Calling: Not for preachers only

Living our call in all of life

During a time of leadership transition in our small church when I was in my forties, the overseer (or conference minister) asked me if I had a call to serve the church.  I thought about the question and responded to what I sensed was his question:  “I have not identified within myself a leading of the spirit to the pulpit ministry.”  He asked no further questions about how I was serving God or felt I should serve God, even though I was then wondering how I could best serve God in the church.  Sometime later a young man from the congregation began pastoral leadership in our congregation.  We were discussing some issue and he responded that his views should have greater weight because he had been ‘called.’   These experiences and later discussions with people who talked of their “call”, lead me to analyze what scripture says about “call”.

First look at call

You have all been called to follow Christ.  Just as Jesus called disciples and the Spirit called Paul at Damascus, everyone hearing the gospel has a call to follow and serve Jesus.  Most Christians would agree with these two sentences.  [This use of the word call will appear in lower case letters.]   In the Bible, there are many ordinary uses of the word “call” such as “request to come”, to beg or entreat (call on the name of the Lord) or to give someone a name.  Paul, according to this essay, uses the word ‘call’ refer to the spirit’s leading or God’s encouraging us begin to follow Jesus.  For example:

 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 1Th 4:7

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2)

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 2 Pet.1:10

We are all called to become Christ‘s followers.  Our call includes doing as Jesus’ disciples did, whether it is holding the baskets to collect the leftovers after the feeding of the 5,000 or going to the village for food while Jesus talked to a woman of Samaria or going out like the seventy-two to announce the coming of the kingdom.  As Paul was directed to take the gospel to the gentiles, our call also includes making tents while talking about Jesus to shoppers. 

CALL as a special experience

At one point the Mennonite Church had a program to address our concern over the lack of candidates for pastoral office.  “Culture of CALL” initiative encourages people with pastoral and administrative skills to consider church ministry, usually on a full-time basis.  Historical shifts of the past century (status and difficulties of church workers, a shift away from use of the lot, and perhaps opening of the pastorate to women and probably other factors) have affected the drawing of young people to church work.  But if everyone is called, why are we speaking of CALL in the specific sense regarding Christians entering church offices?  What is the origin of the use of the word ‘call’ to mean a special leading of the spirit to service and leadership in the church? Almost always people experiencing a CALL in this sense are already Christians. [I will use the CALL to indicate this specific use.]

The word call in the Bible

Jesus uses the word call only once.  “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32) Paul refers to himself as being called to be an apostle in the salutation of two letters

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Ro 1:1.)  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, (1Co 1:1)

These are probably references to Paul’s Damascus experience.  Was that a conversion experience, a vocation change invitation or both?  Prior to his ‘call’ was he (were Jesus’ disciples) a follower(s) of Christ?  Paul, in discussing the office of elder/bishop/overseer and deacons, does not list “call” as one of the qualifications for these positions.  These servants of the church, of course, had a call that led to their salvation.  One passage that includes both the word call and speaks of church offices is Eph. 4. 

 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Eph. 4:1

Does “calling” here refer to beginning one’s walk with God?  Or, does it refer to a post-conversion experience?  This experience or leading identified what would be one’s way of earning a living and doing God’s will.  In Acts 13:2 we are told that the Spirit has “called” Barnabas and Paul to a particular task.  Does this imply a lifetime leading?  When speaking of the leading of the spirit to church office, the Paul does not use the word ‘call’.  Is the pattern of use of the word ‘call’ in the New Testament reflected in our use today?  When Paul discusses gifts of the spirit (1 Cor. 12), he does not use the word “call”.  Finally, Paul uses the word church, ecclesia, as the distinctive term for followers of Jesus.  This word is defined as the “called out ones”

Uses of the term CALL in the church

The probable origin of the use of the word CALL for full time church workers is the development of a two-tiered spirituality after the establishment of the state church under Constantine.  It was only around the time of Constantine that the first use of word “call” is used to identify the way one earned one’s living.  According to this tradition, Jesus had a special spiritual vocation/calling as Messiah.  Since it was his ‘vocation’ to suffer and die, the events of his life are not a norm or example for us to follow.  Some Christians like Jesus have a ‘spiritual’ rather than a temporal or secular vocation and receive a special “call.”   These are the people who become priests and nuns.  The laity did not need to follow Christ closely in spirituality, direction for Christian service or service in the military.  Priests, for instance, were expected to be pacifists, but not the average Christian.  At the time of the Reformation, some claimed that only the ordained were CALLED and part of the church.   Taking issue with this separation of life into secular and spiritual, Anabaptist sought to recover the sense of following Christ in all of our lives.  They insisted that those called were to follow Christ in ‘churchly’ activities, work and all of our daily lives.

CALL and daily work

The word CALL has come to be used to identify the leading of the spirit, the thinking of the individual and counseling by other Christians directed toward individuals considering full time work in the church, especially the pastorate.  This term is infrequently used for those who are considering other careers or occupations.  (Some have proposed extending this sense of a special leading of the Spirit to all work situations. In the Reformed tradition this emphasis is strong.)  I wonder if this focus places unnecessary stresses both on those considering church work and on those considering secular jobs?   For those with gifts and skills suitable for the pastorate or full-time church work, there is pressure to expect a high intensity and memorable experience (probably datable) of the Spirit’s leading to full time church work.  On the other hand, devout followers of Christ seeking the leading of the Spirit for work direction or job change who desire to serve God in their work and in their non-vocational time may wonder how God leads them differently.  Does using the impetus of the concept of CALL accomplish in a scripturally sound way (as interpreted above) the important job of encouraging individuals into missionary or pastoral positions?  If we used “call” as a synonym of conversion, (which seems to me the primary meaning in scripture), would people entering “secular” work better understanding that work as a way of serving Christ?  The thrust of this essay should not be seen as denying the force and meaning of many peoples’ experience of the Spirit leading them to do Kingdom work with a church agency.

Living out our call

Let’s find ways of encouraging and aiding people making decisions about their life’s work.  Initial career choice or later changes are major life milestones at which fellow Christians should provide support for one another.   Finding a job in which we can honor and glorify God requires the spirit’s leading within us, as well.  To cooperate with the spirit’s leading and to work with the spirit in aiding all Christians in career choice, we should affirm that

1. Serving the church/extending the kingdom is an important responsibility of all Christians.

2. Serving Christ in one’s daily word is part of every Christian’s calling.

3. Encouraging fellow Christians to make the best use of their gifts is an important task for the people of God.

3. Challenging jobs such as the full-time pastorate or outreach in difficult areas may require encouragement from others, and extra prayer and courage by the one making the choice.

God’s call comes to all people.  Those who respond are called to salvation and a life of serving God.  Let those who answer God’s call live all their life in response to the call.

            David Alleman, Revision of an earlier posting.

Boot strap pulling/loin-girding or trust

Reflections on Isaiah 30:15

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. (KJV)

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it. (NIV)

If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered;  if you calmly trusted in me, you would find strength, but you are unwilling. (NET)

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:  In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  But you refused. (NRSV)

Loins girded
Note bootstraps sticking up

Somewhere in my past was a motto with “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”. Perhaps I read it “be the strong silent type”.  For me, the motto’s meaning had shifted to bootstrap lifting or loin-girding.  So, I must prepare myself for battle.  Be ready to work hard (lift, take care of, protect myself by my own efforts).  Later thinking took me in two directions.  First, I found in this passage personal comfort and encouragement.  Later I looked at the context of the verse.

The context of this verse with the use of the words “Israel” and the acknowledgement “you refused” suggests an historical context.  Here, like in chapter six (where Ahaz wanted a military alliance with Assyria), Israel was ready to trust an alliance with Egypt rather than trust God.  God’s prophet gave this word about their prospective ally: “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;” (verse 7 ESV).  The next verses have some vivid language detailing how worthless Egypt is.  So, in the context, the word from God has to do with public policy for the government.  Am I justified in shifting the use of this passage for personal comfort and encouragement?

First reflection on the passage.

In resting and turning to God will be your deliverance. In quietness and trust will be your strength. (my paraphrase of verse 15)

To rest, repent and trust,

Brings strength and hope in God.

We rest who turn and trust;

We trust who in Him rest.

To rest and trust brings hope;

And hope in God is strength.

Breath Prayer

These reflections later developed into a breath prayer. (See https://biologos.org/articles/breath-prayer-an-ancient-spiritual-practice-connected-with-science for some background on “breath prayers”.  The article makes a useful connection between science and faith.  Or, do a general Google search.)  My breath prayer helped me deal with several medical procedures and in times of frustration with life events.

Just three words, one on inhale, the other two on exhale:

Rest … and trust.  (Or, one might use the following: Rest in God . . . trust in God.)

*For the technique of girding up loins, see: https://www.churchpop.com/2016/02/02/an-important-biblical-skill-how-to-gird-up-your-loins/

**For the current socio-cultural meaning of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”, do a search on that phrase.  Be sure to click on the “Images” link to see some of the graphic interpretations of the phrase.

County line jogs and getting square with the world

Going straight

How do you respond when someone giving driving directions says, “go straight down this road? During the years I have lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia, I have learned not to laugh at these words coming from a native of either state. I guess there are a few roads that have more than several hundred yards of straightaway.   In rural Northern Illinois where I grew up, most of the roads were straight north and south, east and west.  Some were graveled roads.  In dry weather these wide, straight, gravel roads sometimes saw drivers do speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour.  There were a few exceptions to this straight road rule.  A friend of my father lived along a stream.  The builder of the house built it to square to the road that angled along the not-so-straight stream.  My father’s friend decided that he wanted his house to have the sides of the house to face the directions of the compass.  So, the house was jacked up and a new foundation was made under it and the house was now “square with the world”.  I wondered afterward if the owner needed the adjustment, too.

County Line Jogs

However, an exception to this beautiful arrangement existed due to conflict between instructions to surveyors and the way county road builders worked.  The explanation is below.* A slight adjustment at county lines needed to be made. These came to be called county line jogs (CLJ). The jogs might not have been a concern in the horse and buggy days when the roads were built.  When I learned to drive in the 1950s, the CLJs on gravel roads were right angle turns with one-hundred-yards to three-hundred-yards between them. As cars got faster, jogs got more dangerous. Forgetting about the CLJ, especially at night, in the fog or when inebriated led to many panic stops, run-over corn plants and serious accidents. (The photo, sent to me by my brother, Joel, shows a modern CLJ with a smoothed-out curve suitable for modern travel.) When I was a teen driver, this road, just west of our farm, was gravel and the CLJ much sharper.  This is Covell Road about fourteen miles north of Morrison, Illinois.)

One evening I took my siblings to a youth group event.  I had just arrived home from college, perhaps that day and was quite tired.  Somehow my sibs must have gotten to youth group meetings in my absence, but I felt it necessary to be the driver.  After the fun was over, we headed home.  And, yes, I forgot about the county line jog.  Fortunately, at the corner was an entrance to a field with little variation in elevation.  No damage done to the car.  One college guy, though, had damage to his ego.

My sense of direction has always been fairly good.  (My view, of course.)  Once I heard that Daniel Boone claimed that he had never been lost in his life.  But once, he said, “I was pretty confused for a week.”  Never for a week, but confusion over directions/where I was has happened.  Confusion a bit different happened when we moved from Michigan to Virginia.  I slept during part of the trip and when I woke up in Virginia after dark I was not aware/thinking of directions or my orientation.  Now, even after living thirty years in Virginia, I need sometimes need to reorient myself that the world is a quarter turn off.  West seems to be north!  Sometime after arriving in Virginia I read a Natural History Magazine article about someone who had the same disorienting experience.  He had someone drive him to Michigan after dark.  Then he drove himself back to Washington, DC and that reoriented him so that his innate sense of direction was reestablished.  Maybe I should do that.

What’s up and down

The first time I taught history to eighth graders map study was included.  One of the indisputable facts I mentioned was that up was north and down was south.  The snotty eighth graders started snickering.  This community, Kishacoquillas Valley, was less than a mile wide at its widest and probably fifteen miles long.  The students assured me that north was “down” and south was “up” the Valley. Some forty years later (after twenty years in the Midwest where roads were straight and north was north and south was south), we moved to Virginia.  We found out that due to the course of the Potomac and its tributaries “down” was north and “up” was south.  In the Shenandoah Valley one must drive forty-five miles “up” the valley until one can drive “down[south]” toward the James River.  In the Kish Valley where I first taught, the students would need to drive a little over eight miles “up” the Valley toward the Tight End of the valley.  Just past the welding shop on the west side of the road is a small hill with a sign marking the beginning of Huntingdon County.  There the water drains south into Sadler Creek, then to Mill Creek and into the Juniata River.  But, my job in the classroom was to help the students get a bigger perspective beyond the Valley.  “Up north” and “down south” may not be the whole truth.  But it was a language the students needed to understand, at least, if they wanted to understand directions in other places. That was not too different from my father’s friend.  Getting square with the world for him would require a broader perspective.

*The Continental Congress passed the Ordinance of 1785 which initiated the requirement that lands be first divided into grids so that lands could be divided and described uniformly, now known as the United Stated Public Land System. There were several ordinances passed following the original of 1785, but in general those ordinances instructed the early surveyors on how to divide the country into those grids. Generally, the surveyors began at a base point and ran meridian lines north and south and a base line which ran east and west. The next phase involved dividing the land into six-mile squares known as townships (these are not governmental townships found within counties). The lines run north and south from the base line were called range lines and the lines east and west from the meridian were known as township lines. The procedure involved placing a wood post on the township and range lines at one-half mile intervals (standard corners). The surveyors later divided the six-mile squares into 36 one-mile squares (sections). The method generally used to create the one-mile squares was to start near the southeast corner of the township and run lines (section lines) north and west once again setting posts at one-half mile intervals. When they would intersect the north and west lines of the previously established six-mile divisions a new post was set (closing corner) which probably would not have matched the older post (standard corner). They did not correct the section line to match the standard corner previously set. This distance between the closing corner and standard corner, or falling, was merely noted and could be within a foot or hundreds of feet different.
 
When counties began constructing roads, the preference was to follow the range, township and section lines. When a road ran north, let’s say, along a section line and came to the township line, it was necessary to jog the road to be able to run along the section line in the next township north, because of the falling between closing corner and standard corner. Don’t blame the surveyors, they were simply following the instructions given them on how to divide up the land.

http://schneidercorp.com/resources/blog/august-2014/the-jog-in-the-road/#.XGANos9KjOQ

Growing cannas and giving cannas

The canna roots were in a box labeled “Free” along College Street. This was during the first year (1989) or so we lived in Virginia. We took some of the roots, (technically, rhizomes, but “roots” is easier to write) and off we grew.  After growing and dividing our small patch on Union Street, we took some of the roots to the Weavers Mennonite Church food pantry garden.  Then in 2000 we moved some of the roots to Upland Drive. Along the way, we shared the roots with others, too.

Food Pantry Garden Cannas

When Weavers Mennonite Church started a food pantry garden there were gladiolus in the garden. Since there so many glads, I took a bunch of them to Patchwork Pantry along with the vegetables. While I took the flowers for decoration, one of the workers took the flowers and divided them among some of the clients.  We had a good supply of glads, so we brought more the next week and later planted zinnias to extend the flower giving season. When glad production was slowing down, someone said, “Why not take canna flowers?”  So, we added canna flowers to the bouquets.  That continued for several years. 

The cannas developed vigorously in the soil enriched by bags and bags of leaves and grass clippings supplemented by gallons of coffee grounds from several convenience stores.  Soon we had too many roots.  To keep the roots from freezing over winter, our usual practice was to create a mound of dry leaves over the canna roots in the fall. When we had too many roots, we left one section of cannas uncovered.  That winter was a mild one and the cannas did not freeze. 

Cannas as fundraisers

Someone asked, “Can we sell the roots?”  So, we dug, divided, cleaned and took the roots to the local gift and thrift where they sold rapidly.  We wondered why they sold so quickly.  (I had priced them according to last year’s nursery prices.)  Later, I read that the area that usually grows canna roots had enough bad weather to significantly reduce the crop and drive up prices.  Maybe we should have raised our prices, too.

Caring for cannas

After the food pantry shut down, we continued to grow cannas in our garden.  The four foot by ten-foot patch made a striking sight in the far end of the garden from the house.  Sometimes they grew to more than ten feet tall as shown in the picture of me holding a yardstick over my head.  Often, we found enough dry leaves to raise a pile more than a foot high.  Sometimes, for additional insulation, we also put bags of leaves in the paths. 

Cannas above my head!

In April, we would remove the leaves from the bed.  Then some weeks later we would see the roots sprouting.  We would remove a good number of sprouted roots from the bed and leave mostly unsprouted ones.  Eventually, there always seemed to be enough to fill the bed.  Every few years the roots became crowded.  Sometimes they pushed out the sides of the bed boards.  The large roots with sprouts we potted for donation.  The smaller ones or ones without sprouts were placed in the shade until we were sure whether they would sprout.  Then several would go into a pot.  The ones that didn’t sprout in a reasonable period of time went into the compost pile, where they sometimes sprouted.  Some of the canna roots we gave to friends and some we donated to charitable plant sales and to Gift and Thrift. 

The less than a dozen roots we found along the street in the early 90s provided beauty for us at two homes, flowers for clients of Patchwork Pantry, and roots for fund raisers for several charities.  Now, after 20 years of growing cannas on Upland Drive, we are leaving the cannas for new owners of this property.  We hope that the giving continues.

Having a Danish in the living room-The Morsø woodstove

The  Morsø wood stove has been a good companion giving warmth with only minimal maintenance.  But why wasn’t there a place for it other than the living room and why is it called “Squirrel”?  We struggle with these bushy-tailed rodents at the bird feeders. We would rather not have a reminder of them interrupting our “warm and comfortable”. (The Morsø is of Danish origin.  I downloaded a brochure from the Morsø website, but it didn’t give much help on using the stove, partly because it was written/translated by a person whose first language was not English.)

stovein sunThe smallish Morsø (25” wide by 14” deep by 52” high) was in the living room when we purchased the house and finding another location for it was questionable.  Previous owners had closed off the rest of the house from the living room with folding doors to retain heat and probably used very little heating oil.

Our adventures with the stove, included an insurance company’s demand to replace the brick wall behind the stove, to finding out from the guy that delivered wood from “Jake’s Firewood” that there was no Jake, to having a gathering entertained by birds that had fallen down the stove pipe.  We, with the guests, heard rustling and scratching in the stove pipe. By the time the guests had left the noise had stopped, so we did nothing.  The next time I removed ashes, I removed two dead sparrows along with them.  When our home insurance was to be renewed, we were required to have a home inspection—this was five years after living in the home and safely using the stove. The inspector said there was not enough space between the stove and the flammable material in the wall behind the stove.  The brick wall behind the stove was not enough. The options were a new stove or having a wall built behind the stove with an inch of air space between the new wall and the established wall.  We could not find a side-loading stove at a reasonable price, so we chose the wall.

Getting a fire started


It took a while to learn how to get a fire started.  Although I grew up on a farm where there were many trees to produce wood for firewood, Dad an early riser, always had the fire started when I got up.  I occasionally added wood to the stove, but do not remember starting a fire.  I had learned of the “Boy Scout” method of putting in some kindling and gradually adding larger pieces once the smaller stuff was burning. Later someone told me about the top down (or in my case front-to-back) method.  In an enclosed area like a stove, as opposed to an open fire, this works quickly.  My stove has a narrow fire box. So, I place at the bottom of the box, two or three pieces of wood (20” long and 4” to 9” wide at the widest side).  Then I lean half a dozen or so pieces of twigs or other kindling against the logs.  The next part is two to four “newspaper knots” made by opening up a double sheet of newspaper, rolling it loosely, then tying in in a loose knot.  To speed the fire along, I have ready several more newspaper knots to push in as necessary.  The Morsø has a very good draft which makes starting a fire fairly easy.

Getting more wood

For the first few years, wood supply was not a problem.  Ash tree down '00An ash tree stood just to the south of the area where we hoped to have a garden.  The trunk was more than thirty inches in diameter.  Taking it down was a good idea for several reasons.  First, the garden area more sunlight now reached the garden. Second, we had plenty of firewood for several years.

A year or so later, a neighbor’s large crab apple tree fell onto our yard, causing only the grass any damage.  The neighbor expressed her appreciation to us for cleaning up the tree and also to a friend down the street.  He had a large oak tree taken down.  The tree company wanted $100 for hauling the wood away.  I agreed to haul the wood away for the several pickup loads of wood.   That lasted us another year.  I think we scrounged firewood another year, so that it was nearly ten years until we needed to buy firewood.  One source was a special deal to get several pickup loads from an area where firewood had been stacked.  We could take as much as we could get in two loads for a price well under the going price for firewood.  In quantity, we got a good deal.  In quality, not such a good deal.  That brought us to Jake’s Firewood.  We were disappointed to learn from the guy that brought the wood that there was no “Jake”.  The pieces of oak “Jake” delivered were from logs rejected from a nearby paper plant.  Some of them were too big for my stove, so I was thankful a friend to help split the wood to save my back.  Thanks, Dennis.DKsplitting

Pricing firewood is a problem.  Some sellers want to sell by the pickup load.  When one seller told me, he was selling me half a cord, I realized after the wood was delivered that I got only a “face” cord.  (A full cord is 4’ X 4’ X 8’.  A face cord is half of that (2′) or maybe only 16” deep.)  Jake’s Firewood brought the wood on a small dump truck.  I measured the size of the truck bed and the height the wood was stacked, but the curve of the top of the load made any estimate of the amount of wood questionable. The wood was fairly dry and the size of most of the pieces just right for my stove. I think I got a good deal!logends

Getting the stove clean

The stove pipe for the Morsø goes straight through the ceiling and attic to the metal chimney.  Since the stove burns clean, there is seldom creosote or ash to be cleaned out of the pipe or chimney.  I have a set of brushes to clean the chimney. (I use a wire brush to clean the chamber above the firebox).  But the last few years my strength has, apparently, diminished to the point that I am unable to pull the brush out of the chimney once I push it down.  Then, too, my partner doesn’t like me to be up on the roof.  So, the chimney cleaner is coming soon.  The ashes will go to the back of the garden between the compost pile and the forsythia bush.  If the scant blooms on the forsythia is due to excessive nitrogen from the compost pile forty feet up the hill, the potassium in the ashes may give us more forsythia blossoms. So, use of the stove brings beauty as well as warmth.

Now, when we are ready to leave the Morso behind, I find that I am glad to leave behind the back pain that kneeling to lift the wood slabs into the stove produced. That and some other associated physical challenges makes easy leaving the Morso to younger folk. The “squirrley” presence in our living room seemed strange, at times.  But, we have enjoyed the warmth the Morsø has provided.


Praying for rain

rain.pexels-photo-459451

The record for rain in a twenty-four-hour period is 73 inches on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Mt. Wal-ale-ale (Hawaii) gets 460 inches of rain per year.  Rain falls 335 days of the year.

 

Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.  Deut. 11:14

Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.  Deut. 11:17

The Desierto del Atacama in Chile had 1/4 “ of rain in 1971.  As far as can be determined, the previous rain had occurred some 400 years earlier. (Weather Book)

 

At one time in my life, I would not hesitate to pray for rain.  Now, I hesitate to pray for rain.  As a boy growing up on the farm, I welcomed the rain.  Frequently, rain meant no more digging out thistles or chopping brush out of fence rows and the possibility that I could spend some time reading.  A refreshing summer sound, the cooling rain rattled the corn leaves to announce its coming across the creek field and up the hill toward the house.

Some pastors or worship leaders were uncomfortable about praying for rain in public.  “I always give thanks for rain in public prayers.”  said a worship leader.  Another person said we should not expect God to give an area normally getting ten inches of rain a year to suddenly get forty inches a year.

Rain imagery occurs in many songs and hymns of the church.  Most people I ask for their memories of “rain” in songs and hymns thought of “Showers of Blessing” The song “Healing River” implies rain to cleanse.  A song from my childhood, “Sunshine and Rain” invites both rain and sun.  The children’s song “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” has in the third verse “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.”

 

Rain images abound in the Bible as indicated (see the header):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 2 Chronicles 6:26

Throughout most of the OT rain is associated with blessing, the lack of rain with sin of God’s people.

The prophets saw rain as blessing:

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day, your cattle will graze in broad meadows. Isaiah 30:23

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Isaiah 55:10

 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

Rain as blessing frequents the Psalms, although Psalm 78: 47-48 provides a contrast:  Storms, at least hail and lightning can be a means of punishing God’s enemies:

During the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Ezekiel brings this word:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath, I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. Ezekiel 13:13

Ezekiel’s God can use the rain to punish as well as bless.  Just as the “day of the Lord” once meant salvation for Israel, later it meant a day of judgment, so now rain comes to warn and punish God’s people.

But in the New Testament, Jesus announces:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:45

If God sends us rain without regard for our goodness, and if we have the Weather Channel, why pray for rain?  But today with the likelihood that some drought is the result of (in part) human caused, climate change, the prayer of repentance (including changing our behavior) takes on new significance.  (The verse from Matthew focuses on how we should treat those around us, not on what we should pray about–or when we should pray.)

Reflecting on praying for rain the thought came to me:  Does “give us this day our daily bread” imply a prayer for rain?  Praying the prayer Jesus gave his disciples gives us a start with our prayer for rain.  Perhaps praying for rain is part of our regularly reporting to God what we feel our needs are, not telling God what he should do.  Maybe I can pray about rain without feeling embarrassed!

 

Moses’ farewell “song” is an excellent blessing:

May God’s teaching fall on you like rain and his words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.  [paraphrase of Deut. 32:2]

 

 

Advent:  Learning about the other side of Christmas?

Our congregation is beginning the Advent season worship observances. Do these make our Christmas different from that of the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise?  The bright side of Advent has always been well represented.  There will be candles, bright lights, “Joy to the World” and angels, all as they should be.  Most of these we see and hear when we venture outside our church or home where the world is bright with lights, filled with inflated animals, birds and machines; busy with shoppers and noisy advertisements.  How might we use Advent to make our Christmas focus different from what we see and hear at the Mall?

Mary’s Role

Perhaps to get away from the negative attitudes of neighbors who wondered why she was pregnant before marriage, Mary left Nazareth.  She traveled nearly ninety miles, perhaps by herself, probably on foot to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to exchange news of their pregnancies.  (Mary would have been six or more months pregnant by the time she returned.)  When Mary arrived, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praised God for blessing Mary as the mother of the Son of God.  Mary responded by praising God for his promise to bring salvation, to bring down the rich and powerful and to feed the hungry.   Not long after that, Mary and Joseph experienced the effect of the oppressive government.  To fund their oppression of the people of Judah, the Romans were collecting a tax that required Joseph and Mary to go to Joseph’s hometown.   They traveled ninety miles (probably more) from Nazareth east to the Jordan down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up into the hills to Bethlehem.

Jesus birth

Did nearly nine-months-pregnant Mary repeat her prophecy of the downfall of the rich and powerful of her time to Joseph as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem?  Because many people had arrived in Bethlehem for the taxing, the couple could only find shelter in an animal pen.  They may have found the warmth of animals for their comfort there or the animals may have been out in the field because it was warm at the time. Due to the Roman occupying army, Mary had none of the comforts of home, presence of family and friends and may or may not have found a midwife.  After the Jesus birth, Mary may have placed Jesus in a feed trough of stone.

The lights, bells and cheery greetings of the season as we celebrate it do not remind us of the words of Simon reported by Luke.  Simon’s words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

Herod’s role

Then after somewhat less than two years, Persian wisemen/astrologers/priests stumbled into Herod’s schemes.  A violent ruler who had killed several relatives who he feared wanted his throne, Herod saw Jesus a threat to his rule.  Jewish leaders located scripture that they probably could guess Herod would use to find and kill the child.  To try to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his throne, Herod ordered killed maybe 10 to 30 young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.  God had already warned Joseph to take his family away; so, by night they were started their trip to Egypt when the massacre happened.  For several years Jesus’ family were immigrants in Egypt.  So, Joseph, his teenage wife, and son had been away from home probably five years.  Murders, forced immigration and hardship due to the efforts of the political and religious leaders to maintain their power and privileges are nothing new.

Advent vs Christmas?

Perhaps the old Anabaptist idea of “separation from the world” needs dusted off and used here.  Perhaps our Advent observance should be used to balance the world’s (including much of contemporary Christian world’s) Christmas focus?  Maybe we need a sermon on occasion from the Revelation 12 Christmas story on the dragon and the woman.  Do we recognize that turmoil and suffering will be a byproduct of Jesus coming (and probably of our proclamation of his coming), but redemption and peace is the goal of the season?  Mary, mother of Jesus spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the poor and hungry would be cared for.  Thirty years later her Son spoke very similar words in his first sermon at Nazareth (see Luke 4).  This, too, was Jesus Advent.  Is this our Advent proclamation?

 

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How is Christ our Cornerstone?

“Christ is our cornerstone,

On Him alone we build.”

Hymnal:  Worship Book #43

            “A cornerstone is a largely ornamental architectural feature.” -Encyc. Brit. (unknown ed.)

In celebration of our church’s one-hundredeth anniversary, the pastor had carefully chiseled away the crumbling mortar from around the stone.  As people of the community, former and current church members watched, he carefully slid the stone onto the stand prepared for it.  A small metal box was removed from a recess in the stone.  From it came a few coins, a decaying newspaper and a moldy Bible.  Later, the first cornerstone was replaced with a new, hermetically sealed container with new ingredients in the recess in the stone.  In the weeks between the removal of the stone and its replacement, the church building, minus the cornerstone, stood, and the church (people)  continued normal activities.  The still functioning, cornerstone-less building remained in my memory.

Singing “Christ is our cornerstone” reminded me of the earlier experience.  Having recently studied the scripture referring to Christ as the capstone, I wondered how the capstone and cornerstone were related.  While beginning some research on this topic, I asked several people what the image suggested to them.  “Christ is the foundation, something strong and firm.” one offered.  Later she agreed that she didn’t distinguish between Christ the foundation stone, and the  corner foundation stone .  A song leader offered that “cornerstone” suggested a rock with it’s strength and solidity*.  Another said that the cornerstone was the one by which the foundation was set straight.  After these comments, I still felt the dissonance of the song and dictionary definition.  My research turned up some clarification.

In the modern era, most buildings do not have a functional cornerstone. I have not been able to find out when the load bearing function of the cornerstone ended.  I did find some information about a commercial building in Chicago (early 20th century) that was thought to be the last commercial building with a load bearing foundation.  I am still trying to find out when the “surveying” function of the cornerstones (plural) was no longer important.

During the time the Psalms were written, foundations were seldom laid with dressed or finished stone.  Rough stones were used.  For Solomon’s temple, however, dressed stones were used for the entire foundation  I Kings 7:9-10 which reports that the stones used were eight and ten cubits (12 to 15 feet) and that they were all trimmed with a saw on the inner and outer surfaces.  The first stone laid was carefully squared and finished to line up the rest of the foundation wall.  The other corners had some of the same function, but the first was the “chief” cornerstone.  The rest of the wall was laid up, often without mortar.  Fresh cut stones would dry and settle together.  Some of these foundations remain today, cut so precisely, a knife blade could not be stuck between the stones.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Isaiah 28:16

Since uniform, ready-made stone was not used, some irregularities would result so that the last space to be filled required a stone not exactly the size of the others.  Since this was the final stone a good fit would tie the wall together.  A stone which previously had been set aside might be used because it was an exact fit.  This was the capstone, the one that tied together the wall and fit exactly.  Laying the last stone was a ceremonial occasion as

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!’ Zechariah 4:7

In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as both the chief cornerstone and the capstone.

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, 1 Peter 2:6, 7

If we believe our eyes and experience, we understand that in our day, a cornerstone is a decorative repository of items from the past history of a church or other institution.  A closer look at the world of the Bible helps us see how the people of Jesus time used this image to move toward an understanding of him.  I hope this helps.

Jesus is the first stone and the last, the “tested” stone, the one that determines that the rest of the building is well-build, solid, and will stand.  He is the final stone, the one that just fits and holds the building together.

 

*The image of the cornerstone and stone or rock overlap.   I have pursued these images in another blog, “On being chips off  the old Rock.”

Stories of my Dad

Dad’s Frugality

The big three bay, bank barn held several thousand bales.   The hay wagon pushed into the center bay. Getting the bales into the side bays from the center bay required use of ropes and pulleys.  Dad was usually the one who pushed the four prongs, called “forks”, into eight bales.  A rope ran from the forks to a combination pulley on a track running the length of the barn at its peak. The other end of the rope from the forks was attached to a tractor supplying the power to pull the bales up to the track and then to one bay or the other.

I was stacking the bales in a nearly full bay. So, while waiting for the next load of bales, I sat on the ten-inch beam that was about 15 feet or so above the hay mow floor.  As the load of bales neared the top of the barn there was a crack and I felt something hit my head.  God was with me in several ways at that moment.  First, when I was hit, I did not fall forward fifteen feet onto the mow floor where there were a number of things dangerous to fall on.  Second, the place where the bolt from the fork assembly hit me—the middle of the top of my head—was less threatening than, say, my eye.  At least the bolt didn’t ruin my good looks.

The fall back onto the bales I remember, but I do not remember climbing down the ladder or walking the hundred or so yards up the hill to the house.  I do remember that as Dad and Mom cut away the hair as the blood flowed from the cut, they discussed whether to take me the fourteen miles to the doctor.  (I don’t know if there were ERs in those days or not–this would have been about 1957.)  As I remember the discussion Dad thought that since I had only a small cut (as you can see from the scar depending on how I part my hair), a trip to the doctor wasn’t necessary.  Then, too, there was hay to be made.  Neighbors or maybe a hired man were helping with the haying.  Mom was worried about my head.  At least since Dad had his way I had an excuse for whatever trouble I got into later—it was due to the hit to my head.

Funny thing is, I do not remember the accident’s aftermath:  Was I embarrassed about having a strange haircut?  Did I have a lot of pain?  How long did I get to read instead of needing to go back to helping with hay making and doing chores?  The outcome apparently was good:  no infection or other problems.

Dad was frugal.  No doctor’s bills and haymaking continued.

 

Dad’s Kindness

Dad was kind to his children.  Once he sent me with our old Case tractor (maybe a DC4) and chain saw to clear out a fence row a mile or so by road from the buildings.  As I remember this tractor, the tires were nearly as high as the driver’s shoulders and seemed higher than the hood of the tractor.  Some of you know that when a tree grows up in a fencerow, the tree often grows around the fence wire.  The wise thing to do is to start the cut above the wire so that you don’t cut into the wire.  Chain saws around 1955 were heavy and I wasn’t full grown.  So I used the manure scoop on the tractor to lift me high enough to notch the approximately twenty-inch-diameter tree.

After notching the tree, I went around to the other side of the tree where the ground was higher to drop the tree.  Just as the cut was finished, I realized the tree was falling toward the tractor.  I hadn’t moved it!

I stood there imagining I could run around the tree, start the tractor and move it, when smack, the tree hit the tractor.  What damage do you think there was?  Surprising little to the tractor.  Only the muffler and the battery were damaged.  On that model, the battery sat just in front of the steering wheel.  What happened was the tree was wish-bone shaped with branches that curved around just right to rest on the high wheels of the tractor.  This protected the tractor’s vital parts.

The greater damage may have done to my sense of well-being. My fears expanded rapidly as I walked the three-quarters of a mile across the pasture and field to the barn to get Dad to help get the tree off the tractor.  I do not remember how we got the tree off the tractor, just that dad did not make a big fuss about the cost of the damage or get mad at me for my mistake.  He was merciful.

 

Working on Sunday

 

Dad was careful not to work on Sunday.  Of course, he took care of the animals on the farm.  That was different.  Some farmers thought haymaking was in the same category and would “make” hay on Sunday; but Dad wouldn’t.  But in the Spring, though, sometimes he would work on Sunday.

We lived off the main road on a gravel road that just past our house and barn became a dirt road that got bad just past our buildings.  With no trees and low ditches the road across the creek and up the hill stayed dry.  Once over the hill there were trees close on both sides of the road and several low spots that stayed wet.  So “Sunday drivers” would zip down the gravel road past our house, over the bridge and up the hill and out of sight on the mud road.  A little later our Sunday dinner or Dad’s nap would be interrupted by a knock at the door and a stranger would inquire about help getting a car out of the mud.

Dad would agree to have dinner interrupted or to give up the nap to help the “Sunday Driver.”  But, giving that help required getting out our tractor.  We had a John Deere A 1937 with a flywheel crank start. (If you have heard the “putt-putt” John Deere, you have heard one of these.) For those who do not know about late 1930s John Deere, the flywheel was a large thick wheel (3” x 14 or 16”) attached to the left side of the tractor.  To start the tractor, one grabbed the wheel with both hands and tried to spin the wheel counter clockwise to get the engine to fire.  On rare occasion in the summertime it might start on the first spin.  Most times it took many attempts and interspersed with adjustments of the choke.  Incidentally, being able to start the JD-A was a test of manhood for a young teen.  But, starting the “A” was not a favorite Sunday activity.  I was 11-14 when these rescues happened (before the road was graveled) and I don’t think I went with Dad on any of the half-mile trips.

Dad may have commented about the emotional and mental qualities of the Sunday Drivers when he returned, but I don’t recall that.  I do remember he refused pay for the rescues. And, I remember that Dad was compassionate enough to work on Sunday even to help foolish “Sunday Drivers”.

 

Ultimate Composting: Our experience with “no-till” gardening

 

Our first attempt at a “no-till” approach to gardening in Virginia came when we arrived for a quick visit to Virginia to complete a purchase agreement on a house in June.  We purchased a sheet of plastic to cover a garden space currently in grass.  When we completed our move in mid-July, we began preparing raised beds to be ready for Fall planting.  Neighbors later told us that the former owners had spent considerable time getting the grass started during a dry period the previous year.  When we expanded the garden, we put down leaves to kill the grass.

At our current residence the grass in the backyard was in good shape.  I worked in a library giving me access to a steady supply of newspapers.  Two convenience stores and a college dining hall produced fifteen to thirty gallons of coffee grounds plus filters per week.  (Some of which was used on another garden.)  Wasteful city residents placed bags of compostables (grass clippings and leaves) at the curb for me to pick up.  (When looking for grass clippings, I watched for clover and dandelions–indicators of no weed spray.)

A fellow worker moved to a farm with a barn housing a quantity of old (5 years plus) hay.  He would drive my pickup with a rack home on Friday and return it Monday full of hay.  (Julia once said we had a yard full of hay and no cow.)  Five or six loads of broken bales of hay with the other organic matter gave us a good start on “ultimate composting”.

All of these ingredients permitted us to enrich the clay ridge we lived on.  The top soil that may have been there was probably gone before the slaves left the area.  Now there are five garden beds of sixty-six feet down to thirty feet of black soil on top of the clay.  The technique we used to improve the soil is similar to what has been called “lasagna” gardening.  The book with this title came out about time we were refining our practice of soil preparation and helped us to systematize our practice.  However, “stew” gardening seemed a better label.  My reasoning?  Mixing the materials as is done in a compost pile helps the microherd.  The microherd have little mouths/teeth and little feet.  Having both nitrogen and carbon mixed together as throughly as possible helps the microherd (bacteria, yeasts and allies) start converting the organic material into soil.  Below is a summary of the procedure which I have used with workshops on this procedure.  We used this procedure with several flower beds and to expand a food pantry garden.  The food pantry garden included patches of wiregrass which provided a constant battle during the 8-10 years of using that patch of ground.

 

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Ultimate Composting a.k.a. “lasagna”/stew gardening or  sheet composting

Why should I sheet compost?

* Enrich the soil in your garden by composting on site

* Superior to bin composting for improving soil

* Save money — purchase less topsoil, humus and peat

* Reduce tax-funded yard waste processing costs

* Protect water quality by increasing the efficiency of water and fertilizer use

What is compost?

* Dark crumbly material like top layer of soil in a forest

* Produced naturally by microbes and compost worms feeding on compost pile materials, including leaves and yard wastes from your own backyard

* A soil amendment that will improve clay or sandy soils

How does composting work?

* Composting is microbe and earthworm management

* ‘Feed’ for compost critters is material rich in carbon–fallen leaves, straw, even newspaper

* Microbes also need a source of nitrogen–green garden trimmings, manure, alfalfa, etc.

What do I need to begin?

* Manure fork or garden fork

* Newspapers soaked in water (if a new garden or if you have lots of weeds)

* Composting materials (dry leaves, garden waste, coffee grounds, peat, straw, hay, other materials)

* May need to add water

How do I begin?

Collect materials including carbon (leaves, wood chips) and nitrogen (grass, coffee grounds, manure)

  • Place 6 or more sheets of wet newspaper overlapped on sod. Cardboard can be used for fall application. (Cardboard is hard to get fully wet and to get to conform to shape of ground so that there are no spaces for weeds/grass to grow around/through.)

Spread up to 1 ft of leaves and grass clippings, shredded, packed down or up to four inches of green wood chips (in dry weather, water each layer.  2 bags leaves to 1 bag grass)

* Mix with nitrogen-rich material:

~1/2 ft or more green garden wastes); OR

~1-2 inches manure; OR

~A scattering of alfalfa meal (rabbit pellets); OR

~a few cups of organic N fertilizer (5-2-2)

[leaves alone will decompose eventually.  I am assuming you want faster breakdown]

* Add a sprinkling of finished/mature compost.

* Water to consistency of wet sponge

*Microbes get full diet quicker if you mix the different materials.

*Some recommend covering the area with porous material–burlap is best–until planting time.  (Google “Interbay” method.)

What stays out?

* Cat litter and dog droppings

* Sick plants

* Pesticide and herbicide treated plants

* Petroleum products

* coal ashes (wood ashes are good)

* Noxious weeds and weed seeds

* Oils, fats, large amounts of dairy products or meat

What about kitchen trimmings?

* Must be covered to avoid smell, insects and attracting animals.

*May introduce seeds—cover with leaves or hay to control sprouting seeds from trimmings

* Contribute valuable micronutrients to the pile

* Reduce organic wastes going to the landfill

* Add any amount on an on-going basis to composting material.

* Dig a hole or trench and put in scraps, cover with at 6″—8″ of leaves, hay, and grass, shredded paper

* Next visit, dig the hole in a different spot or cover with more dry material

 

When may I start planting?

*Best to start sheet composting in summer or fall for the next year.

*You may begin planting immediately–especially plants. Monitor plants to see that the mulch around them does not decompose and let them “high and dry”.

*You will need to put down mature compost or potting soil (soil pockets) to plant small seeds or plants.

For more detail:  https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-make-a-lasagna-garden-2539877

See the book Lasagna Gardening by Lanza (published by Rodale Press)

Also at gardenweb.com there is a lasagna gardening forum.