Review of The Prodigal Son

You think you know the story in Luke 15:11-32 because you’ve heard it a hundred times? Keep reading, because this time you might be surprised. Bear with me as I put the story in a modern setting.

                          *******

A man was successful as a rancher and in his investments, and his family had everything they wanted that money could buy. He had two sons, George and Jake, both of whom secretly disrespected dad, and openly hated each other.

Disillusioned with life, one day George, the younger boy, said, “Dad, I’ve thought it over and I want nothing to do with ranching. I want to live my own life without you telling me what to do. Even though you’re not dead, give me my half of the inheritance and I’ll get out of your life!”

Wisely or not, the dad evaluated his business, sold enough stock that was equal to half his worth, and gave it to rebellious George. Jake, the older son, was ecstatic! Now everything the old man owned was his, and he would do everything he could to increase the value of the business; for he was now heir to it all!

Over the next three years, George wasted life and money on prostitutes, cars, gambling, drugs and alcohol. Now penniless, he looked for a job – anything that might provide enough money for another drug fix or bottle of booze.

Finally, rejected by all the friends his money had bought, he considered suicide. But he thought, Maybe dad will hire me to repair fences, or something. There’s enough to do on the ranch where I can stay out of his way.

He called home from the Salvation Army office. When he asked dad if he could come home, his father said, “Son, my door is open; come on home.” The Salvation Army captain took George to his house to get cleaned up. He gave him clean clothing and bought him a bus ticket.

Fourteen hours and two states later, the bus pulled into town around noon. Wondering how he would get from the station to the ranch, the boy looked out the window – and saw his dad.

As he disembarked the Greyhound bus, he said, “Dad, I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. I’ve wasted everything, and my life is a mess. Can you hire me as one of your ranch hands until I get back on my feet?”

But his father said, “Son, I’ve been waiting every day for these past three years for you to return. Everything I own is now your brother’s, but you are still my son. And as long as I am alive, my home is your home.”

When they pulled up to the big house, his mother, aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighborsDSCN0024B had a barbeque shin-dig ready; and a huge cake had been prepared that was decorated with “Welcome Home, George!”

During the party George asked his dad, “Where’s Jake?” Dad said that he was up north conducting business, and he would be home in a couple of days.

But someone in the household called Jake on his cell phone and told him that George had returned. Jake blew up!

Jake immediately called his dad and demanded, “What’s that good-for-nothing wino doing back home! I’m the one who has stayed with you and built the business. I don’t want him here living off what I’ve built!”

Dad responded, “Jake, everything I have will be yours. But George asked to be forgiven, and it is only right that we accept your brother into our home. After all, he is family.”

                           *******

You’ve been told that the story was about George who wasted half the family fortune. But George’s narrative is only the background for the real story. The parable is not about George’s rebellion, repentance, and return; it’s about Jake’s pride and rejection. George repented, but Jake refused to forgive.

You see, Jesus told the parable to the Pharisees and Sadducees who considered themselves the elite of society and heirs to the kingdom of God. The proud religious leaders thought it would lower their prestige if they forgave and accepted these repentant traitors, winos, and prostitutes into their society and into their church meetings.

But God loves everyone and gives everyone a chance to repent and turn to Him. John 3:16 says it clearly: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; and whoever believes on Him (Jesus) will not suffer eternal punishment, but will live forever with the Lord in heaven.

The moral: Pride is just as bad as living a wasted life. But anyone who truly repents, whether pastor or prostitute, haughty or humble, is accepted by the Father and welcomed into His kingdom.

Jehovah is not only a God of justice, but also a God of love and forgiveness.

Tiger – My Friend

Cats are my favorite land animal, and I talk with them. No, I am not weird. I have learned to meow like kittens and cats. I can snarl a little like them too. Let me tell you about a special cat.

He was a stray that “adopted” me when I was eleven years old. I was going through a year of depression because I was convinced that no one in the world loved me. It seemed to me that none of my nine siblings or my parents cared whether or not I was alive. Then one day, a full-grown cat announced his presence in our yard. I named him Tiger. When I asked if I could keep him, the answer was, “No.”

I begged to keep him. You see, Tiger and I had bonded within an hour of his arrival. Noting the look of anguish on my face, my parents finally consented and my spirit soared!

“But that cat cannot sleep with you; the cat will stay outside every night.” Mother was firm on the idea.

“Yes, mom; I hear you” I managed to utter. But I needed emotional comfort, so I snuck Tiger in at night anyway.

After several weeks, mom became suspicious and surprised me with a late-night visit.

“I thought I smelled a cat in here. Put him outside.”

I begged over and again to let Tiger stay with me, and mom finally relented with, “Okay. But if he messes on the floor, you will clean it up and clean the carpet.” Then she left the room.

I was sitting on the edge of the bed and Tiger was sitting on the floor looking up at me. I began verbally pouring my heart out to the critter, and – I’m not kidding – when I asked Tiger if he understood, he gently said, “Meow.” He verbally responded each time I asked if he understood.

Finally, I was ready to turn out the light. But I first cupped Tiger’s face in my hands and said, “If you have to go potty in the night, be sure to wake me up. Don’t do it on the floor. Okay?” Tiger agreed with a soft, “Meow.”

Sometime in the middle of the night, Tiger awakened me by gently rubbing my cheek with his paw. I asked, “Do you need out?” Tiger placed his fore-paws on the window sill and meowed. I opened the window and he jumped out. About ten minutes later, he reappeared outside the window. I let him in, and he said, “Mew.” I knew that meant “Thank you.” Again, I’m not joking. Tiger was my best friend.

One afternoon about eight months later, Tiger didn’t show up for dinner. Dad said, “He is probably out catting around.”

The next day, dad sent me on an errand across the 4-lane highway to buy some donuts. As I reached the median, I saw the motionless form of a dead cat. Tiger had been run over!

My emotions exploded, and I burst out crying as ran back to dad. As I sobbed uncontrollably, dad gently held me close for a while. That’s the first time in a LONG time that either dad or mom expressed love to me in a way that I could understand. After a few minutes, dad softly said, “Let’s bring Tiger home.”

Picking Tiger up with a shovel, I took him and buried him in the back yard. That was 1958, but I can still show you where I buried him.

God, in His love for me, brought Tiger to fill a void in my life. And God kept Tiger with me as long as I needed him because Tiger was God’s gift of healing to my hurting soul. But, also in His love for me, God allowed Tiger to leave when I was emotionally well enough and mature enough to re-attach with my siblings and parents. God loves us and brings into our lives special gifts at crucial times.

When you are hurting, look for God’s interaction in your life. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and don’t depend on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God, and he will guide you.” God loves you more than you know; and He uses animals, friends, and situations to help you heal.

God used Tiger to help me for a year in my childhood; but God, Himself, will help me forever.

Leap Year – 2020

earthIt takes the earth approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.99 seconds (a tropical year) to make the 584,336,233 mile trip around the sun at approximately 66,659 mph.

Since we count only 24 hours in a day, the accumulated time in the 4 years creates another day. We add the day in February because, for some reason, February is the shortest month.

Although the Babylonians (possibly with assistance from Jewish captives) knew about the extra time and began adjusting their calendars around 500 BC to accommodate it, the Egyptians may have been the first to come up with the idea of actually adding a leap day to the calendar. The Romans adopted this solution, and became the first to designate “Februarius 29” as the Leap Day.

Julius Caesar introduced Leap Year into the Roman calendar in 45 BC, but his calendar had only one rule: any year evenly divisible by 4 would be a leap year. This generated too many leap years, and was eventually corrected by the Gregorian calendar.

Our current timekeeping system is based on universal time coordination (UTC) which employs use of atomic clocks. Leap Seconds are applied to guarantee that UTC does not differ from the earth’s rotational time by more than 0.9 seconds. Earth’s rotation seems to be decelerating at a rate of about 1.5 to 2 milliseconds per day due to the bumping of oceanic tides, so every 450-500 days another 0.9 seconds are adjusted on the clocks. However, since that slowdown is less than two minutes per century, we won’t worry about that for a while.

Many nations have complicated rules for their calendars, but Leap Year makes things even more difficult. Here are several examples that I read. If these are incorrect, I welcome correction.

  • The regular Jewish calendar consists of 348 to 355 days in twelve months, but their Leap Years have 383 to 385 days in thirteen months.
  • The Chinese leap year also has an extra month.
  • The Islamic Hijri calendar adds an extra day to the last month of the Islamic leap year.
  • The Ethiopian calendar consists of thirteen months. Twelve months each have 30 days and the 13th month has 5 days. During a leap year, the 13th month has 6 days.
  • In Iran, after six or seven 4-year cycles, they have a leap year that occurs on the fifth year.
  • This has become too dog-gone confusing!

Traditions and folklore have abounded around Leap Day; such as:

Women were allowed to propose to men only one day every 4 years year – on Leap Day. Women looking for their man were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat – possibly a warning signal. However, Leap Day has also been known as “Bachelors’ Day” because many men tried to hide from the female suitors. That reminds me of Sadie Hawkins Day in the Lil Abner cartoon.

Supposedly, a law by Queen Margaret of Scotland mandated that if a man refused marriage, he could be fined. The fines ranged from a kiss to a silk gown, and were supposed to soften the blow of the refusal.

In several countries, a penalty for refusing a marriage proposal was to buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves. That way she could wear the gloves for a year to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

In Finland the refuser had to buy the woman fabric to make a new skirt.

In Scotland, it was considered unlucky for someone to be born on Leap Day.

In Greece it was considered unlucky for couples to marry at any time during a Leap Year; but especially on Leap Day.

People born on February 29 are all invited to join “The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies”; and the Guinness World Book of Records lists a family that produced three consecutive generations born on February 29.

A person born on February 29 may be called a “leapling” or a “leaper.” Leaplings usually celebrate their birthdays on February 28 or March 1, but they often have fun by claiming to be a quarter of their actual age by counting only their leap-year birthday anniversaries.

But there is another more important “birthday” that we need to consider. This one is called “the second birth” when we are “born” into the family of God by accepting Jesus as our Savior. This birthday can be celebrated every day of your life, and will last throughout eternity

The Salton Sea

As we were driving south along the Colorado River, Carol asked, “Did you know we won’t be far from the Salton Sea?”

“Are you kidding!” I exclaimed. “How far is it?”

“Driving west on I-10, if we turn south on Highway 86, it’s about 20 miles, or so.”

“I am a Californian. I grew up in El Cajon in San Diego County, and I’ve never been to the Salton Sea!” I exclaimed. “One time when I was in seventh grade, dad preached in Brawley near the Sea, and I knew it was over a hundred miles away. Back in the mid-1950s that was a long distance. None of us went with him because we were needed in our home church. But now I want to complete my California childhood and visit the Salton Sea. By the way, how far is the lake from San Diego?”

DSCN0333“If you get there by driving on the freeways through Riverside, it is about 182 miles; and if you go through the mountains through Julian, it is about 138 miles. But if you get there by helicopter, it is only about 70 miles.”

“Let’s go!” So we did – but not by helicopter.

Several thousand years ago (after the flood in Noah’s time) the lake was approximately 105 miles long and 300 feet deep. That lake had long-since dried up, as did the lake in Death Valley. The area is called the Salton Sink which is in a low area of the Salton Trough, and is often referred to as the Colorado Desert due to its proximity to the Colorado River. The lowest spot is 277 feet below sea level.

Throughout the centuries, the area has alternately been a shallow lake and dry desert plain. Heavy rains and snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains periodically flooded the Salton Sink, and one of the worst storms was in 1862 when the area was again submerged, creating a lake 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. That 1862 storm wreaked havoc in the entire western third of our country.

The present lake was formed in 1905 when engineers with the California Development Company were trying to increase water flow from the Colorado River into the valley for farming. But the powerful river overcame their barriers, gouged deep channels into the land, and poured into the Salton Sink basin for eighteen months. The engineers were finally able to stop the flow in 1907. Interestingly, the Salton Sea sits squarely on a portion of the San Andreas Fault.

We turned south on Highway 86. Carol took many pictures of palm tree groves, animals, low-flying military jets, and cloud formations. Looking south, we could see in the distance what looked like a rain squall forming, so we decided not to spend too much time at the lake.

The lake is currently about thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. The surface is 228 feet below sea level, and the deepest part of the lake is about 49 feet deep. But this varies annually depending on rain and snow melt.

We were surprised at what we found. We saw many sand-covered streets and vacated houses with broken windows. We did see a few sandy residential areas with very small town centers, but the thriving resort and retirement communities I had read about years ago seemed to be non-existent. The lake had been receding in the past several decades but more rapidly during the recent California drought. The badly-receding shoreline was salt-encrusted, and badly deteriorated boats were rotting in the salty sand.

After stopping at four locations, I had seen enough. I wished I had seen the Salton Sea fifty-seven years earlier.

Then we saw what we thought was a rain squall. Wrong! It was full-blown sand-storm! We had a choice: either we could continue south forty miles in the midst of the length of the storm to Brawley, or drive across the storm for twelve miles. Either way, we would drive slowly for we couldn’t see very well more than 75 feet ahead of us. We chose the shorter hazard.

After ten minutes of a sandy blizzard, we were out of it; we could see blue skies, and the beautiful mountains ahead … all through a pitted windshield.

But that sand-storm reminded me of something else. If we patiently “weather the storms of life” without panicking, keeping our faith and trust in God, the Lord will bring us through to the “blue skies” on the other side; and we can see life more clearly. 

Works? or God’s Grace?

Martin Luther stated that we are saved by grace, but I read in the book of James that we must do “works” to be saved. And I was told that we don’t live under law anymore. Please explain this.              C.K.

Martin Luther was quoting the Apostle Paul, so you might be pitting the Apostles Paul and James against each other (and James was Jesus’ half-brother).

Paul said in Ephesians 2:8–9, “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.” And James said in James 2:17–18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (NRSV).

Paul was talking to those who came from an idolatrous background, and whose “worship” consisted of “religious activity.” It didn’t matter what they thought or whether or not they believed in God. Rather, it was things they did that others could see that got them points with God. They thought they had to earn their way to heaven. So Paul emphasized that our actions (works) will not save us, or even prove our relationship with God. Paul was attempting to balance their belief system.

James came from the opposite direction. He was talking to different people who believed that they could say anything, do anything, and live any way they pleased (including moral debauchery); but as long as they had good thoughts in their mind or said the right words, God would accept them and they were saved. But James told them that what they called faith was fruitless, inactive, or non-existent if their actions didn’t support or verify their words. He told them that if we are saved (if we actually have a living relationship with God) our lifestyle (works, obedience) will verify it. James was attempting to balance this other extreme view.

Paul said that salvation cannot be earned or worked for: it is a gift. And James said good works and Godly living will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ.

So Paul and James are both correct. Nothing we do can gain us favor with God. Words in and of themselves are meaningless, and works in and of themselves are hollow. Rather, God is concerned about what we are. If our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is established, our words and works will be guided by the Holy Spirit and will be authoritative and powerful. What we believe AND what we do will be affected by (or because of) our relationship with God.

Both Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul will agree with this: Our actions or lifestyle (works), thoughts and beliefs (faith) are both necessary to live for Christ. Good works will not save us. But because we are saved, we will do good works.

Now, there is a controversy over living under grace versus living under law.

Regardless of what we say we believe, those who purposely continue to live in sin will live under the law and will be judged by the law. The only reason we live under grace is because we have stopped living in sin, confessed our sin, asked God to forgive us, and we now obey God’s law. But whoever reverts to a sinful life, reverts to living under law.

That is not circular-reasoning, but Godly logic. Just try telling a policeman that you cannot get a ticket for driving 100 mph because you live under grace. The patrolman might say, “Very well; after you pay the ticket, you can resume living under grace – if you obey the law.”

Someone asked if I were a legalist. I told him that Jesus said In Matt. 5:17-18, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, ‘till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, ‘till all be fulfilled.” So, am I a legalist? Perhaps – in the correct meaning of the word. I do believe in the law.

However, Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Therefore, as long as I obey God’s law, I live under grace.

Enjoying Time Together

It’s near the turn of the year again. Wow! Time sure seems to fly by. As Carol and I were playing Scrabble last night … before I go any further, do any of you play Scrabble? How about Yahtzee, Monopoly, Life, Pictionary, Dominoes, or Balderdash? Do any of you put puzzles together? Do you eat together as a family, or as a married couple? Or is it “each person is on his own”? Are you obsessed with getting ahead in life, fearful about the direction of the stock market, or worried about what’s going to happen in the Middle-east?

I suppose my basic question is: do you, as a family, spend time together anymore, or are you individually cocooned in your own little world, worried about life, or mesmerized with your video games, tweeting, texting, or whatever else is available these days?

Let me ask another question: if you died tonight, what would you be remembered for? Stop a minute and think about it. …….. What did you come up with? Be honest with yourself: no one is listening to your thoughts except God, but you can’t fool Him anyway. What would be your legacy?

I know men and women who left much monetary gain to their families, but that didn’t earn them any greater respect or love. I know some who were famous in the scientific and/or educational fields, but the families were distant from them. I know some who were ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but they, also, were rejected by their families.

WHY??

One reason might be hinted at by a question a reporter asked Billy Graham years ago: “Mr. Graham, if you had your life to do over, would you change anything?”

“Yes,” replied Billy Graham, “I would probably spend less time on the road and more time with my family.”

“Why is that, sir?”

Billy’s response was misunderstood by some, but hit home to my heart. He said, “The ministry will always be there, but my family won’t be.”

Did you hear it? That comes very close to what Jesus said. It was so important that it is recorded in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. When Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, at least one of the disciples was upset at her for wasting it. Judas said that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” Jesus was not denigrating true ministry, but He did put an emphasis on Christ-honoring relationships.

So, back to my question: what will you be remembered for? Five months after your funeral, after the will or trust has been settled, what will the family members say about you?

This is why I’ve invested much time playing with our kids as they were growing up, and why my Precious Carol and I play Scrabble and other games with each other now in our upper years. We are still investing into each other’s lives.

Yes, I preach or teach as the doors open, and as you know by reading this blog, I write a lot. But life should not consist of merely learning, earning, and accumulating stuff. The most important thing is growing in our relationship with God, then manifesting our faith in Jesus Christ by how we live with and treat others.

Our children are all adults now, and we have 36 grandkids – at last count. But I still greatly enjoy spending time with and investing my life into my Precious Carol. And she invests her life into me.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. We were playing Scrabble.

Although we are competitive, we have fun while using the game for learning. Therefore, we use the dictionary to look up words. At times we show each other where the other might get more points. You see, we figure that no matter who wins on a particular evening, we both win because we love each other and enjoy spending time with each other. And using the dictionary is increasing our vocabulary which helps us as we interact with society. Using the dictionary also helps us as we grow older.

As of this writing, Carol and I are tied at 401 games. That means we’ve played 802 games, and that’s only since I’ve been keeping record.

This coming year, learn to enjoy spending time with your family – you don’t know when your time on earth will come to an end. When you die, will you wake up in Jesus home … or somewhere else? Think about it.

Let’s honor Jesus in all that we do because we want to spend eternity with Him.

Happy New Year, friends.

Our Obsession With Death

Intrigue. Plotting. Guns. Explosions. Executions. Blood. Murder. Carnage. Terror. Running. Fear. Screams. Panic. Revenge. Retaliation, etc., etc. … will it ever end?

I am talking about America’s infatuation with and obsession with death. All this of the world is obsessed with it, too. All this includes television, theaters, video games, and eastern religions. There are two groups of people involved here.

The first group consists of everyone who like to watch it happen. They talk about it, meditate on it, are thrilled by it, and pay billions of dollars to support it. And many people are paid millions to portray it.

Here are the names of several rock bands: Death, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N’ Roses, As I Lay Dying, Fear Factory, Demon Hunter, Grave Digger, Grim Reaper, Grateful Dead, and many more!

Do you know what group was playing when the terrorists began murdering in the Paris Le Bataclan Theater? Eagles of Death Metal.

Other ways we manifest our obsession with death is by what we watch in theaters. Several movies are: Spectre, The Last Witch Hunter, Sinister, The Exorcist, The Babadook, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Evil Dead. I don’t have enough time or space to name them all. 

The theater in Aurora, Colorado was showing the film The Dark Knight Rises. Mass-murderer James Holmes entered the theater dressed like one of the evil characters and began killing. He even cunningly rigged his apartment with explosives to kill any policeman or detective who might enter. (The detectives out-witted Holmes there.)

There are hundreds of murderous and sex-crazed television series and dramas. Quantico, Zombie, Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Vampire, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Death Note, Castle, Scandal, You’re the Worst, Penny Dreadful, and American Horror Story are but a few.

Do you see what I mean when I say we have an obsession with death? And don’t ever again believe that watching videos or movies or playing deadly video games don’t affect people! One person who was arrested for murder was asked why he butchered the 17-year-old girl. His response: “I’ve seen it so many times in theaters and killed so many times in video games, I wanted to see what it felt like to actually do it.”

We legislate God and morality out of our society, legislate evil and immorality into our society, then we wonder why all this hell is breaking out. Incredible!

Have you ever wondered why sex crimes are at an all-time high? People – both genders – see nudity on television, in theaters, and in advertisements hour after hour, day after day. When actors remove their clothing, people think, “They are actors and it is okay to watch it.” We have become a sex-crazed people. That’s because society lost its sensitivity to inhibitions that God placed in us at creation. Therefore, as people feel free to murder, people also feel free to commit sexual crimes. And it all falls under the banner of “rebellion against God.”

The second group who are obsessed with death are those we call “radical jihadists” and who are attempting to create a world-wide Caliphate. These people scorn anyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do – even those of their own religion. But they view their murderous activities in a different light than we do: they do it in honor of their god, and they don’t intend to quit! They are convinced that fomenting a world-wide war will hasten the return of their long-awaited spiritual leader. And we westerners believe the lie that jihad is not a religious war? Again, incredible.

But even Christians in the so-called “civilized countries” have a problem. We pay untold millions of dollars to involve ourselves mentally and spiritually in murder, witchcraft, and adultery by watching it – which is sin – but we don’t want to see it happen in real life. This is a world-class double-standard! Stop and think: are you guilty of this double-standard?

If you truly detest what happened in Paris, London, Pensacola, the Middle East, in the Aurora theater, and in many schools, and the hundreds of other places people are murdering people, if you believe that people should not commit sex crimes, then you need to stop watching that stuff! You may not realize it, but watching it contaminates your mind and spirit. Our crime, immorality, and pornography rate prove it.

Why does it happen? When society stops living for and worshiping Almighty God, something must fill the void. And that “something” is some form of evil.

dscn0464In order for society to change for the better, we individually and corporately must change. We must turn away from evil and learn to truly honor Almighty God.

As long as people insist on enjoying evil, evil will prevail. But if you want the world to be a better place to live, you must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and make your portion of the world better.

 

The Sparrow Hawk

Some years ago Tom and Shirley Whittlesey were visiting us in the hills of Northern New Mexico. Our house was situated on a half-acre with 78 pine trees throughout the yard, and eight acres of meadow and forest were next door. We were at 7,830 feet altitude and it was a cool autumn day with no clouds in the blue sky. A light breeze was blowing which caused the pine trees to gently sway, polka-doting the ground as they dropped their pine cones. As we sat on our deck, Carol brought out iced tea and sandwiches as we discussed whatever came to our minds. We’ve known the Whittleseys–who now live in Tulsa–since October of 1970, and they are life-long friends. Correction: they are eternity-long friends.

Suddenly, we were startled by what sounded like a baseball bat whacking a ball, but no one was within a mile of us. We wheeled around to see what had happened. About fifty feet into the meadow, we saw a flurry of feathers floating downward and a small bird hit the ground. A hawk with a red tail zipped down to where the bird had fallen. It picked up a lifeless sparrow with its needle-sharp talons and flew away.

We all chuckled when Tom said, “That’s the first time I saw a sparrow hawk catch breakfast on the wing.”

I had heard of sparrow hawks for decades but never knew much about them, and I certainly had never seen one in action! This was particularly interesting because killing its prey by impact is not its normal way of catching breakfast.

The sparrow hawk is an American kestrel in the Falco sparverius group. The word “falcon” means hawk. The early ornithologists thought these raptors fed primarily on sparrows, therefore the nickname of sparrow hawk. By the way, the term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere” which means “to seize or take by force.”

The Bald Eagle is America’s most famous raptor, and is also called a sea eagle because in the wild it feeds mainly on fish.

All raptors, hawks, eagles, vultures, or any other term that may apply, are opportunistic birds of prey. That is, except for the vulture, those birds are characterized by keen vision. While flying, they can detect prey more than a mile away. Vultures, including the California Condor, depend mainly on their sense of smell to locate food. Many hawks can spot a tiny mouse from more than a mile away. Or in the case of fishers, the birds have polaroid vision and can spot fish below the surface of the water even through the reflection of the sunlight on the water.

In Pagosa Springs, Colorado, I saw a Bald Eagle swoop down and grab a fish, but was almost pulled under water. After a brief struggle, it managed to lift off with a sixteen-inch rainbow trout in its iron grasp. Struggling to gain altitude, it managed to fly a hundred yards to a tree. Then, after resting for a few minutes, while almost dropping its catch, it finally began eating its fresh trout dinner.

These birds survive by stealth. Out of sight of their prey, they sit on a tree limb, glide on updrafts, or hover on their own power until they see dinner appear. Then depending on the bird, they dive anywhere from 45 to over 200 mph to grab their hapless victim. And once the victim is in the grasp of the talons, it is normally the end of the line for it.

Do you know that humans are often trapped like that?

Throughout human history, devious people have waited patiently for their hapless victims to come along, then they pounce on them using various kinds of weapons. These evil people want our money, our property, our identification, and our reputation. They use scams, casinos, pyramid schemes, loan shark offices, guns, online threats, and even steal information at ATM machines. Concerning casinos, one man said that as long as you’re willing to expose yourself to the money-losing game, the casino operators need only sit back and wait. And with increasing availability of casinos across the U.S., they don’t need to wait long.

You may have worked hard to acquire your financial status, but human vultures or hawks want your hard-earned cash. If you’re intelligent, you’ll remain vigilant and stay out of their grasp, and you’ll stay out of the casinos. Psalm 111:10 says, “Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”

So honor God in all you do, and use Godly wisdom to avoid the sparrow hawks who are after you.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

At first I laughed when my father said an airplane could break a sound barrier – whatever that meant. But I grew up with many funny ideas, such as: dawn can crack, night can fall, stories have sharp points, and there are different zones in town where we can speed. And now sound has a barrier that can break? Maybe it could. We learn a lot as we grow up, don’t we?

A barrier is something that impedes or blocks movement or progress. Does sound do that? No. But there is something about a certain speed that causes problems. It is called the speed of sound, and that speed varies according to temperature, air pressure, and humidity. So, at 68 degrees F, near sea level in low humidity, that speed is about 768 mph.

As an object moves through the air, pressure builds in front of it. You experience it as you stick your hand out the window of a moving car. A column of compressed air is actually amassing against the front of the car. Also against your hand.

Interesting things happen to a jet airplane as it passes from subsonic to supersonic speed. At that critical speed, battling enormous pressure, it seems that the laws of physics change: a shock wave is generated which creates a sharp noise (sonic boom), the shock wave generates heat, and the aircraft control surfaces reverse their intended purposes: called control reversal. As the pilot tries to raise the nose of the plane, it goes down. As he attempts to bank to the right, it turns left. Because they weren’t aware of that, several pilots lost their lives in crashes in the early days of testing.

Chuck Yeager in the experimental aircraft, the Bell X-1, was probably the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight. He and his craft were dropped from the belly of a B-52 at high altitude so Chuck would have a head start – and plenty of room for error. But he did well!

We experience sonic booms as bullets leave the gun barrel, bullwhips crack, and meteorites crash into the atmosphere. Of course, the larger the object that breaks the sound barrier, the louder the boom. Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona was created by a meteor that was possibly 150 feet in diameter and weighed possibly 300,000 tons, and hit the desert at possibly 27,000 mph – over 33 times the speed of sound. The resulting explosion generated energy that might have exceeded 1,000 times the power of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and the sonic-boom might have been heard hundreds of miles away.

Why the “mights, possiblys, and approximates” in the previous paragraph? It’s because no one was there to prove the data, and those are our best guesses.

The Blackbird, the Lockheed SR-71, flew at greater than 2,300 mph (three times the speed of sound) and friction between the plane and the atmosphere generated heat of about 1,100 F. It took four air conditioning units to cool both the interior and the exterior surfaces of the plane in flight.

Although the sound barrier is no longer a problem for us because we understand it, there’s another “barrier” many folks haven’t yet understood; and that is the barrier that prevents or hinders communication with our Father in heaven.

The first step in “breaking” this barrier is accepting the fact that God exists, and that He wants to hear from us. The second step is understanding that our eternal future depends on communicating with God. It’s called prayer.

The third step is learning what prayer is. Very simply: prayer is talking with God. You talk with God just like you talk with anyone whom you can see. There is no special formula, and you don’t have to use the King James language. Tell God what’s on your mind.

Step four is learning that God actually hears you. First John 5:14 says, “And we can be confident that He [God] will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will.” He listens to us!

Step five is knowing that God cares for you. God’s love is manifested throughout Scripture, but here are two references to hang onto. You know John 3:16, but here is 1 John 3:1a – “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us….” God, our Creator, wants to hear from you.

Ready for step six? Talk To God. You might be surprised at how He responds, because He reveals Himself to those who sincerely desire to know truth.

So break this barrier. God is waiting.

What Do You Own?

Several years ago, Carol and I were visiting my cousin and his wife, Jim and Paula, in California. One morning as we were taking out the trash, I stopped and said, “Jim, my car’s gone.” Jim said, “No; you parked it right over … Oh No! It is gone!”

Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me: but I didn’t get upset. Why? When Carol and I purchased the Envoy, we dedicated it to the Lord. And as we made the payments with the income God helped us earn, we used the car for God’s purposes. To put it bluntly: we didn’t own the car – God did. Nevertheless, we called OnStar.

Within 10 minutes OnStar located the vehicle. Apparently, someone claimed that we were illegally parked (we were not) and the car was towed away. Cousin Jim drove us to where the car was stored and we retrieved it. I’m not the most mature Christian on earth, but I’m wondering: did the Lord arrange this to test the depth of my relationship with and trust in Him? I don’t know. But let’s look into “ownership.”

The verb to own: to possess; keep control over; maintain mastery over something.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Clothing? Car? truck? Horses and cattle? Your job? House and land? Do you really own these things? You do if no one could ever take them from you. However, our government thinks they own everything. Quit paying taxes and some government official will assist you with their understanding. And don’t forget about thieves, landslides, earthquakes, and fires.

So who REALLY owns it all? Almighty God does. God, as the Creator, owns people, animals, and the land. Psalms 50:7-11 – “God says, ‘My people, listen to me…I do not need bulls from your stalls or goats from your pens, because every animal of the forest is already mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I know every bird on the mountains, and every living thing in the fields is mine.’”

Leviticus 25:23 – “The land really belongs to me…. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.”

Friends, God owns everything. But He wants us to learn to take care of His stuff, so he has given us the privilege of being His stewards, managers, or guardians.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own. Otherwise, it will hurt when God pries them out of your hands.”

How about skills and abilities? First Corinthians 12 informs us that abilities and gifts are given by God. So God retains ownership of the wisdom, skills, and gifts, while loaning them to us.

So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to “own” (possess, control) our emotions. Luke 21:19 says: “In your patience, possess your souls.” That means, “Endure the situation. Gain mastery or control over your mind and emotions. Don’t give in to the problems, and don’t be overcome by adverse circumstances.” THIS is where our ownership is revealed.

No one can take from us what we truly own! And what we own in this life are our thoughts, will, emotions, and our responses to what happens in life. No one can make us do what we don’t want to do. However, we can cave in to pressure, but that’s still our decision.

There is nothing wrong with having money and things—as long as we understand that we don’t own them. We are the stewards of what God loans us. And believe me: understanding that we are only stewards of God’s stuff greatly reduces the pressures, frustrations, and worries that ownership can place on us. Why? Because God is in charge, and we merely follow His directions.

God didn’t create robots, so He doesn’t control us. But with God’s help, we can own, possess, or control our emotions, desires, and passions; and while using God’s things for their intended purpose, we leave the ownership to God.

So what do you own? To repeat: you own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.