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.