Saturday, May 23, 2009


Rest day today. I'm taking a break. Hope you do, too. I hope to meet you here tomorrow!

Friday, May 22, 2009


"People from Galilee, why are you standing here? Jesus has been taken to heaven. But he will return someday in just the way that he left!"

Those words, spoken by angels, marked a transition in history. Jesus arose and appeared among them at various times and places for 40 days. His ascension set the scene for the age in which you and I live.

"I waited patiently for the Lord,
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

(from "40" by U2)

U2 took that famous song from Psalm 40. King David, the great songwriter and ancestor of Jesus Christ, wrote of the confidence that comes from waiting patiently for God to hear and answer. I wonder if it's by heaven's design that this just happens to be Psalm 40, rather than, say, Psalm 28 (or any other Psalm). There is something fascinating about the number 40.

The ancient earth was a mess and God literally gave it a fresh start. How? It rained 40 days and nights.

God's people had been held captive in Egypt so God sent Moses to lead them out. They weren't really ready to trust in God for victory in the Promised Land, so what did God do? He left them in the wilderness for 40 years. Before that, they had been a people, but after that 40 years they became a nation.

Jesus paid the price of our sins on the cross, then rose from the dead. He kept appearing for 40 days. His ascension ushered in this age.

"He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord."
(Psalm 40:3 New Living Translation)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So Long!

The spring morning air had quickly warmed. Travelers were hurrying down the small mountain road into the city of Jerusalem. Just over the hill to the south and east, the souks of Bethany and Bethphage were bustling with merchants. Families had sent their older children to purchase a few fresh items for the day's meals. Many of the women were already making advanced preparations for tomorrow's Shabbat.

The joy on the faces of Jesus' followers was contagious. Each of the few previous afternoons he had suddenly just walked into their gathering. They tried not to act surprised, but that was difficult when none of them were completely sure where he came from. He was just there! Radiant! Happy! What a contrast to this same setting only a few weeks ago.

Then he had carefully instructed them about judgment to come. Then he was preparing them for the trial of the cross. Then he was exhorting them to keep the faith. Now, he was helping them understand how this had been the Eternal's plan since the beginning of time. Scripture after Scripture was explained in light of his resurrection.

There was a different quality about Jesus they couldn't quite put into words. It's like he was more full of love and more intimidating all at the same time!

Something else had changed. Those who had been with him from the beginning had seen many lose heart and defect, but they were stunned by the betrayal of Judas. Now, when Jesus was here...alive...why couldn't they just gather the whole nation to come and see? But the locals would have nothing to do with it. Some of the most ardent followers went to the residents of nearby villages and asked them to at least investigate. The disciples were treated like lunatics. "He died," villagers would say. "The religious leaders said his body was stolen! You are troublemakers!"

What didn't make sense is that some who had resisted him the most were now among them as believers. Everyone was shocked when Jesus' half-brother James had approached the Eleven one day and asked for baptism. His arrogance had been replaced by the deepest humility they could imagine.

So they gathered here. New faces and old. Former deniers, returning deserters, faithful followers. How could six weeks have changed everything so radically?

John and Peter looked up and there he was. Jesus' mother Mary was near John. Jesus went directly to her, gave her the customary kiss of greeting and whispered something. She looked at him with shining eyes and a little sob escaped. She had expected this day.

"Gather around, friends!" Jesus spoke clearly, but he wasn't particularly loud. Still everyone could hear him. Before Jesus could tell them what he would talk about, one of the long-time followers waved his hands and got Jesus' attention.

"Yes, Shaul, what is it?"

"Lord, we all have one question that we don't know about."

"It's okay, my friend, what is your question?"

" this the time that you are restoring the kingdom of Israel? Are you ready now to become the king of kings?" Other voices rumbled their assent to this question and looked to Jesus for an answer.

"Remember what I told you before the crucifixion," Jesus replied. "The Eternal Himself sets the dates for all things. The world has times and seasons that have been set into motion long ago and all will happen in its proper time. Those details are not for you to concern yourself with. We have something more important for you to do."

In the back of the gathering, people were whispering quietly. "More important? What could be more important?" Suddenly, Jesus was speaking again...

"I want you to wait in Jerusalem for a very important day that will be here very soon." Jesus was smiling. "You remember how John was baptizing with water down by Jericho. He promised then that I would baptize you with the Spirit of God. That is about to happen. Then, when you have received the power of the Spirit, you are to tell everyone about me starting right here in Jerusalem. Quickly share the same message throughout Judea and, yes, even in Samaria (the Samaritan woman's eyes were glistening as he said this). Before you are done, I want the entire earth to hear what I have done for them on the cross."

It was one of the youngest followers who shouted, "Look! He is rising into the air!"

To my readers: I was surprised at the joy I received from writing some of my own thoughts about events surrounding Holy Week this year. Some of you encouraged me to come back at the time of Christ's Ascension and continue the project. It is my prayer that these words will serve to enhance your appetite for more of the history from Scripture itself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Into Focus

The breeze shifted slightly as cool air slid down the mountain to the east. He noticed the smell of the crackling olive wood as it lifted from the nearby fire pit. Keeping his eyes downcast, he listened with feigned disinterest to the animated conversation.

"They'll beat him and let him go, I tell you!"

"No, you're wrong this time, Yacov! I heard a few of them talking. They've had enough. They're going to ask the governor for the death penalty. And when they get through with him, they'll go after his associates if they have to."

Back and forth the argument volleyed. Occasionally one of the debaters would look a short distance away at the inquisition taking place.

Out of the shadows a young girl came up next to him. "Hey you! Aren't you one of his men? Didn't I see you in the Temple with him the last few days?"

His heart was pounding in his ears. He could feel the beads of perspiration forming at his temples. The words that came from his lips were like daggers to his own heart... "I...don't...know...him!" He awoke, thrashing and groaning.

Now he laid there, horrified at his failure. He recalled his vain boast, "Teacher, even if all the rest desert you, I will stay with you! Whatever it takes!"

"Simon, Simon... My friend, Satan has wanted you so that he might crush you like wheat under the threshing wheel. But I have prayed for you that you may persevere."

Finally, lying in the darkness, Peter's thoughts once again traveled to the lake. They neared the shore with empty nets that day just a few weeks ago. Jesus had been standing there, but they didn't recognize him in the pre-dawn shadows. He spoke and challenged them to let down their nets on the right side of the boat. Willing to try anything, they spread the nets one more time. They suddenly had so many fish that the nets were breaking! Then they knew it was the Lord.

Peter threw on his outer garment, jumped out of the boat and waded to shore. As he drew near the fire, he stopped. Jesus had used olive branches that had fallen from an old tree not far away. The smell was the same as that horrible night of his failure. He was filled with shame.

After breakfast, Jesus gazed at him. His eyes spoke understanding and compassion. Then, three times -- the same number as his denials -- the Teacher asked, "Simon, do you love me?"

"Yes, Lord, you know I love you!"

"Then care for my sheep."

To my readers: I was surprised at the joy I received from writing some of my own thoughts about events surrounding Holy Week this year. Some of you encouraged me to come back at the time of Christ's Ascension and continue the project. It is my prayer that these words will serve to enhance your appetite for more of the history from Scripture itself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lessons From The Roadside

Continued from yesterday...

The BOOM split the night. I knew immediately that a rear tire had blown out. It was the same wheel as the axle bearing which was failing. That's when it hit me. The bearing was heating up because of friction. In the process, it was superheating the wheel attached to it. In turn, the wheel heat was causing a serious increase in the air temperature inside the tire. With enough air pressure, a tire can explode just like a party balloon.

As we sat there on that lonely road, I glanced into the rearview mirror. Headlights! We had been the only vehicle on the highway for miles. I got out of the car and waved to see if the vehicle would stop. He did.

It turns out that the man in the Corvette was traveling from California to Socorro for Christmas. It also turns out that he remembered my dad, who had been in business there for over 25 years. I asked if he would call my parents so I could stay with Cathy and the kids. He promised he would and drove off into the night.

We wrapped our family in coats and blankets. The car engine was fine, so I started it every 10 minutes or so and ran it long enough for the heater to keep us comfortable. Then we waited. And waited.

We were approximately four miles west of Magdalena. The mountain air was clear and cold. From our vantage point, we could see every vehicle coming west on the main street of the little town. We noticed each time a set of headlights would break away from the village lights and move toward us on the highway. Again and again, we saw obviously local traffic travel a short distance from town and turn off on a side road.

We sat there about two hours. No other vehicle came past our spot after the man in the Corvette. We hoped he had contacted my folks.

Finally, a set of headlights distinctly came out of Magdalena on the highway. That vehicle was followed by another close behind. My dad had solicited the help of an old friend who owned a towing service. He had left his family on Christmas Eve and followed my dad out to rescue us.

I have learned many great lessons from that night so long ago. First, I should have listened to my friend David. He knew what he was talking about and I displayed my ignorance by failing to take his advice.

Second, we should have been more conservative when we discovered our problem. The initial occurrence with the bearing was just a few miles from a town that had two small Motels that could have housed us. I was impatient in my desire to get home.

Third, and most important, I endangered my family's life that night. I have been reminded more than once since then that we were most fortunate to have escaped with an exploded tire. Many such incidents are accompanied by brake fluid catching fire and the car goes up in flames.


We have just begun a summer sermon series in our church. We are studying the New Testament book of 1 Peter. The entire book is about the temporary nature of life and how God uses difficulties to shape us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Dark, Lonely Road

Continued from yesterday...

The drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Socorro, New Mexico normally took about seven hours. If you didn't stop too much or too long. If you didn't get slowed down by traffic (we didn't). If the weather cooperated. The evening of December 24, 1978 saw a trace of snowfall on the mountainous roads that we traveled, but the roads were clear and didn't impede our progress.

If you didn't encounter mechanical probl...uh-oh.

We had traveled about 5 1/2 hours the first time I felt the odd sensation of our rear axle bearing seizing up. I say "odd" because it wasn't accompanied by any sudden, sharp noise. Cathy and I "felt" it rather than heard it. My initial impression was that we had hit a patch of wet snow or ice and the back part of the car lost traction for about a second. "What was that?" Cathy asked.

"I don't know," I replied.

Driving along for a few more miles, we didn't notice any more problem. About ten minutes later, thought, it happened again. Still trying to figure it out, we drove along more carefully. The third occurrence was much sooner. About then, I remembered what our friend David had told me weeks earlier: "I think you have a rear axle bearing going out." Unfortunately I waited until Christmas Eve on a lonely stretch of U.S. Highway 60 to decide that David must be right.

By the time David's prediction was obviously true, we were approaching the tiny hamlet of Pie Town, New Mexico. That strangely-named village is right at the Continental Divide at an elevation of just under 8,000 feet about Sea Level. I know the place's where my grandparents homesteaded in the 1930s. It's where my parents met, courted and married. It's the place where I performed my first wedding -- for one of my cousins. It's the place where my Grandpa and Grandma Norris are buried.

It's also the place that just happened to have a mechanic living there at the time and he had absolutely no sympathy for us on Christmas Eve. I didn't know if my uncle would be at the tiny house on the little ranch that is part of our family. It was dark, with snow on the ground and I was not comfortable driving out on the country road to the ranch.

And it was still over 80 miles to Socorro.

Cathy and I talked. Our family prayed. And we got back onto the highway. Counting the miles. Hoping we would make it.

We stopped at the little town of Datil and used a pay phone to attempt calling my parents. We couldn't reach them. It was Sunday night. It was Christmas Eve. They were at church.

We continued our journey. More carefully. I stopped once or twice and got outside to listen to the sound of the axle as Cathy inched the car a few feet ahead.

The weather had cleared as we crept on. The next town -- Magdalena -- was only 26 miles from "home." We started down a long hill just west of there and were comforted by the sight of the lights that meant civilization.


To be continued...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sometimes...The Experts Are Right

My friend David climbed into my Ford Torino station wagon one night at the church we attended. Our destination was a few miles away -- the home of a new family who had just arrived at our church.

As we cruised along with the fast-moving traffic on a busy Phoenix street, David asked me to be quiet for a moment. No, he wasn't being rude...he was listening to a noise coming from my car. "It sounds like you may have a rear axle bearing going out," he said. Sensing my caution, he added, "It's not an immediate problem and may not actually fail for quite a while, but you should have it checked out."

"I can't hear anything wrong," I replied. He then described the noise to me and I listened again. I still couldn't hear it. I turned my head different directions and couldn't hear what he described. I opened my window and tried to hear it with more outside noise coming in. Nothing.

David was an easy-going guy. He didn't push it any further. On the other hand, he was a pretty skilled auto mechanic. I should have listened to him.

But I didn't.

A month went by and I didn't hear a noise or notice any signs of a problem. Two months passed and I pretty much forgot what David had said.

About 2 1/2 or 3 months later, we loaded our kids into our Torino station wagon and headed to New Mexico. We left Phoenix on a Sunday right after church.

It was December 24th.

To be continued...