Is Healing Overrated??

     By the time the year 2003 rolled around, I had been bothered by severe back pain for a long time. It had reached the point that my normal activities, even as a relatively non-active teacher, were being adversely affected. I decided after much delay to make a visit to my friendly doctor, who, as is the tradition nowadays, referred me to a specialist. Upon examination and observance, x-rays and scans, the doctor determined that I had some collapsed cartilage between a couple of my lower vertebras in my back which resulted in pinched nerves, causing the sharp pains up and down my left leg. I had been told this several years before by other doctors, but this time I was ready to have something done about it, and I allowed myself to be referred to a surgeon who accepted my case and scheduled surgery to correct the problem. I was to see him on a Tuesday for final examination and to confirm the surgery time. I was not looking forward to back surgery; I had too many friends who had experienced back surgery with unsatisfactory results.
     Coincidentally, at my home church at that time, Harvest Temple in Baytown, Texas, on the Sunday before my scheduled Tuesday appointment, we had a visiting minister who was, I would classify him now, a “faith” or “healing” minister. Strangely enough, at this point in time I can’t even remember his name. I do remember, however, that when he (as Pentecostals occasionally do) spoke in tongues, it almost sounded as if he was speaking in Latin. I have some limited interest in languages, and there is a certain rhythm or reoccurring sounds in just about every language. Anyway, on this particular Sunday night, the minister preached a very powerful message about the healing power of the name of Jesus. At the end of his sermon, he invited anyone who needed a healing touch from God to come to the front to be anointed with oil and receive a prayer of faith. Since upcoming surgery gives one a sense of urgency and since the sermon had caused me to look for divine help, I stepped out and walked to the front of the church. I closed my eyes and began to pray with my hands raised while at the same time I heard the minister walking amongst those standing with me, quietly praying in his Latinesque speech. Eventually his voice became stronger as he approached me and I felt his fingers touch my forehead as he anointed me with oil and continued to pray. At that moment I felt no immediate change. He continued down the line while I prayed for a few more minutes.  Eventually the prayer service came to a close, and the service was over.
     It was not until the next day as I was doing my daily activities as a teacher that it suddenly dawned on me that my back was not hurting, and I realized that neither had it hurt me the night before. I began to think about the previous Sunday night service, trying to reconstruct what I had felt. I had no pain the rest of the day, and when I walked into the surgeon’s office on Tuesday, I still did not feel pain. Since it was my first time to see the surgeon face to face, naturally I had a load of informational papers to complete. One questionnaire concerning my health asked, “Where are you hurting NOW?” I answered that I was not hurting anywhere. Eventually I was called by the nurse and went in to see the doctor. The doctor greeted me and began to describe the surgery planned as he was slowly scanning my personal data and questionnaires. He came to the “pain” question… “Mr. Downing, you answered here on the questionnaire that you are feeling no pain. Is that correct?” he asked. I answered that it was true. He responded with a sort of funny, but direct question. He asked, “If you’re not hurting, how am I supposed to improve on that?” I explained to him what had happened the past Sunday night, and he was very professional and accepting. He made the suggestion that since everything was ready for the surgery, we should just put everything on hold. I would go about my business, and when and if my pain reoccurred, I could give him a call and the surgery would be scheduled. That seemed a reasonable thing to do and I agreed. To this present day, I have never been back to see him. The back pain has never returned, and I believe I was healed by the touch of God.
     Fast forward to March of 2008, at which time I underwent heart surgery requiring five bypasses. Four days after the surgery, the hospital staff was still trying to figure out my pain medication, and I was still hurting. A nurse walked into my room and hooked me up to a different container of medication and left the room. She came back into my room a short time later and gasped when she saw the bottle empty....the medication was supposed to last for several hours. About that time I began to shake as if I had chills, but I wasn’t cold…I just could not stop trembling, and the shaking became progressively and rapidly worse. I tried to force myself to be still, but I was rattling the whole bed, and I could see the nurses and physician’s assistant huddling just outside my door. Finally we were told that they would observe me closely and hopefully the shaking would wear off soon. They left the room and I was getting more and more uncomfortable as my newly repaired heart began to pound. In the depth of the shaking, I heard my wife tell my daughter, “Let’s pray,” and with one on each side of my bed, they began to pray for God to touch me in my hour of need. I am not exaggerating when I say that within thirty seconds, I exhaled a breath and completely stopped shaking. I lay quietly, and in a few minutes drifted into a peaceful sleep.

I Peter 2:24 “Who in his own self (Jesus) bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
James 5:16 “Pray for one another that ye may be healed”

     I tell you these two examples of healing in my life to assure you that I believe in healing. I believe that God can, with his simple touch, correct ailments, both physical and mental, which appear beyond repair. There are countless examples of the power of God’s healing. I have seen faithful members of the church healed and yet at the same time witnessed healing for people who barely knew who God was. The mystery of healing is not whether it exists, but rather why does God appear to apply the healing touch selectively.
     In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells the disciples that the Father “sends rain on the just and the unjust.” The scripture is generally interpreted to mean that the common problems of life will affect the devout as well as the errant person. Being faithful to God does not mean that the saint will never experience trial, tragedy, sickness, and pain. It also means we will not be healed every time we ask for it. I have heard more than one minister preach that if one is living right and has faith, and a prayer for healing is offered, healing will (guaranteed) result. I find no scripture for that position. The church my wife and I attended for several years was a powerful, faith-believing church that believed in healing. Many souls came to its altars with personal, physical, family, financial, and mental needs saw their problems removed, and testified about the power of healing. But there were many who lived faithfully, prayed earnestly, believed intensely, and yet still did not receive their healings. Why is that?
     I believe the answer lies in what the scriptures tell us about God’s will in our lives. First, the scriptures tell us that God has a plan for each of us.  His will is not that we be healthy, rich, or famous, but rather it is His will that we all be saved from the judgment to come. Everything that occurs in the life of a believer is designed to point him/her in the right direction toward God. I was happy and thankful in 2003 when God touched my back and took away the pain, but in 2008 He did not heal me from the heart problems I had or keep me from going through the chemotherapy for the cancer that immediately followed. I had many people praying for me, for which I was eternally thankful, but healing did not come. Had I not pleased Him to the point that He refused to heal me? I don’t think so. But I can tell you this, I am a better Christian now than I was before my heart/cancer episodes. I am far more conscious of my mortality, and I attempt to be more sensitive to the spirit of God in my life. What did my medical problems do for me? They pushed me in the direction He wanted me to go…namely toward Him.
     Over the years, I have listened as many missionaries to foreign countries described the incredible demonstrations of God’s power though healings in their country of assignment and wondered why we did not see such amazing displays very often in the United States. Is it because we in this land of opportunity and wealth have become more callous, less faithful, or more unbelieving? The short answer to that question is no. We have in our churches many giants of faith who serve as the foundation of the church as we know it today. I think the answer lies again in an analysis of the scriptures. In looking at the acts of healing done by Jesus Christ and the apostles, a majority…not all, but a majority…of the acts of healing recorded in the scriptures were done to demonstrate the power of God. Think of the story of Peter and John in the third chapter of Acts. The crippled man asked for nothing but alms and expressed no spiritual commitment, but he was healed, and the act caused an excitement to spread through the city. Many of the recipients simply expressed a desire to be healed and it was done. The acts of healing were done to bring attention to the works of Jesus or the apostles. They were designed to spread the news of the creation and establishment of His church.
     The great demonstrations of His handiwork are being seen in other lands today because the church is still being established in those new areas. We in the United States, with the spiritual maturity and progress we should have, are able to appreciate healing events and may even pray for healings in our own lives, but the fact is, we should not need to be healed to maintain our faith. We should be so established in our dedication to Him that, whether He heals us or not, we are going to be faithful. We no longer need great demonstrations of God’s power to keep us faithful to Him. We accept His power unquestioningly. There is nothing wrong in praying for healing. As our children come to us with pleas, requests, and outright begging, we respond with yes to those things we think will benefit the child and no to those things which we know will be detrimental. So it is with our Heavenly Father…we may pray for healing, a better job, or a better relationship, but God sees the end of the road and knows the direction which is best for us. But we as parents sometimes allow our children to "learn the hard way." Our children cry, plea, and beg until we finally give in to a request, and all the while we know as parents it is not a good decision and the child will suffer because of it. But we allow the child to proceed…and then fail…knowing that from the failure will come a valuable lesson for the child to remember. I wonder if God may sometimes answer our insistent and persistent prayers, all the while knowing that the results will be a disappointment and a hard lesson we must learn.
     I do not know why God chooses to heal one person and not another. But this I do know; He has our interests at heart and our futures in mind when he allows difficult events to occur in our lives. It is not for us to question His will, but be sensitive to it. Job, the great man of patience of the Old Testament, said it best, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”

Charles Darwin...Minister of the Gospel?

    I was listening to a minister (just for the record, NOT my pastor) preach a few months ago, and in the process of his sermon he happened to drift onto the subject of evolution. It hadn’t been the topic of his sermon, but in passing he made a couple of remarks concerning evolution that left me in a state of amazement. “The theory of evolution was a creation of the devil through the minds of godless men, and no true Christian would believe in such heresy,” he said, and then he continued, “When I was a kid a frog was a frog, and today a frog is still a frog. I’m going to teach a couple of lessons soon that will prove that evolution is false.”
     Before I get too deep into this subject, let me state that I am not an expert on the subject of evolution. Just as I have mentioned in the introduction to my blog, what I offer in my discourses are simply my observations and opinions based on my experiences. If I am wrong in your eyes you are welcome to offer evidence to show my error, and, if your evidence is conclusive, I will alter my perspective. But until then I will write what I think is accurate.
     Shortly after I heard the minister slam evolution, I was privileged to attend a state convention of science teachers. The convention offered the usual list of speakers offering their insights into the many strategies for teaching science to school children, but one speaker’s subject caught my attention immediately. “Teaching Evolution---Tips of the Trade” said the headline, and although it was far above my grade level as far as target audience was concerned, it was a “must visit” class for me. The speaker was a science professor from the University of Houston where by coincidence the convention was being held. He opened the session with a simple question, “Who of you feel that evolution is a theory, and who of you think evolution is a fact?” The results were pretty interesting; the room of approximately 30 listeners was just about evenly divided, and this was a group of people who had an above average amount of science knowledge. He also made a statement which I found very interesting, “There are those who feel that religion and evolution science are incompatible, but I am a Christian, and I have found nothing in my study of evolution that contradicts the existence of a God. I believe in the existence of God.” I had to wonder how that statement went down with his professorial colleagues.
     Just a brief, layman’s definition of evolution should be introduced here. Evolution is the term we give to the process by which organisms (living things), in their struggle for survival, react over time to changes in their environments. It does not refer to a single generation of organisms, but changes and adaptations which occur through the processes of both natural and man-made interference over many years, perhaps thousands or millions. In nature, changing conditions of life and environment create adaptations in organisms which give them a better chance of preservation. Consider the Islands of Hawaii…the birds and plants which were introduced to the islands only three hundred years ago by the Europeans have adapted both in color and size to their more temperate and colorful environment. Many Hawaiian birds and plants of today only vaguely resemble their ancestors of three centuries before. Many of the early organisms introduced to Hawaii suffered in the early years due to weakness in camouflage and adaptability, but those organisms which did survive begat stronger offspring more suitable to the new environment. Charles Darwin called this phenomenon the law of natural selection…the term we more readily recognize is “survival of the fittest.”
     I went to the Museum of Natural History in Houston about a few years ago to hear a lecture from famed anthropologist Donald Johanson. Johanson has been a superstar in the anthropological circles for over 35 years. In 1975 he discovered the remains of the first humanoid to allegedly walk erect on two legs. The three million year old fossilized bones, affectionately called “Lucy” by the educated gentry were on display at the museum. It was the first time they had ever been out of Ethiopia, and they were guarded more tightly than the incredible jewelry exhibit that the museum proudly displays. As I walked around the display, which was sort of a glass casket, the bones appeared to be that of a child no more than four feet tall. The skeleton was missing some bones, but there was enough for the curators to claim “a complete skeleton.” There was an artist’s rendition of what someone imagined “Lucy” may have looked like when she was alive. Later, at the lecture, Johanson made the statement that what has solidified conclusively the argument about the facts of evolution has been the discovery and development of DNA sampling. DNA sampling is so incontrovertible that it is now being used routinely in crime solving and court trials, and with DNA sampling anthropologists can readily trace the linage of various species backwards in history over a million years. However, interestingly enough, I was able to ask him a question that drew a small admission from him. I reviewed with him the fact that “Lucy’s” bones were now actually fossilized stone, and, being stone, they could not have a DNA presence. He replied that the way they date fossils is by determining the age of the materials found around the specimen, and not the fossil itself. Score one for the doubters. Johanson is one of those scientists whom I call “pure” evolutionists. His quote: “There’s no God, never was one, and never will be. There is a scientific answer for every question. “
     A phenomenon which is becoming more evident in the world today is "man-made" evolution. We see examples of man-induced evolution practically everywhere. The next time you’re in your favorite grocery store, go to the produce department and pick up just about any piece of fruit or vegetable you prefer. That big fat juicy strawberry the size of a tennis ball was not created by nature alone, and that ripe, lovely half-pound tomato is a creation of man’s ingenuity, also. Most major seed companies use the process of artificial selection to insure that the seeds that are in the seed packet you buy are reasonably guaranteed to be healthy and productive. They do this by growing acres of “parent” plants. These plants are observed as they grow, and, although, they may be all planted in the same soil and receive the same dosages of water and minerals, some of them will be healthier and stronger that others. It is from the healthy plants that the seeds are taken to go into your seed packet, and the smaller, weaker plants are destroyed. Thus with each new generation of seed, the plant becomes even stronger and more productive. It is Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” with man himself being the judge of which plants survive to reproduce.
     I read of another example of man-created natural selection, or “survival of the fittest” just a few months ago in a magazine concerning pest control. The story did not look at the events in the context of evolution, but it reinforced the adaptability of organisms to their environment. In the Midwest a few years ago there was an invasion of insects in a farming area which was intense enough that it was threatening the crops of the farmers. Normal insecticides seemed to be ineffective, and finally a new powerful chemical was created to use against the invaders. Sure enough, 95% of the insects were killed and the crops were saved. The farmers were happy, needless to say, and order was restored to the farming community...until three years later.
     As if on schedule, the insects returned, but this time the farmers did not worry because they had their proven weapon against their enemies. The powerful chemical was sprayed again, but to the farmers’ horror, the deterrent had no effect on the insects. Some of the insects were captured and analyzed, and the pesticide experts came to the shocking conclusion that these new insects were offspring of the 5% of insects which had survived the chemical three years earlier. Those earlier insects, with some sort of stronger resistance to the chemical, had passed this resistance on to their offspring, and now the whole population of insects was immune to the insecticide. Through a man-caused selection, the insects had evolved into a species better able to resist a destructive force.
     I could give many more examples of natural and man-induced natural selection in nature which has caused adaptive changes in organisms, but the examples given are adequate, and that is really not the point of this discussion anyway. The question that arises is how does someone who accepts the above examples reconcile them to what we know in the Bible. If we are in fact Bible-believing Christians seeking communion with an omnipresent God, what do we do when science can prove without a doubt that the earth is over four billions years old? It is not enough to yell, “That’s heresy!”
     Here’s what I feel. My take on how old the earth is and how scientific evidence relates to the Bible goes along with my feelings and opinions about what’s going to happen when the earth comes to its end. Learned theologians have argued for centuries about what’s going to happen “when time shall be no more,” and the rock bottom fact is no one really knows for sure. Our church recently had a series of Bible studies discussing the mysteries of Revelations in the Bible. We learned about the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70 Weeks, the Millenium, the Rapture, and all sorts of interesting stuff. But even as I read the scriptures as they were discussed, I asked myself, “How did we arrive at that conclusion by reading this scripture?” I think the clues given in the Bible concerning the endtime are purposely vague, just as the clues concerning the beginning of our earth are vague. We are not meant to worry about the future, and we are not meant to be concerned about the past. Our relationship with God is based on the communion we have with Him today.
     There is, however, another possibility which I believe has been overlooked and yet is compelling in its simplicity. If we Christians believe the Bible literally that the earth is only 6,000 years old, but science tells us that the earth is over 4 billion years old, and if we really believe that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, why could He not have created the earth as if it were four billion years old. If He could create an earth, He could create an earth with a history just as easily. In doing so, the geologist could announce discovery of a rock that is a billion years old, an anthropologist could announce the discovery of a three million year old humanoid, and the Christian could say the earth is six thousand years old and they would all be correct. Think about this scenario: assume for a moment that the Bible is correct and God created Adam and Eve. The moment they were created, how old were they? Imagine a scientist at that very moment of creation jumping out of the bushes and examining this new creation called man. What conclusion would the scientist have drawn concerning Adam’s age? If Adam and Eve were created as adults, the scientist would have probably speculated “about 25 years old,” where in fact these new creations were only minutes old. In the environment of the Garden of Eden, were all the animals, plants, trees, and organisms mere infants at the moment of creation?  No, many, perhaps most, were full-grown adults.  Could God have done the same thing with the Earth and universe?  I believe the answer is yes.
     Charles Darwin for many of his early years was a minister in a small church in England, but his love for science and his inquisitive nature compelled him to attempt to find some of the answers to life.  In all his travels he carried two books: his beloved notebook for writing his observations and his Bible. In closing, I would like to quote from Charles Darwin’s amazing book, The Origin of Species. Published in 1854, the book presents in incredible detail the argument for evolution. To some Christian ministers, it is the devil’s bible; to evolutionists it is the definition of life itself. But many ministers and evolutionists have not bothered to read the entire content of the book. To an open minded reader it is a beautifully written, incredibly detailed document, and it acknowledges the existence of God. In Darwin's own words:
     “Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind, it accords (agrees) better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator. It is interesting to contemplate a tangled creek bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, are Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance, which is almost implied by Reproduction; Variability from the direct and indirect action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse; A Ratio of Life so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, involving Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one, and that, while this planet has gone cycling according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
    Happy Charles Darwin Day!

Chernobyl, Wormwood, and Prophecy

      Within Christianity, and especially amongst Pentecostals, there has always been an intense interest in any present or future event which could be identified as a marker or clue that we are approaching the climax of the human age as we know it. Naturally the primary source for prophetic utterances for the church community is the Bible. Within the Bible are several Old Testament books which deal heavily in prophecy, much of it geared toward Israel and its centuries-old struggle for survival. Many of these prophecies we have lived to see fulfilled even in this modern age. What piques the interest of many church goers these days are prophecies concerning what we euphemistically call “the end of the world,” although it is far from that. Most of the clues concerning this time frame are found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
     Interestingly, when we think of Revelation, we think its primary purpose is to reveal the events of the end time, but John the Revelator, the author of the book, entitled his tome “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” in the first verse, indicating that the experiences he would described, although they would offer a chronology of events leading toward the end, were designed primarily to reveal to the world the true power and majesty of Jesus Christ. Replete with imageries, metaphors, analogies, similes, visions, and colorful descriptions of cataclysmic events, the book of Revelation has been a source of intense discussion, controversy, and argument for centuries. Nowhere else in the Scriptures has interpretation of verses been so varied, and conclusions so jumbled as has been in the hosts of analyses of Revelation.
     I must confess to you…usually when the subject turns to prophecy and future events, I tend to get a little bored. It’s not that I have no concern, it’s just that I have found that people who are really into the study of prophecy tend to be like Republicans and Democrats, conservative and liberals, or Keynesian and Smith economists. They are dead set in their opinions, and to them, every scripture of prophecy is crystal clear in its meaning and there is neither negotiation nor compromise. My personal contention (and of course I won’t compromise, either) is that there is very little that is crystal clear in politics or economics…and especially prophecy. An additional reason I tend to breeze through prophecy is that I feel if a person maintains an active relationship with God, He has promised He will see us though every problem. So whatever may come in the future, He has already said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.”
     Rev. Ervin Baxter was a renown student of prophecy. Rev. Baxter delved into Revelation for the better part of forty years and developed a tremendous following because of his astute analyses of the events of biblical prophecy. He was analytical, thorough, articulate, and made his presentations in a manner that grabbed your attention and yet drove home the primary point that our first priority as living souls is to insure that we have a relationship with God. Not just a knowledge or awareness, but a true personal communion with the Almighty.
     His subject at a service past was “The Seven Trumpets” as described in Revelations 8-11. Another confession on my part: I had not read too much about the seven trumpets, so being a good servant I decided to do a little homework in preparation for the lesson. I was surprised when, after looking at several reference discussions of Revelation, the general consensus was the seven trumpets, each signifying a catastrophic event, were expected to occur sometime after the tribulation period, but no commentator was willing to hazard what each one meant. The plot thickened, so I decided this service with Brother Baxter might be interesting, after all.
     Rev. Baxter had visited our church before, so his was a somewhat familiar face as he approached the pulpit. Especially since I subscribed to his weekly on-line newsletter where he gave analyses of current news which were a lot more astute that some I heard on CNN and FOX. Quickly getting into the subject at hand, the Seven Trumpets, he began to offer evidence that perhaps the seven trumpets as described in Revelations would not occur in rapid succession at the endtime, but perhaps had already begun, starting with the first trumpet prophesying the events of the First World War, and the second trumpet describing the Second World War. I thought these were pretty novel ideals, but he was able to offer some backup evidence, such as the second trumpet describing a conflict where one-third of the ships were sunk. Coincidentally, in WWII, out of over 100,000 ships from all the nations involved in the conflict, almost exactly one-third were sunk in combat. Interesting, I thought. But it was the third trumpet which caught my attention in earnest.
     Revelation 8: 10…”And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from Heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter.” Brother Baxter then made the statement, “In the Russian language ‘chernobyl’ means ‘wormwood.’” This scripture, he said, was describing the nuclear disaster which occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. At that time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia) was a dominant power, our Cold War enemy, and the controlling force in the area which is now independent Ukraine.
     On that day in 1986, a titanic explosion ripped through the Number Four reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, blowing a 100 ton roof completely off and sending radioactive debris over a mile into the air and instantly contaminating everything within a thirty mile radius, including the city of Chernobyl. The Soviet Union, with its security paranoia, did not announce the disaster to the world until the contamination began to drift over Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the Chernobyl area, but death and sickness from radiation prevailed. The Soviets dubbed the area the “Zone of Alienation,” sealing the area off from anyone except those who were required to attempt the cleanup, thus sealing their own fates to radiation sickness.
     On my phone I have a language application which can translate several different languages to any of several other languages. Since I have an interest and some past experience in the Russian language, I quickly began to try to verify that “chernobyl” did in fact mean “wormwood.” No luck. I tried English-Russian, Russian-English, English-Ukrainian, etc. with no success. I also have an application on my phone that has 26 versions of the Bible convertible into 25 different languages, including three Russian-produced versions of the Bible. I went to the Russian versions and found that полынь, or “polin” with an accent on the last syllable was the word for “wormwood.” Brother Baxter continued with his viewpoints on the other trumpets, but to be honest, I was researching everywhere I could find on my phone trying to find a chernobyl-wormwood connection.
     That afternoon I spent time on my computer trying to find the connection.  I discovered “chernobyl” is the Russian word for artemisia vulgaris, which refers to a plant which grows to a height of 3-4 feet in the area of Chernobyl. In English the plant is known as mugwort or “common wormwood.” Prior to 1986 both Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries included "wormwood" as a secondary definition for chernobyl, but since that year, coincidentally the year of the disaster, the secondary definition of wormwood for chernobyl has been expunged from Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries. Additionally, the book of Revelation refers to a star falling from the sky. The Greek word for star also refers to “strewn over the sky” as in radiating. Could what John described as a star actually been a radiating explosion?
     In 1992, a Russian research center, the Kurchatov Institute, issued a “manifest” (statement) describing the official version of events surrounding the explosion of 1986 and the subsequent relocation of citizens. In it the statement is made that “polin” is a Russian word and means “chernobyl.” Since “polin” translates to “wormwood” in English, the connection can be loosely made that “chernobyl” means “wormwood.”
     Connecting Chernobyl to "wormwood" is noteworthy, but something else I discovered is much more amazing. In 1986 after the explosion, the Soviets embarked on a massive cleanup operation of the Chernobyl area. The city of Chernobyl became a ghost town and thousands of inhabitants had to be relocated to safe areas. For years after the disaster the “Zone of Alienation” was restricted with no access allowed.
     Due to the magnitude of the buildup and the knowledge that the process would take years, the Soviets gave the cleanup an all-encompassing name…Проект Полынь…Project Polin, or Project Wormwood. I find that fact to be astounding. The Soviets and their military in those days were our adversaries, and yet like all military machines, there were many remarkable similarities in operations. Even today, the U.S. military gives each of its activities a special name, such as “Operation Overlord” and “Operation Freedom.” However, during the years of the Cold War, if the operation was somewhat secretive and not to be publicized, the operative name was usually a dictionary word which was not used in normal conversation to avoid compromising the activity. “Wormwood” was not a commonly used word and sufficed to identify an operation which the Soviets did not wish to publicize.
     We know that there have been Pentecostals in Russia since the early 20th century. With the Communist Party firmly in charge after the October Revolution of 1917, most Christians went underground, but managed to survive even during the Stalinist Purges. Somewhere in the heart of the Russian military or scientific command after the explosion at Chernobyl, there was a committee which made the decisions concerning the cleanup of Chernobyl. That committee made a decision to name their work “Project Wormwood.” Think about this…only one of the 21 apocalyptic events described in Revelation was given a proper noun as a name by John the Revelator, and it was an unusual, obscure name at that…Wormwood. What are the odds that the name associated with the single worst disaster ever created by man just coincidentally carries that same name as its dictionary definition and is the same name as mentioned in Revelation 8:11? Could there have been on that Soviet science committee in charge of cleaning up the disaster a “closet” Christian who understood Revelation and recognized the enormity of the Chernobyl disaster? Or was the committee an unknowing pawn in the progression of God’s will and was merely fulfilling the prophecy written two thousand years before?
      This prophecy thing may be more interesting than I thought!

      P.S. Fascinating facts about Chernobyl: Today, 35 years after the explosion, the area around Chernobyl has become the largest wildlife sanctuary in Europe. It is a flourishing and sometimes unearthly wilderness teeming with large animals and birds, many of them members of rare and endangered species. Many people, elderly and sick from radiation and homesickness, have moved back into their abandoned homes and are continuing to live. The forests, fields, water, people, and animals are all radioactive. Cesium-137 is packed in their muscles and strontium-90 is packed in their bones, and yet all are not just surviving, but are thriving. Tourists and scientists visit the area on a regular basis, securely covered in radiation-proof clothing and carrying radiation meters. Chernobyl has become a testament to Earth’s ability to withstand the most devastating calamity.  Could it also be a testament to the prophetic accuracy of the book of Revelation?

Men of a Certain Age

      A few years ago, there was a television program (quickly cancelled due to low viewership) which at its inception appealed to me due to its title, “Men of a Certain Age.” It was hyped as a heartwarming account of a group of friends (men, of course) who, having reached that mid-life crisis stage of their lives, experienced all sorts of emotional conflicts which can make a middle-aged person rethink priorities as they adjust from a fast-paced youth-oriented lifestyle to a more…um…sedate, mature outlook on events. At the time, I was a “man of a certain age” myself.  I watched a couple of the early episodes looking for portrayals of familiar experiences where I could sigh, “Oh, yes, I felt that way when it happened to me, too,” but, alas, I had forgotten that this was television emanating from that “cesspool of iniquity, Hollywood” (to quote more than one preacher,) and the only events I saw made me feel like a voyeur peeking through a window. Heavy handed, crude, rude, vulgar, shallow, misrepresentative…all these descriptions would apply to most prime-time sitcoms and dramas anyway, but especially to “Men of a Certain Age.” And it was cancelled. Good riddance.
      However, “Men of a Certain Age” did acknowledge one fact, and that is that people with their individual personalities, priorities, preferences, and peculiarities do in fact change, or evolve, as the years begin to pile up. Your top priority for today may not even be on the radar scope ten years from now, and concerns that did not exist when you were a youth become life and death struggles in later years.
     This evolution of thought and development accounts for why our taste in people also changes in time. I have heard it said more than once that a person who lives this life with five good friends is a blessed person indeed. Not just good acquaintances, but real friends. Someone gave a good definition of a friend a few years ago, and I think it still applies. To wit: “A friend is someone you can think out loud in front of without fear of condemnation.” So, a friend is someone with whom you can be totally honest in your opinions and observations. It doesn’t mean your friend will always agree or approve, but he/she will stick with you regardless.
     I have discovered as my time has continued on this earth an addendum to the five good friends rule, however. As one proceeds through life and hopefully has an inner circle of five good friends, the membership in that blessed group of five on whom you depend will change. Many times, it is not due to a falling out or misunderstanding, but to the events of life itself.
     In the early years after Shirley and I were married, I had several good friends in our church in Baytown, but two were especially close. David and Vernon were cousins of mine as well, and to top it off we all worked for my dad’s company, so we spent a lot of time together. In addition, our church had a softball team which played other churches in the area. David, Vernon, and I were key members (modestly speaking) of the team…especially since I kept the balls, bats, bases, and other hardware for the games at my house. Shirley and I lived on Aron Street in Baytown, and next to us was a vacant lot. Many an evening went by with David, Vernon, and I practicing our pitching and catching in that vacant yard. Vernon was our first line pitcher, David the backup, and I was the team’s catcher. This was a fast pitch league (slow pitch, or as we called it, wimp ball hadn’t been invented yet,) and we spent hours working on curve balls, sinker balls, fast balls. Vernon was an outstanding pitcher with a four-pitch repertoire, where David knew only one pitch…as hard as he could throw it. Vernon was steady on the mound, but occasionally we would let David start a game. He would do fine until he got in trouble. When he started to sweat and his eyes got as big as saucers you knew no one was safe from his wild pitches. The first adjustment to my friends group occurred in 1967 when David was killed in an industrial accident at Rohm and Haas in Deer Park. He was all of 25 years old. It wasn’t too long after David’s death that Vernon began to show the first signs of muscular sclerosis, the disease which would eventually take his life several years later. Those early years were good years…we were strong, young, athletic, and we were constantly busy and constantly moving. I describe all this because recently after a church service I listened as a couple of young men discussed their exercise routine at the YMCA and various sports, and I realized that none of it appealed to me at all. One might say I prefer a more benign form of health care. The last time the young men of the church assembled and played softball, I did not play because it was too hot. Forty years ago, I would have been in the middle of them.
     Throughout the years I have been blessed with many different members of my group of five, and for fear of offending someone, I can’t mention everyone one whom I have considered a dear friend. I will, however, mention long-time friends Buddy, George, and Juan. Buddy tried to kill us while we were hunting in Wyoming when he told me to drive through a creek that wasn’t deep (but it was), George almost killed my wife when he tried to back his motorhome off a cliff, only to be saved by a lone tree, and Juan laughed at me while we were on a hunting trip when I threw a flaming stove out of a tent and also when I shot a hole in our tent with my Remington ADL 7mm magnum rifle (it WAS funny!). But through it all, they were in my group of five. Buddy, Georgie, and Juan have passed on, and I still miss their comradeship.
      Shirley and I have been blessed over the years to have attended several wonderful churches, and one of the greatest assets of a great church is its membership. The church we recently attended for nearly ten years was such a church. The people were tremendously friendly and caring, and from the first day we walked into the building, we felt at home. Of course, it was the senior bracket into which Shirley and I fell. A few months after we began attending, one of the old…elder…more experienced men made the suggestion that some of us old guys should meet at a restaurant somewhere for breakfast and fellowship. Sure enough, we did so, and it was the beginning of a grand tradition.  For eleven years now, we have met every Friday at a local restaurant and sat at the same table. Just like other groups, the membership has changed over the eleven years; some have gone to their eternal rewards, and other have taken their places. We have been known to sit there for two hours solving all the problems of the world. Unfortunately, no one listens to us, but we have the answers anyway. These guys have become very important to me. Each one has been through the fire, experienced loss and tragedy, and survived to tell the tale. When we speak on a subject, we speak usually from experience, not just opinion. We are an eclectic blend of personalities, and I would be more specific about each one, but I know some of their wives will read this, and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But Leonard and Nathan, both of whom have passed on, and Jerry, Mike, John, Mel, Steve, and Chuck were or are a joy to be with…knowledgeable, experienced, funny, quick-witted, and yet with a deep spirituality and appreciation of the blessings of God. Being with them has been good for me.
     I have been blessed with a wonderful family. My wife, children, grandchildren (I have a daughter-in-law, but I consider her another daughter), and even all my in-laws form a base of support that has kept me through the years. But I have been doubly blessed in that I have had friends throughout the years who have served as sports buddies, counseling buddies, comforting buddies, and spiritual buddies. They have defined the true meaning of “friend.”

The Big Picture

     I recently attended the funeral of a very dear friend, Chester (Chuck) Smith. He was the age and generation of my late father with whom he was a good friend, and in fact Chuck reminded me of my dad in many of his characteristics and features. Although he had experienced much in his tenure on Earth, when we celebrated his 90th birthday just a few weeks ago, he did not speak of his many accomplishments but dwelt rather on his love for his wife, family, and friends…and he had many friends. There was a simple elegance about Chuck that created an easy, relaxed atmosphere, and he treated everyone with the same high level of respect and friendship. His influence extended far beyond his immediate family, because anyone who came in contact with Chester E. Smith had met a man who was not easy to forget.
     His funeral bore record of a legacy which will be extended far into the future, not just through his extended family, but also through the memories each of us will hold for as long as we exist on this planet. I have a confession to make to you…I have difficulty with funeral services which are fancifully tagged with the nomenclature “celebration of life.” A funeral is, after all, an acknowledgement that someone has died, and assuming that the deceased person led a reasonably moral life, that person’s passing should result in a period of extreme grief and sorrow on the part of close family and friends. How can one “celebrate” the loss of a dear loved one? Throughout the years I have experienced what each person must endure in the course of life, namely the loss of close friends and loved ones including my father and mother, and I can assure you that during the days of sorrow and final goodbyes, I did not feel much like celebrating anything...I felt only a heavy grief and a gaping void in my heart.
     However, what I have just expressed is probably best described as the human reaction to personal loss, and, though we may walk around with a visible halo over our heads due to our extreme holiness, there exists within each of us that humanity that causes us to feel discomfort and unease when we are forced to endure an unpleasant experience. This contrasts sharply with the emotions we feel when we approach a personal loss from a spiritual perspective. The funeral of Chuck Smith was a case in point. Here was a man who had lived for ninety years, served his God and his church for seventy of those years, been faithful to his wife, friends, and country, raised children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who maintained the same high spiritual standards he had set, and left for all who remained a blueprint for a successful life. It’s no wonder, then, that his funeral was a litany of touching personal testimonies and music (Oh, the music!) which celebrated his love for his God. We who attended came not to grieve, but to give honor to a person who had touched our lives and made us better people. The ceremony reminded me of those things which are most important in life and caused me to review my priorities as I seek to leave my own footprint on the earth.
     I experienced the same impressions just a few days ago. Coincidentally, another 90-year-old, Catherine Adams, mother of Mel Adams, one of my good friends at Bethel Tabernacle, was laid to rest following a very touching service at the United Pentecostal Church of Shepherd, Texas. I liked the church instantly when I saw the “United Pentecostal Church” sign out front and appreciated a church that was still proud to be called Pentecostal. As we drove up to the church and I saw the original sanctuary behind the beautiful newer facility, I realized I had been here before…51 years ago. George Creel and I had traveled with our pastor, Rev. C.T. Caruthers, from Peace Tabernacle in Baytown to attend a fellowship meeting here. The funeral service was remarkably similar to Chuck’s in tone. Here was another soldier of the cross who had been faithful for her entire life. One of the officiating ministers had been a student in her Sunday School class many years earlier, and he told of her faithfulness to church and family and her love for her students. Her faithfulness was indicated in the fact that she prayed for her husband for 34 years before he finally came to have his own experience with God. She never gave up hope.
     Neither of these two great champions of the cross was mentioned by CNN, FOX, the Houston Chronicle, or any major periodical upon their passing, and yet they represent what is really important in life. Their lives were not always smooth sailing; illnesses, death, tragedy, and assorted difficulties followed each one, just as they follow any person who lives on the earth. However, what set these two people apart from the common strain of humanity is they did not let life’s setbacks take their eyes off the final prize. A bump in the road did not change the destination toward which they were traveling.
     My beloved pastor, David Fauss, preached a great sermon a few services ago which sort of reaffirmed my impressions of these two funerals. His subject was “The Big Picture,” and in many different examples from the Bible, he encouraged us to not allow the problems of a particular day, or week, or month, or even year to cause us to lose sight of the “big picture.” That is, the primary goal in our lives should be to do everything possible to insure that we are found worthy to enter Heaven’s gates on that great day of judgment. So many bad decisions are made based on the spur of the moment and in flashes of emotion, and the results are destroyed marriages, relationships, and spirits. Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
     I have always thought it interesting that if we consider all the elements mentioned in these two verses, each has a somewhat sinister, or strange, or mystical connotation…except “life.” And yet life is what we desire most…to be able to live, love, and succeed. We enjoy a society relatively free from harm and danger and governmental threat. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a constitutional mantra to most Americans. Life, however, has become the greatest threat to our personal salvation. Simply put, the daily tasks of living, working, and surviving are consuming a greater portion of our time than ever before. When we are not grinding out a living, we are demanding that we be entertained via sports, television, movies, video games, and every other imaginable activity that man can conjure up to expend time, and as a result, we have less opportunity for the relationships to family, friends, and our God which should be top priority. Most of these distractions would not be classified by anyone as “sinful,” but taken in heavy enough dosages, they can be hazardous to our personal and spiritual health. We are distracted from the big picture by the minutia of the moment.
     Perhaps as one grows older, the level of personal tolerance for those things outside one’s comfort zone diminishes, also. I suspect it may be a characteristic of growing older that we oldsters judge everything by the way we did it (which was undoubtedly better) forty years ago. To a young person, change is an exciting new adventure; to a…um…more mature person, change can be threatening. Even personal relationships can vary almost as often as the tide, it would seem, but a valued relationship cannot be affected by the events of a moment, but rather must be viewed from the perspective of the “big picture.” This principle is also applicable to work, church, or our health. We may have days of great struggle involving any or all of these areas, but we must teach ourselves to base actions and reactions on the desired final goal. I have expressed great alarm and concerns regarding various outside influences which I felt were having a detrimental effect upon the United Pentecostal Church in general and my church in particular. Though my concerns are still very real, I pray I will be prone to greater tolerance of those things which I do not understand and accept the fact that it is possible for people to share a common goal and yet travel different avenues to reach that objective. Whatever occurs in this life, be it positive or negative, I cannot allow the event of the moment to deter me from my eventual goal.

America...and Decline?

      The United States of America became a fledgling nation via the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Its citizens, with this new beginning and new nation, desired most of all a constitutional freedom to worship their Creator in the manner they deemed proper without fear of governmental intervention, along with the freedom to govern themselves without intervention from any foreign power. This new nation, devoid of any prior heritage or tradition and created from an amalgamation of immigrants from every section of the globe, created a democratic institution unlike any other on Earth…fiercely independent, strategically located with a wealth of natural resources, and with a government which placed a value on every citizen.
     Through divine intervention or unbridled imperialism, depending upon your point of view, the United States in less than 200 years became the most powerful nation on the planet, spreading its influence and power from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Ocean and from the Rio Grande River to Canada and usurping the global influence of such stalwarts as Britain, Germany, and France, which had been adversaries in world affairs for centuries. At the end of World War II, America stood alone, militarily victorious around the world and the lone possessor of the atomic bomb.
     History is replete with the stories of nations and the triumphant rise and fall of each. Americans, due perhaps to the streak of independence instilled in their psyches, have a tendency to feel that the United States is somehow insulated from this ebb and flow of nations, and due to our establishment in a “New World” complete with new ideas and no preconceived notions of classes of citizens nor limits to our measures of success, the United States will live forever. The last fifty years, however, have begun to reveal cracks in the foundation of the nation founded “under God,” and the expectation of success, bequeathed as a birthright to every American, is eroding at an alarming rate.
     The Korean War of the early 1950s was a sobering wake-up call for a nation which only six years earlier had been unbeatable worldwide. Fighting the Chinese and North Koreans to a standstill along the 38th parallel of South Korea, the U.S. consoled itself that it was still undefeated. The Vietnam War of 1964-1974, however, was a disaster. Unaccustomed to a “limited” war and with political leaders convoluted about the objectives of the U.S. in Southeast Asia, the nation slipped ignominously out of Vietnam as the North Vietnamese army videoed the scenes of U.S. helicopters, packed with refugees, abandoning the country. 50,000 U.S. troops gave the ultimate sacrifice not in the defense of the United States but in the defense of a colossal political blunder on the part of the U.S. government. In addition, the conflict over the Vietnam War had created social trauma in the U.S. as well. Violent student protests and clumsy governmental responses tore at the fabric of American society. Soldiers in the war zone of SE Asia were exposed to exotic drugs which were brought back to the U.S. and spread to the general populace, and today the drug epidemic is destroying our society.
     At the same time, a single book was changing the way parents related to their children. Dr. Benjamin Spock, a noted pediatrician, wrote “Baby and Child Care.” Spock broke with the strict tone and rigorous instruction of previous child care books and encouraged parents to give their children “freedom to grow” with limited parental correction. “Baby and Child Care” outsold every book in America with the exception of the Bible…and did so for ten years. Its influence on child care was incalculable, and we are living with the consequences today. Undisciplined children have become undisciplined parents, creating more undisciplined children. In the United States in 2010, forty percent of all children were born to unwed mothers, and in one ethnic group alone, the number is 75 percent. In addition, only twenty percent of all households in the United States consist of what used to be called the “nuclear” family…a married father and mother with their own children.
     Coupled with the breakdown of society has been the breakdown of government. Democracy traditionally involves a group of legislators duly elected to formulate policy, understanding that with different ideas represented, every decision is a compromise with the objective being the best interests of the citizens. No more. In 2008, Barack Obama and the majority Democrats were elected due to the reaction of voters to the weak economy. Promising change, Obama spent the next fifteen months fighting for a new health care program for the U.S., even though eighty percent of all Americans had said they were happy with their medical care in poll after poll. With a continued weak economy in 2010, the voters rejected Democratic policies and gave the Republicans the majority in the House of Representatives and a much more powerful voice in the Senate. Results: The new Republicans have done nothing about the nagging unemployment and have set their sights on revising Medicare, even though eighty percent (there’s that number again) of all Americans are happy with their Medicare coverage. The United States government can no longer govern, and America as we remember it has disappeared. A recent poll indicated that for the first time in our history, parents are less optimistic about their children’s futures than they were their own.
     Pentecost, or the Pentecostal movement, if you will, has a history paralleling that of the United States. In the mid to late 1800s, massive spiritual revivals swept America, and a great spiritual awakening jolted the traditional, mainstream churches. Within those organizations, individual leaders sought a closer communication with God and began to search the Scriptures to try to gain more knowledge of what God’s plan or objective may have been for the age. The result was that around the turn of the 20th century, the greatest revival of all began with the revelation of the individual’s potential for receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues as described in Act 2:38. A new spiritual experience with life-changing aftereffects, the Holy Ghost transformed men and women and drew believers from every church organization. Within ten years, the Holy Ghost phenomenon had swept the country, and those who had been recipients of this spiritual experience felt an overpowering urge to tell those who had not yet heard. These early Holy Ghost pioneers sacrificed everything to spread the news, depending upon their prayers and faith in God that He would supply their needs to survive. Living simply and modestly, they traveled the country, preaching the gospel and converting new believers. It was a time of powerful ministry and powerful music, with singers and composers creating timeless compositions describing spiritual experiences and God’s love for humanity. They came to be called Pentecostal, or Pentecostalists, because in biblical history the events surrounding Act 2:38 occurred during the Jewish feast of Pentecost.
     In time, the Pentecostals, still within their own traditional organizations, began to feel resistance from nonbelieving ministers, and as a result, several Pentecostal groups began to splinter off the major denominations. These splinter groups, all of a common experience and mind, eventually united to form the United Pentecostal Church, which became the largest Pentecostal organization in the United States. By the time the UPC was created in 1946, the Pentecostal “experience” was well established. In the 1950s, Life Magazine, the most dominate news magazine of the era, produced a series of articles analyzing the Pentecostals and discussing the phenomenon of “glossolalia,” or “speaking in tongues.” Churches across the country had been established, usually identified with the sign “United Pentecostal Church.” Preachers and pastors preached a message which was common to all churches, and believers lived lives of moderation, adhering to basic standards of dress and behavior. In that age before the internet, the church was the center of activity for believers, providing social interaction as well as spiritual guidance. The twenty five year period after 1946 was the golden age for the United Pentecostal Church. It was a period of amazing growth, unity, and spiritual development. The believer carried the description “Pentecostal” with pride, because to be Pentecostal meant that a person subscribed to a standard of behavior, dress, and spiritual beliefs.
     As the seventies faded into the eighties, however, outside events began to have a dramatic effect on the Pentecostal church. One of the most influential was the introduction of cable television to most markets. It may be difficult to get the connection from Pentecost to cable television, especially in the light that in the early days of Pentecost, television was reviled as the devil’s instrument. Of course, as we grew more sophisticated, the evils of television were minimized, and TV ownership became universally accepted. The major facet of cable television which affected churches, though, was the creation of channels and networks devoted exclusively to “religious” programming. Whereas radio evangelists of yore were restricted primarily to local markets, a preacher or church on cable television could reach nationwide and draw a tremendous audience. The United Pentecostal Church still did not subscribe to broadcasting via television, although most of its preachers and pastors had already given up fighting the TV wave. What its leaders did do, however, was watch the television broadcasts and observe how services were conducted, the styles of music offered, and the message that was preached. Another thing which caught their attention was each of these TV evangelists or churches was independent…none of them claimed any allegiance to any religious organization, and in the era of self importance, that fact appealed to many Pentecostal ministers. The result was a resistance of sorts to the control exercised by the United Pentecostal Church over its churches, especially in the areas of pastoral replacements and church organization. Finally, the UPC created a new form of partnership, an “affiliation,” with many of its churches which meant that the local church accepted the beliefs of the UPC but did not have to be subservient to UPC headquarters. The end result was many churches dropped the nomenclature “United Pentecostal Church” from their signs, choosing to be Pentecostal when it was convenient and not to be if it was an embarrassment. “Embarrassment” because it was not uncommon for the TV preachers to take little gigs at the Pentecostals and their “weird worship” whenever possible. I remember one time watching a TV evangelist who is still on TV today proclaiming that he was proud that his wife cut her hair and wore makeup and earrings because he didn’t want her to look like one of those “far-out, ugly Pentecostals.” And the audience roared with laughter when he said it.
     Pentecostals who should have known better watched these programs with envy, and decided to tailor their services and music to match these mega-churches in the hopes of drawing like numbers of visitors. Since most of the televisions church services were organized functions with choreographed performers, the same became true of many Pentecostal churches, and audience participation was practically eliminated, with the exception that audiences were expected to erupt into joyous spiritual celebration at the drop of a hat or the raising of an “applause” sign. But congregational singing and individual testimonies were discouraged, and prayer and worship were orchestrated down to the second. Church music became uber-contemporary, based on the latest top picks on the gospel hit parade or the latest choir arrangement from a well-known director. The traditional songs of the early to mid 20th century were dismissed as far too staid, rigid, and lacking in rhythm. Fortunately, up to this point, the message of Holy Ghost salvation was still being preached, but the concepts of condemnation and consequence were soft pedaled to avoid causing the listener to feel self-depreciated, and instead the positive aspects of Christian living were emphasized.
     Fast forward to the current day. In the last three months, I have had two separate evangelists tell me without any prompting on my part that in many churches that they visit a person would not realize they were in a Pentecostal church unless someone told them. Ministers, in an attempt to reach an audience, avoid the term “Pentecost” like the plague. Churches are carefully named “The Solid Rock,” or “Helping Hands Outreach,” or “Oasis of Love,” or some other generic equivalent to avoid any indication of the message that is preached inside the four walls. If the biblical plan of salvation does happen to be preached, it’s done so surreptitiously, hopefully at a time when the listener excited enough to yell, “Yes! I want to be baptized!” Services are choreographed and music is arranged to create an artificial excitement with the audiences being limited to controlled responses…preferably enthusiastic yelling. Every service becomes a emotional high, and, with very little spiritual foundation being built for the new convert, it’s no wonder that many enthusiastic converts, upon returning to the daily humdrum of life, feel their spiritual euphoria wane, and they never return to church.
     A few days ago I was in a Pentecostal service which featured a well-known choir director from another state. She had been invited to offer advice to the local choir and assist in preparing some musical arrangements. A live-wire bundle of energy, she proceeded to tell the audience that, in so many words, Black gospel was where it’s at. She proudly announced she had taught the choir how to “dip,” that is, sort of lean down and then sway to the left or right in rhythm to the music (heavy drums, of course.) We were then instructed that we in the audience needed to learn how to “dip,” and then, looking over the crowd and seeing several African-American members, this Caucasian choir director stated, “I see several of my brothers and sisters out there and I KNOW you know how to dip!” I was floored. I also noticed there was not much reaction from her “brothers and sisters” at that time or when we started “dippin’ and swayin.’” The music (?) started and in a short time the choir was in orbit, although I noticed that the audience was exercising remarkable restraint, with the exception of the normal select group who would probably dance and yell at a funeral. I have a confession…for the first time in my entire life I was embarrassed to be in a Pentecostal service. I slipped out a side door and back to the empty fellowship hall and sat down. As I looked out the open windows to the broad field behind the church, I pondered if this is what Pentecost is coming to. The evening service was a repeat of the morning with the exception that we were instructed to “rock left” and “rock right” instead of dip. Thank you, but, no thanks.
     With the exception of the Pentecostal message, Pentecost as we knew it has disappeared. I have heard of alleged Pentecostal churches which now teach that the infilling of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues is optional, or if the tongues speaking is expected, then just a couple of mumbles and that’s sufficient. These disturbing trends and allegations are connected to another bit of data I read recently. The average age of a United Pentecostal Church minister is now approaching 50 years of age and a decreasing number of young men and women are entering the ministry. The prediction was made that in twenty five years the UPC will be faced with the same dilemma that many mainstream churches have today: not enough ministers to fill the pulpits of their churches. Conclusion: The established fifty years old ministers of today will be out of the pulpit in another 25-30 years and the new breed of contemporary ministers with no connections to the early day traditions and heritage of Pentecost will be leading the congregations…and the last domino, that of the preaching the biblical plan of salvation, will fall, and the UPC will enter the mainstream of religion in America. By that time, it is highly likely that the organization will have a new name without the distasteful “Pentecostal” albatross.
     I realize that I am presenting a very negative viewpoint to these affairs. At the same time, I am searching desperately for something to offer as a glimmer of hope for the future. Believe it or not, Vice President Joseph Biden made a statement recently that may be applicable concerning these issues. He was asked about his sometimes contentious dealings with Congress during his long career and how he managed to avoid letting every stressful issue become a personal vendetta. Biden stated that when dealing with a political adversary you had to make sure that you questioned the methods but not the motives of your opponent. Biden, who is fairly liberal, said while many of his struggles were with conservatives, he never questioned their loyalty to America, only the methods by which they strove to attain their goals. I am trying to apply that same philosophy to what I see happening in the church, and I am convinced that many of the actions which are done to which I vehemently object are done with the best interests of the church in mind. However, the motives may be honorable, but the results of the methods, I feel, are going to be catastrophic for the church to which I have given my life. Perhaps due to a change in attitude or spiritual awakening, there will be in the future a drifting back to a more balanced form of worship and praise. If, as we believe, the Lord is coming after His church in the near future, this will be a moot discussion anyway. But of this I am absolutely convinced…when I enter those Pearly Gates, I’m not going to be “dippin’” and “rockin.’”

A Day on the Farm

     The morning dawned warm and dry, and by 9:00 a.m. the temperature was already creeping into the upper eighties. Although it was only the first weekend of June, 2011, nature had already proclaimed to Texas that this was going to be a scorcher of a summer. During April and May, the Houston area had received a half inch of rain, only five percent of the normal rainfall for the area, and drought conditions were already becoming prevalent. A couple of weathermen had already only half jokingly stated that what we needed was a good old tropical depression to stir the weather up a little and bring rain. Usually, the news of a new tropical depression was enough to get South Texans to checking their hurricane survival gear, but in early June, it’s not even hurricane season yet…so we sat and baked in the sun.
     This particular Saturday was a special day for a select group of members of Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church of Houston. The Senior Class of Bethel’s Sunday School (and I do mean “senior” i.e...members 55 years or age or older) had been invited to the farm of Max and Jeanette Haney (members of the select group themselves) for an afternoon of fun, fellowship, and, most importantly, eating. Bethel Tabernacle is blessed to have a very vibrant group of seniors. Shirley and I are newcomers to Bethel, having attended now for only a couple of years, but already we feel we have known these people for years, and they have become our dear friends. These are people who have been through the wars, facing health issues, tragedy, death, and every other facet that life can throw at a person, and they have emerged stronger and still possessing a positive outlook on life and its challenges. Their faith in their God is not based on the emotion of the moment or the tempo of a song, but runs deep, and their friendships to one another remain strong. Pardon me if I throw out a little prejudiced opinion here, but if there exists a group which is the cornerstone of the church, this one’s it.
     Anyway, the Haneys had figuratively thrown open the door of their farm to our group, and the plan was for everyone to gather there around 2:00 p.m. Our hosts had graciously offered to prepare a late lunch for us, while various ladies would bring tasty desserts, and Shirley and I would bring the obligatory iced tea, water, and soft drinks. We had planned to use the church bus to carry any car-less people, but everyone seemed to prefer to drive their own wheels, so the bus was unnecessary. We did have three people who needed rides, so we decided Shirley would pick up the hitchhikers (we had no choice…one was my mother-in-law), and I would drive my car. I wanted to leave a little early anyway to try to get to the Haneys early enough to help them do whatever setting up they needed to do for about 32 hungry people.
     Leaving my home about 11:30 with two ice chests full of various chilled liquids, I headed east on FM 1960, then north on Hwy 59 toward the outskirts of Cleveland, Texas. Being an old guy, excuse me…mature guy with visions of a lost youth, I had recently bought a ’97 (obviously NOT new) Ford Mustang GT convertible and was anxious to see how it did on the road. Unfortunately, it was too hot to put the top down, but at least the AC worked well since the temperature had now climbed to the mid 90s. I was happy with the old car but a little disappointed that the tires are not too well balanced above 120 mph. The Haney farm is a few miles southeast of Cleveland in an area that I remembered as a youth as Tarkington Prairie. Years ago, when I worked with my dad and his company, Downing Roofing Company, we did a lot of roofing in the Cleveland area, and as I drove through the old part of Cleveland, I recognized some of the older buildings as places where I had sweated many a drop of sweat. Motoring south on 321, then left on County Road 2274, followed by a brief stint of driving brought me to the Haney farm.
     I had heard the Haneys lived on a farm and actually lived in their barn, so I was touched when these poor people offered to be hosts for our little group. When I was growing up, we had a barn, and I envisioned having lunch in a run-down batt and board barn with metal roof, hay loft, tractor parking area, cow stalls, granary for feed, and the general smell of, well, a farm. As I approached my destination, I began to realize that barns have apparently come a long way since my days of stacking hay bales in our barn back home. What I parked in front of was not a barn from the 1950s.
     The Haneys have seventy acres of beautiful farmland, flatter than a billiard table. Facing the road is a wooden fence painted in a brilliant white. The “barn” qualifies as a barn, I guess because it looks like a barn and because you can drive a tractor through it due to the large power garage doors front and back, and there is a tool and storage area. Painted the traditional red with white trim, this “barn” features all the trappings of a beautiful home right down to the granite kitchen counter tops. It is a lovely residence. I decided it would probably not be necessary for us to take up a collection for the Haneys so they could make it till the next crop comes in. Their farm comes completely furnished with a great garden, a lake with dock and stocked with fish (too hot to fish, though), truck, tractor, genuine country farm animals like cows, horses and chickens, even a neighbor dog…and everything is beautifully detailed and neat.
     I had arrived an hour and a half before the festivities were to begin, but the Haneys were way ahead of me. We would be dining in the open area of the barn, with the large doors fore and aft opened about halfway to allow for a breeze to waft through the area. Although the temperature for the day, we learned later, hit 100 degrees, it was not uncomfortable in the big barn with its tall ceiling. Tables, chairs, utensils, and ice had all been prepared, and about all that had to be done was prepare the main course…which was fried shrimp. The fact that we were having fried shrimp was enough to draw me to the gathering no matter what else took place. Brother Haney, of course, had his own way of frying the shrimp using a propane cooker, and I can tell you this, he cooked a lot of shrimp and what was left after everyone had finished you could have put in a half pint plastic bag. We were all stuffed…but happy.
     Around 2:00 folks began gathering, and the lunch of fried shrimp, baked potatoes, and slaw went over like American flags at a Glenn Beck rally. To say we had desserts does not do that fact justice, neither does saying that we had cakes, pies, and assorted pastries. When it comes to cooking, and especially baking, no other group holds a candle to a bunch of Pentecostal women. One may say without fear of contradiction that we all dined sufficiently.
     I had brought my fishing gear and looked wistfully at the lake behind the barn as I imagined several hungry catfish or bass awaiting my hook, but around the lake (or large pond) were no trees, and it was just too hot to go out and stand in the blazing sun. Maybe next time. There was a large bull out there that I could have probably sat in its shade to fish, but it probably would have moved, anyway.
     By 3:30 or so, most of the food had been consumed, but the conversation was just getting started. I have mentioned before that Shirley and I are relative newcomers to this group, but it was evident that many of these people measured their friendships in decades, not just years. Rehashing events that occurred 50-60 years ago was common, and I could sense the easy, comfortable relationships that these people enjoyed. There was more than one rememberance of the days of youth, and I tried to imagine how each person may have looked when they were young, strong, and powerful. I began to realize that in many ways our minds do not age, only our bodies, and though we may change physically as the years go by, our relationships with our friends can remain constant. Long term, true, loyal friends keep us young.
     When the women began breaking out the games, I knew we were in for a long evening, and sure enough, before long the dominoes and cards were a-flying, and deep, ulterior strategies were being concocted to insure victory in these mighty struggles. When I was a kid, the entire Downing family practically was a master of the domino game of “42,” but I have played only occasionally. I knew I was in over my head when I sat down with Jim and Pam Bailey and Alvie Bounds for a friendly game of “42,” and they started throwing out different strategies, plans, and options. Whenever I laid down a domino and saw Sister Alvie wince, I knew I had played the wrong one. But we had fun. Between gaming, snacking on leftover desserts, and chattering like a bunch of magpies, we managed to fritter the afternoon away until it was past time for us to be heading home. The party was to have ended at 5:00, but nearing six o’clock we were still breezing along. About that time, however, an unseen signal was sent out, and we began to clean and pack up our gear and prepare for departure.
     Shortly, most of the refuse from our visit was stuffed in the trash bin, and the barn had been restored to its pre-invasion condition. Cars began to slip away through the gate, and before long Shirley and I gave our respects to Max and Jeanette Haney and aimed our cars toward home. This day had been a good day, thanks to the generosity of the Haneys and the lovely ladies who spent time baking the wonderful desserts. I’m glad I’m a part of the Seniors of Bethel Tabernacle, Houston, Texas.

Wistful Wyoming

                                                                                                                                                                  I am a native Texan with a certain amount of pride in my state, but my family was privileged to live for seventeen years in Wyoming, and, although it has been twenty years since we were residents of the Cowboy State, a part of us remained there when we left. Even today we feel the occasional need to see an antelope in its natural habitat or simply be able to see twenty miles in all directions without even stepping on a footstool. The fact that we still have relatives living in our former homeland gives us further impetus to look for reasons to head northwest from Houston.
     Thus it was that a few weeks ago Shirley, her two sisters, and my esteemed mother-in-law found a bargain in air travel and decided to go back home. As it worked out, my obligations with tutoring at my local school ended about the same time that their travel was scheduled, so I decided to tag along. I mean, there needs to be at least one level headed person in a traveling party, anyway. So we had a fivesome headed to Wyoming.
     The trouble with flying cheap is you have to fly when it’s cheapest…which meant that we would be leaving at 6:00 a.m. on a recent Thursday morning from Hobby Airport in Houston, a mere forty miles or so of lovely Houston traffic from our home in NW Houston. Janie, Beth, (sisters-in-law) and Mother-in-law would have to get up even earlier because they lived 20-40 miles further away. The plan was they would come by our home in Janie’s van on the way to the airport. We needed to get to Hobby an hour before takeoff, plus we needed to find a place to park Janie’s van, so we figured we needed to get on site around 4:30, which meant leaving our home about 3:30, which meant that the in-laws would have to get up at some awful time. But, sure enough, they were at our place promptly at 3:30, and we all loaded up (I do mean loaded) and headed for our Wyoming adventure.
     We made it to the parking garage with nary a hitch. I had gone on line and found the nearest airport parking, secured a reservation, printed our boarding passes, and even checked and paid for our extra baggage (Frontier Airlines…$20.00 per bag checked in), so we parked the van, caught the parking garage bus, zipped to the airport, checked in, and were sitting in the gate area almost an hour before we were to get on board. That’s the way I like it…I can’t wait till the last minute for anything. If I get anywhere right on time, I consider myself late.
     I am not a good flyer…I don’t know why, I’m just not. As the plane lurched down the runway I did my usual Lord’s Prayer, repented of any sins I could think of, and closed my eyes. The takeoff was smooth, and in a few minutes we were settling down to two hours of boredom as we rocketed toward the Mile-High City. Fortunately, after the plane reached cruising level, I calmed down a little, too. Thankfully, I had my iTunes music collection on my BlackBerry, so I whipped out my earphones, selected “shuffle music” and settled back to try to catch a few winks as we sailed along. All in all, I honestly don’t remember too much about the flight, and I slept about as well as one can when you’re strapped into a space 20 inches wide without much reclining or foot room. With the time change to Rocky Mountain Daylight Savings Time, we landed in Denver about 7:30…still early.
     When we left Houston, the temperature was above 80 degrees and muggy. The weather had been hot and dry for weeks and the area was in a severe drought condition. Only at the last minute did we throw coats into our suitcases “just in case.” When we landed in Denver it was 33 degrees and snowing. We walked out of the terminal toward our rental bus to take us to our rental agency, and the wet snow and cold breeze woke us out of whatever morning sleepiness we had been experiencing. We all grabbed our coats out of our bags. Naturally, since we were traveling on the cheap, we didn’t rent from Hertz or the other big boys, but rather from Advantage Rentals. Results: we had to wait a few minutes for the rental bus to amble by. Cold minutes.
     The bus picked us up for the three mile ride to the rental agency, and we saw snow floating beautifully down, lots of snow ground cover, and the majestic snow-covered Rockies in the distance. Gorgeous. I had reserved a Kia Sedona van for us at Advantage (cheap, again) and upon checking in, the agent began trying to bump me up to a Chevrolet Surburban. Only $100 or so more, but the daily full coverage insurance was $48(!). For five days’ rental, I didn’t want to spend the extra amount, so I refused. So she adjusted it this way and that, and I still refused. Finally I said let’s go with the original deal. She said OK and prepared the papers. When she gave me the keys, they were to the Surburban. She said, “Well, we have an extra one, so you can take it at the Sedona price.” I was happy for the deal, but a little bugged about how much it would have cost me if I had caved in a her first suggestion.. Oh, well…the Lord protects the ignorant.
     The drive from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming, was the same that it has been for 35 years…heavy traffic around Denver but slowly thinning as one heads north until you finally crest a hill and the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign greets you. Before you lays an expanse of land stretching majestically as far as the eye can see…mountains to the west and rolling plains to the north and east. Suddenly global overpopulation seems a distant threat, and a certain feeling of safety descends with the awareness that you have 360 degree vision.
     Buddy and Jeannie (beloved in-laws) have moved to Cheyenne from Casper in response to his job promotion/transfer with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and are now residents in a brand new subdivision of what I would call duplex town homes. Each structure consists of two three level town homes…very contemporary and very nice. Any home where Jeannie lives will look like it was a former Home of the Month from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and this one was no different…beautifully and tastefully decorated from roof to basement. I told her (only half in jest) that I was afraid to touch anything. I felt sorry for Buddy…I mean, a man’s got to be a flat out, lazy, dirty slob occasionally (it’s the way we are), and he has no real place to relax. Maybe he can claim a corner of the garage eventually.
     Buddy and Jeannie have a beautiful family with four married offspring and a baby (!) boy at home. Of course, Noah, their “baby” is nineteen, 6 foot 5 inches or so and around 250 pounds, so “baby” is somewhat relative. Grandkids are starting to appear magically, and I enjoyed observing the easy, relaxed relationship that each of the family has for all the others. A close-knit family is a rare phenomenon in American society today, and such a relationship should be treasured and protected. I’ve said this before about the Creel family in general…I have been a part of this family for nearly 50 years, and seldom have I heard a disparaging word from one family member about another. It is the glue that holds this ever-growing family together. Of course, there was that one time when…well, never mind.
     Shirley and I saw most of the Buddy Creel clan that Thursday evening when kids, spouses, and grandkids came from far and near to do what Creels do best…talk and eat. Jeannie and the ladies outdid themselves over the next three days in the kitchen. That statement probably horrifies any feminists who happen to read this, but I got the feeling upon observing our wives, daughters, brewing up those incredible feasts that they were not suffering very much. When it comes to kitchen creations, no one can touch the Creel women. However, all activities that first evening centered around the newest member of the Buddy and Jeannie family, namely Jack Cooper Bauers, three month old son of Mitch and Meghan. How a tiny, cute bundle of humanity can turn a bunch of women into a bunch of blithering mother hens is beyond me, but Jack was the master of his universe that night. Must be tough being the newest kid, though. For a year or two or three, you’re the darling of the runway, and then a new brother, sister, or cousin comes along, and suddenly you’re second fiddle. Oh, well, one of life’s early lessons we have to learn is how to cope.
     Buddy and Jeannie have been blessed with sons-in-law who are sportsmen, and in my eyes, if you are a fisherman, that fact covers a lot of sins. The last time we visited Wyoming, son-in-law Justin (Michelle) took us fishing, and this time Mitch (Meghan) was the generous benefactor. On Saturday, Buddy, Noah, and I met Mitch at Glendo Reservoir, 100 miles north of Cheyenne to hunt for a few walleye. The drive on IH25 to Glendo is an exercise in either torture or grandeur, depending upon your appreciation of the scenery. A vast, open country with craggy mesas, rocky bluffs, roaming antelope, and about seventeen trees, it’s easy to imagine caravans of covered wagons, seas of thundering buffalo, and tribes of roaming Indians (excuse me, Native Americans.) If you haven’t visited Chugwater, Wyoming, you haven’t experienced true Americana. We arrived at Glendo just as Mitch was putting the boat in the water…and what a boat! It was a brand new Ranger sport fisherman, about 20 feet, with a monster 250 HP Mercury engine plus a 9.9 HP backup. (See photo) This thing was fancier than my car and cost about three times as much. It had a trolling motor with GPS! Once you got to your location to fish, you set your location with the GPS. Then the trolling motor with GPS would hold your location to within 10 feet of your selected spot. I am probably out of touch with modern fishing rigs, but I thought it was incredible. Equipped with two sonars, stereo (naturally), power everything else, this boat hit 59 MPH as we zipped across the lake, and that was not the maximum speed. Well, anyway, I was impressed
     The fishing wasn’t too impressive, though. For Wyoming, it’s still early in the fishing season. The weather was cool and the wind still a little biting. The water was choppy and not conducive to good fishing, and as a result, I will (modestly) report that I was the only one who caught anything, and although what I caught classifies as a fish, but it wasn’t much. But I didn’t care. Being on a Wyoming lake on a clear, bright day with the snowy Laramie Range of mountains in the distance, seeing the craggy, rocky hills, and being miles from the nearest low-rider or hip-hopper…it’s pretty close to a visual representation of happiness. Needless to say, the guys I was with completed the perfect picture. Back home, it was an evening of visiting (food), games (food), comparing cell phones (food), and more food. My thanks to Mitch and Justin for making my BlackBerry work like it should.
     Saturday we were scheduled to go visit Jim and Heather in Fort Collins. They are the professional students of the Creel clan, and, having recently graduated from CSU with masters, they are now moving to Ft. Worth, Texas, where Jim will pursue his doctorate and also teach. Heather has interviews scheduled for the coming weeks and will no doubt contribute more than her fair share to the family success. The going away celebration was to be at 2:00 p.m. at their home. During the morning, however, things became apparent that my mom-in-law was not acting quite normally. She was becoming easily confused and disoriented and couldn’t remember from one moment to the next what was going on. She seemed to be feeling all right, but her awareness of her surroundings wavered. In an hour or two, she seemed to snap out of it, but the closer we got to our time to leave for Fort Collins, her condition seemed to worsen. The family held a conference, and it was decided that Buddy and Janie would take Mom to an emergency clinic to be checked while the rest of us went to Fort Collins. Mom, of course, insisted it was the altitude or whatever that made her a little confused. So off we all went.
     We arrived at Jim’s and Heather’s to a houseful of people and the smell of brisket and ribs on the smoker. We enjoyed a good visit, but most of us had one ear pricked toward our cell phones to catch any calls from Buddy or Janie. Jim, apparently, is becoming quite a cook, and this day was a good indication, as the ribs and brisket (and rice, beans, etc.) were all super tasty. We were able to meet Jim and Heather’s two children…I mean, dogs…Woody and Luke, two well behaved, beautiful golden retrievers. About 4:00 we received a call that Mom had been taken to the Emergency Room of the Cheyenne Medical Center for tests, so Beth, Shirley, and I headed back to Cheyenne. After arriving, we were told that Mom had apparently experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is “a brief episode of cerebral ischemia.” Translation: a small blood clot in the brain which can affect a person in various ways depending upon the location in the brain. The danger is it can sometime be a forerunner of more serious problems, hence the need for close observation and quick response when it occurs. By 6:00 p.m., Mom was released and seemed none the worse for wear. The plan is for her to see her home doctor after returning to Houston for further observation, with Cheyenne Medical Center sending her doctor all the results of her tests. Apparently and thankfully, her CT Scan, Xrays, EKG, and whatever else that was done were all negative for any lingering damage. For the rest of the time we were on our trip she showed no signs of any lingering effects. She was her usual old…I mean, sweet, normal self. By Saturday night, the kids (and Jack Cooper) had gone to their respective homes. It was just us old folks and poor Noah, who spanned the generation gap gracefully. Naturally, when Shirley, Janie, Beth, and Jeannie get together, the games come out, so we all played some kind of weird card game.
     Sunday morning we went to Johnstown, Colorado, to Abundant Life Tabernacle, pastored by Rev. Deiter Skowron. His parents were there, also, and spoke with a heavy German accent. They were instantly likeable, and Pastor Skowron preached an excellent sermon. Their church is beautifully constructed, and a couple of members proudly stated it was built with their hands. Germans…you gotta love them. Afterward we drove to Loveland to meet with all the kids at P F Chang Restaurant. We had a good lunch (Jack Cooper was there), although P F Chang is not my favorite restaurant. The evening was spent with more games, eating, visiting, and eventually packing for the return home the next morning.
     3:30 a.m. does come early. By 4:15 we had said our sad goodbyes and were on IH25 South headed to the Denver Airport. Stopping to fill up the Suburban ($95!!), we arrived at Advantage Rental about 6:00, and about 6:10 we were on their shuttle to the airport. It was a nice, quick check in. We didn’t even have to go inside the building…just get on the shuttle. Again, these things may be normal procedure now days…we don’t do much flying/renting/traveling anymore. We had time for coffee and a scone before our plane loaded. By 8:05 we were in the air, and about 11:20 we landed at Hobby after I said my Lord’s Prayer and went through my takeoff/landing ritual. By 12:15 we had picked up Janie’s van and drove to the Potatoe Patch on FM 1960 and were having some guy throw hot rolls at us while we had a good lunch. Janie dropped us off at our home about 1:30 and our enjoyable saga had come to an end. I had managed to survive a close trip with my wife, two sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law…and we’re still on speaking terms. In fact, I would do it again. I am a very blessed person.