St. Patrick’s Day 2018

I posted this blog last year, but it bears repeating, especially since my sister found out how much of our family descends from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.  If you read it then, you probably have forgotten the details anyway.

Growing up Protestant, we did not know much about St. Patrick.  All we knew was that in elementary school you were supposed to wear some green on St. Patty’s Day or you would get pinched.  But there is so much more to the story, even if some of it is kind of lost in time.

The dates are kind of uncertain, but he apparently lived through the early 400’s, growing up in Roman occupied Britain, although the exact location of his boyhood home is sometimes given as Cumbria, England, sometimes Wales and sometimes Scotland.  His family was Christian, but Patrick did not have a personal faith in Christ in his early years.  As a teenager, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle where he lived as a slave for years.   During that time he came to believe in Christ for himself.  After six years, he escaped and returned home to Britain.

He then studied for the priesthood.  After ordination, he returned to Ireland and lived out his life bringing the Gospel to the mostly pagan island.  Again, details are sketchy, but he walked from one end of the island to the other starting churches and doing acts of Christian charity.  It was said that when he arrived in Ireland the land was mostly pagan. When he died it was mostly Christian.  That is quite a legacy.

As non-Catholics, many of us are only recently beginning to appreciate the work of this early saint.  And since, at the time, there was only the Roman Catholic church in western Europe, he is part of our history as well.  There may not be any St. Patrick’s United Methodist churches (or Presbyterian, Baptist or Lutheran), but we can certainly learn much from this man who lived his life to spread the faith.

One of the things I really respect about Patrick is that he returned to the place of his original enslavement to share Christ.  That took extraordinary courage and love.  After leaving that part of his life behind, he came back to face the people who captured him and made him a slave.  Only the love of Christ would enable him to do that.  And he toiled for the rest of his life to bring the freedom of Christ to those who had once taken his freedom.  He brought a message of real freedom to those who were enslaved to their pagan beliefs.

He used the shamrock plant to illustrate the Trinity to the children and it became so identified with him that you cannot separate the man from the herb.

He probably did not drive the snakes out of Ireland.  There is no evidence snakes ever lived on the Irish island.  But he did drive out the serpent of unbelief and replace it with a vibrant Christian church.

So enjoy the parties, parades, and for those who partake, green beer.  But realize that the man behind the celebration was so much more.  And he is a part of all of our western Christian history.  Especially those of us who had an Irish grandfather and a Scottish grandmother.  Let us reclaim our history with the same kind of dedication that our spiritual ancestor showed.

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Sledding on the Street

Recent weather forecasts have shown that winter is not over for much of the United States.  So I still have time to share another winter memory from childhood.  As I stated in a previous blog, we lived in the city of Spokane, WA, from the fall of 1956 until around Christmas of 1957.  We lived in a neighborhood on what was called the “south hill”, which climbed from the Spokane River in the center of town up to a plateau at the south edge of town.  During the winter, the city helped us to make the snowy streets more fun.  A couple of blocks from our house was Ivory Street, a normally quiet residential street.  It ran from near the top of the hill at 16th Avenue down to our street, 1oth Avenue.  It was an uninterrupted hill for six blocks.  During the winter, at least for part of it, the city would block off Ivory from traffic going up and down it, and restrict cross traffic to allow the kids and adults to climb the hill and sled down for a good long ride.

They also provided warming fires along the way in big 55 gallon drums.  It was a wonderland for us kids.  We could sled down one block or get adventurous and climb all the way to the top of hill and slide to the bottom.  I don’t know how long they did that or if they still do, but for an 8 or 9-year-old, it was great and it was free.

And it was a great way to burn off energy.  There is nothing more difficult than pulling a sled up an icy street for several blocks.  But the payoff was the ride down.  The more energy used, the greater the reward.  As the old saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”

Sometimes, in life, we seek to avoid difficulties but by doing so, we also avoid victories.  There may be some joy in sitting on the sidelines cheering, but it is no substitute for actually participating in the game.  I enjoy being a fan, but I remember the joy of being on a winning team and it is much better.  Even losing, while giving our best, can be therapeutic.  And it can be a learning experience.  We learn what to avoid and what to strengthen.

What have you been afraid to do?  Is it something that might benefit you or someone else?  Why not make the effort?  Step out of your comfort zone and try something new.  You might find you like it, or you might find that it is not for you.  It could be something God has prepared you for all your life.  But you will never know until you give it a try.

When we arrived at Ivory Street, dragging our sleds behind us, we first took it easy.  Climbing one block and sliding down was actually exhilarating at first.  But after a few times, we wanted to go for more.  So we slipped and slid and climbed the icy street another block until by the end of the day, we had made at least one run from the very top.  It was a tough climb to get there, but the ride down was worth it.  And it made for lasting memories.

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Rest in Peace, Billy

Almost everyone has some sort of Billy Graham story.  Some are positive and some are negative, but at some level, most of us have some memory of this unique individual.  He was human and had his flaws, yet his impact on our world cannot be denied.  Over the years there have been many men and women who have lived lives that challenged and strengthened the Christian faith.  Some changed the landscape forever and some were only limited in their impact.  Over the almost 2,000 years since Jesus death and resurrection, many have been instrumental in bringing the message of Christ to others around the world.  The apostle Paul was the first.  There were many that followed.

Then in the reformation movement there were several that helped transform the church:  Luther, Calvin, Knox and later in England Wesley.  In the last two centuries there were great missionaries that crossed oceans and continents, and evangelists that focused primarily on the United States.  Billy Graham followed in the footsteps of Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, and his contemporary, Oral Roberts.  But he also took the message of Christ to many countries around the globe like the great missionaries of the past, such as Mother Theresa.

His impact is hard to quantify.  Only time will tell whether his efforts have long term results, but he went wherever he could and went into nations that were closed to others to bring the message of love and forgiveness.

Basically, he preached the same message every time:  “You are lost.  Jesus came to find you.  Let Jesus rescue you.”  Only the packaging changed over the years.  And the way the message was proclaimed.    While he continued to hold mass evangelistic services, he also embraced print and broadcast media as well.  His weekly radio broadcasts were soon overshadowed by television specials, and eventually full length movies.  And the digital age allowed his message to also come into homes around the globe at the same time.

My earliest memory of Billy Graham goes back to my childhood.  I watched him preach on television, mesmerized by his down-to-earth delivery and the hundreds that responded to his invitation to “Come down to the front of the auditorium” and accept Christ as your personal savior.  I had a card beside my bed when I was 11 or 12 that glowed in the dark.  It showed his schedule and where in the world he was at the time and invited us to pray for him there.  I did.

He also helped with my love life.  In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I dated a girl a couple years younger than me.  She was being raised by a single mother who was a little apprehensive about this older boy dating her little girl.  One night she and I were alone in her house watching Billy Graham preach at some revival.  When her mother returned to find us watching that on TV, she was relieved to see that I, as a preacher’s kid, did not fit into the negative strereotype of some minister’s kids.  From then on, her mother was one of my biggest fans.  When we broke up, I think her mother was more upset than my ex-girlfriend.

I attended a few services at which Graham team members were preaching, but never saw him in person.  But whatever his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did was strictly above board.  There was never a hint of scandal about their activities.  Financial matters were handled in a transparent way and there was never a story that any of the team members had acted holy but lived unholy lives.

He was a hero of my late wife, Deborah, who read many of his books and books about him.  We visited “the Cove” near Asheville, NC, three times, and the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, once.  They were always a source of spiritual renewal.  And for that, I am grateful.

One of my friends from my Doctor of Ministry group traces his spiritual journey back to its beginning, watching Billy preach on television and praying with him at the end of the broadcast.  I am sure that story can be told of many others as well.  So what is your memory of Billy Graham?  What did his life and ministry mean to you?

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Why Does God Allow Evil? (2018)

I addressed this subject six months ago, but with the recent shooting in Florida, I sadly feel the need to repeat it.  With the death of Rev. Billy Graham, there have been several soundbites of his statements.  One of them was where he responds to the same question.  His honest response is, “I really don’t know.”  I cannot state my answer with certainty either, but this is what has been the most helpful answer to me.  It was first in a column I wrote for the Huntsville Times newspaper in 2012.

On a warm spring evening in 1972, in the small west-central Wisconsin town where I was a youth pastor, trouble seemed a world away, or at least an hour away in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  When 16-year-old “Patty Hanson” went to bed, the world seemed so safe.  A few hours later, that changed.  She awakened sometime during the night to find a stranger in her bedroom. He held a knife to her throat and told her to be quiet or he would kill her and her parents down the hall.  Then he took her outside into the field and raped her.  All the while she was praying and telling him he did not have to do this and that God would forgive him.  Fortunately, when he was done, he let her go back to her home. But her life was forever changed.

In the youth group we had discussed where evil came from, but all of a sudden it became real.  It was no longer abstract.  “Why does God allow things like this to happen?” “If God is all-powerful, couldn’t He have prevented this?”  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”   “Is there really a God after all?”

This scene plays out every time something horrific happens.  This is evil perpetrated by human beings.  Sometimes it is in the form of a Hitler or a Pol Pot, and sometimes it is in the form of a married father who lives nearby and has become obsessed with the innocent, vivacious teenager who gets out of the bus while he waits behind it for a chance to pass.

For me, the answer to why God allows such things comes from logic, but that is not much comfort to someone in the depths of suffering.  Theology talks about God’s perfect will, which is that all live in happiness and fulfillment, and God’s permissive will, which allows human beings the freedom to fail.  To have a real victory, there has to be the possibility of failure.  In order for us to follow God voluntarily, the possibility also has to exist to reject God’s will as well.

Tommy loves chocolate chip cookies and knows the cookie jar is full of them.  Mommy tells him not to eat any because it is too close to meal time.  Then she goes to do something in another part of the house.  But before she leaves, she puts the cookie jar in the cupboard and chains the doors with a heavy chain and padlock.  Then she leaves the room and returns sometime later, removes the chain and sees the cookies have not been touched.  “Tommy what a good boy you are.  You did not eat a single cookie.”  But all the time she was gone he was trying to figure a way to get at the cookies, but was unable.  It is not a victory when there was never an opportunity to fail.

So, God, in perfect love, allows us the chance to do the right thing or the wrong thing.  Just giving us the opportunity, does not mean God creates evil.  But God allows the possibility of evil.  And some choose to follow the wrong path.  As a result, others may suffer.

The rapist was arrested and “Patty” had to face him in court, but he was convicted and imprisoned. Unfortunately, “Patty” was never the same again.  Some of the choices she made in the years to come were unwise.  I am sure that some of that was a result of unresolved feelings that resulted from her assault.

The good news is that God goes through it all with us.  We are not left alone to struggle and fail in our own strength.  Psalm 23 promises that even when we go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with us.  Sometimes we fail to recognize God’s presence and feel we are there all alone.  But if we allow God to be there, we can rest in the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

That doesn’t take away the evil, but gives us the power to go through the evil experiences and even overcome.

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Walls or Bridges?

With Lent starting, I was going to concentrate on that, but watching the Olympics brought something different to mind.

When I was the pastor of a church in Ft. Payne, one of the families hosted an exchange student from Germany.  I showed her a map from an old atlas and asked her to point out where her home town was.  She looked at the map and was confused.  “What is that line?” she asked.  I told her it was the boundary between East and West Germany.  German map makers showed the two parts as one country.  It had only been a dozen years since the wall came down, but to her that was ancient history.

Now, our focus is on another divided nation.  Korea has been divided for over 70 years now, and there are people who have been separated from family members for that long.  Can you imagine if you had family members less than 100 miles away, yet you have had no contact for 73 years?  The two nations together are slightly smaller than the state of Minnesota.  Imagine someone in Minneapolis who cannot have any contact with family members in Duluth?

Back in 1995, several Doctor of Ministry students from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, traveled to Seoul, South Korea to participate in a special prayer service for the reunification of the nation.  It had been 50 years since Korea’s liberation from Japanese occupation at the end of World War II.  But it was also 50 years since the peninsula was partitioned between North and South.

That eventually led to the Korean War, which technically is still active.  There has never been a peace treaty signed and the Demilitarized Zone is still a hot spot of tension.  So the leaders of all the 125 Christian denominations in South Korea decided to come together in Yoido Square to pray for God to bring down the walls of separation that had kept families apart.

The Sunday afternoon of the prayer rally, where they were expecting 500,000 people to join together, there was a massive cloudburst that poured rain on the location for about half an hour.  The leaders prayed passionately for the rain to end and it did, but it did keep the attendance down.  There were still 100,000 who came out.  Our group was invited to sit on the stage as representatives of the American Christian community.

And after that day, things did get better.  North Koreans and South Koreans had more contact and families from the south were allowed in small numbers to come north to visit families for special occasions (like funerals).  However, it has been almost 25 years, and the walls are still there.

But now, as the world’s attention is focused on the Winter Olympics, the icy relations between north and south have seen some warming.  The united Olympic delegation is a step in the right direction.  The first, tentative steps toward diplomatic discussions is a step in the right direction.

I know there is a lot further to go.  But the first steps have been taken.  Perhaps the foundations of bridge are beginning.  God is answering those Sunday afternoon prayers from August, 1995.  It has taken a while to get moving, but remember in Exodus, when the people prayed to God for release from their Egyptian captivity, God answered in time.  However, it took Moses 80 years to get to the place where he could be used by God in the process.  So God works through people, and sometimes it takes a while for them to listen and respond.  Let’s hope they keep listening and keep responding.

As the Psalmist sang, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

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Snowball Damage?

In the fall of 1955, we moved from the little town of Winnebago, MN (pop. 2000) to Spokane, WA (pop. 150,000 at the time).  It was a whole new world to me.  We lived in a nice neighborhood near the intersection of East 10th Avenue and South Perry Street.  It was halfway between downtown the fancy homes at the top of the South Hill.  Very middle class.  My brother Don and I had pretty free rein to play in the neighborhood.  We were about two blocks from our school and could easily go to the playground there.  We were a few blocks from a large city park (Liberty Park), and we went there to climb on the rocks and cliffs.  I think my mother would have had a heart attack if she knew where we wandered and what we did.  After all, we were only 7 and 6 years old.  But we never got into any serious trouble and always made it home in time for supper.

Just before Christmas we had a brush with trouble that scared us greatly, however.  Down on the corner of 10th and Perry was a neighborhood super market.  It was not as big as most these days, but was larger than the typical corner store.  One late afternoon in December, Don and I were playing near the store.  I remember there were Christmas trees for sale, leaning against the front of the store.  We got into a snowball fight and one snowball smashed into the plate-glass window on the front of the store.  I don’t remember who threw it and who ducked, but I remember the sound of the thud/splat as the snowball hit the glass.  That means I probably threw it.  And to our horror, we saw a dark line on the glass.

We had broken the store window with the snowball.  We panicked and ran home.  When we got home it was obvious to our mother that something had upset us.  She got the story of how we broke the window out of us rather quickly, and so we returned to the scene of the crime, dragged by Mom.

We went to show her the damage, but miraculously, there was no damage.  The glass was fine.  There was no crack visible.  God had done a miracle!

Mom had a more natural explanation.  There was loose straw scattered around the ground by the trees.  She suspected that the snowball had been made from snow that contained a piece of straw that showed up as black against the light behind the window.  It looked like a crack, but it was not.  She also was pretty sure that a mere snowball, thrown by a seven-year old, would not crack a thick plate-glass window.  Crisis averted!

But to this day, I still remember the terror of thinking I had broken the store window.

As we get older, sometimes our actions cause real tragedies.  And we get so used to it that it doesn’t even faze us.  Relationships get broken.  People get hurt.  Financial woes abound.  And we don’t even notice.

That is the great tragedy.  Even if we had broken the window, it could be fixed for a price.  But other broken things are not so easily fixed.  The problem is us.  We hold grudges.  We fail to forgive.  We fail to seek forgiveness.  But there is an answer.

I remember hearing a story about a real revival that broke out in Calgary, Alberta.  There was a small church where two brothers had been members all their lives.  Something happened that caused a split between them.  It happened decades before, and yet they still sat on opposite sides of the church and never acknowledged each other.  If one was put on a committee, you better not include the other.  Everyone knew of the animosity.

Then, one night, as an evangelist was preaching, the message penetrated the walls they had built up.  Both brother came down to the altar in tears and hugged each other, and the feud was over.  When others heard about it, they were touched.  The statement was, “If God can bring those two together, there must be something real going on there.”  And others came and turned their lives around, and it snowballed (pun intended).  Soon people throughout the community were having their lives changed as well.  And revival broke out and spread.

God specializes in fixing broken things and making them better than new.  He may not have been behind the plate-glass window where the crack was gone, but God can fix broken relationships.  God can restore and renew.  God can heal wounds and even remove the scars.  We are approaching a day in which we celebrate love.  Where is love broken in your life?  Let God restore it and make it new.  He can and does.


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Groundhog Day, 2018

This may seem a little familiar, like you may have seen just a year ago, but in keeping with the movie, that is normal.  Actually it is a rerun from last year with a few edits.  But it is still worth reading.

Most holidays fall into two categories:  Those honoring historical events or people (Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, MLK Day) or religious events/people (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, even Mardi Gras [the day before Ash Wednesday] and Halloween [the day before All Saints Day]).  Then there are the miscellaneous silly days (like April Fool’s Day).  February, the shortest month of all, has more than its share of holidays.  There is a historical holiday:  Presidents Day (which originally was two holidays: Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday).  There are two religious holidays:  Valentine’s Day (which originally was St. Valentine’s Day, honoring an early martyr of the church) and Ash Wednesday (also on the same day).  And there is a silly holiday:  Groundhog Day, which is just a fun time to think that winter is coming to an end.

I am posting this the day before Groundhog Day, so, of course, I will focus on it.  There is old folklore that goes into the mystique of the day, but mostly it is just an excuse to highlight a winter day when we are all wishing for spring.

There is also a 1993 movie, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, called Groundhog Day.  It has been many years since I have watched it, but as I recall the story, Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who is sent by his station to spend the night in Punxsutawney so he can wake up and cover the “official” forecast of the local celebrity groundhog, Phil.  Murray’s character (who is also named Phil) has little patience for this silly custom.  But he does the minimum required of him.

Then the twist occurs.  The next morning he wakes up and it is Groundhog Day again.  Each morning it happens and Murray finally realizes that he is condemned to relive the day forever, while no one else realizes this is happening.  As he finally decides to make the best of it he grows in his relationship with people (especially the lovely Andie McDowell), learns to play the piano, and save people’s lives.

Finally when he has become a better person, he is able to move on with his life.

That is appealing to us sometimes, especially if we make some stupid mistakes.  We  would like to be able to have a do-over and not have to face the consequences of the mistakes we have made.  It would be nice to have several chances to get it right.

But, while this is a fantasy, as I usually mention around the New Year, we do have the opportunity to be forgiven and get a second chance (or third or thirty-third).  How are you doing on your resolutions?  I got started, but got sidetracked.  I didn’t fail, but I didn’t finish yet.

We all have an opportunity, through the power of God, to be forgiven for our failures and mistakes.  We can then start over with a clean sheet.  We may still have to face the results of our mistakes.  I broke a historical plate from a church my father once served as pastor in Minnesota and it is still broken.  I hope one day I may find a replacement for it.  But I do not have to beat myself up over the careless moment.

We can start over.  We can learn from our mistakes.  We can change.  That is the message of the movie.  And that is the message of the Gospel.  Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can have a second chance.  We can be forgiven for our failures and start fresh.

And that is even better than Bill Murray experienced.  His story was a fantasy.  Our story can be reality.

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Racial Harmony

Last week was highlighted by two significant events in Huntsville, AL.  On Monday night (MLK Day), I attended a large gathering sponsored by the Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship, a mostly African-American ministers group of which I am a member.  Then last Sunday night I attended another large gathering in support of Christian unity which was co-sponsored by GHIMF and the mostly white Southeast Clergy Coalition.  Both were uplifting.  Both were spiritual.  But only the second was significantly interracial.

I enjoy being part of GHIMF as one of 3 or 4 white members.  And when the two clergy groups got together, I was much more familiar with some faces than others.  I did not know any of the white pastors.  That shows how little interaction I have had with them.  Of course, part of that has to do with the fact that I am not the pastor of a church in southeast Huntsville.  But this first step is a tentative step in the right direction.  Certainly worship styles vary and to a large degree, many churches reflect the make up of their geography.  That should not preclude working together and worshiping together.

The things that unite us are greater than the things that separate us.  That was proved by the spirit of both meetings.  The God we all worship as the God of Creation is a God of rainbows.  Color is one of the smallest factors in our DNA, but it does create beauty.  Technicolor pictures are much more beautiful than sepia toned photographs (at least to me).  There can be beauty in shades of monochrome, but give me brilliant color any day.  Oz over Kansas.  I called this blog “Racial Harmony”.  To have harmony, you must have more than one note working together.  Unison is not harmony.  Harmony is beauty from our different notes working together.

What happens next?  Certainly many good ideas were suggested.  If only a few happen, it will be better than nothing.  What will be gained will be a chance to meet new people and the realization that we are not really that different.  In the face of forces that seek to build walls, let us strive to build bridges.

It brought back many memories to me.  One of which I am most pleased dates back 20 years.  I was the pastor of the Gurley United Methodist Church in Gurley, AL.  Gurley is a small town of less than 1,000 people, but it has some mostly white churches and some mostly black churches.  One of the latter is the Gurley Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.  The CME denomination comes from the same Wesleyan roots as the UMC denomination.  The main difference is history and color.  So I suggested that our church and the CME church do combined worship services on two successive Sundays.  On the first Sunday, the CME church was invited to worship at the UMC church and their pastor would preach.  Then the following Sunday, we would go to their church and I would preach.

The first Sunday went well.  The CME church had several members who attended the service at our church.  I was a little more worried about what would happen when we went to the other church.  Would the people from the UMC congregation come to the other sanctuary?  When the day came, I found I had little to worry about.  I was pleased to see that the number of from my congregation actually outnumbered the number from the host church.  They were sitting together in the same pews.  Everyone was happy.  It was one of my best moments in ministry.

In recent years, other things have happened in other churches I pastored years before.  One of the churches in southwest Huntsville (St. Paul UMC) has made efforts to minister to other races in their neighborhood and even had an African-American senior pastor for a while.  But progress has been slow.  The thing that is good is that changes have happened.  Many historically black churches in the UMC have white members.  And many historically white churches have black members.

So, I am hopeful.  Things have changed since the civil rights era of the 60s.  They may not be where they could be, but thank God, they are not where they were.

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Nik Dag

Sitting in my warm house, watching the few snowflakes gently falling and listening to announcers warning us to stay home unless absolutely necessary, reminds me of my days in snow country in Minnesota and Washington.  A few flakes here in the South can cause hysteria, but it is good to stay off the roads when they are icy.  And it could be worse in other parts of the metro area.

But while Southerners panic at the white stuff, Northerners make the most of it.  On the campus of our small college in St. Paul, MN, the grounds crew would plow a large area in the center of the block and flood it with water.  Then we would have an ice skating rink all winter long.  The cafeteria would sell old trays for $.50 and we would walk a few blocks to Como Park to go traying (which is basically like sledding but on a much smaller surface).

And social life went on as usual.  On campus, there were usually a basketball game or two, or an occasional wrestling match.  Our hockey team was just getting going and they played off campus.  And of course the “Festival of Christmas” and “Founder’s Week” were events that drew the community and alumni back to the school.

There were also a couple of unique events.  Sno Daze was a winter weekend party.  I don’t remember all the activities, but usually there would be a concert and other special events.  And there was the Bethel version of Sadie Hawkins Day, called Nik Dag (in a nod to our Swedish heritage), where the girls asked out the boys.

When I was a freshman, my roommate and I were dating girls from the same floor of one of the girls dorms.  The girls from that floor got together and planned some special events during the weekend.  That year, they got the idea that a sleigh ride might be fun.  I have to give them high marks for creativity.  But it turned out that the night we were to go sleighing, the temperature dropped to -13.  We made the best of it, but even Minnesotans get cold in an open sleigh riding through the snowy hills when the air temperature is -13.  It was a good excuse to “huddle together for warmth and fellowship”, however.  And it became a very memorable evening, even if not for the original reasons.

The point is, it doesn’t matter where we are, humans seem to be able to adapt to tropical climates and arctic climates just as easily.  Sometimes we have to remake the surroundings like the underground city in the Australian outback, weather resistant dwellings in Antarctica, or a space station orbiting the planet.

God has made us remarkably resilient.  And whether we like the cold or the heat, we are able to survive and thrive almost everywhere.  Some of us may be stuck in a place we do not care for, but that does not mean we can’t make the best of it.  There was phrase that was popular a few years ago, “Bloom where you are planted.”  We all might think there are better places to live or work or socialize (another old phrase applies, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”) but if we cannot be there, we must do what we can where we are.  And one of the applications of “grass” saying is to remind us that what looks like something better, may not turn out to be so, and may even be worse.

So we will all have to go through bad days and good days.  And the bad days might turn out to be good if we do something to make them better.  The Nik Dag sleighing party may not have gone as planned, but it became unforgettable anyway.  And we all lived through it and had a good laugh later (when our faces thawed out).

“This is the day the Lord has made.”  So rather than complain about it,  “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)  Even if it is a winter storm in the South.

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Becoming Disciples

Every year around this time, several scriptures are used in a devotional book I use which include the phrase or similar, “they left everything and followed him.” (Matthew 4:20 & 22/Mark 1:18 & 20; Luke 5:11)    Every time I read that, I am amazed.  How can anyone simply leave everything they have ever known and follow Jesus wherever he may go?  Can you do that?  Can I do that?

Answering for myself, there is no way I could do that.  I have too many entanglements.  I am more like the people Jesus encounters later on who decline to follow him.  (Matthew 8:19-22/Luke 9:57-62)

But being a disciple does not necessarily involve going somewhere else in the world in response to God’s call to us.  It may be simply going across the street.  It may be simply talking to someone who needs a friend.  It may be as simple as giving a cup of water in Jesus’ name to a thirsty traveler.

George MacDonald in his 1976 book Creation in Christ, puts it this way:  “Get up, and do something the Master tells you; so make yourself his disciple at once.  Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because he said, Do it, or once abstained because he said, Do not do it.  It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not anything he tells you.  If you can think of nothing he ever said as having had an atom of influence on your doing or not doing, you have too good ground to consider yourself no disciple of his.”

That is quite thought-provoking.  Can you think of anything you have done or not done, simply because Jesus said do it or don’t do it?  Are we simply deluding ourselves if we cannot think of a single thing?

But MacDonald does not leave it there with us feeling a sense of failure or shame.  He moves quickly to a positive step to change that experience.  “But you can begin at once to be a disciple of the Living One–by obeying him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying him.  We must learn to obey him in everything, and so must begin somewhere.  Let it be at once, and in the very next thing that lies at the door of our conscience!”

How simple!  How elementary!  How difficult!  Only you know what God is asking you to do.  Only you can answer for your own obedience or lack of obedience.  Like our resolutions, if we start with something big and difficult, we are setting ourselves up for defeat.  But if we start small and simply take the first step, then we are in the position to take the next step.

I have a friend who tries to take 20,000 steps every day.  I once asked her how she does it and she answered, “By putting one foot in front of the other.”  You start with the first step, not the 20,000th.

The same is true with becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t happen in one big event.  It happens every day, as we wake up, get up, and do.  Is there anything you have done today because you felt God calling you to do it?  There is still time.  Do the first thing.  Then the next will be possible.

Are you ready to become a disciple?

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