It Just Ain’t Right!

Something’s gone wrong at my church. Sunday was the 60th anniversary of Emmanuel Baptist. Morning worship filled the auditorium with raucous worshippers. All that handshaking and hugging—no one mad at anyone. That was the first affront to the true faith. Baptists, like young roosters, test their metal by mock battles; some not so mock.

And don’t come at me with that’s not necessarily so. I was a Baptist before most of you were born; a preacher to boot. I survived five decades and seven churches and never got kicked out of one. Must be a record.  Came close a couple times. Baptist practice field goals with their pastors. Some got it coming.

Pastor Dave preached a fine sermon—he always does. But then, he hasn’t been Baptist that long. We’ll probably keep him. He wraps up ten years with us in October. Best thing he’s got going for him: he’s a pastor as well as a preacher. But I’m beginning to question his Baptist loyalty.

After morning worship, pot luck, thoroughly Baptist. Then the annual business meeting. That’s where things got out of hand. First off, it consumed hardly an hour, and there wasn’t even an afternoon football game. (We have a few Packer fans whom we generously tolerate—a foreign mission thing.) In the good old days, we could consume an hour debating the color of baptistery drapes. This flaunting of tradition has to stop. It just ain’t right.

Reports (mostly printed), budget, and ballot were unanimously accepted. No one nominated Cousin Ben from the floor. He’s 92 and stone deaf and in the nursing home, but he’s been a deacon for all those years. Show some respect.

Most alarming was new business: replacing pews with chairs. What’s wrong with pews? They served fine for 50 years. So the cushions are worn; the Ladies Aid could fix them, or make pillows for the fussy.  And what about the kitchen?  Well, they put up some fancy power point and allowed civil pro-con discussion then called for a voice vote!  No proper Baptist secret ballot so we could hide our affiliation. Nary a nay was heard. That flies in the face of tradition.

Sure, all bills are paid with a handsome balance in the bank. Yes, the budget went up five percent to $228,170; the mission budget up by $6,000. Debt retirement is ahead of schedule. We welcomed eight new members, bringing the total to about 95. But what happened to old-fashioned Baptist spunk when one ounce of grumpy outweighed a ton of progress?

I’d leave the church if the people weren’t so good to me (they sent me home with a care package from the pot luck) and if I didn’t love Pastor Dave so much. As you can see, my Baptist spirit has grown flabby.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

Pickerel Weed

Pickerel WeedWhoever named this purple flower Pickerel Weed must have had some growing where he didn’t want them. Weeds are plants that compete with what we prefer. We uproot them or spray them with toxic chemicals. Pickerel Weed blooms in large clumps in the shallow edges of Sandy Ridge Marsh starting in mid summer. They are butterfly and bee magnets. What’s not to prefer?

Tiger Swallowtail Buterfly Picker Weed

Young Grandpa Keith

A Kid and His Harmonica

Enough with theology already. Life goes on outside the library and chancel.

Northlanders, mark your calendar. Sunday evening, November 9, 6:30, Emmanuel Baptist in Duluth. A foot-stomping campmeeting sing will introduce my final Wordshed Mission print book, How Do You Know That’s a Tooth?. I’ll add my harmonica to the band, if they will let me. Every family present will get a signed copy of the book for free.

Elsie and I launched the Wordshed Mission in 1986 to tell the stories of God’s unsung servants. We planned two Alaska books, a few hundred copies; but the project got out of hand. Today, nine titles and 30,000 books are out there, made possible by over $100,000 in gifts.

We give Wordshed books away; half the press run to the people we write about. How Do You Know That’s a Tooth? will eat about $4,000 for 1,000 copies. If you can help, I’ll appreciate it. Ten bucks will get you a signed, postpaid copy. Send your mailing address. Write checks to Lloyd Mattson.

Shifting gears: Our recent trip to Viroqua, Wisconsin introduced me to best friend Norma’s son Jim, his wife Nan, and their fun-loving nine-year-old Ethan. I gave him a harmonica and walked him through the basics. He caught on quickly and tootled happily. The next morning he asked, “How does a harmonica work?”

I thought that remarkable. Over the years I have given out 500 harmonicas, forming philharmonica kid bands in churches I served as interim pastor. Ethan is the first kid to ask how the instrument worked.

I wondered what occasioned his curiosity and broad interests, including an affinity for books. He taught himself to read at an early age. His diction and vocabulary struck me—uncommon in kids. To be sure, he reflects his mom and dad, with whom I enjoyed stimulating conversation. But I felt there had to be more. When we toured Ethan’s school, I began to understand.

My next post will explore Viroqua’s Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School and its unique teaching philosophy.

Old Grandpa Lloyd.

Outrageous Arrogance

I love the last line of son Keith’s July 22 Hole News (scroll down to Irreconcilable Differences at www.holenews.org). “If in a grand culmination, a vision of ultimate truth is given to us, I think we will all be surprised.”  That boy has smarts.

We can only speculate how we will think in Heaven, or how our earthly performance will be evaluated; but I expect theologians will be right up there with scientists on the scale of human arrogance.

Who dares imagine they have God and his creation all figured out? Christian doctrine and scientific theory can only be the proponents’ best guess, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor” (Romans 11:33-34).

Theology and science should not be at war; they are blood brothers. Theology explores who God is and what he said; science explores what God did (the Creation). Technicians from both camps can grasp only what the human brain allows, which cannot approach the sum of truth.

I’m but a timid observer of science, but I know something of theology, from long observation and considerable reading. I say over and over: You can’t do theology apart from history. To believe that 21st century American Christianity has arrived at ultimate truth concerning God and his ways is crashing arrogance.

Someone will shout Sola Scriptura! meaning sola my interpretatura, and interpretations abound. We see the Bible as a unified whole; sort of an amulet or talisman, a crystal ball. The Bible is a 66-book anthology. The parts mean primarily what they meant to the first readers (listeners—most people were illiterate).

Bible writing began in the late Bronze Age and continued for 1,600 years, with innumerable copyists and editors working over the texts of 40 or more writers, who wrote and edited in the context of their time. You must know how we got the Bible to get at its meaning.

The Bible teaches inerrant truth. (Is there any other kind?) God gave scripture to tell us his plan to send a Redeemer, who would hold all authority. One day he will fulfill the Creator’s full purpose for mankind and the universe.

I love God’s books, the 66 short stories and the mind-boggling encyclopedia of nature, science’s handbook.  And I love Jesus, God who came as a man to teach me all my mind can grasp of eternal verities.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Irreconcilable Differences

I generally avoid the fray, but I’m weighing in on the Young Earth/Old Earth, Faith vs Science matter. I have no resolution but a prayer that the poet’s attitude might gain ground among those that argue so stridently with others who differ from them.

Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight

When I spread out my hand here today,
I catch no more than a ray
To feel of between thumb and fingers;
No lasting effect of it lingers.

There was one time and only the one
When dust really took in the sun;
And from that one intake of fire
All creatures still warmly suspire.

And if men have watched a long time
And never seen sun-smitten slime
Again come to life and crawl off,
We must not be too ready to scoff.

God once declared he was true
And then took the veil and withdrew,
And remember how final a hush
Then descended of old on the bush.

God once spoke to people by name.
The sun once imparted its flame.
One impulse persists as our breath;
The other persists as our faith. (Robert Frost)

It fascinates me that scientists ridicule people of faith for trusting in what we cannot see. And we counter with the same accusation. Frost’s gentle admonition is not to the scientist, but to people of faith, that we “must not be too ready to scoff.”

If the scientist stands on theories inferred from natural processes, he is on no more certain ground than he whose faith is defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Neither has actually witnessed what he believes to be true. Such mutual tenuousness ought to make for mutual respect.

If in a grand culmination a vision of ultimate truth is given to us all, I think we will all be surprised.

Young Grandpa Keith

The Plan

Old Grandpa Lloyd with VBF Norma

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I’m possessed of a mind that compels me to ponder why things happen. Very best friend Norma calls it The Plan. I prefer mosaic of providence but I don’t argue. Norma regularly invites me for supper and I learned long ago to keep the cook happy.

The Plan came to mind Sunday as I sat in church watching widows—you do that when you’re 90. I once watched girls, but they are either dead or widows, who vastly outnumber widowers. How come I am still around?

Last week I found a hint. Son Keith drove me to Iron River, Michigan to meet a young widow named Debbie. She calls me Pastor Dad. We met online a year ago. Mike and Arlene Rucinski gave her Hole News posts and she liked what she read. Debbie was a new Christian with little background in the faith. She sought confidential conversation as she worked through the loss of her husband and issues common to all new believers. Our email exchange grew into warm friendship and I set up a time to meet her at Mike and Arlene’s Iron River home.

I first met Arlene and Mike in 1948 when I became their pastor at Iron River’s First Baptist Church. They were 15; I was 25. How they have aged! I married them in 1953. Following an extended business career and a long pastorate at Crystal Falls, Michigan, they retired to city and church of their youth. There, in the depth of distress, Debbie found Christ and supportive friends, including Mike and Arlene. We visited warmly in the Rucinski home.

As Keith and I drove homeward on U.S. 2, I remembered hitchhiking that route to Iron River 66 years before. I had no car or bus fare. First Baptist called me and we moved into the parsonage. I remembered the youth group–best I ever had–Mike and Arlene among them. Five from the group subscribe to the Hole News.

I remembered the group email I sent to family as Elsie faded, never imagining it would grow into a blog with three hundred subscribers. By and by, the Hole News touched a hurting friend of Mike and Arlene and she turned to me for comfort and counsel.

Sixty-six years in the making, the mosaic of providence—better known as The Plan—is ever present. I’m glad I hung around to watch.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Duck War

As a woodsy guy, I find Woodland Garden the ideal spot to live out my declining years. Declining I am; 91 will reach me in six weeks.

That’s fine with me. I’ve learned from many mountain trips the downhill hike gives the trail a whole new perspective.  I once heard a geezer say, “The trail is best discerned from the summit, looking back.”

Each morning I look out my third-floor living room window to feed my soul. To see what I see, click on www.lloydsstorytree.com. Browse the first story. It tells about climbing Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine.

Yesterday a fawn gamboled as the proud mama watched. In the evening, two mallard mamas led their troops to the pond; one with four ducklings, the other with seven. The mamas didn’t get along. Territorial domain, I suppose.

With acres of field, forest, and pond to explore, you would think the mamas would enjoy company. But the seven duck mama was mean to her neighbor. Maybe they are from different denominations. Sometimes wild critters are so like humans it’s scary.

I remember a pastors’ meeting when I was a kid preacher. Our district was discussing a new church for a community that promised growth as a copper mine reopened. The conservative men were nervous; church planting takes money. They suggested further study, a common foot-dragging ploy. The gung-ho guys said, “We must act now. If we don’t, that other bunch will move in.” The other bunch was another stripe of Baptist.

We sure didn’t have our ducks in a row.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

AWOL

For reasons unknown, a paragraph from yesterday’s Hole News went AWOL, obscuring my intent. I was discussing the difference between faith and belief, a difference is absent from the New Testament. The Greek word translated faith has both noun and verb forms, but not so in English, leading translators in need of a verb to employ believe.

But we properly distinguish between heart knowledge (faith) and head knowledge (belief). A historian may believe Jesus lived and was crucified yet have no understanding of the Lamb of God. The cabaret singer soulfully renders Amazing Grace but knows nothing about the song’s deeper meaning.

Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Faith is not an arbitrary option.   “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Doctrine can only be theology’s best guess, hence the varying viewpoints among theologians. We give knowing truth our best shot then walk by faith, relying utterly on the sovereign grace of Creator God, yet we can claim assurance. Paul was persuaded, assured, of his eternal destiny (2 Timothy 1:2) and I am too. Twice I looked down the valley and knew peace.

How can we share our blessed hope? Listen to Peter: Always to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks…the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Note everyone who asks.

Our job is to generate curiosity causing friends to wonder what gives us peace. Forget mass evangelism. Souls are born of the Spirit one at a time. Saving souls is God’s full-time business; we serve at his bidding.

Live Christ and you’ll never lack for opportunity to tell people what makes you tick.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

Apples in a Seed

“Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.” Robert H. Schuler said that long after Charlie Ashmen titled his Camp Haluwasa book The Apples in a Seed. Let’s think about apples and seeds; belief and faith.

Blaise Pascal wrote, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”  New Testament translators use faith and belief interchangeably for one Greek word. Since faith lacks a verb form in English, they use believe. Yet English lends faith a nuance not fund in belief.

It takes no faith to believe one plus one equals two. Line up two apples and count them. It does take faith to plant an apple seed and expect fruit.  A lot can happen between a seed and a new tree. We sing blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. How can we be sure? We can’t put Jesus on display to weigh and listened to. We have the Bible, you say. The Bible proves nothing to persons holding to other religious books. Bible words are not magic.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us “…faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith persuades us but does nothing for people who don’t believe the Bible. Flashing John 3:16 between the goal posts does not convert anyone. Reciting Bible texts and creeds proves nothing. Our society does not lack information about Christianity.

Planting faith is God’s work, a gift of sovereign grace. The only evidence we can offer is the fruit of faith’s seed in our lives.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

A Memory with Smiles

In school I was a math/science avoider. I took only what was required as early on as possible and never looked back. My last math course was plane geometry in 10th grade. I completed High School without taking chemistry or physics, a benefit of switching schools relatively often, sometimes midyear. In college I escaped math altogether. But along with all other freshmen I was forced to take a year of biology, the botany portion of which was taught by Dr. Russ Johnson.

I remember little about the other professor, but Russ Johnson (his name is familiar to some Hole News readers), is unforgettable. He took more pleasure in peering through a microscope at the microbes swimming in a drop of pond water than I did in a free steak dinner. As a student “steak” and “free” were my two of my favorite words.

Like most of my peers I didn’t understand or appreciate Dr. Johnson’s enthusiasm and gentle ways. We made gentle fun him. Yet, after 45 years he shows up now and then to keep me company on walks in the woods. His Swedish tinged voice directs my attention the purple Lady Slipper growing under a tree. “Trees are wonderful,” Dr. Johnson says, “but don’t forget to look down. Not many flowers grow in the deep woods. You don’t want to miss any.” Indeed I don’t.

Young Grandpa Keith