What’s this thing called blessings?

What’s this thing called blessings?

How do you describe it? What do we expect? How do I get it? These questions are not only relevant, but they will challenge the way we think of ourselves and the way we think about who God is. In some personal way, we all have an evaluation of God, based on the answer to these questions.

Is blessing when things go good at work and I’m finally making the kind of money I deserve? Is blessing when my kids are happy, healthy, and living in a stable home? Is blessing when my marriage is just the way it should be and I’m comfortable?

So, what about when these things are not true in your life? Does that mean that God is no longer blessing you? What if you can’t seem to make enough money to pay your bills, is God not blessing? What if the kids are not happy or worse, they’re dying, is God not blessing? What if your home is broken by the pain of divorce or abuse, or tragedy, is God not blessing? What if your husband is unfaithful and you’ve paced the floor all night waiting for him to come home knowing full well where he has been, is God not blessing?  How do we know the difference? How do we know when God is blessing our lives and when He has withheld his blessing? How much depends on me and my obedience and how much is the result of my sin or from others sin?

I love listening to testimonies on a Sunday morning at church. Occasionally the pastor will ask if anyone has a testimony. Presumably, this should be a positive story where there was great peril of significant loss, then at the last possible moment, God came through in a miraculous way and smoothed the path and brought victory. Then the person sits down and everyone congratulates the winner of this weeks most exciting story for their great blessing from God. Please don’t get me wrong. I congratulate too. We are all pleased when good things happen in our life, and I certainly believe that we should always give credit to our Lord. He is Good and His mercies endure forever!

I’d like to spin off into a story directly from the pages of the Bible. Arguably one of the greatest stories of blessing in the entire book. Without a doubt, the story of Abraham is one of the promise of blessing. Let’s look:

God says to Abram (later Abraham). He said, “Get of out from your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Now that’s a monumental blessing! Is there anyone who wouldn’t want to experience those words from God? What if God came to you and said “I will bless you and make your name great!”? Sign me up! This is a promise from the God of the universe. This doesn’t come with any conditions. No expectations, no reasons. Just simply, Abram, I’ve decided to bless you today, are you in?

There is no question in my mind that every single person who ever lived would kill for this blessing. Ya, I’m in. What did God ask him to do? Easy – GO. Abram, get out. Go to a land that I will show you. Wait. Did you say I have to leave my family, my comfort zone, my position? I just started this job God, and it pays really well. God, my family is all I have.

Keep in mind that in those days, family isn’t just mom, dad, and your siblings. Family is your roots, family is everything you know. It’s the people, the places, the possessions. Leaving family is leaving the monarch, the father who is the support, the reputation, and the protection. Without dad, you are a nobody in a very dangerous land. This isn’t a story about a young man being asked to leave mom and dad and go off to college. This is a story of a man who was asked to leave everything he’s ever known; to leave everything that makes him a person; to leave his identity, his purpose, and his circle of safety. This was not done… ever! You traveled as a family, your married within the extended family, you accepted the gods of your family, you built your reputation and life within that family. Leaving is a really big deal.

God said, “get out… from your family…”.

But there is something missing from this story. Something so painful, so overt, and yet, missing. It’s a question. It’s a question that everyone of us would have asked. Yet the question goes unasked. I don’t believe it’s missing simply because it wasn’t recorded, I believe it was never asked. The question: WHY? Why leave? Why leave my family and go to another land? What land? Where? When? Why?

Abram never asks; Sari never asks; his father never asks. There is something we learn about the character of Abram in the absence of the question that we need to, not only recognize, but we need to learn.

Abram lived in a time of many gods. He is what we would call today ‘poly-theistic’. Poly meaning many, and theistic meaning gods. They had a god for rain, and another for sun. They had a god for fertility and another for grain. You get the picture, no question, they lived a life worshiping, sacrificing, and obeying many gods. But there was one god they revered more than all the others. Abram knew the stories of creation, he knew them well. How this God, in just six days created everything; the world, the sun, the animals, the plants, and their own life. The other gods answered to this god. The sun god was subject to this god. He also knew the stories of how the world had turned their backs on this God and He destroyed the world and everyone in it with a flood. He saved only one man and his family. He knew the story of Noah well. He remembered how God came to Noah one day and told him to build a boat in the desert. He explained in detail how to build it. He also knew well that Noah did not question God. He never asked why. God did what He told Noah He would do. He destroyed every living creature and saved Noah and his family. Why? – because He’s God! There is no ‘why’.

This is what we call ‘the fear of God’. We have minimized the understanding of the fear of God in our world. We call it ‘respect’ or ‘reverence’. That’s not what it says, it says ‘FEAR’. Fear, by proper definition is the translators attempt to describe absolute sheer terror. If God says ‘go’, and I respect Him I might humbly ask ‘why?’. If God says Go and my response is absolute sheer terror, then I ‘GO’! I don’t ask why. (Before the ensuing debate begins, understand that I realize that the word ‘fear’ also includes respect and reverence and in some applications those words are appropriate. However, at this time, as it relates to Abram, I believe the word is dramatically stronger.)

When I grew up, my father was a man of sheer terror in my eyes. When he came home from work I did not run to meet him, I would find a place to hide. I would stay busy with some project in the basement, or be working in the barn. Then last thing I wanted was for him to come home and find me idle when he thought I should be working. I don’t suggest his form of parenting was ideal, but I do use that as an understanding of the current revelation of God in Abram’s time. When my father said to go do a certain chore, not only did I jump and go without asking why, I was afraid to even ask how to accomplish the task. I would rather find the tools and find a way to accomplish it than to ask anything. Respect?, no way – FEAR.

What Abram knows about God is recorded in the first twelve chapters of Genesis. No more, no less. He was the God that created in six days. He was the God who cursed Cain. He was the God who destroyed the city of Babel and confused the languages. These were Abram’s ancestors, his close family. Not many generations, but his own living relatives. His father and grandfather would have known people who experienced Babel. Do you realize that Abram’s father Terrah could have sat for many years listening to stories from Noah himself? Abram might have known Shem, Ham, or Japeth personally. Can you imagine listening to Shem tell how God spoke to dad and said to build the ark. How dad was restless that night and began writing down all the details of this huge boat. Maybe it sounded like this, “Ham and Japeth and I didn’t know what was happening, dad was in sheer terror, working tirelessly to make sure he had every instruction detailed just as God told him. As sweat ran down his brow he nervously told mom to keep the coffee brewing all night. Without a word we did our chores in the morning, dad was pacing the front yard. Nobody spoke a word.” Now wouldn’t that make for a memorable campfire story?

Do you realize that it’s not only possible that Abram had listened to Shem tell this story, it’s probable. Not once, but over and over again. Shem might have also passed on the stories his own grandfather would have told about the old man Adam. How his grandfather Lamech had listened as old Adam would tell the same story over and over again of creation. What is was like when he walked and talked with God in the cool of the evening. He would have remembered the days when the lion laid down with the lamb. How, on that fateful afternoon, many years before, he and Eve were out for a walk when this beautiful serpent begin to mesmerize them once again with his lies. Then how the sheer terror of their sin had overcome them when they heard God walking in the garden. Maybe he told a story like this, “I felt something when I took the bite. I didn’t know what it was then, but now I know it was shame. Understand children that Eve and I had never felt shame before. We never felt any kind of guilt. We spent our days naked and free in the garden, with the creator. We talked every day and He would tell me how he meticulously created everything with just a word. He had explained before that we could eat of every tree except this one. We knew the consequences, but we didn’t fully understand. He would lower his voice when He spoke of death, but we knew nothing of what death was. I remember once when He talked of death that the creator got this far away look in His eyes, like He knew something that He wasn’t ready to tell me yet. Something grave and painful. It’s a mystery yet today. It was like when He spoke of it He understood both immense pain and sadness, and yet was full of joy at the same moment.

I remember when He spoke to Eve and I in front of the Serpent. I blamed Eve, but it wasn’t her fault any more than mine. She blamed the beautiful serpent. WOW, did the creator’s voice boom when He spoke to the serpent. I’ve never seen him angry before, but there was power in His words that shook the stars. Again, He spoke of death, but with an absolute confidence of victorious power. Like through this thing called death He would once again make all things new. Then I remember he escorted us out of the garden, I didn’t say a word, I didn’t dare. My legs could hardly hold me, my voice would not have served me even if I could have formed a word. Our disobedience to the creator had resulted in sheer terror in our hearts. I wanted to stop breathing. We stood there as he closed the gates and placed powerful angels there with flaming swords. He left us that day. He just walked away. We haven’t seen Him since. I see the work of His hands, I know He is with us, but He no longer walks with us and talks with us.”

Shem would stop for a moment and clear the lump from his throat. You could see a tear in his eyes when he would explain how Lamech would describe the look on old Adam’s face when he would tell how the creator had left them all alone. “Lamech said it was sheer terror. Understand children, you don’t want to stand in the presence of an angry God!”

That is the God that Abram knew. The creator of the universe, the God of Sheer Terror! He understood that God wanted to walk and talk with His creation, but sin separated us. He understood that any contact with God from that moment on was only terror – Fear. Obey or die. Not just stop living, but absolute destruction of mankind. 

God said “Go”. Abram went. No question. Where? To a land that God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, their servants and all their belongings. Abram wasn’t a poor man. He had many possessions, many slaves, and many animals. Moving was no easy task. They began to walk. South was the general direction. I don’t know how he knew what direction to go. The family wanted to move to Cannan years ago and never made it, so maybe it just seemed natural to go in that direction. I can only guess. They traveled a great many days. We don’t know how long before they came to this place called Shechem.

When he got to Shechem something extraordinary happened. It’s almost lost in the pages of the book. The writer says that “the LORD appeared to Abram”. Do you understand the gravity of this? The creator of the world, the same God that old man Adam had told about. The same God that spoke to Noah. This same God that never appeared to Adam again after he left the garden. For the first time since the garden gate was locked, “God appeared”. I promise you the reaction to Abram was FEAR! Absolute, Sheer, Terror! God had spoken before to men. He spoke to Cain. He spoke at Babel. He spoke to Noah. He had even spoken to Abram. But now Abram is standing face to face with the same God that Old man Adam had described, and Abram knew from the stories grandpa Lamech had told. God Appeared!

Again, God reinforces His blessing to Abram. “To your descendents I will give this land.” Again, there’s that world class blessing from the creator – God, to a man.

Abram did the only thing he knew to do. When you have contact with a god, you kill something. You make a sacrifice. God didn’t tell him to do this. Abram just understood that when you’re standing face to face with a god, you sacrifice. When you stand face to face with THE GOD, all the more true. No question, no words. Sacrifice!

But, something was beginning to change already. Not much, just a hint. Years ago God had walked and talked with his ancestors. God enjoyed their company. God actually enjoyed talking with Adam. Yet because of sin, God no longer had any intimate contact with his people. But something is changing. God called Abram out, with no explanation. Then He appears to him in Shechem, and makes another blessing. God wants this relationship. Abram isn’t there yet. But he understands something is shifting. His understanding of who this god is – is somehow maturing.

Abram continues to move from that place. Nothing like time to walk and think about the events of the last few days or weeks. The God of creation, the God of Noah had spoken to him and told him to “go”. Abram went and because he obeyed God appeared to him” He must have said those words to himself a thousand times, “God appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. He came to a mountain. The Bible explains it was east of Bethel and west of Ai. He put down roots for awhile. The Bible says “He pitched his tent”. That means he stopped for an extended period of time. Months, years… we don’t know. He built an alter to the LORD there. Again he sacrificed.

But, again, something extraordinary. Did you catch it? The writer says he “called on the name of the LORD”. A better way of saying that is that “he proclaimed the name of the LORD”. This isn’t a private little prayer to God. No way! Abram is in a heathen land. These are the descendents of Ham, the brother of Shem. Ham was cursed by his father Noah. Ham wanted nothing to do with dad and nothing to do with the god of his father. He didn’t tell the stories that Shem told. He didn’t pass down the legacy of his fathers and tell his children about the creator of the world. He hated everything that had anything to do with this god. Now, Abram is in the land populated by the children of Ham and they don’t know this God. But in the past few months and years, Abram has learned a thing of two about the character of God. He knows that God is to be feared and that the descendents of Ham don’t have any fear of God. He sees the sin and debauchery they are living in and know they are just like the men of Noah’s day. “Every intent of man’s heart was evil continually.” The God of the garden is forgotten.

Abram becomes an Evangelist in his day. Not an evangelist like we think, but he knows the God of creation; he knows the God of the flood. He knows the terror of this God, and knows that this God desires to talk with his people. Abram understands the devastating effects of disobedience and understands the blessing of obedience. He begins to proclaim to the people of this land who have forgotten God. He begins to proclaim the reputation, the character, of God to the people.

Did they listen? We don’t know. Nothing is said in the Bible of a great revival in the land of Cannan. Yet, something stirred in the heart of Abram to Call out the Name of the LORD! To proclaim the reputation (the name) of the LORD!

This is where the story takes a twist. A twist that keeps me awake at night to this day. Something happens here that every TV preacher says will never happen. I’ve listened to preacher after preacher tell me of the promises of God. The blessings of God. How God only wants to bless me, bless me, bless me. Abram has a world class blessing from God. Nobody before or after ever gets a blessing like this. Yet here we are. Standing face to face with reality. God said “go”. Abram obeyed. God blesses Abram again, this time face to face with a man. Abram obeys. Abram is now standing exactly in the midst of the land that God has promised him. This land that is promised to Abram and his descendents forever. Abram built an alter, he sacrificed to God. Abram then decides if he is going to live here he better proclaim the name of the LORD to the locals. You can’t shut him up. “God has spoken to me and I have obeyed. God has appeared to me and has blessed me. God will destroy sinners. But God want’s relationship with his people.” Abram goes to extreme to tell of the character of God to a sinful and lost generation. You cannot find any fault with Abram. He has done everything God has told him to do. He stands rock solid in his faith in the God of creation who he has met face to face. So what’s the twist? There’s famine in the land, not just an ordinary famine, but the Bible says “the famine was severe in the land”… and Abram has to leave. Not only does he have to leave, but he has to go to a land that is also full of ungodliness. A land that not only is poly-theistic, but they know nothing of the God of creation. They are their own gods and their wealth and power is their highest god. Abram will have to lie about his wife because the power of the king. In this land the wealth of Abram is no comparison with the wealth of the pharaoh. A foreigner is nothing more than an animal. If they want you dead, you’re dead. A man like Abram with a stunningly gorgeous wife would be killed almost instantly to have access to her. So, to lie and say she was his sister, maybe they would allow him to live. Either way, she would belong to another very soon. But at least they would survive. Now that’s a famine!

In truth, she really was his sister. She was a half sister. Remember we said at the beginning that family is everything. They would even marry into extended family. This wasn’t unusual in those days. So, it wasn’t a terrible lie, and any one of us would have done the same thing. A minor stretch of the truth to maintain our life.

So tell me you preachers of God’s blessings. Tell me you proclaimers of God’s promises. Speak to me now about how if we just have enough faith….. Or, tell me how if I obey that God will bless. Explain to me again how God has plans of blessing for my life and will pour out rivers of wealth and goodness if I will just have enough faith or obey his commandments. Explain then to Abram while he’s pacing the floor in an Egyptian hostel, wondering the fate of his beautiful wife in the hands of the cruel pharaoh, how this God his has promised blessing upon blessing and he ended up here. God promised him a land in Cannan; He obeyed in fear. He sacrificed to God, He proclaimed the name of the LORD in the land… where is this blessing now? 

Every fiber of my being wants to cry out “WHY GOD?”

At this moment, Abram’s life is a utter failure. He’s left his family when everyone knows you should never leave. He took his wife to this ‘god-forsaken’ heathen land. He still has no children, no heir. They are literally starving to death. His livestock, his wife, his servants, all without food or water. They’re driven by desperation to another land of evil and godlessness. His wife is taken from him to be used by the king for his pleasure. He’s alone, far away from home, hungry, broken, with a pocket full of empty promises.

Tell me, where is this blessing?

I’m still working on this…..

The Blessing of Loss

I’m feeling grateful today as I look back through the recent years of our lives.

During the 2000s decade Amy and I built a successful business and throughly enjoyed the experiences that success brought us. We made the money we needed to raise our children, with enough of what they needed and some of what they wanted. We were able to raise them with some acreage to play, neighbors who were positive and friendly role models, and a house big enough for all their friends. Our business also took Amy and I around the country on business many times, spending countless hours and days on the road and together we built a strong and happy relationship. In addition, our relationship with the Lord was strengthened during those days. Through the years, with the help of some strong Christian friends around us we grew from struggling immature Christians to leaders and teachers.

We had it all, we really did; we had people who loved us, well rounded kids, and a home to be proud of. God blessed us richly and I’m truly grateful for all that he gave us.

Then, near the end of the decade, through prayers and determination to know God more intimately, through a life of trust and faith, our business failed. We lost our multi-million dollar business, we lost our huge home in the country, and we lost our leadership in our church, and we lost our identity; we even lost many friends.

Yet, today, as I sit here and contemplate the past year, I realize we have more than we ever had. During the terribly bumpy year of 2013 we were forced to quickly move into our unfinished bus and move to a place we didn’t want to be. Our small house in town sold quickly and we drove south in the fall of 2013 to build our bus into something livable. But 2014 brought some new blessings.

After finishing the bus in the spring we spent some wonderful weeks with new friends who simply allowed us to recover and cry on their shoulders; then we drove back north to visit old friends and family. I spent a wonderful day with my dad; late that same day he was transported to the hospital and later died. How grateful I am that I had that final day with him.

Then, Amy and I spent the summer working on the shores of Lake Huron with some friends God knew we needed. We were near to old friends and family, yet building our new life on our own. It wasn’t always smooth, but growing pains never are. Amy struggled more during that summer with some of her own medical and emotional issues, but what better place for God to send us for “surgery of the heart” than the Straits of Mackinaw. That fall we left for Minot, North Dakota, before it got too cold, to spend a week with our son and his fiancée along with our prepackaged grandson, Connor. What a blessing to just rest and catch up with our son and meet the girl he plans to love for a lifetime just like I have with the girl God gave me. After that week, we traveled south to Kansas to work a couple months for the online giant Amazon. Then we left for Florida, to once again, meet up with friends and make new friends.

Today, as I write this, we’re spending almost two weeks in Vermont with our grandson, Benjamin (ya, and our daughter and son-in-law too). We’re enjoying the beauty of the mountains and the fresh white snowfall. What a breathtaking place.

So, what prompts these words? I realize there was a time in life, a good time, that I worked hard every day. I worked, thought, dreamed, and even slept about our business. The business is what drove our ability to provide financially for our children and many others. However in contrast, now we work a couple months here and a few weeks there and in between, we spend time with friends and family. How many people can work a job, then spend a week or two, or more with their children or friends? How are we so blessed to be here in Vermont with our kids for a couple weeks without worrying about getting back to work?

Yes, we have to work, we’re not retired or rich, we don’t have a huge bank account taking up the slack. We have something better. We have a God who holds all things in His hands and provides everything. Is it possible all our loss was from the hands of a loving and just God? Is it possible that our failure was, not simply allowed by God, but purposed for our good? Is it possible that this God of love that we adore and worship could be in the business of taking away the unnecessary things of this world to give us the greater joy? Is it possible that a prayer to know Him more intimately, by learning to trust Him more, would result in loosing our wealth, our home, and our reputation, only to give us a new kind of wealth?

I’m grateful that I get to spend every day, 24/7, with my wife that I chose to live beside me for as long as we live. I’m grateful that we get to spend weeks at a time with our children, and now grandchildren. I’m grateful that we get to travel the country together in our home on wheels. I’m grateful for friends that have stood beside us while God stripped us little by little while we waited, confused, and hurt. I’m grateful that God allowed us to build new relationships and find new friends that we never would have enjoyed without God’s intervention in our world.

Is it possible, that even when everything falls apart that God is actually giving us our hearts desires? Is it possible that he forms our heart’s desires and not just gives us what we think we want? Is it possible that there is unimaginable blessing in loss? Is it possible that the gift of trust can hurt, but be the greatest blessing available to any man while living on this earth? is it possible that God is the master of the impossible? Is it possible that there is blessing in loss?

Relationship With Jesus?

The last few years I’ve really struggled with this word “Relationship” as it relates to Jesus. When I think of relationship I think of spending time together, talking, mutual advice, chatting about anything and nothing, seeing each other, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to hug, a body to hold. In the case of a marriage relationship the word relationship includes sexual intimacy, understanding the thoughts and feelings of each other, emotional and physical protection, admiration, emotional and physical closeness and so much more. But, our relationship with Jesus doesn’t consist of those things.

Now I realize that as soon as I say those words that many will argue that all of those things are true with Jesus. Yes, we can spend time with Him; Yes, we can talk with Him…. etc. But, even the most emphatic must agree that’s it’s not the same as a true, flesh and blood, friend. 

As a Christian, I think the word relationship, as it’s applied in churches and amongst Christians, implies something that most, if not all of us, feel we’re missing – something. For me it spurs feelings of guilt. 

There must be something more I should be doing to make this feel more like a relationship. Maybe I need to spend more time talking to Him. Maybe I need to spend more time reading His book. Can you imagine if I met the girl of my dream, asked her to marry me, then handed her a book and told her that everything she needs to know about me is in the book. This is the extent of our relationship, and I expect her to burry herself in the book so she knows me more and more. Read it every day, and talk to me. I’m silent, but she can speak. Sometimes I’ll speak through my spirit. Then she will truly love me – she has to love me – she reads my book – right?

If that were true, online dating would be perfect – right?

If I feel something is lacking in this relationship then I need to spend more time and exert more energy improving this relationship. After all, He hasn’t gone anywhere, He has given me everything I need, He has provided His book, He has done it all. It must be me.

That’s depressing. Often when we’ve struggled, good friends have asked us, “how’s your relationship with God?”. What does that mean? How do I answer? Does that imply that I may or may not be doing enough? Maybe that’s why I struggle, because I haven’t worked hard enough at my part of this relationship? 

I’m guilty of using the phrase “relationship with Jesus” or “relationship with God”. I think it’s time to re-think the terminology. 

Truly, what has Jesus asked us to do while we wait for His return? Abide? Obey? Anything else?

Okay, let’s come at this from another angle. 

Jesus calls us His bride. He is returning for a pure and spotless bride. Much of his Last Supper conversation uses marriage proposal language. In the tradition of Jesus’ day the groom would propose to the girl; then, if she accepts, he will go back to his father’s house and prepare a house for his bride. Then, on the day appointed (could be months, or even years), he would return for his bride. Often the bride would not even know what day he would return. She would always be watching and listening. He would return, often blowing trumpets, certainly with all the noisy music he could muster, to marry his bride and take her back to his home. 

“Relationship” in this context is probably the wrong word. Yes, they’re engaged, betrothed in their terminology, but she might not know him at all. That day, when the father of the bride and the father of the groom made an agreement, and the the boy proposed to the girl, might be the first time they ever met each other. They certainly didn’t date or court, or have a relationship. He proposes. She accepts. He builds a home for them. She prepares herself to be a bride. He ultimately returns for her. – Then the relationship begins. There will be, in their tradition , a wedding ceremony, a party, and a consummation; then they will live happily ever after – as a relationship where they can spend time together, talking, mutual advice, chatting about anything and nothing, seeing each other, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to hug, a body to hold, intimacy, understanding the thoughts and feelings of each other, emotional and physical protection, admiration, emotional and physical closeness and so much more. 

Is it possible the true relationship with Jesus starts after He takes us home? Is it possible that we are currently betrothed or engaged or could we even use the words “bought with a price”? Then, if we view this relationship as an engagement, or commitment to be married, then this changes our perspective on our relationship. Now I’m trusting Him. I’m waiting for Him. My life belongs to Him. I am not free to enter into worldly or unhealthy activities. I must prepare myself to be a bride, by learning how to please my groom. By keeping myself pure, clean, and ready for His return. Now I can simply abide and obey. Now I can look forward to a true relationship.

Considering that, it would be normal to feel that something is missing in my “relationship”. Certainly a lot is missing. That’s true of any bride waiting to marry her groom. Waiting in anticipation of the day when their relationship is consummated. Waiting for more closeness, more intimacy, more understanding. My relationship with Jesus isn’t complete yet. Not even close. Yes, we’ve met. He has given me his marriage proposal. He has given me His life, His blood, and His promise. I have accepted His proposal. I have promised my life. But relationship? 

In my Father’s house are many mansions (dwelling places); if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

Memories Made

Memories Made

Occasionally in life we cross a line into something more memorable. A moment, or a day, that for whatever reason, will stick to our minds forever. Some days come and go without much notice or specific memory. But once in awhile, there is a day that has the ability to mold our outlook, to adjust our thinking, and even highlight our dreams.
This week has been one of those weeks that will be forever remembered as a marker in history. We will forever look back and say “remember that week”?
December of 2015 has been unseasonably warm for northern Michigan. The few flurries that blew in melted away just as quickly. But most days have lingered far above the freezing point. This warm weather window has allowed us to bring the bus north at a time when we should be a thousand miles south, enjoying some sun, sand, and sea. We decided to park the bus with some dear friends and take advantage of their hospitality while staying in the area. That decision was designed by God. He promises to direct our paths and He has not failed.
Our time with this dear couple and their children will leave indelible marks in our hearts and memories. Together we shared so much of the love of Jesus, so much scripture, and so many hugs. Together, we were made stronger than we ever could have been separately. This week we have witnessed the intended church. We’ve seen the power of the Holy Spirit and experienced laughter, tears, and hugs. Last night we broke bread, shared a cup and remembered our Lord together, and today we have said our sad “goodbyes”.
Because of this family who has shared their lives with us our tomorrows will be a little brighter, our life will have a little more purpose, and our memories will shine a little more brightly.
People often ask if we like living in the bus. Sure, we love the bus. But what really matters is that occasionally, we can be someplace, spend time with someone, or cross paths somehow in ways that only God could arrange; hearts are touched, lives changed, and memories made.

Just Enough

Just Enough

The journey continues. We left the heat, bugs, and desolation of Florida and moved about 430 miles north to a quiet little place in northern Georgia. This is like heaven on earth compared to Florida. The temperatures are mild, the bugs aren’t biting (yet), and the trees are blossoming. At this point I would say that northern Georgia is about the nicest place we’ve seen. Now I realize, that in a month or two the heat will be unbearable for this Englishman, but for now, it’s heavenly, and we will be gone by then.
The interior of the bus will be considered “Finished” on Saturday. That’s the day we get the carpet installed. Yes, I said ‘get it installed’. That’s a story of its own.

We have been searching for just the right carpet. The price of something good is expensive, and finding a royal blue carpet is almost impossible. We drove all over our area in Florida with no results. We decided that since the major carpet mills are in Georgia we would check here before returning to Michigan. Since we have some time here in Dearing Georgia we decided to take a ride to town and look at a couple carpet stores. There was one place in town that had a lot of remnants. They even had a real pale smoke blue. Neither of us were in love with the color, but the quality was excellent and the price was cheap. We asked the salesman if there were any other places in town that we should check. He told us of a couple others, including one about ten miles out of town. We made our rounds, including making the drive to the competitor to weigh our options. Nothing! So, the next day we returned to the carpet place to pick up the pale smoke blue. We decided something was better than nothing and the price was right. Well, we got there and began to second guess. Do we want it or not? We wasted too much of the salesman’s time and really couldn’t decide. Finally he had an idea. They have a sister store up the road a ways in the next town. He called and the other salesman said he had exactly what we needed. . . size, color, quality – exactly. We drove to the next town to see it and bought it on the spot. It was perfect. Now, I ask, why didn’t the other salesman, yesterday, mention the sister store? Strange.

We made the deal, for a very good price, then I walked the salesman to the door and said “see that little Chevy Tracker, that’s how I have to get this home”. He smiled and said “Where do you live?”. We explained that we were staying in Dearing (about 15 or 20 miles from this store). He laughed and said “I live there, why don’t I deliver it to you – no charge”. We shook hands before he could change his mind. It was a match made in heaven.
He delivered later that afternoon and I began to wonder how I would manage to cut this carpet for the tight spaces, especially in the bedroom. I can do it, I’ve done everything else, but just for fun I asked him if he installs. “YES” he replied with enthusiasm, “I’d be happy to install”. So I showed him my bus and the project and he gave me a price. Amy and I both had the same feeling – ‘this guy really needs the job’. So, I shook his hand again and made the deal. Then after, I began to wonder if I did the right thing. I don’t have the money to be spending on a job I can do myself. This isn’t that hard. I can find a space to work and do the cutting. Why did I just make a deal to have him help me?
The other bus friends here all convinced me that I can do it. But, Amy and I both felt strongly that we should let him do the job. I waffled a few times, but decided, for whatever reason, I’ll let him do the install. This will be the first job we’ve hired on the interior of the bus and it’s certainly one that I could have done. But, maybe the Lord just wanted it this way – maybe we’ll never know. Maybe we’re just crazy. Either way you look at it, when it’s all done, it will still cost less than the poorer quality carpets we looked at – without install.
So, Saturday we will have the carpet installed and the bus will be finished. When I say “Finished” I say it with a bit of a chuckle. Everyone will say that a bus is never finished. And it’s true. But, the project that we set out to do over the winter will be officially completed to the extent that we intended and envisioned. That in itself is miraculous!
I found myself humbled and thanking the Lord.
We set out on this Journey last fall, to go south so we could finish the bus. It was too cold in Michigan and we had an offer in Florida. We are so grateful for the place to work, make noise and sawdust, and complete the project.
We finished the bus in the amount of time we had.
We had just enough time
We had just enough workable weather
We had just enough resources
We had just enough money
We had just enough energy
We had just enough knowledge
We had just enough experience
We had just enough help
We had just enough talent
We had just enough…

Now, we are slowly moving with the changing spring weather. Currently in northern Georgia. We find our finances have dwindled to dangerous lows. Yet, we find the desire to pay a carpet layer to do a job I could do. We many times found our energy level to be depleted, but managed to keep moving “just one more day at a time”. We have humbly bowed our heads to the one who knows our needs and our hearts and provides just enough. I’m convicted by the memory of the story of Jonah. If you don’t know the story – ask me. I think there’s a sermon in there someplace.

Today we sat in the shade of a Georgia Maple tree enjoying conversation with new friends. We can give ourselves permission to sit awhile and rest under the plant that God has prepared for us. We don’t know what is next on the Journey that God has prepared, but hopefully unlike Jonah, we will gladly accept what he has prepared. But for now, we will sit awhile and enjoy the beauty of northern Georgia and good friends.

The ARK Encounter

The ARK Encounter

While researching and preparing for my next Simon book I wanted an opportunity to see Noah’s Ark at the Ark Encounter. As our travels took us through Cincinnati, Ohio it was the perfect time to stop and see it.
As you enter the parking lot you have to search to find it. I don’t mean it’s hard to find, it’s just a long ways from the parking area. Keep in mind that they are building this property to be a type of amusement park, not just an ark. The parking area is a long way from the ark, however they provide shuttle buses that are never more than a couple minutes wait.
When we arrived in our RV I took a few minutes to survey the view. The ark sat about a half mile from our parking spot on an opposite hill. I tried to imagine the thoughts of the folks in Noah’s day who would see that boat from a far hill. Although there were significant cities in those days, and appreciable technology, nothing would compare to the magnificent size of this “building”. Certainly they had boats, and even ships, but this would be more like a giant barn or enclosed city.
The bus ride to the ark was quick and comfortable in the heated and air conditioned (we needed both throughout the day) transit bus. The road to the ark winds up and down through the hills on each side of the valley. The road is nice, but poorly planned. The buses are not able to cross each other except on the limited straight sections. There is even a bridge across a gully and stream that is only wide enough for one bus. It’s no big issue, they seemed to have worked out a system and communicate via radio to handle the traffic problems.
Approaching the ark was an emotional experience for me. I can’t find the words to describe the size. Yes, I can tell you the dimensions, but numbers don’t describe the enormity of this ship. It’s not what I imagined at all. Words escape me but the experience was breathtaking. As you converge on the ship you can look up and it towers over you like an overhanging giant stadium. This wooden vessel can’t be absorbed with the eyes from any perspective. It has to be examined in sections. The bow of the ship looms taller than a five story building and the length is more than one-and-a-half football fields. The top deck is large enough to carry three space shuttles nose-to-tail with room to spare. Just to walk the length was a time consuming event. Again, I can’t put this into words to help you grasp the sheer massiveness of the ship.
Stepping inside I was somewhat less in awe. Yes, impressive and professionally done, but the reality of the awesome size wasn’t as noticeable inside. As you climb the ramp and enter the main body of the ship you’re besieged by photographers who want to take your picture so you can pay an exorbitant price later to have your photo superimposed in front of the ship. I felt it was cheesy and irritating to be ambushed in this way.
In my typical introvert way, I found my way quickly to the lower bow of the ship. The crowds were headed in one direction, I was running for solitude. In this isolation I found the awesomeness of the ship again for just a moment. In the darkness of this tiny space was a sound system that imitated the crashing of the sea, the fearful noise of creaking boards, and the crashing of the storm above. I found myself relating to what Noah’s sons might have felt: fear, loneliness, and despair; cold, dark and noisy, floating around in the great unknown; no understanding of the future, no hope for the past.

Moving from my private seclusion I again joined the crowds to view row upon row of hand-made wooden animal cages. The cages, presumably built mostly from bamboo were of various sizes and held many exotic and long-past extinct animals. Again, the recorded sounds were realistic and eerie. Along side the cages, above, and everywhere possible were rows of clay fresh water canisters and bundles of various feeds. The lower deck seemed to somewhat realistically characterize the enormous amount of work that would have been involved in managing the thousands of animals on board.

As we worked our way to the second deck the inside of this awesome ship become more of a museum than Noah’s Ark. Excellent detail, but no longer maintained much of the feel of the enormity and purpose of the original ship. The two upper decks were very interesting, but if you come when there are larger crowds the museum exhibits would be very difficult to enjoy. We had, what I would consider, a maximum crowd to enjoy and read the exhibits. At this point most pre-teen children would have marginal interest. However a teenager, especially one who has a healthy education in natural science and Biblical study, would find most of these exhibits educational, compelling and professionally designed.

There was a special place for me that I spent a great deal of time contemplating. It was a particularly emotional place that I didn’t expect. The Door. God said to Noah, “You shall set the door of the ship in its side”. The metaphor of the “Door” is used frequently in the Bible. Yet, the reality of this door really hit me when I stood there. Jesus said “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved. . .” As I surveyed that great wooden door on the side of Noah’s ship I considered Jesus words. “I am the door”. That great ship was for the salvation of mankind. In the same way Jesus is the salvation of mankind. Yet, the book of Genesis tells us that there came a day, after Noah and his family were safely on board, that Yahweh God shut the door. I stood there in tears before that giant wooden deleth [Hebrew: door] and considered the woeful screams of the people outside when the destruction began. Imagine the water crashing against the sides of that great ship while men, women, and children, in panic, pounded on the door. Yet it was too late, the door was shut and sealed by the hand of God himself.
Those people who had rejected the warnings of Noah would die terrible deaths. Their screams would have been heard inside. Not strangers, these are the workmen who toiled alongside Noah, many would have been family and friends. Yet, they did not heed his words. How long until the screams fell silent that eerie night? How long before their ears were no longer assaulted by the pleading of their loved ones? How long before the mothers who could no longer hold their crying babies above the water would lower their arms and submit to the death of the cold water?
At that door I considered not only the deaths of thousands, even millions of souls that terrible day, but I considered the eternal deaths of billions today when God will again close the door. The day will come, the day is coming soon, that God will no longer strive with mankind. The day will come when it’s too late. No amount of screams, no amount of pleading will open that door again.
What side of the door are you on? Do you care? You will.
One interesting side note: The Hebrew word for Ark used in the bible is “ta-va”. This word is used twice in the Hebrew Torah [Bible], first for Noah’s Ark and the second is the basket that carried Moses down the river to safety. Both were used exclusively for the salvation of God’s people. This could be a whole article all by itself.
We returned to our RV shortly after noon and felt we had seen much of the Ark and it’s exhibits. We couldn’t leave the parking lot because our motor coach is much too large to navigate the tight parking spaces. We didn’t mind, we enjoyed lunch, I took a nap, and then I returned to the ship for a second tour, this time without Amy. This gave me an opportunity to roam the grounds, to snoop around and take the time to absorb the magnitude of this great ship. I spent a great deal of time outside, under and around just trying to envisage the eminence of this floating wooden engineering phenomenon. I returned to many of the more extensive exhibits that Amy wasn’t interested in. In addition, I returned to the Door.
I invested many long moments contemplating the magnitude of that door. Not the magnitude of the physical door of this ship, honestly I don’t think this door was very well done. The door of this ship in Kentucky could have been closed by any man. I was only contemplating the magnitude of what that door signifies. The metaphor of that massive wooden door from the book of Genesis is sobering.
I Finally returned to the motor coach and soon the parking lot opened enough to allow us to wiggle out. We had to move some directional orange cones and find our own way out, the exit drive was not designed for large vehicles. But we are used to making our own path.
The cost of the Ark is $40 per person plus an insulting parking fee of $10 for cars (or $15 for an RV). I feel that price is overinflated and unrealistic. Maybe someday when they have a full amusement park for children this could be acceptable, but for someone on a modest income, this price is painfully steep for what you see. There is no question that the ark is breathtaking and professionally done. Don’t mistake this for just another Christian museum, this is a money-making operation and the opportunities for you to spend a significant amount of your money, even after the $40 admission, is plenteous.
One last critique, although not offensive in any way, this is advertised as a fully wooden structure. I guess I had an expectation of a duplication of how Noah might have actually built this enormous boat. This structure is a heavy steel commercial building, made to look like a wooden ship. The wood boards cover everything yet most of the wood is not structural in any way. I had hoped it would be more realistic in construction, but I’m sure that would be a legal impossibility. This building had to meet modern commercial building codes and is expected to last many lifetimes. Noah’s boat only needed to last through one terrible storm over the course of about one year.
I have to give a huge thank you to a friend who helped us make this visit a reality. I thank God for men like Ken Ham who had the vision, resources and connections to make this possible. But more than that, I thank God who found the mercy to save the family of Noah and provide life to a dying and sinful world. God again has shown great mercy through his own Son Jesus who is the “Door” and the way of life. Only those who enter eternal life though Jesus will find life. All others will find only death – eternally. Please heed the voice of Noah and turn from your wickedness and cry out to Jesus who is “The Way, the Truth, and Life, no man comes to the Father except by Me [Jesus]”.
One day the DOOR will close forever.