Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Sunrise Unseen...

The Sun Rose Today, Above the Clouds


Today I arose early, hoping to catch a glimpse (and a photo) of the rising sun. Often the edge of a cloud pattern arrives just as the sun peeks over the horizon, creating a Master's painting of light and color. On the flight deck of some redeye this morning, the crew is no doubt enjoying the play of light on the top of these clouds. You see, the sun ROSE this morning. Here on the ground, we just didn't see it!

Likewise, the Saviour of the World has risen! May we have the presence of mind to see that great truth! Have a Blessed Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Andrea Oakes, Moses and Joshua...

Going Outside the Camp to the Tent of Meeting

After the people sinned while Moses was receiving the Law, the Tabernacle was pitched outside the camp and those who would seek the Lord had to venture out to it.

"For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.

And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp." -- Exodus 33:5-7

Prayer before city counsel meetings has been relegated to the 'work session.' Here is where we are as a culture today. The presence of G-d has been removed to "outside the camp," and we must make the effort if we are to seek G-d for the welfare of our city.

The scripture says that Moses went out regularly to meet with G-d, "And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." -- Exodus 33:11a.

But then we learn a most interesting fact about Joshua: "but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle." -- Exodus 33:11b. Here was a man who wanted to linger far beyond what was required in the presence of G-d.

Moses and Joshua remained in the presence of G-d and were shown the grace of G-d toward the people. Often people see the giving of the law and the sternness of G-d in the books of Moses, but miss the grace. Finding the grace requires a trip to the Tabernacle and time in G-d's presence.

The Law, given on Sinai, is the basis (like it or not) for the right governing of our society. The grace, it is not so easily written on tablets. One needs to seek it in communion with the One who is gracious.

We are blessed to have public servants like Andrea Oakes, who do so.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Lighthouse on a Mountain

On Mount Greylock, a Monument Rises in the Mist

In the clouds hanging on Greylock, Massachusetts' highest mountain, stands a lighthouse...


"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." -- Psalm 119:105

Walking up the trail to the top of Greylock in November of 2000, I stepped into a cloud. The top of the mountain, unseen, was covered with a frosting of heavy ice. Inching upward, I came to this monument at the summit. A war memorial, but also an allusion to local author Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick. When the monument was first lit you could see it for seventy miles on a clear night.


After the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, the establishment of the Passover celebration and the inspiration of Bezaleel and Aholiab to build the Tabernacle, Moses went up into a cloud on Mount Sinai. There G-d gave the law that would be a light to thousands of generations to Moses, but the people couldn't see what was happening on the mountain. They Turned Away [click to read] and made themselves a god of metal. Unable to visualize what they didn't see, they subjected themselves to foolishness.


On a hill called Golgotha, the man who said: "I am the light of the world." -- John 9:5 slipped into death.  And the people stood beholding. "And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself." -- Luke 23:35 Surely they felt that this was not the Messiah they had hoped for. Dying between two criminals, His body placed in the dark tomb, He was gone from them. His followers hid themselves away, fearing they would be killed as well.


What happened on that mountain, though unseen, changed history. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." -- Hebrews 11:1. We now know the rest of the story, so it is easy to forget the need to retell the stories of promise. Revelation 21 [click to read] takes us to yet another mountaintop: "And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from G-d." -- Revelation 21:10 It is this unseen hope that must sustain us in the world we live in today.

...a war memorial and an allusion to author Herman Melville.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Steeples of Staunton X

Spires and Symbols of Faith Around Our City

Cherryvale United Methodist Church
Cherryvale United Methodist Church on Cherry Hill Drive.

Calvary Assembly of God
Calvary Assembly of God on Springhill Road.

Staunton Church of Christ
Staunton Church of Christ on Churchville Avenue.

First Church of God
First Church of God on Shutterlee Mill Road.

Parkway Wesleyan Church
Parkway Wesleyan Church on Springhill Road.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church
Saint Paul's United Methodist Church on Shutterlee Mill Road.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XV

The Meaning of the Miraculous

For many Centuries man has acknowledged  the miraculous. This week the Jewish community celebrates their deliverance from Egypt and the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. A dialogue set in a meals has all generations together consider the preservation of their people that could only be seen as a work of G-d. Previous generations always saw G-d, or some miraculous force as Creator. The Patriarchs saw Him as Provider and Deliverer! The relatively recent concept of Evolution (Charles Darwin in the Nineteenth Century) has created a philosophy of Naturalism that either outright rejects or quietly diminishes the Theistic explanation.

I once attended an Easter service at a large church in Richmond. The minister asserted that the Resurrection was not important! I don't remember anything else he said. I was astonished because Christ's Resurrection would seem to be a cornerstone of Christianity. Many voices today denounce Faith. They may not directly denounce it, but in the academy it is the subject of "open discourse" such as that experienced by Ryan Rotella at FAU [click to read]. Rotella was asked to leave a class. His "offense" was refusing to participate in an excercise where students were required to "stamp on Jesus." Dennis Prager [click to read] has more details. Though the school ultimately apologized to Rotella, it justified its so-called "open discourse" in doing so.

Running from the Resurrection

In fact, among many in academia today you are likely to hear some variation of the following: "There are other reasons why I consider Christianity to be an ill-chosen creed, such as the morals actually taught in the Bible, many of which are abhorrent to a compassionate and just man, or other details of its theology which run counter to observable facts." writes atheist Richard Carrier in introduction to his argument against Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Here in his introduction, Carrier gives what I believe is his real reason for being uncomfortable with a physical resurrection. A G-d who can so control the laws of nature can ask 'unreasonable' things of us as well. A 'Compassionate and Just Man,' in Carrier's world can support abortion on demand because it is not 'abhorrent' to his viewpoint that abortion is a kind response to the needs of women with unplanned pregnancies. The beating heart of the unborn child need not be seen here as an 'observable fact.' Likewise, the 'restrictive' definition of marriage as a relationship defined by Scripture in specific terms may be viewed as archaic and discriminatory.If G-d didn't design it, He cannot write the specifications.

The elimination of Christianity as an authoritative source allows us to personalize moral decisions. In a culture that elevates self-actualization, this is virtue. It spares us the heavy lifting required to weigh moral absolutes with human frailty.

Jesus, meeting a Samaritan woman at a well, is a prime example of what I mean by this heavy lifting. Balancing compassion for the woman with his observation that she has not been a faithful wife, Jesus creates a constructive dialogue. He does not condemn her, nor does He overlook the complexity she has created in her relationships. He speaks truth and ultimately the dialogue that results sets her free. Here Absolute Love and Absolute Truth are in no way mutually exclusive. In the end her search for 'Living Water' trumps her desire to live as she pleases. [2.]

A G-d who can part the Red Sea, Create worlds and has power over death is pretty much to be respected. A G-d who changes human lives in intimate communion with his Creation is amazing.

Before Jesus appeared, the concept of Resurrection is found in Scripture. Sometimes it is very clear and other times it is a logical assumption consistent with the text.

Resurrection Foretold

"And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." -- Isaiah 53:9-12

The famous Messianic text above talks of triumph after death. Other texts that may be seen as prophetic of Resurrection are: Genesis 3:15, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 16:9-11, Psalm 22:14-25, Psalm 30:29, Psalm 40:13, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 118:21-24, Hosea 5:15-6:3, Zechariah 12:10.

Resurrection Documented and Verified

"I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better, fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died, and rose again from the dead." says Dr. Thomas Arnold, formerly Professor of History at Rugby and Oxford Universities. Simon Greenleaf, one of the most skilled legal minds ever produced in this nation, top authority on the question of what constitutes sound evidence, developer of the Harvard Law School, after a thorough evaluation of the four Gospel accounts from the point of view of their validity as objective testimonial evidence, concluded:

"It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact." [3.] Dr. Henry M. Morris PhD writes more on The Importance of the Resurrection [click to read]. His point is that the foundational truth of the Christian faith has plenty of evidence to support it.

A G-d who can part the Red Sea, Create worlds and has power over death is pretty much to be respected. A G-d who changes human lives in intimate communion with his Creation is amazing.

A Caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Nature itself suggests the possibility of miraculous transformation and new life! Rice Paper Butterfly, or Paper Kite Butterfly, Idea leuconoe.
Illustration © 2013, by Kristina Elaine Riley for HOPE Publications, Pvt. ltd.


The Steeples of Staunton IX

Spires and Symbols of Faith Around Our City

Promiseland Baptist Church
Promiseland Baptist Church on Maple Street.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;" -- Exodus 31:1-6

Mount Salem Baptist Church (Old Sanctuary)
Mount Salem Baptist Church on Stuart Street (Old Sanctuary).

Mount Salem Baptist Church (New Sanctuary)
Mount Salem Baptist Church on Stuart Street (New Sanctuary).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stepping Into the Wardrobe...

A Magical Transformation in Central Virginia

A late Spring snowstorm transforms the campus of Miller School in Albemarle into a wonderland.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Steeples of Staunton VIII

Spires and Symbols of Faith Around Our City

Christ United Methodist Church
Christ United Methodist Church on Churchville Avenue.

Staunton Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Staunton Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Grubert Street.

Church of God
Church of G-d, Grubert Steet.

Calvary Baptist Church
Calvary Baptist Church, Tuxedo Road and Garland Drive.

Bethany Presbyterian Church
Bethany Presbyterian Church, Fifth Street.

Fifth Street United Brethren Church
Fifth Street United Brethren Church.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XIV

How to Cure Conflict

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty G-d, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." -- Isaiah 9:6

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week features: How to Cure Cancer [click to read]. Indeed researchers are making strides to conquer this terrible disease and every advance is another piece of good news. As an American President travels to Israel to meet with Binyamin Netanyahu, the problem of human conflict is on our minds. Indeed it seems like peace is beyond our grasp. Thousands of years of human history are filled with wars and strife.

This coming Sunday Christians remember the time when the Prince of Peace [1.] (Isaiah 9:6) rode into Jerusalem on a donkey! The people lined the way spreading their cloaks and palm branches, expecting the return of the King in an earthly manifestation of the Heavenly Kingdom. [2.] Jesus, however, had greater plans in mind.

Jesus rode into town as the lambs were being brought into the homes in preparation for Passover, the remembrance of G-d's deliverance from Pharaoh centuries before. [3.] Instead of establishing an earthly kingdom, He would be tried by both religious and civil authorities. Although there was no crime committed on His part, He would be sentenced to die a most horrible death by crucifixion.

He ate the Passover meal with His disciples, one of whom betrayed Him. The Roman ruler Pilate could find no fault in Him, yet the religious leaders stirred up a mob to demand His death. He died on a cross on a hill called Golgotha, flanked by two thieves. Hardly the way to begin a movement to transform the world, but that is what history tells us.

His death conquered sin and death. [4.] "The day Jesus was crucified was the day of the Passover celebration and the day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest would blow the shophar (ram's horn) at 3:00 p.m. - the moment the lamb was sacrificed, and all the people would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. At 3:00, when Jesus was being crucified, He said, "It is finished" - at the moment that the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the shophar was blown from the Temple. The sacrifice of the lamb of God was fulfilled at the hour that the symbolic animal sacrifice usually took place. At the same time, the veil of the Temple (a three-inch thick, several story high cloth that demarked the Holy of Holies) tore from top to bottom - representing a removal of the separation between G-d and man. Fifty days later, on the anniversary of the giving of the law (Pentecost), G-d left the earthly temple to inhabit those who call on the name of Jesus through His Holy Spirit." -- How the Passover Reveals Jesus Christ by Rich Deem [click to read].

But the story does not end there. In Revelation 21 Christians look to a New Heaven and a New Earth where a Heavenly Jerusalem descends to join the Earth. Here is a Kingdom that needs no temple, needs no sun to light it, for G-d Himself is the force that illuminates it! [5.]

"And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth: for the first Heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from G-d out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their G-d." -- Revelation 21:1-3

West_web East_web
Journey to Jesus, a mural depicting the nations coming to Jesus in the New Heaven and New Earth described in Revelation 21. Mural by Kristina Elaine Riley and Bob Kirchman

Journey to Jesus [click to view larger images].

The Journey is complete when you reach the kind face of Jesus!
"I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity." —John Wesley

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Steeples of Staunton VII

Spires and Symbols of Faith Around Our City

Staunton Alliance Church
Staunton Alliance Church, New Hope Road.

Olivet Presbyterian Church
Olivet Presbyterian Church on Richmond Road.

Friendship Church on Beverley Street
Friendship Church on West Beverley Street.

The Valley Mission
The Valley Mission on West Beverley Street.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Blessing for the Next Generation

A Night of Miracles and Celebration of Children

"Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah, and on this night only matzah. On all other nights we eat all vegetables, and on this night only bitter herbs. On all other nights, we don't dip our food even once, and on this night we dip twice. On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining, and on this night we only recline." -- a message from South Africa's Chief Rabbi, Dr. Warren Goldstein.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XIII

New World Pope, New World Hope

Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been chosen to be the next Pope. Taking the name Francis, he becomes the first Pope from the Americas. The 'other' weekly news magazine has The Story [click to read].

To the North of Argentina, the Kingdom of G-d is quietly building in the Bolivian city of Sucre. On February 4th of this year, without any fanfare, Mission of Hope, Bolivia [click to read] quietly opened the doors of their long awaited Sucre clinic. Pastor Alex Merguzhis led a staff devotional and then they opened the doors. The first day they served a handful of patients, but as word spread people began walking for miles to be treated.

Sucre is inhabited primarily by Quechua people. Often treated as second-class citizens in Bolivia, the Quechua lead hard lives. Julian and Vasila, the first patients treated, farmed their land all their lives with hand tools only. Now disabled and unable to farm, they look to their children for what they can provide. Simple medications to ease pain and make life better are beyond reach. There is no public transportation so Pastor Juan Bayo, who donated the land for the clinic, often uses his truck to bring patients who cannot walk.

90 year old Sebastiana, a widow who lives alone in a remote area, could not walk to the clinic. A childhood accident had left her unable to. Pastor Juan was able to bring her so she could receive care.

Mission of Hope, Bolivia is the G-d-given vision of Cindy Thacker [click to read]. Ms. Thacker is a nurse and cancer survivor. Her own story is one of amazing triumph, but her foremost desire is to see the Kingdom of Heaven triumph over and over again in the lives of Bolivia's poorest people. The new clinic in Sucre is making that hope a reality!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Snowy Skyline Drive Sunday

Scenes from Shenandoah at Swift Run Gap

A clear snowy day along the Skyline Drive...

...and trees along the Drive.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Elliott's Knob in the Snow

Augusta County's Highest Mountain, a Magical World

Approaching the summit of Elliott's Knob.

The sunlight on Saturday morning illuminated the snow on the mountains, beckoning the hearty to hike them. Elliott's Knob called from the West, and I was in the mood for adventure. Driving along route 42 the snow was deep enough to make me wonder if there would be a place to pull off of the road (and get out again).

The forest service road had been packed down enough to allow for a bit of artful maneuvering into a safe spot. One set of boot prints led up the trail to Falls Hollow and I followed them.

Article Continues [click to read].

Friday, March 8, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XII

The Homecoming

 The 'other' weekly news magazine is imploring us not to hate Cheryl Sanberg [click to read] because she's 'successful.' Well, if we shouldn't hate the corporate types we "Like" because they are associated with "cool" companies like Facebook (as opposed to nasty old Wall Street firms or oil companies) or espouse our preferred political persuasions, why not give up our animus toward successful people, period?

Successful people create jobs. Bill and Melinda Gates may be rich beyond imagination but other people have become rich working for Microsoft as well. We need businesses to provide essential goods and services for our lives. We all use Microsoft products (and I'll soon post a link to THYME on Facebook). I won't even think about Ms. Sanberg's ideology in the process.

So, please don't hate me as I divert from the usual parody. THYME has always been about things that interest me. Right now the things that interest me are those close to home.

Earl Hamner's pilot for The Waltons was a show called The Homecoming. There is a scene in The Homecoming where John Boy has to drive off into a snowstorm to pick up his Father, who is working away from home during the depression. His bus can't make the last bit of the trip, so John Boy drives the Model A to the town where he is stranded. As John Boy drives through the snowy night, you hear him repeat this lament over and over: "I try to be like you Dad, but I can't." John Boy, you see, has his manuscript hidden under the bed and aspires to write. He does not feel his farming Dad will understand.

Two days ago, my Son was riding the train from Chicago to Staunton, returning with his wife from a year of living in Gwangju, South Korea. My Daughter, her husband and my little Granddaughter were about to return from a trip to South Carolina. A large snow storm was bearing down on our region.

The train got as far as Huntington, West Virginia when they decided not to proceed any further. My Son and his wife were put on a bus to Clifton Forge. That was as far as they would take them.

In an odd twist on John Boy's story, I set out to drive to Clifton Forge. By the time I set out to get them, the roads were dry. Still, I had time to reflect on the story. I was the child with engineer parents who had piles of drawings hidden under my bed. I identified with John Boy.

My own children have flourished as the unique individuals that they are. Today as I sit surrounded by them. I feel blessed beyond measure.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stepping Into the Wardrobe...

A Magical Transformation in Central Virginia

" "This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!" thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. "I wonder is that more mothballs?" she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold." -- C. S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The snow had created a magical transformation outside windows by late evening.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Stones of Remembrance

Joshua 4:1-9 Has a Message for Our Time

THYME's covers recently have featured great art, great hymns and nature, all of which point to the great works of G-d.

Earlier in the year I wrote about Joshua's Stones of Remembrance [click to read]. The need to remember G-d's mighty works has been important in every generation. Sadly,our modern attempt to create a pluralistic culture has resulted in the great stories being relegated to a place somewhere in the background. Many people today are simply not familiar with them.

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, husband and wife filmmakers, have collaborated to create a new miniseries that will reacquaint viewers with the Holy texts by recounting the great stories they contain. Burnett says:  

"The Bible is the most-read book of all time. It has touched the lives of billions of people across the planet and has significantly shaped history, culture, literature, art, politics and human behavior — and it continues to shape the world we live in today. You don’t have to believe the Bible to be affected by it.

Also consider how influential the Bible has been on popular culture. Ever heard the phrases: “the blind leading the blind”; “Eat, drink and be merry”; “The handwriting’s on the wall”; “You’re the apple of his eye”; “How the mighty have fallen”; or “Out of the mouths of babes”? All of them, every last one, is from the Bible."

Downey says: "Our faith is very important to us, and we both love the Bible. We love its stories of love and redemption and God’s heart and hope for his people. So Mark and I started talking over breakfast one morning about how someone really needed to bring this love story to the screen, to tell the overarching story of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. We were excited to be able to bring our combined talents and strengths, creativity and experience to the series, and we were both involved in all areas of making it. This was our first professional collaboration as husband and wife. We worked closely on this for three years, and we’re still speaking to each other!"

The Series Begins this Sunday [click to read] on The History Channel and continues until Easter.