Don’t Miss Jesus…

Learning to integrate is the answer, compartmentalizing tends to produce frustration. Belief and behavior must come together and reflect our stated world view. The confounding truth for the religious establishment during Jesus’ day was that they had their understanding of religion, with its rituals, structure, and restrictions, but could not see God when he appeared.

When you expect God to think and act in your favored understandings, it is easy to miss him. Jesus came into the world with very different priorities than the dominant religious group. Now, that is not to say that he ignored the Law or the Prophets, not in any sense of the term. The Sabbath was observed by him in keeping with the intent of God for the Sabbath, i.e. to benefit man.

So as he applied his understanding of God to daily life, he was unperturbed by healings on the Sabbath or disciples casually gathering grain from the field as they walked by. He knew God, he knew God’s intent, which allowed him to act toward that end.

James tells us that pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans (the vulnerable) and to keep oneself untainted by the world. Utilizing logic, skewing reason, and attempting to maintain emotional distance from someone abandoned, because “she has a husband somewhere” misses what James tells us to do.

However, is it just that type of compartmentalizing of Scripture from life that has limited many, twisting their understanding and preventing their effectively demonstrating God in our world. As the religious world in Jesus’ day had become more focused on the Law than the God who gave that Law, perspective became distorted. It became obvious when they saw Jesus doing miraculous works, but had to attribute it to Satan to keep their own biases.

In our own times we have to be careful that we don’t expect Jesus to act our way, wear our brands, and be enthused about our passions. Our behavior and beliefs must align with pure and undefiled religion.

You don’t want to miss Jesus because he is not wearing a Longhorn jersey or is carrying a Mizzou pennant.

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Do Angels Text?

A text message arrived. A preacher who met me while I was in Arkansas last week was traveling through the area. He was going to participate in a regional meeting to be held in Goodland, as their song leader. The place he had planned to stay on his way from western Arkansas had illness in the house, so could he spend the night with us? Sure.

Now Janet and I had said hello to him while in Arkansas, but neither of us really remembered him. We found out later that he was recovering from illness and couldn’t talk. Obviously, in a room full of preachers if one of them doesn’t talk he isn’t noticed much. But when he arrived about 6p we loaded up for supper and came to know each other.

As we each rehearsed our journey of faith, noting the occasions that we had experienced blessings from God, as well as challenges that were daunting, we learned more about each other and our families.

At the start, it was a dance, two of us circling one another, catching each other’s scent… like a pair of dogs meeting one another for the first time. Wary of giving offense, careful not to take offense. Gradually the guards were lowered, then about 9:30p our real conversation began.

To be frank, it was one of the most spiritual, Spirit filled conversations I’ve had in over a year. Our language was a bit different, but as we came to trust each other more, shields came down and pointed encouragement and challenges were exchanged.

Promises to pray, occasions of prayer, suggestions to watch for movement of God in specific areas of life events, are the things that made the conversation godly, rare, special, and meaningful.

At one point I mentioned that I felt if I could turn my head just right quickly enough I might catch a glimpse of God’s Spirit encouraging, guiding and challenging the exchange. Each of us hated to end our time together that night as fatigue began to take its toll.

Sharing breakfast the next morning before he traveled on his way, I wondered if I entertained an angel unaware. Do angels text?

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A Spiritual Roadtrip

Janet and I drove to Little Rock, Arkansas to meet with about 40 other ministers who feed our souls. We spent two nights, feasting together over shared meals and exploration of God’s revelation.

Preachers like to preach, so this was set up like TED talks, each speaker given 10 minutes to make their points before the next speaker was invited to speak. We sat and listened; intrigued, challenged, and touched by the passionate retelling of God’s work among his people.

While I opted to listen without taking part in the rotation, I was blessed to hear those who have challenged me through their writings and our conversations over the years.

Meals together, conversations shared with some we see only every few years, and embracing those who we are only just meeting face to face, these were the joys that we experienced.

Yes, I am pretty much the old dog in the room, about all of the speakers were considerably younger than me. I was encouraged to hear the integrity with which they approach the Scriptures, their willingness to explore new insights, and their passion to live out a life focused on Jesus in their communities.

In Acts 15 the church met together with disciples from across their world. They talked about things that were creating problems in churches, trusting Paul and Barnabas with a message of acceptance and support for new believers among the Gentiles.

Not long after the two of them had successfully traveled through the area affected, Barnabas and Paul had a fight over who was allowed to return on a second journey with them. The disagreement was such that they refused to travel together, each taking a team and traveling their own way.

Christians will not always agree. They never have always agreed over procedure. It doesn’t mean that faith doesn’t move forward, they just don’t do things exactly the same.

The common ground is their passion for God and his people, a desire to lift up the name of Jesus, and living lives consumed in that purpose.

May we all, throughout our Christian walk, be filled with the same passions.

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Making Memories

It is my favorite day of the month. After potluck dinner I gather with a group of 15-25 friends and play music together at Stafford. It isn’t new songs that I learn, more the familiarity and ease of tunes that have filled my ears from jukeboxes, car radios and record players over the past half century. The original singers are mostly dead now, but we keep their memories alive, telling old stories and infusing it with where we were when we heard it, or trying to remember the year it was released. As a bunch of music buffs, the first Sunday of each month at the Gathering Place is a great pleasure that we make commitments to attend.

Well, Sunday is always my favorite day of the week, a time of praise and reflection before God with other believers. I cherish that time, time I can explore and attempt to explain some of the promises that God has revealed in his word.

They aren’t new things, in fact as with the music, the familiarity of the stories… the woman at the well, the attempt to keep the children back from Jesus, and the glory of his resurrection… these stories are the things that reveal the character of our God and compel us to come toward him. We deepen the relationship with each heartfelt prayer, we expand our love as we reflect at the Supper, and we reinforce our community as we share sorrows, burdens, joys and victories.

As memories of familiar music legends can bring a knowing nod as the first bars of a song begin, we experience a more significant and powerful wave of familiarity when the Ancient Words are read. Our minds bring together the last time we heard the story, perhaps in a parent’s voice as they read the text, or the voice of a shepherd as he explained the importance of the story. This retelling will be enfolded into the memories of all prior readings as the assurances of the words of antiquity prepare our minds to face contemporary struggles.

That Jesus valued and demonstrated compassion in story after story, the characteristic increases in importance and becomes a part of our lives.

Yes, I’m excited about today. I’ve some stories to tell, some songs to sing, and some memories to make.

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Remembering My Dad

Today is March 3, 2018. I remember the date because few are alive today who would remember it as my father’s birthday. It would have been the 93rd birthday for my father. My dad, Carlton C. Feril, died in July of 1982 at 57 years of age. I moved out of his house at 18-19 years old as they left Colorado to return to Michigan for another contract with Vought Aerospace. We never lived closer than 600-1000 miles after that.

Dad and his younger brother.

I was 29 when my father died, so I’ve been without him far longer than I had him. Much of our relationship was conducted via the telephone, as he could use a toll free line at the plant before 7a for free.  Of course that meant it was before 6a my time, but we didn’t mind. Probably, not being face to face drew our relationship closer than it had been, as we were making the transition from child to adult to an adult to adult relationship. My younger brothers were all still at his home, so we discussed their transitioning to adulthood. His picking my brain, and I realize now, trying to keep me connected to them. We discussed family, his mother, my mom’s mother,  my mother… as all the men were gone from his family. In reality, over the next seven years of his remaining life, we were in the same location for family events perhaps 45 days. So memories are not as plentiful as I would have desired.

Today I remember him, and I do often. I hit a math equation that I need to work out and I think of asking him about it. I ponder a financial investment and wonder how he might have handled it. Dad was shrewd with money, wanting to make it stretch. My brothers and I saw him as cheap growing up, not recognizing the price he was paying to secure it. Putting men on the moon, defense contracts, missile systems tended to wear out the engineers who ran the slide rules and scratched numbers onto plans with mechanical pencils.

My father was a compassionate man, more compassionate than I. Mom and he took kids into their home who were struggling in their own homes. He was quick to dip into his own groceries to provide for others. On more than one occasion he filled an empty gas tank. Of course, never having had daughters, anything that the daughter in laws, Janet or Sherry wanted, he was always looking for a way to make it happen.

He only knew Steve’s children and my own, but grandkids were a priority as they are for most grandfathers. I’ve often longed for him to have known the other children that came to be a part of our extended family. Somethings were just not to be.

My aunt, his youngest sister and I often speak of him. Our memories help us keep his memory alive. Unfortunately, he has been gone longer than I had him as a part of my life. For most others, it is as though he did not live. Simply fading photos in family albums and nostalgic stories told at family reunions.

To me, and the handful of others who remember him, our lives were made better. So today, he would have been 93, I would enjoy one more conversation. I shall be satisfied with a few important memories.

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Shaping Hershal

We have routines, schedules that we tend to follow as we move through life. We recently found a dog for Janet’s aunt in Oklahoma. We will keep it about a month to insure that it is ready to transition to the home of a woman who has never had an inside dog but desires a companion.

Hershal is the dog’s name. He doesn’t know it yet, but that is what he is stuck with. We are trying to discover his routines. When does he need to eat, how long before he needs to go out? How long does he need to stay out?

Because the aunt is deaf, we are trying to teach Hershal new routines, to bark when someone comes to the door, or when the phone rings. He has to learn to sit, to lay down, and basically pay attention. All new routines.

Hershal came with some natural things, his own biological clock, but has to learn some new things to be effective and helpful.

It is that way for all of us. Many people start out nice enough. They don’t pillage, rape and murder like marauding Vikings. That however is not enough to make them people of God.

Christlikeness is a learned behavior that requires both the removal of some habits and the acquisition of other habits. However, if one stops here there is a huge void of character. Fundamentally, what Jesus demonstrated to us was a love of God. He prayed, not because it was required but because he desired to speak with the Father. He did good things, not to be popular, but to demonstrate the nature of God. He avoided participation in sin, not for his reputation, but because he loved pleasing the Father.

Like followers of Christ, Hershal has a lot to learn. He needs to know the things that makes a dog a house dog. He has to learn some routines of a disciplined life. But Hershal will fail in a tragic level if he learns all of these routines but never learns to love his new owner. It isn’t enough to be well behaved, one must engage the world in a loving and appropriate manner.

Christians who do the right things but don’t love and engage those around them never really are very helpful.

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Remembering my Friend, Bob Rose

Facebook has made our world a bit smaller, and old friends easy to keep up with. I was reminded of it when I read Sonja’s post about my friend Bob being in a medically induced coma. Simply seeing his name caused 35 years to pass quickly. As I spoke with Sonja after his death, she asked if I would write some of my memories of our times together.

Bob was one of the many people I counted as a friend during my years at Kim. We both enjoyed guns, hunting and trapping, along with community involvement.

One of my favorite memories was a time when Bob called me, wanting help in “identifying” an animal he caught in a Victor #2 coil trap. Bob usually caught coyotes, but he was hoping for, as we all were, to catch a more valuable bobcat. I drove out from the church house to Bob and Brenda’s to see what I would find. Once there, the end gate on his pickup was up, but the biggest paw I had ever seen was flopped over the edge of the end gate. I remember his eyes shining and he was almost jumping up and down, as I peered over the side of the pickup at this large mountain lion.

Somehow, he had caught a cat by the toes in a trap that should have had the jaws ripped out of it. We spent the next two or three hours trying to figure out how that cat stayed in the trap. All we could figure out was that she jumped straight up, pulling the rebar stake half out of the ground, then lunged away, bending it in half. The cat tore up lots of ground under the tree, but was never able to get a good pull to free itself.  He got to be the champion trapper that year.

When Janet and I went out to see the mounted cat, we had our oldest son, CW, with us. He was only a few months old. CW had this terrifying habit of holding his breath whenever he was hurt or scared. He would just stop breathing, go rigid, then pass out and start breathing again. One of the first times that he did it was at Bob and Brenda’s that night, looking at the cat.

Bob and I had lots of conversations over the years. Along with Gary Campion, we worked on bringing Emergency Medical Care to Kim, driving back and forth to Springfield, taking the EMT classes together. We worked on fire department projects, and all manner of small things that fade from memory over time.

What I suspicion that Bob will be remembered for is his emphasis on community involvement. As a deputy, on the fire department, with the emergency crew, he was always quick to lend a hand. Bob was approachable, dependable, and gracious.

Any time I am asked to write something about a person who has passed from this life, I reflect over all of Scripture to pick out something that personifies their life. With Bob, I immediately thought of a statement made about Jesus. Peter said of him, “He was a man who went about doing good.” Acts 10:38. If I can live my life in a manner that others will say of me, “He was a man who went about doing good”, then I will have lived well. When I knew Bob, I would say, “He did well by others.

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Voices in the Crowd

There is a story told of Jesus, perhaps you remember Matthew’s retelling of it? Jesus had stopped a flow of blood in a woman who had been suffering for 15 years, along with raising a young girl from the dead. As he continued on his way two blind men struggled along with the group that followed after him. They cried out for mercy, as Jesus found his lodging.

After Jesus stopped at a house, these blind men caught up to him. They continued to prevail upon him to change their circumstances. The text says that Jesus asked them a question, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

When they affirmed their belief he complied with their request and they had their sight restored. (Matthew 9:27-31)

Can you imagine the fumbling, stumbling journey of two blind men being carried along with a crowd following Jesus? Being pressed on every hand, pushed, shoved, tripped and stumbling, the path to Jesus could not have been easy. Their voices mingling with all of the other appeals for help, straining trying to hear where Jesus was so they could project their cries in the proper direction, it would not have been simple.

After the crowd dispersed as Jesus entered a house, disappearing from sight, the blind men stumble onto the door.

Many lessons can be drawn from this story, and I’ve considered some of them here before. Today I want to contemplate another question, perhaps one of the most important ones.

Is it possible that the reason that we don’t bring more before God in prayer is because we don’t believe that he can do anything? The blind men, with a sense of urgency and determination, doggedly followed Jesus until they caught up. There was something that they believed only he could change. They wanted it.

What have you taken before God with such passion? This is no “Now I lay me down to sleep” kind of conversation. These are the words that arise from despair and hopelessness. Your prayers, do you believe?

 

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Sidney, TX

It is a little town like any other little town, but unlike all others in another way. Sidney is a small community in Comanche County Texas, my family home. While my father, like most young men of his generation, left the family ranch and farm community for college, he soon was carried much farther away by the Second World War. Serving his time in the Pacific Theater, he was never to return to Sidney to live, even though he always planned to do so. Answering the call of a young president to go to the moon in this generation, he, along with his aerospace engineer peers, dreamed larger dreams than a small community could hold. But at every break, whenever time could be made, Sidney was the longing.

Because my grandparents were there and because Santa delivered to Sidney the Saturday before Christmas, along with all reunions that were in Sidney, and summers spent there, I had names that were familiar to me, but seemed strange to the ears of others. Uncle Ottie, Aunt Gussie, Uncle Bige, Uncle Eldon, Miss McIntyre, the Caffeys, the Cheathams and many others that I’ve forgotten. A little boy’s memory fades over time, but my childhood was shaped by them. L.D. Cox, J.A. Cox, Jack Ferrill were men who were my father’s peers and my childhood heroes.

Perhaps it was this boyhood dream that was passed on to me, but Sidney somehow became my hometown as well. I spent summers on the Feril place, living with my grandparents and their remaining daughter, Carolyn Feril Lockridge, 12 years my senior. I became a living baby doll that she carried from place to place or pushed in the tire swing as I begged that she “run under”.

Before I began my school years in Grand Prairie, when I would be home in Sidney, I would be allowed to attend high school alongside Aunt Carolyn and her best friend Paula Cheatham Kiser, including my little brother, Steve. I can’t really imagine a school that allowed two preschool children to sit in chairs beside these high school girls, coloring and practicing their “letters”. Feril boys were not known for being especially quiet or well behaved, and we were surely a distraction.

Being allowed to go to the Sidney store was a rare treat in my youth. My grandad, Ormal Feril, would rarely allow me to buy a chocolate pop from the chest type pop machine in the store, with the tracks that one had to maneuver the bottles around and finally position the proper one to pull up through the “gate”. It was an especially fond memory, along with older men playing dominoes outside, and the community spirit that was welcoming and comfortable. I always felt at home, while being introduced as “Little Carlton Feril, Carlton’s boy.” The others would knowingly nod and I felt accepted.

Almost all of the names are gone now. Aunt Carolyn passing word to me today that Paula Cheatham Kiser faces a battle with cancer that looks quite grim. Each time I reflect back, my eyes close and I remember a little store with gas pumps out front, a grey painted wooden floor and shelves stacked high with treasures. The feed store next door looks far larger in my memories than the photos that I’ve seen of it.

As these names fade in memory, as their acts of kindness, compassion, and tenderness are lost in history, it is the influence that remains. The smiles, the nods, the index finger waving, acknowledging the approaching car over the steering wheel… the small acts of consideration that reveal the nature of a community. Sidney remains a treasured place in my memory because of these things.

Where you are from contributes to who you become. Where are you from?

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Living Like It Is Real

Using the Modern English Version (MEV), Paul makes this statement to the people of his day, “Furthermore, knowing the time, now is the moment to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us take off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12 MEV)

I find that inspiring to read. Paul says, “Its time people!” Time for us to really recognize where we are and what we are about. It is time to see the battle is won, forget the filth of the earth, the hopelessness of the old ways… the potential for tomorrow is here. The new heaven and the new earth are on the brink of appearing, and we are closer than we have ever been. Don’t waste any more time, don’t buy in to any more distractions. Focus on the prize, get your mind where it needs to be.

Time for us to throw off the garments that shackle us to the old ways and see the day for what it is. Salvation is at hand. Not someday, not one of these days, not way off in the future… we aren’t living life for “eventually” we are living, planning, and thriving in this world.

It doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle, but now we recognize that we struggle with a purpose. We may lament the shortcomings that surround us, physical restrictions, lower energy levels or declining health, but those things no longer hold us back. They are a part of the “night that is far spent”, the time when Satan appeared to be winning.

We announce his defeat, we revel with Jesus as we proclaim the resurrection. It isn’t some far off in the sky thing that we long for, we instead see that we perched on the cusp of victory.

So we throw off the old, put on the new and move forward with conviction. Our eyes, our focus is what is before us, the new day. With Paul, we are over looking back, we see the new day at hand.

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