Vacation

Very few things annoy me more than traffic.  In Tulsa not only do we have traffic but our roads are filled with the obstacles that come from constant construction.  You must be able to excel at competitive driving in order to traverse our highways.  You think I’m joking- I’m not.  Just to get to church Amy and I travel a section of the old Route 66 (11th in Tulsa).  They’ve been working on this same section for as long as we’ve lived here (11 years).  Currently I can barely tell it resembles a road.  For weeks now you never know where the “lanes” will be.  It seems they are different every time we go to church.  Like some sort of sick game.  Follow the orange barrels and maybe you won’t have a head-on crash.  Or maybe you will.  We’ve become so conditioned to following the barrel’s they could have them lead us straight into a brick wall and we’d hit it.

Anyway, I said all that to say we’re going on a little vacation to get away from the stress of it all.  Somewhere tranquil.  Los Angeles.

Seriously, we’re going with Amy’s parents and I’m pretty excited because…

1.  We’re going to President Reagan’s Presidential Library.

2.  We’re going to President Nixon’s Presidential Library.

3.  We’re taking a VIP tour of Universal Studios.

4.  I spent most Summers of my youth there so I get to show Amy so many places that have happy memories for me.

So unless I’m “discovered” in Hollywood I’ll begin posting again late next week.   Till then my friends.  Or as I like to say I’ll see you here, there or in the air.

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Practicing what I say.

A couple of weeks ago a wonderful lady visited our small group.  I met her at one of the stops on my former route.  Anyway, she enjoyed her time with us and I was just so proud someone I invited actually came.  Yesterday I received an email from her in which she expressed a bit of where she’s coming from.  She says she’s a little bit or maybe even a lot left of where most Christians are.  Her words.  She’s a believer but from the left-wing of the spectrum.

I know what she’s saying but I have no idea what her particular issues are.  She was expressing this as a favor/warning.  She doesn’t want to be uncomfortable or make us uncomfortable by coming to our small group.  There was a time in my life I’d have been so nervous about her presence that while I wouldn’t actively avoid her I sure wouldn’t have gone out of my way to keep inviting her.

Now I’m going to keep inviting her.  She could have something to say we need to hear.  Or the other way around.  So I wrote her back and said something like…  So what?  You’re a little or a lot left of most Christians.  That’s okay.  As far as I know a person needs a right leg AND a left leg in order to walk in a straight line.  A right leg AND a left leg keeps a person balanced.

I hope she comes back.

Let Freedom Ring. Part II

The body of Christ was meant to rend the air and stir the heart with her continuous call to liberty.  Instead, many people have come to associate her sound with oppression not liberty or bondage not freedom.  It’s heartbreaking.

How did this happen?

It’s my opinion some of us are responsible.  Not because we are evil or even bad.  Indeed, our intentions were honorable.  Yet somewhere along the way we lost control of the message.  Or perhaps we got confused as to what the message is.

What is the message?  What does our bell signify?

Sometimes this is a difficult conversation.  Tempers flare within congregations and across denominations.  Differences of opinion are forcibly expressed and battle lines are drawn.  We tar and feather one another with different labels while we vainly adopt the latest culturally relevant terminologies to advance our own evolving positions.  When we do that it feels like churches are playing catch-up with the culture instead of leading it to a better place.

When we speak of freedom in Christ I know of two groups which perk-up.  One group adores the fact 2+2=4 and always will.  The other group adores exploring how that makes you feel.  Both groups are comprised of decent people.  Both groups love Jesus.  Both groups love the Word of God.  The 2+2=4 group loves Bible stories like the one where the two guys are struck dead by God because they felt it best to touch the Ark of the Covenant as it was falling to the ground.  See there?  See where feelings will lead you?

The thief on the cross is a favorite Bible story of the how do you feel about that group.  Or any story where Jesus put the 2+2=4 no good Pharisees in their place.  See there?  See where insisting on every jot and tittle will lead you.

Somehow it escapes our attention that both stories are true- both stories are in the Bible- both stories are ways God Himself chose to reveal aspects of His Holy Unchanging Nature.

When we speak of freedom in Christ the 2+2=4 group grows uneasy.  Nervous.  They might try to steady their nerves with a stiff shot of doctrine.  They flee for comfort to the loving embrace of dogma.   They are zealous to immunize everyone around them from the approaching plague of emotionalism.  They do so because they love Jesus.  And they love us too.

Of course the how do you feel about that group resents any challenge to their freedom to feel.  They are galvanized to action when the banners of doctrine and dogma begin to flutter on the landscape.  They flee for comfort to the loving embrace of relevancy.  They are zealous to immunize everyone around them from the approaching plague of legalism.  They do so because they love Jesus.  And they love us too.

Unfortunately the noise which escapes our bell-tower are the sounds of hand to hand combat. Not liberty.  Is that our message?

I wish both sides would learn to get along.  We need one another in the same way an airplane needs two wings to fly.  I’ve known churches that tried to fly with one wing.  They always crash.  Then people die.  The first to perish are those who are strapped in the pews, but the total number of victims will far exceed the initial death-toll.

We were destined to be the ultimate symbol of freedom and liberation.  We are the direct represenatives of the greatest of greatest liberators.  Our presence was meant to signify comfort and haven and acceptance.  Sadly, our identity crisis has produced a noise more in tune with the efforts of King George the Third to suppress human liberty in the colonies than it has with Jesus Christ’s desire to liberate the human soul.

The usual result of “positions” ends in either/or rather than both/and.  In the case of freedom in Christ I feel as if the latter is superior to the former.  Freedom in Christ does not mean freedom from doctrine.  This is demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus.  He fulfilled the Old Covenant.  It governed his life.  Yet, he did it in such a way that the most disenfranchised felt welcomed and loved.  Unfortunately, the 2+2=4 crowd didn’t get it by and large.  So they killed Him.  Thankfully He surrendered to the error of their ways- He sacrificed His freedom and the bell of liberty never rang purer.  Or was more appealing.

I wonder if the same thing could happen today?  What would happen to our call to liberty if we submitted to one another?  Especially in those particular cases wherein we felt the most right.

When we speak of freedom in Christ sometimes we mean freedom to…as opposed to freedom from…  For me there is a huge difference.  Dwelling on the freedom to’s causes me to become self-absorbed.  The emphasis is on first defining my freedoms then defending them.  Against you if your freedoms to… violate mine in some way.  When I do this, dwell on the freedom to’s, it becomes very easy to lose sight of Jesus.  And of you too.

On the other hand, thinking about the freedom from’s leads to a wholly different place.  Like perpetual relief.  Also, the emphasis is on the Liberator.  This leads to perpetual gratitude.

From what have you been freed?  I don’t know the particulars in your case, but I’m familiar with the in general’s.  Such as freedom FROM the eternal consequences of our sins- freedom FROM guilt- freedom FROM shame- freedom FROM the Kingdom of Darkness.  Doesn’t all of that feel good?  I believe this is the true and intended meaning of freedom in Christ.  When we dwell on these freedoms there is very little to argue about.  And when we are not arguing with one another it frees up a considerable amount of time to do other things.  Like proclaiming emancipation to the billions of souls who are yet enslaved.

Sometimes we act like the man I encountered at the Liberty Bell.  We believe we were deputized and issued a badge which authorizes us to kick people out who disagree with us or prevent certain ones from entering.  We weren’t.  The truth is only one person has that authority.  Are you big enough to take Him out?  I’m not.

Here’s a Kingdom twist- when we surrender our rights and submit our freedoms to one another then the world will better recognize the bell we toll as the sound of sweet liberty.

Let freedom ring!  For everybody.

Let Freedom Ring. But not for everybody. Part I

There are some advantages to visiting famous places during the off-season.  Like short lines.  Of course there are also some disadvantages.  Like Winter.  Years ago, when I was living in New York,  a friend and I decided to visit Philadelphia.  Because it was bitterly cold most tourists were in deep hibernation so we practically had the place to ourselves.    No lines.  But we were miserably cold.

Anyway, our first stop was Freedom Hall.  After our tour there was over we crossed the street to the little building that was built to display the Liberty Bell.  Seeing something you learned about way back yonder is pretty cool. We were even allowed to touch the Liberty Bell because there were so few tourists there.  Tracing the famous crack with your finger produces a feeling of patriotism you could never capture in a history book.  It was a special moment.

As for the other tourists at the Liberty Bell there were two African American ladies and a couple of white guys who looked like business men.  Most of us were thrilled by what we were seeing.  One of us was outraged.  That person suddenly erupted with scorching indignation.  He was offended by the presence of the two African American ladies  And he let all of us know how he felt.  Loudly.  He threatened them.  He even ordered the women to get out of the building.  However, they were frozen in place.  So were the rest of us.   Except for the Park Ranger.  She asked the “gentleman” to leave immediately.  Unfortunately this merely caused him to spew anew.

According to him the Park Ranger did not have the authority to kick him out of the place.  You see he claimed to work for a Federal Agency that as best as I could figure out had something to do with kicking non-whites out of public places.  Of course the Park Ranger didn’t believe him.  None of us did.  Yet he claimed to carry a badge which empowered him to do exactly what he was doing at the moment.  I have to tell you when he reached inside his overcoat to get the badge I thought for sure he was going to pull a gun and kill all of us.  For certain that would have made a dramatic story to tell.  Only I wouldn’t be around to tell it.  Shot to death at the Liberty Bell.  Never saw that coming.  (by the way, he didn’t have a badge.)

Anyhow, while the Park Ranger told him to get out over and over the self-appointed Federal Agent called the African American ladies every nasty slang word you’ve ever heard to belittle their race.  He was shouting curse words at them.  They were crying and the rest of us were standing there in shocked silence.  I think we were also paralyzed by fear.  We had no idea what he was going to do.  Fortunately a gang of hastily summoned Park Rangers escorted the trouble maker elsewhere before he got physical.  Then we did our best to console those poor ladies.

I’ll never forget that day.  Remember, all of us were standing so close to the Liberty Bell we could touch it.  To see and hear such hatred in the presence of a great symbol of freedom was quite disconcerting.  It was horrible.  And what an irony- oppression made no concession for the great bell which once, and only once, caused the air to reverberate with it’s resounding call for liberty.  Liberty for all?  Not hardly.

The disparity between liberty and oppression and freedom and bondage I witnessed next to the Liberty Bell and in sight of the building in which the great patriots signed the Declaration of Independence is something I’ve seen in other places.

Like the body of Christ.

The Lion, The Lamb and The Hound Dog.

Amy took this picture the other day and I really like it.  In fact it has a lot of meaning for me.  My favorite other name for Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  One of my favorite visuals of Jesus is of Him as the Lamb standing near the throne of His Father.  In all of Heaven and earth He is the only one worthy to open the book which rests in the hands of God.

The hound dog belongs to me.  Or I belong to him.  His name is Puddleglum.  Named for my favorite character in the Chronicles of Narnia.  I should say he’s my favorite character after Aslan himself.  Who is a lion.  It’s so awesome for me that Amy captured this image because Puddleglum played a major role in demonstrating to me the power and majesty of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  Puddleglum allowed me to hear the voice of God.

At the time I was still in deep mourning over how things had ended at Memorial.  I was at a job I hated and I thought I hated God.  To make matters worse Amy and I had recently clung to one of our precious pets as she lay dying on our bed.  We were sick with grief.  On a gloomy , drizzly day two weeks after we lost Lanie I noticed Puddleglum wasn’t quite himself.  He had been bleeding at the gums for a few days which I attributed to his penchant for chewing and chewing and chewing rawhide.  But now he seemed listless.  My shift began at three and for the longest time I debated whether or not I should take him to the vet.  I didn’t want to be late for work.  In the end I took him to the vet.  I might have thought I hated God, but He didn’t hate me.

Puddleglum had used his considerable skills to open a cabinet door underneath the kitchen sink.  He then made a feast out of the rat poison he found there (one day I’ll tell the whole story).  When I told the vet tech what happened and when it happened her face fell.  So did my stomach.  I discovered rat poison destroys the bloods ability to coagulate.  If I had delayed taking Puddleglum to the vet by just another twenty minutes or so he would have bled out and died.  Or at least that is what they told me later.

Of course I only found this out after they had taken him away to be examined.  Meanwhile I rushed off to work.  I was sitting behind a desk, not far from where I live now, when they called to tell me the bad news.  There was only the slimmest of hopes Puddleglum would survive the night.  His blood’s ability to clot was rated at zero.  As a result his poor little body began to swell.  I was frantic.

Part of my responsibility as a security guard at this particular complex was to patrol the grounds from time to time.  I grabbed the keys to the security vehicle while telling my co-worker I was going to make a few circuits around the property.  Really though I wanted to rant. I needed to cry.

So there I was bawling like a baby (some security guard) and cursing the fates that ruined my life.  I raged against the Lord.  Yet, I pleaded with him to save my dog.  I knew He could, but doubted He would, but knew He could…

Why God?  I lost my job.  Thanks for all your help there by the way.  I lost my home.  I hate this job.  I hate the cruddy little duplex we’re living in now.  I hate my life.  How could you let this happen?  It’s been one thing after another- Lanie just died and now Puddleglum is dying.  I can’t absorb one more blow.  You said we wouldn’t be given more than we can bear.  Well, in case you’re not on top of things I am telling you to your face that my load capacity has been reached.  Please, please, please won’t you save my dog?

Have you ever prayed for something and then squeezed your heart real tight in an effort to believe your prayer was answered?  I have.  I’ve prayed for peace before in certain circumstances.  Then I think I thought I might possibly be experiencing the peace I prayed for, but wasn’t certain.  Kind of like I was trying to force the feeling of peace.  I have no hope this makes sense to anyone but myself but there you go.

I was patrolling a park-like area of the property- ranting and raving- screaming and crying- praying and cursing- all of a sudden the most profound sense of peace I have ever experienced calmed me.  Then, for a lack of any other way of describing it, I heard a voice.  It said, “Your dog will be fine.”  That is a word for word quote.

My brothers and sisters, there was nothing forced or faked about the tranquility I was then experiencing.  It required no effort.  It was as real as the truck I was driving.  But still I asked, “How can I be sure what you say is true?  What if this is me just telling myself what I want to hear?”

This is the response I heard over and over and over…

I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  I am the Lord God.  Your dog will be fine.

I knew Puddleglum would live.  Even as the news worsened during the next several hours I knew Puddleglum would survive.  I truly wasn’t worried.  I even told Amy God told me Puddleglum will live.  And he does.

Sometimes, late at night, when Puddleglum is snoring I hear in it the voice of God.  This is especially comforting to me when I have forgotten how real and near is the Presence of the Lord God.  Every once in awhile Puddleglum will rest his head on my chest.  When he does he just stares at me with his droopy hound dog eyes.  I mean no disrespect, but when Puddleglum looks at me like that I see the eyes of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  How this comforts me when voices of doubt rage against my spirit.  How glad I am to know the One whose roar silences such doubts and causes them to tremble.

For all those reasons I love this picture of the Lion, the Lamb and the hound dog.

Thank you God.  I will never, ever forget our chat that afternoon.  I love You so much.  Thanks again for sparing my dog…for sparing me.  You are awesome.

P.S.  I hesitated posting this because I understand it could be perceived as tacky or corny, but as John Dobbs always says, “It’s your blog Craig.”  So…

Duh!

Although I’m still working I think I’m unemployed again.  Last week the boss called me to his office after I finished my route.  He told me he had bad news.  Judging by his demeanor, however, it was difficult to see him as the bearer of bad news.  He almost seemed delighted with his mission.

The bad news?  My route, which is local, is being consolidated with one in Okmulgee.  Some fifty miles away.  The choice I was given was to find new employment or to accept the new route.  The new route would require me to complete my old route in record time everyday then return to the warehouse to load up for the trip to Okmulgee.  Although the stops there are far fewer than the amount I now have the actual load is far larger.  So large my one ton van is not adequate.  The boss blithely inferred I would need a new vehicle.  Like buying or renting a box truck.  Either that or I could make more than one trip to Okmulgee on those days (probably three times a week) my van wasn’t big enough.

So I asked what they were paying.  Afterall, it will cost me twenty-five to thirty dollars a day in fuel costs alone.  I have no idea what it would cost to do the same with a box truck though I can’t imagine it’s less.  What they are offering for expenses (not including rental fees or truck payments) will barely cover my actual expenses.  If at all.  Not to mention the wear and tear an additional one or two hundred miles a day will have on my van (or new box truck).

Then there is the matter of payment for services rendered and deliveries made.  Ten dollars to deliver hundreds of pounds of shoes.  Twenty dollars to deliver huge crates filled with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of clothes.  When you factor everything together- fuel, van maintenance, insurance, cargo insurance, taxes (I’m self-employed)-  it amounts to a few a few bucks an hour.  Almost like I’m paying them for the honor of making deliveries on their behalf.  As I said, my boss thought it was kind of funny in an ain’t life tough sort of way.  I told him I would think about it.

Later that day the boss called me at home.  I let him know that due to the changes in my route that day was my last.  He quickly asked me to at least continue doing my current route “as is” until he found my replacement.  I agreed to do that.  That was on Tuesday.  Come Friday he asked me to give him another week because he still didn’t have a replacement.  I agreed to do that.

Anyway- Yesterday the boss thanked me for workng my route this week.  Which was a classy thing to do.  Then he said, “I’m having more trouble filling your route than I first thought I would.”  Really?  How many people are driving around Tulsa in a box truck waiting for the kind of job for which they get to pay rather than being paid?  Not many I suppose.  Duh.

Meanwhile I will soon be on to the next thing.  What ever that may be.

A new yard.

I can’t say enough good abour Babosa Landscape Designs (918.814.7500).  From beginning to end Drew Babbs, his partner Jeff Patton and their crew were a complete delight to work with.  Amy and I have done many things to the house we live in.  Some of the experiences we have had with contractors have not been pleasant.  For example, the kitchen has been redone twice.  The second time was to fix the mess the first guy made of our kitchen remodel.  It was awful.  Drew and company were professional, competent, respectful and friendly.  To tell the truth Amy and I were sort of sad to see them go.  Though the dogs weren’t.  Thanks Drew, Jeff, Mike and Luke.  We love our backyard.

Click on the pics for a larger view.

To give you an idea of what it looked like

Drew and Jeff

Mike

Luke- who refused to let me take his picture.