Archive for category Purpose

Found Jesus? Try looking in Hell


“Hell is the absence of God”.  This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience.  Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes.  And what Christian would not choose  the presence of God in Heaven?  If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’.  Hell is the last death, annihilation.   This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.

But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell.  Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own.  Classic examples are Father Damien,  Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.  Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned.  This is where they find God.  This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven.  Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.

The other day I suggested that,  to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus.  Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?

But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic.  Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others.  No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back.  Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world.  Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.

Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like.  It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden.  It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells.  Of course, the chances of this happening does not look  good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.

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The Movie Fireproof; I Liked It


Yes,  I did.  I didn’t expect to.  One of my wife’s patients gave it to her. She was insistent that we watch it, and out of respect for her we did.

A church in Georgia produced the movie and aside from Kirk Cameron, the actors were all amateurs, enlisted from the congregation.  Cameron does a pretty good job (good acting is something I rarely see in these homegrown Evangelical films) but the rest of the cast did a lot better than you would expect from such inexperience. Essentially the movie is built around a real marriage guide called the “Love Dare” which is available on the website as well as in bookstores.

Production values were high, the sound track was decent and the dialogue believable.  It was good to see Christians addressing the issue of divorce, which is like the elephant in the middle of the sanctuary.  Christian marriages, on the whole, last no longer than secular ones; about half end up in divorce. Even if you are not an Evangelical or even a Christian,  there is really good advice in this movie for all married couples.

A couple things I could have done without:  the gratuitous references to Hell (but much fewer than the title of the movie would suggest) could have been left out. They probably turned some folks off the movie (they almost caused me to turn off the TV) and that is a shame because the main thrust of the movie is so good.  And the house that Cameron’s character lived in with his wife was too much of an expensive mansion to be believable as a firehouse captain’s home.  I realize the home site was donated by a local builder but it was jarring inconsistency.  But then again, every character in just about every Hollywood film seems to live in Bel Air or Beverly Hills or some type of hip warehouse conversion in Manhattan.

Good flick. See it. Or visit the website.  Now, I might have to check out “Facing the Giants”.

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Window on History


There are many great moments interspersed throughout American history.  Just about all of us have been born since the advent of radio and television and are fortunate to have witnessed some of these events (almost) first hand.  Today’s electronic media coverage is so thorough and so pervasive, though, that some of the world’s most important moments risk becoming commonplace. But certain events are so singular – so unique -that they can only be described as momentous. These historical moments stand out above all the others and are said to come only once in a lifetime.

There will never be another VE or VJ day (at least I hope not) but there will be other days commemorating peace, just as there were before  World War II.  Though joyous, they marked the end to years of terrible suffering and the loss of millions of lives.  Those who listened to the peace treaty being signed on the USS Missouri could not help but remember just a few years earlier the  shock of Pearl Harbor.

Everyone remembers the horror of the Kennedy assassination yet he was not the first U.S. President to have been  murdered (though hopefully he will be the last). Like millions of others, I will never be able to forget the sight of those planes crashing into the twin skyscrapers.  Historical moments like these are all wreathed in sadness and sorrow.
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There are a few once in a lifetime events, though, that foster feelings of national pride and well being.  I remember, as a boy,  staring transfixed at our scratchy old black and white television, watching Neil Armstrong stepping off of Apollo 11’s lunar module, leaving the first human footprint in the moon’s dust.  Although there were six manned lunar landings in all, it was the first one that is burned into my memory.

I should not have been surprised at how powerful today’s inauguration was.  Being privileged to witness the  swearing-in of America’s first African -American President turned out to be very moving.  There may be other black men and women elected to our nation’s highest office but their inaugurations will never have the same impact as this first one. This is truly a watershed event, especially when we consider the turbulent history our nation has had in regards to racism and intolerance.  It can be said that the institution of slavery had more of an impact on our nation’s history than any other. This institution, abolished almost 150 years ago, still taints our society and stains our reputation among other nations.  In this significant regard, Obama’s presidency transcends politics.  Great presidents have always been more than just leaders but also national icons.  Today, President Obama is an icon for national healing and reconciliation.

No matter what your political persuasion, you should be able to appreciate the magnificence of what has occurred today. Without meaning to detract from Obama the man (or Obama the politician) the most significant aspect of his presidency has nothing to do with his politics or even his personal character.  Just as the opinions and philosophies of Neil Armstrong are not relevant to the historicity of his achievement, neither should they detract or overshadow what Obama has accomplished today.

Parents and teachers: I sure hope you had your children sitting in front of the television set today. There will never be another moment quite like this one.

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The Aposlte Sherri: Bicycle Disciple


It’s been so cold lately- I’ve been worried about this lady. Wondering where she is and how she’s doing. Once, someone read about her on the Ooze and shared their experience with her. I wonder what other lives she may have touched in her travels.

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It was Saturday afternoon, sunny, hot and breezy, so Bev and I thought we would take a drive  into the Maryland mountains, maybe find an inexpensive hotel and then get a nice dinner somewhere. My car was having battery problems so we decided to take her big van. Since that car has these great big head rests (six of them) that tend to block my rear vision, I decided to lay all the seats flat.

We packed a cooler with cold drinks and ice (something we never think to do) and hit the road. We got a later start than we would’ve liked but that’s pretty much SOP with the Beyers. By the time we got to the scenic mountain area of west-central Maryland it was already after 3:00 pm. Bev said that we might have a hard time finding a hotel and she was right, everyone was booked up. The folly of our intent was apparent to us and, disappointed, we headed on home.

We still had about an hour’s drive ahead of us when, rounding down a steep hill, we were surprised by a lone figure walking along the side of the road. It looked to be an older woman and she was pushing a bicycle. She was carrying at least four bags what looked like a tattered shirt wrapped over the top of her ball cap, kind of like a scarf. Her appearance was everything one would expect of a homeless person and she looked out of place in the middle of farming country. As we drove by she began to jerk her thumb in the classic hitch-hiking style. Since she couldn’t let go of the handle bar we almost missed the gesture.

“She needs a lift.” Bev said. We continued on down the hill and I concentrated on keeping the big car on track through the S-curves.

“You’re kidding” I said.

“I think we should turn aroun?” said Bev

“Hmmm.” That’s all I said and we drove on. As it was, there were no turn-outs or side roads prestent. After a couple of miles I made a right onto a farm lane.

“We’re going back, then?” Bev asked.

“Yup”

I had been thinking of that scripture where Jesus said that when he was hungry someone fed him, when he was sick someone visited, when he was naked someone clothed him. I was imagining him saying to me; “When I was hitch hiking, pushing my bike and carrying a heavy load on a hot day, you didn’t stop to pick me up.”

“That was you, Jesus? I thought that was an old lady!”

When we got back to where we could see her trundling down the hill we pulled into a nearby drive and waited. There was no shoulder to the road. She must have recognized our car or figured out what we were doing because when she saw us she began jogging down the road, her over loaded bags swinging and her bike wobbling back and forth.

She was a skinny little thing, wearing too-big athletic clothes; sweat pants, sneakers, socks, sweat shirt and ball cap. The sweat shirt said “Messiah College”. Her sun glasses were as big as scuba goggles and her skin was sun browned and wrinkled, like and old life guards. In spite of the heat and her recent exertion she was as dry as a Methodist’s pantry.

As it turned out that she liked to be called Sherri and she had been riding her bike from Hagerstown, a good 20 miles behind us, when she got a flat tire. She’d been having a lot of flats lately and someone told her that there was a Wal-Mart 10 miles on up the road in Frederick, where she might get them to fix her bike (seeing as how she had bought it recently from another Wal-Mart). She said that she had been praying hard for someone to come and pick her up. She blessed and thanking us both for coming through.

We stowed her bike easily in the back of the van, where there was plenty of room with the seats already down. She said the bike was new but it looked a little beat up. It was the same brand as my first bike, a Roadmaster, except hers was the girl’s version. The rear wheel looked bent. We opened up one of the middle seats for her and she was surprised and grateful as we handed her an ice cold Diet Coke Plus (with vitamins!) from the cooler. We cranked up the A/C and headed off to find Wal-Mart.

As we drove she told us, in a genteel Southern draw, that she was originally from Richmond Virginia and had raised two daughters, both now in their thirties. She now had grandsons and granddaughters and they lived in different parts of the country. For the past eleven years she had been riding her bikes (she’s been through quite a few) across the country, from Florida to California and up into Canada, preaching God’s word. Raised a Methodist, she was now Pentecostal by choice and a speaker of tongues. Standing on street corners in small towns and big cities she preached a sermon of salvation from eternal damnation through the acceptance of Christ’s love.

She rarely slept indoors and tried to coordinate her travels with the seasons, going south in wintertime. She asked about Baltimore and Washington where she said (amazingly!) that she felt a lot of concern for all the homeless people that she heard lived there. Many of the homeless that she met on her travels seemed to be so hopeless and this saddened her.

She was very much interested in the two of us, our jobs, our family and our faith, but in a sensitive and genuine way. She never pried or preached. She said that she might visit the church we attend outside of DC and asked when we held services. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her some day.

We parked at Wal-Mart and helped with her bags as she chained up the bike. I asked her if she was OK with money, if she even had enough for a new bicycle inner tube. She hemmed and hawed a bit so before she could answer I asked if it was alright if we could contribute to her ministry. I gave her some cash and she was obviously grateful. She then surprised me by asking suddenly if this was something that I would like for her to repay some day. Humbled, I told her no, that it was part of my tithe, since it was obvious that she took Jesus’ commission to heart.

As Bev and I drove on down the highway, we couldn’t help but chuckle. God sometimes has a very dry sense of humor. What a coincidence. that on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a day trip to western Maryland, in the big van (which we never take on road trips), with the seats down, spare cash in our pockets and a cooler of cold drinks in back. How unfortunate for us that there were no hotel vacancies in the area (most probably because of our own chronic tardiness) which resulted in our having to drive down that one particular road, so far from home. How gallant of us, to grudgingly turn around and help someone more ‘unfortunate’ than we were.

Somehow this older woman is able to travel across this huge land, cheerfully spreading the Good News, carrying everything she owns on her back. Eleven years of pedaling up mountains and through deserts, and she is as clean and bright as a new penny, sharp as a tack. It was obvious that God looks out for her and I bet she wasn’t the least bit surprised when we came back for her. We were just two more supporting actors stepping on to her God-directed stage.

I can imagine her praying as she rides or walks along our busy highways, “OK Lord, I wonder who you will be putting into my life next” – confident that she is safely in His hands.

And I can imagine God smiling down on her, “Hmm…Looks like Sherri is having a little trouble today. Who can I send…who can I send…..Oh! I know…the Beyers! I’ll bet they’re just wasting another Saturday. I’m sure they could benefit from a little time spent with one of my faithful servants.”

“Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

In her passion for God, and her love for others, neither does Sherri.

I Have an Article on the Ooze About Sherri

Some of you may remember the story about Sherri, one of God’s itinerant workers and how we met one day in Western Maryland. She’s the lady that has devoted her life to spreading the Gospel across this country on the back of a bike. TheOoze has decided to publish this story and it comes out today; “The Apostle Sherri: Bicycle Disciple”. Please check it out on: http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1818

If you’ve never visited that web site I think you’ll be pleased with what you find there.

An Update on Sherri

This couple read he article on the Ooze and sent this e-mail. What an amazing ‘coincidence’, eh? Since July 14th Sherri has traveled from Frederick, Maryland to Seneca, South Carolina, over 547 miles. Gott ist Gutt! (For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Sherri you may read the original story here; https://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/07/14/the-apostle-sherri/ )

I wanted to share an experience Ceph and I had over the weekend. We left on Sunday morning to see Ceph’s mom for her Birthday. It was a day trip and we always go the back way up 123 through Gainesville to Seneca and then Easley. On the way up outside Seneca, Ceph had to swerve the car to miss hitting an older lady that obviously homeless. She had long grey/blonde hair, baggy clothes and pushing a bicycle. She had everything she owned attached to the bicycle handlebars. We both commented on her appearance and the fact she was pushing the bicycle. We spent about 5 hours at his mom’s and left about 2:00pm to return home. We are heading towards Tacocca and were amazed to see the same lady pushing her bicycle again down the road. She had travelled about 25 miles in 5 hours. Both us said at the same time we should pick her up. There weren’t any turnarounds so Ceph parked in a driveway and waited on her to get close to the car.

I personally have never picked up a hitchhiker but something said pick her up. We had the minivan with the seats down and knew her bicycle would fit perfectly. (the parallel here is amazing – CB) If you know the area, there’s nothing for miles until you get to Gainesville. She didn’t give us her name but explained she got the calling from the Lord about 11 years ago and she traveled from place to place preaching the gospel. She didn’t have a destination and we explained we lived in Roswell and that was ok for her. She wanted to go to a 24 hour Walmart. Ceph said that the Roswell police weren’t too keen on varagrants and Cumming might be a better location. We talked the remainder of the trip about her children, her faith and travels. After we let her out in Cumming, I haven’t been able to get her off my mind. Ceph and I both said, God wants us to be thankful for the little things we have. I guess she was our angel that day. This morning I wokeup thinking about her again and did a google search on “homeless lady on bicycle”. I immediately got a response from another couple that had exactly the same experience. This article is from theooze.com.

Thanks

Ceph and Elaine

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My Son Ian Joins the Marines


Bittersweet day yesterday. My 22 year old son, Ian, was inducted into the Marine Corps at Fort Meade Maryland and right now is enjoying his first day in the care of the sergeants.

This is Ian halfway down Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon last June. The last big family vacation. He’s in pretty good shape, always has been. He’s been known as the ‘Walking Dude’ around Ellicott City for around 8 years. I hope it pays off in boot camp.

This picture was taken in our garden with his sister, Dot, just before we drove him to the recruiting station. Notice his hair – it’s already 6 inches shorter than it was 3 months ago.

The sergeant in charge of the recruiting station insisted on cutting Ian’s hair himself. You can see that he is really into it. Apparently that hank of hair was 1 inch too short for the purpose of donation. His mom put in a Zip-Loc.

Ahh. The Mullet. The sergeant’s idea. I promised Ian this would be put up on the net.

Worth another look.

And another.

The nearly finished project. The finishing touches are to be applied at boot camp.

Does he look nervous? I sure was. (And still am.) One of the other sergeants remarked, ” Aw, there goes our Jesus.” ( Ian had been attending Physical Training at the station 3 to 4 times a week for the past three months and that had become his nickname.)

The Oath. Now, I just want to say that his mother took this picture. There is no way I would’ve let that young lady block his upraised hand. In fact, there is no way I would have allowed her in the picture. Concentrate on the yellow circle, gentlemen.

The happy recruit with his proud/sad/anxious mother.

Next time we see Ian should be in three month and, God willing, he will be wearing a United State Marine Corps dress uniform. I am terribly anxious and nervous for him – I truly regret that I never did my national service and have no real idea of what faces him now. I am more than a little envious of him.

I guess you can tell I’m also pretty proud of Ian. (I hope so.) I’ve never really posted this kind of ‘family’ album thing before. But I have an ulterior motive. The recruiting sergeant said that we should try to write to him as much as possible, perhaps every day. So I was hoping to send him a copy of any comments that this post might generate. If you’re game (and I hope you are) could you address your comment to Ian? ( And don’t forget the mullet!)

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Not the Same Old Drill


tips.jpg I have a night job where I work for tips, giving me a pretty decent work out and it’s lot of fun to boot. I’m unique in that I am the oldest guy on the crew – by at least 20 years! Which means that I am surrounded by lots of irreverent, profane, high energy and fairly cocky young folk. Pretty much all of them do a great job and can run rings around the Old Man but, hey, I’m an old man. What do you expect?

One thing that hasn’t changed with tipped employees over the years is a tendency towards a creeping cynicism for their customers. Like a bad car salesman, they continue to run through the same old drill of pre-qualifying their customers, gaging their take by scrutinizing their guests; demographics, dress, diction, manners, attitude, etc. Being a wise old fellow I will counsel my young friends as to the perils of doing this; just as Tiger Woods must visualize the ball dropping into the cup, so should we visualize the guest dropping a C-note onto our tip trays. Doesn’t usually happen but what the heck. If you visualize getting stiffed it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; your service will suffer and the average guest can sense the shift in your demeanor as well.

I even go so far as to never look at my tips until I’ve collected all the check presenters. I don’t want to know which person stiffed me or which one only left me only a couple of bucks. This way I can leave feeling good about all of my guests. After all, who knows what financial straights they may be in? I’ve been there myself. (Heck, I ain’t moonlighting entirely for fun.)

The other night was pretty typical; some nice tips, some average and a couple of small ones. One party left me nothing (but I don’t’ know which one). Something different happened that evening as well. Someone (probably short on cash) left me with a Home Depot gift card. I have to admit to being wryly amused. Sharing this with the crew most of them didn’t see anything too funny about it- probably only had a dollar or two on it. In fact most of the them thought it was tacky, indicative of someone too cheap to leave any cash. I figured, what the heck, at least I could pick up a new drill bit (maybe).

Boy was I surprised when the clerk at Home Depot told me that there was $66.63 on the card! I was able to get that new Black and Decker drill that I had been eying as well as a power screwdriver. Not too shabby. Thanks, mystery guest. I’ll remember you every time I put a hole into something with my new toy.

So, what’s my point? It just doesn’t pay to allow yourself to judge others. Aside from the times we are wrong (oh, so many times that is) what is there to gain from it? Who needs the bad vibes? So I would recommend not only doing but actually seeing others as you would have them see you. It might actually happen.

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Hissing in the Wind


north wind OK, let me try to set a few things straight. The major purpose of this blog has been to engage others with perhaps differing opinions and differing world views in friendly and thoughtful conversations that we all may profit from. Hence the title: Sharp Iron, a line from the biblical book of Proverbs (chapter 27 verse 17) that says “Iron makes iron sharp; so a man makes sharp his friend.”.

I think that when we consider this scripture verse we should not forget that it talks about friends helping friends – to learn and grow intellectually, as well as spiritually. This would seem to imply treating each other in a friendly manner. I think it is very difficult to sharpen the mind of an enemy because (unless we are following Jesus’ command to love your enemy) we usually treat them antagonistically or, at the very least, with suspicion. I have been very pleased with how this has taken place on Sharp Iron, as well as a surprising number of other sites (which I have linked to – though not all of the sites listed are good examples of this). However, I have been accused at times as having a ‘thin skin’; that I don’t like to hear criticisms of my writing or my ideas (heck, who does?) and that I am not likely to take a personal stand on certain issues. Perhaps this is true but part of my responsibility (I think) as a blog host is to moderate. And moderation will not tolerate too much in the way of overzealousness, especially if that leads to rudeness.

My main goal here has been to initiate conversations about God and the spiritual relationships that we may have with God. This means that it is advantageous (and fun) to engage Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, deists and theists in discussions about how and where we may disagree as well as where we agree. I am often surprised at how philosophically close many of us are. Sharp Iron’s goal has never been to convert others to any particular philosophy or theology but merely to excite (hopefully) some discussion. On more than one occasion this has resulted in the changing of my mind about things. I shouldn’t be too surprised at this because to renew ones mind implies a change taking place there as well.

There are plenty of websites (and books, TV and radio programs) out there that claim to want this same thing – an open discussion of the issues. It appears that most of them are only interested in winning others over to their side of the polemical fence. This may even be their expressed goal. But I find it interesting that the vast majority of them use tactics that look to be expressly designed for the opposite effect. No one needs to take a course in rhetoric or debating in order to see this; when was the last time you bought a car (or anything) from someone who brow beat you with it’s qualities and benefits? Or told you that you were a fool or an idiot for not agreeing with him? But this makes up a lot of what you will find on the internet, both from atheists as well as theists (some who claim to follow a person that pointed to a better way). Lots of indignant people, insisting that they are right, that they alone are privy to the truth and demanding credibility. But in resorting to dogmatism, intimidation or ridicule they are merely hissing in the wind. The only people who will continue to listen are those of a like mind.

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