, let’s look at the word.

DSCN4498Christmas came from Christ’s Mass – a worship service about Christ. (Christ is a title which came from the Greek Christos. The Hebrew word is Mashiach, translated as Messiah. They both mean anointed, or anointed one.) In the 14th century, Christ’s Mass evolved into Christmas.

So, is all the hustle-and-bustle of shopping really about Christmas? Is all the debt, stress, worry, gift-giving, traffic-jams and all the rest truly about Christ? The answer is a resounding No! It’s a terribly expensive misunderstanding. Apparently true worship of Almighty God has devolved into a financial, secular frenzy which brings disgrace on the name of the Lord.

How do we get back to the truth? We start by reading the Truth.

 Luke 2:8-15 says, “That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.’

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

Regarding an event that took place almost a year later, Matthew 2:9-11 says, “The starDSCN0309 appeared to them (Wise men, Magi), guiding them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Getting stressed out over buying and giving causes us to miss the joy of Christ. We miss the purpose of Jesus coming to earth. We join the secular world in actually disgracing the Lord Jesus Christ.

But Christmas, if we celebrate it, is supposed to be about worshiping Almighty God. Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to give US a gift – the gift of eternal life. We can give gifts to others, but our primary response is to give God a gift – the gift of ourselves. 

We’ll talk more about this next time.

Introduction to Prejudice

For all but two years of my childhood, I lived in Southern California; but we did move DSCN1743around within the state. In several towns people cautioned our parents “Watch out: be careful if you have to drive through [a certain part of] town. Lock your doors!” Ethnic prejudice prevailed; but as a child I rejected it, and it never took hold in my mind.

There were not many black kids in my schools, but the ones who did attend were usually lonely, and I chose to befriend them. Several times I saw adults insult people of a different ethnicity, and I disrespected them for their ignorance. Although dad was born and raised in South Texas, he taught me that we all are equal in God’s sight – and that was good enough for me.

But living in Charleston, S.C. in 1963-1964 presented an eye-opener for me. In my senior year in high school I was in the school band, glee club, and in the senior play.

But my life changed around 1:45 PM (ET) on Friday, November 22, 1963 when an uproar broke out throughout the high school. It sounded like our football team had just scored the winning touchdown.

President John Kennedy had just been murdered in Dallas, Texas.IMG_1564

I was flabbergasted, stunned, and didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it! Why would anyone want to murder the president of the United States? And why would any American citizen cheer when our president was killed? Even Christian kids were cheering!

My feelings of disbelief quickly changed to hatred of those who would raucously cheer over our President’s murder. The only animosity toward a people I had ever experienced previously was in reading about the Nazis and Japanese whom we fought in WWII, and the Communists – although I never disliked them personally.

But now, I experienced a deep-seated hatred for some of my own countrymen. Not black, but white! At seventeen years of age, being raised in Church and in the military, I disdained anyone who treated human life as a disposable item. Voicing my feelings, my reputation took a turn. You see, I also had the stigma of being a Californian, and California supported the North in our Civil War. But President Kennedy, a Northerner, was hated by many in the South because he had been endorsing ethnic integration which the Deep South rejected.

My black friends in Charleston had been nervous about being seen with me. But now several of them took me aside and said: “We can’t spend any more time with you. You are not one of us, and you being with us is making our life harder. We are going to get hurt if we don’t stop being with you.”

I said, “I don’t understand. You are my friends, and I will fight anyone who tries to hurt you!”

Then the clincher. One of them said, “But next year you will be gone, and we will still be here. Who will protect us then? Don’t come around us anymore!”

THAT is when ethnic bigotry and prejudice took on a new – and contemporary – PICT0942meaning for me. I viewed the American Civil War in somewhat of a different light. It broke my heart to be deprived of friendship with the black kids. It broke their hearts, too, for apparently, I was the first white kid who ever wanted to spend time with them. I was still in the band, glee club, and the senior play, and I still got along with most the white kids, but my life had changed.

When that school year was over, I rode the Greyhound Bus back to Southern California. At midnight, I was the only passenger from Charleston to Atlanta; but from Atlanta to New Orleans, the bus was as full as a sardine can.

With only two seats available (one in the middle of the bus near a white woman, the other in the back near a black man), all eyes were on me as I walked to the back of the bus. The black man told me that I couldn’t sit there because that was the black section; but speaking so that everyone could hear me, I informed him that this was America and I could sit anywhere I chose. When he said, “You could git awful hut if you sit heah.” I said, “I’ll take my chances.”

I couldn’t see them, but in retrospect, I am sure that several Angels were accompanying me on that bus ride.

On our way to New Orleans, that black man taught me, a naïve teenager, a college course on the plight of black Americans – a lesson I have never forgotten. Prejudice is a manifestation of ignorance at best, and demonic hatred at worst – depending on how people act – and I dedicated my life to teaching truth; for it is the truth of Jesus Christ that sets people free. 

 Jesus said in John 8:33; “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”