Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaplings And Non-Leaplings

A full year consists of 365 days and 6 hours.

Every four years the Gregorian calendar gains an entire day (6 hrs. x 4 years = 24 hrs).

Every four years we synchronize our calendar by adding an extra day in February.

Adding that extra day gives us leap year.

Those born on a February 29 date are called leaplings.

If you were born -- say in 1980 -- theoretically you have only celebrated 4 birthdays, you are only seven years old, you appear on planet earth only 25 times a century, and in order to join the elite and exclusive Leapling Octogenarian Club you will have to live among us non-Leaplings for 4-hundred years!

The Trap Is Broken -- We Are Free!

We escaped like a bird from a hunter's trap. The trap is broken, and we are free. Psalm 124:7

The whole world is under the sway of the wicked one. John's epistle

Seven years ago we lived in Massachusetts before moving to Georgia. Our cozy home there with the big front porch and shaded by massive black walnut trees was built in 1911. Beside the house -- erected on a stone foundation -- stood a two-story carriage house. Inside it were the stalls that once housed the horses that powered the carriages. Of all the houses we have lived in the one on East Main street was the most romantic and our favorite. Also, it sat on almost 2 acres that backed up to a protected wooded area. Our entire family made use of that oasis of trees. Justin, Josh, and their boyhood friends camped in those woods year round. Sandy and I took many a stroll hand-in-hand under the shaded canopy. Often I retreated to the woodland to soak-in the sounds of nature.

Back then my decompression time also consisted of building bird pens -- big bird pens -- ones big enough so my collection of game birds could fly. Pairs of golden pheasants, chukkas, ring-necked pheasants, and other fowl lived in some pretty impressive digs. Behind the carriage house I built a small chicken coop that housed Japanese round heads, Rhode Island reds, Rocks and other egg producers. A fighting gamecock stood as enforcer of the entire domicile. Feeding birds, seeing the chickens scratch out a living, gathering eggs, and watching the handsome rooster (Meg named him Kellogg) establish order in the kingdom of Cock-a-doodle-do was relaxing and provided an enjoyable hobby.

Reality . . . my birds were trapped.

One night a varmint of some kind burrowed under the chicken wire. Kellogg didn't give up his ground without a fight. The field of battle was strewn with signs of the struggle. Justin found Kellogg dead, and Molly, (Meg named her, too) the little, Japanese round-head badly mauled. I built her a separate shelter (chickens will kill another bird if it is bleeding) and nursed her back to health. Paradise lost.

After Kellogg was killed defending Miss Molly and his other ladies I never felt right about keeping my birds in captivity -- especially the game birds -- they belonged in the wild.

I opened the cages. I set them free.

Every human being escapes his or her mother's womb only to emerge into the trap or cage of this world -- a world under the sway of a sinister master. The deadliest trap is our own sin nature, and throughout life we forge thicker prison bars and strengthen the shackles by our own deeds. Some inmates are in the fortunate position of making their cell a pretty snazzy place -- a glance across the landscape suggests most people are free. It is a mirage -- they are not free. Closer scrutiny convincingly proves that they have no adequate defense or place to hide. Not even the fineries of this life can disguise the mauling and wounding the prowling lion has inflicted on them.

Christ loathed our captor. Our bondage brought him to tears. Loving concern sympathized with our plight. He came to break the trap. He broke the trap. He set us free!

Fly!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Short Handed

Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Galatia and ended it this way, See how large a letter I have written with my own hand. (chapter 6)

Most scholars believe that Paul's unusual closure to his letter indicates that he had some kind of health problem (perhaps really bad eyesight -- a result of his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus -- he was temporarily struck blind).

My doctor tells me I see reasonably well for one so aged. Unfortunately I am unable to find enough time to sit and write about the many things I want to pass along to my friends.

So . . . for now I close with these words . . .

See how short a letter I have written with my own hand!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Warm And Fuzzy Center Beam

Hopefully Paul Frazier will send along some pictures that captured our acrobatic act trying to get the center beam erected across the lengthy span of the building. I told you before that we had a Venezuelan contractor and his son involved in the project -- enter Murphy's law -- the contractor did not show up for the most crucial piece of construction. Around 10 in the morning Paul called him to see what was up. As it turned out he had celebrated his birthday the night before and had eaten some bad "cake" and was too sick to come to work . . . riiight!

The proverbial "monkey wrench" was thrown into the works. We would have to get the beam in place without the staging the maestro was supposed to supply. There were no chain falls or any thing else to provide leverage to hoist the spine of the entire top floor into place.

The mystery of the building of the pyramids in Egypt immediately came to mind . . . how did they do it . . . how would we put the capstone on our pyramid?

One of our team members, Damon, owns a construction company in Columbus -- he builds banks. He and I put our heads together and came up with a plan (I know how to improvise, but you would not want me to build your house . . . ask my friend Harvey . . . long story). Thing is one part of the plan was unavoidably dangerous. One guy would be needed to spot weld the gable end, and the other guy would have to be precariously perched on the tip top of the one section of staging we had. I volunteered for the tip-top spot -- actually I insisted. I have lived a long and eventful life, I was the oldest, and I was in charge.

I know what you are thinking -- what a guy!

Once we got Damon's end in place we had to lift the beam the last few inches to set it on top of the 4 inch wide support column -- which now looked the breadth of a toothpick. Once we got it to that point we would have to steady it there while the final end was set in place and spot welded! One of the sherpas -- sherpas being one of the young guys who were part of the team -- joined me for that final push. He is a hoss'.

We got it in place -- held it -- tacked it!

Paul who had been watching the whole process told us, "Of the 51 construction teams I have had -- putting that center beam in place is the most dangerous maneuver I have ever seen. But I wasn't worried -- youns' are expendable!" Did I tell you that Paul is not the warm and fuzzy type?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Paul And Sue Frazier

Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then. So give me the hill country that the LORD promised me. Joshua 14:10-12

At the airport we piled our suitcases into a "bus" that had worn out about 10 years ago and began chugging through the mountain pass. Top speed -- 35 mph -- down hill -- no kidding.

Let me introduce you to Paul. To whom would I compare Paul? Let's see . . . I can't. He's an original. I can also tell you that the streets of the second most dangerous city in the world for Americans are safe compared to his driving. After the old bus got us to the church Paul loaded us into the cap-less back of his pick-up truck to deliver us to different homes. Listen to me -- I thrive on risk, danger, adventure, and pursuing the unknown. I am hardly a shrinking violet, but I have never taken such a perilous ride in a moving vehicle of any kind (have I told you that I have hit 57 mph on my bicycle, shot class 4 rapids in my kayak, and been in a head on collision?).

On the ride to our resting places I began to envision people dressed in black, daubing tears from their cheeks, and quietly thinking "My O my, the undertaker did a good job. If it weren't for their missing limbs they would look like they were sleeping," and then we were skidded into the long black station wagon for the short ride from the funeral home to Boot Hill -- our final resting place.

Paul ran 12 red lights and never once yielded to oncoming traffic and made sudden herky-jerky stops and turns without warning. Caracas streets are filled with potholes and debris, and clogged with traffic and people all hours of the day -- it mattered not. Every so often Paul would crane his neck -- looking backward -- as the vehicle headed forward, and ask "How are youns' doing?"

I would have thought our ashen faces and the puddles around our feet would have given him a clue. After a while I decided it was better to just put my head down and breath the prayer, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!"

Here is the rest of the story . . .

For the last 17 years Paul and Sue have organized mission teams to advance Christ's kingdom in South America. Fifty-one initiatives have been directly overseen by this couple. They helped plant and construct the largest protestant church in Venezuela. That church has started 12 others, and Paul and Sue have been directly involved in planting and constructing those 12 churches. One of the churches is in the jungle (I will be taking a team there next year -- want to join us?)

They raise no support. Instead, Paul returns to the U.S. for several months each year to do construction in order to provide the finances he and his wife will need. Paul and Sue recently purchased a home for $3,500. in the most dangerous section of Maturin. Each night they lay their head on the pillow with the most dangerous of the dangerous just outside their steel barred windows. On numerous occasions they have been held-up at gunpoint, mugged, and had everything stolen.

They laugh when they tell the stories.

Paul and Sue come from extremely difficult backgrounds. At thirteen Paul was accidentally shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun and lost one eye. Later in life God saved him in the midst of an alcoholic stupor. Once sober his life took an immediate -- 180 degree about face. Sue's younger days were filled with abuse and heartbreak. Their lives are worthy of a memoir.

Paul and Sue -- a couple in their golden years -- represent the standard I want to pursue . . . Give me the hill country that the LORD promised me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Aside From Venezuela

Six of us got together this morning to talk -- it had been a while. At the root of all our conversation is the God of the the Scriptures -- but we are not a bible study group -- just some guys that have banded together in the journey.

One of the "gang" is quick to hear and slow to speak, yet every time we gather I take away something of significance he has spoken. This morning his impact began with what he gave me. Before we huddled he handed me a coffee cup (one significantly more manly than the plethora of flowered ones his wife has stacked the cabinets with -- geesh!). Circling the face of the cup were the following pledges . . .

Risk more than others think is safe

Care more than others think is wise

Dream more than others think is practical

Expect more than others think is possible

As others talked I remained quiet for a while and continued giving consideration to each line etched in the cup. I began to think about how truly polarized each word is from the other -- risk and safe, care and wise, dream and practical, expect and possible.

In between each couplet are the words others and think -- What others think about us plays a big role in our life.

Suddenly it struck me. Each phrase -- meant to be poetic inspiration -- also contained a somber reality. Pursuing those worthy axioms also carry with them the prospects of a lonely life -- a life few others will pursue with you.

No wonder so many people choose the safe, wise, practical, and possible. What would others think if we did otherwise?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Venezuelan Chainsaw

Paul Frazier (I will tell you more about him in another post) introduced me to South American technology -- the Venezuelan chainsaw! Let me set the stage . . .

Our construction goal was to erect a steel framed -- second level on the church. Once we got the frame up it became obvious that one of the trees was leaning into the roof and wall and the top of another was too close to the building. Caracas is in a bowl surrounded by mountains, so there is always a wind or breeze -- the trees would pose a hazard. Paul walked up to me and said, "Let's see what kind of physical shape you are in. One of those trees needs to come down and the other one needs to be pruned back a bunch."

I told him I was in supreme shape and that if he would give me a chainsaw I would have the job done in minutes.

Paul asked, "Have you ever used a Venezuelan chainsaw?"

I took the bait. "I have used a chainsaw plenty of times -- Stihl, Polan, etc. you name it. Just give it to me, and I'll show you how to take a tree down."

With a sly grin he said, "Just a minute. I'll go get it."

He returned with a machete!

"It will need to be sharpened. Do you know how to sharpen a machete? See that rock over there -- by the gate -- that's the stone you use."

Rather than embarrass myself any further let's just say that Paul had to sharpen the machete.

Question? Have you ever tried to bring down a tree 10 inches in diameter with a machete? After 5 of us hacked away for about 5 hours we got the tree down and limbed and the other tree pruned.

Nothing to it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Caracas

Hugo Chavez has a tight hold on Venezuela and is hell-bent on squashing any and all who would resist his dictatorial desire to reign supreme and move the country to pure Socialism. I had the opportunity to stand at a safe distance and listen (with an interpreter) to a pro-Chavez propaganda rally. Politically he is a Populist and is manipulating the country's poorest citizens for his own gains by constructing a litany of handouts to win favor. The country is almost evenly divided into two groups. One groups sees him as a type of Robin Hood -- the other group see him simply as a hood.

The purpose of explaining the situation there is not to expound a "political" position, but instead, to give some texture to the context in which the churches are struggling. Here in the U.S. there is an old adage that says -- As the church goes so goes the Nation. But in Venezuela the adage is reversed -- As the Nation goes so goes the church. Political tension is finding its way into the church through many first generation believers. Factious politics threaten to grab the spotlight, and dim the gospel's Light. In many instances the wolves of divisiveness are crouched at the door and ready to pounce. The destruction of Faith Communities is only one misspoken word away. A great spiritual harvest is taking place in Venezuela, yet nothing can kill the work of the Spirit of God like division.

Please pray for the believers there, and pray for the pastors who are trying to follow God's lead in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances.

On a lighter note . . . In the next post I will introduce you to the Venezuelan chainsaw!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Back From Venezuela!

Not a soul was lost (there were several near misses)! Not one person got sick! Not one injury! All construction goals were met! Team chemistry exceeded expectations! Spiritually -- we received much more than we could ever give! The Venezuelans welcomed us with open arms, honored us every way they could, and listened intently and enthusiastically as I preached through an interpreter -- twice. Many of us choked back tears when it was time to say good-bye.

Caracas is a chaotic and dangerous place. Every night gunshots rang out just beyond the steel barred windows where we slept. Streets jammed full of people and automobiles darted and weaved like bats chasing insects. Not a single place or moment offered quiet or solitude.

South America is one of the hundreds of places God has prepared to receive spiritual adventurers from North American churches. Fledgling churches are clawing for every inch of ground to establish a beachhead for advancing Christ's kingdom. Now more than ever Faith Communities are responding to a Spirit driven movement to adopt aggressive plans to deploy to hot spots globally.

With each passing moment thousands of people are discovering they have been through enough bible studies and listened to enough sermons -- now it's time to put feet to their faith. Yes, they could go across the street, but that is not where their heart is. Quite simply -- they want to go where they can make a measurable difference.

For a while I will post about our mission in Caracas. Please excuse my typos and poor grammar -- I am so far behind I think I am in first place!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sherpas

Tomorrow our team of nine men leave for Venezuela. If everything goes as planned we will touch down in Caracas around 10:30 PM. Once there, our purpose is to help a small community of believers who have gathered for more than twenty-seven years. For the first time in their history they have a building, and they are transforming a sliver of land with a dilapidated building (that formally served as a front for dealing drugs) into a place of worship. We are the first mission team to come to their aid. I was there in October, and you would be amazed and humbled at the progress they have made in removing partitions and creating a quaint sanctuary. Because they are on the outskirts of Caracas their attendance fluctuates considerably. The congregation walks to church and weather is a significant factor.

Thankfully, three of the men on the team are in their twenties -- I call them my sherpas (Sherpas lead expeditions to the summit of Everest). These young men have wise old souls when it come to missions -- they are well-traveled. One of them has circled the globe -- alone! Every Monday -- they, along with ten others -- gather at our home for a Bible study. They are like extended family to Sandy and me! The sherpas and I have the job of hoisting the terracotta blocks to the second story. From there the rest of our team will lay down re-bar, erect steel, and start stacking block. Bringing our gifts and energy to such needy places gives us a sense of purpose like nothing else. We are grateful for the privilege to lavish tangible expressions of Christ's love all over the world.

Have you ever done a short-term mission? Getting outside the borders of the United States is an eye-opening and often life changing experience. It has been said a thousand times before, but . . . If every believer would take one trip to a country where people are truly hungry for a knowledge of God you could make the difference in their lives.

P.S.

Several unexpected health concerns have come up with regard to two of our children (young adults). From one perspective this trip could not have come at a worse time, but Sandy and I have long since learned that not everything goes as planned, but everything goes as planned!

Signing off for a while,

Bill


Monday, February 4, 2008

300 Seconds

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: "Don't think for a moment that because you're in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

Part of Emerson's reputation and legacy is that of a man who sometimes offered poetry and philosophy that he alone could understand or appreciate. Case in point -- My wife had a class in American Literature in which her professor told the students regarding some of Emerson's works -- Don't worry I am not going to test you over this bit of Emerson's writing -- I don't understand it either!

However, this quote of Emerson's would not fall into that category of the nebulous and idiosyncratic. Instead he succinctly and brilliantly provides (though probably not intentionally) a biblical definition of bravery. Believers in particular would probably attest that the greatest moments in their life -- and moments that impacted the lives of others -- were determined by the choice to be brave (Christ-like) five minutes longer.

Bravery is extraordinarily rare.

The Old Testament Scripture cited captures an instance when a woman named Esther had to make the choice -- "Will I be ordinary, or will I remain brave for five minutes longer?" She had options. She could choose to keep silent, refuse to get involved, avoid the heat, or convince herself "deliverance and relief . . . will arise from some other place."

Look how Mordecai posed a question to Esther that focused her on the moment. "Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?" In essence he says, "Esther if you will be brave for five more minutes you will forever settle my question "Who knows. . . if this is Esther's moment?"

Esther stayed brave in the moment.

Esther spoke to the moment.

Esther learned -- it was her moment (not someone else's).

Esther's story is timely for our moments.

Moments that most profoundly shape our lives -- and the lives of others -- will come down to whether or not we will be brave 300 seconds longer.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl

The countdown to the Super Bowl tells Sandy and I we are a little more than thirty minutes away from kick-off. Down here in Dixie there are not a lot of Patriot fans, or Giant fans for the matter (Giants? who could blame em'). Do you think it will be close? Giants? Patriots?

In the meantime . . .

Enjoying The Adventure now has over 500 posts logged. My first one was December 27, 2004. When I began I wasn't sure how it would go, or if I would stick with it. Starting out I also wondered if I had anything worth saying, but others get to make that judgment.

Thinking I needed to divide my writing into two streams -- I added another link titled Devotions For The Adventure, and wrote 104 posts. A few months later I decided the streams should converge again because my view from the deck told me they were one in the same -- Adventure requires Devotion -- Devotion requires Adventure. Flowing together they have produced over fifty-thousand downloads -- a pleasant surprise.

Have you considered putting some of your own words on paper? Try it, and see what happens -- there may be a writer in you trying to get out!

The coin toss is next . . . Giants won the toss, and they will receive. It is half time and the Pats hold a slim lead over the New Yorkers. Get ready for the the ad blitz! It is late in the game and the Giants have a 3 point lead.

The Patriots lead!

The Giants lead!

Giants ruin the Patriots perfect season

Richard . . . You get braggin' rights this year!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Superbowl -- Richard?

Tomorrow will bring us the duel in the desert. The gunslingers have been back-to-back, and now it is time to take the ten paces, turn, and fire. When the smoke clears, the NY Giants will be writhing on the ground. Tom Brady and his posse will wing their way back to New England -- Lombardi Trophy in hand.

Yes, yes, there will be the pathetic excuses that Belichick, oft referred to as Belicheat, cheated. What’s that? O, you didn't know about Spygate? Well let me tell you! Bill Belichick videotaped the opponent’s defensive signals. Something unheard of in the NFL and sports in general (wink, wink). Yessiree! In the first half of the first game of the season the infamous camera was confiscated -- they had the smoking gun. Yesterday Senator Arlen Spector wanted those tapes subpoenaed! Unfortunately the NFL Commish already destroyed them. Nixonian indeed.

Belichick’s Spygate is right up there with the dirty little secret of stealing signs in baseball. Did you know they did that? In case no one has ever told you, that’s why the base coaches go through all those quirky gyrations -- they are disguising their signals. They think someone might try to steal their signs. It would be awful if a pitcher knew a base runner was going to steal, or a batter was going to lay down a bunt. Did you ever notice how the catcher often walks to the mound when a runner is on second base? Why? He changes the pitch sequence signals so that the runner on second can’t steal the catcher’s signal. Believe it or not, that runner would let his hitter know what pitch is coming!

Such ill-gotten gain! How scandalous!

Then there is my friend Richard--a man of impeccable integrity. I would trust him with my last penny, and most precious possessions (he looks a little bit like Mitt Romney). But I must tell you that he is possibly the worst sports prognosticator on planet earth, and tomorrow at church I will get the Blah, blah, blah, the Giants are going to win . . . They are the team of destiny . . . It will be the Manning brothers, back-to-back Superbowl Champions. On and on it will go. Keith will jump in and jump on the Giant bandwagon (it has already started). I affectionately call them Pete and Repete.

Richard and Keith are leaving for the Rockies next week (I was supposed to go with them. I am not -- long story. Possibly a conspiracy). Maybe they will have a chance to visit Coor’s field -- that memorable ballpark -- where the Red Sox swept the Rookies.

Richard, the Celtics have the best record in the NBA. Would you like to talk?

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Natural World

When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~ Wendell Berry

I have a friend in Maine who sends me his musings once a week in an e-mail. When I opened this week's transmission it began with Wendell Berry's quote -- I read it -- and read no further. It resonated. Despair is no stranger to my world either. Berry's honesty and elegance caused a stirring I cannot define. What I speak of is not navel gazing, or being overly introspective; it is just that the writing of a bard like Wendell Berry or John Muir or Henry David Thoreau or the biblical king, David, burrows into me like an oil drill, and opens a vein that is always a gusher. My soul releases information I wasn't even searching for.

Many times I have pondered why it is that panoramic nature scenes or prose like Berry's take me deep spiritually. God uses such vicarious visits or an actual stay in the natural world to act like a poultice that draws out stress. Time and time again I have asked God, What else is inside me that retreating to Your created world is trying to reconcile?

I write about these conflicts because I have to write. Sometimes -- or so I am told -- my confessions are a little too candid. Those opinions are given little merit or value because I know I also write for others. Specific names and faces rarely come to mind as I journal, but I know there is a fraternity of sojourners who are moved by decent yet uncensored expressions.
A phrase or line brings a wrinkle to the brow and evokes the silent response, Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean . . . me, too.