The coming of spring is almost the very moment as I write you - on Wednesday, March 20, at 4:45 pm. We used to sing at Easter time: "Spring! Spring! Spring burst today. Alleluia."
From our apartment window I can see grass, and - the tiniest buds on the linden tree just beyond our balcony. Everybody's talking about the warming temperatures.
The earth turns, and we turn - to small things. To tiny birds singing lustily, unseen, on branches that have just doffed their snow; and as yet have only the buds that have not yet brought leaves. We look at small blades of grass, already turning from brown to green. We look at little signs of something wonderful coming.
We're ready for warmer winds, for waving daffodils, for Easter's lilies. We're ready to walk, to cross puddles, to marvel at what actually happens as the earth turns into its most welcomed, and loveliest, season.
Joy comes more easily to our hearts that were so snowbound, and cold. I follow a Lenten journey that comes from New Hampshire - the work of an environmentalist par excellence, who for 20 years has fought to preserve the waters that she fights to preserve for us all: the great Ossipee acquifers, the Bearcamp and Pine that flow into Lake Ossipee, and Ossipee's own river - the "channel" as it's called running out of the lake, soon to converge with the Saco, coming down from the north, both heading to the sea.
My friend, who heads the Green Mountain Conservation Group, is an artist, with camera and paintbrush. She tracks the winter moonlight shining down on forest snow paths. She brings poetry to the pictures. And scripture. And her own thoughtful reflections. I get printed copies of pictures and thoughts. They all move the heart. They bless me, and help me walk through the strange season of changes from winter to spring, from sadness to hope. And most of all, to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Her reflection has help so much in this year that has seemed so chaotic, so angry, so unkind, so full of "gotcha" politics - and so, of hurt, and withdrawal, and darkness, and defeat.
Blair bears the gospel in her own attentive riverside and mountain trail way. Her following is quite large. Her blessing is so wide, not to be contained.
She offers something very different. Something thoughtful and loving. A song, just when so many of us have given up singing. Praise God for her. She reminds us of the good God. Of His redeeming power. Of His infinite love. She's on the restoring side.
St. Paul says, "Whatever things are good and lovely, think on them." Don't dwell on the dark. So, in this season of light and hope, I rejoice to think of the sun, and sky, and birds, and grass. And, of Jesus, out on the trail, stopping before the likes of me, and in His compelling way, saying, "COME. FOLLOW ME. I will change your life." I'm ready, and I rise to go.
The church I love, and so many members and friends love, is going these days through its own "March Madness."
Not at the sidelines of basketball, but in the pews of prayer, carried on through the days and nights of our bearing close upon our hearts the very lives of our minister, and his wife, and daughter.
Our minister's wife is living through the first stages of her cancer diagnosis and chemo treatment, while his daughter and he bear with her, walk with her, uphold her, love her with their wise, brave, and wounded hearts standing bare before the Christian company they so well serve, and so deeply love, pray and uphold, and serve with a love growing deeper and more tender every day.
Heroically, the family has already headed out to a long-planned pilgrimage to Israel with a company of pilgrims committed to traveling with them.
They will see and embark upon the Sea of Galilee, worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, walk the stations of the Cross to Calvary, and stuff their own earnest prayers into the crevices of the Temple's Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
They have done deeply and tenderly what God calls His pastoral families to do - to live out their own lives of growing faith and painful experiences before the congregation they love, and who love them - teaching them, and telling their story as the days pass as they walk the way of the excruciating process of confronting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, enduring the pain of the very treatment itself, and holding close their own hurt hearts, as they walk with God, the Great Physician, and hold out hands and hearts to the multitude of believers who surround them, and serve them, and comfort, and encourage them, even while they become more and more precious to those in their deepening faith and growing and learning love.
It is, I suppose, a kind of ancillary love and deepening unity and caring that is God's own work of His Holy Spirit, forging a forever bond of faith and oneness as this precious family comes close to the pastoral family who are, inevitably teaching them the ways of God out of their own experience of the pilgrimage through this battle for health, with the accompanying hope of the Gospel, in Christ Jesus, Who is Lord of it all.
It is the experience for which no one asks, yet it comes as the context for the life of congregation and pastoral family, as we all are made ever more surely into a company together, of love, and hope, walking together, and growing mysteriously, into a wisely taught and lovingly lifted true body of Christ.
Tonight I read stories in the Wall Street Journal about all sorts of wealthy people. People who had money, and people who wanted money. About one young woman, a fast-talker, who founded a company that invented a little box that could test your blood and do amazing things for your good health. Reputable people bought into it and invested wildly in what this young woman said her invention could do.
Apparently, she knew it didn't work, but she looked people in the eye and never blinked. Told them all sorts of wonderful things about her little box. She made people believe her, trust her, invest hugely in her scheme, till finally she was caught, and exposed. She peddled trust and sold nothing for millions.
We live in a world that wants to make money - that is fascinated by the plots and plans of people to make money, and win power.
I've also been reading the lives of great national leaders in America - Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, and now, of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and a "golden age of journalism."
In every story of these lives there was privilege and power, poverty and slums. "Teddy" Roosevelt and Will Taft were both sons of privilege, with parents who encouraged and provided for them. Harry Truman grew up working hard on his family's farm, living close to the earth, and learning by working, by trying and failing. He not only did not have a college education, he hadn't a high school education either! But, he read, every day - all kinds of books. Those books, and the people around him, were his classes and his education.
All these people learned at home, about giving. You gave because God had given to you. So you passed on the blessing to others. You shared what you had.
It was obvious to all of them, that those who had plenty often had unfair advantages, and that the very wealthy had gain that was "ill-gotten."
The struggle for all of them, in the Presidency, was how to make it fair. How could advantages come to those without them?
I am struck by how unsuccessful we've been. Donald Trump came representing the factory workers of the Rust Belt. He talked of preserving jobs. Of forcing off-shore companies to come home. He seemed to represent "the Common Man."
But the tax "reforms" he signed seemed to benefit far more the people of wealth and power. His story is remarkably like that of President Teddy Roosevelt. We need somehow to be wiser in who we choose to make these decisions as a nation.
But, in the meantime, we need to look around and see that we ourselves are in that top 1 - 5% of America's and the world's wealthiest people. We have endlessly more than most people on the earth. We are not among the poor.
We care about the poor. We want to help them and change the balance, but we are still among the privileged of the world. We own cars, TVs, cell phones, houses, - often a "cabin up north," too -
But, how can we be generous? How can we help those who have little? Here, and across the world?
We can see our wealth in a new way: That it isn't ours. It's all a gift from God. He has set us in pleasant places. He has surrounded us with family and friends who help us.
We can count the poor of the world as part of our stewardship. We can take seriously the Biblical tithe as a minimal standard of our giving. Many Christians give at levels of 1 or 2%. Think how much more 10% could be. Or 20% or 30%.
The hard thing is to decide who should receive our gifts. There are organizations that bear the Gospel to the world. They are funded solely by people like us. There are schools teaching the way of Christ to young people. We could help them.
We could ask God to show us who needs our help. Like the churches we love. The missions we know personally. The work for good we have to believe in. Supporting God's people doing His work is a good place for us to start.
Let our giving be honest. Let us help children and friends. Let us give in prayer. Let us allow God to show us how to give what is His, but which we are called to manage. When we are on track, the giving will be a great joy.
What prompts us to make a decision in life that would change, perhaps forever, our direction, our place in the world, our fundamental purpose for being?
It could be a book we read. Or a lecture we hear. Or the opinion of a friend. Or, a story in a newspaper or magazine. After all, we are hearing opinions all the time, on radio programs, and TV news shows. "The media" fills our minds every day with reports, events, pronouncements, tweets, that are intended to influence us. To fill us with rage, to make us join a movement, whether it is "#Me, too" or a political platform.
We're told of injustice, of mistreatment, of court rulings and judgements. If we're on Facebook, we may respond, by agreeing or countering the opinion we've heard.
But, for real life changes, the influence usually comes from a person. Someone who has captured our attention, and calls us to action.
One of the most compelling calls to action we have ever heard, has come to us from a person. Often an unusual person, an unexpected person, a "different" person. Someone who compels our attention.
The Bible offers us one of the most unique confrontations in our experience. It is from a man on the beach. Someone walking along the shore. If we're there with our boat, or our fishing pole, or picking up shells, the beachcomber man, stops to watch what we're doing. In two great instances the beachcomber offers an invitation or a question.
One time, He says, "Come, follow Me, and I'll change your life." In another, He swiftly says, "Peter, do you love me?" It is, of course, Jesus with a question for our lives. "Come, be with Me," is the first thing He says. Much later, He says, "Peter, do you love me?"
Huge questions. Life-changing questions. Questions to challenge our very being. Questions calling us to change. Questions to make us review our lives, question our own assumptions.
What if we were to leave what we're doing and follow Jesus. Actually, go with Him as those young fishermen did so long ago. Or look within our hearts to see if we are true; if we're on track, keeping our promises?
We can do it. By prayer each day, remembering the journey, and looking for Jesus at our side. He will remind us where to go and what to say. And how to pray.
There will be signs of His presence - in answers to our prayers. We will see the sick healed, the blind seeing, the lame walking.
Look around. It's already happening. And that is News - "The Kingdom of God is at hand." Pray for eyes to see.
I've never played hockey. I could never do the amazing things of sheer balance that any number of young high school boys can do, on the ice. They glide. They jump. They chase the little black sphere to wherever it is on the ice and, with a single slice they whack this little puck with all their strength, lifting it off the ice and into the air, sailing it on invisible wings, past any number of players, until at body height, it slams past the goalie trying to stop it, and goes into the net for a score. It moves so fast in those seconds that we, of unpracticed eye, watching over our television screens, don't even see the goal when it happens. But all the young men do and pandemonium grips the players and fans. People shout. Arms wave in the air. Uniformed boys on skates leap through the air into each other's arms. The place is full of wonder and excitement.
How wonderful to think just about hockey for those moments. Dazzling artistry of boys on skates. We marvel at the sight.
Some tall, rangy boys, already champions, are headed toward lives centered on hockey. As college players. And later - unbelievably - as professionals. To a world on skates. A world of cheers, adulation, into victories and defeats.
In my Advent and Lent early-morning Bible Studies at the Hilltop Restaurant, often sits a young man - now middle-aged, who scored the winning goal in the second overtime of the State High School Hockey Tournament, when his Edina High School team first won the State championship.
He is a leader in the community. He is a good and decent man. He helps people find a home of their dreams. He is a community volunteer. He delivers "meals on wheels" for two different churches. He is a patient, faithful father.
When our group of 15 or 20 gather, and after prayer, go around the table introducing themselves, he rarely speaks of his hockey triumphs. He talks of his life of faith, of being a boy of 14 going to church confirmation, and how that experience of learning the faith, and loving Jesus "built my faith foundation."
His middle-aged life has many challenges, but he carries on. He keeps the faith. He walks with Jesus. He is not afraid to tell the world Who the Lord of his life is.
It is a wonder to me. To see before me a man who knows what it is to be - in the world's terms - a hero, a great player of the game, but at the heart of his life to be a player of the greater game of standing tall, and being true - "doing justly, loving many, walking humbly with his God."
He does it humbly, this living of his life. And shows me how. It can be done. It really can be done.
Today was our middle daughter's birthday. How wonderful are birthdays. And families, and our little lives. We all have the small world we are living in. In some ways it is made for us. It has our little haunts. For me, Starbucks and the coffee there, and the friends who come through. And the local garage, and the Walgreens. And, the gas station.
It's a little neighborhood in which we are known. And where we do the small business of our lives.
Today, a tall quiet man from another world I inhabit - the Flagship Athletic Club - stopped briefly by my locker. He commented on the Boys High School Hockey finals coming up. He allowed that we'd each have to cheer for the team from our separate towns.
Then, he commented on what the world around us has become - referring to its out-of-jointedness," Its hatreds, and angers, its rude public discourse, its uncivility. "What are we to do about the world?" he asked rhetorically.
I found myself saying simple things, like "we go to church. We try to thing well of all people. We try to be kind. We try to declare the truth." He was leaving, and our conversation was inconclusive. Many thoughts and unspoken answers hung in mid-air.
But, I've thought of things driving home, and during dinner, and now tonight as we call again our daughter, and she tells us of a couple of things she plans for August in New Hampshire. A climb in the White Mountains on the high Presidential Range, to the Galehead Hut and to Zeland Falls and the Zeland Hut - both of the Appalachian Mountain Club. A three-day, two-night outing, planned by REI, with a guide from the company. She grew up on those mountains. She and I made my last climb together, when I was 75. She wonders if she can make it. She's younger than I was. She's an athlete on the trails. She'll make it, and have a wonderful time.
Unspoken is the truth that it's a way of fighting back. Going with God into His world. Climbing high and looking far. Making new friends. Doing what you did when you were 20, 30, 40 - still young. Letting your spirit soar. Walking with God.
A way of believing, reminding yourself that the mad world is still and nevertheless in God's hands. He made it. He will teach you still. His spirit will help you remember.
Your life can be re-centered, and you can be reminded of the great charges to us, by Jesus, and St. Paul. "Whatever things are good and lovely, think on them." Or, "Don't be afraid. I am with you. Come with me."
Walk with Jesus and listen to what He says. Pore over the great passages of the Bible. Be God's person. Be one who thinks. Who loves. Who cherishes. Who walks humbly. Who shines the light of Jesus' love onto this world that seems sometimes so dark.
It's a way of fighting back. Of overcoming. Of winning - in the great battles of this world.
That's how good is done. And answers are found. And humility is lived. And truth is told. And the world is changed. That's what God's people do.
The last week of February set records for snowfalls, crashes, and accidents. But, for those of tuned into our radios and TVs, it was stormy weather spiritually assaulting our hearts and minds with news that bid fair to crush our spirits and rain down despair upon our souls.
We listened to President Trump's personal legal advisor call him "a racist, a liar, and a cheat." He was bent - he said - on telling the truth this time, by declaring all of the bad things he knew about the moral and spiritual life of our president.
As Americans who love our country, and want to honor the one whom the country has elected to be president, we are sick at heart.
As Christians we believe God holds the world in His hands, that He has called America to be a servant nation to the world, and that He calls us to do good and be good for the world's good.
In the Bible, God acknowledges we are sinners. That's why He came in Jesus - out of His vast love - to die for the world, paying the price of our sin. And, over and over again, in Scripture, we read that He calls all kinds of people into leadership. Some are good, some are bad. And often He uses even the bad, to do good in this world.
God's hand is at work in America's life, as it has always been. He cares about all of us individually and as a nation. He cares about our leaders. Mysteriously and seemingly impossibly, our president came to his election victory as have all our presidents.
Our president has a group of leaders in his government who gather regularly to pray for him, and for our land. We have reason to believe he has a believing wife who prays for him as she has done on at least one occasion publicly.
We are hurt to hear defaming things about our president. But we can also be glad for many remarkably good things he has done as president.
The issues that count the most in our country's life, are above party and politics.
The One we are called to trust is God Who is Lord of heaven and earth, and the God in which we trust.
We need to pray for the wisdom and safety and health and strength of our president. We need to pray for a spirit of hope in our own hearts. The Evil One would love to weaken and destroy us and our country from within. We can fight his dark and malevolent purposes in our own hearts and spirit.
Our country needs us to claim our place as people of peace and of power, who are at the business of prayer, daily and hourly.
The future is in God's hands. Let us pray for it to be a faithful and righteous future for us, for our present president and for all who may become our leaders after him. It is our work to do. Let it be done as faithfully as we can. God will help us.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES