THAT NEBULOUS SOMEWHERE

One of the most intriguing undergraduate courses I ever took in college was a course in Geography.  I chose it as one of my humanity courses because I thought it would be about faraway places, and it was.  It was about things that take place in the universe far above us.  It was about what goes on in the heavens.  I learned a lot about clouds.   It was fascinating.

When I moved into this house, I chose the front bedroom as my office.  It looks out on the street, and as I work, I have a clear view of the sky and the clouds drifting by.  Of course, in my part of the world, more often than not the sky is an uninterrupted canvas of blue without a single cloud in sight.

This morning, as I watched the lacey white clouds skittering along, I heard in my mind, the voice of Judy Garland singing the number one song of the twentieth century, “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”  As I sang along, I decided this song is either one of the saddest or the most hopeful songs ever written.  Remember it?

“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue,

And the dreams that I dare to dream really will come true.

 

Someday I’ll wish upon a star.

And wake where the clouds are far behind me,

Where troubles melt like lemon drops,

Away above the chimney tops.

That’s where you’ll find me.

 

Somewhere over the rainbow

Blue birds fly.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, O why can’t I?”

 

Yip Harburg wrote this song in 1938, when the clouds of war were darkening the skies over Europe, and his fellow Jews were suffering suppression, oppression and violence at the hand of the Nazis.  We really don’t know whether or not the threat of war in Europe influenced this composition, but I can hear the pathos and longing in this composers voice as he hopes for better days—days free from storm clouds—blue sky days.

 

Just coming away from Resurrection Sunday, and the hope it brings to my heart, I am gripped by these sad, hopeful words, and I recognize there are billions of people in this world who have no real hope.  Still, they dream of a place of peace and rest and safety and joy.  They wish upon a star or some iconic object, or pray to a god, who neither sees, or hears, or answers.

“Somewhere,” somewhere there’s a place where skies are blue.  Somewhere there’s a place where my dreams will come true.  Somewhere there’s a place of unclouded skies and untroubled days.  Somewhere there’s a place of peace.  Somewhere!

Often clouds are a portent of an encroaching storm.  We no sooner dig ourselves out of the debris and clean up the mess until storm clouds gather again, and troubles?  They just seem to multiply—there’s never an end.

Where do we find shelter from the storm and solace from the troubles?  That “Somewhere” is such a nebulous expression.

The word nebulous means “in the form of a cloud.”  It means “hazy, indistinct, indefinite, unclear, ill-defined, unformed, and uncertain.”  Somewhere!

Where is that uncertain place?  Where can it be found?

Please hear me.  No matter how we hope for it, there is no such place, for shelter and peace are not found in a location, but in a person.

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is our shelter from the storm, our refuge in time of trouble.

Mark 4:37 – 39 tells us, “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling…Then He arose (Jesus) and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace be still!”  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Surely, if Jesus can calm the elements, He can calm the storm in my life.  Doesn’t mean the storm clouds won’t come.  It does mean, however, that in the middle of the storm, we will hear His “Peace Be Still!”  The troubles will not melt like lemon drops, but He will keep you during the troublous times, and cause you to triumph.

If a storm is brewing on your horizon, or perhaps you are already in the big middle of it, I encourage you to crawl into the strong arms of Jesus and let Him be your refuge.

Maybe you have just happened onto this blog not knowing what to expect, but you recognize yourself as one of those who has been looking and longing for that indefinite, unclear, and uncertain “Somewhere.” You need a place of peace and rest.

            TRY JESUS!

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Jesus died and resurrected for you.  He is your shelter in the time of storm.  He is your peace.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

THE REAL MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

Unlike most of you, I have never carried a child in my womb, nor have I, except for a college biology film, ever witnessed the birth of a child.  I have no firsthand knowledge of this wondrous miracle, but I am fascinated by the facts.

At inception, the female egg is about the size of a grain of sand.  I believe that fertilization of the egg is the beginning of human life, and in that tiny, almost microscopic, mass lives the potential for greatness, for achievement, genius, tenderness, success, leadership, kindness, brilliance and the whole gamut of emotions.  Think of tiny fingers that will one day play Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #3, feet that will run The Boston Marathon, a mind that will conquer cancer, a voice that will sway the multitude, and arms that will hold a loved one.

Friends speak of a difficult pregnancy and a hard prolonged labor, but they never say, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”  For when that child finally makes his debut appearance, howling in protest at his forced departure from a comfy, warm, safe abode, he may be red and wrinkled and uglier than lye soap, but that’s not what his mother sees.  He may not be a Gerber Baby, but his mother sees nothing but a miracle of life, a miracle of beauty when she first holds him close to her heart.

At this season, we are thinking, as we should be, about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not sure when He was born.  Bible scholars, judging from historical events of the time, place His birth between 1 BC and 6 BC.  However, we are sure that He was not born on December 25, for shepherds would not have had their sheep in the fields in wintertime.  It is believed that He was born in September or October, meaning that He could have been conceived in December.

It is not important to pinpoint His exact date of birth.  The importance is in knowing that He came.  That is the miracle of Christmas.

We have a convoluted notion concerning the birth of Jesus.  Our beautiful Christmas cards portray Mary and Joseph in a neat open-air stable, a sweet, docile, haloed baby in a pristine manger filled with fresh, sweet hay, with well-groomed, well-behaved cattle in observance.

In reality, Jesus birth parallels the birth of that newborn in a hospital delivery room. There was blood and gore and pain and hard labor and sweat and tears.  This all took place in a non-sterile, dark cave, where the lowing, sweating cattle were stabled, and the acrid aroma of cow manure filled the air.  There was nothing romantic about His birth.

We have a hard time dealing with the humanity of Christ.  But the truth is, at His Father’s bidding, He left the glories of heaven becoming an embryo in the womb of a teenage, Galilean girl.  The Son of God submitted Himself to total oblivion for nine long months.  He relinquished His supernatural power and willingly allowed Himself to be hemmed in by time and space.

He was born a man-child, and as a man-child, he behaved as any newborn behaves.  He screamed when he was hungry.  He cried when He was wet.  Oh yes!  He did wet and mess His diapers.  Joseph, with babe in arms, walked the manure strewn floor, hoping disparately to calm the crying child, so everyone could get a little sleep.  At His birth, only Mary and Joseph knew He was God’s Son.  To all others, He was just another baby born into a poor family.  Only at the heralding of the angels did others become aware that this babe was special.

It is hard to understand that Jesus became as we are—human flesh and blood, but He did.  He did it for us.

Philippians 2:7-8 tells us, “…He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, He stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      

II Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The song says:

From a loving heavenly Father,

To a world that knew Him not

Came the man of sorrows, Christ the Lord.

In my wanderings He found me,

Bought my soul with His own blood,

Gave to me a peace the world could not afford.

 

Redeeming love, a love that knows no limit.

Redeeming love, a love that shall not die.

My soul shall sing throughout the endless ages,

With choirs extolling His great love on high.

This is the real miracle of Christmas!  His birth, His life lived on this earth as a man, His ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection all result in His limitless, redeeming love for you and me.

You can experience His redeeming love. You can know the real miracle of Christmas.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

What A Waste

It was early morning, and I was bouncing around in the back of a huge truck on my way to the city dump, in Calcutta, India. (The city is now called Kolkata)  I have sent tons of garbage to the city dump in my hometown, but I have never been there.  So, why in the world—why would I get up before sunrise to visit a dump?

Actually, this site, where 4,000 tons of new waste is dumped each day, is known as Calcutta’s Garbage Mountain, and it has become, for some twisted reason, a tourist site.  No wonder!  The dump covers sixty acres and is ten stories high.  It is permanently on fire from the combustible waste deposited there, and no one tries to put it out.  A fetid, unbearable stench hangs heavily in the air.

Amazingly, in 2016, Calcutta received an award for impressive waste management.  I dare say that the 30,000 miserable souls that live permanently on or around the garbage heap are not impressed.

Many of these garbage residents are rag pickers or waste pickers.  One can find almost anything there including dead babies, smuggled chocolates and medicine, money and even gold.  These souls spend their days sorting through the “yuck” picking out recyclable stuff and burning rotting bodies.

When Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971, the population of Calcutta grew from one million to eight million overnight.  (Current population is fourteen million.)  The city had no provision for such an influx.

When engineers were asked for a solution, they replied, “Raze the place and start over!”

I was in Calcutta for the first time in 1980.  The sights I saw and the experiences I had sear the mind and make faint the heart.  Never before had I seen such abject poverty, such suffering.  Multitudes lived on the sidewalks sheltered only by a cardboard lean-to.  They drank from the gutters, and at dusk, they lit their charcoal burners to heat tea and prepare what meager food they had.  All over the city black smoke filled the atmosphere and settled on everything in sight.  Beggars were everywhere.  A trip to the market drew a throng of little black-eyed boys begging to be hired to carry parcels.

I was there for ministry, but I ashamedly admit that there were days I was reluctant to leave the house.  However, on that early morning, in 1980, we were on our way to “Garbage Mountain” not as tourists or to see the sites—we were there to feed the hungry.

The line had already begun to form before our truck came to a halt at the designated site.  It was all very orderly.  In single file, the line of women and children snaked through the wasteland as far as the eye could see waiting politely for the one nutritious meal they would have that day.  They came with their tin cups and other containers.

Each one was given a cup of milk and two substantial whole grain pancakes.  I don’t know how long we were there or how many people we fed, but after awhile they were gone.  I imagined they had found a quiet place among the rubbish to enjoy, perhaps, the only meal they would have that day.

I asked why there were no men in the line.  I was told that, if the men were fed, there would be no motivation to find work.

Our faithful, longtime, missionaries worked tirelessly.  They had established a thriving church, an elementary school, a feeding program and a hospital in Calcutta, and in every place, in every way, they preached the good news of Jesus Christ.  Yet, from a distance, stacked up against eight million “waste” people it seemed so little—too little.

The trip to the dump hung over me like an albatross.  I thought about those emaciated children gladdened by a cup of milk, and I wondered whether or not I had made any difference at all while I was there.

In reflection, I thought of the widow in Mark 12: 42 (The Message) “One poor widow…put in two small coins—a measly two cents.  Jesus…said…this poor widow gave more than all the others…she gave extravagantly what she could not afford—she gave her all.”

The “garbage dump” people around us are seldom lovely and appealing.  Sometimes they are utterly repulsive.  But in Matthew 10:31, Jesus, who cares when a sparrow falls, declared that the least person is worth more to Him then many sparrows.

Jesus asks us to look at the need around us.  He asks to give extravagantly, even what we cannot afford—to give our all.  In fact, Luke 38 (The Message) says, “Give away your life…giving, not getting, is the way.  Generosity begets generosity.”

You may feel that “your all” is not very much, but just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, He will multiply your “gift” and make it more than enough.

Giving “all” brings bonus and blessing.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

WRITE OFFS

Write offs may be good or bad.  Before April 15, we comb through our records looking for every possible deduction—the more the merrier. We write off our kids, our mortgage, our medical expenses, our charitable giving.  That’s all good, for the more write offs we have the less we pay Uncle Sam.  That has to do with our taxes, but we also write off things for other reasons.  In fact we sometimes write off people.

Have you ever given up on someone?  Perhaps, you have decided that he is inconsequential—no longer important to you.  You are not going to waste anymore time or attention or energy on this person.  So, you write him off.

Last Saturday I had an enlightening, and unexpected experience.  I was scheduled to attend two funerals—the funeral for a church acquaintance and a memorial for a relative.  Actually, I didn’t want to go to either, but out of duty, I decided to pay my respects to the son-in-law of my half-sister.

My family is kind of weird.  Daddy was a lot older than my mother and had a passel of grown children when they were married.  I rarely saw these older siblings, and since we never lived under the same roof, or even in the same state, it was difficult to think of them as brothers and sisters.

The widow of the man I was paying my respects to is my 87-year-old niece—older than I but niece none the less.

As I drove mile after mile through the desolate desert a thought came to mind.  “If I were asked to say something to this group of people, most of whom I did not know at all, what would I say?  With the exception of two or three, they were not church goers—God played very little part in their lives.  I tried to dismiss the thought since there was little chance that the opportunity would arise.   However, I couldn’t shake the idea knowing that God was directing my thoughts.  I knew there was no planned service.  There would be photos and recorded music, but no minister.  Someone would read a couple of scriptures and friends were free to share.

I sat in the back of the room watching the milling people.  Through the crowd, my niece spotted me.  Her eyes were red from weeping.  I felt sad for her.  She had no children and few friends.

Taking my hand she asked, “Could you sing?  Would you say something to the people?  You can say something from the Bible if you want to.”

I was surprised, and yet, not really, for I knew The Lord had prepared me for this.

“I’m not prepared to sing,” I answered, “but we can all sing together.  We can sing “Amazing Grace.” Everyone knows that.  And, yes, I will say a few words, if you want.”

I knew exactly what I would say, for God had already dropped the words into my heart. I stood behind the podium and introduced myself.  I told my audience that Dody is my niece.  I admitted that I did not know her husband well and had no idea what he believed or what relationship he had with God.

Then I said, “I have come to tell you that God loves you—every one of you.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to prove His love.  The Bible says, in Romans 3:23, “All of us have sinned,” and in Romans 10:9, “…if we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (we will be forgiven) we will be saved.”

I talked to them about the fact that Jesus went away to prepare a place for those who love Him.  One day He will come again and take us there to live with Him forever.  I shared the simple Gospel.

As I spoke, I was aware that something was happening in my heart.  I no longer felt disconnected from this group.  I realized I was looking at my father’s family.  Dody was his granddaughter.  In that audience there were great grandkids, at least one great, great grandson, a great, great, great grandson, and two great, great, great, great granddaughters.  They were my family—an arm of my family that I had “written off” years ago.  They made no effort.  They never came around, so I didn’t either. My heart was touched when, after the service, they all came to introduce themselves.  I’ll never look at them the same way again.

I am reminded of a cartoon I once saw.  A little boy was defending himself against some criticism.  He said, “I’m me and I’m special, ‘cause God made me.  And God don’t make no junk!”

“God don’t make no junk!”  He was right.  God never made a throw away.

]You are God’s creation.  He treasures you.  Matthew, the apostle, tells us that not one sparrow falls to the ground but that God knows about it.  Then he says in chapter 10:31, “…you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Regardless of how you are treated by others you are not inconsequential to God.  He will not write you off.  You are precious to Him, and He must become precious to you.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow