Observations Along The Road.

The weather has been a subject close to many hearts and minds this year.  The midwest has been hammered by tornadoes; the southwest, where I live, is bone dry. 

As I traveled across Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas, I couldn’t help but notice how brittle and dry most of the landscape is.  Just one lit match could render destruction and death.  In fact, in many areas along the road I did see scorched earth.  Then there was the wind; oh, the wind!  I felt battered and blown about like an insignificant seed, only to land in dry dirt with no water, dormant.  I prayed as I traveled, “Lord, please send rain to this place.” On the highway between Carlsbad and El Paso I saw a tractor-trailer rig nearly lose control, probably caused by a combination of fatigue and wind.  I prayed for that driver, and he did pull off the road at the next rest stop.  There are not many stops along that road.  Oh, but for timing.  Had a car been coming the opposite direction at that second, it would have been disastrous.

But then again, I noticed other bushes and shrubs along the road, vibrant and green; such a stark contrast to their surroundings that they seemed out of place.  I was reminded of a recent sermon at my church.  The pastor talked of deep roots – roots that keep reaching and reaching until they find the water far below the surface of the earth. So must we be, as believers in a world that does not want to believe.  Sharing the trip with the eight-year-old granddaughter who is learning more about Jesus, I got the chance to explore that mission field that is right within my reach, and He spoke to my heart in a very practical, visual way. 

Lord, help us to be green in a dry and brittle world, to stand out from the dry and weary land where there is no water.

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Time For A Road Trip.

I love road trips.  My mother thinks it odd that I would rather travel by car than air, but for me the road trip brings back memories of youth and family.  On family vacations, Dad would only stop for gas, food and rattlesnake farms (my mother hates snakes). I love looking out at the landscape, looking at the flora and fauna of the territory and seeing the handiwork of God in creation.  Even in the desert, the plant life is vibrant, demonstrating a resilience that is a picture of a life in Christ. Regardless of circumstances, we are called to grow and thrive where we are planted.

My daughter lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is just over five hundred miles from me. Every once in awhile I make this trip across the desert southwest landscape to see her, where I enjoy a few days away from work and spend some time on the Pecos River.

Carlsbad always reminds me of one particular family vacation, which we took at Christmastime in 1972.  I was a freshman in high school, and we wanted to spend Christmas in Indiana with family.  To stay south of the weather, we went through southern New Mexico, west Texas, back up into New Mexico, then back across southern Texas. On the way there, the car broke a belt near Las Cruces.  On the way home, the car’s fuel pump failed between Carlsbad and El Paso.

This says something about cars these days; the car was only about three years old and you would think a fairly new automobile would survive such a trip.  With the improvements in technology that we enjoy today, I worry far less about car trouble than I did before cars were fuel injected and computerized.

But, back to the main story.  If you have ever traveled between El Paso and Carlsbad, you know that there is a whole lot of wide open space in between.  By grace, one gas station attendant was able to get enough fuel flowing through the Buick’s fuel system to get us over a hill and down a long incline to the station at Salt Flat, where there was a mechanic who could replace the fuel pump.  The bad news was, the pump would have to come from a supplier and we would have to find a way back to Carlsbad to stay the night.  The station owner’s nephew (a young cowboy probably more interested in partying with his friends than anything else) drove us back to Carlsbad, where we stayed in a motel.  Next morning, he picked us up and took us back to the station, where our car was repaired and we continued on home to Arizona.  It ended up taking us an extra day to get home, but all these years later this story has come full circle.  If anyone had ever told me that I would one day be travelling that road often, to see my daughter, I would have laughed and said they were crazy.

Fernando Ortega will be playing on the ipod, and since he is from New Mexico many of his songs seem to fit right into the scenery.  I’m sure the next few days will fly by, but when I return home on Monday afternoon I will have enjoyed a little bit of the freedom of the road. Lord, I pray for a safe journey and I thank You for Your presence. Even through Hudspeth County, Texas, I will not be alone.

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On False Teachers And The Damage They Do.

By now, we all know that the much-lampooned Harold Camping was wrong again, and that Jesus Christ did not return on Saturday, May 21, 2011.  But then again, those of us who really read our Bibles knew that before he made his latest prediction.  This is not the first time he has made a prediction like this and been wrong.  I did not hear that in the secular media, though.  So much attention was focused on this false teacher that even mainstream news media were running stories about it, and anchors were joking about their plans for that day.  The reaction to his prediction outside of his circle of believers ranged from a reasoned response (as in, Jesus Himself said that no one, not even He, knew the day or hour) to outright mockery and scoffing.

As an amateur Bible scholar and a student of Theology, I understand that there are certain essential Christian doctrines, and then there are subjects that are open to discussion and debate.  I am a little dismayed, though, at the number of false teachers and false prophets who appear on the airwaves.  The internet has made it possible for anyone who can turn on a computer and set up a web site to have an audience, and it is to be expected that some of those people will be the types that the apostles warned us about.  Primarily, though, I am speaking of Christian television.

Without naming them (I am sure you know who they are), there are people on television networks who are spreading a false picture of what Christianity is about.  Many of these people have been the subject of scandal, and it’s no wonder to me.  They spread the false health-and-wealth gospels, they tell you that if you send them money you will receive a financial return, and they even tell you that Jesus was rich, that He wants you to be rich too.  You will never see these false teachers open their Bibles and preach from a passage of Scripture in context.  Where they have a potentially powerful platform, they hoodwink people into sending them money while real preachers of the gospel work tirelessly in the mission field, looking for more ways to reach people with radios and printed tracts and whatever materials can be smuggled into their locale.

It’s no wonder that so many people do not understand what it means to be a Christian.  In a country where we have almost unbridled freedom of speech, that freedom has been abused to allow pornography, lying and even the perversion of the gospel.  In the secular world, radio talk show hosts spread all kinds of misinformation, wanting us to believe that our government is out to get us all and that the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 were an “inside job.” Because the people that they are slandering are politicians, it is impossible to charge them with slander or libel since this is “protected political speech.” It’s a convoluted world, with a convoluted foundation, and we need to be truth seekers, now more than ever.  In the misinformation age, knowing where to go for truth is the key to peace.  I am speaking not only in a spiritual sense, but in a worldly sense as well.  Look how many of the news stories are not really about news, but about another celebrity whose bad behavior attracted attention.  When a major event happens, incorrect details often come out because the reporters are in such a rush to get the scoop that they don’t verify the information.  Then when those details are corrected, the conspiracy theorists jump on them as evidence of a “cover up.”

Look at Jesus Christ, not at people who claim to have special knowledge.  Do not listen to the prosperity preachers, or to those who sound more like the motivational speakers that you would hear at a corporate seminar than preachers of the gospel.  Believers must ask God for boldness to speak up and challenge the false teachers and the false prophets, so that we can take advantage of every opportunity to share the real gospel of Christ, which is very good news in these times.

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Rudyard Kipling: Politically Incorrect

I frequent Denny Burk’s blog.  Here is a link to the commencement address he gave at Boyce College, where he is Associate Professor of New Testament.  His address included the Kipling poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.”  This is outstanding.

http://www.dennyburk.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/2011-05-13-Commencement-Address-1-Corinthians-151-2.pdf

His backstory on the poem is also important, for those of us whose knowledge of Kipling is limited to his children’s stories.

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Is Medical Marijuana Really Medical?

The voters in my state (Arizona) passed a medical marijuana ballot proposition by a very, very narrow margin.  The issue wasn’t decided until quite awhile after the election, when all the early ballots were finally counted.  So it is fair to say that the voters are almost evenly split on the question of whether marijuana actually has a medical use as something you smoke or eat.  After all, we’ve already had it in pill form for decades, available to anyone whose doctor prescribed it.  I am not sure how many of the voters are aware of this.

One of the arguments used in favor of the proposition was that many of the prescription pain relief drugs have potentially dangerous side effects, yet no one seemed to acknowledge that marijuana is also an intoxicant, and if it is smoked it carries a significant lung disease risk.  It was presented as an option for those who are suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, but since marinol has already been available for years, what does the new law do for those patients?

The allegation has been made that most of those seeking medical marijuana cards in Arizona will be people who have “chronic pain” and have already been self-medicating with it.  Additionally, since it is still against federal law to smoke or eat marijuana, the dispensaries could potentially be closed down by federal authorities and the owners prosecuted.

The larger question in my mind is this:  does marijuana have a medical value when smoked or eaten in food?  Opposition to Arizona’s ballot proposition was almost non-existent.  Even if the opposition did not have much funding, where was the medical community on this issue?

As a person who came of age during the 1970s and who smoked more than my share of the stuff, I am under no illusions about it.  I used it for no other reason than to get high, and it took me quite awhile to work my way back out of the cloud.  When you examine the lives of people who have been using marijuana all along, what do you see?

The 1960s and 1970s brought many social changes, some of them good.  But those years also brought an increased tolerance for the abuse of illicit drugs, and those drugs found their way from the back alleys and the smoky jazz clubs into the mainstream.  Young people gravitated toward marijuana like the proverbial moth to the flame. Images of people wallowing in the mud at Woodstock show a rather primitive side of human nature. As a society, are we heading toward an era where there are so many people who are addled by one substance or another, that the sober will be unable to carry the load?

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Facebook Got Me A Lap Steel Guitar.

This is one of those inexplicable, serendipitous things.

I’ve been a musician for about forty years now, and play several different instruments.  As time has gone on my interests and tastes have changed.  Where I once played in bar bands, I have played in churches for the past nineteen years.  I play piano and guitar primarily, but took up the violin and mandolin along the way.  Over the past few years I developed an interest in the lap steel guitar.  My budget has not allowed me to purchase one, but here’s where the story gets interesting.

While playing on facebook one evening I searched for a guitarist that I had played in a band with thirty years ago.  And sure enough, I found him.  He sells vintage sports items in Seattle, and still plays guitar.  So I sent him a message, something to the effect, “Still playing the guitar, I see.”  His response was that he had something that belonged to me and he felt that he should return it.  I was puzzled.  What in the world could it be?  Turns out it’s a lap steel guitar.  I couldn’t remember ever having owned one, but as the story developed it turned out that my dad had been given the thing by a woman whose mother (the original owner) had passed away.  No one in their family played it and it lived under a bed.  My dad had given it to our band to play around with, and because my focus at the time was keyboards, keyboards and keyboards, it had completely slipped my mind.

So, the lap steel guitar is on its way to me and I anxiously await its arrival.  I’ve done some youtube surfing for examples of lap steel playing and I must share this one.  Kaki King is a female guitarist who actually played all that complex guitar music in the movie “August Rush.”  This clip is a fine example of what one woman with a lap steel guitar, a digital delay and a loop station can do.  I don’t know how she came up with the title, but this is some great work here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI9ke2Ju7XY

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Has It Always Been Like This?

Do you sometimes wonder, “What’s wrong with people?” 

Assuming that there is such a thing as objective truth, why do so many people seem unwilling to search for it?  I’ll use the killing of Osama bin Laden as an example.  Almost immediately, conspiracy theories started to circulate.  The same thing happened after 9/11.  People tried to convince us all that we didn’t really see planes hit the towers, that we didn’t really see the buildings crumble at the point of impact, and it was all a big ruse to give the government the power to intrude on our lives. 

Go to any news web site, and read the user comments that are posted in response to the articles.  Most of them are not worth reading.  I wonder if people are really that dumb, or if anonymity gives them a shield so they can be their worst for just a few minutes, without any kind of accountability.

Some place the blame on the educational system, but I think it’s caused by the culture of individual families.  “Family culture” wasn’t something I had heard of until recently, but once I heard the term coined it made immediate sense.  If families expect their children to learn, and place a high value on education, most kids will rise to that level.  There will always be some rebels, and all of use have ways where we try to buck the system.  But where you have parents who expect the children to attend school and try their best, that gives teachers something to work with. 

In between parents and teachers, though, are administrators who develop the educational systems.  I have friends who are teachers who have expressed frustration in the process of trying to get materials for the classroom.  The technology age has given us a revolution in tools to read and write with, but in some districts the skill of handwriting (particularly cursive) is no longer being taught.  This is a fine motor skill; brain-to-hand conditioning.  By eliminating this skill, is a vital pathway in the brain being ignored?  Will we find out fifty years from now that this is a huge mistake? 

We already have a fairly large contingent of people who can’t read, write or think.  Their brains have been wired for video games, hip hop music and substance abuse.  What comes next?

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