Solar Eclipse

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 9.46.05 PM

One would need to be living in a cave not to have heard about the solar eclipse of next Monday, Aug. 21. Its arrival is being covered by media of all kinds, including newspapers, regular and special TV news reports, radio commentators, and all manner of social media.

Simply stated, a total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, causing the sun to be fully obscured by the moon. In a partial solar eclipse only part of the sun is obscured. Google “solar eclipse” for more information than you really want to know.

Wikipedia says: “An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. However, in some ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses were attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as bad omens. A total solar eclipse can be frightening to people who are unaware of its astronomical explanation, as the sun seems to disappear during the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes.”

Because looking directly at the sun can lead to permanent eye damage or even blindness, special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques are to be used when viewing a solar eclipse. Although some say it’s technically safe to view only the total phase of a total solar eclipse with the unaided eye and without protection, doing so is a dangerous and discouraged practice.

In the past, eclipses have been interpreted as omens. One example is the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote that the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians dated, arguably, around 585 BC. When the eclipse occurred, both sides put down their weapons and declared peace. Even after centuries of study by ancient and modern authorities, details still remain uncertain.

Interestingly, Holy Scripture contains references to unusual behavior of the sun, including these:

  • After hearing Isaiah’s prophesy that he would die, King Hezekiah prayed for his life. The Lord replied through Isaiah that Hezekiah’s life would be extended 15 years. As a sign, the Lord caused the sun’s shadow on a stairway to go back ten steps. (Isaiah 38:1-8)
  • In the midst of a battle between Israel and their Amorite enemies, daylight was waning. That prompted Joshua’s command for the sun to stand still. “So the sun stood still, and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies.” (Joshua 10:13)

For me, the solar eclipse is quite simply a reminder of the majesty of God, who on the fourth day of creation made the two celestial bodies involved in a solar eclipse. To separate the day from the night and “to be signs and seasons and for days and years…God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also…and God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:14-18)

Thousands of years later, it still is good, even when one of the celestial bodies hides the other.

Assisting the Poor and Needy

Poverty

We often hear stories about programs for assisting the poor and needy. Some of those stories show the success of such plans. Others show how the system fails and is even abused.

An internet search for “solving the welfare problem in America” produces lots of information on this topic. Here’s one: http://solutions.heritage.org/entitlements/welfare/

When President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he said that it was intended to strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” He added, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Five decades and $24 trillion later, the welfare system has failed the poor. Poverty rates remain stagnant, and self-sufficiency languishes.

Today the federal government operates roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total federal, state, and local government spending on these programs now reaches over $1 trillion annually.

The cost of welfare is unsustainable, and pouring dollars into an ever-increasing number of welfare programs has failed to improve rates of self-sufficiency. It is time to get welfare spending under control and to reform welfare to encourage self-reliance and human thriving in the context of community.

In addition, in one of my computer files I found these statements on this topic, written by an unknown author from an obviously conservative perspective:

  1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
  3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
  4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

These statements may seem a bit harsh and surely do not tell the whole story of human need and how it can be met. Yet governmental, religious, and other public or private agencies need to assist the poor responsibly to avoid harming both givers and receivers.

The Bible says: “There will always be some in the land who are poor…Share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” (Deut. 15:11 – NLT)

The Bible also says: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10 – KJV)

If a poor person is truly unable to work, we who have been abundantly blessed have a duty to assist. If a poor person is truly able to work, to rely on external assistance is hard to justify.

Wisdom from Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown

Today marks the end of eight consecutive years of weekly Perspectives articles. I don’t recall having missed a single week of these articles. That’s not intended to be braggadocios, just factual.

Frankly, every year at this time I ask myself whether I should keep writing. Just about the time I’m inclined to stop, I bump into or hear from someone who expresses heartfelt appreciation for an article he or she just read. That’s usually enough to keep me going. Time will tell.

In the meantime, this week I thought I’d share some wisdom from our friend Charlie Brown:

  • Life isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be lived. Sometimes happy, other times rough. But with every up and down you learn lessons that make you strong.
  • As we grow up we realize it is less important to have lots of friends and more important to have real ones.
  • The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect. It means I appreciate what I have and what I have been blessed with. I choose to be happy.
  • There are moments in life when you miss someone so much you just want to pick them from your dreams and hug them for real.
  • The less you respond to rude, critical, argumentative people, the more peaceful your life will become.
  • I don’t have time to worry about who doesn’t like me. I’m too busy loving the people who love me.
  • A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.
  • Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening. It just stops you from enjoying the good stuff.
  • You may feel lost and alone but God knows exactly where you are and he has a plan for your life.

Advice to Retired Pastors

Retirement

Today’s article is titled Advice to Retired Pastors and Their Relationship to the New Pastors in Their Former Congregations by Rev. Fred C. Jacobi.

While you and I might not agree totally with these suggestions, they are worthy of consideration. I also understand that some pastors are easier to follow than others and that some succession plans simply don’t work as well as intended. Here we go:

  1. Stay away from the parish at least six months to a year, allowing the new man to “settle in.”
  2. Don’t attend Church Council or Voters Meetings. That’s the reason you retired!
  3. Refer all weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. to the new pastor. The worst thing that can happen is for him to know you did something behind his back.
  4. If you attend a Bible Class he is conducting, keep a low profile.
  5. Treat him as your Pastor.
  6. Do not criticize him behind his back. You may think you have said something in confidence, but most often he will hear about it. He will obviously have some faults, but so did you!
  7. Do something that advances the ministry. Help with shut-in calls or become a Stephen minister.
  8. Treat him with respect.
  9. Let the vision and new ideas come from him and the church leadership – not from you.
  10. Feel free to help out with leading worship at other churches.
  11. If the new man feels uncomfortable with anything you are doing, back off!
  12. Sit down with him and assess your relationship from time to time.
  13. Allow him to do spiritual advising as much as possible.
  14. Keep him and his family in your prayers.
  15. Remember that each new pastor builds on the work of former pastors. Don’t allow members to extol their favorite pastor to the detriment of others.
  16. Enjoy your former congregation members, but remember they are friends, not your parishioners!
  17. Do everything possible to make the transition a smooth one.
  18. Go along with his new ideas about worship and ministry. Variety is the spice of life.
  19. Don’t talk about the way you used to do things.
  20. Do everything with a humble spirit.

Petrol Pump Wisdom

A_gas_pump,_Jacksonville,_FL

A Johannesburg South Africa filling station has become quite a landmark in Gauteng with its daily Petrol Pump Wisdom – uplifting quotes written on a chalkboard. Some motorists say they deliberately travel this route just to read the quote which brightens their day. Here are some:

  • Stop trying to make everybody happy. You’re not tequila.
  • Don’t do something permanently stupid because you’re temporarily upset.
  • Be who you needed when you were younger.
  • It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.
  • If you have to choose between drinking wine or being skinny would you choose red or white?
  • When you forgive you heal. When you let go you grow.
  • Forgiveness does not change the past but it does enlarge the future.
  • In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
  • When you make a commitment you build hope. When you keep it you build trust.
  • May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears –Nelson Mandela
  • The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
  • Why do we only rest in peace? Why don’t we live in peace also?

God bless your day!

The Enemy from Within

Today’s quote is from a first century BC philosopher and politician:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for s/he is known and carries his/her banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his/her sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; s/he speaks in accents familiar to his/her victims, and s/he wears their face and their arguments, s/he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men (and women). S/He rots the soul of a nation, s/he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, s/he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”

― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Here are a few comments about Cicero’s life from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born January 3, 106 BC and was murdered December 7, 43 BC. His life coincided with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic and he was an important actor in many of the significant political events of his time. His writings are now a valuable source of information to us about those events.

He was, among other things, an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Making sense of his writings and understanding his philosophy requires us to keep that in mind.

While Cicero is currently not considered an exceptional thinker, largely on the (incorrect) grounds that his philosophy is derivative and unoriginal, in previous centuries he was considered one of the great philosophers of the ancient era and was widely read well into the 19th century.

Probably the most notable example of his influence is St. Augustine’s claim that it was Cicero’s Hortensius (an exhortation to philosophy, the text of which is unfortunately lost) that turned him away from his sinful life and toward philosophy and ultimately to God.

Cicero’s warning 2,000 years ago: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.” Could that be true in both the world and the church today?

Ten Things that Will Disappear in Our Lifetimes

Disappear

Perhaps you’ve already seen this interesting and provocative prognostication. Author is unknown. Comments below each item are edited for brevity. My brief comments are at the end.

1. The Post Office

The Postal Service is so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of our mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Check

It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would surely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper

The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.

4. The Book

Some say they will never give up the physical book they hold in their hands. Many said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. But they quickly changed their minds when they discovered they could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. And the price is less than half that of a real book.

5. The Land Line Telephone

Unless one has a large family and makes a lot of local calls, it’s not needed anymore. Most people keep it simply because they’ve always had it. But now most cell phone companies allow unlimited local and long distance calling at no extra charge.

6. Music

This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading. It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption are the problem.

7. Television Revenues

Viewing of programs on national networks is down dramatically. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they’re playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

8. The “Things” You Own

Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. Many “possessions” are virtual and already simply reside in “the cloud.” If we save something, it is saved in the cloud, sometimes free, often with a monthly subscription fee.  In this virtual world, could it all disappear at any moment in a big “poof?”

9. Joined Handwriting (Cursive Writing)

Cursive writing is already gone in some schools that no longer teach “joined handwriting.” Nearly everything is done now on computers or keyboards of some type (pun not intended).

10. Privacy

There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into computers and cell phones. In reality, someone knows who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. “They” will try to get you to buy something else, again and again and again.

You may or may not agree with any or all of these projections. I don’t agree with #6. Music will survive. Some of the rest are already reality. Others may occur in the future. Time will tell.

What would our grandparents have thought if someone had told them that an automobile would be able to start with no keys in hand, stop itself with no one applying the brake, and park itself with no one touching the wheel? All those things are happening today. Not all of them are bad.

So stay tuned. And stay grounded. Technology is changing how we live and also how long we live. Possessions are finite. Life is real. Life is fragile. Life is precious. Life is a gift of God. His love for his world and for his people never changes.