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Rotten to the Elbow  

Imagine a tree five-feet in diameter whose massive trunk stands poised to pummel the ground.  (I was actually there and took pictures!). The word, “thud,” doesn’t begin to describe what happened when the last of the chainsaw’s work was done.

Our kids spent a surprising amount of their summers under that massive Oak which was almost a family friend. For shade, beauty and protection (you could sit by your campfire under its thick boughs and scarcely feel a drop of rain) this tree was in a class of its own. 

So why did it have to be taken down?  I was told the tree became rotten.  Yet it still bore some green leaves I noted, a bit unconvinced, even skeptical.

This weekend, I stood on the stump of the grand old tree and observed a dark hole as wide as a hand span, a cavity of nothing but rot. The hole went down into the earth below the stump.  More evidence of rottenness.

While driving past the campground’s wood pile, I then found the overturned chunk of trunk that once connected to the stump. Get this—that same hole of rotten nothingness had eaten through this segment as well.  It was large enough that I could shove my entire arm inside—so I did! 

The rottenness went past my elbow—ran the full length of the section.  In other words, the tree exhibited some signs of life on the outside, but was thoroughly rotten inside.  I was shocked to study the tunneled void that bore no water, no nutrients at all to the limbs and branches.

It all got me to thinking.  I wonder how many of us who’ve claimed the name of Christ are in some measure like that rotten tree.  We look reasonably good to the world and—more critically—to our church family and Christian friends.  Our exterior conduct might hint at some minor problems, but hardly anybody knows that deep inside, there’s a deadly spiritual void where obedience and holiness ought to be.  We are rotten—”up to the elbow.” 

Personally, I'm amazed at the rot that creeps into my own life. There’s the rottenness of a critical spirit, a careless word, a haughty spirit. There’s the rottenness of chronic anxiety, prayerlessness, exaggerated speech and self-focus. 

The good news is that unlike the tree I’ve described, there’s hope for you and me.  God can actually restore years of rot. The bad news is if we continue in our self-deception, the spiritual rot will eventually kill us. In the end, whether we rot—or not—is ultimately a question of choice.  Let’s choose wisely!

“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”   —Ephesians 4:24

 

 
Her Voice Gives Her Away  

Her voice gives her away. 
When Frieda calls, you can tell that she is mentally challenged.  Words are sometimes garbled.  Or mangled.  Pauses between phrases or sentences are often so unnaturally long, they create confusion—and plenty of unintended humor.
But Frieda is friendly and faithful—more than most.  She is also in charge of the Christian worship service at a local senior center.  Without fail, she calls once a quarter inviting me to speak.
As she welcomed everyone to this week’s service, she said, “I’d like to give credit to everyone who helped.” She then listed a bunch of names, including the guy that pushed the buttons on the CD player with the piano music.  I chuckled to myself when she read her own name out loud (first and last), then paused.  And paused again.  And finally added, “That’s me.”   
I have no interest in being a polite little minister who says polite little things to a polite little group of seniors.  Instead, I operate under the brash conviction that many of these folks have been inoculated with just enough religion so that they have little interest in the saving gospel.  Worse, they likely have very few opportunities left to be confronted with the true claims of Jesus.
Thus, I chose for my devotional title, “Two Kinds of People.”  By that I mean that every human being is headed for one of two eternal destinies: heaven or hell. I tried to build a strong, biblical case, to make sure every person in the room had received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  At the end, I suggested that if anyone had not yet  received Christ, I would pray a simple prayer so they could pray silently with me.
“Dear Jesus,” I prayed.  “I’m coming to you now to ask your forgiveness for my sins.”  As I paused, Frieda blurted out loudly, “I have!”  I continued, “Jesus, I want to invite you to be in charge of my life, my savior.”   Frieda interjected again--loudly, “I already have!”  My prayer continued with, “I believe you died on the cross for me.”   She affirmed nearly every sentence with the zest of a six-year-old.  
There are people with gifted tongues and gifted minds and more talent and treasure than they know what to do with.  Frieda is not among them. With her thick tongue, slow speech and delayed responses, Frieda is an unlikely shepherd over an unlikely flock. Yet I’m convinced she knows the Good Shepherd Himself. That’s more than most can say. 
Frieda is not shy about any of this.  Just ask her.  Her voice gives her away. 
 
The heavens declare WHAT?  

At 25,000 feet, clouds look different.  They just do. From the window of a jet, the view is completely unobstructed.  No cluttered skylines, no haze, no polluted air, just crisp viewing. 

But the skyscape I like best is seen at much lower altitudes.  I love it when the plane lofts just high enough that is enshrouded in the misty vapor of the first cloud layer. Wispy trails rocket past the window reminding me of just how fast the hollow metal tube in which I’m seated is actually traveling.  

But once we reach cruising altitude—say 25,000 feet—the clouds look much more like a VBS craft project of cotton balls glued to blue construction paper. Right about then, Psalm 19 often sweeps over me:

“The heavens declare the glory of God.  The skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour fourth speech.  Night after night they display knowledge.”

On a recent flight it came to me that David wrote this Psalm likely never having climbed anything taller than Masada (1,440 feet above the desert floor).  We're not told if he ever climbed Mount Hermon (about 7,300 feet).  But with his gift for poetry, what lyrics would David have constructed had he sat in the window seat next to me?  What imagery would he have crafted staring out at the wing?  You can bet it would be memorable—and worth memorizing. 

Back to Psalm 19, though.  Verse one says the heavens “declare” and the skies “proclaim.”  The problem is, I’m rarely listening to what they’re declaring or proclaiming!  In fact, in my on-going distraction, I often don’t even notice the skies. It’s a shame.

 The heavens are declaring. 

They will declare tonight in the glitter of a hundred billion stars.  Or the sliver of a milk-white moon.  They’ll declare tomorrow when orange streaks swoosh across the early morning canvas. They’ll declare the next day and the next day and the next…all the way until the cataclysm of the last day!

The heavens—God’s heavens—are declaring His glory.  The only question is, are we hearing the “glory chorus?”

 

 

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Unhelpful Impressions  
Unrelenting action, high-tech weapons and exotic locations. Stingray had it all. At least it seemed to when I was five. The mid-1960s television drama featured high-functioning marionettes, not live actors, to portray a futuristic submarine fleet of crime fighters. Powered by imagination, laced with explosions, Stingray delivered a solid half-hour of undersea thrills.
I loved it then.  I love it now.  Enough that I bought the entire five-disc series on DVD and now share this magical underwater past of mine  with our grandkids.

You’d think that in an age of green screen, CGI and 3D animation Stingray would be sunk.  But the kids love Captain Troy Tempest and his sidekick, “Phones.”  Then there’s Marina and Atlanta, who share a competing love interest in Troy.

Firmly in charge of “Marineville” is the gristled gray haired Commander Shore.  The grandkids often mimic his recurring comment,“Stand by for action.  Anything can happen in the next half-hour!”

There's something else about Commander Shore the kids have unfortunately observed.  The boss smokes an occasional cigar (looks strangely believable in the mouth of a marionette).

Recently our daughter texted us a photo of her kids who were munching on apple sticks—long skinny treats that admittedly resemble…well, a cigar or cigarette.  Recalling their Stingray pal, they clenched the apple sticks between their teeth claiming, “Now, I'm Commander Shore!”

I chuckled. Then cringed.  And thought deeply.  We are picky about what videos we let our grandkids watch.  Stingray’s story lines champion courage, selflessness and goodness. Still, Commander Shore has apparently made a deep (unhelpful) impression on our little grandkids.

I wonder—how many other “unhelpful” impressions do we leave with our little ones?  What other useless or damaging habits, words and actions do we expose them to?  We tell them they cannot watch something on television but we ourselves are glued to that same forbidden show.  We tell them church attendance is vital, but we ourselves may have a spotty record.  We tell them they cannot have a glass of this or that, yet perhaps we indulge freely.

Proverbs 22:6 counsels, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”  Notice that phrase, “the way they SHOULD go.”  If we I gnore this warning, despite our highest hopes, our parenting will almost certainly…get sunk.
 
 
The Great iPhone Disaster  

Smart folks do not let smartphones near water.

(And now the story).

Recently at our campground, eight-year-old Joslynn and I chugged around the lake in a paddle boat.  Fun!  Back on shore, Joslynn immediately asked if we could take the kayaks out for a spin.

Point of clarification: paddle boats have broad flat bottoms and are virtually impossible to capsize.  By contrast, kayaks are unstable, and easily dunked.  This insight came to me later, rather than earlier.

In approximately 18 inches of water, I managed to roll the kayak, thoroughly soaking myself—and the iPhone in my pocket. Rocketing out of the sandy muck, I dug for the phone, staggered out of the water, and rushed for a towel we did not have (we were boating, not swimming!). 

Like a stroke or heart attack, I knew time was not on my side.  Joslynn and I hurried back to the camper where I recalled that shoving a wet phone into a bag of rice might help it revive.  But who has rice at a campground?  Why…the next door neighbors, of course. The throes of death tentacled my device as the screen fogged, fuzzed, coughed and wheezed. I jammed it into the bag of rice and hoped for a miracle.  With the power finally switched off, I left the iPhone in a coma on life support.  And waited.

The next day, it would power up, but the screen was still somewhat trashed.  Yet it seemed to be receiving texts and emails.  My son, Tim, the acknowledged tech master of our family, crushed my fragile hopes with the assessment, “Bro, it’s over.”  I believed him.

Day three, we transferred all the photos off the phone while there was still a pulse.  The screen was considerably improved.  “Don’t let it fool you,” Tim said.  “The battery probably won’t hold a charge.”  But it did.

Day four, I stepped out in faith and declared the iPhone resurrected—the screen fully restored.  But I knew that even if that were true, another water disaster would likely seep into my future.  So I immediately priced out a water tight case. I wanted the assurance that if ever again I capsized a kayak or canoe I wouldn’t be out hundreds of dollars.  That very morning I bought a “Lifeproof” case.

This is a rare happy story in a long line of wireless woes, but also something of a cautionary tale.  It is well and good to want to protect a smartphone from disaster. But do we extend the same concern in protecting ourselves from sin?

Your body (and mine) is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”   How much care have I extended in fighting gluttonous impulses every time somebody at the office brings in doughnuts?  What kind of protections do we make to keep our online experiences free from sexual imagery?  What about our choices in movies, books and music?  Do we have a “lifeproof” case for that?  Or are we just sort of hoping we won’t get capsized by sin?

Having baptized other phones, my “Lifeproof” purchase shows it’s not a question of if—but when—I’m going to face a disaster.  How dare we be one whit less defensive when it comes to sin!

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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