"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Blameless?

FOR THOSE who believe God hears us, and we can hear God... know that it has long been so!


Go With God Into Future Days!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Violence or Peace?

IN LIGHT of recent events, please be invited to view this message...


May Your Days Unfold With The Prince of Peace!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sifting the Ashes



WHEN RUMMAGING with a friend through a box of junk at a fire company car show last summer, my buddy came across a memory keepsake from long ago. It was a sailing ship hood ornament, like the one that once perched on the nose of a favorite friend’s car. At the time, the symbol reminded me that friends, cars and fire trucks mix, blended together in memory like ashes and water. I remember that this is a particular truth proved out during a mid-week reunion ride for my friend back in ‘61.
 The vehicle my friend Mike rode in during that long ago night was driven through his hometown by another friend. Mike was seated in the passenger side of a faded, old black, 1940 4-door Plymouth sedan.
 In that old car, the headliner was torn. The inside floorboard was littered by empty Coca-Cola bottles and a few crushed Winston cigarette packs. Worn with high mileage, the Plymouth had a flathead six-cylinder that smoked a little. It was definitely not a hotrod engine. However, the old six managed enough speed at one time to make the dirty, old sedan suffer a few dents. Because of those dents, Mike’s buddy had purchased the high mileage sedan cheaply using cash money he’d saved from working a paper route. He bought it outright… an old police car.

 Though motoring through town in that near junk, Mike was glad to be home on leave from his military service. That night, he was to thoroughly enjoy a reunion with friends. He felt that he needed those moments. His mind was bothered considerably as he got ready to head toward his next air base assignment.
 You see, after enduring a year’s worth of technical school in Mississippi, Mike had come home to find that his friend had gotten a driver’s license. Several years younger than Mike, Harvey had been quite busy while he was away. In Mike’s absence he’d managed to quit high school, dated Mike’s sister… and had also tried to enlist in the Army. He'd gotten a job at the local steel mill, which raised his spirits high.
 Thankfully, he failed at only two of those three things. Mike’s sister strictly thought of him as a brother, so they quit dating. He also found that he couldn’t serve in the Army because of a previously unknown physical malady. This last was soon revealed as providential, in that many Army troops were about to go into Cambodia and Viet Nam. Still.., Harvey was disappointed about not being allowed to enlist. So it was on that night so long ago, Harvey pointed the Plymouth’s sailing ship hood ornament westward along Main St. The road routed parallel to a wide creek that flowed through town. He slowed to about 30 mph as they approached the “S” curve at the entrance of the residential area. Then, rolling ahead just beneath the speed limit, he said to Mike, “Look high up in the trees as we go uptown.”
 Mike leaned forward and watched intently upward as they motored on. My friend told me that he’d thought to see an owl or raccoon in the trees. He was aided to some extent by a dent in the top surface of the car’s right front fender. The dent caused one headlight to shine up in the air like a beacon.
 After a moment or two, Harvey quietly shifted down to second. The old Plymouth contained a rather primitive Mopar combination… both a clutch and fluid coupling. The unit allowed the shift to happen while staying real quiet… even without tromping on the clutch pedal. The engine chugged the car forward slowly. The old six hardly clicked.
 Suddenly there he was! Revealed above in the darkness by the elevated headlight beam was the local constable. He sat high in a maple tree with his stop watch in hand. The local law enforcer, he was clocking cars in a speed trap.
 The two young men rolled a block farther up the road, and saw a deputy parked in the old mill’s lot. Had they been speeding, using his Boy Scout flashlight the constable in the tree would have signaled his deputy to stop the Plymouth. They would have gotten a speeding ticket. The trap, you see, was a set up that would have made any character on Andy Griffin’s “Mayberry” television show very proud. As it was, the deputy only stopped them and inquired about the headlight aiming. He instructed Harvey to get it fixed.


 Now, some reading this may wonder how it was that a Boy Scout flashlight was so noticeable. Well, Mike explain that. You see, Mike remembers that Army green flashlight. It had a 90 degree bend lens design and had been setting on the desk in the constable’s office during November several years earlier. The light just sat there as a stoic witness when in answer to some parental maneuvering, that very same constable urged us all into the military. The sentence was punishment given to us for Halloween mischief that we’d done.
 Mike snickers now, though that constable has long since died and his deputy has passed on into death. Mike fondly remembers that event with nostalgic humor. In my mind’s eye I enjoyed my hearing of the story. I am reminded of it every time I see an Army green, angle-headed flashlight.
 However, pitch black was the theme for that particular night. There was no moon shining, and the small town had very few street lights. The upturned headlight beam of that faded black Plymouth eventually guided the car erratically to a dim firehouse parking lot. There, waiting for them… was the warmth of a grand reunion.


 On that night, Harvey got out of the Plymouth wearing Mike’s old black leather motorcycle jacket. Mike had given the weighty treasure to him when he went into the service. It had zippers on the pockets, zippers on the sleeves, and several zippers inside. I find it a bit odd that during that era, though we had many pockets in black leather coats, our cigarette packs were kept nestled in upturned, white T-shirt sleeves. But that was the way of things. These were dictated as required just to be part of the group. It was the same look that Elvis Presley had when he toured. The only problem for Harvey was that he had red hair. Even when slicked down and adorned with sideburns, his hair color spoiled any “bad boy” effect.
 Black was the appropriate color. You see, of the five cars that had already parked in the lot… almost all of them were black. Quite different from Harvey’s raggedy Plymouth, all were shiny, undented and lowered. All had custom wheels. Wilson had hustled to the meeting in a black ’47 Plymouth coupe complete with spinner hubcaps. It ran a trick multi-carbed six-cylinder engine that barked loudly through home-made headers. That car blew off many small-block V-8s.
 Phillips drove in a black ’49 Oldsmobile two-door coupe. The Olds harbored an overhead valve-equipped V-8 that would smoke the car’s rear wheels through a four-speed, cast iron HydraMatic transmission.

 Our oddball artist, Stotsie… was indeed unique. Though an avid motorcycle fanatic in preference, he motored around on four wheels in a beautiful almost-black ‘48 Ford. As a club, they had let him float as acceptable in a dark blue convertible, because he was a master at pin-striping.
 At the time, Mike offered up a description of a black Mercury that he’d sold down south before coming home on leave. He had to relinquish the car to another serviceman before leaving the base in Mississippi, because on service pay he was unable to afford an engine rebuild.
 As they talked on that glorious night, the choicest ride in the stable sat at the end of the line. Most would occasionally gaze jealously at Bobby’s newer vintage black ’57 Ford convertible. A guy older than the rest, Bobby had worked at nearby Greenwood Dairy. He could afford car payments. The beauty sat morose and dark in the dim light, hiding beneath a black ragtop rather than white. The hood hid a stormy, four-barrel equipped, V-8 engine. Mike said the engine could snort warnings to all in town through side lake-pipes. Ticking noises came from beneath its hood while parked. The car sat there relaxed and cooling.

 The guys leaned back leisurely against the fenders and sides of the old Plymouth, since scratches from jacket zippers and jeans rivets couldn’t make the finish on the old car any worse. They talked for about an hour. They told hunting tales about John and Jack. The two mentioned were missing from the group. John was gone forever. He had died in an accident during Mike’s absence, so they avoided talking about him at all. Jack was in the military service with Mike. He was the best pheasant hunter of the gang and was serving with the Air Force. The group talked about Jack’s shotgun collection, fast cars, recent house fires, and girls… until it was time to go to church.
 No, I’m not kidding! They all went to church. However, before you graciously give them too much credit, consider that the best youth group in town met in the Episcopal recreation room on Main Street. That’s where community dances were held, and that’s where many girls went to worship on Ash Wednesday. So those slightly nefarious young men cleaned two-cent redemption soda bottles from the floor of that dirty black Plymouth and loaded up for church.

 Now there are some artists who believe that many symbols that we see, work themselves out later in our lives. Today, as a minister, I think about that sailing ship hood ornament riding on the hood of that black, dented old car. Floating casually and somewhat mindlessly to church in certain sin… the boys were dressed rightly for Ash Wednesday in black jackets and heavy black engineer boots. While still sinfully lounging together in church beneath a few candles, they were called to rise quietly and head to the altar. Indeed, everyone was invited to go forward to get a sign of ashes for human sin on their foreheads.
 In order to fit in, Mike got up from his seat. As he went forward, he was joined by his girlfriend. Brenda went up the aisle with him. Mike had danced with her while they were still in high school. I remember hearing several years later that she’d gotten arrested in the ‘60s, while attending an anti-war demonstration in D.C. However, back then as they knelt at the altar together, she demurely held Mike’s hand as Father John put ashes on their faces. The ashes represented their mortality… and stated human sinfulness.
 Since all were Christians gathered, a sign was placed on all their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Father John spoke a stark reminder as he rubbed hard so the black ash would stick. He said, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
 Sadly, those words spoken bounced too lightly upon their young minds. The ashes of repentance and the waters of baptism were not yet mixed by wisdom. However, with the rust of age… those words clearly spoken now rattle our brains. As a minister today, I recall repeating them every year to both young and old.

 Almost all of those car club friends from long ago have now since died. Mike and I lost contact, and have only recently heard from each other. This year I wait with ashes ready… mourning like old man Job as described in the Old Testament. I too shall sit in ashes reminded of the deaths.
 Consequently, I am reminded also of other Christians who have died before us, and those yet dying now for the faith. You see, at Ash Wednesday, we are called to consider the futility of our sinful lives as we try to live outside of our Lord’s forgiveness. That’s why imagining a constable sitting up in a tree looms large for me. I realize now that he was a sign shining in the darkness falling upon the road of life. He sat watching over the town. Somewhat like our Lord Jesus who died on a wooden cross… a tree of sorts... that town constable had also deliberately climbed that maple. From there he could clearly see human sin... the sins that we often commit in trying to go faster, farther, longer, higher in trying to willfully, progressively recreate the world. We steal credit from God without mentioning grace… and take undue credit for that which is already created.
 Take note that just as that village lawman enforced the law, our God yet watches from on high. God gave us his Commandments. They condemn us so thoroughly, that he sent his own Son into the world to save us. We need now only to learn to stand against Satan. It is the evil one who still offends our God, by attempting to hide the fact that Jesus paid our penalty. Gracefully through the Holy Spirit, however, Jesus shines his Light upon all of us. The Spirit reveals to us our salvation. All this, so we can motor safely on into his future.

 I believe that is truly what Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are all about. We are meant to remember past times and the darkness of our human sin… and recognize such signs as the light from a dented fender that may point upward toward the Way of salvation. The Truth be known… we are most certainly indebted to a man on a cross who was and yet is fully God, and willingly died for us as we sinfully crucified him on a tree.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Manifold Expectations!


DRIVING FORWARD in this world as a Christian, with one set of wheels rolling in the automotive industry and the others moving forward in ministry… has given me a peculiar task. My job is to express the faith put within me by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a tough road! The scriptures however, in typical fashion… clearly show the way forward.

 You see, my Lord Jesus taught us how to speak as Christians. The writings in scripture that we know as “parables”, told us how God’s only Begotten Son used everyday objects to explain God’s eternal love. Using the common things of the earth, he pointed beyond our lives so that others could get a glimpse of the kingdom. So it is that I shall try to write theologically on what I know about engines.
 You see, powerful, clean and economical engines run in today’s vehicles offer a closely-controlled threefold combination of fuel, fire, and force. However, if the proper proportions of the first two of these elements fall into error, the preferred driving force wanders from being acceptable. The vehicle’s efficiency falls off. This is a physical description of what can happen to any automobile’s engine… and this also relates directly to us what can happen in our Lord’s Church.
 As most of the motoring public knows, including we Christians… the most favorable component for powering cars comes in the form of liquid gasoline. As a fuel, our fuel is made by refining crude oil. A bit dirty, like some human words that may sinfully come from our mouths, crude oil in raw form is heated gradually… and processed into usable, fractional parts. This is analogous to what happens when the Spirit reveals God’s eternal Law to the Church. Dirt is uncovered. We are divided. Our sin is revealed to us.
 We know that by using heat, we separate crude by vaporous weight into natural gases, gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, grease, and other components. In like manner, scripture cooks our sinful hearts and boiling minds as guided by the Holy Spirit.
 Now take note here. Although alternate fuels may work in cars, gasoline still remains as the mainstay of the motoring public's fuel. What does that mean for those of us in the Christian church, as we continue to favor the Word over against theological heresies? I ask you, “Can we refine our understanding of the Word so that we eventually arrive energized more perfectly… like the purity of clean hydrogen? Thus only we can classify a biblical text into those portions which are descriptive, regulative and normative. Then like gasoline additives that enhance the original chemistry for right use in engines, theologians and teachers study each biblical Word for right interpretation… and recommend to us that we work according to the Spirit.


 Anyone who works in a convenience gas station can tell you that gas is transferred as a liquid into your vehicle's fuel tank. From there, that rather imperfect and still somewhat dirty hydro-carbon gasoline is pumped into the bowl of a carburetor, or the fuel supply system of a fuel-injected car. During this transfer, however, the fuel remains a liquid. Therefore, to burn and produce power, a change must occur.
 To get combustion, we need fuel, oxygen from the air and sufficient heat. Combustion that empowers an engine will only happen when the fuel mixes properly with air.
 We Christians can rejoice here… for it shows that a particular sort of conversion must take place! Did you ever notice that before Jesus began his ministry in the world, he was baptized? That baptism, however, wasn’t just to get him spiritually ready for the job… but was also done to get us converted and spiritually ready for God. The Holy Spirit was indeed working!
 Please know that the Greek word for Spirit is “pneumatikos”… which means either “air” or “spirit”? Our Lord’s being washed in the River Jordan was a bit like when fuel is atomized by heat into very tiny droplets for efficient combustion. The droplets of gasoline quickly turn into a vapor. This is much like our being prepared for combustion by the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and the Son.
 Think of this! Gasoline begins to vaporize at a temperature well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. But when more heat is added the evaporation rate increases. In fact, if the temperature rises to the fuel's boiling point, as temperatures beneath the hood of a modern car often do… the fuel may boil too quickly. This causes troublesome fuel line bubbles, just like an immature Christian can falter when uneducated about the Law and the Gospel.

Even Three Carbs Are Useless Withour Fuel!
 Subsequently, spring/diaphragm fuel pumps used in older carbureted engines had trouble pumping fuel through a bubble-filled line. Those vapor bubbles compressed and the fuel went nowhere. This happened especially so in hot rod engines. This action also sounds very much like some churches I’ve attended.
 A second, unwanted vaporization can take place in older carbureted cars when gas enters the carb fuel bowl. It's caused as the gasoline comes into the hot carburetor. The fuel foams and vaporizes there, creating excessively high vapor pressure in the fuel bowl. Subsequently, the flow rate from the delivery jets of the carburetor increases. The engine floods with fuel and dies.
 Does that sound like Noah’s flood to you? Does this boiling seem like the useless foaming found in any heated church that you know?
 The pressure caused by evaporation is rated on the RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) scale. The higher the numbers, the easier the liquid vaporizes. Recently, our pump gasoline has increased in RVP due to changes in fuel chemistry. More alcohol causes quicker evaporation and vapor lock. You see, modern scientific knowledge may not help solve all problems… no more so than business-style church management techniques always help a stalled church. These, if  not guided by the Word and Spirit… often can make a situation worse.
 Modern mechanics know that fuel injected vehicles are less prone to vapor lock because of their higher fuel line pressures and the absence of hot fuel bowls. As to pressure, the supply line of a carbureted vehicle runs at only about 6-8 psi; whereas, fuel pressure in an injected car may range from 10-80 psi. Higher pressures mean higher boiling points and less chance of vapor lock. However, these high performance vehicles may not get away unscathed from the Law. In instances of extremely high under hood temperatures in some modern turbocharged vehicles, turbo/injected cars may sport some heat-reducing features. Insulating spacers are put beneath the injectors… or a fan helps to cool the fuel rail and injectors when temperatures soar. This action is sort of like when you decide to stay away from church because it’s too hot on Sunday morning… but you miss the coolness given of the Spirit to keep the church going. Your tactics may work only temporarily, and fail when the pulling gets real hard.
 For hotrods, some carbureted vehicle builders use high pressure fuel injection techniques to combat vapor lock. These mechanics sometimes put the fuel pump in the cooler fuel tank. But even then, trying to control premature gasoline vaporization may be far more difficult than being an atheist trying to find Jesus.


 The injector or carburetor does two jobs… fuel metering and atomizing. For fuel to burn properly it must atomize into fine droplets, vaporize quickly and mix properly with air. This is almost miraculous, approaching when the finite human being Jesus was born into this world as the Infinite God!
 Sinful problems may occur. for example, when the engine environment is very cold the fuel does not vaporize well when dispensed. We add extra fuel to compensate. This sounds to me like a church evangelism committee that sings loudly to draw a crowd, but fails to speak to people about their faith. More fuel may provide acceptable cold engine starting and warm up operation, but the hymn ends too soon because raw fuel scores an engine’s cylinders.
On the other hand, great economy is had with a warmed and lean, stingy mixture (toward 17 parts air to 1 part fuel). Lean mixtures thus promote fuel economy… but too lean can increase pollution as high temperatures are created when a flash fire occurs. This causes combustion overheating. The excess heat increases levels of compounds such as NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and leftover unburned hydrocarbons (HC). That’s pollution! You see, the unburned HC increases if too little fuel makes the fire go out before all the mixture is used up.
 Conversely, too rich mixtures waste precious commodities… and like a church that provides highly populated, too fluid “social events” without the Holy Spirit present… find that the fire quickly goes out… drowned in theological error. Misfirings occur!
 The best mixture, the one which is termed scientifically as the “stoichiometric” mix… is about 14 parts air and 1 part fuel. Did you ever notice that beloved Jesus, plus twelve apostles… and one more person to replace the traitorous Judas… equals fourteen? The fourteen number was there to fire up the church and get us moving… and the spark was the Holy Spirit heat that happened at Pentecost!

Setting the Mix
A too-lean fuel condition is akin to trying to keep a church’s faith fireplace lit when the kindling is too far apart. Frequent Word preaching is needed; and less humanistic blather!
 In an engine, air pollution is offset somewhat by EGR (exhaust gas recirculation). EGR is much like working with a church revitalization committee. EGR quenches improper combustion temperatures by taking up fuel mixture space. This EGR-like, non-combustible atmosphere works in same cooling way, as a proper member visitation program keeps folks working together well in the church.


 In cars, we know that fuel injection is a much, more accurate method of metering fuel. Electronic control of injector firing (dwell time) is finely tuned on a continuous basis using feedback control from an exhaust pipe-mounted combustion sensor. The exhaust monitoring keeps the engine running at a perfect (stoichiometric) mixture as much as possible. What this means for the Christian church is that the Holy Trinity had meritoriously planned the mix of salvation from sin long beforehand. We claim that Jesus was born at the “right time” and stayed here on earth for the “perfect time”… before going to the cross… and he was raised again to return at the proper end time. That final time in eternity, church theologians often call the “eschatological” time. During that final era, the kingdom of God shall be ours forever.
 Before the days when feedback fuel systems could check their own efficiency, not only could a carburetor stray quite a bit in calibration without being detected by a driver, but even when the mixture was accurate… the manifold fed by the carburetor often destroyed the mix. Does this description sound like a church you’ve been attending? Sermons are preached well but no one seems to be listening?
 Remember! The sermon quality, plus the size, shape and flow of your church services count! You see, therefore, if you’re like a carb that ``injects'' fuel into the vacuum in its throat using only atmospheric pressure… you’re inefficient! Fairly large, and hard to swallow droplets can result, and are only mixed with just a bit of small ones.
 Under ideal conditions (hot engine and cruising), all of the fuel droplets flow small and nicely into the area beneath the carb. There, like the Spirit’s moving in a church, they are heated by the manifold stove.
 But take notice! This is like when Jesus taught in the temple. Some of the congregation got warmed, but others got really hot.

 The engine’s stove is an area directly after the carb that's heated by the cross over exhaust stream. The fuel draws heat from that devilish stove… and still the runners of the manifold run cooler… like your heated forehead that feels better when the waters of baptism are poured on it.
 Because of this cooling effect, a puddling of vaporized gasoline sometimes occurs as fuel re-condenses. This is much like the perspiration wetness that happened to the Pharisees and Sadducees as Jesus spoke boldly about them.
 You see, big fuel droplets fall out of the engine’s airstream and some cylinders run too lean. This illustrates how we in the church often become like a child who after being baptized, never sees the church again until they die. Oh, churches may try to compensate for this depopulation by running their carb a step or two richer. However, the problem is… this richness trolling method usually causes air pollution. So it is as with people in the Church. Being population rich or rich in finances may not help, but may actually hinder our Christian household economy (oikiomene).
 Another problem occurs when an engine’s intake manifold passageways have sharp curves that defeat the carb's calibration. Often like the words spoken in a sermon, since the fuel’s atomized weights differ according to their size, heavier gas vapor molecules may separate from the air as the mixture rapidly bends to flow toward the cylinders. In a church we might say, that some parishioners may suffer this drop out… and these persons may snooze on Sunday morning in their own, self-centered centrifugal force.
 You can see that, depending on the shape of an engine manifold feed runner, a particular cylinder may run leaner or richer than its neighbors. Does this sound like the myriad of Christian churches in your area? How can this disparity be corrected? Simply put, a good preacher, much like knowledgeable a hot rodder, will try to make sermons a bit like carbs which stagger-jet the fuel feed into manifold stove to compensate for error. By now, you non-mechanics should see where I’m going here… the Church is our Lord’s intake manifold!

Cross Injection!
Injection always works so much better because only air flows through the manifold. The fluid take a more certain route… like when Jesus was earthly born in a manger in Bethlehem. You see, in spite of our sin, the real and mystical droplets of Jesus’ blood eventually poured out upon the cross for our forgiveness. This was much like port fuel injection that uses greater pressure to spray and atomize fuel into usable smaller droplets… more so to empower more efficiently than a sinful carb can ever run.
 Smaller, finely-tuned droplets of Law and Gospel in our Lord’s message can expose our sinfulness like a heated intake valve surface breaks up fine fuel droplets. Sins vaporize quickly. The dirty fuel droplets are still there… but now in the Gospel… they’ve been correctly vaporized and are put to good use.

 Within an injected engine, since the engine’s intake valve port area runs quite hot… hot as the demons of hell… and there's normally only one quick, gentle turn from port-to-cylinder… during this redirection, this repentance… very little fuel drops out of the air stream. In the same way our human sin… like droplets of fuel... become smoked by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit has its way with us, we get forgiven and saved from our sin. We become used by God, like a restored older car.
 Remember! The Good News’ blast of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, our wonderful and so foolishly Divine injector… has increased our turbulence on earth into a far more perfect mix. Distribution of that forgiveness depends only on the accuracy of the Divine. The Lord used perfect salvation calibration and the Holy Spirit’s precise distribution method to save us.
 Consequently, the Church today is called to be like a modern fuel injection manifold. To be efficient, the church must be ram-air tuned. We need to flow cool, dense Holy Spirit air! Holy Spirit air makes us evangelically powerful. This is the best kind of spirit for church growth.
 So you see though first a mechanic, but now called as a minister… this chemistry sounds like heaven to me. Since the efficient flames of the Spirit makes for the possibilities of great heavenly power, I wonder at how long we can stay warm and how completely get used up in determining how well any congregation shall be carried into the future.
 Remember… all depends on how we, according to the guidance of God, design the Gospel carrying machinery to fit the task. I ask you seriously to consider your church evangelism plans… and then answer this… “Have you ever ridden in a light-weight, fuel-injected dragster?” Do you want to?
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