Is Anybody Up There?


A man was hiking on a large mountain when suddenly he lost his footing, tripped, and went stumbling off the side of a steep cliff. Luckily, he had the presence of mind to reach out and grab a branch half way down. Clutching his branch, he looked down at the jagged rocks below and then at the impossibly steep cliff above. Not knowing what else to do, he looked up at the sky and cried with all his might’ “Is anybody up there?”

Suddenly some clouds parted, revealing a bright shaft of light, and a deep thundering voice sounded from heaven, saying, “It is I, God! You must have faith my child. Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”

The man thinks for a second, looks up at the sky, and cries, “Is there a body else up there?”

This funny little parable has a serious message. Faith is casting your lot entirely with God, no matter what. There is no plan B. The life of faith is letting go when it is not clear that we will be caught. If we knew how everything would work out, it would take no faith. The saying may seem trite but it’s also true: there comes a time in which we must let go and let God. Sometimes it is when we are at our most desperate, not knowing where else to turn that we finally look to heaven. What would our lives look like if we didn’t wait until we were hanging off the side of a cliff to ask, “Is anybody up there?”

The Little Blue Engine


THE LITTLE BLUE ENGINE

The little blue engine looked up at the hill.
His light was weak, his whistle was shrill.
He was tired and small, and the hill was tall,
And his face blushed red as he softly said,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

So he started up with a chug and a strain,
And he puffed and pulled with might and main.
And slowly he climbed, a foot at a time,
And his engine coughed as he whispered soft,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

With a squeak and a creak and a toot and a sigh,
With an extra hope and an extra try,
He would not stop — now he neared the top —
And strong and proud he cried out loud,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”

He was almost there, when — CRASH! SMASH! BASH!
He slid down and mashed into engine hash
On the rocks below… which goes to show
If the track is tough and the hill is rough,
THINKING you can just ain’t enough!

Shel Silverstein

This humorous Shel Silverstein parody of the popular children’s book :”The Little Engine That Could.” Challenges the notion that the power of positive thought is all one needs to make it in life. “Just believe in yourself and there’s no limit to what you can achieve” is the kind of nonsense that sets people up for failure later in life. I do think it’s important to have self-confidence but that alone does not make the difference. There are little things called hard work, natural abilities, and plain old dumb luck that all contribute to success in life. More importantly, for disciples walking in the way of Jesus, the call is not to place our confidence in ourselves but in Christ. This is what Paul really means when he says he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. There is real power in believing Christ can.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Head Hog


“I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough!”

“I beg your pardon?” replied the Church secretary, unsure if she had heard the voice on the other line correctly.

“I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough,” said the voice again.

“Well, if you’re referring to the Pastor,” she said indignantly, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to address him with the respect he deserves. You may refer to him as ‘Reverend Jeff’, ‘Pastor Jeff’, or even ‘Brother Jeff’ but certainly we would never refer to a man of God as ‘the head hog at the trough’.”

“Well, I was wanting to give $100,000.00 to the Church budget,” the stranger said.

“Hold on just a second,” the Secretary replied, “I think I hear him oinking in the next room.”

“Where your treasure lies,” Jesus taught his disciples, “their your heart lies also.” A more jaded commenter might say, “everybody has a price.” This joke challenges all of us to think about how much our principles are worth to us. Proverbs says that wisdom is more precious than silver and more costly than gold. Too many people would rather have the gold than be wise. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to fix our eyes on Christ. We can’t do this if our head is down in the trough.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that the knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another to look up at them in wordless wonder. A few minor tweaks to this poem and it could be: “When I Heard the Learn’d Theologian.” All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Those of us who are charged with communicating the Gospel must often resist the temptation to tell everything we know rather than relate the experience of being known. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden


Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables (I kept his wording intact), is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Acts 2:38


Returning from Bible study one evening, an elderly woman was surprised to find a burglar in her living room holding a burlap sack filled with her belongings. Not knowing what else to do, the woman recalled the Bible verse they had been discussing earlier at Church. It was Acts 2:38 which says: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so your sins will be forgiven.” So she called out to the burglar, “Acts 2:38!”

The burglar looked up startled with wide eyes. Feeling that she had struck a nerve, the woman repeated, louder and more forcefully this time, “Acts 2:38!”

The man’s hands began to shake and he dropped the sack at his feet, slowly backing toward the door. By this point the woman could tell that she had really convicted the burglar so, emboldened, she cried out at the top of her voice, “Acts 2:38!”

With that, the burglar ran out the door and jumped into his getaway car without touching the ground the whole way. “Drive! Drive!” He yelled to his partner as soon as he was in the vehicle. As they peeled off, the partner saw that the burglar was white as a ghost.

“What in the world happened in there?” he asked.

“I’m never working this street again. I thought I was alone in that house then suddenly there was this crazy old broad in the living room screaming at me that she had an axe and two .38s!”

Some of the funniest jokes are based on miscommunication. When the speaker is saying one thing but the hearer is picking up something else, hilarity can ensue. Abbot and Costello made a career of this kind of humor. But it is important to ask ourselves whether we are fundamentally miscommunicating with the world around us. Those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus have been called to share the good news of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness and yet that good news is often translated into bad news by the hearer. We’re miscommunicating. Often we blame this on the hearer. We deride them and say they are rejecting the truth when really the fault lies with us. We’ve run them off instead of letting them in. Jesus came into this world not to condemn the world but to save it through Himself. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. This is the Gospel. Everything else is noise in the way of good news.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Not Waving but Drowning

NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

According to Thoreau, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I don’t know if this is true, but I do know too many people in my own life who appear happy on the outside but on the inside are violently struggling to keep their head above the water. We all have been shocked at marriages that looked perfectly happy seemingly fall apart over night, suddenly discovered that a friend or neighbor had a drug problem that they had managed to conceal for years, or been saddened to hear of the sudden suicide of someone everyone described as “always happy.” In all these cases, we look back and ask: How did we miss this? All the signs were there. How did we not know? The truth is that we see people every day without truly seeing them. Far too many people feel alone in their suffering because their pleas for help go unrecognized. They are not waving but drowning. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to be sources of healing and forgiveness- vessels of compassion. We cannot do this if we do not take the time to see the struggles of others. We cannot rescue the hurt and lost if we simply wave back at them on our way to something else.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…