Chaplain’s Corner: XXXII

“Our Refuge and Our Strength”

One of the charms of The Golden Gate Bridge is that it almost seems fragile. That’s astonishing-especially since it sits along the San Andreas Fault, one of the most active geological features of North America.

But engineers are convinced that the bridge is probably one of the safest places to be the next time San Francisco is rocked by a major earthquake. That’s because it’s two gigantic support towers, or piers, plunge deep into the underlying bedrock of the Golden Gate.

Every aspect of the bridge-it’s span, its cables, every nut and every bolt-is ultimately preoccupied with the underlying bedrock. Everything in an earthquake will be subject to jarring horizontal earth movement. But not the bridge.

After the events of last week, it feels like the ground beneath us has been shaken.
But God has not moved. Trusting him we have a place we can trust in the midst of chaos and fear.

Here are the words that inspired Martin Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress is Our God:”

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear; though the earth should change,
Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the Most High.

 

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved.
God will help her as morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
God utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
See what desolations God has brought to the earth.
God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations of the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

PSALM 46: “May the Lord bless you this day and in the days ahead with great support, love and hope. All other ground is sinking sand.”

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain's Corner XXV

Chaplain’s Corner XXV

“Spiritual Hunger”

What are the most memorable meals you have ever eaten?

Years ago when I was in high school our Pastor took us on a mission trip to rural Maine where we worked in a camp for handicapped children. It was quite an experience for a young man from northern Indiana to see a part of the country that I had never visited. One afternoon we went to a lobster cookout in the small village where we were located. I had never eaten lobster but to this day I can still remember the delicious lobster which we could eat all we wanted that day. I still enjoy an occasional visit to Red Lobster.

Just a few years ago I was in Croatia after their war with Serbia. I was with a group from my denomination visiting church leaders in Eastern Europe. In this small village which still showed the signs of war on almost every house, we were met by about 10 people who had gathered together a small lunch which obviously took much of their resources since they were very poor. I still remember their sandwich of egg salad which was made with love for these fellow Christians who had come so far. I remember praying with them and only after a few hours listening to their stories with the help of a translator we felt we had known one another for years.

Over my 28 years as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Muncie, we made over 25 mission trips to a small village in the Yucatan of Mexico. At the end of every week the people of the village of Xocenpich would throw a fiesta with all kinds of Mexican treats.

Without question, most of the meals I have eaten in my life I can’t remember at all. It’s challenging–in fact for me to remember a good deal of anything I have eaten within the past seven days. But I have the distinct impression, however, that if I hadn’t eaten some good meals over the duration of my life, I wouldn’t be here right now.

What are your most memorable spiritual experiences?

One could be joyful while another traumatic. One might happen in a quiet chapel while you were alone, while another might be with hundreds of other people at Vatican Square in Rome or in a gospel sing at your church. Sometimes God’s Spirit comes into our lives as a lightning bolt while for others it felt more like waking up to the realization that you are deeply loved by a God that will never let you go.

Truly memorable spiritual experiences are wonderful. But for many people they are few and far between.

What keeps us spiritually alive? Daily prayer, moments of silent meditation are essential. Reading the Bible even when it feels like we aren’t learning anything new will often bring new insights when we least expect it.

It’s challenging to remember specific discoveries from most of our most memorable feedings. But we get the distinct impression that unless we make time day by day to feed our inner spiritual world we would have starved a long time ago.

Throughout this fall season, our bodies will faithfully remind us every day that we need to eat.

May we also heed the more subtle pangs of spiritual hunger that God faithfully sends our way.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XXIV

“Divine Fraud Detector”

A few years ago I got a call from the fraud department that supports my VISA card.
“Mr. Naylor, we’d like you to confirm a couple of expenses that were recently charged to your account.” Whenever I hear those words I take a deep breath. I wonder what grabbed their attention.

Did you have lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s on McGalliard in Muncie last Friday? “Yes, I did.” I answered, remembering the salad bar and chicken sandwich I ordered. “Good,” said the nice lady from the fraud department. “Later that day did you purchase two first class tickets on Delta Airlines from New York City to Paris?” It did not take long for me to respond, “Definitely not!”

Somewhere in the digital cloud there was a computer algorithm that discerned that I was a Ruby Tuesday kind of guy who liked salad bars and chicken sandwiches but not the kind of guy who flies first class to Paris. I was immensely grateful that the fraud division of my bank brought this issue to my attention.

We all need fraud detectors in today’s wired world.

We also need a fraud detector in our personal lives. In particular we need someone close enough to us to say: “How can you even think about doing what you’re thinking of doing?”

We need at least one person who knows us well enough to call us out. The leadership landscape is littered with top drawer CEO’s, coaches, politicians and high-profile Pastors who didn’t have such a person to confront them when they knew they were in need of being confronted when tempted to cross the line.

These cataclysmic falls from grace are a continuing reminder that perhaps, far more than we imagine, we often do not see our own behavior or discern the limitations of our own thinking unless a mentor is there to tell the truth. I am convinced we all need someone in our lives who will be such a trusted friend that will speak the truth to us when we need to see what we don’t want to see about our actions.

Proverbs 24:26 states: “An honest answer is sweet to the lips.” In other word, honesty is the key to friendship.

VISA hates fraud because it hurts the bottom line.

We need to despise our own moral, ethical and spiritual phoniness that has the capacity to damage not just our own lives but everyone else.

Ask God to provide you with one of life’s greatest treasures–a friend who is not afraid to love you enough to call out “fraud” when they see you going the dishonest direction.

We all need that kind of loving friend.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XXIII

“Champions”

On a wintry morning in 1956 a riding instructor named Harry de Leyer drove from his farm in Long Island four hours to Pennsylvania to a horse auction. Every Monday as many as 300 horses were auctioned at this auction. Harry had hoped to purchase a gentle horse that could become a training horse for his students.

The auction attracted a plethora of horses. Some of the horses were purebreds. They fetched the big bucks. Some were animals that needed to be trained. Others simply needed to be loved. By mid-day the auction would be over and every horse would be sold.

The last bidder was always the Kill Buyer. He would pay bottom dollar for animals no one wanted. They would be crowded into a truck and sent to the slaughterhouse where they would become pet food or boiled into glue.

On his way to Pennsylvania, Harry’s old car struggled through the snow and blew a tire. By the time he arrived the auction was over. The only horses left were being loaded into the truck to head for the slaughterhouse.

Harry still hoped his long ride was not in vain. Maybe there was a horse he could find in the Kill Truck. The driver was in a hurry but Harry was drawn to an underfed, overworked plow horse covered with mud and manure. He was a grey horse with kind eyes but was missing a shoe, had cuts on his knee and he had been rubbed on his back by a harness.

How much for the grey horse in your truck? “$80 and he’s yours,” said the Kill Truck driver.

When the neglected horse arrived at the de Leyer farm, Harry was captivated by the grey coat against the background of falling snow. He looked like a snowman and Snowman became his name.

Snowman proved to be gentle, especially around children. But he wouldn’t stay in the fence. He jumped numerous fences. Even after building a high fence they thought could corral Snowman, he proved he was capable of real talent for jumping. Gradually, it dawned on the Dutch horse trainer that this might be an extraordinary animal. The horse never again left Harry’s side. He began to train him for jumper events.

People laughed out loud when the old grey plow horse walked alongside the best of the best at the Open Jump Championships in 1958-just two years from being rescued from the Kill Truck. He was named the American Horse Jump Association Horse of the Year in both 1958 and 1959.

Snowman became a celebrity. He was featured in Life Magazine and was on The Tonight Show with Jonny Carson. Along the way he never lost his love for children.

Who knew that for a mere $80 Harry de Leyer had rescued one of the greatest jumpers in equestrian history?

In a similar way God has rescued us from the slaughterhouse. The Apostle Paul minces no words: “God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption of sin.”
(Colossians 1:13-14)

Many of us are put off by the notion we need to be rescued. But once we have spent some time living under God’s leadership, our lives reflect hope instead of cynicism, grace instead of exasperation, and peace instead of trying to control everything-only then will we grasp the understanding that when God looked at us covered with spiritual mud and scars He didn’t turn us away.

Instead, He saw in us what we were always meant to be: Champions.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XXII

“Does Your Life Reflect the Savior?”

The woman in the silver SUV laid on the horn exasperated by the man who was driving slowly in an express lane. As they came to an intersection she tried to go around him but he hit the brakes. She pulled over in the shoulder absolutely committed to getting past this snail. So determined was she to get around him that she raced through the red light.

Within seconds she saw the flashing red lights of the state trooper’s car in her rear view mirror. She pulled over.

“Please get out of the car ma’am.” He said. “Don’t make any sudden moves and put your hands on the hood where I can see them.” She was trembling now. “Officer, what’s happening.” “You’re under arrest,” he said “for running a red light?” she said. “Well, he said, “after seeing your HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS-FOLLOW ME TO SUNDAY SCHOOL, and Jesus is My Life Savior bumper stickers and your behavior in traffic, it seems pretty obvious that you stole this car.”

No, that didn’t really happen.

But you can be certain that on a daily basis plenty of people are shocked by the Grand Canyon-sized gap between what followers of Jesus say and how they actually live their lives.

In his book “When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box” John Ortberg writes: “The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radios, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids and Christian magazines on their coffee tables but don’t actually have the life of Jesus in their hearts.”

The world has never been in greater need of people whose lives reflect the Savior they claim to follow.

By God’s grace, let’s make sure we aren’t arrested for false advertising.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XXI

“The Mystery of Suffering”

We are seeing some suffering all over the world from COVID-19. But we are also seeing incredible events from nature that are causing people additional strife. The wildfires that are raging in the west are taking a human toll and an environmental toll as firefighters seem to lose ground daily. Then off in the Gulf of Mexico another hurricane heads for Louisiana.

Other tragedies remind us of how unforgiving nature can be. The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 took 227,000 lives. Towering waves, some over 100 feet high fanned out across the Indian Ocean crashing into the coastlines of 14 countries.

In all of these tragedies including the victims of this Pandemic we look for answers. Who is at fault? Ananda Guruge, a Buddhist teacher suggested that those who perished in 2004 were paying the price of accumulated demerits in this life or past ones. Nadadur Vardham, president of the Hindu Temple Society of Southern
California declared, “We all believe too many people were doing too many bad things.”

A number of American televangelists likewise see disasters as the direct consequence of personal sin.

How might Jesus land on this issue? We have a pretty good clue based on a famous exchange in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind beggar. This man has been unable to see from the day of his birth. It was par for the course in the first century Judaism to speculate on the source of such heartbreak. There were two primary options: either the man’s parents had sinned (and their son had to pay the price), or the man himself had somehow sinned before birth. Perhaps God knew he was going to grow up to be a whale of a sinner and decided to punish him in advance.

“Teacher who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus doesn’t check either box. He offers a third option.

“You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do”. (John 9:3)

When something disastrous happens-like a tsunami, a wildfire, a hurricane, a pandemic, or an economic collapse-we can look back and try to figure out why it all happened. We will almost inevitably end up wallowing in our own ignorance.

Or we can do what Jesus does. We can look forward. Instead of asking “Why did this happen?” we can ask, “What happens next? With God’s help, where do we go from here?

In John Chapter 9, Jesus doesn’t use the blind man to teach a graduate course on the reasons for suffering—–He Heals him.

Why has God allowed 2020 to become so painful for so many people? We haven’t been granted access to the fullness of that mystery. But there’s something we do know–Followers of Jesus have seldom had a more remarkable opportunity to be his hands and feet to help others in need.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XX

“Trusting God to Fill the Empty Places in Your Life”

If God wants to do something special in your life this week, will he have space to work? That question emerges from a fascinating story in the Old Testament.

In II Kings chapter four, a widow approaches the prophet Elisha. “My husband is dead,” she says. “His creditor is coming to take my two boys as slaves.”

Seizing children to pay debts was part and parcel of Middle Eastern culture eight centuries before Christ. Widows were virtually powerless. Their husbands had been their 401(k). Without income and without advocacy in the public square, they and their children might be one day away from starvation.

“Tell me,” Elisha asks, “what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she replies, “except a little oil.”

Pressed olive oil was a critical source of fuel, a key ingredient for cooking, and the equivalent of cash on hand. To be low on oil was to be at the end of one’s tether.

Elisha makes a counter-intuitive request: “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

This of course defies the laws of physics. You can’t keep filling jars with a little oil. But God who crafted the Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy is not thwarted by the need for a miraculous event.

The widow keeps pouring oil. She turns to one of her sons and asks for the next jar. “There is not a jar left,” he says. At that moment the oil stops flowing. Elisha tells her, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” (II Kings 4:7)

What is the take away from this story?

Our response hinges on what Elisha says to the widow: “If you’re trusting God to fill some empty jars in your life, don’t go around and ask for just a few.”

If you give God a few empty places in your life, he’ll fill a few. If you give God the chance to fill place after place after place in your life, he will fill them all.

How much space have you left for God to work?

If we fill our calendars with busyness, if we cram our minds with our own plans and ideas, if we rush to fill every vacuum of “down time” with distractions, and if we vow to control every detail of every day, we will never leave an empty jar for God.

Leave at least one space open this week – a place where you’re willing to wait patiently for God to show up.

See if He doesn’t provide the supernatural gift of life-sustaining oil.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XIX

“Never Give Up–Pick Up a Brick”

In 1834, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill approached his friend Thomas Carlyle with a proposition. Mill had signed a contract to write a history of the French Revolution. But he had over-committed himself to other work.

Would Carlyle be interested in taking on the project, along with its handsome payment? Carlyle and his wife were barely making ends meet. He embraced the project passionately.

After completing the sweeping first volume of his literary tour de force, Carlyle brought his one and only manuscript to Mill. Would he be willing to read it and make suggestions?

Mill was delighted. But he absentmindedly left the manuscript at the home of another friend, where the maid-who could not read-used it to start a fire in the fireplace. A few charred strips of paper were all that remained of Carlyle’s masterpiece. And in 1834 handwritten documents weren’t exactly backed up by the Cloud.

Mill was beside himself with shame and grief. Carlyle took the news surprisingly well, at least when Mill told him what had happened. He didn’t want to add to his friend’s despair. But inwardly, he felt his world had come to an end. All that work. Irreplaceable investments of time and research. Nothing left but ashes.

Carlyle later said, “I remember and can still remember less of it than of anything I ever wrote with such toil. It’s gone.”

Some days later Carlyle found himself watching a brick mason building a wall. The work was ponderous. But the wall grew. One brick at a time. Carlyle concluded he could do the same. He restarted the project.

“The French Revolution: A History” was published in 1837. It is a Carlyle masterpiece and has been continuously in print for almost 200 years.

With the current pandemic it may seem as if one of your deepest dreams is in ashes today. A cherished relationship. Your health. Your family’s future. Your confidence in God. The Bible teaches us that hope is often most visible at the place of despair.

Will your story end in hopelessness, despair and futility?

Don’t for one moment ever give in to despair.

Pick up a brick. Start again. Christians have been doing that for over 2000 years.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XVIII

“The Captain”

It’s been over 30 years ago but I will never forget that time in my life and ministry. I came to First Presbyterian Church in 1985 as Senior Pastor. What a great and daunting opportunity God had called me to here in Muncie. I knew it would be necessary to have a competent staff if we were to accomplish the goals and challenges before the church back in 1985.

Fortunately, the church called a great young man finishing his last year of seminary. In short, Paul and I were like brothers. We respected each other, had fun together and shared the same goals for the church. The church grew in spirit and in membership. Paul was charismatic and incredibly kind and loving. The congregation loved him and so did I. After seven years as our Associate Pastor he was called to a church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Looking back, I realize I was in grief after Paul left. The whole congregation was in grief. We did not call anyone right away to take Paul’s place and with the church now growing it was much more than one Pastor could possibly handle. It was a very tough year for me and our session (church board) realized I was really stressed. At one of our meetings they said to me, “Where would you and Susan like to go on vacation?” We will send you!” Wow! They finally said to me, “We are sending you on a cruise.” We had never been on a cruise and what an adventure was ahead.

The morning we left for the cruise was the “storm of the century”…30 degrees in Miami when we arrived. Snow and ice everywhere. 500 people did not make the ship for departure. When we left there were 15 ft. swells on the ocean.

The second day we were to have dinner with the Captain. Then the announcement came over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain. I am sorry to disturb you before dinner but we have received a signal that there is a small boat with people aboard drifting several miles to our starboard and we need to make a course correction to see if we can help.” It was getting dark outside and the swells were still large on the ocean. Before long, searchlights were sweeping the waters. Thirty minutes went by then an hour. And there it was—a small cabin cruiser with no power drifting helplessly. People gathered on the top deck to see the amazing rescue of the four people who could not have survived much longer.

Beforehand, the cruise had been all about us. How much would we eat? How much fun would we have? But now we knew we were sailing with someone who would stop everything and come after us. Everything had changed.

But that’s nothing. Think what the Creator of the Cosmos did.

When we ourselves were doing the wrong things at the wrong places at the wrong
time and drifting through life, God pulled out all the stops and came for you and me.

The Lord stopped everything in order to come for us in person, offering the gift of ultimate security in Jesus Christ.

In the end, that’s how many would describe the meaning of life.

We’re all invited to meet the Captain and sit at the table with him. Better still,
we get to participate in the drama of helping others who are adrift meet him too.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XVII

“Your True Identity”

We all have seen the story of the caterpillar that eventually becomes a beautiful butterfly. But recently I saw a picture of a knobby, spiky, multicolored organism that slithers through the forests of Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia.

The message this intimidating protuberance effectively delivers is a simple message: “You don’t want to mess with me.”

What kind of creature is it? If you sampled its DNA tissue you might be startled to see the result.

This is a moduza procris, otherwise known as a commander butterfly. Commanders are large butterflies with strikingly beautiful black, reddish-brown and white wings. Yet they begin life as caterpillars that appear custom-designed for horror movies.

There’s nothing about the current morphology of this creature that suggests it will ever take flight. But it is a magnificent flier.

The same is true for everyone who is “In Christ.”–that is for those who have chucked their most valiant efforts of self-improvement and abandoned themselves to Jesus.

Things may look pretty discouraging in the short run. You may feel like a singular unattractive human being. You’ve grown your own knobby warts of cynicism, hypocrisy and spiritual cowardice and have perfected a relational style that says, “You don’t want to mess with me.” And you wish none of that was true.

Take heart.

Your life does not come down to appearances. What matters is your true identity. God says you are a Saint. You have the DNA of godliness. And when the time is right, you will mature into who you really are.

Next time you see a caterpillar remind yourself of what it will become. Then ponder this remarkable assurance:

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it-we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are…And that’s only the beginning. When Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and seeing him, become like him.”(I John 3:1-3)

Today we may feel utterly earthbound. Especially in this pandemic we feel constrained.

But one day, by God’s grace and power, we’ll fly.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain