Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Ocean of Grace

The moment they realized the engine was not starting again. Ever.  Followed by the moment they realized that their radios could not reach anyone, on the ocean or on land.  Those had to be the two most frightening moments.  Being surrounded by sharks was probably a close third.  How do you deal with that kind of fear? You keep on sailing.

Two female sailors and two dogs, on their way from Honolulu to Tahiti in their small boat encounter a Pacific Ocean storm which destroys their engine.  Two sailors smart enough to pack a year’s worth of food, supplies and a water purifier.  But, despite their best hopes and efforts, the boat’s sails did not take them to safety. They were more than off course. They were lost. In the middle of an ocean. And the months passed, one, two three, four, five months, lost at sea. Thousands of miles of course, and no way to figure out a way back home. They were really lost, they thought.

But they were not lost. They were just not yet found.  A Taiwanese fishing boat found them, which in turn called upon the U.S. Coast Guard, which came to the rescue of the sailors and their dogs. When asked to comment on their work of finding, of saving the lost, Commander Steven Wasson said, "The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation." (Source: John Bacon, USA Today, 10.26.17)

It is easy to get lost when the storms come up. And despite the best planning, if you are stuck in the middle of an ocean of troubles, it is normal to feel lost.  But someone, somewhere, is looking for you. Someone is ready to turn your ocean of troubles into an ocean of grace.

Define Grace: for any distressed mariner; of any nationality; in any type of situation, the Commander is ready to pluck you up and place you on the rescue boat.

If we believe that this is the mission of U.S. Navy, why do we find it so hard to believe it is the mission of God to do the same?

‘Grace Alone’.

God is in the business of finding the lost. Mission accomplished.

Pastor Bill

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Remembering 'Mighty Mouse'

I cheered for ‘Mighty Mouse’ to win.  Saturday nights at the Plymouth Fairgrounds, listening to the deafening roar of modified Stock Cars in the early 1960’s, I would keep my eye on the strategic moves of ‘Mighty Mouse’ as he, lap after lap, weaved and bumped his way from his starting position at the back of the pack of competitors. I have pictures in my mind of the little painting of the  cartoon character on the side of his car, as the muscular mouse became a blur speeding past the grandstand, his fans screaming encouragement as he maneuvered another corner propelling chunks of mud from the dirt track across the warm night sky.  And then there was the almost inevitable victory lap, ‘Mighty Mouse’ holding aloft the prized checkered flag as he took that final lap.

Fast forward half a century.  I am standing in the back of church as one of Ken’s (a/k/a ‘Mighty Mouse’) granddaughter’s has just professed her faith.  Ken had no idea he was a boyhood hero of mine, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as he and I talked about how God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform in the lives of the people we love.  Sometimes it seems miracles happen right before our eyes. When Ken saw his granddaughter overcome her trials to stand before the congregation and read from Ephesians that, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” it was for good reason he was dabbing his eyes at the thought of her victory.

And now it is my privilege to pastor two of Ken’s great-grandsons.  While Ken was a member of another church, he came to their baptisms at our church, and we had a couple more conversations about the joys of seeing your legacy receive the sign and seal of God’s everlasting love.  I feel this sense of obligation to make sure those boys know about God’s love for them, telling them how their Great-Grandpa Mighty Mouse was my boyhood hero, and how proud he was to see them be a part of the family of God. And to help them ‘re-member’ Ken.

You see, Ken is now racing on a new circuit.  The joy of racing, the thrill of the win, those things all must be how he experiences Heaven.  Engine roaring, checkered flag in hand, ‘Mighty Mouse’ takes that Victory Lap.

That Ken, he’s a real winner now.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Regrets, I've Had a Few"

Having dinner with good friends, the conversation turned to today’s “young people”.  We, who are both sides of 60, were talking about those in their early 20’s, the ones just finishing college or starting jobs.  We talked about their need for good mentors and how young they looked. “Did I look that young?”, I wondered out loud, “when I started my career at 22”? My wife assured me I did.

What if we could be 22 again, we wondered? “Boy, there are a few things I would have done differently.”  We all agreed on that observation. But then I began to wonder, would I really have changed anything? As we talked further we wondered whether you could say, “I would have treated this person or situation differently”, without  changing all of the other parts of life. In other words, had I not made this mistake in life, then I would not have been wise enough to avoid making it at another time or with another person.  Or, if I had not met “Mary”, then I would never have met “Martha”.  In other words, isn’t our life the sum of all of the parts, the good choices, the great decisions; the bad choices; the horrible decisions?

So what do we do with the life choices we ‘regret’? We can sing, along with Frank Sinatra, that though ‘we’ve had a few’ they are too few to mention. I am close, I think, to that school of thought.  It is good to remember the choices we regret. That’s what helps us, hopefully, improve our lives, if we use the regrets as lessons.  But we should not dwell upon them. The bigger danger than forgetting regrets too soon is living with them too long. While decisions last a lifetime, the regrets don’t need to. 

The most underrated and least believed fact in the Bible is the truth that God remembers our sins no more.  I have so many encounters with people who are dwelling in regret, in guilt, in shame, wondering how God could accept them given their ‘past.’  I believe the reason we have trouble believing that God could forgive those decisions we regret is that we cannot forgive ourselves for them.  God’s ability to ‘forgive’ is based on his marvelous, grace-filled decision to forget; to accept you, to love you, just as you are, the sum of all the decisions, good, great, bad, horrible.

Can you do the same?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Of Frogs and Mass Shootings

“If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.” (Version of the boiling frog story from Daniel Quinn's The Story of B, source: Wikipedia)


Sandy Hook.


San Bernardino.

Las Vegas.

The Frog Experiment story is not true. The point it makes is all too true.  I know that we as a nation have the ability to find a solution which protects the right to own a gun and at the same time protects society from mass shootings. Do you know that a mass shooting, defined as 4 or more victims, has happened 275 times in 2017 in the United States? Have we lost our ability to be outraged? I have no desire to undo the U.S. Constitution.  I have every desire to see it interpreted in a way which protects the very people for whom it exists. We are smart enough to do this, right?

If we do not act this time I fear we never will. We have grown way too comfortable in the boiling pot.  Let’s get out while we can.  How can we say we bring ‘shalom’ from the God of Peace if we do not start a chorus for doing something rather than nothing.  I do not have the solution, but I want to find one while we still can feel that the water is boiling.