Wednesday, December 31, 2008

God is Bigger Than 2009

Well, another year down the tubes. Hopefully it was a good one for you and yours. Unfortunately, the reality is that 2008 was a pretty tough year for more people than not. The economic woes of the Western world seem to be trickling across the globe, and few of us have been left untouched. Add to that the insane rise in cancer and other health-related problems that my loved ones...and probably yours, too...have faced lately, and chances are that 2008 was a year that you are glad to put in the rear-view mirror.

You know what, though? That gives me hope. The New Year is always about looking forward and new beginnings. I know that several of those closest to me are banking on the fact that at least things can't get any worse! Each new year brings its own set of challenges and blessings. Some years, the blessings outweigh the challenges. There is a very real chance that 2009 will be one of those years.

Here's something to think about. No matter what 2009 brings, we have an opportunity to grow closer to our Creator through our circumstances. If the end state of our experiences during any year is that we have had a chance to let Him prove Himself in our lives and we have felt His arms supporting us, then in the end it was a good year. By that reasoning, I'm sure that many of my loved-ones would say that 2008 was actually a good year. My brother Chad, for example, was hit harder by the economic crisis than anyone I know. For a while, he became disillusioned and angry. But, as I knew he would, he eventually threw the whole mess into God's lap, crawled into His arms and let Him take the burden. Since then, Chad has been able to experience God's heart of Love on a whole new level. He even writes a blog about it. It's called 'Love' (if you haven't read it, you need to - there's a link to it under my blog list on this page). Chad, despite his circumstances, is in probably the best place that he's ever been. And he is truly happy. All because of stinkin' 2008.

It's funny how God often uses life's hardships and setbacks to bring us closer to Him and prove to us all over again that He is Lord of everything. Did you know that Chinese Christians actually pray that Christians in America will be persecuted? Not because misery loves company, but because they rejoice in their persecution because it keeps them so close to their God. Whoah!

2009 is setting up to possibly be a tough one for Camille and I. The hotel that employs Camille is being renovated in January and February, so right off the bat she will be out of work for at least the first two months of the new year. I am headed back up to Tacoma to see my heart surgeon in January and get a verdict on a date for open-heart surgery to replace a faulty heart valve. Since I am a commercial pilot, that will put me out of work for six months, according to FAA regulations. Not to mention having to be cracked open like a dungeness crab. We are trusting God for a miracle in this area, but also trusting Him to provide in any way the He sees fit.

While it's all a little scary, I have a peace that I cannot explain. In a twisted way, I am actually looking forward to seeing how God uses our circumstances in 2009 to bring us closer to His purposes for our lives. I've been through the fire before, let me tell you! And I know first-hand that God can be trusted. With everything. That means everything. He isn't burdened by our linear view of time. Time means nothing to Someone who created the cosmos...Someone with no beginning and no end. He already knows the thoughts that I am going to be putting into cyberspace on December 31 of 2009. He knows how all of my circumstances are going to play out and He has a plan for making me better and happier and closer to Him through those circumstances. Whether that be miraculous healing or a surgeon's knife - He knows what is best for me. He's more responsible at handling my life than I could ever be. Realizing that is the most freeing experience possible!

There's a story in the Bible (2 Chronicles chapter 32) about how the Assyrians were coming to attack the Judah (one of the two Israelite kingdoms), to lay siege to Jerusalem. They had an unimaginably vast army and were possibly the cruelest dudes to ever walk the face of the earth. Basically, you didn't want to get into it with these guys! When Hezekiah, the king of the Judah, learned of the impending attack, he made the usual military preparations, but then went a step further. Knowing the impossibility of their situation and the fear that gripped the hearts of his people, he called them together in the square inside the city gate. He said to them, "Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles." (2 Ch. 32:7-8). The people were encouraged. And check this out - after letting the king of the Assyrians shoot his mouth off for a bit about how great he was and how Israel's God couldn't help them, God sent an angel into the Assyrian camp and killed all of the mighty warriors and captains and pretty much anyone of consequence in the Assyrian army. Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, promptly returned to his homeland in shame, where he was soon-after killed by his own kids as he worshipped in the temple of the false god who couldn't deliver Jerusalem to him.

Judah had been faced with an overwhelmingly impossible situation. There was no way that they, on their own, would have survived. What Hezekiah knew was that no problem is to big for the Creator. The nation of Judah effectively crawled into God's arms that day and trusted Him to take care of the things that were out of their control. And He came through. Big time! He's done the same for me in the past. Probably for you as well. 2009 might hold some impossible situations...for us. The thought that gives me hope going into it is that nothing is impossible for my Creator. Not only can He deal with the 'impossible', but He can make our lives better than they were before through it all. So I say, Happy New Year! Bring on 2009 and let God prove Himself in our lives once again!

By the way, I'd like to thank my pastor, Jason Biel of Coastline Christian Fellowship, for inspiring many of these thoughts today. He preached a message about that passage of Scripture in 2 Chronicles last Sunday and hit a home run. If you'd like to hear it, you can find the podcast on iTunes - our church posts podcasts of the Sunday and Thursday services. I don't think they've added this last Sunday's message yet, but they will soon. All of his messages are worth checking out. He will probably never know how much of an inspiration and encouragement he has been to Camille and I. Thanks Jason! See you out in the water soon!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Free Willy...

Then God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. - Genesis 1:9-10

OK, it's obvious by now that I am a die-hard surfer. You pretty much have to be obsessed to surf in the snow. (By the way, I'd like to thank my Norwegian surfer buddies for enlightening me to the fact that you should always show up to the beach in cold weather with a thermos of scalding-hot water. Pour it in your booties and heat 'em up before you put them on and, viola - toasty warm feet for at least an hour!) Some people wonder how we surf in cold water and cold weather with big sharks and heavy waves. Well, if you've ever caught even one wave, you know why we do it. It's a feeling that is indescribable.

Unlike any other activity that I've ever experienced, surfing is literally an act of nature. The process of catching a moving wave, standing up and letting it's energy propel you along, all the while flirting with the very real possibility of being crushed by the source of your momentum is...well, I can't do it justice with words. You literally feel like you are a part of nature itself. You can feel the heartbeat of something so much bigger than you and it is at the same time both humbling and electrifying.

Surfers often talk about feeling 'one with the ocean'. It's true. As you are picked up by a wave and ride its hydrodynamic energy, you do feel like you are a part of the ocean...of the planet itself. That wave may have travelled for thousands of miles before it came to where you were sitting and reached water shallow enough to cause it to curl and break. It probably saw thousands of other living creatures before it gave you the privilege of joining it on the final seconds of its long journey. It may have had its course altered by powerful storms and may have experienced several different climates. It probably witnessed acts, both natural and human, of cruelty and kindness. The stories it could tell you...for surfers, the stories it does tell you. Every surfer has trouble putting into words the things that waves share with them. But each wave brings this richness of being...of life...and the only way to hear its story is to hop on and listen. The experience makes you feel very, very...small. And blessed.

This is probably the reason that surfing so often is compared to a religion. It actually does flirt with being one. What surfers feel as that wave scoops them up, whether they know it or not, is the Spirit of our Creator. Some of us, like myself, know our Creator personally, and have the means and knowledge with which to process the rush of feelings and emotions with which surfing showers us. Each session becomes a worship experience as our obsession turns our eyes and hearts towards God - the Creator of the oceans and Supplier of waves. Others, lacking a personal relationship with the Creator but feeling the same emotions, turn their attention toward the creation and the ocean itself becomes the object of their worship. The point is, surfing forces us to acknowledge something way bigger than ourselves and the only natural, logical response is one of reverence and worship.

So, every cell of my body lives for the next wave that I will be able to ride. To commune with Creation in such a personal way is to catch a glimpse into God's heart. I feel His thoughts as I am able to enjoy His Creation. Hence, the 'Surfing Lessons' blog entries. Surfing opens my mind and my heart to receive what His voice would whisper to me. And I am learning some great stuff. I know that surfers walk a fine line between worshipping the Creator and the created. But I also know that as long as I use surfing as a channel for getting closer to my Creator...keep my eyes on Him, if you will...that He will continue to use surfing to put His thoughts into my head and my heart.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, I have and will continue to shy away from being too preachy in my blog writing. The thoughts that I cast into cyberspace are just thoughts from my slightly deranged head and a heart that has been broken by Life and mended by my God. As I gather more and more experience on this journey with Christ, I am hopefully getting better at tapping into His thoughts and His heart. Sometimes He slaps you right upside the head with a lesson or truth, and sometimes a truth builds slowly inside of you for years, quietly working its way from an abstract thought into a basic tenet of your Faith. I have decided that from time to time on my blog, I will bring attention to one of those slow, quiet truths that has now been stoked to a fire inside of me. I'm gonna warn you - it's not a very popular topic with much of mainline Christianity in our country.

I'm just gonna say it - I cannot be a Christian without being an environmentalist. If you read the Bible and see just how much God delights in His Creation...all of His are stared right in the face with the fact that if you're gonna follow Him, you have to help care for His Creation. As you saw at the top of this post, you can't even get through the first chapter of the first book of the Bible without God telling you how much He loves his Creation. And humans weren't even on the scene yet at the point to which these particular verses are referring! The Bible makes as many references to our little blue planet as it does to heaven and love combined. When I read Scripture, I am continually struck by the immensity of God's love for His Creation. He is literally a proud Papa. If I am going to call myself a Christian...someone who is striving to be like Christ...then I had better take my job as a steward of this earth pretty seriously!

Like I said, this is something that has been growing in me for years. It started back when I was in college and for the first time realized that I was an active user...a consumer...of nature. All of my favorite activities hinged upon getting out there and enjoying the natural world. I was an avid skier, snowboarder, hiker, cyclist, camper and yes, a surfer. I have always been the happiest when I am experiencing Creation to the fullest. I noticed that I was beginning to hurt inside when I saw someone littering or watched a news clip of whales being slaughtered. At that point I started to become disillusioned...or maybe more just disappointed...with the Church's stance on environmental issues. The Bible that I read told me to care for nature. It read almost like a love story from God to His Creation...and not just when it came to humans. I started wondering why so many of my Christian friends made fun of people trying to save animals or stop rainforest clearcutting. I wondered if they were reading the same Bible that I was.

Years have passed and, as I grow closer to my Creator, that ache inside of me has become something that is harder and harder to ignore. I'll admit, surfing has played a large role in all of this. But I know that God is doing this on purpose. He really, really, really loves this planet that we call home along with all of its inhabitants. I'll be the first to accept that one human life is worth more than all of the trees in the Amazon or all of the fur seals in the arctic. But that still doesn't give us a free pass to ignore those trees or those seals. I wish more churches would make it a goal to save unborn babies and whales at the same time (babies first, obviously).

My wife Camille put it so perfectly. She mentioned that so often, in Christian circles, the topic of the environment comes up and people say things like, "Why don't we just leave it to the 'dirty hippies'? They're doing a pretty good job sticking up for the environment." Sad but so true. My question is this: How great would it be if 'dirty hippies' sat around talking about environmental problems and the consensus was that the Christians should be in charge of that stuff because they are doing a great job with it? Not a statement anyone is likely to hear soon! I say that to our discredit.

I have really wrestled with this post. This weighs so heavily on my heart, but I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression. I am, first and foremost, about saving people's hearts and souls. I know that this topic will ruffle some feathers. At the end of the day, I have decided that if any of these words ruffle your feathers, your feathers needed ruffling. I welcome comments. I know that I am not the only Christian who cries real tears for our planet and our fellow inhabitants. I know that it is possible to achieve a balance as Christians and as a Church at large when it comes to helping humans and helping the rest of the planet. So for now, I will continue to support causes like The Surfrider Foundation and Sea Shepherd. I will also continue to support missionaries, the poor and my church. Camille and I plan to physically go and be missionaries in the flesh at times...both to people and to our planet, as the Lord leads us.

I hope you are catching my true intent here. I will probably, from time to time, use this blog to call attention to environmental issues. I promise to try my hardest not to get 'preachy'. This is definitely a subject on which I welcome the interaction of the readers. God uses our friends and fellow Christians to help keep us in check. I promise that I won't climb to the top of an evergreen and go on a hunger strike anytime soon...but I if did you would have my permission to throw rocks at me until I came down. You get the picture. For now, please consider, if you haven't, just how deeply God loves all of His creation. His Word says that not one sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn't know about. That makes me an environmentalist.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Miracle of Christmas

First of all - Merry Christmas! May God bless you and yours at this special time when we remember the day that He humbled Himself and came into our world as a helpless baby with a destiny to be our Savior.

As I was writing my blog last night, I was overcome with the sheer magnitude of the significance of Christmas. That first Christmas must have really been something when viewed on a galactic stage. The Bible says that "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." (Romans 8:22). Also, "the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God." and "creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8:19&21). Literally, the Universe itself held its breath in expectation and awe on that precious night. Its Creator, the Maker of the stars and heavens, was beginning His most incredible work yet. He was transforming Himself into one of His own creations so that He could live among them and die for them in order to set the Universal scales back into balance. Once and for all, He was about to blot out the stain that sin and imperfection had brought to His perfect Creation. My heart jumps and my mind swirls as I think of the immensity of the impact that this night would have on the entire Universe.

And so, as I talked about yesterday, His mighty army of angels heralded his coming. Shepherds dropped what they were doing in the wilderness and came to see and worship this marvel who was God in the flesh. Learned scholars from from far-away lands journeyed for months to bring gifts to the King whom the very stars in the heavens had proclaimed to them was now living on our little planet. All of Creation...the Universe itself...was watching with excitement to see the revealing of its Creator's final masterpiece. Even the stars were literally standing still. Am I the only one with the goosebumps?

It would make a great science-fiction story - but the cool thing is that it's not fiction. The real Creator of our real Universe literally came to our planet as a baby to live and die for us. The actual stars in our very real skies turned their attention to a little planet in between the spiral arms of a galaxy that would one day be known as the Milky Way, pausing in their courses to announce His coming to anyone who would look. The laws of physics were stretched beyond our understanding as magnificent, powerful, other-worldly beings from another realm of existence poured into our skies, heralding the coming of the Creator of all things. With all of its tricks and technology, Hollywood could never come close to portraying the immensity of what was happening on a galactic scale.

For me, the heaviest part about all of this is that, although He was about to do something that would change the entire Universe, the one thing that was on Jesus' mind that night was you. And me. The Bible is clear about the fact that we can't even begin to imagine what awaits us in Eternity. We're talking about Life on a Universal scale - when it comes to both time and space. What Jesus did while He was here on earth literally impacted all of Creation. I truly believe that if we die on this planet with Him in our life, then we will get to experience all of what we know is out there and more...forever. Jesus knew the impact that His sacrifice on this little planet would have on Eternity and the Universe. But my brain almost wants to shut down as the realization sinks in that what He did, he did for me. Personally. He knew my name - before He even came here. Two thousand years before I was even conceived. As big as He is, as much as He loves all of His Creation...He loves me so much that he came to a little backward planet, took off His kingly robes and crown and jewelry, humbled himself and took my punishment for my sins. No wonder the Universe was holding its breath.

If thinking about this doesn't move you to worship Him...well, maybe you should ask Him to give you a heart for Christmas. Seriously, friends, the Universe is a BIG place. The fact that God even remembers where our solar system is is a miracle unto itself. He literally holds the Universe in balance, and yet He put everything on 'pause' to do what He did for you...thinking of you the entire brain can't even begin to grasp that. This Christmas, if you have never had a personal talk with Him and thanked Him for loving you, do it! He is always listening. All you have to do is talk to Him. He'll hear it. If you already have a personal relationship with Him, thank Him again! All of Eternity won't be enough time to properly thank Him for what He has done for us.

Merry Christmas to all! May God bless each one of you as we head into a new year.

P.S. - I've said it before, but if this stuff is new or confusing to you and you'd like to talk some more about it, I'm always on facebook or you can email me at

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Love's Fanfare

Ahh, Christmas Eve. That wonderful day of the year when TBS starts it's 24-hour straight running of 'A Christmas Story' (now in High-Def), when you can find 'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' on at least 37 different channels and when the local fire department is on high alert as they try to keep churches from burning down due to open flames at the candle-light services. I love this day. It's usually a haze of food coma, pine scent and wrapping paper. Here at the beach, we often get some surf as well. It's wintertime, so you have a pretty good chance of scoring some waves if you can brave the freezing rain and gale force winds. Today was more freezing rain and less good waves...but hey, it's Christmas Eve! Nothing instills optimism more than good ole' Christmas Spirit!

So when my friends Curt and Hailey called and said that it didn't look great, but we HAD to surf on Christmas Eve, I pulled on my wetsuit, jumped in my car and headed to the beach. They were didn't look good! Camille has to work tonight (bummer), but she probably wouldn't have wanted to paddle out in freezing rain anyway. Curt and Hailey were the only ones in the water when I pulled up to the beach, and since I was already in my wetsuit I decided that I couldn't let them suffer alone on Christmas Eve. I don't know if it was the Spirit of Christmas just giving me a good attitude or if it really was better than it looked, but I actually had a good session. I caught a bunch of waves and got home in time to cuddle with my beautiful wife on the couch for a bit before she had to go to work. Like I said, I love this day.

Tonight, I went to Christmas Eve service with Camille's family. You know - the one where they try to burn the church down by giving open flames and hot, liquid wax to five-year-olds. Fortunately, the services of the fire department were never needed. I'm pretty sure that Jesus appreciated the unusually loud, off-key, mis-timed caroles being sung by the nice gentleman behind me more than I did, but like I said, it's Christmas Eve and he was in the spirit so it's all good.

Part of the service included a very nice two person tag-team reading of the Christmas story out of Matthew, Luke and John. I'm not being facetious here, it really was cool. And they did a nice job. The problem with me is that my overactive, somewhat twisted and bizarre brain never stops. As they were reading about the shepherds out in the field being serenaded by angels telling of Christ's birth, I got this mental image of these poor dudes just minding their own business and trying to keep warm suddenly having the living crap scared out of them by some glowing aliens with bullhorns and trumpets. Sometimes I wonder if they really ran into town to find Jesus in the manger, or if they were just trying to escape a Bible version of War of the Worlds. Seriously, what would you do if you were driving along on a dark night and an angel suddenly hovered over your car, all glowing and stuff, and started talking to you in a booming voice? Like my dad says, first you'd say it, then you'd do it! You'd probably also drive right off the side of the road!

OK, before you brand me a heretic, let me remind you how hard it is to turn down the 'dork' setting in my brain. The Christmas story is my second favorite story of all time, and while I could probably do an entire 'Saturday Night Live' version of it, I truly am moved to reverent worship each time I read or hear it. (In case you are wondering, my favorite story is the one where the baby in that Christmas manger is all grown-up and willingly allows himself to be brutalized and hung on a Roman cross to die for my sins. Thank you so much, words will never be enough...)

After I forced myself to quit visualizing screaming shepherds running in a frenzy toward town while shooting rocks into the air behind them with their slings, a thought struck me. Angels...from the presence of God Himself...appeared 'en masse' on our little planet to announce the arrival of His Son. The Bible calls them 'Heavenly Hosts'. We're talking about beings of unimaginable power who probably have the entire Universe as their stomping grounds. That awesome night, the laws of physics as we know them were stretched to the breaking point as the armies of Heaven poured into our dimension to pay homage to their great General. Terrifying? Yes. But their purpose was not to scare some lonely shepherds.

You see, they knew that their Lord was about to strike the final blow in a battle with the enemy that had raged from time immemorial. That helpless baby lying in an animal feed trough because there wasn't enough room for his pregnant mother in any of the motels in town was the Creator of the Universe. He was their Captain. And He was here to take back His Creation from the clutches of His enemy. The 'Heavenly Host' was fired up! They were announcing the commencement of the battle that would defeat sin and bring about the end of Death once and for all.

I'm sure that God had His reasons for allowing those shepherds to witness the frightening power of His army. But I kinda think that the host of angels would have appeared in force even if no one was around to see. Their enemy saw it. And you can bet that he was shaking in his boots. The great Army of Heaven was now in his territory, but even worse for him - so was their Lord. This isn't science-fiction, people. The Bible talks a lot about warfare in the spiritual realm, and you can bet that this night kicked-off a battle that would shake the foundations of time and space. I envy those shepherds for catching just a glimpse of that epic display of God's power.

The incredible thing about the battle that ensued is this...God simply used love to accomplish what no amount of force or power could have.

John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Jesus lived a life of humility, self-sacrifice, kindness and love. Love drove His compassion for others. Love is what compelled Him to heal the sick and mend broken hearts even when He was tired or not feeling too well. Love is what drove Him to the Cross. Love brought Him here, and ultimately love killed Him. Medical experts say that the Biblical description of Jesus' death proves that He died not of the many wounds He suffered, but that He died of a broken heart. He literally loved us to death. Yeah. Stop and think about that for a second. He was so in love with you that His heart broke for you and He died.

The greatest part of it all is that love didn't leave him dead. He had to die so that he could meet death face-to-face and defeat it. But his Father loved Him too much to allow death to keep Him. The Bible says that God raised Him up from the dead and that He sits today on the right hand of the Father, having triumphed over death. Through Love, He defeated death and paid the penalty for your sin and mine. Because of His great love, we now have free access to God. With love, He won the ultimate battle - the battle for our hearts, our souls...our Eternity.

It all started on a quiet night in the Israeli countryside two thousand years ago. Love invaded our planet and the armies of the Almighty God threw down a challenge to the enemy of our souls. Love was announced with fanfare that night, but its true power was shown in the humble life of a Jewish carpenter. He loved you to death and paid your entry fee into Eternity with His Father. Surely this Christmas we can all find a small way to love Him back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ben Stein is Smarter Than Me

I just had to post this. I posted this as a note to my facebook wall, so if you are one of my facebook friends, you've probably already read it. It was just too good to not pass on. This Christmas season, let's remember the Source of our life, sustenance, happiness and peace. Let's keep Him in our lives!

Every once in a while, someone just nails it. They put your exact thoughts into words better than you ever could. This is a statement that actor and producer Ben Stein made last Christmas. It definitely bears repeating this Christmas. I'm a fairly good conversationalist, but Ben Stein proves here that he's a LOT smarter than me. My heart breaks for my country, and this is part of the reason. I am not trying to 'push my agenda' on anyone. I am just a very happy person and I know quite well from where my happiness comes. If you are not as happy as you think you should be and this letter gives you pause to think, let me know. I would love to introduce you to the Source of my happiness.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.

I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it.. no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Thanks Ben! I couldn't have said it better myself!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Making the Tough Call

I am officially the bad guy. But before I get into that, I must say that the snow 'shore is purdee'! I know that I have been talking a lot about the snow, but we just don't get this much of it on the Oregon Coast...ever. The talking heads on the news are saying that we're in for a bunch more tomorrow. It may actually be a white Christmas in Seaside!

I almost went surfing in the snow today. Camille was having none of it, but I went and checked the surf anyway. I'm jonesin' for some surf, man! It didn't look that great when I looked at it, so I ran some errands and we went to the gym. On the way to the gym, our friend Hailey called and said that it was looking better and she wanted us to come out with her. I have to work tonight and by that time, it was too late for a surf session. Wild 'My Little Ponies' with fairies on their backs carrying ice cream cones and back-stage passes to the No Doubt reunion tour couldn't have convinced Camille to paddle out for a third year in a row in a snowstorm. But I'm not quite as smart as she is. So I was spared a mild case of hypothermia only because I have to work tonight.

So here I am at work and I am officially the 'Bad Guy'. A total jerk. At least that's what my customers think tonight. I had to make a hard decision and it made a lot of people mad. And probably saved a couple of lives. Or serious damage to the helicopter. It always amazes me just how much people hate to be told "No". No one cares about safety until it is too late, it seems. Oh sure, we love to give safety some awesome lip service, but in reality, we'll take the convenience of 'gettin' lucky' or 'getting away with that one' any day over being inconvenienced by making the safe call.

Did I mention that the snow is beautiful? It's also deadly. Or it can be in a helicopter with no anti-ice capability. The layer of soft Christmas-y whiteness that carpets the area is truly breathtaking. But it can also be life-taking when trying to land a multi-engine helicopter. All of that fluffy loveliness gets whipped into a cloud of white as the helicopter nears the ground and can cause the pilot to lose all visual cues in a whirlwind of colorlessness and...well, and crash. Flying in falling snow presents a whole new dilemma. Windshields and rotor blades can ice up, causing the helicopter to lose lift (and...well, and crash). Worse yet, the engine inlets can freeze up, causing the engines to fail and the helicopter to fall out of the sky (and...well, and crash).

For us though, the snow causes problems before we even get into the air. As I am sure is the case in your town, the tax money we pay here doesn't always make it to where it is really needed. The Port of Astoria, in it's infinite wisdom (Can you feel the sarcasm seeping from your computer screen?), has decided that the only airport on the north Oregon Coast with instrument landings and commercial-capable runways and services has no need of snow removal. This means that the flightline outside of our hangar is under a solid sheet of ice covered with several inches of snow as we speak. For a lot of reasons, you can't leave a multi-million dollar helicopter out in the snow. That would make about as much sense as letting your sixteen-year-old drag race with your brand new Ferarri the mud...while lighting sticks of dynamite...I'll stop there. So, we have to keep the aircraft in the hangar when we aren't flying. Which means (stick with me here, I know I'm moving kinda fast) that we have to pull the aircraft out of the hangar before we go fly.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Huh? What's the big deal? Pull the helicopter out, go fly. Pretty simple." It would be if it weren't for the wonderful Christmas present that the Port of Astoria left us by not plowing the snow off of the flightline. The towing setup for the Agusta 109 helicopter was designed by the 3 Stooges to begin with. Add ice and snow to the equation and you may as well just take a sledgehammer to the helicopter while it is still inside the hangar - something is gonna get broken and you'll save yourself from having to go out in the cold.

Now, considering how much our little 'toy' is worth, my boss has made it very clear to me that he will always support my decisions but that priority number one is to not damage the helicopter. OK, in case he's reading this, I'll add that he does agree that not getting anyone hurt or killed trumps not damaging the helicopter. But, that helicopter is our paycheck. If we break it, the company loses money, which can eventually lead to all of us losing money, or our jobs. If we break it because we were doing something stupid, we can skip straight to the part about us losing our jobs. Trying to tow that big, multi-million dollar piece of machinery out of the hangar onto a sheet of ice where the tow-bar can jack-knife, break and take out the nose or landing gear of the helicopter would be in the 'stupid' category. Oh, and did I mention the fact that there are a bunch of other planes outside our hangar that the helicopter could slide into and break as well? Basically, if my crew and I bust up the aircraft in the simple act of towing it out of the hangar, we had better just get in our cars and start driving...until we get to Peru.

Whew! That's a mighty long way to say that I have decided that we won't be flying in the snow or the icy conditions tonight. It all makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, not flying means that my customers will have to board ships tonight using their Pilot Boat. Several of them are extremely fond of flying to work rather than taking the boat. We only have two ships to work tonight, but unfortunately for us, the two marine pilots who will be bringing them in are of the flyin' kind. And they're not real happy to hear me tell them 'no'. I've already had one ear-full and I'm expecting another in about an hour.

My job is mostly about customer service. Over the years, I've developed a good rapport with my customers by being a safe, capable pilot and having a can-do attitude. That still doesn't change the fact that they are paying a lot of money for the use of a helicopter and they just don't like to be told what they can and can't do. I can't say that I blame them. But my number one job is to keep everyone and everything safe. Which means that sometimes, like tonight, I have to make a hard decision that I know no one will like. Sometimes I have to choose safety over popularity. It isn't fun, but that why I am paid to be a Captain here. Ultimately, the decisions a the Captain of an aircraft must make are much harder than the actual flying.

You know, that kinda extends to the rest of my life. And yours too. Making the correct decision...standing up for what is often times the hard route. It is usually so much easier to compromise. Whether it be choosing to not risk lives and damage an aircraft or choosing to bite the bullet and be the first one to apologize to reconcile a broken friendship, doing what needs to be done is often a tough call. How much easier is it to get that extra few minutes of sleep in the morning than to force yourself out of bed and spend a few minutes with God? Ouch! That one hurt me! Chances are, right now you are thinking of a situation in your own life where you need to make that tough decision. Sometimes, doing the right thing can even threaten relationships or careers. But in the long run, the benefits of making those tough decisions will outweigh the momentary discomfort they may cause. I didn't kill anyone tonight. The helicopter is still in one piece and will be ready for service when the ice melts. Eventually, my customers will be grateful for that. Lord, please help me to swallow hard and choose do 'do the right thing' in every area of my life!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Lumberjack

My neighbor is a lumberjack. Or at least he thinks he is. Actually, he's a schoolteacher. However, his one, all-consuming pastime away from the classroom seems to be cutting firewood on his property in the woods behind my house. Granted, there's enough fallen timber back there from the big storm last year to build the Great Wall of Seaside. But really, who wakes up, sees that it is dumping snow and immediately thinks, "Hey, it's snowing! I better get out there in the sub-freezing weather and cut me up some firewood!"? It's not as if he hasn't been spending 40 hours a week cutting wood since last spring! He must have an underground lair somewhere with acres of wood stacked and ready to provide heat for his family after the nuclear apocalypse. He's really a nice guy, but I'm afraid that he may need an intervention.

It gets a little uncomfortable at times because the windows in our living room look out towards his little logging operation. Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt as I switch on our gas fireplace, put in a DVD and curl up with Camille to lounge on the couch as he is hitching logs to the come-along behind his truck or splitting wood like he is in one of those lumberjack contests. Or maybe it's just annoyance at the fact that I have to turn the volume on the surround-sound up loud enough to hear the movie over the chainsaw. I tell myself that he probably has a gas fireplace in his house too. This is just how he unwinds. I surf, he wrestles logs in the freezing mud. To each his own, man.

When he's not actually engaged in dissecting trees, he is usually walking around the perimeters of his property with his dog, surveying his little kingdom like Caesar inspecting his troops. Sometimes I try to picture what is going on in his head. He seems to be quite satisfied with himself. But I can't help but wonder if his Napoleon-esque gait isn't hiding the fact that he is secretly terrified of the day when there will be no more fallen trees to cut and stack. I must admit that I admire his industrious-ness. Maybe next Christmas I will have a truck full of timber secretly unload more logs by the dead of night onto his property just to give him a reason to go on for another year. Like I said, I really do like the guy. God bless him.

As I awoke to the sound of the chainsaw this morning, I thought of the Proverb about the industrious ant. Proverbs 6:6-11 says - "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, [And] gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep--so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man."

Maybe it was the snow, maybe it was the fact that I was still in bed and he was laboring away...I just couldn't help but think that as funny as his incessant wood-cutting is, he has been paying attention to that ant. His family will definitely not go cold this winter! Whether he knows it or not, he is heeding Biblical advice and will be reaping the fruits of his obedience to God's principles. Having talked to him quite a bit (usually while he's re-filling his chain-saw with gas), I'm pretty sure he gets it.

It's funny that I've never really been too annoyed about being awakened to the sound of that saw. Camille and I both work nights, so naturally we sleep in a little later that our neighbors. But deep down inside, I have always respected his work ethic. I know that his job of teaching Jr. High kids is enough to wear anyone out. But he never fails to put in hours of hard labor before or after school. Seriously - I think the Energizer Bunny may have met his match! We joke about him a lot, but for me, it's never without a little respect. There have been days when I really don't want to mow the lawn or scrub the kitchen floor. But then I hear that chainsaw and it motivates me out of my laziness.

I've mentioned before that I'm a pretty decent procrastinator. Actually, I'm probably closer to the Semi-Pro level. Having 'The Lumberjack' next-door to us has actually helped me become more of a novice procrastinator. I like that. It's funny how God always seems to place us right where we need to be. I'm not saying that my life was a downward spiral of chronic slothfulness before we lived next to 'The Lumberjack'. I am just giving God the head-nod for giving me a tangible reminder to act more like the ant.

I'm not sure how all of this speaks to you personally. Maybe it is a call to get motivated. Maybe it will remind you that God has you right where He wants you to be right now. Maybe this will cause you to stop and listen to what He may be trying to teach you through 'The Lumberjack' in your life. Maybe it's just a reminder to love your neighbor, no matter how loud his chainsaw is. All I know is that in a funny way, I am grateful to have 'The Lumberjack' for a neighbor.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Sacred Uniform

Well, it looks like there is more snow on the way for the north Oregon Coast. If you read yesterday's post, you know that I now have new all-weather tires on my SUV, so I say, "Bring it on, baby!" I really do love the snow.

Today I spread wild birdseed all over the snow-covered back porch at my house. I'm pretty sure the snow caught all of those little guys off guard. In places more accustomed to snow, it's not as common to see finches, blue jays and robins in the middle of December. I think these birds were banking on the Seaside area being a good place to chill for the winter (no pun intended). I can just see them debating whether to keep flying south to California or to rest their wings and take their chances in Oregon. Evidently the lazy ones won the argument. There's a lot of birds hanging around my house. So, I figure the least I can do is to help keep them from starving while there is snow on the ground. Maybe I'm enabling their laziness, maybe I've made the responsible ones who wanted to continue south look like party-poopers...whatever. They're really cute and I like having them around. So, I'll probably have to buy more birdseed.

If I were to be totally honest, I would have to admit that having my own little flock of feathered beggars serenade me every morning is not exactly the only reason that I am feeding them. There's another reason, and deep down inside I know that this reason is probably even more compelling than my soft spot for birdie charity. You see, having a couple of dozen birds right in front of our kitchen sliding-glass window absolutely drives my cat insane. There it is. I get a sick pleasure from torturing my cat in this manner. Believe me, the feeling's mutual. I have scars to prove it. It really is funny, though. I think he almost knocked himself out slamming into the window about a half dozen times today. Then there's the part where he runs into the living room and up onto one of those window-ledges, as if by approaching from a different angle he will somehow magically transport himself through the glass out onto the patio. Inevitably, he ends up back at the sliding-glass door, realizing a split second too late that it is still solid glass.

The funniest part is that the birds totally have him figured-out. At first, they would all scatter when he would spring at the glass door. After a while, a couple of the bigger blue jays would just take a cautious step back, but keep eating. Now even the little finches will take a seed, walk right up the the glass and taunt him as they munch on their meal. The cat is the only one who hasn't figured out that he's not getting through the glass door. I think I may have to get him a therapist.

None of this has anything to do with the point of my blog today. I just thought I'd give you a glimpse into my somewhat bizarre world. Actually, the part about having new tires is relevant. Let's go back to the Les Schwab tire center from yesterday. I think I eluded to to fact that Les Schwab employees are basically the nicest people on the planet. I know...they get profit-sharing incentives and it is in their best interests to treat people like royalty. Whatever the case, their congeniality always seems genuine and they always put me in a good mood. Heck, every time I even drive past a Les Schwab I'm tempted to stop and go inside even if I don't need any automotive services whatsoever. They are just so...nice. I think they may actually be elves on loan from Santa, but that's a topic for another blog.

So anyway, I'm sitting in the waiting room at Les Schwab while they are finishing up balancing my new tires. I think I mentioned yesterday how busy they were. Still, not a person in the store was upset about the wait. Those Les Schwab elves had put everyone in a good mood! In walks this guy in a full U.S. Army BDU uniform. He must have just gotten off duty at Camp Rilea. I was reading a book and not paying much attention as he started talking to the head elf behind the counter (actually, it was the store manager and his name is Sam - super guy). After a while, I noticed that the soldier's voice was getting a bit louder and that Sam, still giving him an award-winning smile, was trying to explain something technical to him. I looked up from my book just long enough to deduce that the soldier had an all-wheel-drive Suzuki and wanted to have Sam install just two studded snow tires. Evidently he couldn't afford all four. Sam was trying to explain that not only is that not allowed by Les Schwab company policy (not to mention legal liability), but that installing only two traction tires on an all-wheel-drive vehicle would wreck the transmission and just be plain dangerous. It for the customer's protection. Maybe they could find four tires the soldier could afford.

At this point it looked as if the soldier was beginning to grasp the concept, and I went back to my book. Suddenly, about a minute later, a mini-explosion took place. OK, not one with a fireball and shrapnel and stuff (although that would have been cool). In a booming voice that would have impressed a full-grown African elephant, the soldier screamed some expletives that I won't repeat here at...well, at everyone...stomped to the front door, tried his darnedest to break the door by slamming it open against the wall, and stormed away. Everyone in the place looked up at poor Sam, who to his credit, was still smiling like a game-show host. "I guess he didn't like my answer!" was all Sam had to say. The rest of us were shocked that anyone could show that kind of contempt to one of Santa's elves. And right before Christmas! Lump of coal, dude...

As I sat there and listened to people try to break the tension with jokes and support for Sam, a very sobering thought occured to me. So sobering, in fact, that I almost got up and followed that soldier outside to talk to him. I was also a soldier. For almost a decade of my life. I don't know what they are teaching soldiers in basic training today, but in my time, a uniform was a sacred thing. When you were in uniform, you were representing your country. You were a walking reminder to civilians that there is someone out there watching their backs. You were an ambassador of something much bigger than yourself. Thousands have died wearing that uniform, sacrificed so that their countrymen and women could be free. You did not ever disgrace that uniform...not ever. That soldier's actions had just disgraced his uniform as well as himself. And it made me hurt inside.

As I pondered the utter sadness of that little outburst, another thought, just as sobering, began to form. I am a Christian. A soldier, if you will, of Christ. I wear a uniform that I can never take off. Once people know that I am a Christian, I am forever in uniform in their eyes. And they are watching me. And they watch you too, if you are in Christ's army. Some watch because they see how happy this uniform makes me and they are curious to know how to get their own. Some watch for different reasons, possibly waiting to catch a glimpse of me disgracing my uniform. Some would love to see this soldier of Christ embarrass my commander-in-chief. Whatever the case, the fact remains that this uniform of mine represents the Answer that everyone is searching for. If it is sobering knowing that my military uniform represented my fellow Americans, then it is downright crippling to realize that my Christian uniform represents my Creator and the Key to His Kingdom. When I go out into the world, how do I 'represent'? Am I pointing the way to Christ and acting like I fit this uniform, or am I disgracing it? Hopefully more of the former and less of the latter. How about you? People are watching. Let's make our uniforms bring glory to Him.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tire Tread Truth

Well, winter has officially arrived. It's not often that we get snow here at the beach, but there's a couple of inches on the ground now and it looks like there's a lot more on the way. Personally, I love the snow. It makes everything so clean looking. It's as if nature decided to give the world a fresh coat of paint. Apparently, nature is broke and could only afford one shade of white paint...but whatever, it certainly spices things up!

Especially the driving part. People out here really ought to be a lot better at driving in the snow than they are. True, we don't get a lot of snow right on the beach. But we do get it a couple of times a year. And the only road to Portland (which is civilization for people on the North Coast) goes straight over the Coast Mountain Range were there is always snow in the winter. You'd think everyone would be prepared. As it is, I think I was actually able to hear the circus music start playing as the snowfall began. Now, it's not as bad as the videos you see from places like Texas during an ice storm or anything, but come on, people! If you have to drive slower than my 2-year-old niece pushes her dolly's stroller, then maybe you should just call a cab. Trust me, the cabbie knows the way to the dollar store. And if you have just watched three cars in a row slide sideways through the intersection up ahead, that might be your clue take another route instead of adding to the avante-guarde automobile sculpture on the other side of the stoplight.

It is pretty, though. Pretty and cold. I drove to one of our favorite surf spots today and there were a few of my die-hard surf buddies out in the water. The waves were really small, but clean and longboardable. I think people were just out in the water for the sheer novelty of surfing in the snow. Camille and I have experienced that novelty twice now and promised each other that we would pass on a third opportunity this year! It's not so bad in the water - but the air temperature just about kills you. Especially when you're wet. The Rip Curl company just came out with a wetsuit that has a little battery pack and heat coils running throughout the suit that heat up like an electric blanket. It works great, but I'm of the mind that if I have to pay almost a thousand dollars for a wetsuit and risk electric shock just to go in the water...well, at that point it's time to pony up the bucks for a lift ticket and go snowboarding!

I was watching the weather reports last week saying that the snow was coming and I was thinking that it is time to get in and get new tires for my SUV. Well, as I often do, I procrastinated. I have 4-wheel-drive, right? The tires will be OK for a few more thousand miles. Well, as we were driving (on the icy highway) back from having breakfast at Camille's parents' house this morning, the little light came on on my dash telling me that one of my tires was under-inflated. We turned into our driveway and I got out and looked at my tires. Sure enough, the right front one was starting to deflate. Fortunately, we have a Les Schwab tire store right here in town. I jumped back in the car and had Camille follow me in her car over to Les Schwab. Guess I was gonna get those new tires after all!

Have I mentioned that there is lots of snow on the ground? And that the roads are icy? Wanna take a guess as to what is the worst possible time to patronize your local tire store? Yeah, when it's snowing. I think the whole town of Seaside was inside of Les Schwab. From the number of cars in the parking lot, I wondered if Hannah Montana was inside signing autographs. Wait, this is Seaside Oregon...make that: I wondered if they were giving out free cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Whatever the case, I knew I was in for wait. Procrastination...

I gotta hand it to the employees of Les Schwab. I was helped in a very timely manner. The guy behind the counter didn't even reach for his tire iron to beat the guy in front of me who asked if someone could install the windshield wipers he just purchased! Six thousand people in line needing new tires and one dude wants them to install wiper blades...God bless Les Schwab employees. To make a long story short, they were sold out of the tires I want but had them at their store about twenty minutes north of here. Since my tire is now flat, I am currently waiting for my father-in-law to come in his truck and help me pick up the tires and bring them back to Seaside to get them installed. Once again, I am failing to see how my procrastination helped me in any way.

What's the point of all of this? Well, we often like to complain about how 'when it rains it pours' or 'bad things come in bunches'...that sort of thing. As Christians, we often somehow lay the responsibility on God for making us 'go through the fire' or for 'strengthening our faith'. But here's something to think about. Maybe God just sometimes lets us live with the results of our own irresponsibility. Take the extremely trivial example of new tires for my SUV. I've known for a while that my tires were going to need replacement soon. I probably shouldn't have waited until it snowed to deal with the problem. I have no one to blame but myself for the fact that I am without a vehicle today. It's not Les Schwab's fault that their wait time is six hours right now. I know this is just a silly anecdote, but I can't blame God for not bailing me out or for trying to 'teach me something' through my flat tire. I was just irresponsible. And it made a really easy, fixable situation a lot worse than it had to be.

How many truly important things in our lives are at risk of becoming a lot more complicated than they need to be? Is there something that you know that God is asking you to deal with that you have been putting on the back-burner? If my little experience with truck tires is any indication, it might be a good idea to deal with it now rather than try to survive the aftermath of irresponsibility or procrastination. It won't be God's fault when everything comes crashing down around you. In fact, He will probably be as bummed as you will be. Yeah, He's a good God and He'll be there to help you in spite of yourself. But wouldn't it be a lot less painful if you just let Him help you deal with it now? After all, He's probably the one who prompted you in the first place and obeying His voice is never a bad idea! Just a thought from someone stuck at home waiting for new tires!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stormy Weather

It's stormy tonight. Really stormy. We get some crazy severe weather here on the north Oregon Coast in the wintertime. We often laugh when we see the national news and they are making a big fuss about 'high winds' in New York or the Southeast or 'heavy rain' Texas or the Midwest. We have gale force winds, hurricane weather and marine storms almost weekly here that dwarfs the 'severe weather' that makes headlines elsewhere. I guess the talking heads don't care about the little ole' Oregon Coast!

A couple of years ago, I bought a portable generator because power outages are a way of life here in the winter. It's saved our bacon a couple of times. We keep a fresh supply of candles, flashlights and batteries handy at all times. I even have battery backups on our TV, entertainment center and computer...heaven forbid we miss an episode of 'The Office' or (I cringe at the very thought of this one) go more than an hour without updating our facebook status! Now, we have iPhones, so as long as there is a cell network (which actually went down during the big storm last December), we will always have our umbilical cords firmly attached to cyberspace..."Honey, the power's out...come check out this YouTube video!"

The funny thing about storms is that, while they are truly frightening displays of nature's power that make you pretty nervous while they are flexing their muscles - no matter how bad they are they always blow themselves out and pass. Camille and I were actually fortunate enough to be gone at a friend's wedding in the Caribbean during the monster storm that hit here last December. I remember driving back home from the Portland airport and the closer we got to the coast, the more it looked like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of trees were uprooted everywhere. Homes were destroyed. Cars were trashed. They cleared the street to our house just a couple of days before we got back. Before that, you couldn't drive within blocks of our house. Our neighbor's house had been flattened by a huge evergreen. Her truck had been smashed by another. One of the three gigantic evergreens in our back yard had fallen and missed another neighbor's house by inches. We had to cut the other two down before the next storm pushed them over onto our house. But even with all the devastation wrought by the storm, as we drove home the sky was blue, the winds calm and the seas serene. The storm was over, and except for the destruction in it's wake, it was hard to believe that there had ever been a storm.

Another funny (or not so funny) thing about storms is that while they never last forever, and good weather wins out eventually - there's always another one just around the corner. I've spent countless hours trying to find my garbage can or get the neighbor's birdbath off of the roof after a storm...the sun is out and the wind is calm and it seems as if nature will never be angry with the Oregon Coast again. The whole time I am almost in a state of disbelief that the weather will ever do this do us again. "That was a freak of nature," you think, "I'm glad that's not gonna happen again!" But it always does.

Some of my favorite people are currently experiencing the hardest times of their lives. They are in the middle of gale force storms. Not the kind of storms that knock over trees or sink ships. Their storms are things like cancer, unemployment, economic hardship, relationship woes...problems that you would gladly trade for a good old-fashioned hurricane. These are responsible, hard-working, God-fearing people I'm talking about. What did they ever do to deserve the twisters that are uprooting their lives? Well, one of the cold, hard facts of this life is that storms, both the Weather Channel kind and the 'I don't want to get out of bed today because life sucks' kind, are an inevitable, unavoidable part of living in this imperfect world. My neighbor didn't do anything to deserve that tree through her living room, and my uncle didn't do anything to deserve cancer.

I don't want to go into the whys and reasons that good people have to experience bad things. That's for a whole different conversation. I just want to point out something that I know a little about from personal experience. The storms of life can seem, at times, insurmountable. I've been there, where you want to stand up and yell for the wind and the waves just to take're finished - there's no way out of this one. And you know what? You're right. There is no way out...for you. I know someone, however, who can literally command the storm to be still. Check out Mark 4:36-41 in the Bible. I talk a lot about the Creator and his awesome power. Well, that passage is a small example of just that. The cool thing, though (and I am speaking from very personal experience here), is that He has the same power to calm the storms in our lives. Like I said, why we have to walk through them in the first place is a topic for another discussion. The important point here is that we will go through them, and our Creator wants to hold our hand all the way through and help clean up the mess afterward. And His power over the storms of our lives is awesome.

And just like natural storms, there will always be another personal storm. A famous preacher once said that you are either going through a storm, coming out of one, or getting ready for the next one. That's life in an imperfect world, folks! Sounds hopeless, huh? Well, without the One who can guide us safely through the storms, it is. Personally, I'm not sweating the next storm. I've been through so many and seen His mighty power at work in my life while the winds and rain tried to blow me away...and guess what? I'm still standing. Not because I'm 'tough' or 'a fighter'. Because He took the brunt of the storm for me. He's done it for my friends and loved ones too. Are you going through a 'storm' right now? Is one on the horizon? Now would be a good time to hand the wheel of your ship over to the only Mariner who can see you safely through the gales. Me? By myself, I run the stupid ship up onto the rocks every time. Trust me, He's a way better sailor than you are. He wants to get you safely to calm waters. He knows the way. Just let Him steer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God's Fireworks

On Saturday night there's gonna be fireworks. On a cosmic scale. God's putting on the display, so you pretty much know it's gonna rock. No, I'm not trying to say that a little voice told me that the End is coming. The heavens are not going to implode. You don't have to run to Costco and stock up on supplies for the apocalypse. Well, that is unless you live on the Oregon Coast where we live and you are preparing for the gale force storm that's supposed to hit us this weekend. But that's another story. This fireworks show has been happening for over a hundred years and, to scientists' complete befuddlement, seems to be getting better every year. I'm talking about the Geminid Meteor Shower, an annual cosmological event that has astronomers completely stumped.

From about 2 AM on Sunday the 14th until dawn, provided the sky is clear where you live, you will be able to look up and see about one 'shooting star' every 30 seconds, courtesy of a celestial object that has scientists scrambling for explanations. Now, I've seen a lot of shooting stars in my time. When I was in the Army serving as a helicopter pilot, one of my jobs was to train other pilots in the use of Night Vision Goggles. With the goggles, we could see stars that scientists didn't even know existed until the invention of the radio telescope. I was fortunate enough to witness dozens of shooting stars that I probably never would have even seen with my naked eye. And every single time, they made my heart jump. Just like the beautiful plume of an expensive firework that makes everyone go "OOOOhhhh, AAAhhhhh!", or like the drop at the very top of the roller-coaster hill that takes your breath away, seeing a meteoroid (or 'shooting star') streak across the sky at blinding speed always leaves you with a sense of awe.

The cool thing about the Geminid meteor shower is that scientists are seriously confused about its source. You see, most meteor showers have been documented for hundreds of years. And they are almost always a product of cometary debris. But when astronomers began looking for the comet that gave birth to the Geminid shower, they didn't find one! In 1983, some NASA scientists found an object that matched the orbit of the Geminid meteor stream, but it wasn't a comet - it was an asteroid. Now, instead of boring you with a bunch of nerd talk to explain why this is so unique, I'll just tell you to trust me that there are a lot of good scientific reasons why scientists didn't think a meteor shower could be created by an asteroid. Heck, you probably don't even care what the difference is between a comet and an asteroid! To make a long story short, the more scientists study the phenomenon that is the Geminid meteor shower, the more questions they come up with and the more confused they are. The physics behind what makes a shooting star are really quite complex. Geminid doesn't fit into any model or blueprint that we understand. It is, and may always be, a mystery.

What we are left with is a breathtaking display of natural beauty in the night sky. Because of the wide path of the Geminid stream, people all over the world will get to enjoy the fireworks show. While this is cool on a lot of levels, the part that appeals to me the most is the mystery of it all. Just about the time we think that we have a certain chapter of physical science pretty well figured out, BAM! Along comes something that completely stumps us. We're not sure how the meteoroids were created. We're not certain about their source. They are more dense and just different than normal shooting stars. They don't seem to serve any special purpose except to light up the night sky and inspire a sense of wonder. And therein, my friends, lies an amazing truth.

The Universe is full of surprises. We like to be able to put things into a tidy compartment where we can examine them and learn all of their secrets. The Universe will always resist our efforts. It is not something that wrapped-up into a neat equation and explained. The more we learn about it, the more questions we raise. All of our discoveries, all of our study, all of our unanswered questions are pointing to one awesome Truth. The Universe was created. There is an underlying purpose to everything we can see, hear, feel and study. While we understand some of the reasons behind some of what we see around us, the entire purpose is known only to the Creator. Maybe someday He'll share these secrets with us (and I think He will), but until then, we have to trust that He knows what He is doing.

The Geminid meteor shower can't really be explained. But I love that! It's one of the things that makes me trust in my Creator even more. We always want to know the purpose for everything. Well, maybe there is no purpose to this phenomenon. Maybe our Creator simply put the Geminid meteor shower in the heavens so that we would look up and see it's beauty and think of Him. He probably loves the fact that we can't explain it. It is an annual reminder that He is God and we aren't. To me, it's like His signature written across the sky. It's as if he was saying, "Look what I made - just because I can!".

Friends, the great thing is that the God who is powerful enough to move heavenly objects and light up our entire sky is more than capable of meeting our personal needs. And He wants to! He formed the Universe, but he cares about each individual human. His strength can literally move the heavens, but he delights rather in touching our lives and filling us with His joy. He keeps all of creation in perfect balance, surely you and I can trust him with our hearts.

Thanks again to and Tammy Plotner for the informative article that inspired this blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Surfing Lessons - #5

Camille and I scored some really fun waves on our longboards today. We actually didn't intend to go longboarding...but things don't always go the way you plan. Let me back up a bit. There are a plethora of surfboard designs out there, but at the most basic level you can pretty much put just about any surfboard into one of two categories: shortboard or longboard. Many would argue that the 'fish' is a category all of it's own, but a fish is really just a shortboard that is wider and fatter and can catch waves that are usually only accessable to a longboarder. Within the two categories, there are literally thousands of shapes and designs that give each style of surfboard different characteristics for different wave types, style of surfing, body-build of the surfer, etc. But at the most basic level, you have the shortboard and the longboard.

Shortboards are the more 'high-performance'-oriented boards that allow the surfer to turn very fast and make lots of cutbacks. Usually, you need to either have a little power behind the wave or be in just the right takeoff spot to catch a wave on a shortboard. Longboards, on the other hand, are just that - long. And wide. They excel in catching waves. Even if the wave faces are not very steep or the swell is weak, a surfer can paddle a longboard so fast that just about any rideable wave is catchable on a longboard. They don't turn nearly as well as shortboards, but what they lack in agility, they more than make up for in speed and glide. The style in which a wave is ridden is distinctly different depending on which type of board you are riding.

As with most things, there are 'purists' on both sides of the 'surfboard aisle'. Some will only surf shortboards and sit farther inside on days with small swell and curse the longboarders who can sit far outside and catch all of the waves. Some surfers are 'old school' and only surf on longboards. They often times poke fun at the shortboarders doing all those turns and popping airs and can't understand how anyone can catch a wave on a board that short.

Then there are people like Camille and I. I firmly believe that you should always use the best tool for the job. Yeah, I prefer to be on a shortboard in bigger, more powerful waves. But sometimes when the surf is smaller or there isn't a lot of 'push' to the swell, you just need a longboard to get into the waves. And usually on those type of days, the speed and glide you get from a longboard is more fun than anything you would be able to do on a shortboard anyway. You don't get stoked from surfing if you can't catch waves in the first place! So, our 'quiver' includes a couple of longboards.

Whew! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah...things don't always go as planned. The waves today were sort of 'in between'. Super clean with nice shape, but not that big. It was hard to tell which boards we should ride. In the end, Camille decided to take one of my shortboards that is really great at catching waves, and I decided to ride her longboard. Since Camille weighs about as much as one of my thighs, my shortboard is an easy-paddling wave-catcher for her and her longboard is like a long, fun-shape shortboard for me. We decided that we could switch back and forth out in the water and just go with it and have fun. Well, as we were walking out on the rocks to jump into the water, Camille slipped on a wet, slimy boulder and smashed the tail of my board on the rocks.

When I heard her yell and heard that stomach-churning sound of fiberglass cracking on the rocks, honestly my first thought was that I hope she's OK. My next thought was, "Ugh! That's my favorite surfboard!" I looked up to where she was now sitting on her butt and asked if she was alright. She said yes, but as she looked at the tail of my board, her look told me that we had at least one casualty. Now, being that I put my elbow through the rail of my other favorite surfboard the other day on an epic wipout, the reality started to set in that it is full-on winter surf and I am now down to my big-wave shortboard and my longboard as my only boards that aren't on injured-reserve.

As that thought sunk in, so did frustration. I was glad that Camille didn't hurt herself, but bummed that my board 'took one for the team'. Except for a couple of words that I won't repeat here, I didn't say much. I just walked up to Camille, handed her her longboard and told her that I would have to run the injured soldier back to the car and get my longboard. Now, no marriage is perfect, but truthfully, Camille and I almost never argue. When one of us walks away without saying anything, that's pretty much an argument. If you know Camille, you will agree that, simply put, she is just the most easy-to-get-along-with person in the world. We never argue because we never have anything to argue about! I'm not trying to get brownie points here - she's really that sweet!

Well, I ran to the car, grabbed my longboard and ran back down toward the rocks to get into the water. As I was heading back to the ocean, I noticed that Camille was just then getting into the water. In the time it took me to swap boards, she should have already been out in the lineup catching waves. I realized that much of the time I had been rushing to get my longboard, she had been sitting right where I had left her on the rocks. It donned on me that my shortness with her had made her think that I was mad at her. She was probably moving slowly due in part to the fact that her feelings were hurt.

As that thought sunk in, I began to get a mental picture of my sweet wife, fallen on her butt on the rocks, worrying that she had dinged my surfboard, feeling embarrassed and frustrated. Maybe I was feeling a little guilty for being short with her...whatever the case, that picture in mind of her fallen down really affected me. I wished I had been more gentle with her. I wanted to pick her up and tell her that I don't care about a stupid surfboard as long as she's OK. Once again, I was reminded of how much I love her and want to protect and care for her. I know it sounds trivial, just a slip on the rocks (although you probably haven't seen these rocks - your could break your neck on those things!), but I love her so much that seeing anything bad happen to her makes me hurt.

I jumped in the water and paddled out to where she was sitting in the lineup. I came up beside her and splashed her with some water. Instantly, my suspicions were confirmed. She gave me the stinkeye and growled, "It was an accident - I didn't do it on purpose!" I just smiled back and told her that I knew it and that I was sorry if I let her think that I was mad, because I never was. I told her that the worst part of the whole thing wasn't the dinged surfboard, it was the fact that I had inadvertently hurt her feelings.

What's the point of all of this? Well, it took a few good waves for me to stop being mad at myself for being an idiot, insensitive male. Once I got over myself, I started to think about how much God loves us. If just seeing my wife bite it on the rocks hurt me that much, just imagine how much God hurts for us as we do all of the stupid things that we do to hurt ourselves. As much as I love Camille, God's love is infinitely more than that for you, for me, for all of us. And we are always falling down. We fail, we make bad decisions, we sin, we have a knack for just 'mucking it up'. All of it ends up hurting us. And others. God has to watch us fall down over and over all of the time. And it hurts Him every time. I think He gave me a little glimpse of His love for us today. He let my heart feel just a small bit of what He feels for me or for you when our imperfect lives cause us to hurt.

Isn't it good to know that we have a God who is that in love with us? The Bible says that he knows exactly how many hairs are on our head! He loves us enough to know that! It is so comforting to realise that when I hurt, He hurts with me. He probably hurts more than I do. Who wouldn't want to serve a God like that? If you are hurting, tell Him about it. He already knows anyway because He already feels the pain. And He wants to pick you up, dust you off and heal your wounds. That's the kind of God He is. That's why He is my God.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Surfing Lessons - #4

Camille and I drove all over creation trying to find some decent waves today. It was just one of those days where the swell was junky and wind-chopped and not much was happening at any of the various spots in our area. We sorta knew that we were gonna strike out, but we both have the day off and we weren't in any hurry to do anything else. It may seem crazy to drive back and forth and look at the same ocean from different places all morning just on the off chance that there will be waves to surf somewhere. But for a surfer, that is all a part of the experience. You get a warm feeling inside just thinking about the possibility of waves. There's always that bit of optimism that just around the corner, the swell will be hitting the beach just right and the winds will be just so. Surfing makes the rest of your life so much better, that it's worth striking out once in a while in hopes of catching a few waves.

As I write this, I am preparing to go to the gym. That tells you how much surf we got! But part of me is satisfied deep down that at least I know that I am not missing any surf. I tried, and I'm glad that I did. That bit of optimism that tomorrow will be better is keeping me from being bummed about today's lack of waves. That's how it is for a surfer. We are at the mercy of nature to provide our stoke. Talk to any surfer, and they will tell you that that is one of the things that makes surfing so special to them. It's never a given...nothing is guaranteed. When you score an awesome session, it is that much better because you know that you were in the right place at the right time and that tomorrow you may not be as fortunate. It gives every session value. It makes every good session spectacular.

As we were driving back from getting skunked, we ended up behind a car with a bunch of very angry bumper stickers. There's liberal, and then there's "I hate everyone who's not a liberal". Whoever was driving this car was obviously the latter. Now, it's not the point of my blog to get political, so that is not where I'm going with this. Because I was checking the surf, I was already in a 'contemplative' mood. As I contemplated some of the bumper stickers on the car ahead of me, I began to feel a sadness for the obviously unhappy, angry person behind the wheel. It donned on me that my feelings about how much better surfing makes our lives are just a shadow, a mere glimpse of how much better knowing God makes our lives. I'm definitely not trying to pass any kind of judgement here, but I think you would agree with me if you read some of the stickers on that car that the person ahead of me probably doesn't know God. At least not in any personal way. I couldn't help but think that if they did, they surely wouldn't be so angry and their life would probably be a lot better.

It got me thinking about the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a Jewish sect of religious scholars and politicians and the rivals of the Pharisees (the Rabbinical Jews of today). They were founded in the second century B.C. and were one of the main political players in Palestine in Jesus' time. The interesting thing about the Sadducees was that they believed in Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament (and your God, if you are a Christian) and served Him just as fervently and in every way as any other Jew would, with one exception. The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife. No Heaven, no Hell. When you died, it was just lights out. Hope you had a good time. Weird, huh? Why follow God at all if you just blink out of existence when you die? There's no consequences for any of your actions! While that is weird, the Sadducees had a good reason to follow God despite not having hope of a resurrection. You see, they knew that knowing and following God makes your life here on earth so much better, that it is worth doing even if there isn't life after death. They reasoned that God wants to help us live life to the fullest and most fulfilling. For them, you only got one shot at this Life thing, so you would be stupid not to follow God and have the happiest life there is to have.

Now, as a Christian, I know that Jesus was very clear that the Sadducees were wrong about the no afterlife thing. Check out Matthew 22:23-32 to hear exactly what He had to say. If you don't have a Bible, let me know. I'll give you one.

Anyway - the Sadducees were mistaken about a very important truth, but they hit the bullzeye when it came to another. Without God, this life is tough. Period. Heck, life's tough enough if you know Him! But if you do, life sure is a lot better! Those who know me know that I've been through a tremendous amount of hardship in my life. Jesus never promised us that just because we believe in Him, everything would always be peaches and cream. But He did promise us this - that no matter how hard things get, He will always be there to help us through. He promised us that He never sleeps, never stops watching over us, will never leave or forsake us, will give us the strength to bear any burden life lays upon us. I've been there, where life is hard, and I can vouch for the fact that He wasn't lying. What I'm trying to say is this - life is so much better when you know God.

Surfing gives me just a taste of the joy that knowing God gives me. My heart breaks for people like the driver in the car ahead of me today who just don't realize that they don't have to be angry. Or sad. Or lonely. Or heartbroken. Or scared. Or anxious. The list goes on... I know that for some, I am 'preaching to the choir'. But some of you may not know Jesus the way I do. Some of you may not have had the chance to experience how much better life is when you know God. The Sadducees had a glimpse of what it was to know Him, and they followed Him even though their belief system should have made it pointless to do so. I know that there is an afterlife and that this life is only a warm-up for an Eternity to come. All the more reason to know God! I wish that I could have pulled the person in the car in front of me aside and shared with them how they could be truly happy. I couldn't. But I can share it with you. If you don't know Him, please consider the fact that this surf addict would gladly forfeit waves forever just to be with Him. That's how awesome it is to know Him.

If you have questions or just want to talk, my email is in my profile or you can reach me on facebook - Jeremy Youngquist, Seaside, OR.