Define the terms, and then …

Define the terms.

I met the father of our church’s new worship leader last weekend, visiting from out of town. As we chatted for a few minutes, I mentioned that I write a blog. “What about?” he asked. “Issues of the day, and my faith, mostly,” I said.

“Define the terms,” he said.

I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s why I don’t often engage in your conversations, preferring to carefully avoid most of those terms.

Love.

Hate.

Inclusion.

Discrimination.

Racism.

Believe.

Faith.

Freedom.

Addiction.

The economy.

Right vs. wrong.

Rights.

This list is hardly exhaustive.

Every one of these words means different things to different people. That’s why Facebook memes are so inflammatory. You post something to make a point, and someone else interprets it entirely differently.

Even worse, most of you have no intention of discussing the issue, but only in preaching to your choir.

A poll

Case in point:

“Do you think Trump is a racist? Simple yes or no.”

Depends who you ask.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

No. No. No. No.

Never the twain shall meet in this online poll currently making the rounds. Neither side has any intention of discussing the issue.

“Intelligent discussion” is an oxymoron.

Love, hate

What is “love?”

That word has a myriad of definitions and meanings. Each of us defines it slightly differently, from our own perspective.

Indeed, we define all these hot-button words from our own perspective.

“Hate.” Is there really as much hate out there as we say there is?

What is hate, anyway?

Some of you define “hate” as any stance different than yours. I’m not exaggerating.

How do you expect to get along with anyone while throwing that word around? You’ve marginalized yourself.

The economy

Is “the economy” doing great? Depends who you ask.

If the stock market is your indicator, then yes. If finding a good job that pays the bills is your indicator, then no. There are lots of jobs out there, but many of them are outsourced or lower-paying service jobs, with fewer well-paying manufacturing and management careers than there used to be. We don’t like to talk about that.

Inclusion, discrimination

“Inclusion.” Oooh, there’s a good word. Of course all should be welcome just about anywhere. But that’s not what inclusion means in today’s America. A certain sector of society has taken over that word, and politicized it.

Even inclusive people exclude those who don’t think like they do.

Let that sink in (I don’t like this phrase, but it fits here).

“Discrimination” is another often misunderstood word. I’m a member of AARP, and I get emails and Facebook posts almost daily talking about “age discrimination.”

When I say discrimination, that’s not what most of you think about, is it? But it’s very real. I switched jobs several times in my 50s, and I’m sure I experienced age discrimination to some degree while job searching.

Most of you put “discrimination” and “racism” in the same sentence. And you should. Because racism is very real as well.

But again, what is it? To those of you who have experienced racism: Do you have any interest at all in ending it? I’m serious. Because I’m a white male, I’m often guilty by association.

Many white males are racist. I am not defending them. But if you look down on me only because of the color of my skin, you’re racist too. By definition. I can change my attitude, but I cannot change the color of my skin.

Can we have an intelligent discussion about that?

Probably not, because there’s another issue at work here besides defining the terms.

Getting personal

I’ll explain this by quoting an article in the Aug. 20 edition of the (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram. The Avon Lake City Council was prepared to enact a law increasing the penalties for drivers passing a stopped school bus – until a resident, who’s also an attorney, objected, calling the local law unconstitutional. He claimed it was an attempt to supersede state law.

Well, OK. The attorney has a right to say that.

A city councilman didn’t think so. He said the local law had been reviewed by Avon Lake’s law director, then added, “I’m sure everyone is very familiar with his reputation,” referring to the attorney.

The attorney responded, “That’s a personal attack on me. I want him sanctioned. Discipline him, chair – or don’t you have the guts?”

Then this: (The attorney) spoke out several times at Monday’s meeting, talking over council members to the point police officers were called to keep the meeting civil. Following the meeting he was escorted out of Council chambers by police.

That’s the problem with civil discourse today. We can’t discuss issues without getting personal. Neither side can.

We must stick to the issues, and agree to disagree at times. There are ways to oppose a law without name-calling.

Rights

Perhaps we need to tone down the social rhetoric in public, and focus on issues of real government (federal, state and local):

  • Paying for and improving public schools.
  • Maintaining roads and bridges.
  • Balancing the budget.
  • Ensuring trash pickup.
  • Improving water quality, both in our homes and in our lakes and rivers.

These issues get lost behind abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, gun rights and other rights.

Right?

Who decides what rights are right?

Are certain issues topics of right vs. wrong? Which ones?

We answer that question differently, so we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on much these days.

Here’s a thought. Let parents teach their children whatever social values they choose. In school, all children matter – because all children belong there. Teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

Can we start with that?

Can we set up an educational system where every child has a chance to succeed, no matter who he or she is or what their background is?

It can be done, if all of us start with that question.

Believe

“Believe.”

Believe what? Everyone believes something. Everyone believes lots of things. We believe the sun will come up tomorrow, for example.

What do you believe in? Why?

Let’s talk. Not argue or curse, but actually talk.

Which requires two listening ears. By both of us.

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Sunshine brings out the best in everyone

Sunshine and blue skies.

That’s a big deal.

When you’re attending a professional tennis tournament, rain is Enemy No. 1. A couple of drops and the white lines get slippery, halting play.

The past two years, my oldest son and I saw as much rain as we did good tennis at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. Indeed, the Thursday evening session got rained out two years in a row.

Not this year.

We saw just a few white puffy clouds – and lots of sunshine. No raindrops at all.

Wonderful surprise

Best of all, my middle son surprised me by flying in from Denver to join us for the event. He and my oldest son worked out the arrangements shortly after last year’s tournament ended, and kept the surprise until last week.

Both of them played varsity tennis in high school, so that peaked our interest in the sport.

kontaveit-barty 1

This was our fourth year attending the Western & Southern Open, which many of the top men’s and women’s players in the world use as a tune-up for the U.S. Open, a “grand slam” event in early September in New York City.

Cincinnati is a lot closer to our homes than New York is, and a heck of a lot cheaper. We gain close access to the world’s best without spending an arm and a leg to do it.

Cheap probably isn’t the right word, though.

Gotta eat

While the price of admission is much less than for the U.S. Open, the motel we stayed at jacked up the price for the week, because they know they can do that and still sell out. Capitalism at its finest.

And food costs a lot more on the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center than it does outside the venue. We bought four meals there – lunch and dinner on Thursday and Friday (the motel provided breakfast, such as it was). A basic hamburger cost $9. We also got pizza and calzones one time.

The other meals were specialties of the house. Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati thing. It comes three-way, four-way or five-way: spaghetti topped with chili and cheese are the first three items. Four and five are beans and onions, either or both. It’s delicious.

We also ate “brisket mac and cheese.” For 15 bucks, we get a container of macaroni and cheese – the good stuff, not the boxed “dinner” you get at the grocery store for less than a dollar – topped with BBQ-flavored brisket. While expensive, it was very good.

We also bought a 20-ounce soft drink – for $4.50 – and refilled the bottle with water all afternoon and evening. Since the sun shone bright and temperatures reached the 80s both days, we got some sun and stayed as hydrated as we could.

u.s. pta hof induction

We ate one of our meals in Center Court in between matches. We sat in on a U.S. Professional Tennis Association Midwest Division Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Two people were inducted – one of whom, to my surprise, is from Avon Lake, Ohio, near where I live.

Among other things, Mary Herrick “has developed a number of accomplished tennis players including state champions, Division I collegiate athletes, and two National AAU Junior Olympic Gold Medal Teams. She previously served as a coach for nationally ranked players for the United States Tennis Association (USTA).”

https://yellowballtennis.com/tennis-professionals/mary-herrick/

That was cool.

The women

venus 4

Between the white lines, we saw many new players in the two days we attended of the week-long event. We also saw several superstars – including Venus Williams for the first time. Her sister, Serena Williams, dropped out before her first match with back issues. We still haven’t seen her play (but we saw her in the stands watching Venus play; in the photo above, she’s in the corner, first row).

On Thursday, we saw Venus defeat Donna Vekic of Croatia in three sets. Venus struggled early, then kicked it into gear and won the match.

barty 1

We saw the No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty (left) of Australia, twice – on Thursday and Friday. She didn’t impress us, really. Barty should have lost on Thursday to Anett Kontaveit (right) of Estonia.

kontaveit 1

Barty survived 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. On Friday she did a little better, defeating Maria Sakkari of Greece, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. (She got crushed in the semi-final on Saturday after we left for home.)

The best women’s match we saw, up there with Barty-Kontaveit, was American Madison Keys – who would go on to win the tournament – defeat Simona Halep of Romania in the standing-room-only Grandstand. Keys won 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.

halep 1

Halep (left and below, playing Keys), a former world No. 1 player, has a strong following, even playing against an American in Cincinnati. While most of the crowd roared for Keys, we heard chants of “Simona … Simona …” once or twice as well.

keys-halep 2

The men

rublev 1

On the men’s side, the star of the tournament was a young Russian we weren’t familiar with. Andrey Rublev (right), only 21 years old, turned heads by defeating Roger Federer in a jam-packed Center Court, 6-3, 6-4 (the main photo). Federer (below) did not play badly; Rublev just played better.

federer 5

That’s what the tournament is all about.

Did we see a coming-out party for the newest star in professional tennis? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

Rublev lost on Friday to eventual men’s champion Daniil Medvedev, another Russian, who is one of the world’s top 10 players. Medvedev, on Saturday after we left, shocked Novak Djokovic by defeating him in a three-set match.

We saw Djokovic (below), the defending champion, defeat Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in straight sets on Thursday.

On Friday, in addition to seeing Medvedev defeat Rublev, we saw Richard Gasquet of France defeat Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in three sets.

djokovic 4

Worth the trip

Our local newspaper gave little to no coverage of the Western & Southern Open, so professional tennis must not be very big in Northeast Ohio. The paper covers youth tennis (and other youth sports) extremely well. But this is a football town, and the Browns are in the headlines every day, even though the NFL is still in its preseason.

Even professional golf and motorsports get more ink than professional tennis does.

But there are other ways to enjoy the sport. The best is to see it in person.

With family.

What an awesome two days.

(Madison keys being interviewed after defeating Halep; Medvedev, taken by The Associated Press.)

Not always the leader

I’m not ready to feel old. I keep telling myself that.

But maybe I am.

We decided to renew our passports, since we don’t have those newfangled enhanced driver’s licenses yet. We got our licenses literally two months before that law was enacted, so we’ve got the “old” ones and they don’t expire until 2021. We won’t be able to travel, even domestically, starting next year without doing something.

Therefore, we showed up at the AAA office to get our passport photos taken. I’d forgotten that they’d require me to take off my glasses for the photo.

They won’t get an accurate photo of me, I thought, but whatever.

Then, they said: Don’t smile.

They really don’t want reality.

When the lady who took my photo showed me what she developed, I thought, well, that’s what the government wants.

mug 2

I look old.

See the wrinkles. Gray hair on the side.

Up against the wall.

Maybe that is reality.

Those wrinkles aren’t fake. Neither is the gray hair.

Not feeling old

My health is excellent, so I’m not ready to feel old.

I try to exercise, work up a good sweat, once or twice a week.

In addition, I volunteer with a group of high school and early 20s young men at an after-school basketball program our church youth director hosts. Only a few showed up last week, so I got to play.

We played three-on-three half-court, so we weren’t sprinting, but it’s in a gym with no air circulation on an 80-plus-degree day, so all of us needed water breaks. I actually made a basket or two. That’s about it, but I didn’t embarrass myself. Too much.

I’m not ready to feel old yet.

At least I was out there.

Hills and valleys

A few days later, I felt old again. I had a mountaintop experience on Saturday with several hundred leaders of an international Bible study. I’ll be a group leader this year. I met many wonderful people I’ll be serving with, heard several great speakers and participated in some great worship.

The 75-minute drive there and back was easy.

Unfortunately we can’t live on mountaintops. Daily life often takes place in the valleys.

Monday was a “valley” day.

I’m learning a lot about perseverance and the steadfast love of God this summer. Some days, we just press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

Press on, whether I feel like it or not.

One step forward, two steps back, sometimes.

But keep going.

Our youngest son visited us last weekend. He left for home Monday morning. Tonight, I’ll see our other two sons. Our oldest son and I have attended an annual event in the Cincinnati area for several years, and they surprised me a couple of days ago by letting me know our middle son will fly in from Denver to join us.

Very cool. Another mountaintop experience awaits.

In between, there’s a valley.

Even the clouds rolled in on Monday, hiding the sun’s brightness.

I had things to do to keep busy, but some days it’s hard to get motivated.

Not “doing” life

Reading a book isn’t a cop-out, is it?

I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading this summer. I love the English language. In addition to writing it, I enjoy reading it. Novels. History. Sports. Current events in the local newspaper.

I’m not contributing to society when I read a book. I’m not “doing” anything.

In our high-achieving society, I’m an anomaly, I guess. There are days when I’ll just watch the world go by, let you all change the world and I’ll just wait my turn.

I read social media, but I don’t post nearly as much as many of you do. I’m not obsessed that way. I don’t do memes. I especially don’t share memes. Don’t try the “I bet I won’t get one share” crap with me. I see those literally every day, and yes, I scroll right past them.

Can I get an Amen?

I’ll wager a lot of those memes are fake anyway.

I will decide myself where to volunteer my time, what to post and what to comment on, thank you.

I’m not about emotion.

Background music

So, maybe that passport photo is accurate, then.

Or, maybe I do feel emotion, but I just don’t share it. Not worth the effort.

I pick my battles, and not too many of them.

Even at home. Especially at home.

There’s one chapter left in the book I’m reading now. Maybe I’ll finish it here in a minute.

Sometimes I put on some soft music when I read; other times, I read in silence. Music relaxes me.

I grew up listening to background music. Classical. Mom and Dad still play classical music, either on the radio or on some of the many albums they have, all the time.

In high school choir, we sang Handel’s Messiah. In a public school. That’s the best music ever written.

Those were the days.

What do they sing in school choirs now? I have no idea. Haven’t been to a high school concert in a long time. Should find an excuse to do that this year.

In the meantime, I’ll read in my spare time. I have a few events to prepare for, some imminent and some long-term. I’ll take my time and try to prepare well.

Until next time. Enjoy your mountaintops and get through your valleys.

Neither lasts forever.

Good thing, right?

The nation’s answer

Change comes from the inside out

Where are You, Lord?

It’s hard to see You sometimes. We just had a weekend with two – count ’em, two – mass shootings. As usual, emotions flared on both sides. Control guns. Improve mental health.

Where are You, Lord?

When we focus on our own issues and point words at each other, we miss You. We scream and yell. We blame. We get angry.

We despair, because we’ve seen it before.

Yet mass shootings are like plane crashes, aren’t they, Lord? They are few and far between, but they are dramatic and deadly, so they get the headlines.

Vehicle crashes happen far more often. People commit suicide far more often. People even kill each other, one-on-one, far more often.

Those situations may get a mention in the media, or they may not. They often are not front-page news.

Yet vehicle crashes and suicide affect far more people than mass shootings do.

I personally knew two people who committed suicide, one a few years ago and one about three decades ago. What if I had said something … if I only knew … perhaps …

Are You there, Lord?

You are.

People have reasons for doing things, good and evil.

Taking away the gun may prevent the mass shooting, but would it save the man’s soul? Would it change the trajectory of his life?

Are You there, Lord?

Is there a bigger picture here?

Can we change what we have become?

We can’t legislate that, can we, Lord? That’s what we want to do. Gun control. Improve access to mental health treatment. Let someone else fix it. Create a program that people can avail themselves of to improve their lives.

That will solve the problem, right?

Many mass shooters are loners, quiet people with few friends who stay in the background of life, exploding at the worst possible moment. I saw a report that 26 of the last 27 mass shooters were fatherless.

Is that the trigger, Lord?

We’re all about personal rights now, individuality, non-conformity, breaking the rules, love (my way) … we don’t hold each other accountable anymore.

Not even in our families.

Our broken families.

Or our churches, many of which are no different than society at large.

Where are You, Lord?

If following You doesn’t change us, what’s the point?

If I can believe whatever I want, then why believe anything?

Is there no right and wrong, Lord?

If mass murder is wrong, then what else is wrong?

Who decides?

That’s why we can’t agree on anything, Lord. We have no foundation in our lives anymore. No good vs. evil. That’s all fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Fairy tales.

No respect for authority. No respect for people of a color or ethnicity different than us. No respect for people not born here.

We’re all just visitors on Planet Earth, aren’t we, Lord? We’re not as different as we think we are.

We say hi to our neighbors but we don’t take time to know them.  Some of us move around more than others, so we have to work harder to meet people.

We’d rather do our own thing.

And then we wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

Even if we follow You, Lord, that doesn’t guarantee that we will get it right.

Reading the book of Acts, the early church had just as many issues as the church in America does today. They had to call their leaders together to hash out some very divisive issues.

But they did it, Lord.

And the church grew because they followed You and Your Scriptures. They rejected the belief that “they have to do it our way.”

Why can’t we get this right, Lord?

In Your last prayer on Earth, You prayed for unity among the believers. You knew how crucial that was, and still is.

We blew it, Lord. Again.

Both sides think they have the right answer, but neither does.

Only You do.

Unconditional love is a phrase we don’t hear very often. Not love (my way). Unconditional love.

What You want.

What the other person wants.

Not my will be done …

Who prays that anymore? Truly prays that?

I’ve been involved with a Tuesday morning prayer group for a year now. (See photo above, taken by Jason Russ. Used by permission.) Not that I’m a “prayer warrior” or anything. But we cry out to You.

Imperfectly, because we are imperfect human beings. But we pray.

We ask forgiveness.

We have our wants and needs, and we pray for those, too.

We pray for healing. Our own healing. Our city’s healing. Our nation’s healing.

Again, we pray imperfectly.

But we pray.

Prayer changes not only our city and nation; it also changes us.

One person at a time.

Where are You, Lord?

That’s where You are.

You are just waiting for us, that’s all.

Waiting for us to pray to You.

To seek Your will.

Not my will, but Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, how we need You now, Lord.

We are lost as a nation. We can’t save ourselves.

We don’t need You as a policymaker, Lord.

We need Your unconditional love.

We know You love each of us that way.

Help us to love each other that way too, to follow Your example.

Nothing else works. We’ve tried.

Oh, how we’ve tried.

I can’t go to Dayton or El Paso and make everything right.

But I can do something right here, right now, right where I live.

Show me, Lord.

Lead me.

What my neighbor does is up to him (or her).

This isn’t rocket science, Lord, but it is radical.

Unconditional love.

Only You, Lord, know what that truly looks like.

Show us, Lord.

Because that’s the only answer than will work in the long run.

The reason we’re here: To touch a life

I scroll past the vast majority of memes I see online because they are shallow and often untrue. They are easily misunderstood. I speak from experience; I comment on them occasionally, and have been told I missed the point.

But this one caught my attention. For one, I hadn’t seen it before. For two, I like the message it presents.

I actually like it.

… touch the past, touch a rock

My wife and I recently spent a weekend at the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. We touched rocks, and other things.

creation 5

Both attractions were designed and built by Answers in Genesis, an organization that “advocates Young Earth creationism on the basis of its literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. While there, I bought a book, “A Flood of Evidence; 40 reasons Noah and the Ark still matter” by Ken Ham, who founded Answers in Genesis in 1994, and Bodie Hodge, his son-in-law.

They use the Bible to prove itself.

If you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which I do, that’s fine, but I don’t see this book convincing anyone of its truths who doesn’t accept the Bible’s inerrancy. That eliminates most Americans.

The book, the Ark and especially the Creation Museum use rocks to explain how fossils formed quickly when plants (mostly) and animals died. Plants and animals that die naturally don’t fossilize; they decay. It took a quick catastrophic event, such as Noah’s Flood, to bury plants and animals in a hurry, allowing them to fossilize.

Noah’s Flood also formed the Grand Canyon. That masterpiece of God’s creation was not formed over millions of years by a tiny river. The book and museum discuss this too.

And they mention Mount St. Helens which, when it erupted in 1980 and again in 1982, made rock formations in hours and days that scientists previously thought took millions of years.

Rocks, as this meme indicates, are a window to the past. We interpret the rocks differently, depending on what we’re looking for.

But the past is gone. We can’t change it. We interpret it and try to re-interpret it (are some people truly trying to say the Holocaust never existed, or that man never walked on the moon?). We study the past to learn how best to live today. Or, that should be why we study the past.

… touch the present, touch a flower

I’ve been on a weeding kick recently. Our yard and gardens are full of them, unfortunately. It seems like it’s a never-ending battle. Weeds choke off plants and flowers.

flowers

I’m not an expert on flowers, but I see them bloom for a time, then disappear. Annuals bloom for one season, then die. Perennials bloom year after year, going dormant during the winter, then re-emerging in all their beauty in the spring.

I think this is what the meme is trying to say. Flowers are beautiful today. We enjoy them in the present. We’d better, because tomorrow they’re gone.

Even perennials don’t live forever. They have to be replaced with other flowers eventually, if you want to keep your garden colorful.

A sunset. A rainbow. Sparkling ripples on a slow-moving lake or river. A fall color tour. A gentle breeze.

Such beauty. Nature can be so wonderful.

Then, it changes. The beauty is gone.

Night. The storm that precedes the rainbow. Crashing waves. A frigid winter snow. No breeze at all in 90-degree heat.

We endure, hoping for the touch of a flower once again.

… touch the future, touch a life

People matter. We so often forget this.

If you’ve read this far, hopefully I have touched you at some level.

But touching a life involves so much more than words on a printed page.

wcws 2

I volunteer at a food pantry twice a week. I’ve met an 18-year-old girl who is head of household for her family of six. Her mother passed away a year ago, and now she’s in charge at home. At 18.

We at the food pantry can help her for a day or two. What then?

I also volunteer at a once-a-week after-school pick-up basketball ministry that our church youth director organizes. After playing for a couple of hours on a recent Thursday, one of the young men told us how he’s trying to build a life for himself and lead his teenage brother down the right path, even though both of their parents – who are separated – are drug addicts.

Can we make a difference in the lives of either of these families? Are we touching the future when we connect with young people at these events?

I come home to a nice house in a decent neighborhood. No one is forcing me to touch a life.

Actually, that’s not true.

Since I call myself a Christian, and since I try to live by the Bible, God Himself commands in that Bible that I must connect with other people at some level.

You are watching. I know you are. If I call myself a Christian, what do you see?

I must serve.

Far too many “Christians” use the Bible to try to justify sinful lifestyles. Jesus was crucified for saying exactly this. The apostle Paul was stoned, flogged and beaten for saying exactly this.

What does it mean to touch a life?

It’s not about me, trying to justify myself at all. That’s an easy way to identify “fake Christians.” What’s our motive? Is it to serve others? Is it to touch a life?

This will be our legacy. If we want to touch the future, we MUST touch a life. That life will continue on after I’m gone.

Already, I’ve lived in South Euclid, Ohio; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; New Kensington, Pa.; East Lansing, Mich.; Ridgewood, N.J.; Pickford, St. Ignace and Saginaw, Mich.; Rockford, Ill.; and Elyria, Ohio.

I touch people, and I’m gone. You touch me, and I leave. I take part of you with me wherever I go.

Because you have touched my life.

Thank you.

I hope I am worthy of your time. I hope I have helped you get just a little closer to God because I was there.

Don’t be too hard on me when I let you down. I try not to criticize when I see others fall. We’re in this life together.

The future will change because both of us are here in the present. That’s a given.

How will the future change? For good or evil?

May the rock and the flower guide us as we learn how to touch a life. No matter where our lives take us.

The value of old things

The newest of these old things is the first to bite the dust.

I like old things. By definition, they’ve passed the test of time. They don’t make things like they used to.

Our first microwave, a wedding gift, lasted more than 20 years. We’ve had two or three since, I’ve lost track. The newer models don’t last nearly as long as the oldest one did. Our current one isn’t heating things as well as it once did, so we may need to buy yet another one soon.

The bicycle

I haven’t ridden the bicycle in many years, although I still keep it. The frame is bent and the tires are flat, but I’m sure a good bike shop could get it up to speed. (It has no gears, so its mph isn’t as fast as your 18-speed can reach.)

My parents bought that Schwinn bike for me around 1970. I put a lot of miles on it in junior high and high school. I put more miles on it as an adult, although not recently. There’s some great trails around here, so there’s no reason I couldn’t get the bike fixed up and ride it. One of these days.

It’s the only bicycle I’ve ever owned.

The mower

Same with the lawn mower. I bought it in 1988 after we bought our first house. The temperatures were so hot that summer, we lived in that house for a month before I decided the lawn really should get a haircut.

When we lived in Rockford, Ill., in 2013, the lawn mower sat in storage in our locked garage because we rented an apartment that year. After moving to Elyria, Ohio, the next year, I needed to get the mower working again because I would take care of the yard of the house we were renting at the time.

I took the Sears Craftsman mower to a local shop. They told me to get a new mower, that this one wasn’t worth fixing.

I said thanks, then took it to another shop – a family small-engine-repair business I found through our church. Eighty dollars later, Rick had it running smoothly.

That was five years ago. I let him tune it up every year or two, and it’s working fine. Still.

If I bought a new lawn mower today, would it last more than 30 years?

The car

That leaves the car, a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis. We actually were the second owners of that vehicle. My mother-in-law bought it new in Clearwater, Fla. We bought it in 2006 from my in-laws’ estate after they both had passed away.

It didn’t have a lot of miles on it, then or now. When we traded it in this week, the odometer showed 126,156 miles on it. We don’t measure longevity by miles, but by years.

The horn didn’t work. The AC went out several years ago. The “check engine” light was a problem, especially here, where that would flunk an e-check (emissions check) test. The left front tire had a slow leak that was getting worse – I had to put air in it once or twice a week just to nurse it along. The car fit in our garage, but barely, because it’s so big.

When I had the oil changed in the spring, the mechanic suggested more than $1,300 in repairs: Replace the brakes, replace the serpentine belt, replace the Pitman Arm (whatever that is), flush the coolant and power steering fluids since they were discolored, and take care of that pesky “check engine” light.

We decided the car had reached the end of the line. We didn’t want to put that much money into a 23-year-old vehicle.

I was the primary driver of the Grand Marquis. I drove it into Cleveland and surrounding areas a couple of times a month, around town quite a bit, and on an annual trip to Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati – not quite a four-hour drive – each of the past three summers. It did great. But I didn’t think the Grand Marquis would make it to Mason and back this year.

The Grand Marquis replaced a Saturn wagon in our garage (we had both vehicles for several years), and before that I drove a Chevette for 18 years. In my entire adult life, I’ve basically driven three cars.

Our other vehicle – usually a minivan – lasts a long time, too. We replaced a 2002 Pontiac Montana with a Mazda5 several years ago.

So, it’s kind of a big deal when we buy a vehicle.

When you keep a vehicle more than a decade, quirky things happen. I had to replace the gasoline tank on the Chevette because it rusted out. The Saturn’s “check engine” light remained on continuously for six years; I got the emissions fixed and that light turned off because our oldest son was taking it to college, and I didn’t want him staring at a warning signal every time he started the ignition.

Speaking of the ignition, I had to replace the Grand Marquis’ ignition system a couple of years ago. When I turned off the engine and pulled the key out of the ignition, the engine continued running. I stripped the gears in my attempt to get the engine to stall. When we turned in the vehicle this week, I gave the salesman three keys for it: one for the new ignition, one for the doors and a third key for the glovebox and trunk.

The “upgrade”

 

We just bought a 2016 Kia Soul coming off a lease. We like to buy used vehicles that are like new, so we don’t pay the new-car price but we can keep them a decade or more. We’ve had good luck doing this in the past.

soul 2

The Soul is 20 years newer than the Grand Marquis. I suppose that’s an upgrade. It fits in the garage better than the Grand Marquis did, and it’s a hatchback, similar to the Saturn wagon and Chevette that I drove a long time ago.

Will the Soul last us 20 years?

Will I live another 20 years?

Good questions, both. I suppose the human track record is better than the mechanical track record when it comes to longevity, but there are no guarantees either way.

The finance guy told us the Soul we bought has 16,000 parts. He was trying to get us to buy an extended warranty to cover all of them. (Kia has a good warranty to begin with.) My Chevette probably had about 500 parts on it. I still tell people that it didn’t have any parts that would break down on the highway. That’s an exaggeration, but compared to today’s improved, highly technical, highly complicated vehicles that trained mechanics can’t diagnose on their own (the finance guy told us that, too) …

Give me simple every time.

Simple doesn’t exist anymore. That’s why they don’t make things like they used to.

Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4

 

A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.

 

Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

https://www.inkstonenews.com/china/christianity-protestant-church/article/2133812

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.

 

Christianity’s future lies in Africa

https://sojo.net/articles/christianitys-future-lies-africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.

Silent majority needs to be heard

The opposite of love is not hate.

Both are strong emotions. People with either love or hate care deeply about the issue at hand.

No, the opposite of love – and hate too, for that matter – is apathy.

I … just … don’t … care.

As a holiday weekend is concluding, I’m struggling with this. Perhaps I’m feeling emotional fatigue. Especially since I’ve never learned how to express my emotions verbally.

America the divided

Am I proud to be an American?

That’s a more complicated question than it used to be.

I am free to live where I choose, worship where I choose (or not), work in a career field of my choice (assuming someone would hire me), marry whom I choose, spend my free time however I choose …

Yes, this country offers many good things.

But not all receive those things equally.

This is the message of America today.

We hold up that ideal, but we aren’t close to it. We’re closer than we were a century ago.

Or are we?

Equality an illusion

evicted 2

I just read a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, which described the substandard housing situation in inner-city Milwaukee a decade ago. We on the outside think the long-term poor often choose to live that way, that if they would just get a job or education, they could pick themselves up by their bootstraps and improve their lives.

But that’s often not possible. The housing culture in the wonderful United States of America is designed to keep poor people poor.

evicted 5

Rents are not much cheaper in poor areas than they are in the suburbs. The federal government subsidizes low-income housing for landlords, so they charge unaffordable rents in low-income areas because they can. And when poor people get behind on rent, far too often they get evicted.

The book follows eight families who faced this. Many of them made upwards of 90 or more calls and/or visits to rental properties to find a suitable place after eviction. Eviction is like a criminal record – often landlords make it difficult for the evicted to rent again.

And if the family, often led by a single woman, has children, that’s another strike. Kids cause damage. Teens do drugs and get into trouble. Claiming this, some landlords don’t want children.

And why are neighborhoods segregated racially? Because landlords make it so. They find creative ways to refuse renting an apartment or house to a minority in a “non-minority” neighborhood.

Us outsiders don’t get it. We can’t just throw a month’s rent at one of these families and think they are good to go. The issues run far deeper than that.

Are there any solutions?

The author suggests housing vouchers, which can be used in any neighborhood.

 

By and large, both public housing residents and voucher holders pay only 30 percent of their income on rent, with government funds covering the rest.

Evicted, page 302

 

Many poor people pay 70 percent or more of their income on rent, which means they often have to decide between rent and food, or rent and the utility bill. That’s why evictions are prevalent among the severely poor.

This problem is nationwide. In 2012, one in nine occupied rental households in Cleveland were summoned to eviction court (page 296). More than 10 percent of all renters in the biggest city near here faced eviction.

Do the rest of us even notice this? Even if we do, how much do we care? Enough to change public policy to improve the lives of the poorest among us?

Compassion helps, but compassion goes only so far.

Just ask the illegal immigrants at our southern border.

Standing for … what?

Pennsylvania Daily Life

And as we celebrated our nation’s birthday, I saw this at work in the way we treat our flag. Even the flag has become a racist symbol.

What does the American flag stand for, anyway?

Does it stand for all those freedoms we like to say we have? Does it stand for the bravery of our veterans and active military service people?

What else does it stand for?

And why do some people not stand for it at all?

When I see unbridled poverty, when I see far too much violence (there was a police shooting in our city last week), when I see broken homes as the norm … can I really celebrate living in the United States these days?

Are there solutions? Or have we given up the fight, given in to apathy?

We think only of ourselves. My rights. I can live with whomever I want, drive whatever speed I want on the highway, spend my money (or other people’s money) on whatever I want …

Without thinking of consequences.

Burying our dreams

We just don’t care anymore. There’s no bigger picture.

No ideals bigger than ourselves.

What is freedom, really? What did our forefathers live and die for?

Did they live and die to create the United States we have today? Is this the best we can do?

Can we learn to get along with each other again? To overcome apathy?

We like to throw around the word “hate,” but it’s often misplaced. Sure, there’s some hate out there, but I don’t think there’s as much of it as extremists on both sides of the political aisle think there is. Most of us, rich or poor, are just trying to live our lives.

Leave us alone, we are saying. Just chill out.

Maybe I’m mistaking this for apathy. Maybe we aren’t as apathetic as I think we are.

Perhaps we do care, deep down in our hearts.

We just don’t know how to show it.

Or, more likely, we’re not allowed to show it.

We get shouted down. The “hate” word is thrown at us if we disagree. The loudest voice is often the one that gets heard in this country.

Which is why I defended the United Methodist Church this spring for standing firm – as it has for more than half a century – to its convictions regarding homosexuality. As one voice swimming against the political correctness tide, I took some flak for that, but the discussion was excellent. Thanks again to all of you who participated.

The loudest, or even the most persistent, voice is not always the right one.

Sometimes, the silent majority actually has something to say.

We care. We really do.

But does that mean anything? Can the silent majority do anything with its passions and desires in this country?

Who’s listening?

Anyone?

We cannot escape

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

baby-growing

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand;

I come to the end – I am still with you.

 

osr 4

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –

those who speak of you maliciously,

and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Psalm 139

The good stuff is coming, oh yes

Are there rewards for following Jesus Christ with your whole heart?

Oh, yes.

The Christian life is no picnic on Earth. Great things happen, but suffering does too. We know this.

As Christians, however, we look beyond Earth. We’re here 70 or 80 years, give or take, and then we die. Guaranteed.

What then?

That’s when it gets good.

I’m studying the book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible – with three friends this summer. Near the beginning of the book, Jesus gives seven messages to various churches. Each discourse includes good things the church has done, bad things the church has done, a warning if the church doesn’t get its act together, and a reward if the church does change.

Without getting too theological, those messages apply to Christians today as well. If we “conquer,” as my translation (New Revised Standard) puts it, we will receive some awesome rewards.

Let’s look beyond ourselves, beyond Earth even, to see what’s in store for us.

 

“To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

Rev. 2:7

 

This is stunning. We first see the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6), God kicked the sinning couple out of the garden. Why? Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” … (Gen. 3:22)

The tree of life would have allowed Adam and Eve to never die. This is the way we were created, to live forever. But because we rebelled against the living God, our lives were shortened.

Until the very end of time. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22:14)

Once we enter the city of God, we will live forever in paradise.

 

“Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”

Rev. 2:11

 

All of us will be harmed by the “first death,” which is the death of our physical bodies on this Earth. What is the second death? But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

The second death, then, is separation from God. Permanently. We get to choose which “spiritual death” we will face – living in paradise with God, or separation from Him in the lake of fire.

There’s no third option, by the way.

 

“I will give a white stone, and on the white store is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Rev. 2:17

 

Whoa. A new name. Given to each of us by the living God. That name will define who we are. We can only guess what this means, however. Gotquestions.org offers this explanation:

The best theory regarding the meaning of the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).

 

“To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.”

Rev. 2:26

 

Who or what is the morning star? It’s Jesus Himself. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)

We will live with Jesus Christ, the morning star, forever.

 

“If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.”

Rev. 3:5

 

What is the book of life? This, along with books that describe our lives on Earth, will be opened on the Judgment Day. What happens if our names are not in the book of life? I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:12, 15)

Instead, Jesus will confess our names before his Father and his angels. Our works aren’t good enough to stand on their own; we need Jesus to advocate for us on our Judgment Day.

He promised that He will do that for us. If we conquer.

 

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Rev. 3:12

 

A pillar in the temple of God could refer to eternal life. The city of God is the “new Jerusalem,” which is described in Rev. 21:9-26. It will be a huge city, and beautiful beyond description. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:26)

These rewards are all related. And they are only for those of us who conquer.

 

“To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Rev. 3:21

 

We will enjoy royal status. We will not be subjects, employees, homeless, malnourished or mistreated in any way. We will be forgiven, pure, holy and one with God.

The older I get, the closer I am to this day. When I get discouraged with the way things are going on Earth, all I have to do is look up. A better day is coming.

A day worth waiting for.

A day worth dying for.

A celebration for conquering.

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-19