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Friday, December 9, 2011

THE CONTINUING JOURNEY

Whew! Dizzy with sleep and feeling nauseous from a combination of jet lag and back to back meetings, I flopped onto the familiarity of my own bed and slept undisturbed for four hours.
My whirlwind ministry tour, which began on November 11, had come to an end.

I flew firstly to Ireland, where I spoke to 190 young people at a retreat center, about an hour out of Dublin. The first question I asked these Irish kids was, "What are you doing inviting a near 60 year old to speak to you? Don't you know there is a supposed generation gap?" At the end of the meetings I was dubbed, 'the 60 year old teenager.'  I took this as a compliment. I am a firm believer God keeps us young at heart, but mature in experience.
The young people in Ireland

We witnessed kids from conflict fatigued Belfast, rough, tough, and ready to rumble, throw down their cigarettes and attitudes and give their lives to Christ. We saw bunches of young people at the altar, jumping and dancing and praising God for nearly an hour. They were free and they knew it.  The New Covenant, not only maintains revival, it creates it.

From the youth retreat I next went to a bible school, in Cork. Noline, joined me on this part of the journey. What a delight to again be among the young and dedicated, who have accepted the invitation to become equipped for God to use. Let me tell you, there is a new generation of radical Christians on the rise. Globally, we are witnessing a reviving of young people. Kids, who are sick of the world wide recession, and the mess parents and grandparents have made of the economy, are turning in huge numbers to Jesus Christ for the answer.

Pastor Nick & Katherine Cassidy
From Cork, we flew on to Greenock, Scotland. Here several churches gathered together in their city hall, for a combined meeting. Again, we saw the Lord touch many hearts as they responded to a call to serve God unashamedly.

No sooner were we back in Ukraine from Scotland, and I was off to the USA, to meet with long time friend and pastor, Gary Wilkerson, and The Springs Church. (Read on down and get the whole scoop on the next leg of our journey.) By this time, while in CO, I must be honest, I did not know whether I should be sleeping or waking. My only prayer was, 'Lord, please make sense of everything I should say.'

Back to Ukraine, after a week in Colorado and with just one day to catch up on washing, I was off again to Ivano Frankivsk, and the revival meetings there. One more time, I witnessed dozens of young people hit the front of the hall to commit their lives to Christ. The end of the meeting resulted in them dancing and jumping to the beat of the Holy Spirit's call on their lives. We are witnessing a fresh awakening everywhere, no one person is heading up this work. It is a move of the Spirit. It is simply a joy to behold and play a small part in what God is doing.

Now, down to earth a little. I must confess, one of the great delights of my heart is still riding the Ukrainian, trains. Call me a romantic, or just silly, but you just can't beat the clickity-clack, of tons of steel rumbling along its tracks. I love the smile I get from the overnight conductor of our car, when I try to ask for tea and snacks in my limited Russian. No one can be offended with you if you truly love people, they know it and they feel it.

Let me take a few moments to encourage you in your faith. Now stay tuned, don't get bored after reading the "catch-up" of recent events. I want to finish up on this third message which I have called, "Bumping into God."

Initially, it doesn't sound too theological, in fact it does not sound like a book title, I would necessarily pick up and read. However, it is a fact, throughout the bible, men and women continuously 'bumped into God.' They were not deliberately seeking or even trying to find God, in any etherial manner, but bump into God they did.
Some of the young people from W.Ukraine

Take for instance, an old man, probably resigned to life in the remote parts of the Sinai, peninsular, who sees a bush on fire, yet the plant is not consumed. The scriptures do not say he was seeking God at the time, or that there was any indication he was in deep meditative prayer. Yet, here, this matured sage, all alone, sees in the distance an unusual sight which grips his imagination. His intrigue and inquisitiveness to investigate this phenomena would change his life and direction forever.

Little did Moses, know, but he was about to "bump" into God, when he got out of bed that particular morning. Those familiar with the bible story, know this historical account became the turning point for 80 year old Moses, the children of Israel, and Egypt. God who had promised deliverance 400+ years earlier, was now about to make good on His word and set His people free. And it began by allowing Moses to 'bump' into His presence in that desert.

Take the military strategist, Joshua. He is on a recce to Jericho, in order to calculate just how to over power that great walled city, and destroy it. Yet, it is here, while Joshua is standing alone, that he "bumps" into God. Suddenly, he is confronted by a man with a sword drawn,  a symbol of being ready to fight. Most commentators agree, this was a Theophany. A manifestation of Christ. Joshua, was about to learn one of the greatest secrets of all. God, is still the God of the impossible.


Praying for those at the altar in Ukraine
I think of Saul of Tarsus, intoxicated with anger and murder towards the Christians of his day. With giddying speed he was journeying to Damascus in order to imprison believers in that city. Yet, on his road of destruction he "bumps" into the glory of Christ and falls to the ground, being both stunned and bewildered. "Who are you?" Saul enquired. And the answer came through loud and clear, "I am Jesus!"

His life was changed and his journey of penal retribution was reverted to one of grace and mercy. I could go on ad infinitum with similar incredible stories of biblical and historical magnitude. But the amazing fact remains, THERE ARE TIMES when you are not looking for God in any particular way and yet He shows up, you bump into Him, and your lives are forever changed.

Let me now bring this into view in our own lives.
Kris playing his sax

This last summer, was to be a non-preaching trip back to the United States from Ukraine. We were going to visit our two other children and their families in Denver, CO, and Boca Raton, FL, respectively. Both sets had requested we do not book any preaching engagements. They wanted uninterrupted quality time with their parents. I guess we must be loved after all. Lol.

On the first leg of our family tour, we went to Denver. To my surprise, since we had told no one we were in town, I received a call from Gary Wilkerson, in Colorado Springs. It was a Saturday evening and he asked if I would drive down the next day and speak for him at the Springs church. I was delighted to hear from him. Our mutual love and friendship goes back almost 17 years. Noline, and I felt at "home" with Gary and Kelly, from the very first visit to their church in 1995.

After the service that Sunday, Gary and I were chatting casually. He asked how long I anticipated being in Ukraine, and I told him honestly, approximately 10 years. His response was a sigh followed by, "I was worried about that." I asked him why? And then the 'bomb shell.' "Well, I was wanting to ask you if you would come and join me in the work here at The Springs Church."

Listen, folks, this is what I call, BUMPING INTO GOD! This was God asking me through Pastor Gary. God has these moments in life which cannot be planned for, or orchestrated by human ingenuity. These are as far as we are concerned, spontaneous and course changing encounters. Nothing less! It is all of God and His plans. You know it, just like Moses knew it, at the burning bush, and like Gideon hiding by the winepress threshing wheat, knew it.

You know it is God because the Holy Spirit is there at these moments bringing back to memory conversations held years ago. In an instant, I had a 'flash back' to nine years earlier. Noline and I were sitting in the courtyard of World Wide Plaza, in NYC. We were drinking a "Venti, skim, extra hot, no foam latte." She very casually said, "I had an interesting devotional time today." "Go on." I said. "Well, while in prayer, I had the strongest sense you would be working with Gary again." "Hmmm, well, Noline, I can't see that happening in the near future but keep it in your heart and we will let God be God." I said.

So when Gary, mentioned joining him in The Springs Church, Noline's devotional time flooded back instantly into my memory. I immediately shared it with Gary and said, "I will give you a provisional yes, right now, based on what God spoke to Noline years earlier." We met a few more times to pray together and discuss the future.

Am I sad to be leaving Ukraine? Absolutely! God has done a marvelous reviving work among the churches here. And not only Ukraine, but Ireland, Scotland, England, Poland and Latvia. He has also given us friends who have loved us whole heartedly. They have stood with us and helped us with some of the most basic things here, like getting our furnace fixed.

A missionary and his Ukrainian wife, an artist, here in the village we live in, chose to make friends with 'old people.' Yes we will miss them. We are sorrowful, and rightly so, as we also leave behind our "dortchka," (daughter) and her family. Yes, there has to be sorrow unless we were nothing more than 'game players.' Grieving, is part of the package. You give your heart to people and it is hard to walk away unaffected by their love in return.

But God, who has our heart, stood in the way and we "bumped" right into Him. His plans supersede all of our own. You just need to have courage to go with Him. You need courage to say "yes," when you know everyone else will probably see things only from their perspective.

The road to Colorado Springs from Denver
Noline and I are positively excited and over the moon happy to join the staff with Gary and Kelly Wilkerson. They are family, we have history, and we greatly respect the two of them. The founding leaders of the Springs Church, are phenomenal people, whom we already love and respect. And as this season in Ukraine draws to a close, we honestly, with bated breath, await God's mighty outworking in Colorado Springs.

Thank you Lord, for standing in the way and allowing us to "BUMP INTO YOU."

Friday, October 28, 2011

MAKING A CONNECTION

Here I am, sitting in terminal 1, at Heathrow, International Airport. I have a 4hr layover on my way to Ireland.
Big sigh, but then, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give you some news, via my new ipad.
This is the first stage of a rather hectic next month of travel and meetings. My first point of entry will be Cork, Ireland.
I am the guest speaker at a national youth conference. I will also be speaking at Donnybrook church in Cork, and at a church in Belfast.
Afterwards, I will be speaking in Scotland, before heading back to Kiev, Ukraine.
Whilst in Cork, I will facilitate a symposium for the preparation of a practical work manual on the New Covenant. Yay! This is a long overdue manual to bring into practical view the great truth of the grace of God.

Since I have a few hours of contemplation, I have to ask myself two questions about this youth conference I have been invited to speak at.
Either I am one awesome conference speaker, able to take the Word of God and make it relevant to a generation, who are old enough to be my grandchildren.
Or, people feel sorry for me because I live in E. Europe and they want to humor me with a kind engagement to preach to young kids.
Think about it for a moment. In approximately 20 days from now I will be turning 59 years old. What are they thinking inviting a near 60 year old to speak to youth?

To give you an example of my 'dorkiness,' I am trying to connect to the 'free Wi-Fi' at the airport. I want to be able to read any emails that have come in or just talk to Noline, who is at home for the first part of this trip. She will make sure the health of my German Shepherd, remains in pristine condition. He gets so sad when he sees me heading out the door with suitcase in hand.
So, to connect, I go to the settings, click on 'free Wi-Fi' and it pops up, 'can't connect to the server.'
Aghh!! I spend the next 10 minutes looking intelligent, trying to figure out why I am not able to get any service.
In the end, I see a young lady with her notebook open, and I approach her hoping for an English speaking person.
After asking if she is connected to the internet, I get this forced courteous smile and a polite "no." And then she was back to her notebook, I realize, there you have it.
This is confirmation young people do not want to talk to old people.
Ah! I spy a 30 something male with an Apple computer. I gather both my courage and my bags and head for his seat.
I noticed he had already glanced up when I was talking to the young lady, and I am sure he was thinking, "I hope he does not come my way," he just had that look on his face.
Maybe, I'm being a little paranoid, but I am definitely feeling insecure at this moment. This is an admission, extraverts like me never readily admit too.

Well, he spoke very little English, and no, he was not connected to the Wi-fi. OK, now I slink off to my original seat and pout.
Not only can I not connect to the Wi-Fi, I cannot connect to these young men and women. What am I doing going to Cork, to this youth convention?

One more try on my Ipad to reach the Internet and a company Boingo, comes up as an alternative to the free internet connection. But at 9:50 British pounds, for the day I decided I will now resort to my 'never fail you, trusty stead. My Blackberry.' I will call my wife, hear her voice and get any relevant information.
Now that I have proved to myself, I am capable of making a call out of London to Kiev, I am feeling a little better about things. After speaking to my lovely wife, I am left again with time to reflect and ponder on this youth conference coming up.

In retrospect, I take this moment to look over my shoulder back into my teen years.
We had my grandparents living with us. Grandfather, (Pop) as he liked to be referred to, was retired at 65.
He was enjoying the benefits of a well earned rest from his many years of hard labor.
Pop had come to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Africa, from Britain, as a strapping young journeyman. He was a carpenter by trade.
He had jumped at the offer to get out of the cold damp weather of England, to work in the hot climate of Africa. He received a free passage for himself and his bride, plus a 10 acre tract of land to boot.

He and my grandmother, (Granny) as she liked to be called, now in retirement, sat day in and day out in their hand crafted rocking chairs on the front porch. Along with them was their faithful African Gray parrot, (Polly). She could talk the 'hind leg off a donkey.' This colloquialism, by the way is probably a mixture of English and African sentiment. It is a fun way to describe someone who talks too much. One word of advice for those ever tempted to scratch a parrots head, do it to your own peril.

My conversation with my 65+ year old grandparents ranged from zero to maybe one percent each day. We had nothing in common.
Worse yet, as a youth, I did not even think I needed, much less wanted, to sit down and listen to their life of adventure, risk and danger they had undertaken.
I did love my granny's cooking though. Her beef pot roasts and Yorkshire pudding were out of this world. She would give us kids a slice of homemade bread, and then spread it with lard (the congealed fat from the beef and pork roasts) and sprinkle on the salt. We loved it and even asked for seconds.
But talk to them, never! I could have been all the more richer if I had just taken the time to get to know them. But, when you are an invincible sixteen year old, riding a Honda 300 motorcycle, and pushing it to its limit, which by the way was only about 110mph, and being utterly cool, who wants to talk to ancients?
So here I am, ancient, now approaching my grandparents age and I am invited to talk to kids who are a second generation away from me.
Why in the world would they want to even speak to me, for goodness sakes? Fortunately, we do have one great common denominator, which does not count the years of difference between us. That common denominator is of course Jesus Christ. He is not only the bridge to salvation, but He is the unifier of all people regardless of color, age, sex and nationality.


I already have three messages written out, and this is my confidence. It does not rest on me. It is all about God.
He loves these young people and He is the one making the deposit into their lives.
I will probably wear my 'True Religion' with a black Cashmere sports jacket. This is not to look hip at 60, it is more about comfort than being a contortionist.
I use this word because there are many who feel they have to be something different than who they really are, in order to reach another generation.
They contort themselves to look and act something they are not.

I don't have to try to impress them. I just have to introduce them to the greatest king who lives today. So to answer my own question.
No, I am not the awesome speaker who can 'Wow' the crowd, and no, they are not humoring me by giving me this opportunity to speak to
young people. It is not a question about me, rather it is a question about Him. He, Jesus Christ, is the one making His appeal through us.
He is the one more interested in their lives than I will ever be. Over the next few days, if you get a chance to pray, pray for them.
Pray God gets a hold of these kids and puts a call deep into their hearts. Pray for a revelation of His awesome grace and amazing love.
I will let you know the results.

Monday, September 19, 2011

BUMPING INTO GOD Part Two


In my second to last blog, I spent time establishing the fact that God is absolutely involved in our lives, to a greater degree than we give Him credit for. People tend to quote the verse, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," more as a faith builder, or a hope, than a present reality.

Because you are not intentionally, or actively looking for God, does not preclude the fact He is always with you. The realization of this truth can happen in a moment of time, out of no-where, and in a least expected way. You suddenly recognize it was God all along. This amazing reality hits you, "He has been leading and directing my life every day." In this blog, I want to follow up on the last one with a couple of real life examples. These will hopefully help you to see His hand in everything which concerns you.

In the last couple of years, while living in Ukraine, I continuously suffered from low grade headaches. I associated them with, what I believed to be sinus problems, which in turn affected my teeth. There were days I felt like pulling them all out. Have you ever had one of those days? So I went to a Ukrainian, dentist who after X-rays,determined it was an infection in the root. I proceeded to have a root canal, which should have by all intents and purposes resolved the pain problem. Two months later, I was in more pain than ever and swallowing Advil by the handful.

It's crazy how your imagination builds up weird and wonderful scenarios. I began to imagine the Doctor went too far and pierced my sinus sack, or all of the root was not properly removed, or one of the three roots on this particular molar had been missed. I could go on ad-infinitum with vain thoughts and imaginations about my jaw.

I, like many of you, am considered an expert, when it comes to Google, and self diagnoses. Plus, I am no stranger to the dentist's chair. I have spent thousands on trying to correct the poor hygiene practices of my youth. I think I know every dental procedure known to man.

Well, when we were three weeks away from this trip to the states, I told Noline, I should have my tooth X-rayed again, once we arrived in Denver. Sure enough, the Dentist said; "This is one of the most problematic of all the teeth." "You need a 're-do' on that root canal." He would not touch it, and sent me to the experts who perform 'micro-surgery.' Great, all I can see now were $$$ signs. Up to this point, all I know is that I am following a perfectly human deduction of alternatives. You just follow the 'chain-link' of choices and hopefully come to a good conclusion. I was not attributing any of this to the involvement of God.

Once in the chair of the 'micro-surgeon,' he gave me a choice. He could go in through the roots and try to address the infection, which was still there even after the root canal, or he could cut along the tooth and gum line and go after the infection in an exposed format. The tissue would be peeled back revealing the tooth, membrane, bone and sinus area. Gulp, that was a bit more information than I needed. At this point, Noline, tends to get queazy wanting to faint. I on the other hand, want to either see it on video, or have a moment by moment commentary.

He then proceeded to inform me there really was no choice, and all he really needed was my consent to; 'cut,' 'peel,' 'probe,' and 'remove' all infection. It truly was a surreal experience, being highly dosed with a local anesthesia, and then to hear the cutting and feeling the reverberation on my jaw, as he cut, peeled and clipped back my gum.
The end of the story is that the root canal done in Ukraine was good. That was a pleasant relief, because the doctor there is a wonderful and dedicated Christian, and a close friend. But the infection had started at the tip of the root and spread into the bone, destroying much of it's density. It had also begun to spread to the next tooth, so he cleaned that area as well. He redeposited bone into the once infected area and proceeded to sow up the gum. Seven sutures later, penicillin, pain killers, ice packs, and a full set of instructions in hand, and I was on my way to a full healing and recovery.

Stay with me for one more example, and then I will tie it all up for you.

After spending time in Colorado, with family we flew to Boca Raton, to our son and his family. Here in this community is a beloved brother and doctor from Times Square Church. He specializes in mole removal and other types of dermatology. I had a small lesion on my arm and no matter what I tried, it did not heal. There was also a small but noticeable growth on my nose, plus a few other items I felt needed to be looked at. This prompted me, along with my wife, to make an appointment.

After a full body checkup, two biopsies, and 10 blasts of liquid nitrogen to suspicious areas of skin damage, and I was again on my way. He rushed the two skin biopsies to the laboratory, knowing we had a limited time in Florida. Just one day later, his office called to get me into surgery immediately, since he did surgery on Fridays. My report was, Basil cell carcinoma. It is the most common, non-melanoma, cancer in the United States today. Being in a late stage, mine needed to surgically removed at once. My nose was not as bad, and all it needed was a long blast of liquid nitrogen, to freeze off all the sun damaged cells.

So there I was within a two week period and again under the knife. With my arm and not my jaw this time being anesthetized. I watched a piece of skin the size of a nickel being removed. Then the edges were quarterized, and the cut photographed. he then 'sutured' it up with seven stitches. There will remain just a thin scar along my arm, a reminder to stay out of the sun, or at least go out with SPF 30 or more. Again, I have not attributed any of this to the hand of God leading or directing me. Don't get me wrong. I am always grateful to the Lord and His involvement in my life. I just was not seeing it at this time.

Now let me close this for you. Since the ministry in Ukraine, was going so well, I told Noline I did not feel we needed a vacation. She informed me, in the way only a wife can say it., "I am going to see the grandkids, you can stay if you want to, or you can join me." It sounded like such a wonderful invitation I agreed to go. Actually, I could not stand the thought of her being with the 'grandies' without me.

I had prayed hard, and for a long time to have God heal, what I believed was my sinus issues. Now, pain free in my jaw, and basil carcinoma free on my nose and arm, I only have the scars of 14 sutures to tell the story of how God was answering prayers I had forgotten about.

On this trip, I WAS BUMPING INTO GOD. He was there all along. God, was using Noline, to persuade me to take the vacation. He saw the end result would be healing. So He guides you into His plan. He is answering prayer in the most natural of ways. He used the dental specialist, and the beloved brother and dermatologist, to bring about healing in my body. They were all God's hand in my life. All that was lacking was my recognition of His mighty hand at work in my life. Im not a numerics buff, but it is amazing that there were 7 sutures both in my gum and on my arm. Seven is the number of perfection. Thank you Lord!

What a vacation. You can look at it as a miserable one with so many different visits to the doctor's office; or you can see how we bump into God along the way. His guidance is always good and it gives us the opportunity to give Him the glory.

Take a moment now, and look over your shoulder, and just reflect on how God has been there all the time for you. He has guided your footsteps every day. "I will never leave you or forsake you."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

REMEMBERING 9/11

As an eye witness to the unprecedented attack of the Twin Towers, I want to give you a brief glimpse from my personal perspective, of how God warned and prepared us as a church. Today, on the eve of the tenth year anniversary, my wife and I continue to extend a prayer for strength and comfort to the families who lost loved ones on that day.

As a nation, I think we all grew a little older, and a little wiser on September, 11, 2001. Idyllic life in the United States, was shattered into a thousand pieces in just one hour. Pain, loss and confusion, swept across the country as we all tried to come to terms, and get to grips, with the destruction which happened before our very eyes.

My day had begun early. I was already sitting at my desk which looks out the South / East window. You could clearly see the Empire State Building, standing slightly to my left, and the Twin Towers, which were clearly visible on that magnificent blue skied morning, was on my right. Our apartment was on the 25th floor of the World Wide Plaza. I was at my computer putting the finishing touches to a message I would be preaching in the service that night.

Times Square Church, (TSC) had been experiencing an unusual manifestation of the presence of God. The Holy Spirit was bringing into the sanctuary a stillness, so quiet you could hear a pin drop. A solemnity, so profoundly real, you did not know what to do next in the meeting. You felt if you even breathed too hard, you would break the holy silence. I have never been in meetings like that before or since.

A couple of months earlier when returning from Rochester, NY. with Carter Conlon, senior pastor of TSC, he had read the epistle of Hebrews out loud while I drove. As he read chapter after chapter, the book gripped us with a new sense of urgency. We decided in the automobile that day, we would preach / teach it together with Teresa Conlon, associate pastor at Times Square over the next few months.

This combination of the New Testament's epistle to the Hebrews, being taught, and the breath taking presence of God in the sanctuary, left us all with the distinct knowledge, He was warning us concerning an up coming disaster. No one knew what, when, or where. We just knew in our spirit, we had to be ready as a congregation.

God always warns His people. As a church in the heart of Manhattan, God was preparing us for what was coming. We were listening and were attentive to His promptings. But none of us could have imagined the magnitude of what happened that day.

David Wilkerson, a watchman, called and anointed to bring warning after warning to the church, confirmed this was God clearly speaking to us through a Holy Ghost hush. Pastor Dave, years ago recognized the Western church in many cases, had lost it's spiritual compass and true moral moorings. He saw much of it heading into the Laodicean debacle. Laodicea, a first century church, had equated worldly riches with spiritual riches. God had called it wretched, naked, and blind. Yet He stood at the door and knocked, and if anyone would hear Him, He would come in, and fellowship with them, and them with Him. We were having quiet but divine fellowship and we were hearing Him.

The phone rang! Surprised, I picked it up answering the call. It was a friend of ours in Colorado. I stopped working on my message. I gazed out the window watching workers on a building a couple of blocks to the south of us. Then I saw it. It was a passenger plane flying way too low passing on the north side of the Empire State Building. With my friend still on the phone I yelled to Noline; "The plane is too low, the plane is too low. I think the pilot is going to land it in the Hudson." She ran to join me. I was now standing and I dropped the phone on the desk, and ran to the living room window which faces directly south.

I watched, dumb founded, as the aircraft banked sharply to the left and continued flying down the Hudson river. It kept that arched turn as it then flew directly into the North Tower. The ball of fire which immediately erupted was so huge, it completely engulfed the top of the Tower. From that 25th floor, we saw the South Tower hit and then both Towers collapse. My son who had an appointment that day in the North Tower, was now with us. His appointment was for 10am, he said he could not get an earlier slot, otherwise he would have been in the Tower. Thank God, Deryk was one of the fortunate, that day.

As a church, we assembled a crew in minutes. They had blankets, water and sandwiches, ready to take to the first responders at ground zero. Our feeding van we use to take food to the homeless on the streets of Manhattan, was now parked as close as permissible to the disaster area. From there a team of volunteers worked tirelessly handing out water and sandwiches to any and all who needed.

The church opened it's doors to, "come one, come all." Anyone and everyone who wandered up from downtown, was welcomed with open arms. Throughout the ordeal, we joined the thousands of others across the city who gave everything they could to help in the disaster.

In the subsequent trauma of those affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Times Square Church, was one of many who hosted on site training to help counsel those who were immediately affected by 9/11.

We remember those who died that day, we remember them all. The innocent and the brave. We salute you. You will not be forgotten, you will always be honored by us. May the families who lost loved ones feel the warmth of our prayers, and take courage in this day of remembrance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bumping Into God

Hello dear readers, I'm away from my computer and using a recently purchased ipad. I am still navigating around the so called "user friendly Apple gaget," so I regret there are no pictures on this blog. Now you are welcome to write and let me know how to retrieve them and place them in the blog. Thanks. Also, please excuse long paragraphs. I have them clearly delineated in the rough draft, but for some reason they do not show in the posting. Oh, well. I can't believe how fast time has flown. It seems like just the other day I was on the overnight train from Ivano Fronkivsk, to Kiev. It was Memorial day and the beginning of summer. I was snacking on Russian salted string cheese as the train rocked back and forth. Now, suddenly, we are already at the end of the summer. We are celebrating Labor day with the great American cookout. Beef hamburgers and of course the famous favorite for children and adult alike, the "hotdog," with ketchup, mustard and relish. As a family we will be contributing to the amazing national statistic of over 800 hotdogs a second being consumed on this day.

Presently, we are sitting in our son and daughter in-law's air conditioned home in Florida. In this part of the country the rules of summer do not apply. Summer is not over here, we are still putting SPF 30 on our untanned skin to protect us from the intensity of the sun.

Noline and I have been vacationing with our family Stateside for the last month, hence the vacation from the blog. We started out with our daughter and her family up in a cabin nestled in the foothills of the awesome Rocky Mountains. We took time out to preach for Gary Wilkerson, at The Springs Church, in Colorado Springs. And now after some time in Florida, we will return to Ukraine and to the revival meetings in Ivano. It has been a wonderful time relaxing with some of our favorite little people, the grandchildren.

I have often spoken of the concept of "bumping into God." These are unplanned meetings with God which are unprecedented and unpredictable. For example, Joshua, while walking toward Jericho, on a recce to determine just how to conquer the city, met with the Son of God. Just maybe, it was in the cool of the evening as he walked (A favorite time with God and Adam) in the lengthening shadows of his surroundings toward the ominous walled fortress. There, standing alone, was a man with a drawn sword. "Friend or foe?" Joshua cried out. Little did he know at the time this was going to be a "bump into God moment." And that is how most of our meetings with God are. We are surprised by the moment, and only in retrospect do we recognize it was God we bumped into. Most call that significant meeting of Joshua's a 'Theophany,' and I tend to agree with them. I believe it is here where he receives heavens directions of toppling those impenetrable walls.

Saul of Tarsus, is another example of "bumping into God." On his way to persecute renegade Christians in Damascus, he is knocked to the ground by light. The voice of the Son of God is both intimidating and intimate. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" "Who are you Lord, and what do you want me to do?" Replied the smitten Pharisee. It is in this "bump with God" that turns a murderer into a missionary extraordinaire.

The bible is full of amazing stories concerning men and women who, 'bumped into God,' and their lives were instantly changed and forever. But don't get me wrong, you are going to need courage to head off into the sunset with God when He bumps into the mundaness of your everyday life. "Many are called, but few are chosen," declares the scriptures. Another translation says it this way; "many are called but few prove themselves to be chosen." In other words, few respond with the boldness needed to be outrageous for God.
Just sit back and take another hard look at the strategy given to Joshua on how to defeat this barricaded enemy. Think about it for a moment. After that meeting in the wilderness with a man and his drawn sword, Joshua had to then follow the directives which were given to him. By the way, this my interpretation of this meeting with Christ in the desert and Joshua. I believe it was at that same meeting in the desert where Joshua hears how the city will fall. He was told to simply march around the walls for seven days and then shout on the seventh and at that moment, they would crumple and fall straight down. Yikes! Easy to read this story, but it is another thing to believe it could really happen this way. Place yourself into Joshua's shoes. Would you have believed a complete stranger in an uninhabited wasteland by simply walking and shouting your victory would be accomplished? That act of faith on Joshua's part could not have been easily manufactured. It had to of come from a meeting with God. Without "bumping into God" we will never be able to do or see the impossible take place.

Being more practical than spiritual I can easily see the utter complexity of taking a few million plus people around a stone fortress and telling them that after six days those walls are going to come down. I can hear the chatter going on in the tents that night before the first day of marching around Jericho. "What do you think the people in the city are going to think of us?" "No doubt they are going to say we are nothing more than a bunch of fanatical heretics, following a leader who does not really have a battle plan." Listen to me today. Unless you see these stories in real life drama, which they are, you are never going to believe that God can bring down your walled cities. You will always succumb to being a hearer and not a doer of the word. To be a leader, even if it is only to your own family, you must meet with God. It does not have to have the dramatics of a Joshua meeting Christ in the desert, or a Saul knocked down to the ground on the road to Damascus. It can be as simple as sitting in a service and the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart as was the case with us living in Africa. In the late 1970's there was a visiting guest speaker from the States. I do not remember the message, but I do remember the voice of the Spirit saying, "you will be going to the United States." That was it, not a huge bump from God, but enough to make me sit up and listen. On the way home that day I said to Noline, I had a strange feeling in the service today. She said she did as well. I said, "You tell me first." She said, "No, you tell me first." I then said, "I brought up the subject so you go first." She said, "OK, OK, this is what I sensed, I felt the Lord saying we would be going to the United States." "Me too!" I exclaimed. Then three years or so later we were on a plane with a one way ticket heading to the US. Yes, you could buy one way tickets in those days believe it or not. We landed in Chicago's O'Hare International airport, and ended up pastoring a church in Sioux Falls, SD. All because we "bumped into God" in a small house gathering to hear a speaker from the good O'l US of A. Today is Labor Day. We celebrate the worker. Commissioned a national holiday in 1882. The first Monday on September, 5th was selected as it was halfway between Independence day and Thanksgiving day. It was designed to give the hard working man or woman an honorable day of rest from their labor. And that is exactly what faith is. It is REST from our labors and trusting in the power of God to do the impossible. So we might be enjoying the well deserved break form our labors today, but don't forget this national holiday has a spiritual counterpart. Hebrew 4:11 "Let us labor therefore to enter into His rest." A great play on words from a mighty God who is not only able to deliver, He wants to deliver us from all our fears.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF A BLACKBERRY


Sergey and Lena
 Our village, Rzhischiv, was built around a wide inlet along the Dnieper River. This cove was forged between two incredibly large rolling hills. Over time the river has steadily cut away at the once majestic mounds and exposed its clay body to the harsh and ever changing elements. For the tourist and wedding party, seeking to capture the most exquisite photos of the area, these scalpeled (my own word) hills provide the perfect vista of the spectacular Dnieper. This great river runs all the way through Ukraine from top to bottom. It is deep enough to have scheduled overnight passenger ferries from Kiev, located in the center of the country, right down to Odessa, at the coastal shores of the Black sea in the south. 

It has taken me over a year to learn how to pronounce Rzhishchiv. I have had to clinch my teeth while speaking through the corner of my mouth in order to make a feeble attempt at this word. I still don’t have it down pat, but it does produce a welcoming smile from the locals when I try to say it. I have noticed a slight and subtle gleeful pride exhibited, when they politely correct my butchered enunciation. I am proud of them being proud of their town’s name. It’s how it should be.

Buster's first introduction to swimming. Out like a shot!

My dog, Buster, loves to swim. On his first visit to the Dnieper River, I had to drag him into the water with his leash. It is an inexplicable fact, that fear of the unknown can change the very stalwart, into cowering and whimpering cowards. There was no reasoning with my dog. He did not understand this was going to be fun. At the first chance he was out in a shot. But I left that day well satisfied with the few moments of this new introduction of water to him.


On our next visit, he was a tich more explorative, venturing farther out into the deep. Obviously, being smarter than him, I used the oldest trick in the book to entice him into the water. ‘I tossed a stick approximately four meters out into the river, and told him to fetch.’ I know my dog, and I knew he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to “fetch.” I simply capitalized on his inbred desire to please. Before fear could grip his imagination, he was jumping into the water chasing after the now floating piece of wood. He instantly ‘doggie-paddled’ through the water to retrieve the stick, and I am sure he was amazed at how he was being buoyed while paddling. He was focused on his object and in the process was finding new confidence in the water with every stroke. Today, as soon as he sees us heading for the car, he’s at the gate waiting to be taken to the beach. We no longer need to entice him; he runs right in, without any goading and loves every minute of it. What a water baby he has turned out to be.

Giving Buster some welcomed encouragement.

Now before you think this is another story about our menagerie, let me tell you right up front it’s not. It is actually all about my “Blackberry.” On one of our recent trips to the Dnieper, I had my phone in my swimsuit pocket while swimming with Buster. We had spent over 40 minutes in the water before I realized it, and it had been submerged all this time. I felt sick to my stomach. After all this was the ‘Blackberry Edge.’ A master piece of ingenuity and design! Once home I looked up on the internet to see how others had dealt with their water-logged cell phones. I became engrossed in how to take it apart piece by piece.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I did not have the right screwdriver to completely undo the base from the mother board. Instead I took my wife’s hair dryer and blew dried it for a few minutes. I then replaced the battery to see if it would light up. Not a chance! Nothing! It was as dead as a doornail. I tried plugging it into the power source to see if would take a charge. I read later that this was the last thing you should do. They were right; nothing lighted up and so I sadly discarded my $500 friend on one of the art studio tables. There it lay, taunting my already melancholy heart day after day. I was almost convinced into entertaining getting an iphone. Whew! That was a close one. If you wear Levi’s you don’t buy Wrangler’s. If you drink Coke, you don’t buy Pepsi. If you were raised on the King James you do not buy the NIV. If you use a Blackberry, you do not buy an iphone unless it’s for your wife.  A week passed and out of the blue I thought I would plug it in one more time. Bingo! (Oops) I should have said, “Praise the Lord.” The battery was taking a charge. Today, I have a fully functioning phone. I have been through all of the apps and nothing seems to have been affected. So there you have it. What was lost has now been found, what once was dead is now alive.

In the 'Old City' of Warsaw.
I’ve said all this to actually bring you to the moral of the story. Jesus alone said, “He is the resurrection and the life,” and it is always amazing to me how He dispenses life at His own unique time. Noline and I were in Warsaw, recently. We were invited to stay at the Nigerian Ambassador’s official residence. We were also meeting Bettina there, as she was beginning her vacation. To our delight we were picked up in a chauffeur driven black Mercedes. Our bags were wheeled to the car and the doors were opened and closed for us. I thought to myself, “I could get used to this.” Our Ambassador and host is a strong believer and staying in her home was one of our great delights. I have exhorted her to write a book, “Ambassador for Christ.” She has incredible stories of those she has met and witnessed too, in her many years representing her country abroad.

After preaching in a local church on Sunday, the pastor, his wife and a group of intimate friends came over for a dinner party, hosted at the residence on Monday evening. Among these special guests was a young engaged couple. I asked everyone if I could share a short twenty minute teaching during desert. (How could they turn me down? Right!) As I opened up the scriptures I noticed that this young couple was focused intently on the teaching. Abruptly, at the close they stood up intending to leave as a prearranged ride was waiting for them. The Ambassador, accustomed to exercising great authority told them to sit down and not to leave until I had prayed for them. I simply thought they wanted a ‘blessing’ on their future life together. That is when the Ambassador revealed the young lady was not a Christian and her fiancĂ© was not walking with the Lord.


They see eye to eye on most things!

In a few moments of time, discerning faith had already risen in their hearts through the preaching of God’s Word, I asked the question all of us have been confronted with, by the Holy Spirit at one time or another. “Would you like to receive Jesus Christ into your life?” Both affirmed their desire for change and so we all got onto our knees and prayed together inviting Jesus Christ to become both Lord and Savior. He rededicated his life to the Lord. We came away from Poland with a fresh appreciation that we are only servants doing our Lord’s bidding. For us, going to Poland on this trip was actually a last minute change in our already busy schedule, “but we must needs go through Warsaw.”

I think there is something of a test which comes to all of us. Are we willing to obey the voice of the Lord for one person? In this case it was two. I do not know what will come from this very powerful weekend in Poland; but then again, it was Jesus, who said; “I am the resurrection and the life” and not us. If a miserable Blackberry can come back to life and give us joy, how much more joy is there in heaven when two lives come into eternal life?

We are off to the States tomorrow the 10th to visit with our other two children and their wonderful spouses and very excited children. My next blog will be Stateside.

Monday, July 18, 2011

THE MIRACLE OF NEW LIFE

It was 12:30am. We were in a deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. I shifted my legs slightly, moving the dead weight of our cat who was sleeping on them. It was hot and sultry. The overhead fan had a cadenced 'whirr', which acted as a mechanical sleeping pill lulling us into sleep and keeping outside noises to a minimum.

Lilly, with her three babies.
 I subconsciously turned onto my right side and pulled the sheet up to my neck. Our cat moved with the changes and then settled up against my back. I awoke with a sudden jolt and realized that our very pregnant cat had without provocation clawed me. On went the light, waking Noline. We both instinctively rubbed our tired eyes trying to grasp the magnitude of a now wet sheet, which we would come to understand as her womb waters, which had broken. Lilly, had jumped off and was now under the bed. She was uncharacteristically meowing. We both understood her new behavior was indicative of the beginning of labor pains.

Noline picked her up and placed her in a specially prepared box with a layer of shredded paper. This birthing bed was specifically located in our walk-in closet; this was to give Lilly a sense of security from her pesky nemesis, Buster, our German Shepherd. We had obtained Lilly from Elosha and his wife Oxona. They are close neighbors to us; he was the general contractor over the remodeling of our house, and Oxona is one of my prized artists whom I have been tutoring over the past year.

Lilly is a very small cat with distinctive Siamese markings and is by no means a pure bred. Noline had requested that I allow her to bond with Lilly since the last cat we had owned had lived for 21 years, and was exclusively my cat. He had seen our three children finish grade school, high school and college. To this day I think they thought I loved James more than them. He had lived in South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, back to Colorado and finally New York City, NY. He had travelled all over the East Coast of the United States in a motor home, lost an eye to a virus, and walked on a 4 inch ledge outside of our apartment on the 25th floor in Manhattan. I still get the 'shiveries' whenever I think about that.

James, my cat who lived for 21 years
 When we put him down because of cancer we kept his ashes in a small wooden box. One of my granddaughters, Fiona, seeing me sad and dejected soon after his death, said, "papa, you should not be sad, you still have grandma, and you have me and you have James' bones." I think she was truly traumatised by seeing his bones in the box. But God did encourage me through her kind words. James, was always a thorough gentleman to Noline. If she picked him up he would sit on her lap for a few minutes making sure never to offend. But once I walked into the room he was off her lap and onto mine. 

I was more than happy to let this bonding with Noline and Lilly take its course since I had my own puppy I was bonding with. Over the course of the past year and a half we had often talked about having Lilly spayed. This became a strong resolution after she came into heat for the first time, and just about drove us crazy. This non-meowing kitten which had taken on Noline’s personality of a beautiful introvert, completely changed overnight and became an overbearing and highly avarice cat. We guarded the back door with our lives fearing the worst if she should escape into the underworld of ally cats. There were a few times she escaped into the night but fortunately this heated time in her life passed and we regained our darling little introvert.

Surviving after loseing an eye.

Neither of us suspected she would come back into heat so quickly. Displaying my gross ignorance on the topic, which I have hence rectified via the internet, I thought this condition was a yearly thing or at the most twice a year. But this furry Houdini, managed to get past the human border post and blockade without a passport, and lived an unabated and licentious lifestyle for the next two days while in primetime heat. She came home bedraggled, thin, and worse for wear.

We first began to suspect her new pregnant condition by the way she would now loving rub against your leg followed by loud purrs. She had never been a voracious eater. She would prefer to lick the juices around her chunky meat than to chew and swallow the lumps. We gave her food and she devoured everything in sight. Wikipedia on the gestation period for cats was 62-65 days. So here we were at 12:45am, 60+ days later, and we were ready for this brand new mom to deliver her little parcels.

I had repeatedly threatened to drown all but one of her litter. There are already too many stray cats and dogs in the neighborhood without adding to that number. Our granddaughter, Bronwyn, threatened never to speak to me again if I did. Do I risk my granddaughter not speaking to me and have fewer mouths to feed; or do I capitulate from my threat and let everyone come to their own conclusions whether I had the guts to do it or not. At the end of the blog you will have to decide for yourself.

It did not take Lilly long after her waters broke to be in strong labor. She did not mind us being with her and Noline was able to comfort and help her in the process. What a miracle to see the first kitten being born. With no instruction manual, human parents who simply watched but could not really assist; this new little mommy was doing everything God had instinctively built into her. She was doing an amazing job. Kudos to you our little darling. We hung around her nest changing the shredded paper as needed. This was an incredible moment, both for mommy cat and for us.

Another close up of mother and babes!
 On her third baby, we were disturbed to see she was not helping it or cleaning it. Lilly was ignoring this kitten as it moved weakly around. She bit the cord and digested the afterbirth as she had dutifully done on the first two. Then to our amazement, she stood, picked up this struggling kitten and deposited it in the farthest corner of the room in between two of our travel cases. She immediately went back to her other two kittens and continued to care for them. We were baffled for a moment, thinking she would move all her babies to the new location. But no! She completely ignored this one. We hung around for another half hour bringing us close to 2 am in the morning.

When we were well satisfied that both mommy and two babies were doing fine, we made our own preparations to get back to sleep. Noline made sure there were fresh paper, milk, water and food in close proximity so as to alleviate any concern on Lilly’s part. She would not have to hunt for nourishment during this confinement period. We chatted for the longest time about what a great mother she was, and of our consternation concerning the rejected kitten. The gentle “whirr” of the overhead fan did its wonderful trick of lulling us back into another sound sleep, and I’m sure I saw the faintest smile on Noline’s face, as she drifted off into her own world of thoughts about motherhood and birthing.

I know she was proud of this feline and of women in general. There was this “take charge” of the situation which she initiated right from the beginning. I graciously took back seat on this one. After all, she knew firsthand just what this little mother was going through and just when to help her. I was proud of both, and if Noline had glanced at me while sleep captivated my tired mind, she too would have no doubt seen the faintest smile on my face.

In the morning to our wildest surprise, Lilly, whom we thought had delivered all her babies, had given us another one. This had made a pregnancy of four with three surviving. She does not leave them for a second. From seeing this little cat who loved to be outside chasing butterflies and stalking grasshoppers, to now cherishing her new born babies uncontested, all we can say is; “God, you are good and your mercy endures forever.” “You have wowed us by your creation.” “You have renewed in us your awesomeness.” “We love you and we worship you.” “Now, does anybody want a kitten? We are giving them away free of charge to a good home.”  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

KEEP YOUR TRUST IN GOD

Our New Tasteful Green Fence
A blood curdling scream broke forcibly into my lost thoughts, as I was sitting in my art studio dabbling with color on a canvas. It was one of those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” when everything is moving deliciously in slow motion. I was jolted out of my state of self induced limbo, and brought consciously back into the present reality of a world full of misfortune and difficulties.
 
It was the cry of a young child, either hurt or bitten but definitely dying. I waited for an eternity of two seconds to hear if there was any sound of Noline rushing like a 911 call to the scene. Nothing! Again, another anguished outburst rang up to the second floor rafters of the art studio. It was that unmistakable shriek; like the realization you’ve slipped and fallen off a cliff and are freefalling swiftly into the canyon below. I thrust back my director’s armchair from canvas and easel and hurtled my 58 year old frame down the stairs. I found new abilities I thought were long gone. I was contorting to the distinctive twists and turns of the staircase as I sped to the aid of the distressed. Our German Shepherd, who had been asleep in the coatroom, was sitting up wild eyed having been alerted by the high pitched yell. Whew! At least he is not the culprit or the source of the problem. He becomes easily excited when the grandkids come down to play and he does not always realize how big he is. He has a tendency to rough house the little ones while intuitively herding them.

There it was again, a definite death squeal! They were coming now in greater rapidity. Every bit of adrenalin within me forced my thinking into a fight or flight mode; I swung open the back door and literally dove to the source of the cry, all the time expecting to find the worst. As I took my first glance around the corner of the house, I was immediately confronted by our youngest grandchild, gripped in a panicked fear. He was clinging on for dear life, clutching white knuckled to the top of the gate, while his small body dangled limp underneath.

Taking Our Dog Buster For A Swim In The River


The gated and fenced yard is relatively new. We were obliged to put up the fence or place our dog on a chain. Since Psalm 36 says, God takes care of both people and animals; I had no heart to restrict him to a two meter chain. Our neighbors seed beds of summer vegetables were springing up everywhere with vibrant life, and our dog was not being very neighborly about them. His adventurous spirit took him across grass and garden alike, without concern for the tender and delicate shoots. My choice, much to everyone’s delight, was the tastefully green wire mesh fence. (See the top photo of our back yard.) It is two meters high as are the gates. It was the perfect but costly solution. Unfortunately, for the little gradkids, we have to keep the gates keyed because ‘Buster,’ has learned how to depress the handle and open them. Why didn’t anyone tell us just how smart German Shepherds are?

Noah, our grandson, decided to climb up the locked gate, instead of waiting and doing his usual calling for grandma to come and unlock it for him. His four year old sentence goes something like this. “This is Noah grandma, at the gate.” His baby pitched voice penetrates any and all household gadgets, which might be ‘whirring,’ ‘buzzing,’ or ‘whining.’ Since the gate is directly under the kitchen window, grandma responds immediately to his requests with; “Grandma, is coming Nobie (that’s his nickname).” Having reached the top with his tiny hands gripping the bar he had nowhere to dig in his shoes. He was hanging down with arms totally out stretched and his feet clawing to find some kind of a foothold. With a fountain of tears cascading down his face, he now bemoaned this unfortunate fate.


At The War Memorial
  Noah’s inquisitive mind must have painted a picture of scaling the gate like some well trained and disciplined soldier. Probably no one will ever know exactly what he was actually contemplating, not even himself. But his adventure sure had gotten him into this perceived and precarious life threatening predicament. With death knocking at his door, he did what every child is adept in doing. He screamed!


A Happier Noah!
 Children are well skilled from birth and by natural instinct to let their needs be known by “Screaming.” I remember when Noline and I brought home our first child from the hospital; we would hover over Deborah’s crib with bated breath, making sure we could see her tiny chest moving up and down as her lungs filled and exhaled with air. We noted and listened to every little whimper, squeak or grunt. And we, as proud and dutiful new parents, doted on her every whim and desire. She soon learned that with every half hearted moan, she was immediately picked up and cuddled until she fell asleep again. She had us well trained and when we did not respond quick enough she screamed. However, with our second daughter, Heather, we were much more discerning. It had to be the definite cry of “OK! I’m starving parents, how about feeding me!” And then by the time we had our third child, a son, we were at the point with Deryk where it had to be a near death experience before we moved from a deep sleep to attend to him.

Within a nano second of my keen observation, I had assessed the right response to this critical situation. I simultaneously reached for the key with one hand and turned the lock; my other hand was immediately on the handle, and with lightening speed I gently swung open the gate. On a different occasion, Noah might have enjoyed the ride. My words were loud enough to override the noise of his crying, but soft and reassuring for him to know, he was in good hands. “Papa’s got you Nobie,” I said, as I reached out and undergirded him and lifted his minute weight off the strain on his hands. Instantly, after being relieved of the gravitational pull downwards and feeling the strength of Papa lifting him up, his yells turned into gentle sobs. I then enjoyed what all grand parents live for. He instinctively put his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. I loved every minute of being Superman to him.

But it was at that same moment, I could not suppress my smile and internal giggle. You see, Noah imagined a demise of falling into a deep canyon hundreds of feet below, when in actuality he was only 5 inches away from the ground.

It was then the Lord spoke to my heart. He said, “This is just like my people. They scream blue murder, fearing they are going to die, when from heaven’s perspective they are just like Noah, just five inches from the ground. They look at their circumstances from a human point of view and see nothing but problems. The truth of the matter is that my people don’t trust me.” Wow! I felt personally convicted. Only God can talk about His children and you get convicted. I repented for all the times I have bawled like a baby, only to find out He had the answer all the time. He told me to learn from this experience. God said He comes to our rescue (Jeremiah 33:3) all the time at the instant of our cries. But more than His immediate attendance to us and our so called pressing circumstances, is that He gives us the constant assurance that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. Every incident in life, including physically dying, is just 5 inches from the ground as far as He is concerned, and heaven is the reward for our believing. Life and resurrection power are always available to us in Christ, and that is throughout our life time. His word to me was to trust God in everything. Trust him. Period!

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut 33:27 KJV).   

Friday, July 8, 2011

KEEPING YOUR RELATIONSHIP ALIVE

On the Dniper River
Happy belated birthday America!

I was riding back on the Ukranian Express; at least that’s what I call it, on July 4th . As I have written multiple times about the railroad and its ancient trains, I will not bore you with too many details.

However, I was celebrating on my own in the compartment and thinking about all the great barbecues taking place in the US of A. You can tell when you are missing the plethora of restaurant choices, when you get excited about going to McDonalds for dinner in Kiev. Hmmm, I’m sure I could smell the hamburgers and hotdogs you were cooking on the gas grill, while I was riding in the train. In my mind’s eye I could see the potato salads, jello salads and the dishes of salsa and Dorito chips everywhere. Iced tea and a slew of other choice cordials, with real ice, and Diet Coke set out on the table (sorry, I’m not a Pepsi drinker).

All these thoughts were traversing through my mind while I was eating “shoelace” string cheese, which is smoked and heavily salted. It could easily be sold as cheese jerky. I also had a Tupperware container with a few pieces of Ukranian ‘shishlek.’ This is commonly known in the west as ‘shish kabob.’ In Ukraine they skewer huge cubed pieces of pork, which is nicely marinated, and then it is cooked over red hot coals. This is their national barbecue. They love this stuff and heaven help you if you cook over gas. “Nee harrashaw,” or not good. It has to be real coals with perhaps a small green branch from a blackberry bush to give it a distinct flavor. I have to say, Ukraine knows how to cook pork. It was scrumchy and finger lick’n good! To finish my gourmet meal I had a couple of tomatoes to go with my ‘shishlek’ and some unbuttered bread. For desert I had a stash of genuine Werthers hard toffee, butterscotch candies, which I sucked arduously swirling them from one side to the other, savoring them to the last tiny morsel. And then you have to bite  and crunch them at the end. No one can just suck Werhers without crunching them. If you write and tell me you do, all I can say is that you are weird Charlie Brown!

A hammock tied to the old tree!
The car conductor does offer instant coffee or a hot glass cup of black tea. Your only choice on the tea is if you want lemon with it. It automatically comes with two small packets of sugar, made from beats and not cane. I chose the tea. And to the rocking movement of the train, with its rhythmic ‘clickity clack’ giving me the base chord to my own minstrel interpretation, I swayed back and forth singing, “America, America God shed His grace on you…” I must admit, I did this with a lump in my throat and my eyes were more than moist, in fact a tear glistened in the setting sun as it gently rolled down my cheek. In that moment I missed you all. My consolation was, we would soon be visiting our grandchildren in the States and would once again be able to indulge our taste buds with the great foods we know so well. We will be able to see many of you and simply hug on your neck. Thank you for being out there for us.

The next morning I caught a cab to a bus depot where Noline and I were to rendezvous at a grocery / furniture store. We needed to stock up on a few perishables, mainly for our wonderful German Shepherd. Actually, he is beginning to eat us out of house and home. I was fortunate enough to have been dropped off at a crucial time early in the morning. There was a break in the inclement weather we have been having over the last three weeks, as it has rained incessantly every day. We did not even get a glimpse of a rainbow giving us hope we weren’t going to be flooded out. In fact, today is the first real day of continuous sunshine  we have had. We are thankful for the rain though. Almost 100% of suburban living draws its water from dug wells. The water table was low and we were conserving our use of household water before the rains. Those measures could now be relaxed considerably with the rise in the table. The cooler weather has also been an added blessing.


Unbeknown to me, Noline had increased her shopping list of perishables to include a small complex, ‘you put it together yourself,’ computer desk. There was also a bookcase to be purchased, which it to needed assembling, and two sets of curtains with rods to be put up in the art studio. After spending eight days on the mountain in Ivano Frankivsk, where the glory of God was manifest in the revival meetings; all this projected work felt like a sudden descent into the valley of the demon possessed. I needed a rest not a ‘honey dew’ list.

How cool is Noline standing next to the old Pine tree.
Later that day, my grandson and I handled the computer table with relative ease. It looks great in the corner under the stairway leading up to the second floor. A perfect assembly and a perfect fit. I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point. I was ready to tackle the bookcase which was precut and machined in India. It has these funky nuts that you slide into the factory drilled holes. You put the shelves in alignment to the sides, slide the bolts into their assigned positions and whamo, it fits like a glove and in 10 minutes you have a professionally built bookcase. Noline and I were going to do this together. What better way to reconnect with each other after a weeks absence than to build a bookcase together. Right!

After 38 years of marriage, you would’ve thought we had learned that the best laid plans never turn out exactly the way they should. Actually, you begin to think in the opposite direction. Both of us being 58, we thought we had already past the test and now it's gravy all the way. It’ll be a piece of cake. So I take the lead and lay out all the pieces, making sure we have the shelves facing the right direction. Noline told me to call her when I had everything arranged. I instinctively knew that with her absence I would have to explain everything again to her. With all the little wooden dowel pegs tapped into place they would easily guide the shelves perfectly into position. This was going to be done in a jiffy.
Neil preaching at a youth camp on an island on the Dniper River
I called Noline, “Honey, I’m ready.  All you have to do sweetie is lift up each shelf just a tich, and push the dowels into the slots.” “No, don’t pull my side away. STOP!” “Now I will have to redo them all.” OK, so half an hour later we had those shelves precariously held together with those inchy wooden guides. All we have left to do is insert those funky metal nuts into the under part of each shelf. They should go in effortlessly. The bolts could then slide in to meet the nuts. Screw clockwise until tight. Easy! So I instructed softly and delicately, remembering we had been apart for a week and I needed to keep the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ attitude going. “Hold the nut horizontally with the pre-marked line on the outside and slip it in.” “No! Don’t try to take it out now because you put it in the wrong way.” “Aghh.” The whole thing fell apart again. So we start the process one more time. I’m smiling, all the while keeping rising blood levels in check. Be kind, be nice and do not, under any circumstances, raise your voice one decibel above mono tone. The next attempt proved to be more successful. This time Noline was looking like the cat who got the cream,  because she was getting all the nuts and bolts put together before me. I did not know she had suddenly turned this into a race. I was the one now battling with two bolts which did not align correctly, and I could not get them to thread properly. The last thing I needed was stripped threads. There is no way I am going to be able to buy these kinds of funky nuts and bolts in any hardware store in Ukraine.

Youth camp - Dniper River in the background.
With her side of the bookcase finished, she calmly stood up and told me to call her when I was done, and she would help to lift and carry it into position. Something in the way she said that made me think she was bragging over Mr. Fix-it guy. One hour later, a hole drilled right through the two stubborn shelves and I was done. Now I had to fill in the new holes I had created in order to get the two to meet. Wood putty! That should do the trick. I would need to get to the hardware store and get a small can.

OK, OK, I ‘fessed up to the crime and acknowledged she had won the race I did not remember making. We would leave the holes and cover them with books. Now, all I had left to do was to hang the two curtain rods, with the curtains and I would be done. The romantic feelings were still intact. Yahoo!

The curtains did go up without too much hassle and at the end of the day, I had a very happy woman on my hands. She too was gracious enough not to bring up the badly scarred bookcase. All’s well that ends well. So let me say this, I would rather be frustrated with a project than with my wife. It is a choice you make. I am both happy and blessed to have her help, even if she ends up being better than me. I am glad I had the side with the incorrect drilled holes and the rest of the evening was simply wonderful.

Marriage will always take work regardless of how long you have been together. I secretly enjoyed seeing her triumphant, and the swagger, yes, it definitely was a swagger, when she walked away with her side complete, was simply awesome. I loved it and I love her.