Freedom of Press and Soul

Jackie Mason, the comedian, withdrew a lawsuit against Jews for Jesus. They had created another one of their clever little tracts, asking the question: “Jackie Mason…a Jew for Jesus?” He was offended and sued. Jews for Jesus were gracious and attempted more than once to settle out of court, as the scriptures dictate (Matthew 5:25). Eventually Mr. Mason agreed but with patronizing airs.

It is unfortunate that Mason made a statement claiming Blacks being for the KKK is synonymous with Jews being for Messiah. I understand he does not believe Y’shua (Jesus) is the Messiah but his comparison remains ineffective—even if it does articulate his bile.

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Click the toon for JFJ article.

     Let us consider: if Blacks were for the KKK, it would almost certainly bring about their re-enslavement or deaths. If however, Jews were for Jesus, then it would mean their freedom and eternal life.

Gladly, especially in this season, God sent his Son for both Jew and Gentile. May Mr. Mason become tender to Yahweh and learn that God is not the God of Jews only, but also the God of Gentiles. (Romans 3:29)

I commend Jews for Jesus for the way they scripturally handled a delicate and difficult situation. I also remember fondly the day David “Moose” Garrett of Jews for Jesus and I passed out similar broadsides at UNC-Chapel Hill. May God continue to bless their ministry as they reach out in love to Jewish people such as Jackie Mason. May he ponder with less vitriol the thoughtful words on the tract. (Yes, I was able to find a copy on the Web—though, to be sure, not at JewsforJesus.org!)

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The Anchor

“Whenever God closes one door he always opens another, even though sometimes it’s hell in the hallway.” I don’t know who said that; I searched but only found it quoted—usually as signatures in BLOGs—but with no reference. It resonates in my spirit, if in an amusing way.

A year ago, I made some prints for Susan’s office Christmas party at Duke University. They were a playful twist on an old saying: “There is a calm before the storm.” That saying however, is the reverse attitude of the faithful person. A person of faith knows there is a calm coming and so he calms and quiets his soul (Psalm 131:2) and knows peace in spite of the storms of life. Just so, I made the twist of phrase print for her colleagues. She says they all have them hanging in their offices. That’s a nice thought.

Last night she was speaking with one of those colleagues and made a little twist of her own. She accidentally said, “There’s end at the light of the tunnel.” So she wanted that made into some gifts for this year. I used a photograph (there was no copyright or photographer info on the site) from the inside of the “Big Tunnel” in Bedford, Indiana, to illustrate her turn-of-phrase. I think it illustrates a realistic hope.

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Last year’s Christmas gift

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This year’s Christmas gift

If you’d like high resolution prints, email me your name and address and I’ll send you one 4×6 of each (no charge).

We can know the Light that is God in this tunnel of life—this sometimes hellish hallway. That Light in the darkness tells us there is a promised end in sight. He is faithful to his promise to end the gloom; just so, we can remain faithfully at peace in the tunnel. We will emerge one day. In the meanwhile, despite the absence of “calm,” one may know perfect peace. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV)

In that original email that started this entry, was a portion of the Lawrence Chewning and Ray Boltz song, “The Anchor Holds.” It sums up what I’ve been trying to say. If you’d care to listen, click the “play” button below. Their song may remind you of the old hymn, “My Anchor Holds,” by William Martin, which says it even better.

“The Anchor Holds,” sung by Ray Boltz

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2-CD set includes “The Anchor Holds” and “Thank You”

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1 Corinthians 13 (Christmas Version)

I received this by email yesterday…

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From simple manger nativity to modern tack…

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If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas China and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust. But the gift of love will endure forever!

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Open House

My daughters are here, helping their mother get things ready for the Open House that is today. Miriam was cleaning and is now topping the cherry-cheescakes. Cristin is decorating the Chrustmas Tree that I just put up and trimmed. Susan is setting the buffet. It’s a nice family feeling we don’t get much anymore. Everyone is working well together; they’re laughing; there’s Christmas music in the background and the tree smells wonderful. What’s not to like?

At four o’clock, over 80 guests will start to roll in to the parsonage: friends from the neighborhood, the police department, the church, and family. If only our family in other states could be here too, it would be complete. Hopefully we’ll get to see them in the New Year. It is getting harder and harder to get to Ohio though because the church is growing and needs more at this time of year…combined with Susan’s job at Duke needing her to be present for budgeting at the start of the year. We’ll figure it out though—and in the meanwhile, enjoy the family and friends around us here.

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Steps II

The stairwell in the parsonage is shaping up. I have just about all the work printed and framed. Hanging it is about all that is left to do. I have printed some on my HP Deskjet 9800 that Susan got me for my 50th birthday (and have put to lots of use for the church and am beginning to use more personally). Some of the prints are adjusted a tad in Photoshop and then printed in the traditional, glossy manner—both color and B&W. Several are modified a good deal in Photoshop, using some artistic effects. I am pleased with the outcome.

One in particular, involves applying the graphic pen filter with color and then using an edge technique. The steps now—though still a photograph—have a line drawing feel and look great matted and in the reddish-brown frame. I have tried this effect several times before with limited success; this is the first time I’ve really been pleased with it.

I’m excited to hang the series now and see the full effect of all the photographs grouped together. I have a series of photographs of pathes that I may start printing and framing next! And maybe some doors… windows… bridges…

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Christmas Parade 2007

Today is the annual Christmas parade in our town. You pay your $100 entry fee and you’re in the show. Everybody who is anybody is in the lineup—from a local septic tank cleaning company to the high school marching band, and with the city manager, police chief, and sheriff thrown in for good measure. The streets are blocked off, the police are at every corner, and you can be the star of the show. You wave at people; some wave back; it’s over.

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Following Jesus

It is a dark, cold, blustery morning in Graham, North Carolina. From where I sit, I can hear the wind in the trees, the rain hitting the windows and siding, and the water under the tires of cars going past. I can also see the treelimbs blowing and the raindrops on the window. But over the rooftops down the street, I can see that miles away the sun is breaking through a storm cloud.

It is so easy to get fixed on the present funk instead of the future promise. It is dangerous too. A few years ago, Susan and I took a vacation in the NC Blueridge Mountains where I photographed a good bit of the scenery along the Parkway. The problem with driving, however, is that you miss out on so much of the scenery. When Susan drives, I see things for the first time that I never saw though I’d driven past them hundreds of times. Still, I try to catch a quick peek of the beauty from time to time while driving. Traveling in the mountains can make this practice particularly treachorous.

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Snapped on the Blueridge Parkway in October 2004

While enjoying the briefest glimpse of grandeur, a driver can be so distracted as to not notice until too late that the road just ahead veers around a bend. It is also easy enough to simply drift off the road. Along many parts of the Parkway, this would mean disaster. Gratefully, knowing this possibility, the authorities have lowered speed limits along the Parkway to 45mph. This keeps us safe from, not only ourselves, but from those motorists who must drive 70-90mph. They stick to the Interstate highways.

The joys of life—be they fall foliage, friends, a full belly, a life of relative ease, or simply relatively courteous drivers—can be disastrous distractions though, if we’re not careful. The Apostle Paul learned to appreciate privation and suffering because these kept his eyes on the road.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Philippians 3:7-9a ESV)

Of course, suffering itself may become a distraction. If I begin to focus on what a good sufferer I am becoming, my eyes have strayed to the scenery. The point of using suffering a loss is:

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him… (Philippians 3:10 ESV)

I don’t want to be an ascetic for the sake of being disciplined or virtuous. Embracing poor health or lack of any other thing can, however, be for the disciple of Jesus a new way of following him. If I keep my eyes on the One who stands just before me on this road, suffering becomes a method of remembering what is truly important. It is too easy to focus on the loss, to get stuck in grief and sickness. Instead, these losses must become gains. That which so often blurs life must become the agent that brings focus. When I run off the road, as I will sometimes, I must then refocus, making Christ my joyous aim—

forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I [shall] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14 ESV)

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Fishing

This morning in our devotions, I was reading a selection from Bryan Green which stated that, “The gospel always produces a division amongst the people; there is therefore, ever present both in individual contact and in public assembly, a note of discord.” I notice this almost every time I teach and preach. People are offended by the gospel; so much so that it will even divide churches. Jesus himself said, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:35 ESV) Even Jesus was not welcomed in his hometown, and his siblings thought he was a bit off. If Jesus was affllicted with this “social disease,” why should I think I would be immune?

I cannot honestly expound the text without it offending someone. I see it on their faces. It cuts whom it will with no help from me, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

The evangelist, though aware of the phenomenon, must pay it no mind. If he is to catch a fish, he must know the hook hurts. Green continues,

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“Big Tim” Helfrich holding a few crappies he caught,
probably in Indian Lake (Lakeview, Ohio)

Preaching the gospel is not a pastime of peaceful fishing, but rather a battle to land the fish.” This is the basic nature of the vocation.

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Steps

I’m working (finally) on printing some photos I took while on vacation with Susan in the mountains of North Carolina. The photos are of steps we took along the way—and now we’re hanging them up the staircase in the parsonage. I took these photos in October of 2004, when Susan and I vacationed in a lovely house on the New River in East Jefferson, NC. We stayed there reading and napping mostly, recovering from our oldest daughter’s wedding. Besides lounging about, we took day trips to places we could hike. It was in those locations that I took most of the photographs, hoping to hang our stairway with the prints one day. I never got to it but now that Cristin (that aforementioned daughter), has taken away so many of her own photos that were hung in the stairwell, I am compelled to get the project underway.

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Some of them will altered and some straight-up color and black and white. I may eventually do a canvas of one of them. Click the images to the right to see them larger.

The goal is to finish all but the possible painted piece by the open house we are having Saturday, December 9th from 4-7pm. Come on over and see the photographs, eat some great food, and meet all our other friends.

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