Friday, December 21, 2012

How a Broken Arm Became a Reminder of God’s Love


Of course I expected my family to show concern when I broke my arm. I also figured my church family would share well wishes during the healing process. Outside those circles I did not know what to expect. After telling me I am too old to be out riding a scooter (I fell off after a rookie mistake) so many people showed concern about my broken wing that I had to take note.

Co-workers were genuinely concerned for me, going beyond simply asking how I was doing and investing time in conversation about my arm. A number of them even came by my office regularly to check on my progress. Even the regulars on my train ride home took notice, becoming my cheering section as I moved from a splint to just a sling to nothing at all. The number of people who have followed my progress far exceeds my expectations, giving me a much different perspective from my co-dependent past where I often wondered if any person honestly cared.

With each conversation about my fracture I found myself thinking of someone else who has gone out of his way to show his love. I found myself wondering how many of those well wishers were sent by God, His way of telling me He cares. He is concerned when one of us hurts, be it physically or emotionally. He wants more than just the casual “God please heal…” waiting for us to pour out our hearts before Him. He follows the moment by moment progress of my healing arm. He also follows your life, knowing every detail even down to the number of hairs on your head. And yes He does care about each one.

My first broken bone has been…well…just say it has been an experience, one I hope to never have ever again. But I am thankful for the outpouring of love and concern shown by those around me. I am also thankful for the opportunity my arm has afforded me in seeing God’s love revealed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

International Prayer: December 17, 2012


In the last few days there have been two events around the world where children were lost. Let us stand with our neighbors and pray for:

Newtown Connecticut in the United States – Pray for the parents and families of the twenty children and six adults who died in last Friday’s school shooting. Pray for the community as the healing process begins and as the children process the events which shattered their day. Pray for the police officers who responded to the scene and for the teachers who served beyond the call of duty to protect their students.

Afghanistan – A landmine explosion resulted in the death of ten girls, leaving another child with serious injuries. According to Guardian.co.uk the landmine was left over from when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. The girls had been collecting firewood and were using an ax to split the wood when the mine went off. Pray for the families and pray for the removal of the numerous landmines scattered across the country.

Egypt – Continue to pray for Egypt where the first round of voting on the new constitution is complete. With more voting scheduled later this week the government reports a majority voting in favor of the new laws.

It has been a rough weekend for children. Let us join together in prayer while also taking the time to cherish our families. And when you pray, remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas each one needing you to lift them (and their families) up before the Lord.

Monday, December 10, 2012

International Prayer: December 10, 2012


I’m back! And so is International Prayer. Our theme for this week is government, as we pray for new leaders as well as for a leader who was re-elected. But before we pray for government leaders let us join in prayer for:

The Philippines – Last week the southern part of the Philippines endured Typhoon Bopha. While a new early warning system helped people evacuate, there were still over 600 deaths reported with hundreds still missing at the time of this writing. With many roads destroyed there are people who are cut off, unable to receive supplies. Over a million people were displaced by the storm. Homes were destroyed leaving many living in evacuation shelters. Pray for the people of the Philippines as they begin to rebuild and as they assess the overall cost of the damage, including millions in lost agricultural products.

The United States – Here in the United States we ended a very long and contentious presidential election. In the end President Barack Obama won re-election. With the looming “fiscal cliff” and a nation losing confidence in the federal government, the president must lead during a slow economic recovery. Pray for President Obama remembering he is human. Pray for his spiritual faith. Pray for his family. Pray for him to receive wisdom and direction in leading the nation.

China – In November new members were selected to the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China. Members of this committee change once every decade. In March the new general secretary of the standing committee will become China’s president. What direction will the new leadership take over the next decade? Please pray for China and for the country’s new leadership.

Egypt – Prior to the drafting of a new constitution, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took on powers which allowed him to override the country’s courts. This lead to a number of protests which intensified when the draft constitution was crafted without input from a number of groups. With the nation preparing to vote on the new constitution this coming Saturday, pray for the people of Egypt as the nation is polarized over ideology.

With the season of Advent upon us we must remember it is truly better to give than to receive. For Christians one of the best ways we can give is to lift up our neighbors in prayer. And when you pray, remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas each one needing you to lift them up before the Lord.

Friday, October 26, 2012

International Prayer: October 26, 2012


A black eye and a few bruises or scrapes: When I was a child this is what someone came home with if their bike was stolen out from under them. You might be forced to give up your precious ride but you still for the most part came home. This was not the case recently in New Jersey where twelve year old Autumn Pasquale was killed by two teens who wanted her bike for parts.

I cannot begin to imagine the darkness clouding the mind that is willing to take a human life. I know these teens are the exception, not the rule, but still this incident serves as a grim reminder that we must continue in prayer for the youth of the world. We must pray for those whose minds are lost, being tempted by poverty or greed or loneliness or any of the other things which tempt a young heart. We must also pray for the safety of our youth, for protection that others will not become victims. Pray for Autumn’s family as they deal with their loss and as they face the upcoming trial for the ones who took the life of their daughter.

In praying please also remember:

Malala Yousufzai – Usually international prayer requests focus on a country or an area. I want to make an exception here and ask for prayer for Malala Yousufzai, a 15 year old girl shot for speaking in favor of educating women in Pakistan. Pray for her and for her family as she recovers in a hospital in England.

Syrian Refugees – As battles continue in Syria, refugees continue to pour out of the country and into refugee camps in neighboring countries. These are not just adults being forced to flee but also children, some suffering from trauma having witnessed the fighting first hand. Living in a refugee camp can also open people up to a number of medical issues without the necessary resources to deal with these problems. Pray for these refugees asking for the resources needed to support them.

U. S. Meningitis cases – 14,000 people are said to have been put at risk for developing fungal meningitis after receiving injections of tainted medicine in the United States. Twenty-four people have died and 300 have become sick according to a report on CBSNews.com. Doctors believe they have found a method for treating the infections but the treatment carries its own risks. Pray for those who have become infected.

As we end the work week the east coast of the United States is preparing for Hurricane Sandy. Already several people in the Caribbean have felt Sandy’s wrath. Please pray for those who are in the process of cleaning up in Sandy’s wake as well as for those who are preparing for Sandy’s visit. And when you pray, remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas each one needing you to lift them up before our Lord.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Your Canary Passes Out


I recently discovered that I have a canary. No not a literal canary, a figurative one which functions like the proverbial canary in the coal mind.
This image comes from the Project Gutenberg archives.


Legend has it; coal miners would often carry canaries with them into the mines. The bird served as a sort of low tech air sampling system. As long as the canary was alive and singing the air in the mine shaft was likely okay to breath. If however their bird passed out, the minors knew it was time to leave as quickly as possible. While I don’t work in a mine I do find life as a former codependent quite often takes me to places where I need the occasionally low tech warning, letting me know when something is not quite right.

Enduring the schizophrenic ride that is the norm in an alcoholic household is much like living in a houseboat during a hurricane while torpedoes explode just off the bow. Normal is nonexistent and yet I spent my teenage codependent years trying to convince everyone (including myself) that things were just fine and dandy. Over time this left me unable to tell when I personally am off course and even as an adult in my own home I sometimes list off to one side or another. But this time around I was able to tell something was off kilter, the most obvious symptoms manifesting themselves in my writing.

Like a canary struggling for air my writing was suffering from a lack of…something. I found myself trying to write about things which really did not interest me. Putting words to paper became a task instead of something enjoyable, in many ways becoming too much like work. I was out of balance and off course, feeling like the entire process of writing was slowly grinding to a halt. But I could not put my finger on what exactly was wrong until I realized that writing was not the only area where I had lost my balance.

In fact my whole life was out of balance. My family was not getting the time they needed. My volunteer commitments were falling behind. Tasks on the day job were not getting done as efficiently as they should. I had fallen back into old habits reminiscent of my dysfunctional codependent days. In the past I would have suffered along in this state for months until I became ill or some other thing came along to shock me back into reality. Fortunately this time around I had my own personal canary to sound the warning and help me get back on course.

My canary has revived and is now doing fine. I heard its cry in time to move to a better state.  How is your canary doing?

Friday, September 14, 2012

International Prayer: September 14th, 2012


He was headed home after finishing his shift in uniform for the Philadelphia Police Department. After carrying out his duty to serve and protect Moses Walker Jr. was killed by two suspects in an apparent robbery. Police would eventually make two arrests but their investigation appears to have been hindered by a culture of fear. As one man who was interviewed on television stated, people do not talk to police out of fear of being hurt or worse. As he spoke I couldn’t help but think that what he was describing was spiritual bondage and this bondage is not unique to Philly. Because of this kind of bondage I ask that we pray for those who live in our inner cities.

What people fear may change from city to city around the world. Some live with street gangs or with drug cartels. Others live in fear of what their own government might do to them. In some cities the violence is the result of war and in others fear is the result of living with warlords. Poverty rules in many cities, even here in the United States where there are entire sections of our cities were people worry about putting food on the table. Whatever it is in your country that holds cities under the oppression of fear, please join in prayer for people to receive freedom from spiritual bondage.

In your prayers also remember:

The family of Police Officer Moses Walker Jr. as well as the family of Officer Brad Fox, killed while on duty in a Philly suburb.

Somalia – Last Monday the Parliament elected a new president. On his second day in office the new president was the target of a terrorist attack. Continue in prayer for the people of Somalia, a nation which has long been considered unstable.

Congo – An Ebola outbreak in the Congo has claimed 31 lives. Another 38 either have the virus or are suspected of having it according to a report on Businessweek.com. Pray for an end to the outbreak. Pray for health workers as they try to stem the epidemic. Pray also for the victims of this virus.

Uganda - Please give thanks as the Ebola epidemic in Uganda was recently declared to be over.

Enjoy the blessings of the Lord as you live each day. Don’t let those blessings distract you from fulfilling the command to pray without ceasing. And when you pray, remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas each one needing you to lift them up before our Lord.

Friday, August 17, 2012

International Prayer: August 17th, 2012


In the midst of one of its worst droughts in years, the United States will soon face higher food prices. Chances are this will also affect global food prices, showing how what happens in one part of the world affects people in other areas. This week let us pray for farmers in the U. S. as they cope with this disaster. Pray also for those around the world who least can afford to pay more for what they eat. Along with those prayers let us pray for:

Iran – Last weekend the northwest corner of Iran was hit by two earthquakes, each with a magnitude around 6.3-6.4. According to USAToday.com 306 people were killed with more than 3000 injured. There were a number of aftershocks, leaving many afraid to go inside. Also, according to USA Today, the government of Iran has said it provided temporary shelter to 50,000 people who lost their homes. A change of heart by the government has opened the door to receiving foreign aid to help with recovery efforts. Pray for the people of Iran as they rebuild.

U. S. Solders – According to a report on National.Time.com 38 U.S. Solders committed suicide in July. This is a new and unfortunate record. Please continue in prayer for our solders.

Firefighters in the U.S. – The drought in the U. S. is not only a problem for farmers. A number of fires in the west are being fueled by the dry conditions. Pray for the men and women fighting these fires. Pray also for those who have lost their homes.

Enjoy the blessings of the Lord as you live each day. Don’t let those blessings distract you from fulfilling the command to pray without ceasing. And you pray remember your neighbors, both those nearby and those across the seas, each one needing you to lift them up before our Lord.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Have You Enjoyed the London Olympics?


His was the first of the gold medals won in the 2012 Olympics, his score breaking an Olympic record in archery. This is a special accomplishment in the life of any Olympian but what makes his story amazing is the fact that he is legally blind.
By Original author: Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the closing ceremonies scheduled for Sunday I can honestly say I have enjoyed watching the 2012 London Olympics. The competition has been great, coming second only to the great story lines behind the competition. From Im Dong Hyun of South Korea who cannot see out of one eye to Oscar Pistorius of South Africa who ran in the 400 meter and the 4X400 meter races.

Pistorius had his legs amputated when he was an infant but his parents never let him settle for being simply handicapped. Instead they pushed him to live and he eventually won several gold medals in the Paralympics. This year, after overcoming controversy over whether or not his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage, Pistorius was allowed to compete this year against able-body athletes, making the semifinals before being eliminated.

I look forward to seeing how Pistorius’ success changes the face of athletic competition. Has he opened the door for less traditional athletes to compete on the world stage in other sports?  Pistorius did not win a medal but he did earn his place as a pioneer and game changer.

Gabby Douglas is a game changer in her own right. The first African-American to win gold in both the team and the all-around gymnastics competitions and the first American of any color to win both in the same year, her victories expanding on the example first set by Dominique Dawes in 1996. These women both serve as reminders that success knows no color. I think the silly arguments about her hair or about whether she should have worn red white and blue should have been left at the side of the road. The Flying Squirrel has earned the right to forever be called an Olympic gold medal winner.

I look at these national heroes and wonder what holds me back. What limitations have I allowed to keep me from chasing my dreams? Even at my age seeing the world’s athletes challenge expectations has served to change my thinking. And as I discuss these Olympics with my children I hope they are also inspired to reach for the brass ring.

Yes I have enjoyed the London Olympics and I look forward to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia. How about you? Have you enjoyed the Olympics and what stands out in your mind as a great moment in this year’s games?

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Full Portrait of God: Part III (Repost)


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer.)

In “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” (country of origin said to be India) a group of men try to describe an elephant without actually seeing the animal. Depending on the version, these men are either blind or in a completely dark room. The number of men varies but in each telling of the story the men are able to touch just one small part of a very large creature. Each man comes away with a description based on what he felt on the palm of his hand. Each man decides an elephant is something different based on what they felt; one saying the animal is a pillar, another describing a rope. The men compare notes and wind up getting into an argument. Some cultures say the men get into a fist fight, all be it not a very good one seeing as they are blind. The point of the story is that we all are limited in our view point and thus perceive ‘truth’ relative to our own background.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

In fact we all are like those blind men. Each of us interprets life and its origins based upon what we see, filtered through our own backgrounds and prejudices. From one vantage point God exists but from another he does not. Some see God as a metaphor while others see a power drawing all life together and still others see a person or persons who wield divine control. We debate gender: Is God he, she, or it? Is he distant or involved with his creation. Each of us has an opinion and, like the blind men with their thoughts on the elephant, we defend those opinions sometimes with great passion.

We passionately judge God. Some say they want no part of God if he is not pro-choice. Some question his love: If God really loves why does he allow _________ (fill in the blank)? We Christians do this as well: “How could God harden Pharaoh’s heart? That’s not fair.” “I lost faith in God because I prayed for him to stop _______ (fill in the blank) from happening and it happened anyway. He must not be real.” But each of these judgments and debates stem from our looking at God through eyes that are accustom to making judgments from our own personal world view.

None of the blind men ask the elephant to describe himself, to give his world view of what it means to be an elephant. Had they done so their faith in what they ‘saw’ with their own hands would have been shattered by the reality of the bigger picture. Truth is only relative when we cannot see or understand all things. The Bible challenges us to see through God’s eyes where we find a world view based on the (absolute) truth. It takes a lifetime of study during which we receive the important answers about life, often seeing our own view of truth shattered and left on the path.

As a metaphor “The Blind Men and the Elephant” serves as a great reminder of why there are so many different beliefs and ways of interpreting life’s ups and downs. Each man was relatively correct in his description yet none was absolutely right. In the end the animal was neither a pillar nor a rope, nor was it any of the other things the men said. It was simply an elephant and their different points of view did not change that fact. We are each entitled to believe whatever we want but our world views do not change the true nature of God nor do they change the true meaning of life.

See also Parts one and two

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Matter of Free Speech


Why Everyone Should Visit Chick-fil-A on August 1st

I doubt Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A, knew the full political fallout that would follow his public declaration in support of the biblical definition of marriage. He probably expected some level of protests and calls for boycotts, but did he expect mayors of some of the major cities in the United States to talk about blocking the chain from opening new restaurants? Perhaps these mayors are saber-rattling but the fact that an elected official would float such an idea should be an eye opener for Americans no matter where we each fall on the political spectrum.

By looking for ways to keep Chick-fill-A out of their cities a group of liberal mayors are sending the message that you can believe what you want but if you speak publicly government will restrict your ability to do business in the public square. If elected officials think they can use their position to censor the free speech of a private citizen none of us have a basis for claiming any of the freedoms we cherish as a part of living in the United States. Where do we draw the line? If government is free to strike against speech and against the first amendment, who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not?

Whether you are for or against gay marriage I encourage you to visit Chick-fil-A on August 1st. Yes, I know there are many who are offended by the statement made by the company’s COO and you are free to express your disagreement as you see fit. But for one day I ask that we stand as Americans in support of free speech and of the Constitution which describes freedom of speech as one of our rights. Let us all remind government officials that they are elected to protect the rights of private citizens, even when they disagree.

{Note: I do not intend to use this post to have a debate for or against gay marriage. If you choose to comment please keep your focus centered on the issue of free speech.}

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Full Portrait of God: Part II


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer.)

In Exodus 15:3 Moses describes God as a “Man of war” a somewhat different perspective from what we normally use to describe our Lord. War, after all, is about bloodshed and death. It is a term we most often associate with destruction not with the peace we associate with God and his Christ. Yet this is exactly what Moses and the people of Israel witness before their departure from Egypt, as the plagues wrought destruction and death according to the perfect will of the Lord.

Exodus 6:1-6

What God did to Pharaoh and his people seems, at least from a human perspective, a bit harsh. After suffering a series of natural disasters the Egyptians lose their first born and see their army destroyed in the Red Sea, a real head scratcher from God who is described in his Bible as love. But the Bible tells us that God is a God of justice and it is in this context that we must look upon the events surrounding the first Passover for the nation of Israel.

In redeeming the children of Israel God reached out with what he describes as great judgments. In the eyes of the Lord there was a justifiable reason for going to war, something worth fighting for and he rose to the challenge. Where we see plagues God saw the correct way to handle sinners and an opportunity to stand for his chosen people. This is what we see of God throughout the Bible. He pours out his wrath on the sinner while showing mercy and protecting his children.

God sees his children as a worthy cause, one worth fighting for as demonstrated on the cross where his only begotten son died. On that day the final battle was won. Christ received the judgment handed out for all sinners, the consequence of death being dealt as Jesus gave his life. Now because of God’s mercy and love we all have the opportunity to become children of God and to live under his protection. God has deemed us worthy and made his stand on our behalf. All we need do is accept the risen Christ as Lord and Savior.

The Bible paints a full portrait of God showing him both as loving savior and as righteous judge, pouring forth his anger on those who sin. Both are revealed to the world as a package, with Christ standing as a shield protecting those who believe from the destruction of God’s wrath. Like the pillar that stood between Israel and Egypt God stands at the center of a great debate, a clash between different world views. In order to see the full portrait of God we must be willing to accept his world view but that discussion must wait until part 3.

See also “A Full Portrait of God: Part I

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Full Portrait of God: Part I {Repost}


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer.)

More often than not the Christian God is painted as very soft and cuddly, a grandfatherly figure inviting us to sit on his lap and stroke his beard. He is a source of great comfort, more reliable than a Maytag washing machine. For the most part this view of God is true; however it is not a complete picture of the nature of God. Once we look beyond the attributes we hold dear we find certain characteristics of God that are hard to reconcile with the Santa Clause type image we attribute to our creator. It is at what we see as God’s rough edges that our acceptance of the Lord is truly challenged.

Exodus 15:1-3

In his song of triumph Moses says God is a “man of war” (some translations say the Lord is a warrior). When I think of a man of war I see an armed person wearing battle fatigues not the loving gentle being so often the focus of our pulpits. The two are one and the same: the fatherly figure with arms open wide is the solder ready to fight for a cause. This is God, yet we rarely if ever teach about God’s more frightening side. We cannot fully say we believe in God unless we, like Moses, are willing to accept all aspects of his character.

Moses witnessed the ten plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. He and the nation of Israel were the beneficiaries of Pharaoh’s defeat in the Red Sea. At the same time he witnessed the mercy of God and the compassion by which the Lord lead the people of Israel out of bondage (Exodus 15:13). He acknowledged that God could at the same time demonstrate love and judgment, knowing the same God who gives light to those who believe was also a source of dread for those who reject the faith.

God is a warrior and he is a loving father. He is judge and he is merciful. This is a part of the full portrait of God. We cannot accept God in part but must reconcile what seems from a human standpoint to be sometimes opposing traits. Are you willing to receive God in his entirety or do you limit him to the traits with which you are comfortable?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old Chicago and My First Looping Coaster


Do you remember the first time you rode on a roller coaster? My youngest son recently took his first roller coaster ride. His choice for this monumental occasion was Disney World’s Space Mountain. This would not have been my choice for a first timer but he was determined to take the plunge. So with fast pass in hand we headed into the darkness of this indoor rollercoaster and to a reminder of one of my childhood firsts.
By Lyght at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

While my first rollercoaster was at Six Flags St. Louis, my first looping coaster was the Chicago Loop, an indoor ride at Old Chicago Amusement Park. The park was the first of its kind, a completely enclosed amusement park complete with shopping area. Open in 1975, the idea was to provide a climate controlled fair grounds that would remain open year round. While the basic concept survives in parks such as Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America in Minnesota and Galaxyland in Canada’s West Edmonton Mall, construction cost overruns, a lack of compelling shopping outlets in the mall, and competition from Marriot’s Great America (now Six Flags Great America) which open in 1976 doomed Old Chicago from the start.

Prior to 1975 Chicago did not have any large amusement parks nearby. Having two open within a year of each other was a childhood dream come true. While I enjoyed visits to both parks, Old Chicago quickly became one of my childhood favorites. I still remember the large building in Bolingbrook Illinois, with its huge dome on top and twin lion statues guarding the front door. My family visited Old Chicago two or three times during its short life but it was during a school trip that I worked up the courage to ride the Chicago Loop.

The Chicago Loop was the country’s second twin corkscrew coaster following one that was built at Knott’s Berry Farm. While I had always enjoyed the speed of a good coaster, the thought of one turning me upside down was enough to keep me from ever entering the Loop’s queue. This was never a problem when my family visited the park. However, on a school trip there were always those “good” friends who would tease anyone who lacked the courage to ride a simple coaster. There was also that one girl in the class, before whom I did not want to be embarrassed. And so I rode the Chicago Loop…with my eyes shut.

In the darkness behind my eyelids I never saw or even felt the corkscrews on the Chicago Loop. In fact it seemed as if the ride was finished five seconds after the first drop. I understand my son kept his eyes open but in the dark of Space Mountain he saw nothing. It is ironic that we both were able to confront our fears while sitting on a roller coaster in the ‘dark.’ Hopefully as he goes forward my son will enjoy coasters as much as I have learned to love them. I look forward to sharing more coaster experiences with both of my sons.

By the way, I still got teased that day on the Chicago Loop. The student sitting next to me told everyone that my eyes were closed during the ride. Old Chicago closed in 1980, becoming a big empty decaying building before being turned into an auto dealership many years later. I understand the Chicago Loop is now the Canobie Corkscrew, located at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire. One day I will have to go find and ride the coaster, this time with my eyes open. Until then I will always have fond memories of Old Chicago and of my first ride on a looping roller coaster.
By flatluigi (Canobie's "Corkscrew") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For more on the Old Chicago Amusement park check out Negative-g.com, a coaster enthusiast web page with a section dedicated to the world’s first indoor amusement park.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Childlike Confidence in Christ


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer.)

“Is Jesus always with me?” The answer to this question gave my youngest the courage to complete the task. Knowing the answer do I always respond with the confidence to take on whatever task lie in front of me? Do you?

The toy was in my son’s room but the light was not on. He was scared to go in, even though this was the place where he had slept safely for over five years. He caught me at a time when I was…well…indisposed. Through the door that stood between us I encouraged him to conquer his fear and to get the toy for himself. That is when he asked if Jesus was with him. As any good Christian parent would do, I assured him that Jesus was indeed with him and would go with him into the darkened room. He then asked if Jesus would always be with him. Again I assured him, telling him that Jesus indeed would be with him always. Without further ado my youngest boldly went into his room and, without turning on a single light, found that for which he had been looking.

Knowing that Jesus was with him gave my youngest the courage to complete the task: the confidence to successfully face and conquer his fear. His young mind was not side tracked by the possibilities of what might happen upon entering the room. He no longer focused on the possibility of ghosts or some other unpleasant visitor waiting for him in the dark. All that mattered was the fact that Jesus was with him. From there his faith was shown through his actions. I wish I could say knowing Jesus is with me was always enough.

Far too often I have forgotten the meaning of this simple fact: Jesus is with me. All too often I have become distracted by my own reasoning, stumbling over my fear of what may or may not happen down the road. Where I should move forward with boldness I forget Who it is that guides my footsteps. I forget that the author of the Christian faith is in fact bigger than any problem I may face. In those times when I forget I allow fear to stand strong as I turn in the wrong direction. I miss the mark when I instead should take great comfort in the truth spoken time and again by God to His children, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” A truth my son took to heart.

Jesus spoke of having faith like a child, the faith demonstrated by my son as he entered that dark room. When next I find myself hesitant to follow what God requires I hope to remember my son’s example, reminding myself that Jesus is indeed with me. If you are a Christian I hope you also go forward with a childlike confidence in our Lord, being reminded that Christ is with you.

Monday, July 09, 2012

International Prayer Request: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer.)

Adam and Eve: created by God and originally placed in the Garden of Eden. But they were not able to make a permanent home in the garden, a little issue of sin coming between them and the Lord. The Bible tells us God moved Adam and his wife out of the garden, setting a fiery sword to keep him from eating of the tree of life. Where on the vast landscape of earth did Adam first set foot as he left the warmth of paradise? Christians in Sri Lanka once believed that Adam’s first step outside of the Garden of Eden was on a mountain top known as Adam’s Peak.

Standing at 2243 meters (7360 feet) tall Sri Pada, located in the southwest portion of Sri Lanka, is a pyramid shaped mountain with significance to four major religions. On its summit is what appears to be a footprint measuring over five feet long and two feet wide. Christians in Sri Lanka once believed this to be the footprint of Adam, left after he was exiled from the Garden of Eden. Other Christians in the area have said it is the footprint of the Apostle Thomas who is credited with bringing Christianity to this part of Asia. But Christians are not the only ones who place religious significance on this ‘footprint’

Muslim tradition also speaks of the mount as being the place where Adam first stepped out of the Garden of Eden. By tradition it is believed that Adam spent some time up on this mountain mourning his exile before joining Eve. Buddhists say this is a footprint left by Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka. Hindus claim the print to be that of one of their gods who left it during a dance. The mountain was also worship by aborigines who named it Samanala Kanda after one of the ‘guardians’ of the island. Because of these legends Sri Pada (holy or sacred footprint) is considered sacred by many in Sri Lanka.

The Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean just south of India. According to CIA.gov the country is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia. Its 21 million people enjoy a tropical climate while dealing with two different monsoon seasons: one beginning in December in the northeast; the other beginning in June in the Southwest. The people are described as being multicultural and multi-religious but divided by class and caste. While the majority of the people are Buddhists there are also a significant number of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims among the nation’s citizens.

The blending of these different cultures and religions has not always gone smoothly. In fact Sri Lanka has very recently seen significant ethnic tensions and the nation endured over two decades of civil war. Various estimates show a hundred thousand killed during this war and many more being displaced or imprisoned. Pray for these displaced persons and for the 23% of the population left living in poverty. Pray for the people as they deal with a significant sanitation problem as described at IPSNEWS.net. It seems a large amount of human waste winds up in lakes without being treated, creating what could become a major health hazard. Pray for a solution to this problem.

Pray for the Christians who make up only 7% of the population in Sri Lanka. With the blending of cultures in the nation pray that the Christians living there will maintain a pure religion, not taking on the traditions of the other beliefs surrounding them. Pray for the spread of the gospel in Sri Lanka, that we will see that 7% number increase.

As always, thank you for standing with our neighbors here on earth by lifting up a word of prayer. And remember, pray and make yourself available in case God wants to use you to help someone else.

Friday, July 06, 2012

A Fish Story Repost


(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer. A story of family, fun, fishing, and the one that got away.)

I suppose everyone who has put a worm on a hook has a story to tell of the one that got away. The fish story was once a tradition, sort of a rite of passage, for every American boy living within a short distance of any body of water. I have many fond memories of weekends spent on the banks of various Indiana rivers, pulling up catfish and carp with my grandparents and the occasional cousin who dared heed the early morning wake up call. The trek with poles and equipment at the ready was not one for the fainthearted. The day’s catch would decide whether or not it was all worth the trip. But there was always the one that got away. For me that one measured at least 100 feet long. Yes you read that right; my fish story involves a catch that was about 100 feet long.

I must have been fourteen or perhaps fifteen at the time. We lived with my mother’s parents and I had become a regular on their weekend fishing trips. Once or twice a month during the summer we would spend Thursday evening checking the tackle boxes and making sure the lines weren’t tangled. My favorite rod was black with blue trim, mounted with an old Zebco reel. Don’t quote me but I believe it was a 202 or a 232 or something of that nature. She was my first real fishing pole and no one else (other than grandpa) was allowed to touch it.

I was the weird kid who loved spending Friday evening at the bait shop searching for mill worms or perhaps crickets or blood worms. Grandpa always had a list ready, having calculated exactly what we needed based on what he expected us to catch. This particular time we had to buy extra as my mom and one of my uncles decided they would come for the ride, along with my brother and two cousins. Grandpa knew we would need extra bait to account for what would be wasted by mom and uncle, so we made sure to get the right weight in worms.

That night we packed the equipment into the back of grandpa’s old Chevy Cheyenne pickup. This was a real pickup, a 70’s model designed strictly for work. Comfort was at best an afterthought. The long bench seat was made to keep the driver upright but not comfortable, just high enough to help the driver see over the hood. It had two large fuel tanks, enough capacity to ensure a full day’s work even at 10mpg. To combat boredom during a long drive this workhorse came with a perfectly good AM radio and a single but powerful speaker, able to play loud enough to drown out the road noise and roar of the huge V-8. (To be honest, I didn’t mind the sound of the V-8.) She could hold all of our fishing gear in her bed and still have room for a twin mattress. It was a good thing that mattress was there or else we children would have to sit on metal tire wells for the duration of the ride with the old white camper top protecting us from the elements.

With the Chevy packed I headed for bed with a warning to mom and to my Uncle, who had planned to stay up late with friends playing cards and enjoying the start of the weekend. Knowing grandma would be ready long before the rooster rolled over, I warned them that it was best to turn in early. Adults don’t like to be told it is bed time, especially by a teen, so I was quickly dismissed and told I should move away if I wanted to see the sunrise. So there I was a fifteen year old going to bed early on a Friday night, knowing something big was in store as I was determined to have my best catch ever.

The wakeup call came around three, or was it two. I dressed and found a good seat for the show to come when my grandparents would wake the rest of the gang. They griped and complained, my uncle claiming the fish were not up yet. They suggested letting them sleep till breakfast, not knowing grandma had been up much earlier and breakfast was already packed and waiting in the Cheyenne. But even at their ages they could not resist mother’s call. Somehow Grandma had us all in our places on schedule as grandpa fired up all eight cylinders and the pickup moved off. That trusty old Chevy easily got us to the river before the crack of dawn.

For most of the day I caught nothing. Mom refused to bait her own hook and never left the folding cot she brought with her. Uncle disappeared, saying he needed to get away from the less serious anglers. Based on his meager catch at the end of the day I suspect he found someplace quiet to sleep off the card game. Grandpa and grandma found their favorite spots, each able to monitor three rods at the same time and come back with a sizable catch. The others stayed near the truck, trying their luck in an area where they did not have to walk. Left on my own, I decided I needed to find a different spot and that is where the story took a strange turn.

From the top of a large rock I cast my line. From there I could hear others successfully pull good sized fish from the water. I however had no success. When finally something tugged on my line I reeled only to find what looked like a baby lobster hanging with one claw while pulling chunks out of my worm with its other. I shook it back off into the water only to learn later that the thing was a crawdad and, according to grandma, I should have kept it for bait. But I figured it too small to be worth my time and moved to another spot down the river under a bridge.

There I cast my line once again, only to see the worm fly off just as the hook hit the water. Realizing I was the one wasting our bait I set another worm on my hook, making sure this one was secure. With a flick of the wrist my Zebco let loose, hook line and sinker took off for their target. But much to my surprise they never came down. I looked back to see if I had hooked something or someone. The answer was no. I followed my line to see what had happened only to discover something I never before noticed about bridge construction.

It seems that some bridges are built on a frame of I-beams. These beams are connected in such a way as to support the weight of whatever might drive over the bridge while allowing for expansion and contraction as the temperature changes. These I-beams sometimes have spaces between them and the bottom of the bridge deck and as it turns out a well placed cast can carry a hook right over the beam but below the bridge deck, leaving it dangling above the water. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just reel the Zebco back in and re-cast. I tried only to find a small hole in the I-beam.

I had hooked a bridge. I estimate the length to be about a hundred feet. Of course it could have been longer or shorter. I was much smaller then and bridge estimates were not my forte. It had to be some sort of record for length and I was the one who caught it. And as she cut my line loose, Grandma told me it was a one in a million shot. She and I would laugh for years about the bridge that got away. Too bad the state of Indiana would not let me take it home for a trophy. That is how the big one got away, just one of many fun times during a lazy summer fishing trip.

Monday, July 02, 2012

International Prayer: July 2, 2012


Today we start with a focus on water. In some cases we need to pray for people who do not have enough. In other areas people have too much. Our first prayer country manages to somehow fit in both categories.

India – June is the start of monsoon season in India. Already the northeastern part of country has seen heavy rains, causing the Brahmaputra River to flood. According to several sources at least 79 people have been killed and over 2 million have been displaced. But while the northeast deals with flooding, most of the rest of the country is dealing with drought conditions.

Farmers in India depend on the monsoon rains in preparation for planting season. The nation also depends on the monsoons to replenish their reservoirs. However this year the month of June has not seen as much rain as hoped for. So while the northeast deals with floods most of the rest of the nation is hoping to avoid a water crisis.

Pray for those who are dealing with flooding in India. At the same time pray for the rain the rest of the country needs during the monsoon season.

North Korea and South Korea – The Korean Peninsula is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades. The lack of water is driving up food prices in both nations and South Korea has spent millions to get water where it is needed. Over the weekend the peninsula received some relief in the form of monsoon rains but more is needed. Pray for North Korea and South Korea to receive the needed rain and for the people as they deal with the increase in food costs.

United States – Continue to pray for Colorado and areas of the western part of the country as they deal with a number of wildfires. The fires are being made worse by dry conditions in the area. Fire fighters are doing a great job at containing the fires. Rain would help them gain a complete victory.

At the same time a rain storm in the east caused a lot of damage, not because of water but because of wind. There are still millions on the east coast who are without power three days after storms which stretched from New Jersey to North Carolina. Pray for those who are without power and who are still cleaning up storm damage. Pray for workers on both ends of the country: for those who are trying to restore power in the east and those who are trying to gain an upper hand over the fires in the west.

Water: Too much can be destructive. Not enough can be deadly. In some areas we take it for granted, while others cannot afford to do so. Pray for our neighbors as we all must be conscious of our earth’s water supply. Lift those who are dealing with shortages and with flooding before our God.

Remember, across the seas or across the fence, we find neighbors who are facing hardship. Pray and make yourself available in case God wants to use you to help someone else.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Children, Eye Drops and Relating to God


Have you ever tried to give eye drops to a five year old? This is one of those adventures parents sometimes endure, the type that can make you doubt your ability to care of your children. Those dreaded eye drops recently were a part of our daily routine, an unwanted addition that started when my youngest came home with pink eye.

I knew I was in trouble when I picked my son up from school. His eye was noticeably red with gross yellowy eye snot beginning to form. The teacher said his eye began to redden towards the end of the day, getting worse until it began to run just before dismissal. Instantly I knew we were in for a trip to the pediatrician and perhaps a side trip to the pharmacy. Of course as a parent you always hope for the best. I prayed it might clear on its own by morning but God chose another path. For the next several days I had to give my son eye drops three times a day in each eye.

I have a tough time putting eye drops in my own eyes. In fact I never use them, and I suspect I did not engender much confidence as I tried to convince my son to do something I myself avoid. His response to the first treatment was what I would naturally expect from a young child. He sat still, allowing me to hold his eyelids open but as I raised the bottle over the eye he began twisting a flailing his arms as if defending himself from an attacker. I wound up having to hold him in my lap while my wife put the drops in his eyes.

Eventually we were able to make a game of it, learning to laugh at the occasional drop that wound up on his nose instead of in his eye; the result of a sudden flinch by an energetic rug rat. To be honest it would have been easy to give up after the first attempt rather than struggle to get those drops in his eyes but as a parent I knew this was best. I did not give in to my son’s resistance and the payoff was immediate. By the morning of the second full day of treatment his eyes were pretty much clear.

I have lost count of the times when I struggled against the Lord’s call. When God asks me to do something that does not make sense to me or with which I am uncomfortable I often find myself taking up a defensive posture, trying my best to convince God to choose another path. Fortunately God never gives up, patiently responding as a loving Father doing what is best for His child.

One day we will see the full picture, understanding why God takes us out of our comfort zones in order to prepare us for His Kingdom. For now each of His children must learn to trust in Him, growing in faith with each challenge.

How about you? Like a child torn between trusting a parent and the fear of something uncomfortable, do you resist God’s perfect will for your life?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Child’s Applause, The Best Part of a Road Trip


“Are we there yet?” I suppose every parent has heard this well worn question, seemingly a requirement of every road trip. I have definitely heard it a fair amount of times, learning not to become annoyed at this challenge. And yes it is a challenge, a call to which I think every dad responds, whether he realizes it or not. The challenge to make the trip interesting, to give something worthy of the many hours spent playing the punch bug game in the back seat of a car, minivan or suv.

This past weekend we took a road trip during which I initially thought I had failed to deliver on the promise of keeping things interesting. Our two hour trek took us to Baltimore where, as part of the anniversary of the war of 1812 (has it really been 200 years) the city took part in OpSail while hosting for the first time an air show over the Inner Harbor. I had everything planned out. Of course nothing went as planned.

OpSail (short for Operation Sail) is an international celebration of tall sailing ships. The ships sail into a city, offering free public tours and opportunities to share in the different cultures of people from many different nations. OpSail was in Baltimore for about a week and I thought it a nice end of school year trip for my boys to see this unusual collection and their crews. However the crowds were so big that we did not get the opportunity to actually board any of the vessels.

The crowds were also too big for us to get a good spot for the air show that was part of the Baltimore festivities. And so we decided to do something a little different. Having seen air shows in the past we thought we would go to the airport where the planes were taking off and landing in preparation for the show. I must say the sound of a group of F-18’s warming their engines during their preflight checks is nothing short of amazing, a symphony of sorts for those who are interested in planes. While watching the take jets take off my oldest son declared his intention of one day flying a fighter; that is if his first dream of playing in the NFL does not work out.

Because of logistical problems at the airport (they were not ready for such big crowds) it took us a lot longer to get back to our car. What I saw as a delay was a blessing, God orchestrating something that made the trip worth the effort. You see as we rode on the shuttle to the parking lot the Blue Angels returned from the air show. We had seen them take off earlier and had not planned to be around for their return. But there they were flying in formation on a line that would take them right over our shuttle. They broke formation just as they passed over top. My youngest son watched as they turned toward the runway, one giving us a great view of its top as the plane banked in the turn. Without any prompting my youngest son began to clap, the only one on the bus doing so, showing his appreciation of the pilot’s skill.

Watching my son applaud the Blue Angels made the trip worth the effort. Nothing that day had gone as I had planned but I know seeing that blue and yellow plane will endure as one of those unforgettable moments in my son’s life. Yes I enjoyed seeing the jets and the tall ships but it was the applause of a small child that became the best part of a great road trip. It was at that point that I knew I had succeeded in meeting the challenge posed in the question, “Are we there yet?”

{BTW - OpSail will make two more stops in the U.S. this year, Boston on June 30th and new London on July 6th}

Monday, June 18, 2012

International Prayer: June 18th, 2012


According to icasualties.org the United States has lost 148 solders in the war in Afghanistan so far this year. In the first 155 days of 2012 154 U.S. solders have committed suicide, according to the Battleland blog at Time.com. Having never worn the uniform I will not begin to try and explain the pressure our solders are under as they serve the nation. This suicide rate is too high, percentage wise exceeding that of the civilian population. Clearly this is a reminder of the need for God’s children to pray for those who serve in the armed forces.

Let us also pray for:

Egypt – The political landscape has taken a number of twists and turns over the last few days. Just last Thursday a court ruling dissolved the newly elected lower house of parliament just days before presidential elections which were held this past weekend. The winner of the election finds his power limited by a constitutional decree from the military government currently in charge. The military says they will allow the newly elected president to take control at the end of the month but reserves the right to step in if the president and parliament are unable to draft a new constitution. Please continue in prayer as this saga is far from over.

Syria – Pray for the people of Syria as violence continues with fighting between government forces and rebels.

Spain and Greece – Following another round of elections, Greece will now try to move forward dealing with its financial problems. Meanwhile Spain saw its bond status lowered, increasing the borrowing costs for a nation already in financial crisis. Pray for the governments of these nations as they try to solve their economic problems.

U.S. – The United States saw an increase in home foreclosure rates in the month of May. Pray for those who face the possibility of losing their homes as well as those who are still seeking jobs.

Across the seas or across the fence, we find neighbors who are facing hardship. Pray and remember to make yourself available in case God wants to use you to help someone else.

Friday, June 01, 2012

International Prayer: June 1st, 2012


They were on their way home from work. Twelve men were taking a bus from a factory after earning a day’s wages. The government checkpoint was normal. What happened about 300 meters down the road was not. Join as we stand in prayer for:

Syria – The bus carrying the twelve men was hijacked shortly after passing the government checkpoint. They were robbed and shot one by one. These killings come less than a week after the massacre of villagers from the town of Houla. Please continue in prayer for Syria where the violence is getting worse.

Italy – The government has set June 4th as a day of mourning following an earthquake this past Tuesday, the second in less than a month. Please pray for the survivors as they work to rebuild. Pray also for provision of funds and supplies needed for the recovery effort.

Yemen – Imagine an area where 30 percent of the children are suffering from malnutrition. According to The Australian, this is the case in Yemen. Adding to the problem is a series of attacks, aimed at Yemen’s new government. Please pray for a solution to the food crisis in Yemen.

United States – It is not likely a bill banning sex-selection abortions will make it out of Congress. Without comment on the merits of the bill, please pray for those contemplating having an abortion because they are unhappy about the child’s gender.

More than ever our world needs Christians to devote ourselves to prayer. We may not always agree with the actions of our neighbors but we are called to love them anyway. As such we should continue to stand in prayer, lifting our neighbors up in humility and with faith in our God.

Have a nice weekend and remember to pray continually.

Friday, May 18, 2012

International Prayer: May 18th, 2012


The theme for this week’s international prayer is politics, as we have a number of countries dealing with governments which seem to have lost the ability (or the will) to solve problems. Let us stand in prayer for:

Greece – Since 2010 the nation has agreed to two bailout packages, each contingent on major cuts in spending. In a May 6th election the people of Greece spoke out against the cuts by changing the complexion of the Greek Parliament. The defeat of the two major parties left parliament with no group able to negotiate a leadership coalition. As a result parliament was dissolved and a caretaker cabinet will guide Greece until the next round of elections on June 17th. At stake is Greece’s financial stability. Pray for direction as the people once again go to the polls in June and for the caretaker cabinet. Pray about the decisions needed to save the country from more civil unrest and financial collapse.

Burma – Just last year the military which lead Burma handed over power to the civilian government. On April 1st a pro-democracy opposition party won parliamentary elections in a landslide. The opposition party, lead by a woman who was once put in prison by the military government, is now tasked with bring reforms to a nation where the constitution still gives the military veto power. Pray for Burma (Myanmar) during this transition. Pray also for a change in the country’s human rights record as in the past the people were at the mercy of the government and of big business.

United States – Both Republicans and Democrats agree on what must be done. Differences on how to pay for it may lead to congress not acting. On July 1st people with federally subsidized student loans will see their interest rates double. The increased costs will rest squarely on the middle class. Of late this kind of partisan squabbling has become the norm in Washington. In this election year pray for government leaders in the United States.

The Bible calls for us to pray for our government leaders, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 1:1-3). I believe as part of this prayer we should ask that decision makers receive wisdom. Let us do so desiring God’s best for all people, continuing in prayer according to the will of our Lord.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Façade Went Up in Flames


I have never had a grease fire in a charcoal grill. Charcoal grills are somewhat self cleaning, everything turning to ash which is easily swept into a trash can. This is not true for gas grills as I discovered recently when I tried to cook a pack of short ribs. The resulting fire quickly took over the interior of the grill. Instead of coming from the burners the flames were dancing across the grease along the bottom of the grill. Turning off the propane did not help. After salvaging the meat I grabbed the extinguisher, creating a big white cloud.

No one was hurt. I did not burn off my eye lashes or anything like that. But any thought of ever again using a gas grill disappeared in the flames. You see gas grilling just is not me. It was something I did just because others said I should, another case of following the crowd instead of sticking with the convictions of my heart. It was an easy way to fit in, a part of the façade created during my co-dependent years. As was often the case that façade was crafted to allow for fitting in instead of taking the risk of standing out.

It took a grease flare up to turn me away from gas grilling. It took a different kind of flare up to turn me away from my façade as it applied to my faith. I thought it okay to follow the pack, until my internet faith companions began acting out of fear. My façade went up in flames as I discovered how following the most vocal crowd just might mean a compromise that is not worth making. Those actions which made me so comfortable among my on line friends made me uncomfortable in the presence of God.

Gas grilling was not right for me. Neither was a faith which seemed to have a form of godliness while denying the power thereof. True Christian faith will make the believer peculiar to the world. It may also put us at odds with those who claim to walk as they should even while following their own wisdom. Not that I shun large groups, after all the Bible tells us not to forsake the gathering of the saints, but a stampede heading in the wrong direction is not where I want to fit in.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Mission Field: Our Front Yard


My family and I find ourselves in a peculiar position. At least I think it’s peculiar and ask if there are others out there dealing with something similar. Like all Christians we are called to attend church but the church God has chosen for us is about an hour and a half drive from our home. Our church brethren would love for us to move closer. However God has worked our circumstance in such a way as to deepen our roots in our home community. It seems that while we have a home church, distance has given us a unique mission field. Instead of a far away land our mission field sits just beyond our front yard.

At first we rushed out into the front yard ready to establish a new church. I had my plans and my way in which I would work for God’s kingdom in the community. If you have served God for any period of time you can probably guess how those plans turned out. God said no to each one. They were not His plans nor was I doing them in His power. Each fell way short of what He wants to establish. Instead of opening a church God spent the time breaking me of my pride, preparing me for His work. As a result I see a much different path; one God wants my family to take.

If my family were out on the mission field we would most likely look for what the community really needs. I have heard stories of missionary workers teaching English or serving in health clinics. I know Christians who have spent their time on the field rebuilding and repairing houses. By meeting needs they found doors opened for the spreading of the Gospel. In some cases the work resulted in the building of a new church but quite often it does not. These laborers returned knowing that if one person saw God’s glory reflected in the work the effort was well worth their time.

God has me where I am because the people are well worth my time. I may never see a new church built but others will see Christ if my family obeys. There is a lot to do on the mission field that exists just beyond our front yard. We must work knowing it is His plan not ours. I look forward to seeing what God cultivates as we serve Him. How about you? Are you ready to serve God by going into the mission field just beyond your front yard?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Would You Let Them Play?

How the death of Junior Seau weighs on the mind of a football dad.

I love football but must admit the relationship has become a bit strained lately. Over the last couple of years the news out of the NFL is causing me to rethink my support of the sport, especially with what we have heard the last couple of weeks. Word of bounties and the recent apparent suicide by a high profile former player have me questioning my interest. No, I am not too soft to watch an inherently brutal sport. I have become hesitant when it comes to football because of my oldest son’s dream.

My son dreams of playing in the NFL. As a kindergartener he could not wait to put on a helmet and make his first tackle. After a handful of years in youth football he still has his dream, staying with it though he knows the odds are against him. Each year he looks forward to playing on the next level, moving from one weight class to the next even thinking about what colleges he might want to play for. So it was a difficult decision whether or not to talk with him about the recent death of Junior Seau.

Junior Seau was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We do not know, and most likely will never know, why he killed himself. Yet his death echoes that of former Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest about fourteen months ago. Their deaths add fuel to the discussion over repetitive head trauma and its effects on players in the NFL. And while most NFL players live after their carriers without showing any signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a good number do show other signs of the beatings that are an unavoidable part of football. Knowing this I can’t help but wonder if my son’s dream will leave him with a broken body or even a broken mind.

The news of Seau’s death opened the door for a conversation with my son about the heath issues being faced by a number of former NFL players. I did not want to crush his dream but I believe he is now at an age where he can handle this discussion. The odds are against him ever making it to the NFL but if the opportunity does arise I want him to make an informed decision, being aware of the issues surrounding the industry. However for some parents being informed is not good enough.

I have heard fathers say they will not let their sons play football. They have seen enough evidence of the game’s physical toll to warrant their pointing their sons in other directions. On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who push their children into the sport without any concern beyond raising the next pro-bowler. For now I have left the decision in my son’s hands, keeping him informed of what goes on beyond the game. How about you? In light of what we know about repetitive head trauma are you/would you allow your children to play football?

Monday, April 23, 2012

International Prayer: April 23, 2012


 Imagine for a minute giving your son or daughter their breakfast only to watch them suffer a seizure as they attempt to eat. Imagine having to tie your own children up during the day in order to keep them from wandering off and getting lost because they are not aware of what they are doing. Imagine reaching a point where you can only describe your child’s situation as hopeless, as doctors tell you they have no answers. This is what many parents in Uganda face daily as the nation deals with an outbreak of Nodding Disease.

Nodding Disease is seen in children, starting with epileptic type symptoms. The seizures are triggered by food, heat, and cold weather. As the disease progresses growth and development are stunted. Behavior changes and children are often left in need of around the clock care. A number of children with the disease die either because they deteriorate from a lack of nutrition or because of accidents suffered during the seizures.

In some villages the disease has spread like a plague. According to the BBC more than 3,000 cases have been reported in northern Uganda.

For today’s international prayer let us stand in prayer for the children of Uganda and for children in other areas where there have been outbreaks of Nodding Disease. Pray for members of the World Health Organization and of the United States Center for Disease Control who are working to find the cause of the disease. Pray they find a cure. At a time when parents are losing hope let us call upon the One who gives hope to the hopeless, asking God to intervene according to His will.

For more on the Nodding Disease outbreak see:

Monday, April 09, 2012

Risen from the Grave: The Power of Prayer

Monday is normally international prayer night here at Fire and Hammer. Together we call upon God on behalf of our neighbors, trusting world events into His hands. While it is fun to learn about other cultures and to stand with other people in prayer, the real focus should always remain on the One whom we call Lord.

For Christians Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross stands as the point in time when everything changed. Because of sin mankind was separated from God. With His death Jesus paid the penalty due as a result of our sins and the veil that stood between God and man was torn. Now we are able to approach our creator in boldness, enjoying the honor of being the children of God. It was for this reason that Jesus suffered and died, fulfilling the will of the Father whose love for us is manifest in the gift of salvation.

Jesus would remain in the grave for three days. Then in an act which in many ways is hard to understand He rose from the dead, an awesome demonstration of God’s power. The resurrection stands as a physical declaration of Christ’s victory over death, a sign to all of the life available to those who believe in God’s Christ. This is an awesome reminder of how God wants us to live by His power as the empty grave reveals how our Lord did the miraculous on our behalf.

As He raised Christ from the dead God once again proved Himself worthy of our praise. It is in this spirit of worship that we approach God in prayer. In each international prayer post we should ask not for our will but for His will to be done, knowing that the power demonstrated during the resurrection is the same power by which our God will continue to manifest His glory. Prayer is our opportunity to take part as God’s will unfolds in the lives of every person in every nation on earth. It is this opportunity to see God in action that makes prayer an adventure.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and check back next week as we stand with all of our neighbors in prayer, joining with God in the adventure of building His Kingdom.

Monday, April 02, 2012

International Prayer: April 2nd, 2012

So often as Christians we seemed to have an adversarial relationship with our culture. Our belief in the absolute truth of salvation and the established moral law of our God often leaves us standing on the ‘wrong’ side of the debate in the culture war, be it when speaking out in the public square or at times when speaking to teens and other family members in the privacy of our living rooms. Always remember we fight not against flesh and blood. Do not grow bitter but in love and with compassion pray for others, even when we disagree.

Let us join together in prayer for:

Coptic Christians in Egypt – According to the Encyclopedia Coptica, the Coptic Church was established based upon the teachings of the Gospel writer Mark, who brought the Gospel to Egypt in the first century. Today Christians are a minority in Egypt, accounting for only 10% of a country which is 90% Muslim. Tensions between Muslims and Christians have simmered near the surface for quite sometime, with the Coptic’s religious leader working with former president Hosni Mubarak to maintain peace.

Mubarak was driven from power last year. In March of this year Pope Shenouda III, the long time leader of the Coptic Church, died. Now the Coptic Church must move forward under new leadership in a climate where they fear their rights are being eroded by conservative Muslims. Pray for Egypt’s Coptic Christians as they look to a new leader and as they deal with the changes going on in Egypt. Pray also for inroads for preaching the Gospel in Egypt.

Mali – A March 21st coupe resulted in the ouster of Mali’s president. The military revolt that led to the coupe is in part the result of the view of the government being too soft on rebels. Rebel groups have taken the northern part of the country trying to establish that territory as a separate sovereign nation. Pray for the people of Mali during this turmoil.

Sudan and South Sudan – Last year we prayed as the new nation of South Sudan was formed. Today pray as South Sudan seems headed for a war with Sudan. According to CNN.com ground fighting erupted recently and the Sudan continues to bomb its new neighbor. Pray for the people of Sudan and of South Sudan as the tense relationship between the two continues to deteriorate.

We touch lives when we lift them before the Lord in prayer. But authentic prayer is not about duty. It is about love and compassion, about caring enough for others to seek God for their wellbeing. Let us continue to reach out to our neighbors, lifting them up in prayer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What Can be Worth More Than $500 Million?

If you answered $501 million or something along those lines, I concede. Yet I know of something with an even greater value, many things in fact.

I started putting my list together as I thought about the new record Mega Millions jackpot up for grabs today. Not that I plan on playing but it is fun to try to fathom having a half-billion dollars. It’s even more fun and satisfying to think of those things I already have which are priceless, contributing to my life in a way that money just could never buy.

Number one on my list is God. Did you really expect me to say something or someone different? Having a relationship with the Creator of all things is more valuable than I could have imagined back when I first became a Christian. Back then I was only concerned with avoiding condemnation and with finding a place to fit in. Over the years I have truly been enriched by the presence of God. I can no longer imagine life without Him. My cost for a lifetime of experiences with the Lord comes to a grand total of zero dollars.

Over the last couple of days a lot of people have paid a dollar or two for a chance at the record jackpot. What are the odds of any one individual winning? Let’s not go there. What are the odds of receiving something of value from an authentic relationship with God? The Gospel comes with a guarantee of life changing experiences and immeasurable value.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Should Trayvon Martin’s Background Matter?

New information has come to light about Trayvon Martin’s background. As often happens in stories like this there are those who seek to shift the focus, moving us away from an examination of the shooter and of the law protecting the shooter to a point where we are making excuses for what happened. Yet with each new report I honestly find myself saying, “Really?”

It seems Trayvon was serving suspension from school when he was shot and killed in a Florida town. The suspension allegedly came about after Martin was accused of defacing school property. Looking for evidence, school authorities searched his belongings and found a bag containing trace amounts of marijuana. So we now know Trayvon was not the perfect citizen or student. Does this somehow justify his shooting? Really?

Geraldo Rivera tells us that somehow Trayvon brought this on himself by wearing a hoodie. To be fare to Mr. Revera, he does say there should be a full investigation of this incident. We also have to honestly agree with Rivera on how a black man wearing a hoodie invokes an unpleasant image. But to say that the hoodie was as much responsible for the death as was the shooter? Really?

Mr. Rivera says he would bet money that had Trayvon not been wearing a hoodie he would not have been shot. Truth is we do not know. Yes the person who admits to shooting Trayvon mentioned the hoodie in his phone call to 911 but he also mentions some other things that might have caused him to pursue Trayvon. Bottom line: we say guns don’t kill, people do. Guess what hoodies don’t kill…

As a society we have a choice in how we approach this matter. We can push for a full investigation of both the shooting and of the law protecting the admitted shooter or we can continue to look for reasons to justify what happened by attacking the rights and personhood of the victim. This story is not about a school suspension nor is it about the choices people make in what they will wear. This was a deadly shooting. In cases like these it is not up to the public to convict nor is it the job of the public to defend.

For a text of Geraldo Rivera’s comments see FoxNews.com
See also “Trayvon Martin: Assessing Stand Your Ground”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Assessing Stand Your Ground

It was a mugging that could have been prevented.

As a twenty something college student in Philadelphia the subway was my main mode of transportation. One night, as I stepped onto the platform I noticed two women waiting for the next train. They were seated on a bench having a conversation with each other: a conversation which stopped as I approached.

Each woman pulled her purse closer to her body as they watched me walk by. Clearly the presence of a young black male posed a danger to them and their belongings. I was tempted to say something, wanting to assure the two of my lack of interest in them or in their personal property, but decided to mind my own business as I walked to the other end of the platform. To be honest I understood being a bit cautious while out in public late at night. Besides, I was used to women holding their purses a little tighter or locking their car doors when they notice me nearby.

Not long after I passed I heard one of the women scream. I turned to see what had happened only to have a white man trip and fall at my feet. As they say, it all happened so fast. He quickly sprang up, dashing towards the exit before I could process what had just happened. Only after he hit the turnstile did I realize he was carrying a purse. I am not sure how or why but he had successfully robbed the two women who just moments ago were so concerned about my presence.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. These women did just that, assuming they could tell a dangerous person by his skin color only to get robbed by one of their own. Not that I find amusement in the misfortune of others, but I find it hard not to chuckle when I remember the night I was mistaken for a possible thief.

Granted we do not know all of the details of the tragic story of Trayvon Martin nor should we try the alleged shooter in public. My problem is with the “stand your ground law,” variations of which are on the books in 23 states including the one in which I live. These laws allow people to defend themselves against threat, using deadly force if necessary. This kind of protection was generally seen as a right if one was attacked inside their home. The stand your ground law extends this protection to situations in public where a person believes there is a danger to life and limb.

At first glimpse this law sounds like a good idea. In real life application we must ask at what point does the law no longer apply? Had this law been in place at the time would those women have been justified had one pulled a weapon and shot me that night on a cold Philly subway platform? After all they felt threatened by the black man passing them as they sat vulnerable waiting for their train.

Was Trayvon Martin guilty of something more than walking while black? Left up to local authorities we would never know the answer, their application of the stand your ground law giving justification for not bringing the case to court. Self-defense was always an acceptable defense, the accused having the opportunity to stand before a jury of his/her peers who would decide based on the facts of the case if the use of force was justified. Now we know that in some states one can avoid a trial simply by saying they felt threatened. Does this allow for better protection of person and property or is it a declaration of open season on anyone we can say poses a threat?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tithe: Malachi and the Curse

Judged and found guilty as charged, they were under a curse. As a result they suffered at the hands of the devourer, who was destroying their crops and ruining their lives. The prophet was sent to deliver the truth, to help them understand why things were as they were. Malachi was not sent to offer a get rich quick scheme. He was sent to help people understand God’s judgment and His offer of salvation.

The people were guilty because they did not trust God. Instead of appealing to the Lord they had declared obedience a waste of time, following their own way. Malachi used the tithe as an example of how far they had fallen from God’s requirements. John the Baptist came with a similar message, declaring the need for repentance. The Kingdom of God was at hand. Those who chose not to believe faced judgment and a fate much worse than having the devourer destroy the land. John’s teaching warned of something worse than a curse, something that could only be removed by the Chosen One of God.

In Malachi’s time obedience in things such as paying tithes was the path away from suffering under judgment. The prophet described the obedience of faith, manifested in actions such as paying tithe. Repentance involved changing what the people thought about God and demonstrating this change in thinking with obedience. What Malachi described foreshadowed the way established in Christ.

With His death and resurrection Christ established the path by which we satisfy the verdict pronounced over all people. The Bible tells us that all have sinned, falling short of God’s standard. As such we have been judged worthy of death and are in need of being saved. As Malachi described the path for avoiding the devourer, so the Gospel describes the path by which we avoid this curse of death. The Tithe was required as a demonstration of faith, by which a person moved into position to be blessed by God. Receiving the sacrifice of Christ as sufficient to pay for our sins is required under the New Testament.

Under the New Testament salvation comes only by faith in Christ, trusting God when He says He accepts Jesus’ death as payment for our sins. The curse of death was lifted by Jesus on the cross. In deciding if the tithe is required today we must assess its place in demonstrating our faith. We have to consider what Malachi describes as well as the descriptions of the tithe given in other Old Testament Books. Knowing the intent of the tithe as shown in the Old Testament does the Tithe we return to the question: Does the Tithe fit in the Christian Church?

See Also: “Does the Tithe Fit the Christian Church?”
“The Tithe: Its Early Structure”
“The Tithe: the Book of Malachi”

Monday, March 19, 2012

International Prayer: March 19th, 2012

To be effective in prayer we sometimes have to do a little work. We have to be engaged in our communities and in the lives of our neighbors in order to lift them up before the Lord. This allows us to lift up specific prayer requests as opposed to a generic sort of, “I pray for this person and please bless this person.” By getting out and being engaged in our community Christians are able to learn about real needs, those which we will never learn about if our walk is limited to a weekly hour or two on the pews.

In the past week or two I have heard from families whose children are in need of prayer, children dealing with major medical issues who need the support of praying Christians. Their families need believers to actively stand with them as well. So I want to do something a little different with today’s international prayer post. Today I call upon Christians around the world to set aside time for the families in our neighborhoods. Take time to get to know the parents and to find out what they are dealing with in trying to raise their children. Are there children with medical needs in your area? Perhaps there are special needs children nearby. What about the single parent down the street? Learn of the needs of the children in your neighborhood and spend time in prayer, lifting up their specific situations. As God moves on your heart act, become the light God has called you to become.

In praying for children let us remember the families whose lives were altered by the tragic shooting at a school in France. Three children were killed this morning along with a Rabbi when a man jumped off of a moped and opened fire. A teenager was among several others who were seriously injured. Pray for the children and families of this school community as they recover from this tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

International Prayer: March 12, 2012

Monday is international prayer day here at Fire and Hammer. Today’s post will be a short one as the world marks the dark anniversary of the events of March 11th, 2011.

Japan – A year has passed since Japan suffered the nation’s worst earthquake, followed by a tsunami that destroyed a nuclear power plant. The disaster killed thousands of people, destroying a number of coastal towns. Yesterday Japan paused at 2:46pm in a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the disaster. Pray for Japan as there is still a need for healing, with people dealing the empty feelings of losing a loved one. Japan is in the process of rebuilding and dealing with the nuclear contamination from the damaged Fukushima power plant. Pray for Japan’s future as they deal with recovery amidst economic problems stemming back a couple of years. Pray for the spiritual needs of the people, remembering those who are called to minister during these trying times.

Last year Japan held the world’s attention. Let us not forget our neighbors, taking this opportunity to lift them up before the Lord in prayer.