What a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong’s classic song, “What a Wonderful World”[1] (I can recognize it from the very first notes), described my feelings while eating endless salad at our local Olive Garden. The restaurant was filled with people laughing, drinking and eating.

When the second big salad bowl laden with lettuce, black olives, onions, tomatoes and croutons arrived at our table I thought to myself, I wonder how much produce is consumed every day at this restaurant? Then I thought about all the pasta and other entrées being consumed that evening at the restaurant.

Munching my salad, savoring the light Italian dressing, I did a little mental calculation about all the food people consume every day throughout the world. (Over 7,630,480,000 mouths to feed every day.) I simply can’t wrap my mind around the veritable mountain of fruit, vegetables and meat our earth produces. Not just every day but every day since the beginning of human history.

Think of all the amazing varieties of good food from the oceans, streams, fields, vineyards, and orchards harvested and consumed daily on our blue-and-green planet, and yet…there is always more on the shelves the next day.

Yes, of course I am remembering the many across the world who are hungry and malnourished, perhaps lacking sufficient food to even sustain health. I suspect that this is more of a distribution problem than a supply problem. There is food aplenty, but for all the reasons we know so well—greed, war, poverty, geography, and weather—it sometimes doesn’t arrive in the hands and on the tables of those who need it most. Who could deny that we Americans waste so much; we could certainly do more to help close the gap between the well fed and the starving.

Even so, in spite of the sin, neglect, and abuse, earth produces mountains of food every single day. Should we be surprised by this abundance? Isn’t this the very thing God promised—yea, commanded—on the third day of creation?

“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth. And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13, esv)

The text continues in verses 28-30: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue (manage) it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.'”

And it has been so every day since the beginning of the human race.

Homo sapiens have done a pretty good job “subduing” the earth. We have left our footprints and our litter everywhere including the summit of earth’s highest mountains and the Great Pacific Trash Vortex where an estimated 80,000 tons of plastic and other debris is littered across 1.6 million square kilometers of ocean. Obviously, we have not earned an “A” as managers. Through both ignorance and greed we have eliminated species that once graced our world—and will not return.

So I ask myself, why would God continue to command the earth to produce and produce the endless food supply day after day? Why would God continue to send the rain and sunshine to sustain the harvests?

First, I turn to the Great Flood in Genesis. After the deluge had destroyed all creatures on the land except those in the ark, God entered into a covenant with Noah. In spite of endemic human rebellion, God said “Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:21b-22, emphasis mine, esv). God also commanded Noah and his family to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and gave every living creature and plant as food.

In Acts 14:16-17, the apostle Paul and Barnabas delivered the same message. After finally convincing the citizens of Lystra to cease and desist from worshipping them, Paul challenged the volatile crowd to turn from their idols and worship the one true living God—the Creator of all. Note Paul’s words: “In past generations he (God) allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Theologians sometimes refer to this as “common” grace. But that doesn’t mean it’s ordinary! It is “common” because every person experiences it, no matter where they live, how they live, or whom they worship. The Creator has honored His promise to bless the ground and produce food for every living creature.

Today and every day the earth continues to produce food for us—even when we are ungrateful. That is grace!

So perhaps the next time you stroll through a supermarket or visit the local farmer’s market or order from the menu of a restaurant or grab a burger, why not stop to reflect? Think for just a moment about the sheer amount of food produced and consumed every day. Reflect on God who continues to send the rains and the harvests to keep the shelves stocked for people like you and me.

I can never duplicate Louis Armstrong’s unique, gravelly voice, but I too can celebrate and sing about the green trees and red roses. And I can think to myself, What a wonderful world!

For those of us who know the Creator, let us sing “What a wonderful God!” After all, this is our

Father’s World that provides us with such abundance.

Just because He is Who He is.A gracious Provider who keeps His promises.

Enjoy Louis Armstrong on the YouTube site below.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21LGv8Cf0us.

Never Alone

Today, on the front porch, let’s reflect on a few people who have stood alone against the tide and experienced times of darkness and loneliness yet discovered they never really were alone.

Consider Joseph. Betrayed by his brothers and left to languish alone in a prison cell. He would be betrayed by a fellow prisoner who had promised to put in a good word for Joseph after being released from prison. Enjoying his freedom and restoration as the king’s cup bearer he simply forgot about Joseph.

Let’s try to step into Joseph’s experience. How are we feeling? I feel betrayed. Forgotten. Hopelessly alone. But, I wonder if Joseph was ever truly alone?

Think about Elijah lying under the broom tree begging to die after running away from Jezebel’s death threat. Listen to Elijah’s lament, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life for I am no better than my fathers.”

Later, meeting God on the mountain, Elijah continued his complaint. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, The God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19: 4, 10 emphases mine) Those are the words of the great prophet who had once stared down 450 prophets of Baal. Now the brave man, who dared to challenge a king, has collapsed into a pathetic, whining imp.

So was Elijah all alone under the broom tree? Was he ever alone in the cave? No! God came to him on the mountain and gently spoke strength into His wounded warrior.

How can I forget three young Jewish men refusing to kowtow to a king’s edict that demanded worship of his image? Together they resisted aborting their integrity or compromising their loyalty to the one true God. Convinced God could deliver them from the furnace, but declaring even if God didn’t come through, they would not bow. Tethered with ropes they were cast into the blazing fire.

I chuckle when I read King Nebuchadnezzar’s response in Daniel 3:24-25: The king was “astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors (as if he needed counsel to explain what he could see with his own eyes), ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?…But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth man is like a son of the gods.’”

Come now, relax and laugh with me at the above scene. But never forget, because three men dared to stand for God in the heat of the moment, God stood beside them in the blazing fire.

One more story, okay? What about Paul languishing in a Roman prison facing a death sentence? We tend to make men like Paul bigger than life. Men cut out of better cloth than the rest of us. Writing those words draws me back to James’ comment that “Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, the whimpering man under the tree I can identify with. Been there many times myself. But, the bold man challenging the prophets of Baal to a “throw down” on Mount Carmel to see whose God could ignite the fire and barbecue the beef does not describe me.

Back to Paul in 2 Timothy four. Here I see another man bigger than life who is just like me. Not good alone.Paul begs Timothy to come quickly- before winter if possible bringing a coat and the parchments- the precious parchments.Only Dr. Luke remains in Rome with Paul. Demas, once a stalwart warrior and comrade, has fallen in love with the good life and deserted Paul (at least that’s the way Paul feels). Crescens has been sent to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. Tychicus was sent to deal with issues in the church at Ephesus. Carpus is ministering in Troas.

Oh, yes, Alexander the coppersmith has done great harm to Paul causing pain on top of imprisonment.

Now, listen to Paul’s words etched with quill and ink. “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” I tremble as I write those words. This is Paul- my bold, irresistible giant of the Faith lamenting, “All have deserted me.” Don’t you feel deep, deep pain in those words?

The next sentence leaps off the parchment. No one stood with Paul at his trial, “but the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (emphasis mine)

When the sky is falling around me and life is in shambles, I may feel alone, but I am never truly alone.

I quote, J. D. Grear’s message at The Moody Bible Institute’s Founders Week at last February: “I know He stands by my side, because He stood in my place.”

Grear added, “If God could take the worst day in His Son’s life and turn it into our best day, can’t He take my worst day and turn into something good?”

What say you?

Without a Trace

Without a Trace, a CBS television series that ran from Sept. 2002 – May 2009, was built around the FBI Missing Persons Unit in NYC. The series focused on the drama surrounding the loved ones of the missing person. Episodes ended with information about missing persons in real life – sometimes this information helped lead to the recovery of a missing person.

Today, on the Front Porch Swing, let’s consider the dramatic events that happen when Someone is missing. Up front I want to give credit to two contributing editors in World Magazine, Marvin Olasky and Janie B. Cheaney. Both wrote columns that triggered thoughts for today’s Front Porch.

I subscribe to two magazines: Christianity Today and World. I read with a scissor to cut out (actually I just tear out) articles to file for future reflection or stimulation for a sermon. Marvin Olasky’s article, Running from extinction, published in the April 1, 2017 edition of World creatively deals with the word “nothing.” Cheaney’s article, “The terror of the void”, appeared in the Nov. 11, 2017 edition. Cheaney addresses the definition of evil. Both articles address a void in our culture that may help explain the spiraling rate of suicide and the irrational violence behind mass killings that have become norm.

Olasky quotes from Israeli author Hillel Halkin’s book, After One-Hundred-and-Twenty (Princeton, 2016). The 120 is a reference to the age of Moses in Deuteronomy 34:7. In contrast to the indomitable spirit of Moses as he faced death, Halkin admits his own personal struggle with FOMO- the fear of missing out. If we cease to exist after death then nothing, absolutely nothing exists after our short life. Consider Halkin’s own words, “I fear an end to the habits and joys I’ve grown used to… how can a life that has existed cease to exist without a trace (emphasis mine)…?” “Without a trace” that we ever existed. Contemplate those words with me.

Olasky also quotes British writer Julian Barnes, age 71: “People say of death, ‘There’s nothing to be frightened of.’ They say it quickly, casually. Now let’s say it again, slowly, with re-emphasis. ‘There’s NOTHING to be frightened of.’” Read those words again but pause to reflect after the word NOTHING.

Let me say it this way, if there is no God there is NOTHING waiting for us after this life. Nothing I ever did or said will matter. I will have disappeared without a trace. The very thought can be frightening. If there is no hope beyond the grave there is nothing to live for. Nothing to die for.

Could the void in contemporary thinking- this NOTHINGness- help explain the dramatic increase in suicides? Does the belief that we disappear without a trace feed the opioid epidemic? Personally, I believe in the God of the Bible so I find great motivation to live life fully- to seize every fleeting moment- because death comes so quickly. When it’s my turn to exit this world, that is all I have ever known, I do not fear facing NOTHING because I know SOMEONE.

I cling to Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself…” I stake my future on the words of Paul while facing martyrdom, “to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ which is far better.” “Far better” than the NOTHING one faces without God in the equation.

Come to think of it, because God does exist, nobody will face nothingness after death, but everybody will face their Creator and give an account for the short part they played in the drama of life on earth.

Now, before leaving the Front Porch, I draw a few thoughts from Janie Cheaney’s article, “The terror of the void.” Cheaney asks how can we explain the evil of the mass murders taking place all too frequently in our nation? School shootings. The Las Vegas massacre – Stephen Paddock methodically shooting innocent victims from his hotel balcony- victims he didn’t know and had never experienced an offense from. There is no evidence Paddock acted out of a radicalized religious fervor. He just flat out wanted to kill people.

To help determine the possible motive behind these acts of violence let us first ask “what is evil?” So take a stab at defining evil without using the word evil or bad. Difficult, isn’t it?

Augustine, according to Cheaney, said “evil is not a ‘thing’ at all. In fact evil is the absence of good.”

Just like darkness is the absence of light. If God is the source of all that is good and lovely and noble, and if we remove the source of good, what is left? A vacuum. Nature always resists a vacuum. Men can create a vacuum by sucking all the air out of a container and sealing it. But, the smallest sub-microscopic leak in the seal will inevitably yield to atmospheric pressure and fill the vacuum.I wonder if there a void, a nothingness, in the lives of many of these mass murderers? Has that void been filled evil?

I wonder, can we be good without God? I didn’t ask if atheists are incapable of performing good actions. Many act in constructive ways. But, every void seeks to be filled with something. In this case, it is not something missing but Someone.

As America drifts deeper and deeper into the darkness of secular humanism and further and further from the moral values that once anchored us as a culture there is only one thing left to fill the vacuum. And, it isn’t good.

After Adam rejected God’s command every human baby has been born with a void that only God can fill.

I believe more gun laws will never stop the violence in our schools until the void in empty lives has been filled with something good- with Someone.

I appreciate Cheaney’s insight that we, who have discovered and experienced this Someone, have the great privilege of sharing good news with empty souls all around us.

A Day to Remember

America just celebrated the 242nd anniversary of our birth as a nation. Fifty-six statesmen eventually signed the Declaration of Independence from England. The rest is history. You and I enjoy the benefits of the courage and wisdom of our founding fathers. It was one thing to declare independence but another to experience it. Blood was spilled in that pursuit.

Today, as I write on July 6, 2018 I am reminded of another historic event that helped shape our history as followers of Jesus Christ. Today I am free to read and interpret and proclaim the Scriptures because of a man who paid the ultimate price rather than recant or compromise his convictions. I speak of John Huss who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415 in Konstanz Germany.

Huss, a Roman Catholic priest, preached at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague (which held 3,000 people). It became the most popular church and center of reform in Bohemia. His sermons were often preached in the Czech language rather than Latin.

This break from Catholic tradition and dogma was the result of Huss discovering the writings of another reformer, John Wycliffe, who had advocated and published the Bible in English so the common man could read and comprehend. Wycliffe would also be persecuted for this “crime.”

After Huss “discovered the Bible” he said “the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures…” These discoveries led to Huss opposing errors he saw in the Roman Church- errors such as the selling of indulgences to raise money for the Church. Huss also proclaimed the Bible was the authority for the church. He published sermons and other literature in the language of the people calling for correcting errors that had crept into the Church.

In November 1414 Hus was invited to the Council of Constance to present and defend his teachings. Promised safe conduct, he agreed to attend the council but was immediately arrested and imprisoned. He was charged with 39 errors- many were not things he had taught or advocated. Called to recant or perish, Huss responded, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written… I am ready to die today.”

On the day of his execution (July 6, 1415) he was dressed in his priestly robes and then stripped of them one by one and tied to the stake. Given one last opportunity to recant- to deny the truth he had discovered in Scripture, Huss prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.

Many of my readers may have never heard of John Huss, but we all know about Martin Luther, the great reformer. Huss became a hero to Luther and other reformation leaders. Huss preached the same truths a century before Luther nailed up his 95 theses. The surname “Huss” means goose in the Czech language. Luther would later anecdotally remind his followers of the “goose who had been cooked for defying the pope.”

So today, just two days after celebrating the independence my country and as a citizen of another greater and eternal kingdom- The Kingdom of God- I thank God for men like Wycliffe and Luther, but especially on this day, I am grateful for John Huss.

I am who I am, a student of the Bible and a preacher of the gospel because Huss paid the ultimate price to preserve the truth.

Confronting Life’s Greatest Question

“Syd, look at this quote,” Mary exclaimed, bursting into the room with her laptop in hand, “It says the same thing you’re writing about.” I had been working on the first chapter of the book, Fear and Wonder. Mary had been searching for a book on Amazon when the following promotion for A. W. Tozer’s classic book, The Attributes of God, popped up on the screen: “No question is more important than ‘What is God like?’”

I believe the two most important questions we must face are “Is there a God?” and if so “what is God like?” How we answer them should influence every aspect of our lives until the moment we exhale our last breath.

I do not offer evidence for God’s existence in the forthcoming book since it is addressed to persons who already believe in God. The evidence for a Creator is almost overwhelming if anyone is willing to objectively consider. Great minds have written books providing evidence for God’s existence. If you are still struggling with doubts about God, I recommend two contemporary books: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller and No God but One by Nabeel Querishi. Nabeel was raised in a devout Muslim family but after fighting against the evidence he crossed the line and become a follower of Jesus Christ.

So, what difference does it make whether or not I believe in God?

In the August 8, 2017 edition, our local newspaper reported the results of a research project published in The Nature of Human Behavior Journal. The purpose of the study was to determine if faith or a lack of faith in a deity affects our personal moral decisions. More than 3,000 persons in thirteen countries were asked if a “sociopath that had killed several people and dismembered their bodies was more likely to be a teacher who believed in a god or a teacher who did not believe in any kind of deity.” Overwhelmingly, those surveyed (including professed atheists and agnostics) believed the sociopath was more likely to be a non-believer.

The survey does not suggest religious people are not capable of heinous crimes. More than one person has fallen off the edge of sanity in their religious fervor. We recoil when a mass murderer justifies their crime because “God told them to do it.” History is replete with evidence that horrible acts of violence have been carried out in the name of religion. Consider the atrocities of ISIS and Boka Haram carried out in the name of Allah. What about the lynching of blacks carried out by professing Christians who were members of the Klu KIux Klan?

The survey demonstrated that even skeptics and atheists tend to believe that faith in a deity ought to affect our moral choices. It only makes sense, because if there is no God there is no life after death. No judgment. So, let us just eat, drink and be merry (even murder) since tomorrow we die.

Without God in the equation, we are just part of the circle of life in the movie, The Lion King.” The lion eats the antelope; the lion dies and becomes fertilizer for the grass antelope will eat. I thank God, and with that expression I admit my bias that there is a God so life is more than playing a small part in an endless circle of life and death.

It is even fair to ask “Why be good if there is no God? Why not just squeeze all the gusto we can even if it harms another person?”

If there is no God, there are no absolutes- no right or wrong. Post modern belief that there are no absolute moral absolutes is justified. The door is wide open to create my own personal list of right and wrong.

Let’s face it, if there is no Creator there will be no life for me after they “close the lid on me.” (Those are the actual words of a military vet describing his eventual death when he was interviewed on a local television station here in Bend). Without God there is no judgment so it really does come down to Darwin’s survival of the fittest. The Nazis were justified to identify who didn’t deserve to live because they were unfit whether they be Jews or Poles or the disabled who were using valuable resources the rest of us deserve. Come to think of it, if there is no absolute right or wrong why even track down war criminals to face charges that really don’t matter?

I have offered reasons why faith in God ought to prevent me and you from doing things that harm others. I now share a positive motivation for choosing to do good.

I believe I will someday face my Creator so I want to please Him, not out of fear, but because I love Him. I want to do the right thing because God has done so much for me. He didn’t abandon me to perish like I deserve. He came to rescue people like you and me.

Romans 5:8 states “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Think about it, the only innocent person to leave sandal prints on the shores of Galilee has already paid the death penalty I deserve. Therefore, I choose to do good because God, who is the very essence of love and source of all that is love, has first loved me!

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Is God Severe…or Kind and Gracious?

That question is like asking me, “Syd, what is your favorite kind of pie”?

Pie, in my book, is the king of all deserts. So when people ask which is my favorite, I respond with a smile and a “yes.” Truth be known, my favorite-of-all is actually Marion berry. Wait…maybe it’s really peach. But then there’s pumpkin…with whipped cream….

In the book Fear and Wonder I have attempted to answer the question whether God is severe or kind. After carefully searching the Scriptures I have discovered the answer is unequivocally “yes.” God is both kind and severe. We simply can’t isolate one of His characteristics from the rest. His attributes are not a box of chocolates where I can pick my favorite flavor and ignore the rest.

In fact, those two attributes, kindness and severity, are the very words Paul chose to use in Romans 11:22, where he writes: “Note then the kindness and severity of God….” Two words that appear to be separated by miles on a personality test have been harnessed together to describe, not two distinct people, but one Person. Several other words are used throughout Scripture to complement these two attributes of kindness and severity.

God’s kindness is described by words such as mercy, grace, patience and love—words we love to think about or sing about. His severity has been described with words like justice, wrath, vengeance and judgment—words we are less comfortable talking about and are very unlikely to sing about. In Romans 11:22, Paul uses both severity and kindness to describe God’s response to Israel’s disobedience and rejection of their Messiah. God severely cut off Israel—like pruning off an unfruitful branch—while at the same time, displaying His off-the-chart kindness by actually grafting Gentiles into the tree.

You will need to get the book (tentatively scheduled for release in June 2019) to discover my expanded commentary on Romans 11:22. That is not the purpose of this blog. In fact, I am reaching back to last week’s comments about the “pendulum effect ”as the Church swings between emphasizing God’s more severe and gentle attributes.

I have witnessed the pendulum swing between God as a cosmic cop or a doting grandfather. In Fear and Wonder I describe how my early impressions about God were shaped by a legalistic congregation—where we were frequently warned about God’s wrath and judgment. Evangelistic sermons blazed with visions of hell and God’s wrath. I remember praying as a child in a Sunday School class, asking Jesus into my heart in order to avoid a fiery hell. Looking back, it was more like taking out a fire insurance policy than falling in love with Jesus. Such an experience adversely affected my spiritual journey for decades. I fell in love with the Church, the Bible, and preaching and teaching, but Jesus seldom felt up close and personal.

I learned to preach while a teenager driving a farm tractor. A good sermon, in my home church, was judged by its volume and the emotional tension and guilt it stirred among the faithful. My favorite sermon—preached with great fervor from my seat on the tractor—was “Comet in the Kitchen and Cobwebs in the Closet.” (Don’t you like the alliteration? Not bad for a thirteen year old.) This was my point: Fellowship gatherings and potlucks were usually well attended, so the kitchen was always clean and well stocked with Comet Cleanser. But the prayer closet (a Wednesday night prayer meeting) was poorly attended and cobwebs hung undisturbed.

I preached it loud, going for all the guilt I could generate. In my congregation of one, however (our farm dog, Pal, who relentlessly followed the tractor around the field hour after hour) there was never any evidence of Holy Spirit conviction. Pal just jogged beside the tractor, tongue hanging out a mile and a half. The only similarity to a congregant was Pal occasionally looking up at me with that “When can we get out of here and go home?” look. I recognized Pal’s countenance because I had felt that way many a Sunday when I would have preferred to be fishing or hunting.

My home church in Nebraska faithfully proclaimed God’s holiness and wrath and the impending judgment. Yes, I’m sure we also talked about God’s love and grace, but somehow it never caught on. Perhaps all the talk about the severity of God smothered kinder words like love and grace.

All I know is that while I never felt close to God, I certainly feared Him. Many a night I lay in bed repenting and re-repenting some past sin—just in case Jesus returned before morning.

So I’m asking here…are we preaching the whole counsel of God today—or has the pendulum swung past the center of gravity? Is our teaching about God’s attributes biblically balanced—or are we in danger of, in our reaction against the abuse of over emphasizing God’s severity, swinging too far by virtually ignoring God’s wrath and judgment?

That’s the question I address in the book. Today, I am certain of this one thing: exaggerating one of God’s attributes to the neglect of another attribute is not a laughing matter. It is idolatry—like creating a god in my image.

Scripture brims over with warnings about God’s severity and wrath against all forms of idolatry. And it is there for good reason. Nobody but nobody can compare with our God. Nothing from one end of the universe to the other, nothing in time or eternity can compare with the intertwining of tender love and severe wrath displayed at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on my behalf and yours.

God is the very definition of holiness and grace, and if we ignore either one it is to our peril and incalculable loss.

Yes, God is both kind and severe.

Lessons from a Father’s Day Card: Blott en Dag

Most of the blogs thus far have introduced the book, Fear and Wonder, to be published by Moody Publishers. Today my heart is both heavy with uncertainties and filled with anticipation. So please sit with me on the swing as an old, soon to be 74 year old, reminisces. That’s what old men do best.

I attempted to make a video blog but was not pleased with the quality. Perhaps it was looking at my gray head and a very noticeable crooked mouth.

First let me explain the opening words above: Blott en Dag. No, they are not a typo but the title of a wonderful hymn I was introduced to while a student at Moody Bible Institute in Miss Turner’s Introduction to Missions Class.

Blott en Dag are the Swedish words translated Day by Day, a song composed by Carolina Sandell Berg in 1865. The lyrics were influenced by the drowning death of her father, a Lutheran Pastor in Sweden as his daughter watched him die. Carolina composed many hymns and was compared to the American composer, Fanny Crosby.

In my research for the story behind Day by Day I discovered she had also written the words to “Children of the Heavenly Father.” That song was sung at my father’s memorial service three years ago. It was a tune Dad hummed over and over again. His grandchildren and great grandchildren remember Dad adding his own lyrics to the tune.

The focus of the video was the Father’s Day card Mary gave me. Usually greeting cards are just that to me- a quaint greeting. I read them but soon the lyrics on the card are forgotten along with the card in the recycling bin. But this Father’s Day card was different. So different that it still lies open on my desk to read and re-read. That’s what I wish to share with you on the swing today.

Mary chooses cards carefully searching for just the right words. She will underline a key word for phrase for emphasis. Every word in my Father’s Day card was underlined- two had been underlined three and even four times.

Before I share this special greeting card I want to emphasize how much deeper our relationship has grown after 52 years of sharing life together for better or worse. Fifty-two years sounds like a long time. It is! After 52 years, we share so many memories together.

A wise man once said the secret of a long and intimate marriage comes down to two choices: Choose to lower your expectations and to raise you commitment. Marriage doesn’t work well if it is all about being served and pleased. Rather it is choosing to value the other person and seek to bless them.

One more thing before sharing the lyrics on the card and in the song. Many of you know that I was severely injured in 1984 when scaffolding collapsed during construction of the new Powellhurst Baptist Church building in Portland. I was hospitalized six weeks, lying in a body cast with both legs and one arm in a cast. Mary was the first person I saw every morning for six weeks- often peeking her head in the door of my room before dawn. She was the last to leave after visiting hours. During five months recovering at home she served me day and night. Never a complaint though she was exhausted. Yes, it was what she had promised in our wedding vows, but she served unselfishly because she loved me.

Since August 1984 I have struggled as a result of the accident. Complications from the fall have accelerated in the past year with the result I am losing strength in my left leg due to spinal nerve damage. I need to pull myself upstairs with my arms, and I don’t like it. I don’t like reversing rolls with Mary so that she does things I used to be able to do.

Jim, a friend here in Bend, asked what I saw in the future. My response was “a wheelchair.” He asked how to pray for me. My response was that I would face the physical deterioration with gracefulness and gratefulness. That is not my default position. No, I prefer to complain. After all, I am a “the glass is half-empty-kind-of-guy.”

Oh yes, the card.

Forgive an old man for sharing about his aches and pains and memory loss. However, my intent was not to raise sympathy but to introduce a greeting card from the woman I have come to love more deeply than I ever dreamed possible. Here’s my Father’s Day card with every word underlined:

“My Husband My Love.You’re not only the one I love with all my heart,

you’re my closest friend as well, My partner in all things.

I have such faith in the love we share, and I know we can make the best of whatever life brings our way, as long as we’re together.

So blessed you’re in my life. Happy Father’s Day.

I love you!! Mary

As I read the card I caught the message behind each word. As we face an uncertain future we are stronger together. Mary underlined “whatever” three times. “Together” was underlined not three but four times.

Solomon nailed it, “Two are better than one… if one falls his friend can help him up.”

I realize you are busy, but please linger a moment while I share the first verse from a hymn that I find myself singing to myself frequently these day. (Yes, old men talk to themselves so why not sing?)

Day by Day

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each what He deems best-

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.

Blott en Dag, by Carolina Sandell Berg, 1865- Public Domain

Here is a Website so you can also enjoy the lyrics and melody of Day by Day:

How much more do the last words of the third verse resonate in my heart today: “One by one the days, the moments fleeting, till I reach the promised land.”

The Pendulum Effect

“Come aboard this rocking ship for a most memorable voyage.”

Oh, it was remarkable all right.

I’m still remarking about it after 40 years.

Those were the words, painted on a sign that greeted our family before we climbed on board The Dragon Swing at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. It was the first (and last) ride of the day for my youngest son and me. Seated in a long, narrow, boat-like vessel with a dragon’s head and tail was like riding on the pendulum of a large clock.

Dathan and I share a susceptibility to motion sickness. The older I get the more easily I can experience motion sickness. A recent Peanuts cartoon in the local newspaper described me. Peppermint Patty is talking to Charlie Brown at the gate of an amusement park. Charlie is seated on the ground with a pathetic look on his face as Patty obsreves, “Some kids even get sick on the merry-go-round but you’re the only one I know who gets sick going through the turnstile.”I was aware about my battle with motion sickness but, for whatever reason, we chose that day to walk on the wild side. I started repenting less than one minute into the ride. As the dragon rose higher and higher, it began to swing wider and wider. Taking a seat in the dragon’s belly had been sheer folly. Somehow, we held ourselves together through the ride. When the reptile finally slithered to a complete stop Dathan and I—both red-haired and fair skinned—were even whiter than usual. The rest of the day at the amusement park was not amusing. Pie-lover that I am, I couldn’t even be tempted with a bite of the famous Knott’s Berry pie.

It strikes me that sometimes the church resembles that long-ago Dragon Swing. (Hopefully, without the nausea.) Like a pendulum we tend to swing from one extreme to another, emphasizing a biblical truth such as God’s holiness and justice in one generation only to swing the other way focusing almost exclusively on His grace and mercy.

That is the focus of my forthcoming book: Fear and Wonder: Celebrating the Kindness and Severity of Our God. (Working title.)

Each of us must face two vital questions in this life: Is there a God? If so, what is God like? The book doesn’t spend much time with the first question, since I’m writing to people who already believe in Him. Great books by men and women with brilliant minds have addressed God’s existence down through the years. One that I can particularly recommend is Tim Keller’s The Reason for God.

The question of God’s existence ought to affect every area of our lives. If there is no Deity—no God or gods—then why be good or kind or loving? Just be strong and rule your own personal micro kingdom. If there is no God, then there could be no heaven or hell or final judgment. No right or wrong, and no ultimate accountability. So why not eat, drink and grab for all the gusto this world has to offer…no matter who gets hurt into the process. Let the most fit survive. Forget about the vulnerable.

But God’s existence is a game changer, isn’t it?

We are created beings, not simply the latest edition on an evolutionary calendar. Knowing this, we have a very strong and viable reason to be good. We want to please our Creator. And beyond that, we know there is life after we gasp for a final breath on earth. There is a judgment with eternal consequences. If we have been created in God’s image, every life has value, whether it is hidden in a mother’s womb or abandoned and forgotten in the back hallway of a nursing home.

Assuming God exists (and when I consider the evidence I don’t have the faith to deny it), the question about what is God like becomes vital. That is the central point in Fear and Wonder. God, of course, is out-of-this-world indescribable. Mighty and mysterious as He certainly is, how can we ever hope to figure Him out?

I can’t.

And neither can you.

I am a blind man stumbling through a field of landmines searching for something or Someone who may just happen to be somewhere out there in this vast universe. Sounds like Vladmir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot.

Left to ourselves we will create a god in our own image, since that is all we know. And let me assure you, a god just-like-me would be pathetic being indeed. Such a god would be weak and unpredictable at best and cruel and malevolent at worst. Such a deity isn’t worthy of our notice, let alone our worship and devotion.

Next week, here on the Front Porch Swing I want to consider the challenge of “figuring out” this amazing Person we call God.

Oh, yes, back to the Dragon Swing. The God I heard about as a child was holy and fearfully righteous. A Cosmic Cop. The threat of His anger and wrath brought me to my knees as a child. Not in wonder but out of overwhelming fear. That’s quite a contrast to the God I read about or hear presented by church leaders and television preachers today.

Has the pendulum swung so far toward God’s kindness and mercy and grace at the expense of His severity and holiness?

Let’s talk about that.

Fear and Wonder

Last week I shared that I have authored a book to be released

June 2019. Here’s the back story on how and why I wrote a book.

I have taught the importance of knowing God in a Protestant church in Ireland and at a Bible College in western Uganda. The most important questions we must face in life are “Is there a God?” and if so “What is God like?” I discovered the topic was relevant both in Roman Catholic Ireland and in Uganda, where most people claim to be Christians but many still practice native religions.

So why write a book when I could just slouch in the recliner waiting for the evening news and weather? To be honest, that’s not my lifestyle. I volunteer at a local faith-based recovery ministry where I teach every Thursday. I also preach in a rotation at a church in a resort community here in Central Oregon. Meeting with men one-on-one is a highlight in my retirement years. I also mentor a pastor of a small church where I served as the interim pastor.

So, no…my life isn’t boring. Not at all.

The passion and gift to teach God’s Word remains deeply imbedded in my soul. It was this passion that led to me to minister in Ireland and Uganda. The material I shared in these two extremely different cultures became the building blocks for Fear and Wonder. A biblical view of God is as vital in secular America as in Europe and Africa.

I shared a rough draft of the material with my dear friend, Larry Libby. Larry has been the editor for several Christian authors. Upon reading the material, Larry felt it had potential to become a book. So, I began writing the manuscript that has become the book I never intended to write.

Getting published as an unproven author can be next to impossible unless you happen to be the pastor of a mega church or have a big-time TV or radio ministry. Neither applies to me.

I assumed the book would need to be self-published. Testing the water I sent the required information about the book to two Christian Publishing Houses.

One publishing house liked the manuscript—but said my “platform was too small.” Platform is their word for the sphere of my influence.

After no response for over a month from the second publishing house I was preparing to self-publish the book. Within a week I received a response from Moody Publishers saying they were interested in the book. I am in awe and deeply humbled because Moody will provide extensive promotion that I could never have achieved as a self publisher.

Over the next few months I want to share a few concepts from the book and invite your response. Hopefully it will also tweak your interest in reading the book.

After 50-plus plus years preparing weekly sermons and Bible studies for both the local church and in academic settings, I trust God will continue using my gifts through these blogs. I may no longer be preparing a sermon every week, but I will do my best to offer food for thought and spiritual nourishment.

I invite you to join me on The Front Porch Swing. Pour yourself a cup of Joe—or a frosty glass of lemonade—as we consider these two vital questions: Is there a God? If so, what is God like?

I’m looking forward to it!

Front Porch Swing…

The very words release a flood of warm memories. Our first parsonage in rural Ohio was an old farmhouse with a porch swing where Mary and I could watch farm tractors and rusty old pickups pass by. We could wave to the neighbors who lived catty-corner across the road.

My all-time favorite memories of a front porch swing was in Portland, Oregon where I attended Western Seminary and served as pastor of Powellhurst Baptist Church. The house was a fixer-upper for sure, which we obtained for a pittance. Mary, bless her, saw potential in the old unkempt house—easily the worst property on the block. I saw an exterior that hadn’t tasted a coat of paint for decades. It reminded me of an old rusty pickup truck languishing behind a barn, with weeds creeping over the running boards.

In those days, Mary was Joanna Gaines before there was a Joanna Gaines in the HGTV series Fixer Upper. Too bad she was married to Syd Brestel instead of Chip Gains. Even so, I muddled through all the restoration until the home regained its original charm and—quite honestly—became the nicest house on the block.

Houses in old Portland neighborhoods have a charm most modern track homes lack. Today we want a back yard with a fence to provide privacy from neighbors we may not know (and don’t really care to know) by name. Older homes had small backyards but a nice roomy front porch. Neighborhood homes may not have had air conditioning or flat-screen TVs with Netflix, but they did have front porch swings where neighbors could watch real life in real time—both comedies and tragedies.

On summer nights Mary and I often sat on our front porch swing on Grant Court and hollered at our neighbors about how beastly hot it was. We could watch all the kids from the neighborhood playing catch, tag, hide-n-seek, or whatever happened to be on the menu. Often in heat of day the neighbor kids would gather on our front porch and ask, “Whada ya wanna do now?”

I don’t believe we have ever experienced true neighborliness to the extent we did on Grant Court, and a lot of it centered around the front porch swing.

So that was my inspiration for launching this blog site.

I invite you to join me here on The Front Porch Swing. Sure, I may do most of the talking, but I invite you to interact with the blogs. You may want to say a hearty “amen.” Then again, you may want to take me to task. Either way, let’s just be neighbors and enjoy getting to know each other. More importantly, let’s celebrate both the kindness—and fiery holiness—of our awesome God.

It is my desire to release a fresh blog each week.

See you next Monday? Oh, and invite your friends to join us on The Front Porch Swing.

It’s the neighborly thing to do.


P. S. I have written a book with the working title Fear and Wonder: Celebrating the Kindness and Severity of Our God. Moody Publishers have contracted to publish the book and has the right to change the title.

Because I’ve never been the pastor of a mega church and don’t have a television ministry (nor desire one) I am seeking to promote the book through my Website and weekly blogs. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at all that.