A Christmas Devotional:The Word Became Flesh

December 17, 2014

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of truth and grace. (John 1:14).

Of all the gospel narratives of the Christmas story, these words of John the Apostle are my favorite. But why did John call Christ the Word? His Gospel begins that way: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…. (John 1-3a) It is certainly crystal clear that “Word” means Christ. No one argues with that. In the beginning was [Christ], and [Christ] was with God and [Christ] was God….[Christ] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John’s objective in writing his gospel was to prove that Christ was God. But John must have been trying to convey more or he would have used the word Christ. What might that be?

        There appear to be two reasons why John used Word instead of Christ. He was speaking to two audiences, the Jews, of course, and Greeks and Greek-speaking gentiles. He was writing in Greek, after all. The Greek language gets much more mileage out of words, and since it is the original language of the New Testament, preachers begin their seminary studies with courses in Greek.

The Jewish audience would have understood, In the beginning was the Word, as a clear reference to Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And how did he do that? He created them thru the power of his word. Let there be light and there was light. Such is the power of God’s word. Isaiah 55:11 says so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. A word spoken by God is a deed done. And Christ was the last and most important word of God the Father. We will not find God apart from Christ.

For the Greeks “Word” had even more meaning. Logos, the original Greek word for “word" took on vastly more meaning through the studies of a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. He was the guy who said “You can’t step into the same river twice.” You can put your foot into the water of the river and take it out but when you put it back in the water has flowed on and it is different water that soaks your foot. His point was that all of life was in a state of change. As he pondered that he wondered, if everything was always changing why wasn’t the world in perpetual chaos. He concluded that it was because the constant change was not random change but ordered change. And if it was ordered change then there had to be a “divine plan” or “divine reason” for it. (Darwin should have read Heraclitus before he went off on his preposterous tangent.) The Greeks defined reason as “the word unspoken.” Heraclitus concluded that the reason, the unspoken word, God’s Logos, controlled all of creation, including all of history, and…listen carefully…the mental order that rules the minds of men. In summary, Logos, with a capital L, was the mind of God controlling this world and all men. This became standard philosophy among the Greeks, including Plato and Socrates and the Stoics. In fact Plato told his students, “It may be that someday there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Greeks were still pondering the Logos and writing about it 700 years later when John wrote his gospel. It was common knowledge. So when John said the Word, the Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us, he was saying in response to Plato, “The Logos has come.”

As Dr. James Montgomery Boice tells it in Volume I of his commentary on John, the Apostle is saying, “Listen you Greeks, the very thing that has most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have been writing for centuries, the Logos of God, this word, this controlling power of the universe and of man’s mind, has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.” Now wouldn’t that be a blockbuster revelation to the Greeks? It was a stroke of divine literary genius the way the Holy Spirit inspired John to write it.

God became man. Marvin Olasky says to think about man becoming a cockroach and you have the slightest inkling what it must have been like for God to become man. The Logos, the Word, the controlling power of the universe became a man, full of grace and truth, and to what end? John 1:12 tells us: …to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Dear Christian friends, all the gifts given in the world this season cannot equate to that gift of a baby born in barn in Bethlehem. What manner of love is this that we should be called children of God? What manner of love is this that God humiliated himself and became a man born in the lowest estate for us? What manner of love is this that would suffer a hideous death that we might live with him forever? It is the infinite love of Almighty God, the Logos who controls our life and breath and being…born this day in the city of David…and he is Christ the Lord.

Excerpt from Grace in the Growing Season

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HOLOCAUST SUNDAY, Dec. 7, 1941

December 7, 2014

December, 1941. Mitsuo Fuchida, in the lead fighter plane high over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, radioed back to his aircraft carrier, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” before a single bomb was dropped. It was Japanese for “tiger,” the code word for “complete surprise.” At 7:53 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was the most target-rich environment ever witnessed by a fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. Ninety-six utterly unsuspecting U.S. warships were docked or moored dead in the water within a 1.25-mile radius of Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor, all plump dozing ducks early on a sunny Sunday morning. The only prize targets missing were the Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers, the Enterprise, the Saratoga and the Lexington, all providentially out to sea. Battleship row, consisting of the largest warships afloat—seven of the nine battleships in the Pacific Fleet—were rafted up in pairs nearly touching one another bow-to-stern in a straight line just offshore of the southeast shore of Ford Island. They were a broadside target impossible to miss by 350 Japanese dive-bombers, torpedo planes and fighters. Adjacent to the naval base at Pearl, on its southeast side, was Hickam Field with 394 warplanes parked in neat unprotected open rows so that a single strafing run could take out more than a dozen at a time.

Eleven hundred yards due south of the midpoint of battleship row, the heavy cruiser San Francisco, second largest warship in the harbor after the battleships, floated at the dock, stripped of ammo and defenseless in preparation for dry dock the next day. In the bottom bunk of a 10 by 10-foot officer’s stateroom just below the deck and above the waterline, slept Ensign John E. “Jack” Bennett, just graduated from Annapolis the previous February. He hadn’t been there all that long after a double date on the town the night before. He and Annapolis classmate Frank Welsh, serving on the battleship Arizona out in Battleship Row, had escorted two nurses from Queen’s Hospital to dinner at Laui Chai’s, a popular restaurant in Waikiki, followed by cocktails at the Moana Hotel lobby bar. In their haste to catch the last ship tender back to their ships before curfew, Jack had parked his yellow 1934 Buick Phaeton convertible (with the top stuck in the down position) in a “No Parking” zone near the Officers’ Club. Life was good in Honolulu for junior naval officers in December, 1941. They knew war was coming, convinced, as all young soldiers are, that they personally were immortal. They worked hard to prepare for it, but no one in Hawaii thought it was imminent on a party weekend eighteen days before Christmas.

The sound of deep thuds woke Jack. His world was quaking. Bombs and torpedoes were exploding in the harbor. He leaped to the porthole and looked out to see a Japanese Val dive-bomber, its fixed landing gear sporting teardrop wheel pants and a bright orange meatball painted on its fuselage just in front of its tail, strafing sailors running down the dock.

“This is it!” He shouted, as if he had been expecting it, to his roommate.

Topside chaos reigned. ….the air was full of the sound of aircraft engines accelerating in dives, cannon fire both incoming and outgoing, and explosions of bombs and torpedoes. The sky was a mad hornets’ nest of diving Japanese Zeros and Vals with Kate torpedo bombers skimming just above the surface of the Harbor to release their torpedoes. Jack reached up to adjust his ancient helmet just as a piece of white hot shrapnel ricocheted around his gun tub, clipping his thumb right in front of his eyes. Whipping out his handkerchief, he wrapped it around his thumb with hardly a thought. America’s Navy was getting the worst pummeling it had ever gotten, would ever get, and a bloody thumb would not deter young Jack.

Within an hour the enemy planes were gone, but after a one-hour nerve-wracking hiatus a second wave hit, a repeat performance of the first. When the sky grew quiet a second time, Pearl Harbor was a raging inferno with billowing black smoke obscuring vision. All seven battleships were put out of action, with the California, Arizona and Oklahoma resting on the bottom of the Harbor. In all 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged and 188 airplanes were destroyed and 159 damaged. 2,403 sailors—1,102 of them on the Arizona—and soldiers were dead and 1,178 wounded. Jack’s yellow Buick Phaeton—apparently an irresistible target to the Japanese pilots—also bit the dust, its bullet riddled carcass sat where he had parked it…with a parking ticket under the windshield wiper.

Dead sailors and debris floated all about the harbor. The bloodiest, costliest war in American history had begun with Japan’s sneak attack. For the next three years and eight months Jack Bennett was in the hottest part of those horrors. A year later he was in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the most ferocious sea battle in history, then in all five war patrols on the highly successful submarine, USS Queenfish. Fifty-five years later, after a career in nuclear subs and a hitch in Sacramento on Governor Ronald Reagan’s staff, Jack and I met and became best friends, and fought the greatest battle of all–the one for his soul. What an amazing life he had, thanks to Amazing Grace, and I sure miss him.

Excerpted from NO TIME TO WASTE   Reposted from Dec 7, 2010

COMING…

December 7, 2014

Advent: from the Latin word, adventus, a translation of the Greek word, parousia, properly meaning “coming,”  commonly referring to the Second Coming of Christ (Strong’s Concordance).

We tend to think of Advent as a four week  preparation for Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of Christ,  the Son of God come to earth as a frail human being in the humblest of circumstances. The most important event in the history of man is surely worth celebrating.  It was foretold over 250 times by Old Testament prophets over four thousand years, since Genesis 3. No other world religion can lay claim to such amazing prophecy fulfillment stretching over four millennia. No human could conceive a story as fantastical as God’s historical nonfiction narrative of creation, fall, and redemption as told in the Bible—a worldview to end all worldviews.

But the word “Advent” really calls us to remember and be prepared for His second coming. As surely as Christ came the first time to suffer and die to redeem His chosen people, in fulfillment of His promises through the prophets, even more assuredly He will come again to fulfill His New Testament promises from his own lips. The Son of our Sovereign God thrice repeated this promise, among His last words in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible: “And behold, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:7), Behold, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:12), Surely, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:20).

This Advent Season the world is a swirling wilderness of  immorality, apostasy, and barbarism; growing Christian persecution and legalized sin; and dangerously dysfunctional civil government, foreshadowing the tribulation to come (Rev. 7:14). It is not unlike the fallen world Christ was born into 2000 years ago, and still graphically demonstrates the need for His first coming as a Redeemer of lost souls. We rejoice, with humble gratitude, at such an act of incomprehensible love: “born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord “ (Luke 2:11). So celebrate the Babe, anticipate the King. Cling tenaciously, with joyous assurance, to that unbreakable triple promise of His second coming. This time He’ll come as conquering King of Kings to gather His sheep from among the devil’s own goats, and take them to be where He is, in paradise forever…while the goats will smolder for eternity (Matt. 13:41-43). His sheep know His voice and they follow Him (John 10:27). Do you?

A SKEPTIC’S PRAYER

November 30, 2014

 

1.) FIRST THIS HAPPENS:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

2.) IT LEADS TO THIS:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

3.) AND RESULTS IN THIS:

…“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

4.) ABSENT #1 and #2, THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE IS THIS:

So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:49-50). And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:47-8).

5.) IF YOU’RE NOT LIVING #2, DECEIVING YOURSELF ABOUT #3, AND TRYING TO  DENY #4, PRAY FOR #1. PERSIST TILL EFFICACIOUS:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).

A SKEPTIC’S PRAYER:

God, if you are there, I just want you to know I don’t get it. John 3:16 sounds wonderful, but I can’t wrap my mind around it.  A few verses earlier you said I must be “born again” before I can see and understand such things, and that just blows my mind. I had no control over my first birth!

I’ve made so many mistakes in my life that a supernatural do-over certainly has appeal. If you are real, God, and nothing really is impossible for you, then open my eyes to your reality. I want to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, that he was crucified to save me (!) from my sins (?) because he loved me so much before I was even born, but that is beyond my comprehension. What manner of love is this? I want to be one of those “whoever’s” who sincerely  believe in your Son and have eternal life in that heavenly place with one who loves me that much, but you’re going to have to work a major transformation of my mind.

If belief in you is a gift from you, would you please give it to me? I come weary, loaded down with skepticism, a dearth of understanding, a gnawing, confusing emptiness somewhere deep inside, and stark terror at the thought that a fiery furnace in hell might be my eternal destiny. If you could remedy all this in some miraculous way, I would be forever grateful. Here am I. Change me.

A Review of Tim Keller’s new book on Prayer

November 8, 2014

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

I think it takes some courage for a reformed pastor/author to use the word “experiencing” in a book title. We “frozen chosen” conservative Presbyterians are known (infamously?) for our pride of doctrinal correctness, and we don’t want to be confused with Charismatics and Pentecostals. We are well aware of the dangers of “affections outrunning light” (John Owen), leading to superstition and mysticism. We strive to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and we pray for grace to lead us to all knowledge of the breadth and depth and height of God’s electing love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). We know that God is God and we are not, regardless of our state of mind, mood, or circumstances. We know that feelings are sinking sand as a foundation for salvation. We know that God is sovereign over whatsoever comes to pass, that there is not an aberrant atom anywhere, and we cannot talk him into anything that is not in his will, try as we might with our daily laundry list of petitions. We know the Holy Spirit of the Triune God dwells in us, even if we cannot scientifically explain how, but too often we do not bear the fruit of that miracle in this fallen world, nor do we pray to him in a manner that manifests that amazing grace showered daily upon us.

But Tim Keller can talk to me about “experiencing the awe and intimacy” of the King of Kings in prayer. He planted a church in the heart of New York City 25 years ago, perhaps the hardest ground in America to sow the seeds of the gospel, and today it has 5000 young members, with 250 more churches planted in cities around the world. A godly man with such an extraordinary harvest will have my attention on any subject he feels led to talk about between Genesis and Revelation. And no subject concerns me more than this one.

I have never been satisfied with the quality of my personal prayer life. My undisciplined mind wanders all over the place when I pray alone. I get so frustrated I start all over again. I’ve started all over again a greater percentage of the time than I will confess to anyone except God. My private daily prayers are a shopping list of what I want from God, and I’ve said them for so many years that they’ve become mindless mantras—mere yoga chants. I even shamefully confess that I recently caught myself praying for the salvation of a friend who died 5 years ago. God must listen to me and shake his head. If his grace had not convinced me he loves me infinitely anyway, I would have given up years ago.

Tim Keller’s book, in the providence of God, has given me another chance to get it right, after 71 years, and I am so optimistic and excited I feel like the kid who found the actual pony under the Christmas tree. The book has been a breakthrough for  me. It’s classic biblical exegesis—sound doctrinal teaching from scripture on prayer followed by nuts and bolts application that makes perfect sense, with large dollops of advice from those great titans of the faith, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. I admit the lessons on prayer he relates from these three men of God were not new to me—I have read them all in their own words on that very subject, but Keller’s 21st century intellectual style was precisely on my wavelength all the way down to the second decimal place. His 25 years of experience communicating with brilliant skeptical (toward the things of God) minds in a city where only the best and brightest can make it, has paid dividends that will reward Christendom for ages to come, just like his mentors, Augustine, Luther and Calvin.

Far better minds than mine have reviewed this book, so go here to read an excellent one that coincides with my take on it. With the invention of the Kindle reader coinciding with my retirement a few years ago, and with the consequent availability of Puritan writings—my favorite—at a cost of anywhere from 99 cents to nothing, my consumption of great books has increased ten-fold. I think that Keller’s latest work will join the top tier of Christian classics, the best book yet from the pen of a man of God who has already written a number of great books. And here’s an interview, both manuscript and audio, with Keller on this book at John Piper’s website. Buy the book and be blessed… and your eternal soul will be grateful.

Our God reigns.

AN EXHORTATION AT THE FUNERAL OF HERB THE HORRIBLE

November 1, 2014

Sarasota, FL. Oct. 27, 2014. Thank you all for coming today, to share with us in the celebration of Herb Anderson’s life, and to share in our grief, and to worship together the living God who made us all, and numbered our days before the first one came to pass (Psalm 139:16). Let us seek comfort in the only place true comfort exists, in the innerant Word of God our Father and Jesus Christ His son, whom He sent to die on the cross for us, an act of incomprehensible love for sinners like us, so undeserving. And believing in Him and who He was and what He did for us, we might spend eternity with Him in the Mansions of our LORD. But my voice can only convey God’s eternal truth to the ear, the Holy Spirit must convey it from the ear to the heart. Please pray with me that He will do that very thing here in the next few minutes.

Holy Spirit, convey your truth to our hearts this day. Fall afresh on us. Work in our sad and grieving hearts that peace that passes all understanding. As we see up close and so painfully personally the reality of death that awaits us all, please open our eyes to your truth and our hearts to your infinite love beyond our deserving. Holy Spirit of the living God, fill our lives with love and gratitude…make us one in heart and mind, make us one in love; humble, caring, selfless, sharing. In Christ our Savior’s name we pray, Amen.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). The Lord gave us Herb, and the Lord has taken him away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

My earliest recollection of Herb was at age 12 at the Henderson Country Fair in western Illinois. The fair was the height of the summer social season for Midwestern farm boys—the sap-filled boys of summer. Herb often went home with the Grand Champion Trophy for his Hereford Steers. We got into a lot of mischief at the county fair. In fact we got into a lot of mischief throughout our teenage years, and were walking proof that God is indeed merciful—we both survived adolescence without incarceration. We went to different schools but were in the same conference and played football against one another. Herb also had an extensive collection of water skiing trophies and ribbons—a multi-talented jock. And to top it off he was an excellent ballroom dancer, taught by his Mom. He was the only country boy I ever knew who did such a thing, and none of his contemporaries dared tease him about it—the advantage of being the biggest, orneriest kid in the county. And of course, as a result he got all the girls. We lost track of one another after we grew up and moved away from rural Illinois, but reconnected about 18 years later, in 1979, when we both found ourselves here in Sarasota, FL, a lovely, quiet little beach town in those days, accept for a few months in the winter season. We became close friends then, fishing and sailing and tent camping and canoeing Florida’s rivers. One summer I talked him into joining me on a men’s retreat called Walk to Emmaus, an intense spiritual experience, as it turned out—an encounter with the Living God and Jesus Christ, his Son whom He sent to save lost sinners like Herb and me. Half way thru the weekend Herb whispered to me during a break in the program: “I’m going over the fence tonight. I can’t stand this. Are you coming with me?” By God’s grace I talked him out of that, and by the time the weekend was over Herb was a changed man, as his wife can attest. He then sat under the teaching of Pastor Larry Edison at Covenant Life Presbyterian Church for many years, and we had the most lively discussions of God’s eternal truths during our sailing and camping trips. Then he met a lovely southern belle named Barb, and she was all he could talk about. There was only one problem, in his view. “JD, he says, “she’s high maintenance.” Well, he decided she was worth it and they were married in our living room overlooking Robert’s Bay on Siesta Key. And I can stand here today, having known Herb most of my 71 years, and tell you she was the best thing that ever happened to him, the greatest blessing that I ever saw God bestow on him. And then, in his illness he became the highest maintenance imaginable for an unimaginable length of time (7 years) for his beloved bride, and through it all she was a Proverbs 31 wife if there ever was one in this darkening, degenerate age in which we live. God bless you and keep you, dear Barb.

Now let me share with you all some of those eternal truths Herb and I gloried in under sail on sunny days in the Gulf off Siesta Key, and around campfires throughout the state.

Hear and meditate on these words on the unchanging character of God as he has revealed himself to us in the Holy Bible, from Psalm 145:17-21:

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.The Lord is near to all who call on him,to all who call on him in truth.He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;he also hears their cry and saves them.The Lord preserves all who love him,but all the wicked he will destroy.My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

The Hebrew word here translated LORD in all capital letters emphasizes our covenant keeping God, that is, our promise-keeping God. He makes some wonderful promises in the Bible, promises that will not, cannot be broken. God does not change his mind or break his promises. As we are gathered here today, confronted with the hard, overwhelming reality of death, let us look to some of these promises as the only true comfort we have in life and death. I speak to you as a dying man speaking to dying men and women, offering you, begging you to receive these promises in your heart and cling to them, trust in them, as absolute truth, the only hope we have in life and death.

From John 3:16, Jesus’ own words: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Here is God himself, the Son of God, promising us that believing in Him, believing he is who he said he was, believing his promises, gains us eternal life with him. Doesn’t that strike you as an amazing reward for the simple act of believing? It’s a radical promise indeed from a promise-keeping, Almighty God. He does not promise that whoever believes in Him and keeps his nose clean and works hard enough in his life and scores well enough on the judgment day exam will have eternal life. He says whoever believes in him, period, as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible, should not perish but have eternal life. No caveats, no ifs, no buts, no divine loopholes. Martin Luther called this the gospel in a nutshell. Gospel means good news. Now tell me, can you think of news that could be better than that. It is as good as good news can get. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Pastor/author Tim Keller said, “If I believe that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected in my place, then I don’t have to have great faith, I don’t have to have a surrendered heart, I don’t have to have a perfect life, I just have to believe and I am saved!”

One day soon, perhaps very soon, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

Hear another promise, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9: …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Same promise, different words. That God raised Jesus from the dead, an extraordinary miracle, the first of many as the Bible says in another place, is the basis for our knowing that believers will rise from the dead to eternal life with Him. But note Paul says believe in your heart. You may profess belief, but it must be sincere, from the depths of your heart. God will not be mocked, and he knows your words before you speak them. And if you believe with your heart you will joyfully confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. And you will be saved. That’s as good as the good news can get.

A third and final promise—there are many more in the Bible—a third and final promise for your comfort this day. From John 14:6, Jesus’ own words again: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Not a fashionable promise in this culture that celebrates religious diversity, all the quaint little customs of a thousand religions. But Jesus said he is the only way: No one comes to the Father except through me. Again…radical. And Jesus gives you two choices. You can either believe He is who He says He is or you can write Him off as a lying crackpot. He offers or accepts no middle ground, such as “a nice guy who offered a lot of good advice but not the son of God…” or “a nice guy but surely not the only way to heaven.” Neither is an option. In Jesus’ own plain and simple words: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Dear ones, please give these promises of God very serious consideration. Where you spend eternity depends on it. In the privacy of your bedroom ask God to open your eyes to His truth, to work in your heart this amazing gift of faith, of belief in his promises. Let us pray.

Dear Father, you have promised that because you so loved the world you sent your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal with live with you. O God, you have promised that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is our LORD, who died for our sins, who miraculously rose from the dead and if we believe it with all our hearts we shall be saved. Saved from eternal damnation in the outer darkness where there is never-ending weeping and gnashing of teeth to an everlasting life of incomprehensible joy that no eye has seen, no ear heard nor mind conceived that you have prepared for those who love you and trust in your unbreakable promises. By your Amazing Grace, Holy God, fill us to overflowing with that gift of faith, that faith that we cannot conjure up on our own, that faith that must be bestowed upon us by your Holy Spirit. O Lord we plead with you as unworthy beggars on our knees, forgive us for our shameful ingratitude, our indifference to the grace you shower upon us minute by minute, that grace that we inhale with every breath we take, that grace that we are so painfully made aware of when the life of a beloved friend, husband, father, grandfather, and uncle ends. Thank you for bringing Herb Anderson into our lives. We pray Lord, that at this very moment he is weeping in joy beyond words in your presence, as we weep in grief at his absence. Soothe our aching hearts with that peace that passes all understanding that comes from You alone, and in whom we give all the praise and glory. In Christ our Savior’s name we pray, Amen.

A reminiscence of Herb’s life: The Sad, Sad, Story of Herb the Horrible

PROXIMATE EVIL AND ULTIMATE GOOD: A HALLOWEEN ALLEGORY

October 24, 2014

 

My lexicon defines allegory as a work of art in which a deeper meaning underlies the superficial meaning. This story is an allegory—only God and I know if it is a work of truth, half-truth, or no truth, and hopefully it is told in an artful way.

The most dangerous season of the year growing up in the country in pre-indoor plumbing days was Halloween, and the most perilous prank, for body and soul, was upsetting outhouses. The day has pagan origins, and I can’t think of anything more pagan than upsetting thy neighbor’s outhouse. Like most sins, it was an attractive sport, and no other caper matched the testosterone rush so crucial to male adolescent development.

The most memorable conquest of all my Halloweens was the night we laid Gobbler Hollis’s big three-holer on its back. There were four of us: Stick, Face, Neg, and me. “Neg” was short for negative, an allusion to his IQ. The other two names had prurient connotations and are best left unexplained.

Gobbler farmed 240 flat-as-a-tabletop acres five miles south of Stronghurst, a village of 950 souls in western Illinois. His outhouse was behind a large coal shed located in the back yard. Both structures, made of wood, were about fifty yards from the back door of the big old two-story farmhouse and twenty feet in front of the barnyard fence.

We had a full moon that night, which was good and bad. It allowed us to see what we were doing, but it was so bright that it also kept Gobbler’s attack rooster awake and crowing at the moon. The rooster, with his 100-hen harem, had the run of the barnyard. Our strategy called for a semi-circular approach though the pasture, over a couple of woven wire fences and across the barnyard to the outhouse—out of shotgun range from the back door of the house—but that cocky rooster considered any moving thing inside the barnyard fence a major threat to his masculinity. (He had such a prodigious libido that Gobbler’s wife, Glennis, short and beamy, always had plenty of what she called “egg money” tucked in her cleavage. She had room for a lot of egg money.)

We were forced to double back around and make an assault through the front and side yard of Gobbler’s house. It was Indian summer, the windows were open and we could hear Gobbler snoring as we sneaked by the side of the house. Gobbler was not a little guy; he had height and awesome girth. If his shoelaces ever got tied, it was because Glennis tied them. He bore an uncanny resemblance to his namesake, both in form and movement. It was his size and terrible temper that had kept his outhouse upright in Halloweens past.

There were several obstacles in the yard to circumvent and remember. Remembering was important because, unlike ingress, which was slow and stealthy, egress was always at top speed and maximum panic.

Once past the side yard we had to traverse the rhubarb patch, which was well above knee high, and six rows of popcorn still standing right behind the rhubarb. Both should have been harvested by now, but Gobbler never got in a hurry about such things. Folks said that with ten kids he had other priorities.

The clothesline, consisting of two strands of number nine wire, Adam’s apple high, stretched the width of the back yard. Its only break was midway, where the boardwalk led from the back door of the house to the outhouse.

Staying in the deepest shadows, we arrived safely at our target hidden behind the coal shed. The hen house was nearby, just ten feet beyond the barnyard fence. In the still of the night we could hear the hens fluttering and intermittently pluck-plucking their way through the night. The rooster stood frozen at the door of his castle, head cocked, watching our every move.

Then we got a second bad break. A cloud floated by and hid the moon. It got dark as the inside of a cow as four adolescent heart rates approached their anaerobic limits. We were panting like pups as we felt our way around the outhouse. The night air was warm and humid, making it a noxious, eye-watering experience.

For all the heavy traffic it had to handle, it was not a sturdy structure. There was only one way to tip it over and that was backwards. The door was in the middle front, facing the coal shed, and opened inward, leaving precious little solid wall for four teenaged vandals to push against, and the coal shed was so close it allowed a very poor angle of attack.

The trick was to carefully tilt the outhouse past the point where it would fall backwards on its own. Anyone who’s ever done it, and there are probably very few of us vets still around, knows that to reach that point, especially on those big multi-holers, you had to lean well out across that odoriferous abyss. It can’t be a slam-bang kind of thing, like Nagurski slanting off-tackle, or you’ll end up face-down at the bottom of the pit. And if you’re really having a bad day the unit will settle back down where it came from and there you are without a paddle.

Well, Neg was so scared he asked if it would be okay if he used the facility before we upset it. We said, “Yeah, but make it quick,” and he opened the creaking door and went on in. The sound of him tearing pages out of the Sears catalogue seemed sufficient to wake the dead. When he rejoined us we went over our escape routes one last time. It would be four different directions approximately thirty degrees apart. Twelve-gauge birdshot probably wouldn’t kill anybody, but the pattern of one shell with split wads would be wide enough to put welts on the backsides of four boys running side by side.

Midnight. Zero hour. We took up our positions and four shoulders leaned against the outhouse wall. Slowly, amid grunts and heavy breathing, it began to tilt until we got it to the balance point. Stick, the shortest one of the bunch, was stretched out so far his whole body was trembling, setting up a harmonic wave in the whole rickety structure. On a whispered count of three we gave it the last tweak it needed to come under gravity’s spell. At the same instant the moon came out from behind the cloud, and that macho rooster began to crow.

The rest is just a muddle of sounds and sights overlaid with heart-stopping fright. I remember the deafening sound of crashing lumber as the outhouse disintegrated on contact, followed by the siren sound of Glennis’ call to battle. Boy, did she have a set of lungs. I vaguely recall a noise like a hog in a mud wallow. That would have been Stick. (We made him ride in the back of the pick-up all the way back to town.) I’ll never forget hearing what sounded like the roar of a distraught bull, followed by someone going through a door without bothering to open it, and followed by heavy artillery at close range. There were the sounds of kids crying and screaming, chickens carrying on like there was a skunk in the hen house, and the yowl of a cat in pain. I decided later, judging from the scratches on my leg, that I must have stepped on the cat during my egress. The only other sound was the dull thud of someone landing hard on the ground. It occurred to me, as I legged it through the night at Mach I, overdosed on adrenaline, that maybe Gobbler was firing deer slugs and somebody was dead, prompting me to kick in an afterburner I didn’t know I had. But we learned later that it was just Face trying to decapitate himself on the clothesline.

Miraculously, we all escaped with only superficial battle damage. I can only attribute it to a merciful God, who, for reasons beyond my comprehension, chose not to punish mischievous young men who were trying their best to get into trouble.

Other ultimate good came from that proximate evil the devil made us do. Gobbler replaced his shattered wooden edifice with a brick structure that stands to this day.

Excerpt from Grace in the Growing Season

ONE MORE DANCE

October 10, 2014

It had been 28 years since I had danced the wild blue in a jet fighter—even the dream of ever doing it again had died. Civilian life has been good but I’ve never totally adapted to the dearth of airborne adrenalin. I did my duty and war is a terrible thing, but I confess to missing the camaraderie of passionate patriots who fly alone in fast airplanes, who willingly challenge the Grim Reaper for God, duty, honor and country. Truth be known I also miss that near psychotic love affair with an inanimate object, that single-engine, single-seat, sweptwing angel of death with soul of titaniumF-100D 4 ship and steel—an F-100 Super Sabre. (Picture from Bud Day’s collection) We were intimate so often (268 combat missions in 360 days) that when we slipped the surly bonds man mated with machine and the ailerons, elevator and rudder became extensions of the hands and feet. Complex maneuvers that seemed so hard to master in the beginning required no conscious thought in the heat of battle. And my lover never once let me down. (Neither did the Lover of my soul, which is the real reason I’m here to tell about it.)

Then, in His providence, in October of ’99, after addressing a graduating class of new fighter pilots at Luke Air Force F-16s threeBase near Phoenix, Arizona, I was offered a terrific honorarium—one more dance, a flight in the Pegasus of American airpower at the turn of the third millennium, the F-16 Viper. (Picture thanks to F-16.net)

Two hours prior to takeoff four highly disciplined, enthusiastic fighter pilots and one excited alumnus trying to suck it in and look cool began a pre-flight briefing as if it were the real thing. Sadly, in the ensuing 45 years since my last real thing, it has been real again tens of thousands of times for America’s fighter pilots. As Plato said, “Only dead men have seen an end to war.”

At the appointed hour we walked out to the flight line and the finest office an executive at Fearless Fighter Pilots, Inc. could ever want. I climbed the ladder, ducked under the canopy, shoe-horned my body into the back office of a two-seat F-16 and lay back in the same position I assume in my favorite recliner. It’s a mighty comfy way to go to war. If only technology could provide similar psychological comfort in the fur ball of air combat….

On takeoff roll it was immediately apparent this was neither your father’s aeroplane nor my beloved old F-100. In fact it put my Super Sabre in a class with Davy Crockett’s musket. We accelerated like a .44-magnum slug, and for the next hour I was Dirty Harry with ten thousand times the firepower. Unlike Harry’s weapon, this sophisticated heat does much of the thinking…and can outrun its own bullets.

Our target was a simulated missile site deep in the heart of southwest Arizona. We sneaked up on it at 500 knots and 500 feet, more or less, above the jackrabbits and mesquite, with a sultry, feminine voice reminding us when we were too low. As we approached a ragged ridgeline, Gordo, in the front seat, pulled up abruptly into a 30-degree climb and rocketed over the top of the ridge. From 12,000 feet up we spied the target at our nine o’clock low and dove on it, rolling into 135 degrees of bank and a five “g” turn while pulling the nose down through the horizon. When we were lined up on the target, the Viper pirouetted on its nose as Gordo rolled right side up in a nanosecond and pickled off the bomb.

Bomb away, followed by the anaconda squeeze of my g-suit inflating in a dive recovery that felt like a square corner. When pointed back toward heaven with the g’s unloaded, there ensued a reflexive rearward crank of the head to observe the fruit of our labors. That part hasn’t changed in all the years of air-to-ground gunnery—only the flexibility of the neck attests to the march of time.

For all its thrills, there were some key aspects of my wartime sorties thankfully missing. No Fourth of July fireworks here, just a puff of smoke as a small inert bomb hit the ground. And the mind was spared the remarkably focusing effect of flak in the face—the terror and ecstasy of being shot at and missed.

Arriving back at the base we flew initial approach 1000 feet above the runway in 4-plane echelon right formation, a spine tingling sight from any angle. Myriad memories came to mind—battle-damaged planes…adrenaline depleted and body exhausted…the grief of a missing wingman. Mostly I recalled the thrill of coming home victorious, of rescuing the grunts from the infidels, junking trucks and AAA sites,  and conquering my fear while jinking in the cross-hairs of enemy. At 3-second intervals each Viper snapped smartly into a 60-degree banked left-turn and all rolled out in single file pointed the opposite direction on the downwind leg to landing.

Then a descending 180-degree turn put us on final approach, and our Viper kissed the concrete with nose in the air at a haughty angle. My brief, intense, middle-aged fling with a supersonic angel was over. It had been a wondrous waltz around the wild blue in the company of gung-ho young men in their fabulous flying machines. God bless ‘em all. And as it turned out, that was not my last dance, but that’s a story of Amazing Grace for another day, or here:

Excerpt from Grace in the Growing Season

The End of the Isaiah 6:3 Tour

September 18, 2014

After 6.5 of the happiest years of our lives, the Isaiah 6:3 Tour of the USA in an RV came to an end this past summer, and we can confirm that the whole earth (the continental USA portion) is indeed full of His glory. We are now settled in a permanent residence (without wheels under it) in Mason, OH, the 7th best place to live in America, according to Money Magazine. We heartily endorse everything Money said about this beautiful hilly, wooded suburb northeast of Cincinnati. In fact, we’ve been a lot of places on this continent on the Isaiah 6:3 Tour, and we think the magazine’s ranking is a bit low, but then the selection committee probably didn’t have grandchildren living nearby.

I had some serious concerns about my ability to flourish in a fixed base operation after 6.5 years on the road. Opening the window shades in the morning (on average, every third morning) and feasting my eyes on a brand new drop-dead view of “God’s magnificent theater” (Calvin) was an addictive part of the RVing lifestyle. living room 1Well, God in His amazing grace has provided an antidote: a 52-inch flat screen HDTV with an Amazon Fire TV box and Amazon Prime TV instant video. Among Amazon Prime’s 40,000 free movies are an as yet uncounted number of high definition videos of natural scenic grandeur—many of them aerial views—of lots of the places we have been and innumerably more around the world. It is so realistic it is like having a large window in our living room looking out on all the most beautiful places on the planet! It runs with audio (usually elevator music) off all day long in our house. In fact, before I even turn on the coffee pot in the morning I open that window on whatever part of God’s magnificent creation that suits my fancy. It greatly enhances my morning devotions.  Jonathan Edwards called nature God’s greatest evangelist. Amen! Meditating on God’s word while gazing at His glorious handiwork is another amazing aspect of grace.  And it all costs well under a grand, which is considerably less that a 35’ fifth wheel and diesel truck.

Not least of the attractions here is the Little Miami RiverLittle miami biking 1 biking/hiking trail that goes from Cincinnati in SW Ohio all the way northeast to the Great Lakes. We can jump on it just 4 miles from home and it is a heavenly green leafy tunnel on the river bank with world class sunbeams in early morning, and an avian choir that elevates and accompanies the spirits in adoration of the Creator of it all.  Luther said, “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds…” We joyfully flew through nine  miles of spectacular gospel on our bikes on a  clear, crisp September morning. If only I could glorify God as much as I enjoy Him.

It is my hope,  on this latter-day leg of our heaven-bound journey, that since we are no longer a moving target, the book muse will not have so much trouble finding my door and she will knock more often. I still would rather write and speak than eat. I’ve begun a remodel of my author web site, with some new commentary on the home page, for starters. The ebook version of “No one…,” the only thing I NOONE cover for flyerhave ever written that might avoid the dumpster at my demise, has been reduced in price, finally, from $6.99 to $2.99. I negotiated the return of my ebook rights to that book from the good folks at Christian Focus Publications, and drastically dropped the price. Publishers have significant overhead costs to cover—mine are puny by comparison. God has set an amazingly low price on salvation. I think that the unworthy witness who was given a new heart and eyes to see and accept that best eternal bargain the world will ever know, and who now stands beside the narrow road and points the way, should reflect that same grace. I can’t speak for other readers, but I’ll take a chance on almost any book for $2.99. Check it out here if you are so moved.

Our God reigns.


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