Chaplain’s Corner: CVI

“Grace Wins”

In 1849 a young Russian named Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested and imprisoned. He was
charged with being part of a group that read books that appeared to be critical of Czar
Nicholas I. After waiting eight months in a festering jail, Dostoevsky and his fellow
criminals were led out three days before Christmas into the night. They were horrified
to hear they had been sentenced to death. There would be no trial and no possibility of
appeal.

And no opportunity even to prepare for the last moments of life.

The men were led to stakes. A clerk recited Romans 6:23 to each prisoner, “The
wages of sin is death,” and held out a cross to be kissed. Drums rolled. The
execution squad raised their rifles. The commander lifted his sword and shouted,
“Ready…aim…”

And then at the last moment a messenger appeared, carrying word from the Czar
himself. He would mercifully commute their sentences to 10 imprisonment. They were
spared!

One of the prisoners suffered a mental breakdown from which he recovered. Another
sank to his knees and wept aloud, blessing the Czar. Dostoevsky, who wasn’t yet 30
years old, experienced what can only be described as a resurrection. One moment he
was resigned to his own tragic and meaningless death. The next moment he was alive
as never before.

Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were shackled and sent on a dreadful 18 day
journey to Siberia. He never received a letter from his family during this time.

All the ingredients had come together for despair. Or bitterness. Or vengeful
obsession. But somehow Dostoevsky emerged from his ordeal overwhelmed by the
sheer joy of being alive. He had virtually memorized the only book he had been allowed
to read while in prison: the New Testament.

He went on to become perhaps the greatest novelist of all time. Crime and Punishment.
The Idiot. The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov are turbulent, multi-layered
dramas exploring the meaning of life and the stark reality of suffering in a fallen world.

But they all have the same bottom line: Grace Wins.

He never got over the wonder of having one more day to experience life as God’s
child. God willing, none of us will have to face an execution squad this week. But here
is a prayer to help us realize like Dostoevsky the depths of amazing grace.

“Lord help me seize this day- this day that is a gift from you. Open my hands and my heart to receive whatever you have prepared for me. Help me rejoice in the fact that I am alive right now and that by your grace I can live for you…one day at a time. In the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.”

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CV

“Do You Have a Third Class Ticket?

There wasn’t much glamor associated with stagecoach travel in the Old West. The
roads were dusty, miserable, and subject to radical changes of elevation. The food
was lousy. The weather inside the coach was pretty much the same as the weather
outside. The pre-shock absorber era did not allow for much sleep. There was
always the potential danger of an encounter with hostile native Americans or outlaws.

At least those riding in a nine-passenger Concord stagecoach could exercise one
option when it came to privilege and comfort. According to historian Roger M.
Dillingham, a number of travel companies offered three classes of tickets.

If you paid top dollar for a first class ticket, you were entitled to sit. No matter
what happened, no one could force you to leave your seat. If the stagecoach got
stuck in the mud or had trouble making it up a steep hill, or even from time to
time-perhaps to walk when a wheel fell off, you remained in your seat because you
had a first class ticket.

Second-class ticket holders, on the other hand were required to vacate their seats
and walk alongside the coach when it needed to negotiate a stretch of sand or a
shallow stream, or when the horses needed a break. If repairs were necessary, a
second-classer was free to stand to the side and watch while others did the work.

A third-class ticket entitled you, in sports parlance, to one of the cheap seats. You
got to sit alright-right up until there was a problem. Third-classers then had to
hop off the coach, roll up their sleeves, and help push. Or lift. Or help move the
fallen tree or loose rocks that were blocking the road. And you had to do it without
complaining.

Over the years, people have entertained some funny ideas about what it means to
follow Jesus. One of them is that Christianity is like being granted a first-class
ticket through life. Because of God’s grace, we get to sit and watch and enjoy the
view. When problems arise-well, “we have people to take care of such things.”

Jesus of course would dismiss that out of hand. For the Son of Man did not come to
be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) There
are no entitlements in the company of those who follow the Messiah. We all hold
third-class tickets. That’s because our Master spent his life knee-deep in the
problems of the Least, the Last and the Lost. He calls us to do the same.

At present American churches aren’t renowned for cultivating a spirit of
servanthood. We still have miles to go on our trip through the Wild West of the
21st century. It’s not too late to make up your mind to be a working
passenger. When we are able here at Westminster Village we need to roll up our
sleeves and help push.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CII

“When Things Go Sideways”

Shortly before his 17th birthday, Craig Barnes and his brother came home from a Christian camp where they had been working for the summer. They were PK’s- pastor’s kids-and their identity had been largely been shaped by the predictable rhythms of home and ministry. All that changed when they returned to discover their parents were getting divorced. Their mother had already moved out. Their dad soon resigned from his congregation.

Then he left. Completely.

Barnes never saw his father again. He later wrote, “Maybe Dad’s sense of failure was so great that he couldn’t see his sons without anguishing over the family that was lost. Maybe leaving us was easy. We’ll never know.” His dad missed all things that are important to most fathers–graduations, weddings, career choices, grandchildren. “For a while my brother and I tried hard to find him, but in time
we learned to let him go.”

“I know about abandonment. I know you never really get over it. I know it can force changes that you think will kill you, but in fact they save your life.” That’s how Barnes launches his book, “When God Interrupts.” Despite the circumstances that upended his world while he was a teenager, he went on to become a pastor himself. Today he is President of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Every human life is marred by major interruptions. All seems well. Then something happens. Somebody betrays us. We make a stupid miscalculation. There’s an accident. There’s a health emergency. There is a major interruption in our plans.

The Christian community is the community of interrupted lives. This is a place where men and women are free to ask a very important question: “God what in the world is happening in my life? How did I end up here?”

When we experience disillusionment or abandonment, we can go one of two ways. We can either turn our hearts toward what we have lost or are still in the process of losing, or we can open our hearts wider to what has always been our one true hope, which is Jesus. More than anything else, that choice will determine the character and outcome of our lives.

Things go sideways in the lives of God’s people all the time. Joseph, Moses, Jonah, Elijah, Paul, Jeremiah, Peter, and Marry-to name a few biblical luminaries- were all heading in one direction, only to be rerouted toward new goals that opened the way for God to do great things.

But there is one part of our world that will never change. Since God has assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you, we can say boldly, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. Who or what can ever get to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

By God’s grace it can become the primary way for us to learn that the One whose love we need most of all is never going to let us go.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: CI

When Dr. J. Robertson McQuilkin died in 2016, he left behind a glittering ministry track record. During his 88 years he served as a Bible college faculty member and the headmaster of a Christian school. He and his wife Murial and their four children journeyed to Japan, where over the course of a dozen years he plated five new congregations. He became president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in 1968. During his 22 years at the helm, enrollment doubled. Along the way he helped establish two local radio stations and authored 19 books.

Those were the high points of McQuilkin’s obituary.

But that is not how he is remembered.

In 1990 he made what he described as the “simplest and clearest” decision of his life. He resigned the Columbia Presidency in order to provide full-time care for Murial, who for several years had been afflicted by Alzheimer’s. For many the decision came as a shock. At the height of his influence, he was walking away from an active, productive ministry.

McQuilkin didn’t see it that way. In his resignation letter he described caring for
Muriel not as a have-to, but as a get-to.

Here’s one anecdote: “Once our flight was delayed in Atlanta, and we had to wait a couple of hours. Now that’s a challenge. Every few minutes, the same questions, the same answers and what are we doing here, when are we going home? And every few minutes we’d take a fast-paced walk down the terminal in earnest search of –what? Muriel had always been a speed walker. I had to jog to keep up with her! An attractive woman sat across from us working diligently on her computer. Once when we returned from an excursion, she said something. Without looking up from her papers, she said, “I was just asking myself, will I ever find a man to love me like that.”

It’s one thing to leave behind an impressive obituary. It’s quite another to leave behind a relational legacy-a living example of promise keeping (“in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live”)- especially in a culture that no longer expects promise-makers to be promise-keepers.

No matter what we’re facing today, and no matter what doors of opportunity seemed to have opened, we can be certain of one essential task to which God has called us.

Our call, by God’s grace, is to be there for our friends, spouses and fellow citizens.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor
Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XCVIV

“The Aroma of Christ’s Love”

 

You never know what you might hear when the best man proposes a toast at a wedding reception.    Everything depends of course, on the relationship between the best man and the groom.  Not to mention whether he’s already had a few drinks too many.  And whether he’s comfortable as a public speaker. Guests may hear fond memories, gentle ribbing, old jokes, and stories that have never been told—and should remain untold.

 

Every now and then there are moments of raw honesty, which prompt those in attendance to hold collective breath.

 

One pastor remembers such an occasion.  The best man was the groom’s brother. He stood, turned to his brother and said, “It’s no secret to anyone here that I have never liked you.”  Now that’s an interesting way to begin a toast. “All of our lives we have fought and argued and been like oil and water.  We are very different in many ways.  But I have grown to love the person you have become since the day you met her.”  And he looked straight at the bride:  “The more you are with her, the more I am drawn to you.  The more you are with her, the more I see you the best version of yourself.”

 

As I reflected on this unusual moment, I realized it provided a profound picture of how being with Jesus has the power to change us.

 

It can’t be denied that outsiders have the grounds for believing that church people who hang out with other church people sometimes become more angry, rigid, and even hateful.  But there’s a discernible difference when people choose to spend more time with Jesus.  The more we are with Him, the more people will experience the best version of ourselves.  Hypocrites become more authentic.  Liars begin to value the truth.  Judgmental people begin to exhibit softer hearts.  Arrogant people become more approachable.

 

Author Rita Snowden remembers sitting in a café late one afternoon in Dover, England.  As she was sipping her tea, she was suddenly overwhelmed by an astonishing fragrance.  It was one of the most pleasant aromas she had ever smelled.  It was being carried by the workers from a nearby perfume factory.  They were walking home from work and their clothing was permeated by the fragrances they had been working on all day long.

 

Everywhere we go, we carry around the aroma of who we truly are and what we genuinely believe.

 

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15:  “But thanks to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved.”

 

May those we meet today catch a scent of something beautiful, humble, and hopeful in our lives.  And ultimately come to realize that because we’ve been with Him, we’re slowly becoming the best version of ourselves.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XCVIV

“Reliance on God vs Self Reliance”

During WWII, America’s Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA – was assigned the task of devising subversive ways to help defeat Japan.  Some of the OSS’s initiatives could best be described as non- traditional.

More than two million dollars were invested in development of the “bat bomb.”  Project managers hoped to drop thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats over Japanese cities.  Each bat would be toting a small incendiary device equipped with a timer.  The bats would hopefully roost under the eaves of Japanese homes.  The designated time devices would then ignite thousands of fires.  The operation was never given final approval much to the relief of the bats.

The OSS has better luck with Operation Magic.  Teams of codebreakers worked tirelessly to monitor, intercept and translate encrypted Japanese messages.  Their success became a key component of the Allied Victory in the Pacific theater.  In April 1942, decryption efforts revealed that Japanese military planners were fixated on a place called “AF.”  That was useful information-if anyone could figure out what “AF” meant.

Possibilities included Guam, Seattle, Alaska or Midway, a tiny coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific about 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii.  The leader of the codebreaking effort, Captain Joe Rochefort, had his money on Midway.  So he devised a trick but he needed some hard evidence.  Radio operators at Midway were instructed to send out a phony message.  The Midway dispatcher reported the island’s water supply was running low.  A few hours later, US codebreakers intercepted and translated a Japanese message that “AF” is running low on water.  Gotcha!

When Japan’s primary fleet of more than 200 vessels attacked Midway on June 4th, 1942, the American fleet was waiting in ambush.  All four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk–a loss from which the Imperial Navy never recovered.  The Japanese believed the American’s would never be able to master the nuances of the Japanese language.  “That will never happen to us,” they said to themselves.  But it did.  Japan’s leaders failed to realize that American codebreakers had actually cracked their “unbreakable” code.

Over confidence isn’t merely a threat to nations.  Spiritual hubris is one of the great enemies of the soul.

We see other people crash and burn.  They cheat on crucial relationships, squander once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and throw away hard earned reputations because of decisions that defy common sense.  We think:  “But that will never happen to me.”  Yes it will happen to you–unless you decide to walk away from any behavior that you know is at odds with God’s intentions for your life.

Self-reliance works only some of the time.  When we decide to place our lives under God’s reliance and trust God with everything then we begin to see God is at work connecting the dot of our lives.

May God give us eyes to see how God is in the middle of our stories even as we are living them–for that is the code that brings meaning and purpose to all of life!

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XCVII

“Easter: Your Story Isn’t Over Either”

It’s possible that the two most poignant words in the Bible appear in Mark’s account of the resurrection. Early on Sunday morning, a group of women have come to prepare to put spices on Jesus’ body. In a Jewish tradition, it’s the thing to do. Jesus was buried so quickly the previous Friday that they had missed the opportunity to provide the final kindness.

Their chief concern was a practical one: How are we going to get inside the tomb? A heavy stone stands between them and Jesus.

As the tomb comes into view, they immediately begin to come to terms with three things that in a million lifetimes they never expected to see:

The stone had been pushed aside.
Jesus’s body had vanished.
An angel is sitting there in plain sight.

The angel says what almost every angel says in biblical encounters: “Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, He has risen.”

While the women attempt to process this cosmos-shifting news, the angel adds an important job assignment: “Go tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:9)

“Go tell his disciples”- that would be the 11 remaining apprentices of Jesus, since Judas is now out of the picture-“and Peter…” And those words are almost enough to make us cry. Peter was obviously one of the disciples. So why the special invitation? No one in the world that morning needed a word of reassurance more than Peter. No one stood in greater need of a personal invitation to meet the risen Christ than the guy who had crashed and burned in the most dramatic way possible.

Peter had promised so much: “Lord even if everybody else turns tail and runs, you can count on me.” Then in short order, he had said aloud three times that he and Jesus had never even crossed paths. The very man whom Jesus had said would be the Rock on which he would build his church had crumbled like a sandcastle on the beach when hit by the first wave.

The words “and Peter” only appear in the Gospel of Mark. According to a well-founded tradition, Mark had been the amanuensis or personal secretary of Peter during his later years of ministry. His Gospel is quite likely a “Peter’s-eye-view” of Jesus’ life and death. It’s possible that Peter alone remembered that small detail of the angel’s message to the women at the empty tomb. For him, those words changed everything.

And Peter. You’re still one of the disciples. You’re still invited. Good Friday wasn’t the last chapter of your story. Your story isn’t over yet either.

Even if we cannot imagine recovering from the messes we have made of our lives, we’re still on God’s invitation list. He is, after all, in the business of raising the dead.

May you be filled this day with the hope and joy of Easter.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: XCVI

“It is Finished”

Those are words that a driven, task-obsessed person can never imagine saying. “It is finished” would mean there would be nothing left to check off the list of things to do. No more sweaters to arrange according to color and style. Every conceivable thank-you note written. Nothing left to haul off to Goodwill from the attic or the garage.

But Jesus was not a driven, task-obsessed person. As he died on the cross, there were a myriad of unfinished tasks on the face of the earth. But one task was complete. IT was finished. The priority work had been accomplished-something he declares in John 19:30.

One Bible commentator has generated a list of 50 different spiritual victories that were attained at the moment of Jesus’ death. It’s enough to agree, however, that what was finished was Jesus’ life, his ministry on earth, and the suffering cocooned in his final hours. And it’s just as accurate to say that as Jesus’ limp body was being wrapped in linen, only to rise from the dead later in the weekend, something else was just beginning. His finished work was launching 20 centuries of additional work that Jesus would now endeavor to accomplish–to bring to completion–through US.

It’s worth noting that Jesus did not say, “I am finished”-the resignation of a dying man or someone playing the victim card. Jesus chose to endure the cross for the specific purpose of answering his Father’s call to die as the Lamb of God for the sake of the world.

A few years ago my wife and I were eating at a local restaurant here in Muncie when the server informed us there was no bill to pay. “You know that man sitting right over there until a few minutes ago?” he said. He paid your bill. You’re free to leave whenever you want. Payback was never the reward he was seeking. The reward-for both of us-has been the deepening of our relationship.

A meal is a real need. But it’s just a momentary one. Jesus paid the bill that addressed our greatest ongoing need in this world and the next. Those three English words: “It is finished”, translate just one Greek word from John’s text: Tetelestai. It’s a marketplace term from the ancient world that means “paid in full.” The debt has been erased. No further action is required. That’s the work that Jesus declared finished while breathing his last. What he seeks is the establishment and deepening of an eternal relationship with every one of us.

We can imagine an anxious spiritual seeker gripped by his need to enter a relationship with God asking, “What do I need to make this happen?” He would be told, “Someone has already done it for you. It’s finished.”

We’re not talking about banishing the word DO from our spiritual vocabulary. There is so much to do for God’s sake every day of our lives. But all that we DO must flow from what Jesus has already DONE. And we can awaken every morning even those days in which it feels as if we have a hundred things to do-knowing that Someone has already finished the most important task in the cosmos.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XCV

“Facing Your Nineveh”

So how did the Prophet Jonah end up on a Mediterranean beach smelling like a tin of sardines?  It all began with a call from God that, in Jonah’s mind, was definitely not his dream job.

 

“Up on your feet and on your way to Nineveh!  Preach to them.  They are in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”  But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God.  He got on a boat in Joppa and proceeded to get as far away from God as possible.”  (Jonah 1-3)

 

Nineveh which was east of Israel was the capital of Assyria, one of the ancient world’s evil empires.  The Ninevites were decidedly lacking in people skills.  After they annihilated an enemy city, Assyrian soldiers would typically leave behind a pyramid of human heads as a warning to their neighbors.  Jonah was so excited about working with this group of people that he immediately headed in the opposite direction.

 

So Jonah bought a one-way ticket to the farthest point west he could imagine.  At that time it was a place called Tarshish.  We don’t really know where Tarshish was located exactly.  Presumably it was near Spain.  King Solomon imported from Tarshish gold, silver, ivory, monkeys and peacocks.  In the popular imagination it became a synonym for paradise.

 

Perhaps God has called you, in one way or another, to go east.  But all you want to do is head west.  Perhaps you made a promise to be there for a life partner or a friend in sickness.  But you didn’t realize how hard it would be to love that person when actual sickness, sorrow, and want showed up.  Now you’re standing in line to buy a ticket to Tarshish, where you’ve heard that relationships are problem free.

 

Right here at Westminster Village God may be calling you to make a new friend or spend time with a resident that is struggling with loneliness because they are new to the Village.  Perhaps you have some ideas for activities or the administration but feel you won’t be heard and so it’s easier to not listen to God’s call within you to be a difference maker.

 

But as the story of Jonah reveals, sailing west when God calls us to go east means heading into turbulence.  In Jonah’s case that became a literal experience.  A violent storm overtook the boat on which he was making his escape.  So Jonah made a difficult choice.  He cancelled his trip to Tarshish.  “Throw me off the ship,” he told the crew.  They were terrified to do so.  The prophet may have assumed that his life was now over.  But as Jonah 1:17 tells us, “The Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”  Three days later the fish barfed him up on the shoreline of the most compelling Scripture texts for any kid who’s ever felt bored in Sunday School.

 

You may need to make an exceedingly difficult choice too.

 

Stop believing the many lies on the news today.  Face your shortcomings.  Believe the Gospel of grace and love.  You’re not a victim.  The running stops today.

 

Jonah showcased one of life’s key lessons:  It’s always safer to be treading water in God’s ocean than to be on a cruise ship heading in the wrong direction.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XCIV

“666”

Numbers are a big deal in the Bible.  Over the centuries, scholars have paid considerable attention to numbers like 3 (which seems to signify growth), 4 (often a shorthand for creation, as in four corners of the earth), 7 (which traditionally denotes completeness), 10 (perfection), 12 (the number connected with God’s Chosen people, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 Disciples), and 40 (a time of trial and testing).

But all would agree that the most famous or infamous number on the pages of scripture is 666.

In the apocalyptic imagery of the Bible’s last book, 666 is the number associated with the Beast—a fearsome creature with seven heads and ten horns that according to Revelation 13:17-18 will emerge from the sea.  The Beast is typically identified as the Antichrist, a superhuman embodiment of evil  who will appear during the Last Times.

It is safe to say that there has never been scholarly consensus as to how to interpret the fantastical images of the Book of Revelation.  But that hasn’t stopped generations of eager Bible students from trying to identify the significance of 666.

In his book, “When Time Shall Be No More:  Prophecy Belief in America Culture”, Paul Boyer has a field day reporting some of the most outrageous efforts.

For instance, if the letter A is 100, B is 101, C is 102 and so forth, then “Hitler” adds up to 666.  Napoleon turns out to be the Antichrist if you spell and number his name with the Arabic alphabet.  British historian Thomas Macaulay noted that Parliament might be the Antichrist since its membership (including clerks) is 666.  Henry Kissinger’s name in Hebrew also adds up to the beastly number.

John F. Kennedy received 666 votes at the 1956 Democratic Convention (where incidentally, he did not receive the presidential nomination).  But later being elected and felled by an assassin, myriads of conspiracy theorists became convinced he was indeed the Beast since the Book of Revelation reports the Antichrist will miraculously recover from a fatal head wound.  This seems to have fueled the QAnon movement that led hundreds of true believers to Dealey Plaza in Dallas last November 22 where they expected that at 12:30pm (the time JFK was shot) either he or his son would rise from the dead and declare Donald Trump to be the true president.

Some have conjectured that VISA, when reduced to Roman numerals (along with a generous amount of imagination) can be transformed into 666.

 

For some people, anxiety about the Antichrist is all too real.  They suffer from a condition called HEXAKOSIOIHEXEKONTAHEXAPHOBIA—the fear of the number 666.  We can truthfully say that if that word shows up in the National Spelling Bee this year, at least one lucky contestant will experience fear.

 

And what might Jesus say if he were to venture an opinion about all these speculations?  We already know what he would say:  “Please stop it.  That’s enough.  You know quite well that you’re never going to guess the details of the end of history.”

 

That’s because Jesus revealed that even he didn’t know such details (Mark 13:32)  We may have the impression that unless we’re in the know about the events in the Book of Revelation, we’re really not part of the flow of God’s story in the world.

How wrong we are.  May God open our eyes to the fact that every person we encounter today is someone deeply treasured by God and for whom Jesus gave his life.  And the way we choose to love and honor each of those persons has the capacity to change the very course of spiritual history.

That very thought should be far more thrilling than hearing the latest theory about the Antichrist.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain