Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A WORD TO THE WISE

The picture over there shows me, standing with my brother, who was on what amounted to his deathbed.

Art was 2 years and 9 months older than I, so I did all the usual younger brother things that you might expect. Whenever Art got to do something worthy of brotherly envy, I knew it'd be about 3 years for me. I had my share of new 3-year-old clothes along the way ... all still nice, of course ... and my performance at school in various venues was subject to the invariable statements like "Now, when your brother ______ (fill in the blank), he always ______ (that blank, too)."

He was also pretty smart. And athletic.  He'd also been Valedictorian of his 8th grade class ... I once heard a teacher exclaim "Art Cleveland's tops in my class", complete with a "whoosh" sound and a gesture which might also accompany a volcanic eruption.  Fortunately for me (I think "Fortunately" is a name God sometimes signs to things when He doesn't want to use His own, for whatever reason..), I was Valedictorian as well, plus I'd been voted A) Boy most likely to succeed; B) Student most likely to succeed; C) Class brain, and; D) Class Baby.

Hey .. gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

At the other end of the spectrum, he was good athletically ... he could outrun mom, for instance ... and he was also popular with the girls. Which realization on his part led to his decision to stop being called "Jimmy" and start answering to "Art". That was actually a bigger deal than it sounds, as he'd been given the name "Arthur James Cleveland, Jr." for 2 specific reasons. One is the obvious, but the other is that the intention was to call him "Jimmy". My dad simply liked the sound of Jimmy & Bobby, and it took a long time for dad to call him the other nickname.

I got saved specifically because I'd heard bombers flying overhead at night, thinking they might be Russian planes coming to bomb Chicago, where we lived. As the USAF Strategic Air Command wasn't open about their operations back in 1947-8, I didn't know. But it did serve the purpose of making me worry about dying, which led to my odd behavior, which led dad to ask me what was wrong, my subsequent explanation, ending with his reminding me what I'd heard in VBS .. that if you believe in Jesus, then you go to Heaven when you died. Instantly, my fear disappeared, and I ran outside to play with my friends.

That apparently didn't happen to Art; he was married in a Unitarian Church, showed no religious interest thereafter, rejected the gospel more than once in various places when I presented it, and was given a Jewish funeral, buried under a tombstone bearing his name in English and Yiddish.

Now for the picture: he died a few days later ... esophageal cancer ... and I had the privilege of sharing at his funeral service, I also did the honors of throwing the first 3 shovels of dirt on his coffin in the grave ("we bury our own") at the cemetery.

I put the picture up, here, for two reasons. One is, as far as showing 2 brothers who love each other, in a place and at a time when that's really important, is always a good thing. Trust me .. if you can read a message there, it really is there.

The other is that it poses the question: what wasn't said? What had we never gotten around to discussing? What subject(s) wouldn't we open? What might I have been afraid to say to him, for which it was too late ... then & there ... to say?

I'm blessed that sitting here, now, thinking back and recalling the time vividly, I can't think of anything I never said to him, that I should have.

I realize I am blessed in that. Not everyone can state that as a truth in their own life. And that is sad. So .. the words to the wise:


You will, in all likelihood, be in this picture one day. Perhaps in the bed, perhaps standing over it. And if you've built up a sizable thesaurus of words you've never said, from either side, chances are pretty good you'll have waited just that much too long.

Don't let that happen. You may be trading the joy of doing what you should have done, for those you love, with the regret that comes with not having done it.

Like I said ... a word to the wise. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Reason To Lift Every Voice

A few months ago, I read Allan Cross' book "When Heaven And Earth Collide". The book is a story of the Civil Rights Movement, the Church ... and its inactivity ...  and how Jesus himself had a much better way to handle things that were being done then, had the church only submitted to it.

It was a most eye opening book, very informative, and quite moving. Now, I was a typical clueless Northern white guy when the civil rights movement began, and didn't pay a lot of attention to it. We lived in the Indianapolis area, and I always found it strange that Crispus Attucks High School, an all-black high school. in Indianapolis, wasn't viewed as part of the Indianapolis educational community, informally.

Example: in the big High School Athletic Association basketball tournament that came every year, whatever team won the Indianapolis Regional was always viewed as the "Indianapolis team", through the subsequent Quarterfinals, Semi-State, and State championships. Except when Attucks won the regionals. Then, at least among the white community, that didn't seem to be the case. We'd root for one of the big schools somewhere else before we'd pull for Attucks.

That always seemed strange.

Also, my family's attitude was always "Black people are as good as we are, but I have the right to choose who I live next door to". That also seemed odd to me. And, the specter of decreased property values when a black family moved into the neighborhood kept white folks edgy in our community, and that's really nonsensical, since the values only decrease when people think they decrease. And if white folks thought that was the case, they by golly losing money on their house seemed just desserts, to me.

Thank goodness things have changed. No, we're not in Camelot yet, but black families live in my subdivision and their neighbors see them as neighbors. As do the children.

It began to change for me when I saw a 60 Minutes report about a nursing home in Alabama, occupied by black ladies, in which they slept in chicken-wire cages. That broke my heart and brought tears. That, and a particular joke I heard one day that got me, down deep inside.

Skip to the present, I don't know what to make of what's going on now. I heard absolute OUTRAGE by famous people, after those college kids posted that video of their idiotic "n-word" rant ... my opinion: those kids have a real special kind of stupid.... but when 2 police get shot in Ferguson a couple days ago, nothing is said. That I heard. And no, I don't know the race of the shooter or shooters, but it doesn't really matter. Shooting police ought to bring as much outrage as singing on a bus.....

All of which is by background to introduce a song (from a poem) I happened across some weeks ago. I decided, in light of all that's gone on, to write about it. Perhaps as an indication of the respect I hold for the black community in light of all that led up to and through the civil rights movement. I mean, just look at Negro Spirituals. Not a word of bitterness or revenge that I've ever seen, which is a seldom-noticed and immensely admirable quality..But in this post, I'm not speaking of Spirituals, but rather the "Black National Anthem". Its title is "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and it is the most magnificent song I know ... excepting of course those which tell of the wonders of God and of our Savior. You'll find it linked to, below, and I encourage you to listen to it. Be especially on the lookout for lines which thank God for how far they've come, and most especially the line in which the song implores God to protect them, lest "drunk with the wine of the world we forget Thee".

Wow. Perhaps the most moving line in a song I've ever heard (with the same previously-excepted songs).

Keep in mind this poem, and song, was written during, and with the "Jim Crow" conditions that exited, in 1900!

Here's the video:





Incidentally, you may notice I use the term "Black" and not "African American". The latter term indicates there's more than one kind of American, and there's not. At least not racially. My black friends are every bit as much American as I am. Besides, they've told me that "Black" is the term that the people chose for themselves. I recall that news item, at the time; hence it's the term I use.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fifty Shades of Something

There's been a lot of press, both within and without the Evangelical community, about the film. Mostly lamenting its existence, the fact that people are going to see it at all, the fact that some believers are probably going to go see it, why we shouldn't, and that society made it at all. Well, I have a couple of opinions.

The first is, and I already posted about this, does anybody really doubt we're in the end times? That these are really the "end times"? The signs all seem to be here.

Like everybody doing what was right in his own sight, which so sickened God that He drowned everybody except the half dozen righteous folks He found....

Second, perhaps we have bought the lie perpetrated by too much of the Evangelical community, that we can "Win the world" if we'll just get off our haunches and go follow one of these foolproof plans we've formulated.

Far as I know, that Gospel plan is to lift up Jesus and let Him do His work of drawing people unto Himself. And then focus on lifting Him up and letting Him do the work of drawing people.

John 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

Perhaps in our hearts, we know we're not doing that and not relying on Him. And trying to make up what we see as the slack by shaming lost people for acting like lost people.

Speaking of lost people, do we think they'll be better off if they simply respond to our admonitions against seeing the movie? I don't think they will. And if they think they're "better off" with God, we've done them a terrible disservice by leading them to that conclusion.

Speaking of saved people, the extent to which we feel we must mention the film to them, reveals what we really think about our efforts to make disciples instead of making church members.

I recall once, perhaps 50 years ago, serving as a counselor at a Bill Glass Crusade in Indianapolis Bill had been a standout pro football player, and became an Evangelist. For the past.40 years or so, he seems to have focused on prison ministry.

Good for Bill.

What I recall most is his admonition to us that, if someone comes forward to pray about ongoing sin in their life, do NOT talk to them about the sin. Talk to them about their personal relationship with Jesus.

A strong relationship with our Savior is the only hope we have to overcome the sin that besets us. He is the One and the Only One who will provide us the "way of escape" from temptation, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

So ... if church folks flock to the movie, there's no use talking about the movie. Focus on their standing with Jesus, and how little they may well be settling for in it. And then re-examine our church programs and see if our real goal ... and the  focus of our efforts ... has been on making disciples.

It's been said that, when you settle for less than what's yours, you'll get less than you settled for.

Amen.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sometimes TBT Is Throw Back Tuesday.


More about the picture in a minute......

I happened across .. make that I searched for and found ... a song on YouTube that took me back to my childhood in a way that I'm not sure anything has, before. It's a video of the Ted Weems Orchestra's rendition of "Heartaches". There are several reasons for that.

First, I remember when it became popular in the late 1940's. In fact, I still do have a 78rpm record of it, in my collection downstairs.

There's also the fact that my Dad told me a story about the recording; I think the only such story he ever related. He said that the Ted Weems Orchestra had recorded the song but it hadn't done well at all. He said in searching for a way to increase its appeal., someone suggested they play it in double-time. That seemed to have done it.

Please give it a listen, here. And, as it happens, it was recorded the year I was born.

I liked the song when I was a kid, and I like it now. Even moreso because of my High School experiences.

One of the highlights of the last 3 years at Broad Ripple High School was membership in the "Dance Band". We'd call it a jazz band, now, I suppose, but most of what we played consisted of Big-Band songs and arrangements, from the Big-Band Era.So I kind of grew up loving the Big Band Era, and Big Band Music.

Come to think of it, we were a "big band" ourselves, we had 5 or saxophones, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, an excellent drummer (who went on to be Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Colorado), a string bass, pianist, female Violin trio, a female vocal  trio, plus male & female soloists. And what really connected me to Ted Weems was the fact that a Talent Scout, who had worked for Ted Weems, heard our Dance Band while we were playing a dance at Butler University. He told our director that we were the best band he had ever heard, in Indiana.

Not just high schoolers. The best of ANY.

When I heard the song, after all these years, it made my eyes sweat. Or something. Maybe because it took me back to some old-time heartaches. But it took me back to a lot more old-time Joy.

Unspeakable.

Friday, February 06, 2015

I'm Beginning To Doubt We Really Mean It

You know ... longing for Jesus' return.

The shout & the trumpet. The rapture (which most would prefer, to death....).

The End Times.

Do we really know what that means? Are we going to be discouraged when we see the signs? Or are we going to throw a fit when we don't get our way?

I fear it's the latter.

Jesus went to some lengths to explain some of the signs we'd see. Earthquakes in various places. Heard of any of those, lately?

Wars and rumors of wars. ISIS, anybody?

Nation rising up against nation? Russia and the Ukraine spring to mind.

Now, we don't mind any of that stuff, since it's all happening overseas. So we "amen" it and continue on as is, in our churches. But then......

 GAY "MARRIAGE"? 

Now there's a game-changer!

I have to ask "why?" Why should we be surprised at this? Toss in drug abuse, political turmoil, gangs, crime, and all the rest, and isn't this the way it's supposed to be?

Jesus spoke some interesting words about what it'd be like:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away."

Did you catch that? Just like the days of Noah? The time when God got so sick of the actions of the people that he wiped them all off the face of the earth, except for 6 who were OK with Him?

I kind of figure that's just about how it is, now.Of course, our position is that gay "marriage" is wrong, scripturally, and no laws or ordinances or court decisions will change that. But do we really expect non-believers to abide by scriptural principles? More than they did in Noah's day?

I don't!

Besides, if we could, as believers, rise up and smite the laws and the court decisions and browbeat the great masses into lining up against gay "marriage", we'd leave them no better off than they are now.

Right standing before God has nothing to do with gay "marriage". Solving the gay "marriage" situation leaves people as lost as they ever were. The answer is their standing with God  ... either righteous via faith in Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, or lost, right where they were before.

This is, indeed, a time for increased fervor and conviction in living happily as followers of Christ, and as happy to tell others about that relationship as we are telling them about our family or our job or our home.

Frankly, I see much more of a pall of sadness projected into the church, by abortion, gay "marriage", and the overall public acceptance of immorality, than I see of the church protecting an attitude of joy among the people. And if we can't show the world joy, something's vitally wrong in the church.

I choose to believe these are the End Times, and while I have no particular desire to miss death in favor of the rapture ... I mean, dying faithful is the ultimate act of trust in God, isn't it ... it is kind of exciting to see signs of the end times.

And not expecting mankind to just kind of "get all better".

That ain't gonna happen. God said so.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Bought The Car; Life Sold Separately

When we retired in February of 2008, we saw the need for a more economical car. Being a car freak and somewhat of a fan of hi-tech cars, we bought a Prius. It served us faithfully for nearly 7 years, over 50,000 miles, and the mileage all the way was excellent.

Now, seven years on, we're more comfortable with retirement, and living within our retirement income, so a more "normal" car became a feasibility. Made even more feasible by the Prius doing some strange uncooperative things recently, when either my elder son or my wife was driving it.

I would never stand for my car being unpredictably reliable when Peg goes shopping in it.

Our younger son had bought a new VW Jetta a couple months ago, so that's the first place I went. Second trip there was to buy a car, but they just wouldn't get anywhere near my number. Then after looking at a couple other makes, I stopped by the local Ford dealer. Two hours later, having picked up Peg at home, we picked up our new Ford.

It didn't hurt that the salesman was a friend of many many years' standing at church.

I told him I wanted 4 things, specifically: Leather, backup camera, smart key, and one-touch up & down windows. He had an absolutely gorgeous silver-gold one in stock, and hence the speedy deal. But the really neat part didn't come until I already had the car.

I keep discovering nifty things about it. For one thing, the headlights are completely automatic. They turn themselves on and off, and dim themselves for oncoming traffic. And they even dim themselves when they see taillights ahead!

Then there's the Lane Keeping System. The camera in the car .. the same one that sees headlights & taillights ... sees lane markings and warns you when you get close to one side or the other. Too close and it puts a little pressure on the steering wheel to drift you back into your own lane. Once I was cruising down the road and the car was running straight so I ease off the wheel and, when the car drifted slowly to one side, the steering magically corrected itself. And a big red warning light flashed on the dashboard display tell me to "PLEASE KEEP BOTH HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL AT ALL TIMES!"

Yeah ... the new car even chewed me out.

There are many other things that seem like magic on it, but the real crux is that I bought the car for a few things I wanted, and after I had it, I discovered a lot of things I didn't know were there.

That's a lot like the Christian life, you know.

We get into it, ostensibly, because we are lost and don't want to spend eternity in the wrong place. But after we get into it, we discover there's a lot more to it than just relief from the ultimate Heat Wave. And I guess that's to be expected.

There's the fellowship. I tried to tell my lost brother how the fellowship of  believers transcended friendship in ways I couldn't explain. I recounted a time I gave a speech to a meeting of Real Estate Appraisers in Miami. A few of the Appraisers lined up to ask me questions afterwards, and one of them seemed to have trouble finding words. Suddenly he said "AHA.... that's IT!!" and pointed to the fish pin on my lapel. He said "You're a believer!". He said there was something different about yours truly and he just wanted to find out what it was.

I recounted that and several other instances where there'd been brief meaningful interactions with other believers. But his response was he had the same thing with teachers.

Well ... I'd met lots of other Insurance Underwriters and Insurance Brokers in my many years' insurance experience, but there was never the sort of instant fellowship I experience with fellow believers.

The truth finally dawned on me .... the fellowship of believers is a Spiritual matter. And my natural-man brother couldn't comprehend that. Any more than he could comprehend how, at my age and with my experiences, the only really thrilling things in life are all gathered around the common core of Jesus Christ, and His living in us via the Holy Spirit. And, the things He uses me to do here in this life.

Some of the steps in being a successful salesman concern being able to discern the prospect's problem, and addressing that problem with a solution that he can comprehend. Good salesmen will avoid getting entangled in explaining other things that do not concern the prospect. Taking a cue from that, there's not a lot of use in trying to convince a lost person how wonderful the Christian life is, when they're already leading what is, to them, a comfortable rewarding life.

There are some benefits to being a Christian that you won'r ever understand until you have already accepted eternal life.

AND another things I just thought of. I recall a story about a young lad of 3 or 4 who kept falling out of bed. They did sleep studies and monitoring and all, but could not figure out why he did that. When they expressed their bewilderment to the mother, the child spoke up and said "Maybe I just sleep to close to where I got in?"

Makes sense to me, and is akin to me, not reading the Owner's Manual to find out about my car and its features. I would've missed out on a lot.

As do, I fear, entirely too many members of today's church.

For the same reason.    

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Isaiah 55:11: Sometimes It Returns With Dividends

The picture over there is the fly-leaf page of a Bible belonging to my nephew Kevin. The backstory is fascinating, but then, so's the update.

My parents' 50th wedding anniversary was March 6th, 1981. In honor, we had a nice dinner here for them, and invited all the family. That included our kids, who were 20 & 18, and also my brother, wife & his boys, who were about a year older, each.

Kevin was the older of the two.

After the dinner, at which we'd given mom & dad a cruise to the Bahamas, we were all sitting around in the living room and chatting. My nephew Kevin remarked about a red bible lying on a table and said he'd always been interested in it. I asked him if he'd like to know more, and he said yes, so we went downstairs to our den and spent some time talking.

Bottom line: he prayed to become a Christian. Knowing that "baby Christians" needed Spiritual food just like babies need food, we told him we'd buy him a Bible. And this is it.

I was chatting with him on Facebook a bit ago, and we started talking about some old times. We reminisced about his dad, of whose salvation we're just not sure, and about some other things, including his childhood. Then, suddenly, this picture pops up on my screen.

He still has the Bible we bought for him, a third of a century ago!


Kevin drives his own fuel delivery truck, as he has for many years. And shortly after that picture popped up on my screen, he said this:

"This is the Bible that has been with me in my semi trucks 
over all of the years within reach from the seat always."

Wow. Just WOW.

He's a strong, open-about-his-faith Christian now, and I cannot begin to describe how that warms my heart. But that wasn't all. A few minutes later, up pops this one:

He noted "You shared this from Romans that day and it was the best start ever".

Now I can flat guarantee you that what I said did not produce any fruit that day. Were that the case, then the same result would always come about when I shared my faith with someone. But we all know it doesn't. 

As is the case with teaching a Sunday School Lesson, Preaching a Sermon, sharing your faith, giving a cup of cold water to someone, or anything else we do in His service, it is the Holy Spirit Who brings about results.

Putting it another way, the Apostle Paul said that he'd planted and Apollos had watered, but God gave the increase. He further said that neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but GOD who gives the increase. Who produces the results.

The great tragedy, I think, in modern Christendom, is that the Foot Soldiers have all gone home and left the battle to the Generals to fight. They don't seem to comprehend that God's promises are true. They're "yes and amen". And they're worth whatever we can do, here.

Even when we do step out and share our faith, too often we have doubts, later. Particularly if someone doesn't pray right then. Well, if that's ever been the case, I have a News Flash for you:

God said His word would not return void. And He meant it.

YES AND AMEN.