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I could see this backyard lawn without any detail other than the fairly short grass. As I observed, I* walked over to the center of the yard and drove a narrowly triangular stake into the ground. Then I tied one end of a small rope that was curled up on a spool onto the stake and began unwinding it as I moved away from the stake. I always kept the rope taut but it danced up and down as I went. After a few moments I paused and looked back at the rope and the stake. As my eyes focussed on different segments of the rope, I saw knots tied at irregular intervals. I compared these knots to their distance from and similarity to the stake. Only in daydreams and dreams can Physics laws be overcome. For then I released the rope, which stayed taut, walked back to several of the more noticeable knots and drove stakes into the ground through the knots. I stood back, observing, as the rope continued to unfurl for what, with a pause**, would be eternity future. 

When the scene vanished from my mind, I immediately realized that it was a metaphor for my life and salvation. The ground, which like a plane, receded off infinitely forward and backward, but unlike a plane had depth of soil, represented salvation. I was being grounded in a salvation that was decided in eternity past and would be executed throughout all of eternity future.

The stake was my moment of salvation. And here is the reason that I believe this line of musing came upon me. I had been considering Jesus’ words to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, he, too, is a son of Abraham.” When I read “today”, I understood that Jesus meant that in that moment, in space and time, Jesus had come to Zaccheus in salvation. I have been among varying brothers over time as concerns their understanding of Jesus’ work of salvation. Some say you must receive Jesus; it is your choice. Others say that to ask someone to receive Jesus is wrong and counter to God’s ordaining of salvation in a person’s life. Salvation is wholly of God and “it is your choice” puts man in the driver seat of a vehicle he can’t control. It is wrong. But God is both eternal and transcendent while personal and present. He works in eternity and He works in time. He has predestined those who will be saved and brings it about- all glory to Him. But we do not know the when, the how, or the who, so we plead with people to believe and receive Jesus. When they do, God has accomplished in that moment what He ordained long ago. There is a stake planted in time and eternity. 

Some people know when that stake was planted; some do not. It is planted nonetheless. When a person does not know, perhaps it is obscured by the fog of life or the mysterious moment and work of God was not by Him revealed to that person. When a person knows the when, it may be a helpful source of assurance. Our little rope is firmly attached there and our life is subsequently unfurled. But the main source of assurance is those ancillary stakes in our lives resulting from knots or difficulties in our lives. When we continue to believe and act on that belief throughout our life, we confirm and deepen that faith by driving another stake into salvation. We become more assured. God provides the event in our lives, the stake of faith, the hammer of confirmation, and the strength of remembrance. He animates every part of our faith, but He involves us. All of those stakes ground the rope of my life in the ground of eternal salvation. Jesus holds them firm in Him.

I feel certain that someone could punch holes*** in my metaphor, but the the points I intend are 1) God accomplishes salvation in time and eternity, 2) God involves us, and 3) We have assurance through faith in God throughout the events of our lives. That assurance is described in the letter of I John. One phrase, “by this we know”, occurs 8 times in the book along with other similar affirmations of assurance God gives us that we belong to Him. The best way to have assurance that you believe is to believe right now, which builds more assurance for those trying times when it is harder to believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) is a stake in the ground of salvation then and again and again and now and in the future. Faith does not provide salvation; Jesus provides salvation. Be always clinging to Him.

*It is weird to think of yourself as watching yourself in a dream or daydream.

**For the believer death is not an annihilation of life but a mere transition or pause.

***That pun has holes all in it, but I’ll stake my writing on the truth of it.

I had a conversation today that was weird. I don’t mean the contents but the timing and process. I had decided that I was far enough distant from injury and sickness to try to start running again today. I had intended to walk a 1/2 mile, run a 1/2 mile, and walk back 1 mile. Just as I approached the entry to the Greenway, a man, perhaps in his late 30’s or early 40’s walked by at a moderate pace, followed by what I estimate to be a 9 year old boy, running to catch up. Both sported headphones, his avocado green and his son’s white. I was walking faster than them and slowly was catching up. As I followed, I thought how the father should remove his headphones and just talk to his son. As if on cue, the father uncovered the ear toward his son and glanced back at his son and said, “It will quit hurting soon, I promise.” His son took off the speaker toward his father and replied, “But it hurts.” “It will stop hurting, I promise,” he rejoined, and put his head set back on. In my mind I imagined, based on the evidence of the conversation, that the boy had a stitch in his side. I wondered how I might be able to encourage the boy if the father and I were to trade places. Such a thought came to me possibly for two reasons. I commented to my principal a few days ago, about a student of mutual acquaintance, that one of the things I dislike most is wasted potential, particularly in someone who has so much potential to waste as the topic of our conversation has. The other reason was the rarity with which I have succeed in spurring anyone, and particularly young people to try hard. When it has happened, I have wondered how it happened, and why it doesn’t at other times. So, as I paced along to gain passage by this father and son, my thoughts went as follows. “Son, walk the stitch off, and then push on. Finding your limits increases endurance and pushing your limits increases toughness.” At this point we had traversed one tenth of a mile, indicated by a blue 6 x 6 post off to the left. Just as I was two steps behind the father, and as if all of my thoughts had been part of the audible conversation in which I had not been involved, he turns and says to me, “I don’t want to walk the whole Greenway. This is enough for my needs,” glances at me and turns sharply. I replied that the whole of the Greenway is a nice walk and said over my right shoulder, “Well, enjoy. Have a good day.” He waved and was off, but the conversation was not quite over in my head. He was content to have enough. Now contentment is good, but I don’t want to be content about everything, because some contentment is denial or laziness or weakness of spirit or I don’t know what. I don’t know what the man meant and have no reason to think ill of him, but I want to be content with what God has given me but not content to merely hold it, or bury in the ground like the lax servant (Matthew 25:24-29). I want to grow. Now growth looks different at different stages of life. Sometimes maintaining is more than enough to keep you busy, and as we get older that is not even possible. But as I slide into final departure from this world into the glories of the next, I am determined to not be content with a quick slide, if God so allows it, but grow by maintaining physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health to extent that effort might allow. And concerning the spiritual health, I may even grow as I better understand the fleeting nature of life here. That does not mean that I will or should give in to lax and lack luster living as I approach the other side. All of the other healths may increase my spiritual health as well, because I am not a dichotomous* or trichotomous (etc.) being, but one whole person focused increasingly on the mark.

And I appreciate God’s humor when I understand it. My thoughts fell away as I turned thoughts of walking into the increased intensity of running after so long a time off from running. Then I turned to walk the one mile back, enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet walk. At six tenths from the end it began to rain lightly. The sky looked threatening and I didn’t know what was moving in, so I ran the last 1/2 mile*.* I stopped at the car, did a hurried stretch and jumped in. Before I could drive out of the park, not 30 seconds later, it poured. So, you want to push your limits, be tough? Then run, now!

The only additional thought I had on the whole subject was, with whom was I having a conversation: myself, God, the father and his son, or all of the above?

*A dichotomous view of the human is the heresy of the Gnostics and others. They thought spirit was good and body was bad. But God has created both and declared both good. Yes, we have fallen into sin, but the spirit as well as the body is in sin. God brings our spirits into life and will resurrect a glorified body. Not only is this theology a problem for my understanding of me, it also caused the Gnostics to believe that Jesus was not fully God and fully Man, but only appeared to be a man, not really existing in the flesh to be hugged or crucified.

**A slight shortcut at this point alleviates one tenth of mile distance.

Big 6-0

I am thankful to God for life and grace. Today I am 60 years old. I appreciate all of my friends who have said, “Happy Birthday”. I got to thinking. I am twice as old as one of my colleagues, four times as old as most of my students, six time older than the students of my Sunday School class, and about 9 to 42 times as old as my grandchildren. Oh, and about 1/16th the age of Methuselah. I pray that God may sustain me for better service in the coming years that He has ordained for me than in the ones past. He is the one to whom I give glory and thanks for health, purpose, ministry, direction, freedom, family, knowledge, opportunity, possessions, and comforts. This life is short with joys and struggles. I came in with a snowstorm and have no idea how I may go out, but I best put away futility and enjoy what God has given me while I may, not is a lackadaisical way, but in diligent life and service with thanksgiving. For He is worthy and life is short. I want to choose joy and decisiveness and humility over worry and regret and need of self justification. May it be so.

Oh, What a Year

I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

Stippling Metaphor

Some things you learn through “book learnin'”, and I’m not adverse to that since I can’t be everywhere at once or in one life time. But learnin’ by experience is better when you can get it. I have a friend who is a very talented artist. He produced several insightful and intriguing stippling pictures (check out “Business on Parade”). And at one point when I was underemployed, he gave me a little work. One of the projects he gave me for some graphic design work he was doing was a stippling of a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet from white graded to black. I guess we would produce that by a digital method now, but he said at the time that the random process of poking a pen at a paper produced a far better picture.* I think that I remember it taking about 10 hours overall.

On my way to church this morning, I was praying that God would give me something to make the Sunday School lesson more interesting. As I drove the interstate the drizzle (or mist) slowly intensified and then later let up. I turned on the intermittent wipers to a slow setting, but I did not increase it as the rate of drizzle increased. I began to notice what reminded me of stippling on the windshield and every 5 seconds or so it got wiped off and started over. Artists that stipple use different sizes of pen tip for a given picture or on different elements of the same picture. The windshield stippling was far more complex in its randomness, utilizing multiple droplet sizes and some streaked upon impact. The effect was quite interesting. To our eye randomness brings some level of pattern. Three dots even nearly in a row look like a line and catch the attention. Four dots can suggest a square, rectangle, or rhombus. But looking at the individual dots is not the point (or points? ha ha). One must step back to see the artistry. The windshield would still look random, but when an artist is involved the result can be detailed beauty and communicate mood.

There is a metaphor here. Our lives are stippling drawings. Each strike of the pen can seem random for which we are thankful or annoyed or perplexed or overwhelmed or exited or challenged. But from these many seemingly random events God is designing a beautiful picture that reveals the Artist’s involvement in the process. Randomness alone cannot produce ordered beauty.** God is giving glory to Himself and benefiting us and others through controlling each strike of the pen on the paper of our lives. No unforeseen events ever mar the picture He is making.

I began the Sunday School lesson with this illustration and then in Luke 9 showed how Jesus was sovereignly controlling every detail of the events before, during, and after the feeding of the 5000, including what details were recorded. Jesus tested Philip’s and Andrew’s (indeed, all of the disciples’) faith when He knew what He was about to do. Every detail filled out the picture He was painting. Before the big reveal of everyone satisfied and 12 baskets full of leftovers, the questions and commands must have seemed trying and confusing. God, give me patience and perseverance as the pen contacts my paper in seemingly random spots and ways, knowing You are in control and this process is for Your glory and my good.

A stippling ball

A Stippling Ball****

*Yes, I enjoyed making that predominantly “p” phrasing.

**Crystal patterns in rock or snow flake form randomly but have underlying chemical design. I could get into the whole evidence of design argument, but you should read my blog entries because it is a frequent theme.

***In fact, the painting seemed to be focused on an extended metaphor of bread. Let’s talk about that another day.

****It would take more time and far more dots to make a good picture of a ball and its shadow, but I feel like it represents the intended purpose.

On our hike at Thanksgiving I challenged a great-nephew and niece to prepare for a backpacking trip next summer. Besides asking them to take regular brisk walks around their neighborhood, I offered to do day hikes building up to the overnight trip. Yesterday we went on the first of those trips: Sterling Gap to Mt. Sterling in the GSMNP. When they arrived at the meeting place, they had a cousin in tow. So the four of us enjoyed the strenuous 2 mile hill (~5.2 miles total) and the views from the ~50 feet fire tower. It was just cool enough to make walking comfortable and just overcast enough to make for better contrast in viewing distant peaks. We had interesting conversation and enjoyed the transition of the tree types as we increased in elevation. It’s time to get in shape for the next bigger hill!

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Waterville Hydroelectric Facility: Why does a hydroelectric facility have a chimney?

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The exit is in Tennessee but the hike is in North Carolina.

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Let do this!

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It simply is not 0.4 mile between the trail intersection and the tower at Campsite 38.

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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Notice how it tappers, though you must know that perspective exaggerates the effect

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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A camera with the proper filter would better catch what it really looked like with even more distant ridges appearing.

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NE more or less

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We made it. I wonder how any panes of glass survive in what must be a very windy site.

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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Do you see my great-nephew? Notice how perspective from here makes the tower appear straight-sided.

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

Planned Obsolescence

I don’t know exactly what happened to my old chainsaw. It lasted 20 years and I rarely went easy on it. One day it just locked up. When I went to buy a new one there was a polarity of prices for seemingly similar saws. I asked why. The answer was basically that you pay $700+ for one of similar durability of the old one or you could pay ~$400 for one that was assured of wearing out in less than half the time. The store manager also said that all of the chainsaw companies have gone to this model: professional/homeowner grades. In the case of the homeowner grade, there is a predetermined and decided lack of quality that is sufficient to last a few years but not many. The plan is to sell more chainsaws at an affordable price, knowing they will have to come back for another one in a few years. The term for this “weak link” or introduced design flaw that results in an “artificially limited useful life” is planned obsolescence.

My wife has a nice crockpot that she uses regularly. It seems quality enough and I see no reason why it shouldn’t cook food for many years to come. However, recently the plastic handle on the glass lid broke. When I looked at it, two terms came to mind: cheap and planned obsolescence. If taken reasonable care of, there is little to break on this crockpot, except for the lid handle. If you can’t get the hot lid off of the crockpot safely, then you can’t really use it. Most people would throw the crockpot away. Some small percentage, probably less than one percent, might search for the part and buy it on Ebay or from the manufacturer. An even smaller percentage of people would make a durable replacement handle. I am part of this latter demographic, this smallest of tribes. The handle needed to be durable, easy to handle for my wife, and look at least reasonable.

About the time this all happened I was teaching my Biology students about cells. I had forgotten to discuss a term for programmed cell death- apoptosis. So, the day I took the lid and my materials into school to make the handle in the wood shop, I presented the parts before my classes with an explanation of planned obsolescence and my plan to reuse rather than recycle the crockpot. Then I proceeded to a segue into apoptosis. Cells have a weak link, as it were, to prevent them from going rogue, i.e. cancerous. Obviously, it doesn’t always work, but it prevents harm far more than allows it. 

I had a student ask me if that means that “death really is a natural part of life.” I replied that on the contrary, the programmed death of cells when external or internal cues of stress arise is a way to prolong the organism’s life at the expense of individual rogue cells. Oh, that corporate entities were so altruistic and sacrificial, but perhaps I am looking at the situation from the wrong perspective. Perhaps the crockpot is the sacrificial cell that rescues the corporate organism by not outlasting its economic value. After all, whose survival are we concerned about here?

At any rate, planned obsolescence in cells is a good thing. I guess it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “stressed out”. Check out my new durable handle.

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Chicken is done!

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Custom made, prime, aged, ergonomic hickory wood handle from a tree where I grew up!