Who’s in charge

In these turbulent times of unprecedented chaos and loss, no one has a guidebook to show him what to do and how to respond to each new wave of change. But Christians understand that even though we don’t have a manual, we have Emmanuel.

We embrace the times knowing that our faith is founded on the solid rock who preserves and sustains us, who holds our lives in His hands, who knows the future, and who cares for those who have repented of sin and called on the name of Christ for salvation.

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One Lovely Day

One lovely day I took my granddaughter Faith for a drive through the Vermont countryside. For the entire month before that, we had longed for spring’s warm, gentle, reviving touch. But it had tarried too long in the South, uncaringly allowing Old Man Winter to bury April and even early May under his cold, wet, shrouds of morning snows.

But today was different. Spring had arrived at last, almost with a vengeance, for a hot, sunny 80 degrees in brilliant sunshine nearly paralyzed us.  I was grateful for the chance to spend a day away—far from working hours and worry, far from harried days and hurry.  I took the opportunity to spend one lovely day in Vermont with my granddaughter.

While sauntering down a country lane, I spied a field filled with dandelions—uncountable myriads of bright yellow-faced suns, sprawling out across the broad expanse of open meadowland. I stopped the car and took Faith by the hand. We strolled to the edge to admire the view.  As far as the eye could see, dandelions at the height of their glory stretched out before us—yellow, round, standing firm but soft to the touch.

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Had a farmer sown them intentionally, he would have been pleased at this bumper crop.  As Faith’s eyes beheld the sight, she dubbed it the most beautiful meadow in the state.  “It’s a heaven of yellowness, Papa,” she declared emphatically.

A week later I found myself slaying the dandelions that had invaded my handsome backyard. I carefully gathered into a bag a few of them that had already gone to seed and angrily beheaded those about to.  One by one, I snipped the seed-bearing heads off the stalks and tossed them into the bag.

Faith followed close at hand.  “Papa, why don’t you want more dandelions?  Why are you throwing away the seeds?  Watch, Papa. I love blowing the white fluffy heads.  See?  New seeds for next year.”

Woo, woo, woo. She blew them into the wind across the yard.

“There you go, Papa!  Next year you will have a heaven of yellowness here!  You will have the prettiest yard in town!”

I smiled wryly and bit my tongue.

For the moment, Faith was in her glory, scampering around delightedly in a small version of her heaven of yellowness.  She selected only the plumpest and loveliest dandelions for her Mimi’s vase and merrily blew a few of the “fluffy heads”,  chasing their parachute seeds around the yard.

But then the next morning Faith came out in the yard with her Papa again.  Overnight all the yellow dandelions had closed up their heads.   Faith was crushed.   “Your heaven of yellowness is gone. Now they’re ugly!”

I pictured the future—tomorrow a sea of fluffy heads waiting for the wind to blow their seeds all over my yard, and the next day hideous headless stalks, and next spring too many dandelions.

“Oh, my precious little one,” I replied with a knowing smile, “don’t be charmed by the dandelions of life—they have only one lovely day.

April Snow

April Snow 2021
A female character in a play or novel whose late entry into the scene always causes dismay might be aptly named April Snow. Most New Englanders, weary of winter’s cold and darkness, often resent seeing the chilly white snow that coats the ground somewhere in the region just about every year after the first of April. Though it is a common occurrence in northern Maine, the arrival of April snow as far south as Connecticut is rarely welcome. Those people enjoying the first warm, sun-drenched days of spring dread the sight of winter’s last hurrah.
 
But savvy farmers think otherwise. The beachcomber’s bane is the farmer’s blessing. Each of the huge, soggy spring snowflakes brings free nutrients to the farmer’s field. Only after spring ‘s arrival can snowflakes trap rich nitrogen molecules in the air and force them down to the open fields where they fertilize the newly plowed fields. For free.
One might call that a curressing—that is, something that begins as a curse but ends up a blessing.

Getting directions

Using a GPS device In Northern New England can lead an unwitting driver astray. Natives know the roads in their locale well, discerning which ones are navigable in a small passenger car, and which are not. And they understand the limitations that mud season places on unpaved, rut-filled mountain backroads. A GPS only understands the shortest distance between two points. Occasionally a chagrined flatlander must stop and ask directions from a native who often gives terse advice that begins with, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Everyone makes choices in life. Sometimes on that journey, they realize that what they thought was the quickest way to get what they wanted was actually nothing more than a dead-end road. Sometimes the route leads only to disaster.   What we really want is to choose the past that leads to heaven. Sadly, some people never figure out they’re on the wrong road and will never get there. Christians grieve when we see people like that. We picture the Lord standing there saying the same thing that the candid, implacable back roads native says to the lost traveler: “You can’t get there from here.”

The special glass

When Ben was about seven years old, we bought him a special drinking glass all his own.  We had been to the seashore and had spent a wonderful four days on the coast of Maine.  As we were heading home, we ate a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant that we all loved– Yoken’s, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  It had a gift shop that diners like us could browse through after dinner.  Our kids have fond memories of sitting at a table playing a giant game of checkers while their Mom and I looked for bargains and souvenirs.

Ben spied the glass first– an ornate sort of goblet, reminiscent of something a knight would use to toast a jousting victory.  He pleaded for it and we acquiesced.  We brought it home in the minivan, carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

Ben treasured that glass. For the rest of that year he used it proudly at every evening meal.  But the inevitable happened.  No one remembers exactly how, but it slid off the table and smashed on the floor.  Ben was devastated.

Well, a few weeks later his kind Grandma brought him a new special glass, a second runner-up, a poor substitute, but he liked it and was glad to have a special glass again.  And one can guess its fate.  And the fate of the third and fourth attempts: all just broken shards in a landfill somewhere.  Kids are clumsy and accidents happen.

Ben solved his problem in a way that surprised us.  He found a new special glass in an antique store one day the next summer– a glass with a title deed of Boardwalk on it; he loved to play Monopoly.  And he said he liked it better than all its predecessors.  He used it that day at dinner and then we washed it and, at his insistence, we packed it up in tissue paper and stashed it high up in a cupboard where it would be safe.  “This way,” he said, “it can’t get broken, and I will always have it.”

Last December while I was pulling the Christmas china out of the cupboard I found a

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Boardwalk tumbler wrapped in tissue paper.  It had been carefully stashed away, safe from harm, for 15 years.  When Ben came home on Christmas Eve, I pulled it out to show him.  His reaction stunned me.  “It’s not like I ever used it, Dad.  It’s not special. Yeah. it’s a cool glass, but it’s not part of my childhood. I barely even remember it.  You can give it away.  I don’t want it.”

A special drinking glass becomes special when you use it every day, as it silently takes its place in a backdrop of happy memories.  If you get sentimentally attached to it, you run the risk of it getting broken. You risk the pain of loss.

In a church setting, love involves risk. It means being transparent and vulnerable and risking being hurt by betrayal or death.  Love inside the body of Christ is meant to be shared, not wrapped  up tightly and hidden in a cupboard.  Yes, fellow church members can wound you, but the alternative is worse– a lifetime with a guarded heart, isolated, protected, kept safe from sorrow.

In my latter days I’d rather savor years of happy memories using a special glass that one day got broken than discover some meaningless object in the back of a cupboard.

May it dawn on us

“We will not hide these things from the children,
but will tell them to the coming generation:
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.”
(Psalm 78:4)

For the last century, each succeeding generation in New England has strayed farther from biblical truth than the one before it. This land of New England holds a unique place in history. It was the birthplace of American Christianity in many significant ways. And, God blessed the people of this region with great spiritual awakenings—the Holy Spirit working in tandem with godly preachers of His Word.

When we pray for this land to be awakened, we pray for a new morning. We ask the Lord to bring the light of truth to a spiritually dark area. We pray that the Holy Spirit would call people to himself, as He did in the first and second Great Awakenings.

When we pray that revival would begin, we also begin to realize that it must begin with us. As we study the nature of revival, we realize that many of us are not ready for it. And we keep realizing new things like the fact that true revival might ‘cost’ us something. We need to grasp the reality of the revival we are praying for.

So, in both senses of the word we cry “O Lord, may it dawn on us.”

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Sunrises at Ogunquit Beach, Maine (photos by Rick Barber)

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Choices

New England winters are better when you can sit by a roaring fire. And if you want to keep that fire roaring in the fireplace, you need good supplies of firewood and kindling. For years I have lugged in the logs only to discover that I had soiled or torn nice clothing in the process. Then, one winter evening we were visiting lifelong friends when I noticed that John hauled in his firewood quite nattily rolled up in a handy, sturdy blanket. I made a mental note to myself to solve the problem with one of those rugged firewood blankets in which I could roll up a few logs and carry them inside.

The next summer found my wife and me spending a rainy afternoon inside LL Bean in Freeport, Maine. As we strolled around looking at everything imaginable from kayaks to cable-knit sweaters, something caught my eye: a display of those marvelous roll-up blankets for carrying firewood. We had a goodly amount of store credit to spend, and my wife very graciously encouraged me to splurge for once and buy one. “You lug in firewood all winter long. Why not do that without getting soot and splinters all over your clothes from now on?”

So, we sauntered over to the display and I soon found ones just like the one my buddy John owned. We lingered a while as I looked them all over, making sure I did not choose exactly like his. Soon a kind and helpful salesman walked up and asked if he could help. I explained my need and he pointed out totes on the next rack over. “These are great, too,” he said. I was not deterred. I wanted one like John’s. That’s what I came over here for, and I didn’t want to be distracted. But I politely asked, “Why would I want a tote like that?” “Well,” he said, “you can very handily carry kindling in here– broken up sticks and twigs– and they won’t fall out. If you buy a roll-up blanket, they will fall out of that. A lot of our customers have returned to buy one of these too. They get tired of having their pieces of kindling fall out of the roll-up kind.” He showed me one off the rack. “They’re so sturdy that you can carry logs inside them too, but used as a tote, you can carry a lot of small pieces without them sliding out.”

So, there I was. Inside, a part of me wanted to just buy what I had come for. But here was information that was so full of experience and wisdom, that I had to change my mind and go in a new direction. For months I had been imagining having one of those roll-up blankets. Now I was being talked into something else.

When the first chilly days hit in October, I pulled out my trusty tote bag and enjoyed how easy it was to drag both logs and kindling into the living room. The tote was so handsome, we just kept it right by the fireplace. No more unsightly pile of twigs, branches, old newspapers, and junk mail next to the fireplace. And, now that ugly pile did not have to be moved every time a toddler came to visit.

Recently I pondered this: if God encourages or sometimes even forces me to choose something against my preconceived notion of what I thought I wanted, isn’t it very likely that He knows best? If an LL Bean salesman can help me choose the right tote bag, how much more would the creator of the universe know what’s best for me?

So many people in New England make an entire lifetime of decisions without even imagining that the guidance for those decisions could come from God and His Word. Look at the sadness, the broken lives, and tragedies that have come from people making life choices that are harmful to themselves and others. Imagine how different things could be if the people of this region sought to align their life choices with what God, who loves us all more than we can ever know, wants for them.

God always has our best in mind.

Beautiful and useful

IMG_20130315_122137Most Americans have seen photographs of Portland Head Light. It is an astoundingly beautiful lighthouse that I have had the pleasure of visiting several times.  A few summers ago when I was there, I watched other visitors running up and down trails in the park that surrounds it, taking their own photos from many different vantage points. I heard them exclaim, “Oh, it’s even prettier from this angle” as they scampered up the steps. Indeed, they are right: from each new angle is a handsome sight to behold.

I waited for many years to go there and see it. Our first visit, the end of a long, hot drive on a summer day, disappointed me and my family greatly. Since the whole coast was banked in with dense fog, we were unable to take any stunning photos of this beautiful landmark. The loud foghorn was blasting once a minute.

I expressed my dismay to a native standing nearby.

“Ay-uh,” he retorted in the typical, no-nonsense, brusque tone, “can’t say as it would be very useful on a sunny day.”

Churches are like lighthouses. Yes, they should be beautiful. But they have a job to do—guide people lost in the fog.

Two Hands

These days, in New England, one finds two different approaches to life quite prevalent, though tragically neither of them results in happiness and contentment. 

On the one hand are people who have so little hope that they let go of all the good things in life and drag themselves through meaningless days in despair without hope for the future. 

On the other hand are those who grip life so tightly that when tragedies take away something or someone they treasure, they cannot cope with loss. 

A few centuries ago, such was not the case. Most of the pioneers who settled the towns of New England believed unto Christ for salvation and walked humbly before God, trusting Him for their lives and health and safety.  And they knew that tragedy and loss were a part of their earthly lives.  They faced both with the biblical assurance that in the end “all things work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.”  That assurance gave them strength in hard times and prevented greed and over-reliance on self in times of ease.   

Lord, let us live our lives with hands outstretched to your provision. With fingers open we can graciously take into our hands what you design and desire to give us.  Let us be courageous to never shrink back and drop what you have given us to hold.  Let us never grip our gifts so tightly that we mangle them.

At sunset, God delights in flinging splendor over the church of those He has called to Himself.

Seen from Afar

 

One winter evening a few years ago, I was staying at my buddy Ed’s mountain cabin just north of Rutland, Vermont and was having trouble starting his gas fireplace.  I called him and he explained to me, over the phone, exactly how to do it, pointing out precise locations and details as if he were standing in the room next to the fireplace. I followed his instructions easily and fired it up.   Ed, who is by calling a pastor, is astoundingly adept at explaining things that are in other places and which he cannot see, but still understands intimately.

On Sunday he preached about heaven.

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