Sunday, February 23, 2014

IN DEFENSE OF A “PIE IN THE SKY” FAITH (3)


(Continued from the previous two posts. Please scroll down to read those first)

AN EXAMPLE OF A “PIE EATER”
Most pertinent to our discussion is the life of Abraham, whose story begins in Genesis, chapter twelve. Abraham had been given great promises by God. God told Abraham to leave his home and relatives and go to an unknown land that He would show him.
          “I will make you a great nation,” God told him, “and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2 NAS).
On the strength of these promises, Abraham obeyed and journeyed toward this unknown destination.  Once he arrived, however, he did not see the fulfillment of the assurances that God had given him.  Abraham’s life in this “promised land” was not an easy one, and as for becoming a “great nation” – that is difficult to do when one must wait until he is one hundred years old before he has his first child, as Abraham had to do.
One would think if there were anyone who would grow tired of the same old “spiritual pie in the sky,” it would be Abraham.  That was not the case, however.  Instead of his faith failing (it did falter a bit from time to time), Abraham became increasingly strengthened:

“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”
(Hebrews 11:9-10 NIV).

Accompanying Abraham through all of the trials was his dedicated wife, Sarah, who at times showed a greater ability to demonstrate her faith.  Nevertheless, in the account in Genesis, we read that Sarah laughed when she heard that she would conceive a child in her ninetieth year.  She may have laughed, but the writer of Hebrews tells us, “By faith she received the ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11 NAS).
Abraham and Sarah took their little baby Isaac in their arms and in his eyes they saw “as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12 NAS).
          Was it that this old couple was delusional when they thought that this one little baby was the answer to the promise of a “great nation” and that their cotton tarp tent was the fulfillment of the great land that they were to inherit?  Given much of our present-day teaching, many would say that they were deluded.  But the writer of Hebrews says that they were not.

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.”

“And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16 NAS).

In other words, Abraham and Sarah were willing to forgo the immediate fulfillment of the promises of God for the assurance that they would receive in their future existence all of those things which had been promised to them.  Some might even put it that they were looking to “spiritual pie in the sky.”
This same chapter of Hebrews contains several other instances of men and women who lived by faith, some seeing a token of what had been promised to them, but others – seemingly only hardships.

“Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated  (Hebrews 11:35-37 NAS).

THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY
The writer of Hebrews adds an interesting editorial comment to all of these accounts of men and women whose vision extended far beyond what eye can see. I can imagine that as the writer thought about all of these people, their faith loomed ever greater and greater in his estimation.
          As he recounted their stories, he inserts a somewhat extraneous thought. He says of them, “these of whom the world was not worthy” (vs. 38).  Indeed, the world was not worthy of them, nor is the world worthy to be the recipient of the full promise of God.

“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect”  (Hebrews 11:39-40 NAS).

ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH MERELY A QUICK BREAKFAST OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE ETERNAL "PIE IN THE SKY?"
There will always be those who will follow Jesus only as long as He gives them bread to eat. There will always be those who will ridicule a life of faith that is willing to relinquish present day fulfillment for that which is to come.  There will always be those that say we are simply singing a foolish song about “pie in the sky.”
          That may be.  But I will cast my lot with those who look to above for fulfillment.  No earthly breakfast can ever have such flavor.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God  (Hebrews 12:1-2 NAS).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

IN DEFENSE OF A “PIE IN THE SKY” FAITH (2)


(Continued from previous post)
OVERCOMING THE WORLD

What exactly did Jesus mean when He told us that He has overcome the world?  Did He mean that through Him we can, in this present life, arrive at a point that we will not be bothered with the “tribulations” of this world?  We must be careful how we answer this question, because the manner in which we answer it will, in large part, determine our goals and priorities.
          As we read through the ministry of Jesus and that of the early church, it becomes very evident that the inordinate quest of temporal answers to present day difficulties actually conflicts with the teaching of Jesus.  It prevents us from seeing that the true promises can be and only will be fulfilled in eternity.  This is among the very first things that Jesus tells his disciples:


“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus told them.  “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”  (Matthew 6:24-25 NIV).


After giving His disciples the examples of how God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and telling them that by seeking only these things they are no different than pagans, Jesus tells them this:


“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 24-33 NIV).


It sounds a little like “pie in the sky” teaching.


DETERMINING OUR PRIORITIES

The only miracle of Jesus that is recorded by all four Gospel writers is that of the feeding of the five thousand.  As Jesus went around Galilee healing the sick, He attracted a very large following.  As He was sitting on a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee speaking with his disciples one day, Jesus lifted His eyes to see a large crowd coming to Him.
          In the well known story that follows, Jesus uses the occasion to teach His disciples about the provision of God. Jesus takes the only food available, a lad’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, and uses those scant supplies to provide enough food so that the people ate until all were satisfied.
          When the people saw what Jesus had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14).
          Jesus, seeing that the people intended to come and to take Him by force to make Him their king, retreated to a place where He could be alone.  That night, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (it was like a large lake) to Capernaum, a town on the other shore.
          The next day (perhaps it was about breakfast time) the crowd who had been fed on the mountainside, began looking for him.  They conclude that Jesus must have crossed the sea and had perhaps gone to Capernaum, so they themselves got into small boats to go and look for Him.  Amazingly enough, they found Him.  “Rabbi,” they said, “when did you get here?”
          Jesus understood their motivation in seeking and following Him and told them this: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:26-27 NIV).
          The real issue and the heart of the teaching of Jesus was not that He would supply our needs for this life – that is a secondary matter and one that He demonstrated to the people on the mountainside.  The priority that Jesus was trying to teach them is that they should instead search for “food that endures to eternal life.”
          By spending all of our time and effort in getting into boats to go and search for breakfast, we miss what is truly important.  This will only serve to try to have our daily needs fulfilled.
(I will conclude this in the next post)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

NYMAN’S ANGRY METER


“So, it is you then, Andri!”
          Anders laughed out loud when he heard Nyman say these words. Nyman laughed as well, as did his wife. Both he and Mrs. Nyman were sitting outside of their home when they saw Anders walking up the path. Nyman had heard the day before that Anders had arrived back at Stöllet, and was expecting his visit at any time. 
          The two old friends shook hands heartily, as did Anders with Mrs. Nyman. Mrs. Nyman motioned toward a vacant chair on their porch as a way of inviting Anders to sit down. Anders could tell that the Nymans had settled themselves down comfortably in their chairs and were ready for a long visit. This was not to be a quick “hello.”
          The boyhood years when Anders mostly came to see Nyman was when Anders was about ten and eleven years old. This was between the time when Anders’ next oldest brother Emil had turned twelve years old and left home to find some work, and before Anders himself left to find work. These were the years when Anders was the only boy in their house, and this was when the Nymans got to know him the best. It was also concerning these years that Herr Nyman had the most stories about Anders. He brought up some of these stories with Anders, and they all got some hearty laughter out of them, all at the expense of Anders.
          Nyman told Anders about the time when Anders came over, steamingly angry at his mother Anna Kristina about something at home; Nyman never found out exactly what the problem had been. Nyman happened to be making something out of lumber at the moment and had a folding measure ruler in his pocket.
          When he saw how mad Anders was, on a whim Nyman said to him, “Come here, Andri. Let me measure how angry you are.” 
          Anders, not exactly knowing what to expect, walked over to Nyman and stood in front of him. The old neighbor unfolded his ruler and stretched it out alongside of Anders.
          “Why Andri!” he said, “You are only forty-eight angry. That’s nothing! I once was one hundred angry!”
          Anders did not know at all what Nyman meant, and to be fair, neither did Nyman. But having his anger “measured” made Anders realize that perhaps he was not so angry after all. He quickly forgot that he was even mad.
          After that, sometimes Anders would come over when he was mad about something to get himself measured. Once he got as high as sixty-five angry, but never did he approach the ultimate of one-hundred angry.
          The whole porch roared with laughter as Nyman was telling the story. When Anders was finally able to control his laughter, as he wiped the tears of hilarity from his eyes, he confessed to Nyman that sometimes he had been so mad at home that he was sure that he would have made it to one-hundred. But he was even too angry to come over to be measured.

          But the visit was not all old time reminiscing. The Nymans sincerely wanted to know how Anders was doing. They were both very glad for his work and listened with great interest as Anders explained many of the finer points of cutting and laying stone.
          Anders also learned about the Nymans’ two daughters. They were both married now. One lived in Göteborg with her husband. They had two children who were the joy of their grandpa and grandma, called morfar and mormor in Swedish. The young family came to visit whenever they could, but of course, it was never enough.
          The younger daughter had just been recently married. Her husband worked in the mining industry in Värmland. They were actually talking about building a small house on the Nyman’s farm. This was very exciting for Herr Nyman and his wife. The farm, they knew, could no longer support a family, but with an outside job, their daughter and her husband could have a nice life here.
          After Anders and the Nymans had pretty much caught up on the family news, Mrs. Nyman rose from her chair and announced that she had been saving some coffee for this visit. She excused herself and said that she would return soon with some fika, which is a word that they used for a small snack with coffee. With that, she disappeared into the house and could soon be heard pouring water and clanking some dishes.

          Anders enjoyed Mrs. Nyman’s company, but now he was glad to be left alone with his friend. Despite all the news that Anders had told the Nymans about how well things had been going in his life, there were some things that were troubling him. Anders brought up to Nyman the disturbing memories that he had had during this past winter, remembrances of difficulties that happened years ago.
          He told Nyman that the thoughts that mostly came back to him were those of the death of his father, about which he really knew very little. Anders was so young at the time. Also, the remembrances of the struggles of his mother repeatedly came back to him, as well as those of the hunger years.
          “Why am I thinking so much of these things now?” Anders asked Nyman. “I have not thought of them for years.”
          Nyman sat in silence for a few moments. For some reason, it seemed to Anders that his question to Nyman had not taken him completely by surprise. When Nyman finally began to speak, his first words dealt with the practical.
          “I don’t know, Andri,” Nyman began, “But this is probably the first time since those years that you have had time to think. From the time when you first left home, you have been working for someone else and trying to learn the skills necessary to do your job. Perhaps now you have reached a skill level where you can do your work without having to concentrate so much on the task. Your mind is free to contemplate other things.
          Nyman continued, “But maybe there is also something else. Perhaps there is something about those times that is keeping you from letting them rest completely with you. You are still trying to resolve some things.”
          The two friends both sat silent again for a few moments. All of the visiting about the old days that they had done on the porch that morning had reminded Anders of another story. He repeated it now to Nyman. It was about the time when the two of them, Nyman and Anders, sat with their backs leaning against the drying hay. It was the time that Nyman had almost sighed the words, “God is so good.”
          Nyman did not remember that specific day, but Anders did. In fact, the memory was so vivid to him that if Nyman had asked him, Anders could have described to him perfectly how the sunset looked that evening and also the taste of the grass stem that he had put in his mouth.
          “When you said that God was so good,” Anders continued, “I knew what you said was the truth, and yet I also knew that I would not be able to say it with the same confidence. I think I did not understand why God had taken my father away when I was so young. To tell the truth, I am not sure that I understand it yet.”
          “Do we ever understand the ways of God?” Nyman responded slowly. “The best that we can do is to know that he always has our well-being in mind, and only the very best for us. If we have our confidence in this, then no matter what comes to us in our lives, we can have the courage to continue on.”
          Nyman turned his head to look directly at his friend. “It most often does take courage, Andri.”

Just at that moment the door of the house opened and Nyman’s wife appeared at the doorway, carrying a large tray. She held the door open with her elbow as she began to step out onto the porch. When Anders saw her with her load, he jumped to his feet.
          “Here, let me help you with that tray, Mrs. Nyman.”
          Anders set the tray on a small table and Mrs. Nyman began to serve the fika. The friends sat and chatted for another good, long time. It was good for Anders to spend this relaxed time on the porch with these friends.
          After a while Anders set his cup back on the tray and made some indication that he should be getting back home. He did not leave immediately, however. That was not the way it was done. A person does not announce that he should depart and then actually leave. Among friends, a farewell was something that one eases into. It was not as if this was something necessarily done by design or is fore-planned; but simply was the natural way among those folks.
          The cup on the tray was a good start. That was an indication that Anders was finished with the fika and would have no more coffee just now. He turned the conversation around to what was going on at his mother’s home at that moment and how he was expecting to soon see his brother Emil. It was only after the friends talked about and explored how that reunion was likely to be that Anders finally rose to his feet. Even after that, they all talked for some time more before Anders again shook the hands of his two friends and stepped off of the porch.
          With another wave of the hand and a promise of another visit soon, Anders then turned to walk back to their little torp.
     It indeed would be good to see Emil again.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

THE LOGGER (FROM THE NOVEL)

(I have skipped a lot of the story in these posts, so you may not always have some information that is referred to. However, I think it will all still make sense)
**********************************************************************
It was Emil who had suffered the most during the hunger years. In addition to the food shortage during those years, there had been a stomach ailment that had been afflicting many. They called it “rödsot.” It was a type of dysentery.
          Emil was nineteen years old at the time and living in a community that was going through an outbreak of rödsot. He was barely able to keep down any of the little food that he was able to find. Most people, including Anders, really thought that Emil would not survive.
But Emil did survive. In fact, he did more than survive. Anders' brother had always been tall, but also always quite lanky. However, after he recovered from his rödsot and after food became more available, Emil had such an appetite that it seemed like he could eat from sunup until sundown, and sometimes even put in a little overtime.
His lanky frame filled out. It was if the rödsot awakened in his body the need to put in some reserves. Although the family teased him about getting a little broad around the middle, Emil’s weight really was not primarily fat and it was not just about the middle. The bulk in his arms and legs increased, and his chest broadened considerably. This was not fat, but Emil had become very muscled. Anders was glad that his days of wrestling with his brother were over.
The teasing that he got from the family was given and received with good humor. In truth, everyone in the family had been so worried about whether Emil would survive his illness and survive the hunger, that it always was a great release of joy to be able to actually joke about his health.

THE LOGGER
One of the reasons that Emil had become so strong was that he had been involved with the forest industry. He was a logger. In some ways, Anders envied the life that Emil had. Emil was constantly out in their beloved forests of Sweden and among the trees through which they used to
wander as boys.
As with Georg, Anders now could see that Emil showed an early inclination to the work that he would eventually choose. Although all three brothers enjoyed hiking through the forests, it was Emil that mostly seemed to initiate these excursions, and it was Emil who took most of the leading role, even though he was not the oldest of the three.
Now Emil continued in this role. The forest industry was going through a transition during this time. For centuries, the normal way of living in the forested areas was not primarily through the use of the timber, but rather through burning them down so that crops could be grown. This was called the slash and burn method of agriculture.
In the slash and burn method, all of the trees in an area of the forest would be cut down and allowed to dry for a year, or preferably two. Then, normally just before Midsommar’s Day (June 21), and depending upon the weather conditions, the dried out trees and brush would be set ablaze. The ideal conditions for these farmers were a good dry spell in early June that was to be followed by a short period of rain. In this way, the farmers could plant their seed in the damp, but still warm ash. This, they believed, produced the best crop.
But this method of agriculture was not self-sustaining. The first year of the burn over was the best, but the yields grew less in the subsequent years. Many people, after a few years, would slash some different acreage in order to start again with some renewed soil. But the general trend was toward depletion of the soil. It was not a good farming practice.
But the logging industry was now becoming increasingly important in Värmland, and Emil was heavily involved with it. This importance rose with the mining industry, which required lumber, and also with the increased exportation of lumber to other countries.
Emil began as a sawyer and a river man. In fact, as
They called these rivermen, "floaters"
Anders rode in the wagon north along the river Klarälven, he thought often of Emil. Emil had been a river driver on this water, and as far as Anders knew, even earlier this spring had rode down the Klarälven on the logs.
Most of the logging in Värmland was done during the winter months. The trees were felled, cut into lengths and skidded onto and piled on the frozen river. This they did all winter long. It was not only one logging company doing this, but the logs piled on the ice were from the cuttings of various areas along the river.
Logs on the Klarälven
When spring came and the ice melted and broke, all of these logs floated en masse down the river to the sawmills near Karlstad. To keep the logs from forming jams and stopping the flow of logs, men had to ride the logs carrying long pikes. Some years before, these log drivers had formed themselves into an association called “Gentlemen Timber Handlers on the Klarälven and Watercourses Flowing into It.”
When the logs all arrived at a sorting lake near
The Sorting Station
Karlstad, the rivermen then had to sort them out according to the companies who had cut them. As each owner had put their logs on the river during the winter, they had marked the ends of each of their logs with a special mark using a marking axe.

Anders was not able to see Emil when he passed through Karlstad, but Emil would soon also be coming home to see their mother. His arrival would enhance this home reunion.
  (Logging photos credit: Lennart Elg)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

HOME AGAIN



(Another little piece of the novel I am writing, based in the Sweden of the 1800's)

          It was his sister Eva that Anders saw out in the garden as he approached the house. Even when he was some distance away, he could tell it was Eva. She was a small girl. Petit. And, Anders was not ashamed to say, quite lovely. Even when Eva was a little girl, one could see that she would grow into a beautiful woman.
          It was not that Eva had a kind of cuteness when she was little, as is seen in many young girls, but a genuine latent beauty that was just waiting for the right season to blossom. And the manner of her beauty was also unusual for a Nordic person. She was of rather darker complexion and hair. This only served to accentuate her presence in that land of fair-haired people.
          As soon as Anders could make out that there was someone in the yard, he called out, “God kväll Eva! Good evening!”
          From the sound of his voice, Eva knew that it was Anders. She was planting something in the garden on this spring evening. Eva dropped whatever seed she had in her hand and went running as fast as she could to meet her brother.
          “Anders!” she called in a delighted voice.
          Before Anders had made a dozen more steps Eva had covered most of that distance between them. Anders laughed to see her. Although she was now twenty-two years old, he still saw youngest sister as a little girl. He also knew that she was an emotional one, and before she got all the way to him, Anders dropped his pack. He knew that, in an instant, she would be flying into the arms of her brother. If he did not want to go tumbling over, he had better prepare himself.
          But petit as she was, what she lacked in size she made up in energy. Despite Anders’ preparation, when Eva hit his open arms, she sent them both toppling backwards. They both fell, laughing at themselves.
          “Take it easy, Eva!” Anders scolded her. “I’m an old man now!”
          “Oh no, you are not!” Eva laughed. “Look at you; you barely have a beard!” 
          How is Mamma?”
          It was Anders’ first question. His mother Anna Kristina was getting quite old by now, and she had had a difficult life. Her health had been on Anders’ mind all winter long.
          “Oh, you know Anders. She is doing well, but she moves slowly now.”
          Anders knew that this certainly was a sign of age in his mother. She had always been an energetic woman and seemed to be able to do the work of two women. He did not remember if she had been quite so active before his father had died, but afterwards, it seemed like she felt she must compensate for the loss of her husband and do the work of two.
          But if his mother was now moving slowly, Anders sure could not have told so by what he saw next. Anna Kristina had heard the shouting outside and stuck her head out the doorway to see if she could make out what all the commotion was. She had not heard what any of the words were that were spoken, only that there was excitement.
          With one glimpse of what was occurring outside, Anna Kristina instantly knew what was happening. The older woman came running, holding up her apron with her hands so that she would not trip. Their mother covered that ground between the torp and Anders not much slower than Eva had.
          “Anders!” she screamed with obvious gladness. She did not bowl Anders over with her hug, but it was no less lively than Eva’s. She also was a small woman, so Anders had to bend down so that she could give him a kiss.


The kettle was already hot, so once inside, Anna Kristina began to make a hot barley drink. Anders' family never had coffee when they were growing up. In fact, Anders did not know what coffee was until he left home. Coffee was an expensive commodity and not common among the poorer people of Sweden.
          But Anders had brought home a surprise. On his way through Karlstad, he had stopped at a shop and bought a bag of coffee as a present for his mother. As Anna Kristina was about to put some roasted barley into the hot water, Anders gave her the gift. His mother chuckled with delight. Now, they would have coffee.
          Anders had been gone less than a year, but it seemed like there was so much to catch up on. Anders, being one of the youngest of the children, had seen most of his brothers and sisters settle into a life and career some time ago.


(Next time I will tell about one of Anders' brothers)