Life Come to Life

It’s often said that in order for us to have empathy for our fellow human, we need to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  Well, I did this and more recently, and found someone else’s life come to life for me.


I took this picture recently as I traveled throughout Israel.  The place is called the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem.  It is understood that this is where King David used to feed his father’s flock when he was growing up.

There’s a fascinating limestone cave further back from where I took the picture where it is believed the shepherds that the angel visited in Luke 2 hung out as they kept “watch over their flock by night.”  The ceiling of the cave was black from fires they would build inside to keep warm.  I faintly had a thought of Bigfoot presence in Israel, since limestone caves litter the land.  Nevertheless, there’s not adequate tree cover or food sources to accommodate Skookum, and I’m getting sidetracked here.

Ok.  David.  King David.  King of Israel.  His shoes are whose I placed myself in and was amazed.  Although, I think he may have worn sandals…  You get the point.  As I stood there looking down at the valley lush with grass for sheep to feed on and gazed upward toward the hills, I was amazed by the overall scene and couldn’t help but to attempt to see the world as David may have seen it when he stood there too.

Then I got to thinking about his life.  From shepherd boy, to wandering warrior, to King of Israel perched upon Mt. Zion in the King’s City, Jerusalem, David saw the vast landscape of the country as I got to see as well.  I trounced through valleys, hills, cliffs, and mountains, viewing sites that held history of battles, encounters with the living God, and day-to-day actual life of peoples who lived thousands of years before little ole’ me.

Next, my mind journeyed back to a Psalm I read as I waited in the airport in Dallas, Texas to come to Israel.  Baylor University puts out publication every month or so that  I’m subscribed to called Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics.  I read their most recent one in the airport entitled “Traveling Well.”  In it, I learned that there are Psalms called Pilgrim Songs, of which Psalm 121 stood out to me then and again as I stood in David’s sandals on the Shepherd’s Field.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills-

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Although David may not have written this Psalm, and it is called a soldier’s psalm by some and a traveller’s psalm by others, I was transformed by the thought that this Psalm speaks of a reality, an experience, that may have consumed the consciousness of the Israelite people who lived in this land for centuries upon centuries.  Psalm 121:1 became a customary song to sing as pilgrims viewed the mountains of the holy city, Jerusalem, during the last night watch as they approached God’s temple to worship and make an offering.

But David.  David’s mind is where my mind was at that time and space I found myself in.  David must have looked to the hills as “a lion or a bear” (1 Samuel 17) came to devour a lamb from his flock when he was a boy, yet God saved him from their paws.  David saw hills upon hills as he spent his life fighting and driving out other peoples to possess the land that God was giving to Israel as an inheritance, yet God was his prized possession.  Lastly, David peered from Jerusalem the vast landscape of hills and mountains, which God allowed him to see and to serve as a burned image upon his heart, mind, and psyche that grew into an ever deepening trust in God’s work in and through David’s life, and not in David’s own accomplishments.

Being back in the “States,” I now wonder what can serve as a marker for God’s presence in my life.  Sadly, I thought perhaps “I lift my eyes up from my computer screen or electronic device…”  Notwithstanding, I have been transformed by allowing David’s life come to life for me.  I am encouraged to open my eyes to what God has done, is doing, and will do in my life as I live on the earth that God made as well as the heaven that is breaking into the earth as God’s reign is recognized and submitted to by me.

What about you?  What marker would you name as the thing that represents God’s presence and power to save or help you?  Are your eyes open to what God desires to show you of what He has created and is making new for your life and the life of others?  May our help come from the Lord as we acknowledge together we need help that is beyond our immediate local context and beyond ourselves.

Until next time, LIVE ON!

New Direction

I have been through much transition lately; this is why I have not posted as often as I’d like.  I’ve moved cities, changed “jobs,” and my daughters have started school.  Nevertheless, I am wanting to shift gears some with this blog to include other parts of my life.  I will continue to post about the American Civil War on here, but I’m wanting to also include more of what I’m chewing on in my life.  I hope you enjoy Hardtack Rat: Gnawing on Life One Bite at a Time.

Life Gnaw

I am a pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas.  I preach every week on different passages of Scripture, studying each passage thoroughly.  I struggle not to include all that I am learning about a passage, myself, or Jesus Christ revealed through Scripture and my life.  I’d like to share some extra thoughts I had from this Sunday’s sermon that didn’t make it into my sermon.  The passage of Scripture studied was Romans 8:1-6, 11-17.  This sermon was first in the series “Awkward Family Photos: Becoming God’s Children.”

I have always sucked at writing papers in school, college, and seminary.  I could never nail down my thesis; I wanted to start unpacking in the first paragraph instead of waiting to do so in the body of the paper.  The apostle Paul does better than I ever could.  In his letter to the Romans, he lays out his thesis in Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (NRSV)

We find in Romans 8 that Paul begins to reach the climax of his argument.  In fleshing out how someone lives by faith, he lands on pointing out that such a person will have the Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives.  This is a spiritual birthmark, if you will, representing that someone has believed in Jesus Christ for salvation and has become a child of God.  I found it telling that in chapters 1-7, Paul only uses the term “Spirit” five times and only eight times in chapters 9-11 (significant for other reasons), however in chapter 8 alone, “Spirit” shows up twenty times!

The Holy Spirit’s presence in my life has certainly been significant in how I better understand living by faith and being a child of God.  There’s more going on here though.  Paul uses the analogy of adoption to help the Romans better understand what this means for them if they choose to believe in Jesus Christ.  Adoption during the 1st Century was important to the Roman Empire and happened frequently.  It was a way for someone to live a better life and belong to a family, where they were guaranteed an inheritance (limited good & resources mentality back then was the thing).

Paul points out that the Spirit bears witness that we are children of God.  The Roman audience reading (more likely hearing) this, would have understood more fully what he meant by this, where we may not get it at a face value reading.  Basically, when a child was adopted back then, there were witnesses present at the ceremony (with the old father present) and the trial before the legal officials (with the new father present).  In the case of the new father’s death, these witnesses would step forward to vouch for the adopted child, making sure that she/he would receive the inheritance due her/him as a full heir.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit currently bears witness to whom are children of God and will one day vouch for us before Christ Jesus when he returns.

This is profound furthermore since the children of God will receive their inheritance, which is the new heaven and new earth, where God, our Father, will dwell with His people, wipe every tear away, cause death to be no more, along with mourning, crying, and pain. (Revelation 21:1-8)  But, Paul doesn’t stop here.  For him, this is on the one hand.  He doesn’t want the Romans or us today to just think of the hope of our inheritance as children of God; he wants us to live into that promise right now.

“On the other hand,” as some Bible translations put it, we are “joint heirs” or “co-heirs” with Jesus Christ, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)  This is a hard word to swallow, even for me.  How often do we hear people say, “Believe in and follow Jesus Christ; you’ll suffer…”?  I think this would scare most people away, among other scare tactic sayings Christians have said through the years (which I don’t subscribe to btw).  However, what Paul is saying here, I think, is what children of God can reasonably expect to experience in their life with God.  Of course there are so many positives I can think of for following Christ, which I would encourage would-be followers to consider.

But, like Paul, I think I too would lay out the truth for folks.  However, inviting people to suffer means nothing without filling them in on the end of the story: there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more pain, tears, or death, but in order to fully appreciate that, would you expect not to have to suffer through it first?  Actually, I think that these three things are a part of every human’s life; children of God face it in a different light though: with God by our side.

I’m glad Paul does say that we can CRY out to God, our Father, as children of God.

Last Nugget: In Romans 8:15, Paul slams together two similar terms that mean all the world to children of God.  “Abba” is an Aramaic term that early Jewish Christians used, and “Father” is the Greek term early Gentile Christians used to understand their true family orientation.  Paul has come full circle on explaining that salvation is available to “everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)  He is also setting the stage for Romans 9-11, where he teases out the details of God’s salvation for these two parties, i.e. all the known world.

This passage of Scripture meant so much to me when I became a child of God, and still does, because I’ve never met my biological father.  The truth is that I’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ’s actions for me and you and all the world to deal with sin and help us live by faith (Romans 8:1-4; Romans 1:16-17).  I also have a heavenly, spiritual Father who has adopted me as his own.  The Holy Spirit witnesses to me that I belong to my Father and that I will see Him face-to-face one day in heaven and for the rest of all eternity.

I hope you know that whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe or don’t believe about God revealed through Jesus Christ, you can have this relationship too.

Until next time, LIVE on…

We’ve Arrived!

Last week, I went to Mount Eagle for a retreat and forgot to let my wife know that I arrived safely. Whoops…

My wife simply texted me to see if I arrived, and within seconds, I was able to let her know that I had done so. This is nothing compared to the “timely” importance of correspondence between spouses during the American Civil War. Colonel Lyon’s wife, Adelia, must have been very relieved to receive this via snail mail:

New Orleans, Fri., July 14, 1865.—We arrived here at eight o’clock this morning, sound and well. I found that our corps have moved and are moving for Indianola, Texas. Our division went several days ago. Lieutenant Fowle and I leave tomorrow on steamer Zenobia. [Source: DOTCW]

I imagine spouses, parents, sibling, friends, etc. must have worried a lot about their loved ones fighting in the war as well as traveling so much. What’s worse, they had to wait so long to receive word that they actually arrived. What other thoughts they must have had among their prayers for their beloved soldiers.

Perhaps Adelia worried further about her dear William Lyon having to ride a “steamer” that could have been fired upon or even captured and burned. How relieved she must have been by each incoming letter. Thank God, he’s still alive!

Until next time, let ’em know you made it safe!

The Whole Shebang

So, I’m having a conversation one day with my firstborn daughter (4 years old) when she realizes that a “navel” can be your belly button or a type of orange. Likewise, in reading American Civil War diary entries, I recognized that “shebang” can mean “a matter, operation, or set of circumstances” or “a rough hut or shelter.”

The Whole Shebang (Photo:

Although not an enlisted man, Samuel Andrew Agnew wrote from the perspective of a resident in Corinth, MS of the war’s goings on there, noting that current operations needed to change:

Seals were in the crowd. Norton tells me that Jettie Richey got home last night from Ham’s Camp. He reports that on Saturday next they will reorganize the whole “shebang” in pursuance of Gov. Clark’s orders. In reorganizing they enlist for 2 years. (Source: The Civil War Day by Day)

Shebang can also be the most humble dwelling quarters of a weary soldier during the war. I’m always amazed at the details at length that soldiers recorded in order to paint a clear picture of their temporary residence. I think this reflects the significance of their need for a home away from home. Our bodies need familiarity, I think, when it comes to the specific place where we lay our heads every night. More so, I believe soldiers needed this comfort, considering the fact that the nature of their circumstances could change at a minute’s notice. If you will, a change in one’s shebang could alter their other shebang. This is what “Jenk” writes about his setup:

Busy most of the time completing “shebang”. Very small, but quite cozy for two soldiers. It is 6 ft. by 8 ft., 4½ ft. high on the side. Door is in front, 18 in. by 30 in., by side of which is chimney—18 in. stack. Bunk in back, 4 ft. wide. At the foot of it is the writing desk, opposite is hardtack box for cupboard, etc. (Source: Daily Observations from the Civil War)

Until next time, SHEBANG!

Civil War Thanksgiving Reflections

We always think of eating turkey on Thanksgiving day, but sometimes people choose to eat other meats instead.

Complete Holiday Dinners

For instance, my stepdad does not like eating turkey at all. He doesn’t like the taste. So, we’ll graciously provide a cooked ham for him to eat for “turkey” day.

As I was scrolling through soldiers’ diaries reflecting on Thanksgiving, I found that some had to choose not to eat turkey, because it simply was not available to them at the time. Take poor Luman Harris Tenney for example:

Thanksgiving chickens for dinner… Considerable dissatisfaction among the boys. Band played some time. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Something tells me Tenney wasn’t the only one hoping for turkey that year. But, at least the boys had chicken and some entertainment.

I hope wherever you were, whomever you were with, and whatever meat you ate that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day, praising God for all He has given us. I thought yesterday’s weather in Shreveport, LA was gorgeous and all around, I had as good a time as Rutherford B. Hayes had back in the day:

We had a jovial Thanksgiving. A fair supply of turkeys and other good things from the cities, together with good weather, made the day cheerful. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Until next year, Give Thanks!


Hot Letter Abe

I’ve heard of this practice before and have even written a “hot letter” myself, but I never would have expected to hear that good ole’ Abe (President Abraham Lincoln) made a habit of doing so!

Illustration by Jason Stout

I recently finish reading Incarnate by Michael Frost, where he points out that Lincoln was a great leader primarily for his non-anxious presence among others. Often quoted for saying “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends,” Lincoln had a way of being patient with people of differing views.

Frost notes that, in order to curb his negative emotions, Lincoln would write “a ‘hot letter’ to the individual he was angry with, and then he would set the letter aside and not send it. If he did lose his temper, Lincoln would follow up with a kind gesture or letter to let the individual know he was not holding a grudge.” (Incarnate, pg. 202)

Knowing that Lincoln had faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I wonder if his non-anxious presence was in fact a reflection of the fruits of the Spirit working in and through his life, particularly forbearance, self-control, kindness, and well, we might want to place them all on the table! I also wonder how better off we’d all be if we were to adopt the “hot letter” habit when something or someone made us mad, then jump right back into the relationship in pure love.

Until next time, Rage on paper, not toward each other…

Garage Sale Find!

This past weekend, we had a neighborhood-wide garage sale. In sifting through things my mother-in-law gave us to sell, I found a book called Stringtown by Zora M. Talbot. Man, have I stumbled on a rarity!


Aside from being out of print on Amazon and out of stock on, this book is entitled after a town in Texas that no longer exists. From what I’ve gathered, it seems as though the town was absorbed by San Marcos, TX (right outside of San Antonio) somewhere between the 19th and 20th century as a result of a new railroad bringing tremendous growth to the area.

According to one source, “In 1990 the only surviving evidences of old Stringtown were a log cabin once used as a slave quarters, the former home of Gideon Thomas Johnson built in 1879, and the Pitts Cemetery.” (Texas State Historical Association) Can you say, “GHOST TOWN!”

Of course this relates in some way to the American Civil War, don’t you worry. I found a few nuggets in Part II of the book (Disasters, Civil War, Reconstruction) that I’ll have to share in subsequent posts. But for now, I learned that there was more than one coffee substitute used during the war, other than the chicory that I’m familiar with, having grown up in New Orleans.

Food was very scarce – flour, sugar, and coffee almost impossible to buy. Sweet potatoes were parched and, at times, rye and okra beans were used as substitute for coffee. When a real delicacy was wanted the slaves were sent to the mountains in search of a ‘bee tree.’ They would cut the tree down and remove many pounds of rich wild honey from the center of the trunk. This honey was used in cooking and to sweeten the substitute coffee. (Talbot, 50)

Until next time, Drink what ya got…