Years ago, I was a wholesale meatcutter and a butcher. I stood along a long moving conveyer belt that would bring pieces of meat that each cutter would in turn take off the belt and cut, slice, bone, separated into specific portions. There were twelve of us six on a side doing this beef disassembly line. We would work continuously for two hours, fifteen minutes then another two hours and take a half hour lunch. Time worn meat dance would be repeated in the afternoon. We would continually talk and banter about the latest news of the world and our families, all the while soft music would play in the background to keep from going out of our minds.
As we approached quitting time we would look down the line of pieces of meat and know we had to get the conveyer belt empty before cleaning up. If we would work real hard the boss would just add more big pieces of meat.
One of my fellow butcher workman would, at the appropriate time would say under his breath “Twenty Degrees.” He had his pilot license and he was referring to the attitude of the plane. If you raised the nose of his little Cessna to twenty degrees above level, the plan would ultimately stall and fall out of the sky. It was how we paced ourselves at the meat line became empty at the exact time when the clock said it was time to go home.
As he explained it to me, “In flight the attitude determines your altitude.”
Your attitude determines your behavior.
Your attitudes determine our actions.
John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
I don’t understand that anyone would make a decision on the spur of the moment. It takes me more time than I would admit just to decide on the smallest of things. I refuse to settle for second best. When I have a need for something to at any given moment, I search, research, make comparisons, consider opinions, and make lists of pluses and minuses, I have even resorted to making an Excel spreadsheet to weigh the pros and cons. Lastly in my quest for the best solution, I must ask the question, “Do I really need it?” Many try to fill their lives with perceived treasures. Each new shiny bauble becomes a distraction for a moment. Each new thing tries to fill a hole in their own lives. My friends, there is a minus sign with every plus. Everything I own is another thing that owns me. The full life, the abundant life is not things it is a person: Jesus! Without Him all else is arithmetic.
Of my earliest memories was of a place called Ordside service. It was a corner lot owned by my Uncle Robert and housed a one-stop auto service center. It was a place where you could get the best Chevron gasoline. Three pumps provided the fully leaded Super, Ethel, and Regular. If my memory serves me well the regular was 29 cents a gallon and for Mom, two dollars would be enough to last a couple of weeks. Included in the complex was a car parts dealership serving the entire town of Marina and most of the Military personnel of Fort Ord. There was one of the first fully automatic car washes.
And my dad worked as a mechanic in the auto repair business behind the parts house. There were four giant roll-up doors for three repair bays and one for tires and oil changes.
Back and across the back of this family business was an area for cars that could not be repaired or fixed. High cement block walls went around this area with barbed wire on top. Occasionally a part from one of these cars was used to fix another. It was called the salvage yard.
I was not a church kid. There were 16 cousins in our little town of 1,645. There was a little church about a ¼ of a mile away where I got my first encounter with all the “Church words”. When I heard salvation. I immediately thought about that section of Ordside service. The salvage yard. Salvage, Salvation, it sounded close enough. I figured salvation had to do with finding worth in something that nobody else wanted or needed. Salvation was about going out back and claiming something that was broken and messed up and then using it to fix something else.
My idea of Salvation became an outgrowth of this idea. I was broken and I needed something to fix me from the salvage yard. Salvation was getting worth from something that was very broken. Salvation was making something good out of the worthless.
So when I attended that little church the youth leader told us we needed to be saved. I saw myself as something that was worthless and I had parts that needed to be used for better things.
I guess I was pretty close.
I was sitting in my office this afternoon cleaning out a number of files off of my temporary thumb drive because it was full and I wanted to save some more important files. I can across a picture I had taken a month or so ago. It was of two of the most perfect persons in the whole world. Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not prejudiced just because these two little souls are my grandkids. I caught myself getting a little misty and my analytical side broke in. What is perfection?
One of the oldest definitions is the one from Aristotle:
Perfect is that
- which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
- which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
- which has attained its purpose.
The first of these definitions is a part of the second, but between the second and third there is a giant difference. Something or someone is perfect that could not be better and something that has attained the designed purpose.
I struggle with comparisons. And following Aristotle’s line of logic there is no comparison in perfection. It is not that one is better than the other. A grandson who would rather ride a little car is no less perfect than a granddaughter who prefers a tricycle. Blond long hair is no less perfect than short blond hair. A “I love you pop pop” filled with bravado is no less perfect than a little smile and two pointing fingers directed to the depths of my soul. Both of my grandkids are complete, nothing could be better and reaching their purpose.
What is perfect? Perfection is that which brings a teardrop to the eye.
I think I was nine and it was close to Christmas. Mom and Dad had a very unique way of keeping the suspense for the big day. In the days before Christmas there would never be anything under the tree. Probably my parents didn’t trust us not to peek at the corners of the packages, but anyway no presents until the big morning. I had already figured out there was no big fat man bringing things down the chimney; he always used the door. Well my bedroom that I shared with my two brothers and my sister had a vent that piped warmth from the fireplace in the front room. If held your head just right you could see right through to the living room and the festive green tree with my siblings home made decorations. I had faked my slumber and about mid night or so I watching through the grate and here came Dad pushing a brand new, bright red, fully loaded, and large tired HUFFY bicycle. It was my greatest hope and dream. I could not restrain myself. I ran out of the bedroom with screams of joy. But to my surprise at the door was MOM with a look that could kill. “BACK TO BED, LARRY”. But by then I had wakened my siblings and it was like a jail break.
Well I got my bike. I rode it everywhere. I rode it until the tires had to be replaced. I rode it until the seat became threadbare. It was the best.
The summer of 57 was hot even for Monterey. Mother would send us out about mid-morning to “get the stink blown off” as mother would say. We were to occupy ourselves until either we got hungry or in trouble. These were the day’s before IPad, and video games so off we went. Out to another grand adventure.
My big brother went over to his friend’s house, my little sister was only 4 and not much fun to play with unless I could torture her. So I had to find something to do. I was bored and it was hot. So after much thought, I had a grand idea. I will build my own swimming pool.
Off to the garage to find a shovel. The front yard was just to conspicuous. And Mom would not like me digging a hole in her begonia beds. So around back, out of sight of my mother, I went out back and started to dig a big hole. Well it was big to me. At the age of seven it must have been twenty feet deep, but in reality it could not have been more than a foot or so.
The next step would be to fill it full of water. I pulled the hose around from the front and hooked it up. And started to fill my grandly architected and executed swimming pool. The water that came out was cool and felt good as it splashed up on my bare feet. Soon it was full. I turned off the water and came back to my swimming pool.
I didn’t want to get my pants wet (that was a real no no to Mom) so I pulled off my jeans. I took a number of steps back and started to run toward the inviting pool of water. With each giant running step was filled with anticipation of a cool immersion in that now very muddy puddle.
With wild abandon I leapt toward the self-made invention. With all the energy of that a 7 year old boy could have and with visions of diving boards and no lifeguards I jumped feet first into that opaque pool of mud and water.
That moment has been permanently embedded on my mind all these years. Because in the midst of ecstasy, youthful anticipation, and total abandon, I landed on the shovel I had left in the bottom of the hole. I hit it with the heel of my right foot and split it up to bone.
In an absolute crescendo of pain I yelled and dragged myself out of the hole. Blood gushing everywhere. I still have the scar on my foot.
This is one of the reasons I would suppose that has made me a pragmatist. A person that must see the practical resolutions, the solutions to issues along with my belief. A heart needs hope, faith, belief. The inner soul needs to hold on to something beyond self. It that split second I believed with all my little life in the sweet refreshment of that little pool of water. But this experience taught me that I needed to look before I leap.
Growing up with a father that always seemed greater than life was not always easy. He worked all the time. If he wasn’t at Ordside Service, he would be working on some other car for a neighbor or friend. It was a rare treat to spend time with my dad alone. One special Sunday I was invited to an adventure. We were to go to the Monterey wharf to see one of the last three masted sailing ships still working the coast of California. I could not have been more than 9 or 10. We toured the ship just Dad and I.
It was amazing. Tall masts with furled sails. The hull was made of iron but the rest was all wood and rope. But the tide was going out and we had to disembark. So we watched as the grand old ship pulled all the lines in and set its grand white sails and moved into that arching blue bay.
It was going to San Francisco, its next point of call. That ship was an object of beauty and strength. We stood there until the white sails became nothing more than a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky came down to mingle with one another. Then someone in the crowd said, “Look, she’s gone”!
That day is often brought to memory. My sometimes over shadowing Father, the perfect blue sky, and while sails as they seemed to fall off the edge of the world. But it also brings to mind that exclaimation from the crowd, “Look, she’s gone”. But we must ask, “Gone where?” Gone from my sight, that is all. That grand ship with its large mast and hull was not any less strong or able to cut the waves. That ship was diminished size only because of my perspective. That ship is “gone” because I can not see it any more. In my golden years of retirement I often wonder how I will be remembered when I am “gone”.
In Sunday School this week we had a challenging discussion on the calling of Peter. But we asked why was the call extended to Peter over some more learned and sophisticated individual on the other side of the lake. What was the criteria for calling Peter or for that matter any of the twelve? What is the criteria for a calling today? By consensus it was written upon the white board, “Teachable men willing to change.” OK, I can go along with that but what about the one that got away? What about Judas that allowed him to elude the net by the Greatest Fisher of Men? Jesus during this three year teaching and preaching period cast a wide net, but not all were wrestled into the boat.Only the twelve men in all history have had the intimate, personal relationship to Jesus the incarnate Son of God.Judas along with the other eleven has ever been more exposed to God’s perfect truth.No other has had the crash course in experiential love.They all were exposed in an intimate first hand washing of God’s love, compassion, power, kindness, forgiveness and grace. No group of followers could come close to the very essence of God.Yet through it all Judas escaped the net.In the most indescribably precious, and blessed years the heart of Judas was not softened.Judas defies comprehension.Judas constantly and with persistence of mind rejected the very truth of God in the flesh.And he hid it from everyone around him with skill.The only one to see into the heart of this chosen fisher of men and see the wicked rebellion was Jesus.
And He called him a devil.
Judas did not escape from guilt. Just like the pain we feel as we accidentally burn ourselves. So guilt is an intrinsic and automatic warning of spiritual danger.It was guilt that drove Judas to remorse which in turn led to his death.Do not confuse guilt and remorse with the requisite answer to both.The answer to both is repentance.Repentance is an act of the will. Judas was teachable but he was not willing to change. And in the last moment of his life his willingness not to change condemned him.
Deep in the soul of every person on earth is a longing for something more than self. We try to stuff all sorts of things into our lives in an effort to sooth that longing. But it will not be quieted. it is a little voice that in our quiet times becomes louder and disturbs us.
Entertainments distract us with even louder voices. Things are gathered around us to fill the the gaps in our lives but the voice continues on. I believe this voice is in the heart of every human being and it calls to us to the eternal. It calls us from the material to the spiritual. It speaks to us and makes us dissatisfied with the normal.
It is sad for those who only see God in the big things. When disaster strikes in a land far away there is a national outcry for prayer. But in reality we need to be still and know in all circumstances.
In the heart of everyone is something that is constantly drawing us from the normal to the sublime.
A week ago or so all the churches in our area of Sacramento gathered together. There were Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Nazarene, Assembly of God, Community churches all gathered for a single cause. The cause of just being the Body of Christ. The redeemed met together to celebrate there small voices and together touch more than the usual.
We sang, we prayed, we listened to scripture, we heard a little gifted preaching, but most of all we celebrated the eternal.
We worshiped in unity and in truth. Denominations were set aside for a few moments and in place eternity split open for a moment. A fleeting moment we pulled back the curtain of the tabernacle and looked into the Holy of Holys and were amazed. Like Isaiah in ISAIAH 6:1 In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, high and lifted up.
I have never been one to point fingers. I believe that the effort expended in the pursuit of whom or what was at fault is simply wasted energy. My belief comes from two other mantras which I have accepted; 1) control is a myth, and 2) we are responsible for our own decisions. But we seem to live in a culture that seems to be always looking for an excuse. Things happen to both good people and not so good people. Good things happen and we want to take credit and when the opposite raises its ugly face we want to blame. Blame is easier than understanding the reasons for tragedy and hardship. In the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage our first reaction is to blame someone. It is all those liberal judges, or it is that small group of dissidents that prevailed against my own sense of right and wrong. We end up singing the “woe is me” song or chant “our country is going to hell in a hand basket.” We want to blame someone for our own personal lack of control of those black robed judges in Washington. Our lack of control wants us to blame. Our frustration which comes from the lack of control is vented outward. Yes there is a moral crisis in our country and in our world. And the most followed religion in this world is seemingly unable to slow it down. The counter-forces against the Church seem to be winning. The cannon fire of the opposition seems to be better aimed and more powerful. We are exasperated at our own personal and corporate control of the terrible slide downward. Country singer Paul Overstreet wrote a song about a story in Genesis 26, which contains an important lesson for us. In this song Isaac is renamed Ike. Listen to the lyrics:
Ike had a blessing from the Lord up above,
Gave him a beautiful woman to love,
A place to live, some land to farm,
Two good legs and two good arms.
The Devil came sneaking around one night,
Decided he would do a little evil to Ike.
Figured he hit ole Ike where it hurts so he
Filled up all Ike’s wells with dirt
Ike went out to get his morning drink,
Got a dip full of dirt and his heart did sink
He knew it was the Devil so he said with a grin
God blessed me once, he can do it again
So when the rains don’t fall, and the crops all fail,
And the cow ain’t putting any milk in the pail,
Don’t sit around waiting for a check in the mail,
Just pick up your shovel and dig another well,
Pick up your shovel and dig another well.
Adversity is part of life. For the Christian it just means we should realize God’s blessed and loved people will undergo uncontrollable problems. We can’t control the adversity. And it is not about fault. It is how we react to adversity that counts. Life can be unfair. People and circumstances can hurt you and steal from you, people can make decisions that you don’t agree with, the music may not be to your liking, but how we react is more important than all these things. It is a personal decision to pick up your shovel and dig another well; because God blessed me once, he can do it again. It is more than just smiling and setting your jaw to keep on keeping on. There is an expectation, a faith that God will be vindicated. In the end there is hope. Because God is still in the blessing business.