The Author

Late to Christmas

I have known for many years that, unlike so many Nativity scenes, those astrologers from the East were not at the stable when Jesus was born. No, that sacred moment was reserved for Joseph, Mary, those amazed shepherds, and some bumfuzzled animals who, if they could talk, would surely have asked what all the uproar was about. The Wise Men weren’t there, but they were on their way.

The journey was more than a little challenging since following a star is no easy task. I took astronomy in college and let’s just say that I’m sure I would have done better if I could have taken it again. With their training, charts, scientific instruments, and trust, they made the trip. But as for so many of us, God doesn’t always lead in a straight line, so they were a little late to the party.

Not only were they traveling by trust, they were opposed by powers who didn’t take God’s interests to heart. When you read the story, Herod is rightly described as a bad guy, but don’t give too much credit to those learned religious leaders who quoted scripture. They may not have spoken for publication, but the idea that their world was about to be interrupted by a God who actually kept promises had to be unsettling. If you read the story all the way to the end, you will discover that those who quoted scripture also opposed Jesus. They were in no hurry to see a new king ascend the throne. With all of these stumbling blocks, it is a wonder that these wise ones were able to get to Jesus at all.

But get there they did. As they followed the star and the directions of the prophecy, they came to the house where Jesus and Mary were staying. Whether it was family property or a rental is beside the point. The hubbub of the stable, the milling animals, the excited shepherds, the newly anxious parents – all were past. Now, child and mother were safely kept, making the adjustments that come from being newborn and new mother.

We are not told whether it was a knock on the door or the sound of the crowd outside, but the quietness of new life was broken by these who came when everyone else had left. I can see amazement on the faces of those who had finally reached their destination; I can hear apologies for the lateness of the hour; I can imagine a voice saying, “The hour doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are here.” And they bowed and worshiped.

Christmas is upon us. Some of us have been there for weeks. Others of us are still finding our way. Some of us will read this before the day, others after. What I pray that all of us realize is that when we get there doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are there. And that we bow down and worship.

Blessings, Sam

Chilean Miners

The world has been thrilled by the rescue of the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped underground for over two months. When the crisis first became known, I suspect that the initial reaction was despair because our experience has been that these stories do not usually end well. After the initial flurry of interest, life as we know it interrupted our concern, and the miners who were out of sight were also out of mind. For a good while, it seemed that nothing was happening.

Our assumption was wrong. Hope made a comeback. Day by day, engineers and scientists labored to develop the safest and surest rescue attempt. Families of the men kept vigil at the site, enduring the harsh winter of that desert region, praying all the while. Underground, an occasional voice kept those above informed of their status. Some were well; some were not.

Then, after what must have seemed an eternity for those waiting, above and below, the cage that would hold a single individual was lowered in a test run. All went well, and a couple of days ago, the world witnessed the ascent of the first miner from the depths of the earth. When he stepped out of the cage, the celebration began. He kissed his wife. He kissed the president of Chile – three times. He kissed the ground. He fell to his knees in praise and thanks to God. He handed out rocks that he had brought from below as souvenirs to those who were awaiting his return. His was just the first burst of celebration of those who were feared to be dead, but are really alive.

As each of the miners was set free, we learned a little more about what had occurred in the darkness. The men had organized themselves as a family, encouraging and taking care of one another. Those who were strong reached out in compassion to those who were weak. Those who had great supply sacrificed for those who were in need. One of them said that his faith in God was renewed by the experience. Another said that while they all knew that there were thirty-three men there, it felt like there were thirty-four.

For those of us who were above ground and watching from a distance, in the light that we had, it seemed that not much was going on underground. We couldn’t have been more wrong. In that foreboding place, God was making individuals into a community, granting peace, renewing faith – all a reminder that, even when we cannot see, God is at work. As the Psalmist said, “Even the darkness is not dark to you.” (Psalm 139:12)
Blessings, Sam

Baseball

My family has something of a long history as fans of baseball. It began with my grandmother who, as a lifelong Baptist, was somewhat cautious about worldly possessions. But, she freely admitted that she loved her television set because it brought the game of the week into her house every Saturday afternoon. She would sit in her rocking chair in front of the set, yell at the umpire, and urge her “boys” on. You were welcome to visit, but you weren’t to expect much conversation.

One of her sons-in-law had his closest brush with fame in New York City when visiting there as a young man. As the story goes, while crossing a street one day, if he had not quickly jumped back on the curb, he would have been run down by a roadster with Babe Ruth at the wheel. He always claimed that a jury would have figured out a way to blame him before convicting the Babe.

Growing up, I idolized Mickey Mantle. I now know that he led less than a sterling life, but when I was a kid, I didn’t know. I just knew that he was an amazing ballplayer. I saw him once in the parking lot of a golf course. I stood there, frozen, watching him put his clubs in the trunk of his Lincoln. He didn’t see me and I didn’t approach him. Sometimes, heroes look better at a distance.

I once shook hands with Gaylord Perry at the old baseball field in Arlington. His hands were the size of Easter hams. Famous as a pitcher always suspected of anointing balls with oil, grease, spit, or anything else that would make the pitch do a dance on the way to the plate, his huge mitt swallowed my normal-sized one. I figured that, if he could make my hand disappear, he wouldn’t have a problem hiding a little ointment.

I write all this because several of our church members are also baseball fans. I know this because they have told me. I also write these pleasant words because, whether God is a baseball fan or not, sometimes we need to be reminded, as Paul writes to Timothy about “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” (I Tim. 6:17). It’s okay if you don’t enjoy baseball, or even these stories. Just remember to enjoy some things in life. After all, God gave them to us so that we would.

Blessings, Sam

Shoes in the Street

The traffic was heavy and slow enough that I noticed the pair of shoes that were laying in the middle of the street. A pair of men’s black dress shoes, they were new enough to make me wonder how they had arrived at that abandoned state.

Perhaps someone was moving from one home to another. In the hurry to make the transition, the closet’s contents had been stuffed in a plastic bag and tossed in the back of a pickup. It had taken at least a thoughtful pause to place the good shoes on top to keep them from being scratched, but the first good bump in the road sent those shoes sailing into the street, far away from home.

Or, someone was down to his last dollar. Looking for some way to pay the rent or buy some groceries, he gathered the best he had to take to the second-hand store, hoping that treasures could be traded for necessities. I don’t want to think about that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when he discovered that his future had fallen to the wayside.

Maybe the shoes were just too tight. Every step brought pain, a reminder that what had begun as a journey of comfort and durability had ended in a slow slog of endurance. In a fit of freedom, the owner ripped off the shoes and tossed them out the window. Littering aside, to imagine that someone might have the courage to seize the moment, to say, “enough of this!” makes me smile at the thought of feet set free.

All of us have known people who have been tossed aside like a pair of shoes in the road – far from home, hopeless, longing to be set free. Some of us were those people. What we wanted was someone to slow down long enough to look at us, to hear our cry for help. What we found was Jesus. His eye, his ear, his hand rescued us when we were lost and forgotten along life’s way. He is what we needed. He is what we can offer. We can see that if we’ll just slow down long enough to look.

Blessings, Sam

Thinking about God

I often think about God. Most of you, while not saying it aloud, might think, “Well, of course you do; that’s your job.” Perhaps you will be encouraged to know that I thought about God often even when I was a little kid. And, my dwelling on the subject was one of the clues that led me to the possibility of ministry.

Others, though, might be surprised to hear me say that it is easy not to think about God, even for someone who is in the ministry. When I’m locking up the building at the end of a day, or trying to figure out the source of a water leak in the education building, or wondering why it is taking the city so long to finish the streets around the church, the question, “What is God up to in all this?” does not immediately come to mind.

I think I have figured out one of the reasons for this lack of the sense of God’s action. It has to do with “sameness.” You know, today looking a lot like yesterday. All of this occurred to me recently as I sat in the stands at the football stadium watching a local team lose another game. I’m not beating up on the team; I’m just saying that when a team has won one game in three years, everything starts looking the same. It is hard to see how something could be different.

What I have learned, though, is that looks are deceiving. What we see and what is real are often two very different things, especially when it comes to God. All week long, not only have I been thinking about God, but I have also been talking about him. Most of you might say, “Well, of course you have; that’s your job.” My conversations, though, have been with folks who don’t have my job – folks who show up at football games, fix water leaks, work in grocery stores or offices, drive trucks or fly planes.

Every conversation began in an ordinary way. Some seemingly random experience, common to everyone, had been theirs. Each was trying to sort his way to a conclusion, insight, or understanding. We talked. Eventually, one or the other of us would say in some form, “What is God up to in all this?” When that happened, it was no longer an ordinary conversation, but one that contained the possibility of real change.

I invite you to think about God. I invite you to talk about God, to ask, “What is God up to in all this?” I think you will be wonderfully surprised at the difference it makes.

Blessings, Sam

Birds of a Feather

Over the years, I have noticed that our church steeple has been a resting place for birds on their journeys. Usually, one lone sentinel will stand upon one of the arms of the cross for awhile before flying on. Sparrows, pigeons, even a turkey vulture or two have made it a rest stop. The majority, though, have been those aggravating blue-black birds known as grackles or jackdaws.

These characters are the ones that make messes on the sidewalks or preen at their reflections in the mirrored windows or doors. Never quiet, they are either hissing or squawking at something or someone. It is my opinion that these birds aren’t on their way to anywhere since they always seem to be around.

This morning was one of those occasions. I walked out of the education building to be greeted by a chorus of squawks too shrill and loud to be ignored. I looked up to see the usual leader of the flock on the cross and, this time, four or five others perched precariously on the steeple base. All of them were setting off a racket of alarm.

It took only a moment to recognize the source of their discomfort. A hawk was circling their place of rest, waiting for the moment to strike. Then, with a speed and skill that was both fearsome and admirable, he would dive toward his target. One at a time, he antagonized the grackles. One a time, they flew away in desperation until, finally, all of them were gone. I looked for the hawk, expecting it to return to claim his throne. He never did. It seemed that the hawk didn’t want to be there; it simply didn’t want anyone else there either.

I’ve always been fascinated by hawks – their speed, skill, beauty, fierceness. I’ve always imagined that if I were a bird, the hawk is the kind of bird I’d like to be. The birds that have held the least fascination for me have been those grackles, but the experience of this morning has given me some pause. I may want to be like the hawk, but I am often more like those others – sometimes aggravating, shrill, often making a mess. You have to give it to those grackles, though. When they were in need of rest and protection, they showed up at church and clung to the cross. If I’m like them in other ways, I want to resemble them in those ways, too.

Blessings, Sam

Snakes!

I don’t like snakes. Never have. Never will. Perhaps it is Biblical. You know – the business in the Garden. I know, I know. In the garden, it is a serpent that talks, walks upright, and thinks it’s something of a theologian (read Genesis 3 for the details). Still, when all is said and done, it winds up crawling in the dust – a snake.

Perhaps it is biological. I come from a long line of people who didn’t like snakes. They all grew up on the farm, and the only snake they liked was a dead one. Again, I know. Snakes can be beneficial, like when they eat insects, mice, and rats. Still and all, step on one in high grass and see if you like it.

All this probably explains my reaction recently when I entered the sanctuary, turned on the lights, and walked down the aisle. My mind was on several things, and I was trying to remember exactly why I had gone over there when, just as I passed the first pew, I almost stepped on a snake. I yelped, jumped sideways, and gave thanks that I had remembered to take my blood pressure medicine.

Then I realized that it was just a baby that was as frightened of me as I was of it. It zigged while I zagged, both of us trying to figure out how we were going to get out of there alive. I didn’t take the time to try to figure out if it were poisonous (probably not). I found a clipboard, scooped it up, held it at arm’s length, and, taking it to the door, tossed it onto the lawn. It landed on its back, but I didn’t bother to go put it right side up. I figured that if it could figure out how to get in the sanctuary, it could figure out how to turn over.

Safely inside, I went about my business, just as I suppose the snake, safely outside, went about his. It occurred to me that we were both happier. It also occurred to me that we both knew that there were some things that belonged in church and some things that didn’t. Like snakes. And lots of other stuff.

Blessings, Sam

prayer

Eddie Kauzlarich lived down the street from me when I was in elementary school. We were in the same grade, and the time and circumstances of life dictated that we would spend time with each other, either in class or after school playing in the neighborhood.

For a kid born and reared in west Texas, Eddie’s family held a certain fascination for me. Of all the people who lived on our street, theirs was the only family that wasn’t “from there.” Eddie’s dad was in the Air Force and had been recently stationed at the local base. I never really knew where they were from since, when I asked, Eddie’s answer was, “all over.” I guess that’s the military life.

Eddie was the best baseball pitcher in our school. A left-hander, no one was willing to stand in against him because the batter couldn’t get used to the angle that the ball came from. Besides, he threw so hard that when he hit you, you stayed hit for awhile. Sometimes I would walk by his house and I could hear him practicing in the backyard with his dad. Never a word, just the loud “thwack” of a ball hitting a glove.

The thing I remember most about Eddie happened one day in school. In those days, when lunchtime came, we would line up at the door, and before we left the room, we prayed (yes, it was a public school). Usually, it was the generic, “God is great; God is good; Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” But this day, Mrs. Smith, our teacher, asked if anyone wanted to say the prayer. Most of us began to shuffle our feet and stare at the floor. But, after a couple seconds’ pause, Eddie said, “I will.” He had probably learned it at home, or perhaps at church, but he gave thanks for the provisions of life, the nourishment of family and food, and asked for God’s continued guidance in our lives. I was enthralled. It was as though I had heard someone pray for the first time in my life. When he finished, Mrs. Smith said, “Thank you, Eddie,” while the rest of us silently filed out, not saying anything but knowing that something special had just happened.

About a year or so later, Eddie and his family moved on to the next military assignment. I haven’t thought much about him in these now many years. When I was younger, I sometimes wondered if he had made the majors with that whiplash arm, but I’ve never seen his name. Whenever I have thought about him, though, I’ve always remembered that prayer and marveled at its effect on me.There are a lot worse things you could remember about someone. I can’t think of anything much better.

Blessings, Sam

Dachau

My son and I recently walked the grounds and wandered the buildings of the World War II Nazi concentration camp outside of Dachau, Germany. Other than tourists listening either to human guides or handheld recordings, little interrupted the quietness of the place.

Today’s entrance to Dachau is different from the days when trains pulled in by the boxcar loads to deposit prisoners at the gate that still says, in English translation, “work results in freedom.” Now, busloads of sightseers are dropped at the curb near the visitors center. A scenic walk on crushed rock spread beneath trees leads one down a shady path to the entrance to the Nazi’s model camp, the first in a long line of places designed to eliminate anyone considered “tainted.”

Once inside the gate, the parade grounds silently witness to the evil that stalked the prisoners. A single line of barracks, the administration building, a building for captives of special rank, and a hall that was used for torture and obscene medical experiments are the first to greet the eye. In a grove of trees, out of sight but never far from mind, is the building that housed the showers used to deliver poison gas to inmates and the incinerators that sought to destroy the evidence. Surrounded by a reconstructed electric fence that has the potential to administer fifty thousand volts to anyone attempting escape and watched over by a guard tower, an orderly discipline stands sentinel over this place.

In the twelve years of its existence, the Nazis imprisoned almost 200,000 men and murdered at least 30,000 of them. After the war, the Germans tried to raze the facility, seeking to erase it from our collective memory. They almost succeeded. Only the outcry of survivors and victims’ families prevented Dachau from descending into the abyss of rumors.

Outside the fence stand three churches, Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. None of them were there during those terrible years. Their presence is a confession of the sinfulness of silence in the presence of evil; a commitment to stand alongside the weak, the vulnerable, the despised, the tainted; a reminder to the church of the Crucified and Resurrected Lord that, if we don’t stand with these, evil will surely win.

Just a Sack of Chicken

He sat on the side of the road recently in his motorized wheelchair, his face buried in one of those plastic bags used by fast food restaurants for take-out orders. Given the location, I suspected that he had just made a purchase at the chicken place across the parking lot from where he sat. The intersection where I spied him is a busy one with cars coming from every direction. Rarely is there a letup in the traffic, and since I could see no housing nearby, in the moments I idled there waiting for the light to change, I worried about his negotiating the cars to get home.

He didn’t seem worried in the least. Actually, he was oblivious to everything that was happening around him. He did look up a couple of times, but it wasn’t at the cars or the daily noise. He just came up for air for a few seconds, then would bury his face again in the food sack. I thought, “That must be some kind of chicken. I may have to stop there soon.”

The light changed, I drove on, but the image stayed with me. Someone so enthralled by something that the distractions of life held no interest. Someone so caught up in the moment that he didn’t care or see what others saw or thought.

But at least one other did see and think and wonder what was so wonderful that everything else faded away. And as I did all those things, I thought about those times in which I have said that God’s love for us is so powerful and intoxicating that it is able to capture all our attention and interest. And, I thought about how often that has been true for me. And I wondered if anyone else could ever see it.

Ashes in the Wind

The recent eruption of the volcano in Iceland has grabbed our attention. For the first time since World War II, commercial air traffic in England and the rest of Europe has come to a standstill. Lives have been disrupted all over the globe by the inability to get from one place to the next, as well as by the stoppage of the flow of goods and services. Even those of us who are not traveling will feel the effects of the fallout.

Already the inevitable question of “why” has been asked. As you might expect, some have suggested that the eruption is another sign of global warming, a reflection of human misdeed. I’m not enough of a scientist – no surprise there – to even hazard a guess as to the geology of all that. But I do know what vulcanologists – a great job title, by the way – say: “Eruptions are what volcanoes do.”

As the television preacher of a few years ago claimed about a hurricane headed to the East coast, some have said that the eruption is a sign of God’s displeasure with our sin. I may not be as good a theologian as some, even some TV preacher, but I always thought that the cross was the sign of God’s displeasure with our sin. I do know this: the eruption of the volcano is just one more reminder that we are not in charge.

Now, that doesn’t mean that some folks won’t try to prove the contrary. I have been in enough airports to know that a line of
very important, very busy people have made their way to ticket counters to demand to know when the planes will get back in the air. More than once, they will have heard these words, “Who knows?” What I hope is that someone has answered occasionally, “Only God knows.”

Fortunately, some will have taken this opportunity to sit back, relax, and reflect. In the busyness of this world, those moments are few and far between. We are so hurried, so distracted, so determined to be in control, that we run through all of life’s stop signs, thinking that they don’t apply to us, not realizing until far too late that they do. Of all the things that the eruption of the volcano might be, there is one thing that it surely is: a sign to remind us that we are not in charge. If we’ll slow down long enough to think about that, we’ll see that it is a truth that applies to us. And, if we’ll slow down that long, we might pause to give thanks to the One who is.

Resurrection Hope

When I was in seminary, I worked in a little church on the industrial side of Louisville, Kentucky. It was in a part of town that had seen much better days, a literal backwater of the Ohio River, where the more affluent of the city once kept weekend cabins. Because of the tendency of the river to flood that part of town, the cabins had long ago been abandoned by the wealthy, only to be occupied by folks who couldn’t afford anything else. The area was known as Lake Dreamland, but it wasn’t.

The church membership came primarily from individuals who lived and worked in the shadow of the industrial plants and others who were simply hanging on by their fingernails in those cabins by the river. While there was some economic separation between those who were unemployed and those who held union jobs, what bound them together was stronger. Almost all of them had come to the city from the coal mining region of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. They had abandoned the danger of the mining life for the uncertainty of life in the city.

Those folks have been much on my mind the last few days as I have watched from some distance the efforts to rescue those last miners from the cave explosion and fire disaster playing out in West Virginia. While it has been many years since I have been with them, I think that I know what some of them are thinking.

They are watching all of this effort with a tempered hope that the miners will be found alive, all the while expecting that they will not. Experience has taught them that life can be hard; that, as the psalmist (144:4) says, “Man is like a mere breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”

While they are watching along with the world, they are also praying for the rescuers, for the men, for their families. As they remember descending into the belly of the earth in former days, they know it is a dangerous place that is only escaped each day by the grace of God. For them, leaving a cave entrance is like being raised from the dead.

They are also trusting God. For them, Easter is more than a one day celebration. In the midst of the dying, resurrection is a rock that will not shift, a shaft of light that banishes the darkness, a breath of clean, fresh air.

These folks been much on my mind the last few days, for I learned much from them, not the least of which is that what is true for them is true for all of us.

Barking Dogs

Early one evening recently, I sat in a school parking lot waiting for one of our daughters to be released from choir practice. The parking lot bordered the fenced yard of one of the houses in the neighborhood. Behind the fence were two dogs. One looked to be a scruffy poodle sorely in need of a haircut, while the other was a short-haired mongrel, a Heinz-57 of a dog who seemed to be mostly fence-jumper. The poodle wandered aimlessly while the mongrel barked at everything, up to and including a leaf falling off a tree.

The after-school activities must have been numerous, because even at that after 5 hour, kids were all over the place. The mongrel was having a field day, barking himself hoarse, either trying to scare someone or get someone’s attention. What I noticed was that no one paid him any mind. I guess the kids were so used to his noise that they tuned it out.

One young man in particular caught my attention. Big for middle school, he managed to shoulder a backpack, carry a musical instrument, and talk on his cell phone without missing a beat. As he passed between my car and the fence, he never looked up as the barker snapped, snarled, and hopped along the edge of the fence. All that noise, and he wasn’t even heard.

Then the poodle got into the action. From all the way across the yard, this aimless wanderer shot toward the fence with that well-known yap, screeching to a halt just before he banged into the chain links, the hair standing up on his dusty back, yelping with all his might. For the first time, I saw someone react to the noise. The young man I had been observing stopped the phone conversation, shifted his backpack, and took a few steps away from the fence. Even though he knew the fence was between him and trouble, this new development had grabbed his attention. It wasn’t the noise, but the one making the noise.

Have you ever noticed how that’s true among us humans? Bark often enough and aimlessly enough, and after awhile no one pays attention. Remain quiet, pick up your spots, act with energy and enthusiasm, someone’s liable to listen. In John 7:46, Jesus was teaching in the temple while upsetting the authorities. The authorities wanted him arrested, but the temple guards refused to do so. When asked why, they responded “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” Hmmm. There’s a lesson there. I’m trying to learn it.

Life or Something Like It

This morning I received a phone call from a friend who alerted me to the possibility of a thunderstorm with hail headed our way. I checked the radar on the internet, and my inner meteorologist told me that the tail of the storm looked like it would just barely clip us. In other words, no hail and not much rain. At least that is what the picture said.

Working away at my desk, I noticed that it was getting progressively darker. I began to reconsider my previous evaluation of the situation, walked downstairs, looked out the windows, and thought, “Well, maybe I need to park my car under a tree. I don’t think the wind will knock down the tree, and it might slow down some of the hail.” Before I could get back in the building, the heavens opened. Fortunately, there wasn’t much hail, but as I watched the pouring rain, I was beginning to doubt my radar-reading skills. It didn’t last long, but the rain was enough to make the streets run full.

As quickly as it began, it was over. Within an hour of the storm, the sky was blue and the sun was shining brightly. An hour or so later, I was in my car, making the rounds of hospitals and rehabilitation centers. As I drove the streets, I thought, “What a wonderful day! We don’t get many days in Dallas as pretty as this one.”

Of course, I am as wrong about that evaluation as I was about the earlier radar. We have numerous beautiful days here, plenty of sunshine and blue skies. I suspect that my remark was prompted more by the previous darkness than anything unique about the sun and sky. Their brightness was simply a stark contrast to the departed darkness.

I would have never known any of that, though, if I hadn’t been in the middle of it. If I had simply relied on a picture on a screen or stayed holed up inside, then the events of the day would have passed me by. It was when I was willing to become involved that I saw things clearly.

All this reminds me of the time some disciples first began to follow Jesus. When they asked him if he were the messiah, the promised one from God, he responded, “Come and see.” If you were to have asked them years later what happened next, I suspect they would have said, “Why, it was like the sunshine after a rain; like day when the darkness departs. It was the difference between looking at a picture and stepping into the scene. It was the difference between thinking about life and being alive.”

The day began with someone asking me to look up and to look out at what was happening in life. Of course, that’s the way it always begins.

Construction

One more brief note on the road construction near the church, and I think we’ll be through with it (and the road may be, too!).

Earlier this week I saw more activity than normal, so I wandered out to the back parking lot to check the progress. One of the supervisors came over to ask if there were a problem, to which I replied, “No, just looking.” He responded, “Great! Usually when someone comes out, we’ve done something wrong.” I said, “No, just curious. Will you be through soon?”

Then began a litany of woes. So may people involved, so many lines – gas, electrical, sewer – to move, so much rain. Then, he told me that, if they could get the land to dry out, they might be able to give us access to our parking lot sometime next week. Right now, everything is still just too wet. Growing up in West Texas, we always prayed for rain. I’m not sure I know how to pray for dry. But I told him I would give it a shot.

A little while later, I had to be outside again. I noticed that something had changed his mind, and he wasn’t waiting for a dry day. The supervisor had ordered one of his machines to begin scooping up the mud, moving it out of the way until he found dry land. I suppose he will have to go back in with fill dirt to bring it up to level, but I admired the fact that he realized that he could only make progress if he moved some things out of the way.

This construction work has been something of an aggravation, and we’re not through with it yet. But in the midst of it all I have been reminded of some truths. Sometimes in life, the only way forward is to remove some of the past. The going can get rough, roadblocks come, and delays are inevitable. We collect some mud along the way, and sometimes there’s nothing other to do than move it. But, if we will persevere, the results will be worth all the work. Paul said it this way in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Or as the writer of Hebrews said of Jesus in chapter 12:2, “...for the joy set before him endured the cross...” Good is coming. You watch. You’ll see.

Telephone

If you have tried to contact the church over the last ten days or so, you probably noticed that it was not an easy thing to do, at least up until a couple of days ago. When you rang any of our four numbers, you received one of two responses. Either it rang endlessly, or until you gave up, or, strangely and only for a little while, you received a computer generated message that said, “the number you have dialed is no longer a working number.” I suspect that some of you may have wondered what was going on at the church. Was no one working, or had we all called it quits after 140 years?

We were indeed working, even the telephone people. It took them a few days to get around to us once we alerted them that our phones were out, but once they did, they kept showing up until the problem was solved. It seems that it was not a particularly easy mystery to crack.

Our first technician did his magic with a little machine that told him the problem was not with our wires, but “somewhere else.” When I asked him what that meant, he said that it indicated a problem about a mile away. The last time I saw him, he was driving away, I suppose at least a mile away. I’m not sure what he did, but on Saturday morning, our phones worked. For about five minutes. When I called the telephone company on Monday morning to alert them to the problem, the young woman who has to deal with these problems all the time told me in a nice, patient voice that “our records indicate that you had service on Saturday morning.” In almost as nice and patient a voice, I indicated that was no longer the case. She said that they would get there as soon as they could.

Amazingly, within the hour, they were there. All day someone wandered around the building, the property, the “magic mile,” to no avail. All their equipment proved to be of no value in tracking down the gremlins that were infecting the phone system. Monday evening came, and still no service.

As it turns out, it wasn’t gremlins. Early Tuesday morning, a new tech was on site, his only special equipment a bucket truck that would lift him high on a pole about a mile away. As he dug among the wires, he discovered the problem. A squirrel had used ours for lunch, or maybe a nest. What we know for sure, in the words of the tech, “it was a mess.” The great mystery of it all is that ours were the only wires he chewed. No one else in the area had called to report a problem. An hour later, service was restored.

The phones were fixed when a man was willing to climb a pole to get into the mess of those wires. It reminds me of another time when another man climbed a pole to get into the mess of another brokenness. That time, what was fixed were not phones but lives. The good news is that, unlike phones that can go on the blink without notice, those lives are fixed forever. That is what happens when the one who made us is the one who repairs us.