Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boomer the Miracle

I've been out for over a week. Had a big medical issue come up, with long hospital time. I'm back now. There are changes taking place, most of which I don't need to share with everybody, 'cuz while they're important to me, they won't matter to most folks. It's enough to say here that I now need to monitor a medical thing in my life, at least for a while, that isn't obvious to anybody. Most of the time, not even obvious to myself.

But here's something related to that, that I think is important enough to share. I'd like everybody to meet Boomer. If I'm able to train him fully and properly-- And I will. Dog training is one of my life-time hobbies.-- a lot of people will meet him personally. He has a role in my life now, to warn me of small medical effects. More in a moment.

Boomer was a gift from my sister Anne, who breeds Australian Shepherds. For some reason, she wasn't able to sell this pup. So last Christmas, here was my gift from Anne. I didn't really want him, but took him anyway. Family thing, you know. In Anne's heart, she was replacing my previous Search and Rescue partner Titan, an amazing Aussie that also had come from her kennel.

But Boomer's Search and Rescue drives are somewhere between none and zero. Same for his herding drives. I can't say that he has any special traits except for just being a lover. He's a big-time lover.

The Apostle Paul, writing about our present sufferings and our future glory, says this: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8.26-28)

Why did Anne give me Boomer? I didn't know. She herself probably didn't know. Nobody knew at the time. But here we are, eight months later. I had a medical emergency that has been handled (Thanks be to God!), but has to monitored now for quite some time to come. Boomer hovered by me when it first developed. Since I came home from the hospital, he has stayed nearby. When the condition I must monitor elevates, he's nuzzling me, climbing in my lap. (And I had trained him to stay out of peoples' laps.)

Last night in my bedtime prayer, I asked God to give me some sign if I should elevate Boomer to be a true "Companion Dog." This morning, when I woke up, I was calm. I just opened my eyes. No stretch. No noise. No motion. No thoughts in my mind. Boomer stood up and walked to my side of the bed. He set his chin on the bed next to my face, and looked at me. Then he stepped back and laid down on the floor.

Boomer will be a year old in just over a month. His training involves teaching him to hold by my side and be calm no matter what, no matter where, to every person we meet. He's over halfway there already.

God knows our needs long before we do. He knows what is going to happen far in advance, either by natural flow or by His intervention. And many times, He fills our needs before we even have them. In this case, He had my sister give me a puppy who would be the exact correct age when this change in my life happened.

So say "Hello!" to Boomer, everybody. And thank-you, Lord, for meeting my needs before I even know I have them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

A story is told of a horse who was raised from a foal by a young boy. The two were inseparable. They would run and frolic in the pasture. They walked together through the fields and forests. The boy would use the young colt as a pillow and they watched clouds pass overhead and listened to the singing birds.

When storms came, the boy would be sure the colt was safe in the stable. His stall was always clean and stocked with fresh hay and bedding. He was fed fresh oats and other fine grains. As he grew, he became strong and fast, sure-footed and confident.

The boy would brush the colt every day, He would wrap his arms around the young horse's neck and hug him with great affection. As they walked, the boy's arm would sometimes drape across his back. One day, as they lay in a field of wild flowers, the boy sat on the colt's back. While it was a surprise, the colt did not flinch or jump. It just felt right, somehow. Later, as the young horse was being brushed, standing next to a wood fence, the boy slid onto his back. The horse walked around the pasture with the boy on his back. Somehow he knew that this was what he was made for. Later, his friend introduced a bridle, and then later yet, a saddle. The two spent long, wonderful days walking, trotting, running-- the boy riding on the colt's back as the young horse carried him with joy.

One day, the colt was out in the pasture with the other horses. The others got into a discussion where they were telling about their experiences in being "broke." One after one, they told of the drama of being roped and held down, while someone strapped on a tight saddle. Someone else forced a bit into their mouths. Then  while they were restrained, a man climbed into the saddle. Each  horse told of how they bucked and jumped and ran until, exhausted, they were forced to give in to the men on their backs. Then they told of weeks of training until they behaved as they should.

Finally, one of the other horses turned to the colt, and asked him to tell how he had been broken. The colt hung his head, and nothing to say. He had never been broken.

This is my story. For years, I tried to come up with my testimony of how I had been broken and converted to Christ. But that's not how it was for me. I don't know a day in my life when Jesus wasn't part of it. I have known him from as early as I can remember. My parents each had their days of conversion, but I never did. They gave me to Jesus from the day I was born. He and I walked and talked together everywhere, every day. Oh, I could mark a date when I formally declared my faith in Him, and was baptized. But there was no need to ask him into my heart. He was already there. Always had been.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19.14)

I finally realized that my testimony is the greatest of all. No gut-wrenching sorrow drove me to Christ. He has always been in my life. I've sinned. I've strayed. I've made mistakes. I'm a man, after all. And I've been the one after God's own heart, in that I hunt for and pursue after knowing the heart of God. But I have never known a time when I was without Jesus Christ in my life. And as a bonus, I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said that the kingdom "belongs to such as these." My faith in Jesus is "just because." No other reason. Nothing else worth having faith in.

Today is my birthday, and happy birthday to me! For I was given the greatest birthday present of all on the day I was born. Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Great Salt Lake, part 2

I referenced this verse in talking about the Great Salt Lake and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS): Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." (Luke 13.18-19)

I noticed the birds flocking around the Lake, attracted by the only forms of life in the lake: brine flies and brine shrimp. At the Lake's visitor center, there is a lot of information about these birds. One thing I noticed is that every bird listed is a member of the Old Testament's "unclean" list. I tied that to the verse above. One of the most common interpretations of that verse is that it is a warning. The mustard plant is a small bush. But here it grows out of control, to be a spreading tree, which attracts many birds. Many of them can be evil. The Bible talks about many different birds. But in general, when it refers to flocks of birds, it's a sign of evil. For example, in Jesus' parable of the sower, a flock of birds of the air snatch up the seed.

I mention the birds not to make a point, but to explain how my haggard mind began to tie the Salt Lake and the Mormons together. The Great Salt Lake is beautiful from a distance. Blue water reflecting the distant mountain ranges. Closer to the lake, the haze can enhance the photo opportunities. But when you get on the shore, you smell the rot of dead brine flies. In the water you see the pollutants floating, and the dross-covered bottom. If the wind and temperature are wrong, you're choked by the heavy salt air. The beauty of the lake hides the truth. Scientists will point out that it's no "dead sea," since it's loaded with algae and bacteria, plus brine shrimp and brine flies which birds are attracted to. But for all practical purposes, it's dead. No fish. No frogs. No beaver or muskrat or otters.

From a distance and on the surface, the Mormon Church looks very attractive. They use the name of Jesus in their name. They claim to have faith in Jesus Christ, and to follow the Bible. But a closer looks reveals the truth.

The Bible isn't good enough for the Mormons. Their founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., claimed to have been given some gold plates with strange writing, which he interpreted into the Book of Mormon. They consider it to be scripture. I guess they just ignore Proverbs: Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Proverbs 30.5-6)

In Genesis, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...." (Genesis 1:26) The Mormons teach that they can be gods themselves, and rule over their own planets. That means God must have been a man himself somewhere, and earned this planet to rule. He's not the creator of the universe. The Mormons have made God in their image.

To the Mormons, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is insufficient for salvation. It was just a beginning. To really be saved, they have to do more works, like serve as "missionaries." Be married. Be married in the Temple. And on and on. But the truth is, salvation cannot be earned by anything you do. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2.8-9)

The Mormon church officially rejected polygamy about 100 years ago, but only because they were pressured by society, and the practice was outlawed by the government. Practiced by Smith all their "elders" and "prophets" until the early 20th century, they received "new revelation" that polygamy should not be practiced. But it is still taught. They can't do it on earth, but they will in their heaven. And I have known Mormon men who "practiced" polygamy by having extramarital affairs. Officially approved or not, they justified it by their church's teachings.

The Mormon church taught until 1978 that people of African descent were of Cain's seed. Their skin was colored as a punishment and a sign. Though the LDS church didn't practice discrimination in membership, no person of Cain's seed could be a priest. This was taught by Brigham Young, one of their greatest "prophets." In 1978 they changed that position, having received "new revelation."

Throughout their history, the Mormons have claimed "new revelation" in order to change their teachings and practices. Amazingly, they only get this "new revelation" when political pressure is applied. That's OK, though, because their god is made in their image, and can change at their will. But the one and only true God doesn't change. Neither does His Word, His Law, nor His desires for us. Besides His warnings not to change or add to His Word, He said, "I the Lord do not change." Malachi 3.6. The true Church can't operate on "new revelation," but the Mormons have no problem with it.

And I'm just scratching the surface.

From the outside looking in, the LDS church can be attractive. It has a beautiful temple. It makes attractive appeals to people. But inside, it's like the Lake. What awaits people inside its walls is death.

The true Church must wake up and get out of its own walls. Not with show and entertainment as so many do, but with truth and conviction led by love. If it doesn't, the people outside are easy prey for the cults. And who will ultimately be held responsible for them?

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Great Salt Lake, part 1

Last week we had an opportunity to go to Idaho, to perform a family wedding. We chose to drive, rather than to fly, as it gave us time to be tourists along the way. Our route took us by Salt Lake City. If you go to Salt Lake City, you need to see the city's two big attractions, right? The Great Salt Lake, and Temple Square (site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' (LDS) temple).

Here's a funny thing about Salt Lake City. Wouldn't you think they would have signs up, pointing people to their two main draws? For Temple Square and the Lake, we saw one sign for each. Just an Interstate highway sign pointing to an exit. From there on, no signs. No directions. I asked local people, and they could not give me directions! Sure, you can see it from I-84, but how do you get to its shore? Is Salt Lake City, and the state of Utah, somehow ashamed of these places?

Our GPS came up with "Temple Square" when we punched it in. We drove to the site, and found it surrounded by a fence that could not be entered. The only way in that we saw was the visitor's center, where apparently you could take a guided tour. And the guided tour was the only way you could see anything if you are not an LDS member. And even then, there are areas you cannot see at all. Whether or not that is totally correct, that is the impression you get.

While the LDS temple was a beautiful structure to look at, the Utah state capital building on the hill above it was much more impressive. And it's accessible.

Then the Lake. We pulled out the atlas and found a park marker called Antelope Island. That looked like a reachable destination, so we poked it into the GPS, and followed its directions. Sure enough, there is a Great Salt Lake, and you can get to its shore. You can even swim in it. But why would anybody want to? As you drive across the causeway to Antelope Island, you are bombarded first by the stink, then by a choking sensation of extreme salt air. As you look across the lake toward other shores, the view is masked by a heavy haze. Thankfully, the breeze was from the south, so once we reached the island it was actually quite pleasant. (These are our direct experiences. Yours may be different.)

My wife has a personal tradition. She likes to dip her toes in any major body of water we visit. She has dipped in many rivers, lakes, and a couple of oceans. To keep her tradition, she wanted to dip her toes in the Lake. Water level was down, so the best place we found was a boat ramp. We were wearing shoes that we didn't want to ruin by crossing a long salt beach.

Every dark speck is a fly. And
this is a light day. (Pic byLee Rentz.
Linked from Flickr. My picture
came out badly grainy.)
As we approached the water, we saw the Great Salt Lake for what it really is, a giant cesspool. Everything runs in, but nothing runs out. Get that? Everything in. Nothing out. The water where we were was coated with a slime made up of oil and who knows what else. The bottom looks brown, but not the "clean" brown you normally think of with a sandy bottom. And there are literally billions of little black flies lining the shore, making it look black. In some places a dozen or more feet across. In the visitor's center we learned these are called "brine flies." They're harmless. They feed on an algae that grows in the salt water. The only other real life form is brine shrimp, which also feeds on that algae.

The area is proud of one thing. The Lake attracts a multitude of gulls and shore birds. Some have their greatest populations right there. Actually, it's not the Lake that attracts them. It's the flies and the shrimp.

Cheryl had to build up courage to dip her toes in this filth. Finally, she resolved to do it, but instructed me to take the picture quickly. When we got back to the car, she pulled out disinfectant wipes and washed her foot thoroughly.

Then it occurred to me. God led the Mormons to Utah. It's a sign for all of us. They and the Great Salt Lake belong together.

Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." Luke 13.18-19

More tomorrow...