Monthly Archives: October 2013

Thin Times

Jack-o'-lantern on Halloween
Jack-o’-lantern on Halloween (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Huge spiders and webs, cartoon ghosts and grave stones, jack-o-lanterns and an occasional zombie decorate several homes in my neighborhood, and perhaps yours as well. Halloween has become a significant “holiday”, at least for retailers.

The name for this holiday comes from a contraction of All Hallows Eve, the night before a day when the church celebrates the lives of significant people of faith, people we deem as hallowed, or saints. Thus the day after Halloween is All Saints Day.

My father in uniform
Harold Shaw in 1945

While we use Halloween to laugh at what we might fear, All Saints Day reminds us of people who inspire us to greatness especially during those times of fear. Those thin times when we can still feel those who have gone before us as if they might be standing next to us.

My father still inspires me to reconsider my sermons before and after Sunday mornings. I recall him listening critically to sermons and a few minutes later telling our pastor what he liked and what else the sermon might have considered. Years later, after he had retired and moved to a different community, he would send me pieces from that church’s newsletter annotated with his comments.

Who has inspired you to greatness? How might you honor their life this All Saints Day?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,* and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, — Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV)

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Call the Expert

Who do you consult with when stymied with a problem?

Oscilloscope with noiseWhen I had been a systems engineer our sonar system had a problem with noise. The test engineer had quickly isolated the cause to one particular cabinet of the 40 refrigerator size cabinets in the system. That cabinet’s designer was perplexed, the noise seemed to come and go for no reason at all. On days when it appeared, he would hook up sensitive test equipment but within minutes the noise would vanish.

Over lunch I put up my feet and consulted with the expert.

“If it varies with temperature, could we stabilize it out-of-band?” I asked returning from lunch.

A hair dryer quickly isolated our problem and the designer added a resistor to fix it.

“How did you find it?” the designer asked.

I had consulted with the best engineer I knew.

Consider your body, an amazing system of systems. Each person also hosts communities of microbes that aid digestion and help fight infections. Its design and complexity are awe-inspiring. Hence in my prayer time I consulted with the Engineer who made me. By comparison, our complex sonar system would be child’s play.

Which problem will you let God help you solve this day?

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

— Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)

No Plan B

Does God have a back up plan?

Engineer with plansI like making plans. Every day I decide what I want to accomplish and what else I might accomplish if things go well. For complicated projects, I often have contingency plans, for when things don’t go well, tasks that can be delayed and other tasks that can be accelerated if a needed item does not arrive on time.

But, what about God? Does God have backup plans for when we humans fail to meet divine expectations?

I’d like to think that most days my Plan A lines up with building God’s kingdom. But I have a Plan B when things fall apart.

But I have come to realize that when my plans fall apart it’s because I have focused too much on God’s backup plan, a plan that may have seemed less than optimal. Only then do I begin to turn towards God’s Plan A.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. — Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

Are You Spiritually Flat or Fit?

Flat tire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Flat tire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I heard a strange noise after leaving home to run a few errands. The noise changed as I drove faster, so I stopped and inspected my tires. A bright shiny bolt head protruded from my right rear tire. I dug out the spare tire from the bottom of the trunk and went through the process of changing tires. In my thirty years of driving experience I had replaced a flat tire twice, maybe three times. None-the-less I had quickly had the spare tire mounted and I was ready to drive away. That is until I fully lowered the car’s weight on to the spare and I saw that it too was soft. Having only gone a few blocks, I returned home, retrieved the bicycle pump, and inflated the spare tire to its specified pressure. Fortunately the spare held long enough to get the regular tire repaired and re-installed.

Many people go from day to day, thinking they have the resources needed to handle the occasional problems that fall onto the road of life. Most days go fairly well, so checking the status of those rarely needed resources seems silly. Like checking the pressure in my spare tire. The last time I had opened the wheel well (probably to stow my jumper cables) it still looked factory fresh. Some people may think, life is treating them well, and if they ever need God, they know where to look. They may say something like: “We have a Bible around here someplace and my church is around the corner, I can even tell you which Christmas I was there.”

As my spare tire needs to be checked, so it is always ready when needed, so too does our spiritual life need to be checked frequently to be fully ready. When my wife calls me on the phone she does not say: “This is Mrs. Shaw. May I please speak with Mr. Shaw?” No! She says, “Hi, its me,” and I know who is on the line just from the sound of her voice. By checking in frequently with God we can similarly recognize God’s voice and know that God recognizes our voice as well.

Amazingly regular spiritual exercises such as going to church and reading the Bible, actually makes life more enjoyable and healthier. Worship is more about giving thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do, than apologizing for what has gone wrong or pleading for God to make everything right again. If daily Bible reading won’t fit into your schedule, try listening to a set of CDs. If a Bible study at church would be inconvenient, try talking with a few friends about what you are reading or listening to during lunch. At first your prayers might feel stiff and formal, but after awhile, prayer will seem like talking with a close friend. Having a close friend, especially one in the highest of places, is very good.

If you are already spiritually fit, perhaps you know someone going through life unaware that their connection with God has a slow leak.

Which reminds me, how long has it been since I checked the air in my spare tire?

What’s in Your Wallet?

Emptying my wallet to photocopy all of my credit cards and identification cards got me thinking about what my wallet said about who I am.

A magazine article reminded me that more people become victims of identity theft by losing their wallet than by someone hacking into an on-line account. Photocopying both sides of my cards only took a few seconds, but considering what they said about who I am took longer to process.

In addition to the usual credit cards, driver’s license, discount cards, and health care cards I have some unusual things in my wallet. Since no one has asked me about my Presbytery membership, that identification card did not return to my wallet. I had run out of hearing aide batteries so I added a fresh pack. I doubt neither they are all that unusual. I suppose having a few band-aids would not say much about me other than I like to be prepared to help out.

I doubt many people carry a service for wholeness in their wallet. I suspect this card would set me apart even among clergy. This service includes anointing with oil, so the oil is on my key chain as a constant reminder to pray for and with other people.

Cross in wallet
What’s in Your Wallet?

But the most important thing in my wallet is kept in a zippered pocket so it will not accidentally slide out. It is a constant reminder not of who I am but whose I am. I hope that you also carry a similar reminder with you and that it influences all that you do, and would clearly mark you as special among all people.

It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him starting with Jews and then everyone else! – Romans 1:16 from The Message.

Watch, wait, then Soar

Get ready, watch and wait, and then fly.

Kite soaringSome people launch a kite by running, forcing air under their kite hoping it will rise above the still and turbulent air near the ground to steadier breezes further aloft. My preferred method is to stand and wait. I watch the leaves of near and distant trees anticipating an approaching gust, then toss my kite upward letting out string then pulling it taught hoping the gust will last long enough for the kite to soar ever higher.
Like any discipline, kite flying requires preparation and patience. Many a clear afternoon I have wanted to fly, but the trees would stand still and flags would hang limp. On those days even my most aerodynamic kite will not soar. Earlier today, the wind was strong and turbulent; my lightest kite would be quickly torn to shreds, my heaviest kite quickly took to the air demanding all of my line and pulling it back to earth demanded strength and perseverance while it fought like a big fish.

Spiritual disciplines similarly require preparation, patience, and practice.

Praying handsJust as I have a variety of kites to address a variety of winds, I also have a variety of prayer practices to address a variety of spiritual needs: breezy chat-like prayers for sunny days, breath prayers when life’s turbulence sends me spinning, and silent reflections when the Spirit has sent me soaring.
Just as I have to wait and watch for the wind, judging both its direction and strength, I also have learned to watch and wait for the Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit comes quickly with obvious signs. Other times I must wait and listen for the still clear voice of God.
And each time I must wind up my prayers and fold up my books and return to the other disciplines God has given me. Sometimes this is easy, and others I fight to stay aloft a little longer. But God needs us also to work and play, to eat, and sleep.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

– Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)