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.”
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.
Every time I open my hands and look at the grooves and line in my own hands, I see my father. I have big hands: the hands of German English heritage. Just like my father’s hands, the digits are not well suited to playing the piano or sometimes even typing. There are few images in my mind of my father which are stronger than the sight of his hands. My father’s hands were huge, but the most remarkable characteristic was the rough callousness of them. My dad was a mechanic in the days before computers and smog control devices. Being a mechanic meant you were tough, greasy, tolerant, and patient. Those great big hands that would reach out to me to come and give him a hug seemed so coarse. Years of working with hot engines, sharp tools, and caustic chemicals made them that way. I remember dad when mom was in the hospital for a three day visit and trying to fix the kids something to eat, reaching out for a hot black iron frying pan from the electric stove top. He had picked it up to take it to the table and he had gone five steps before he realized it was burning hot. His hands were so desensitized to heat it took that long to set off the warning bells in his head. With one giant throw the pan and our dinner went into the sink splattering oil and our food all over the wall. I guess the reason I remember my father’s hands so well is because as he suffered from the ravages of Alzheimer’s and the rest of his world shrank his hands were still the most remarkable thing to see. They bore the unmistakable signs of hard work. Those thick, strong and rough hands had not shrunk with the rest of his body. Those hands that had gripped steel, plunged thousands of times into gasoline and oil, and pulled chains. Those hands hung from his arms from still thick wrists that stretched any watch band he had ever known. They were not the hands that should be idle in his last days. They shook and were increasingly awkward when he tried to wipe the drool off his own proud chin.
TWO GREAT HANDS My Father was a man with two great hands, The skin was rough as it could be. Work was his life with its pulls and commands, But he always made time for me.
Sleep and rest were not part of his clock, There was always someone else in need. Never did he stop, even when he could drop, For there were many mouths at home to feed.
His bones were often tired and painfully uncured, His hands often bandaged and red. But a promise was a promise, and his bond was his word, And everyone believed what he said.
He was my dad, and constant each day. It amazed me how he could be ever so strong, In his life, in his convictions and in his way. In my eyes he would never do wrong.
Consistent in actions and strong were his words, All were made better for walking with this man. My hands are not as rough, or nearly as tough, But my inheritance was his gentleness of his hand.
My Dad was a man with two working hands, Until his life did stop with a beat. Oh how I miss him, his hands and loving gentle soul, But these hands I have will ever remind and keep.
Back in the day I was a enthusiast for dirt track racing. Each Friday night I would accompany my Father-in-Law up to Chico’s dirt track and on Saturday it was Anderson. We had worked all week to get the well bruised car running again and fix all that was broken. Each race would start with the announcer proclaiming, “Here they come two by two just like ducks to water.”
Wouldn’t it be great if there were no disagreements in the church? Wouldn’t it be great if we all just marched along two by two like ducks go to water? The other day I over heard someone say there was a scriptural mandate for getting along. They were saying we should all agree in the church with a quote from Amos 3:3. They were saying there is no place of disagreement in Body of Christ.
I want express my disagreement with that philosophy. There will always be disagreements in any organization that includes people. A former pastor of mine used to say, “To dwell up above with the saints we love, that will be glory. But to dwell here below with the saints we know, well that is a different story.”
Amos was not saying that two people have to agree on the same thing all the time. The scripture is not even about man and man. It is about God and man.
Let me add a number of translations of Amos 3:3
How can two walk together, except they be agreed? (King James Version & New King James Version)
Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment? (Revised Standard Version & New Revised Standard Version)
Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? (New Living Translation)
Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment? (New American Standard)
Do two people start traveling together without arranging to meet? (Good News Translation
Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (New International Version)
This is but one of many rhetorical questions in Amos. This question was asked to bring about conviction to the Israelites who were hearing the same thing from all the prophets. Amos asked them this question as a wake-up call for them to realize that all of God’s prophets were unanimous in prophesying the same thing against them because they had all received the same message from God.
The people were turning a deaf ear to ALL the prophets. Amos tried to convince them that the combined prophecy from these men were inspired by God’s Spirit. That’s why they could prophesy the truth. The two of them (Amos, the prophet) and (God, the giver of the prophecy) were indeed walking together. There is nothing wrong with two people walking together. There is nothing wrong with two people agreeing with each other. However, know that the original meaning of the scripture was about God and man; not two humans. From now on, let’s be aware that “the two” are not you and someone else. It should be you and God. God and man cannot walk together, except they are agreed.
God and man must be clear about the same direction.
God and man must make an appointment to meet at the same place.
God and man cannot walk together if man is walking contrary to God.
You won’t feel God’s presence unless the two of you are walking in the same direction at the same time.
By the way it does help that you are going in the same direction: your spouse, your boss, your parents or your Pastor. But remember God MUST be walking with you as well. Seek God’s glory and include Him in your walks. If one is out of step, guess which one it is?