Western Civ to Go

Just another WordPress site

The End of Desire 

Posted By on October 19, 2017

by Teri Ong 

 Introduction: I wrote this blog two weeks ago, just after the Las Vegas shootings. In the weeks since it happened, we have learned a little more about the shooter, his name, his age, his socio-economic status, and a few other perfunctory details. But we have learned very little about his inner motivation. The act was thoroughly premeditated. However, if anyone knows what made this man buy $20,000 worth of firearms, not to mention thousands of rounds of ammunition, plus surveillance cameras, tripods, chemicals for bombs, then set up his own deadly machine gun nest in an expensive hotel room, they are not talking. I was gratified in a sad way that after I had written this piece, I heard a radio analyst say that the shooter did what he did “because he wanted to.” 

 In the middle of last night, I was awakened by a news bulletin on the radio of the worst mass shooting in American history. A man in his 60’s rented a hotel room on the 32nd floor of a hotel across the street from an open-air country music festival. For some reason, probably known only to himself, he opened fire on the crowd with a variety of automatic weapons that did great damage in a short time. From his vantage point, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then when the police were closing in him, he shot himself. 

As crazy and inexplicable as it seems to us “normal” people, the reason he shot at the crowd of 22,000 people across the street from him hotel is because he had a desire to shoot at them. So far, we don’t really know why he had that desire. But desire it he did. He planned it out weeks in advance, buying unusual weapons and a large supply of ammunition, making hotel reservations for a particular floor overlooking a particular venue. Perhaps he got some sadistic satisfaction as he pulled the trigger. Perhaps he vented a lifetime of hatred and frustration. Perhaps he felt an evil thrill from the adrenaline rush. Then it all came to a quick end when he shot himself. 

In Charles Williams’, spiritual thriller, Many Dimensions, the action revolves around the Stone of Suleiman Ben Daood (Solomon, Son of David) set in the crown of a Jew, (p.14) and inscribed with the Divine Name. The stone has a mystical power to fulfill anyone’s desires. In fact, the legend of the stone declares it to be the “end of desire.” However, the more it is used for temporal or material benefits, the more desires people have. Various characters are willing to sacrifice great sums of money, enter into unholy alliances, deceive people into performing dangerous experiments, and even commit murder to have control of the stone.  

Two characters in the story have a different desire. They want to uncover the true secret of the stone and remove it from the grasp of greedy, self-serving humanity. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that the stone is symbolic of the Biblical “Stone of Stumbling” or “Stone of Offense.”   The secret of the stone is that when the holder submits to the will of the stone, the holder no longer has any desires of his own and comes to perfect peace and rest. In other words, he finds the happy end of desire.  But anyone who uses the stone to fulfill his own desires comes to ruin or destruction. 

In “real life,” Christians know that peace and satisfaction are indeed found in submitting to the will of Christ, the Stone which the builders rejected. And in “real life,” we also know that God sometimes gives sinful people their way, and then sends leanness of soul. (Psalm 106:15) The Las Vegas shooter found the end of earthly life after he tried to find the end of his desire (whatever it was), but he did not find the end of desire. Probably, like the rich man in Sheol, he just found different unfulfilled desires. (Luke 16:24) 

In Williams’ novel, the ruination of some of the characters leads to the enlightenment of others. Perhaps the shock of one evening that started out as innocuous entertainment but ended in unexpected terror and devastation will cause some of those who were present, and some who have watched from the distance of news media, to consider that life is a vapor and that the blessed end of desire is found in a relationship with the Eternal God. 

Ironically, the evening before the terrible shooting, I had been studying the lesson by the Puritan William Ames for the Lord’s Day Number 40 in A Sketch of the ChristianCatechism , which is on “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13) Ames wrote, “Murder is the gravest injury that can be inflicted on a human as far as this present life is concerned.”  The uses’ he lists for his lesson on this topic include, “that we may take heed to ourselves to depart from all affections and internal dispositions by which people are customarily provoked and led to wounding their neighbors unjustly.”  In other words, we need to check our hearts for evil motives that may cause us to want to hurt others.  He lists the following possibilities: 

1.Irascibility [that is, easily becoming irate] 

2.Hatred … confirmed and lodged in the mind… from which the impulse to wound follows 

3.Envies by which people bear the condition of others so grievously that they wish some evil on them 

4.A desire for vengeance by which people customarily render evil for evil. 

Photo Credit: Teri Ong

 

As bad as it is to harm our neighbor physically, Ames points out, “The life of the spiritual man is his most precious possession, surpassing the corporeal life by far.” For this reason, doing injury to someone’s spiritual life is a greater evil than harming their body, though we should strive to do neither. But even Christians tend to think physically and fail to think about how we can injure and wound our neighbors spiritually. 

The end of Ames’ lesson states, “Our duty is not only to abstain from the things by which the life of our neighbor may be wounded, either corporeally or spiritually, but also studiously to exhibit everything by which his corporeal and spiritual lives can be aided and made more lively.” He suggests the following: “1) the study of peace, 2) patience, 3) civility, 4) mercy and kindness, and 5) the spiritual alms of instruction… as the occasion should demand.” 

I pray that as our attention is drawn once again to a massive failure of love, love toward God and toward fellow men, that we will consider carefully how we can submit our own desires to the will of our Savior and show sacrificial love as He did on our behalf. 

 

Sweet Will of God  

My stubborn will at last hath yielded; 

I would be Thine, and Thine alone; 

And this the prayer my lips are bringing, 

Lord, let in me THY will be done. 

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer, 

Till I am wholly lost in Thee. 

-Leila N. Morris 

The Anglo File

Posted By on April 1, 2017

by Teri Ong

My husband and I have made frequent trips to England since our first one together in 1999. But every first time experience is especially memorable, and our trip in ‘99 was no exception.

In his masterful tale, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Alexander McCall Smith through his character Moritz Maria Von Igelfeld, observes, “Why is that everyone expects that one has had a good journey, when traveling is notorious for hardships. One is often forced to see things one doesn’t want to see, smell things one doesn’t want smell, sleep places one doesn’t want to sleep…” And we would have to agree. On a long journey there are inevitable hardships that we travelers hope will be offset by the pleasures of the adventure.

Fortunately, very few of our handful of hardships in going to England have been repeated on any successive trip. But out first journey was a doozey!

We left Denver at about 8:00 p.m. on January 1, 1999. There was only one non-stop flight to London out of Denver at the time– a British Airways flight that promised to give us a little foretaste of the mother country before we ever left the ground. But right away there were sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell in the seat back pocket. Then there were sights we wanted to see, but couldn’t, because of the broken media player in our row of seats.

Oh, well! We were to be traveling at night. We would probably sleep through our boredom anyway. One of the media players was working– my husband’s– and he was fascinated with the trip map and flight information. A couple hours into the flight he noticed that the flight path had changed. Instead of showing a line “up and over” towards England, the line was now due east toward New York City.

We watched our progress along the new line for at least an hour before a member of the flight crew announced that there was a problem with one of the plane’s fuel sensors. We were indeed going to land at JFK in New York, but not until we had dumped fuel in Lake Erie. None of this information led to a sense of peace and well-being among the passengers. We had already gotten a late start because of having to de-ice in Denver– twice– because we were held on the ground too long after the first time. Now we would be delayed even more.

We landed in New York about 2:00 a.m. local time. It was now Saturday, January 2. For awhile, the hospitality crew came through the cabin on a regular basis offering us water or juice. But then they all seemed to disappear.

We had been on the ground for over an hour, and no one was forth-coming with any information at all. Nor did there seem to be any activity at the airport at all. Could this really be New York City? Could this really be JFK?
After another hour there was some movement of people at the front of the plane. There were over 400 people on the flight and we were way in the back, so we were always the last to know anything. Someone came on the PA system and informed us that we were going to be taken to a hotel for the night (what was left of it) and that we would be flying out at the earliest possible time later that day. All of our baggage was going to be kept secured until we flew out later.

The natives were getting very restless. Some people from the back were trying to jockey for positions closer to the main exit, but to little benefit. Mothers with babies were being de-planed first and loaded directly onto one of the two buses that were being used to shuttle us to hotels. We started calculating how many trips those buses would have to make to get us all delivered.

We finally got to our hotel at 4:00 a.m., only to have to stand in line with about 200 other people needing to be checked into rooms. At least we didn’t have the worst of it. Some mothers and babies ended up at one hotel while the dads and diaper bags ended up at another!

We were a little uneasy about what “earliest possible flight” meant. Were we going to be checked in, get to a room, flop on the bed for half an hour and then be loaded back onto the bus to the airport? No one knew, or at least no one was saying.

Our room was very cold, and the heating system was out of order. We turned on the hot water in the shower to warm things up a little. We crawled into bed in our clothes– our PJ’s were “secured” at the airport– and we threw our coats over the bedspread to retain a little extra warmth.

After a short and fitful sleep, we went down to the desk to find out when we would be leaving New York. The plane had been fixed, but there was no fresh crew available to fly it. We would have to wait until the crew had had their mandatory rest. We would be leaving about 7:00 p.m. We had a couple meals at the airline’s expense, but thought more about the concert we were missing in London and about how we were going to miss going to the Metropolitan Tabernacle for church on Sunday morning. We could not even take a good nap since we had to check out of the hotel long before we were scheduled to go to the airport.

It was nearly dark before we boarded the shuttle bus. We were sitting just behind the driver who had a terrible cough. He kept swigging from a paper cup that sat on a shelf at his left elbow. I wished he would pay more attention to the road and less attention to his drink. He was going too fast around some of the curves and nearly sideswiped a couple motorists.

“This cough is just terrible! If it wasn’t for my home remedy here, I’d be home in bed. It’s cognac and Ni-quill. Great stuff!”

All I could think was, “I’m going to die before I ever get off the ground!”

We finally made it to the airport and to our gate. We were checked in again based on our old ticket information, which meant we were in the same row in the back with the same sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell. We hoped the fuel sensor had gotten more attention in the past 24 hours than the econo-cabin had gotten. We also hoped there would be no more delays since word came down that a blizzard was on its way east and Chicago O’Hare was already closed because of it.

The next 12 days in England and Scotland were wonderful in the main. Seventeen years later I can still recount the details of our itinerary, including the good, the bad, and the bumpy. When we got home, we decided to let British Airways know that when people would ask, “So you had a good flight?”, we would have to say, “Well, actually…”

I suggested that we ask for a credit voucher to cover our losses in London. The airline very generously gave us refunds and vouchers so that the next year we were able to fly across the pond for a mere $75.00. It was the beginning of a decades long adventure full of exciting places and wonderful people. Yes, we have had a good journey.

Ebenezer Scrooge: My Funny Valentine

Posted By on March 18, 2017

By Teri Ong

My husband and I are on a two-day Valentine retreat. He saw some cut white roses and a pot of live red roses and couldn’t decide which to get me, so he got both! While he was at the store getting flowers, the checkout person wanted to know if he was playing the mega-million supermarket game, and if he wanted pieces. This led to our discussion of what we really want from a retail store– the lowest prices without a percentage of OUR money going to prize pay outs.

This thought led to evaluating the common practice of asking customers to “round up” to the nearest dollar for the charity du jour. This takes extra time at the checkout and lays a guilt trip on you if you are too stingy to give fifty-nine cents to medical research or needy children. [thought– does that count as a “micro-aggression”?] Then, within minutes of that conversation, I was reading a feature in a magazine about a woman with a boutique that is part of the “shopping without guilt” movement. When you buy things at her store, you get upscale one-of-a-kind items, AND you “do good” because she donates 7% of her profit to a variety of charities.

I wonder how she would take it if I asked for a 7% rebate if I didn’t want to donate to “Gophers Unlimited” or “Save the Pine Nut” this week. I already shop without guilt by carefully selecting and pricing things we need. And we already give above and beyond our church tithe to help meet a variety of worthy needs. My goal is to be as frugal as possible so I can use my own resources in the way I see fit. I now steer away from places that are going to use an extra portion of my money to give prizes or support causes that don’t fit my criteria.

C. S. Lewis thought it was unfortunate that the Greek word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 was translated as “charity” in certain English Bible translations. The semantic distinction in that well-known passage reinforces a false dichotomy and faulty notions about love and charity. Charity, as we use the word, should be given as an act of love, not out of compulsion. (2 Cor. 9:7) And love should cause us to do acts of “charity” when we see people truly in need. (James 2:15-17)

In Dickens’ novelette A Christmas Carol, two men come into Scrooge’s place of business seeking donations for the poor and needy at Christmas time. They ask Scrooge what they can put him down for. He replies, “Nothing.” They reply in pleased astonishment, “You wish to be left anonymous?!” To which he sternly replies, “I wish to be left alone.”

I am sorry to say it, but that is how I often feel when answering phone solicitations for a wide range of causes (many of them unworthy and mismanaged), when I am coerced at the checkout counter, when I am accosted by able-bodied young men with cardboard signs at traffic stops, when the first thing I see inside a store is the massive box for donated toys or school supplies for the children of parents who need to take responsibility, or when the postal service leaves a plastic bag for me to fill with canned goods for the food bank. Ironically, our church then has to buy the canned goods from the food bank to distribute to the poor and needy!

Unlike Scrooge, I am not a greedy, stingy person. We give generously to our church, to its missions, and to many special needs brought to our attention. So please, let me love the way I want to love. Let me keep my money to feed the people of my choice; let me care for children by teaching them life skills rather than give unnecessary stuff; let me care for the victims of foreign disasters rather than preserve domestic wetlands, if I choose. And above all– leave the gambling in Vegas!

Worse than Nothing

Posted By on January 21, 2017

By Teri Ong

Today is New Year’s Day 2017. It also happens to be Sunday. Today we worshiped the Lord on His day as we always do – corporately – in church – with brothers and sisters in Christ who also believe it honors the Lord to honor His day. Today, as on other Sundays, we prayed together, sang together, read Scripture together, heard God’s Word taught and expounded together, ate together, shared our lives together, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together.

Today it happened that we had a couple from another city join with our little church family because their church cancelled services on Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Sunday. I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of closing the church doors on the day we celebrate the Lord’s first coming to earth as a man, the day we celebrate His birth in space and time so He could ultimately carry out God’s plan of redemption. After all, we have designated Christmas as a “holiday.”  “Holiday” is simply a compound word made up of the two words “holy” and “day.” Worshiping as members of His church on a day on which we especially acknowledge the miraculous incarnation of our Savior is not only appropriate, it should be our highest priority.

All of the attendant activities that are part of holy day celebrations are fine and good in their place – gathering with family members, special foods and feasting, gift giving, music making, etc. God Himself gave His blessing on these types of activities. Look at all the references in the Bible that contain the word “feast.” You will see that God is pleased when we set aside “laborious work” for a period of days and eat good food, play happy music, and in all ways express our joy for all His good provisions. The fact remains, however, that “holy days” are holy because they are set apart by and to God.  Moses explained this truth to Pharaoh, “…We must hold a feast to the LORD.” (Ex 10:9)

Why would an otherwise biblically sound, evangelical church cancel worship services “to the Lord” on a Sunday because it is Christmas? Like King Solomon, I “set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” (Eccl. 1:13) Here are my speculations about possible reasons.

1. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for others in the congregation and will sacrificially cancel services, even though they would rather be worshiping in church.

2. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for themselves and will altruistically extend a “day off” to everyone in the congregation.

3. The church leadership anticipates that there will be very few in the congregation that will show up for church and don’t want to waste time, effort, or material resources to prepare a service or open the building for the hand-full that will come.

4. The church leadership knows that there are some “pillars of the church” that don’t plan to be in church, and the leadership doesn’t want to alienate any VIP’s by making them feel guilty about not being in church for Christ’s birthday celebration. The way to avoid this situation is to cancel entirely.

5. The church leadership realizes that everyone will be so tired out from all of the partying around the “holiday” season, or that all the mothers will be so stressed out about all the preparations for the partying that must take place after services are over, that even those few who show up will be there in body only. Since worship is to be “in spirit,” and no one’s spirit will be there, there is no need to have a service.

I have no way of knowing whether or not I have touched on anyone’s reason for canceling normal worship services on Christmas Sundays or not. Perhaps I am not imaginative enough or sensitive enough to come up with better or more accurate reasonings, but all of the ones I did come up with are pretty flimsy.

Church leadership that would cancel for the “benefit” of the congregants isn’t spiritual “leadership” at all. No activity is more beneficial to an individual or a family than gathering with other members of the body of Christ to worship Him. Church leaders that encourage members of the flock to think more highly of themselves and their family traditions than they ought to think– that is to say, more highly than they think of worshiping their Savior– are leading people down the broad path that leads to spiritual ruin. Christ made it clear that family concerns, even momentous concerns such as a death in the family, are not to supercede our duty to follow our Savior. (Matt. 8:22)

Leaders who cancel for their own convenience are teaching their flock that personal convenience and comfort are the highest good. They are teaching by their example that Christ is not pre-eminent in their lives or in their church, and that He is not worthy of setting aside our little human concerns. As to the issue of wasting time and resources on a reduced or even meager attendance, could it not be possible that God would be especially blessed by the more extreme sacrifice shown by persevering when attendance is down? The size of a meeting has never been a hindrance to the God who promises to be in the midst of “two or three gathered together.” (Matt. 18:20) What if God decided to take a “day off” from us personally or from the average church?   (Acts 17:25)

But what about demonstrating love to other weaker brothers and sisters by not making them feel guilty or convicted about abandoning the body of Christ on Christ’s holy day? Isn’t that legitimate? A wise woman I know taught that we need to distinguish between “love” and “indulgence.” True Christian love is willing to exhort and correct when necessary. Remember what the writer of Hebrews said:

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; (Heb. 3:12-14)

What was the reason for this bold exhortation? The writer of Hebrews was recalling what happened when the Israelites provoked God in the wilderness with their worship gone wrong. (Heb 3:15-19) One notable provocation happened when the Israelites decided to have a “feast to the Lord,” but they didn’t do it God’s way. They chose to celebrate in an idolatrous and fleshly way. Sadly, there are many ways that their way is also the “American way.”

>5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. (Ex. 32:5-7)

If all these possible reasons for cancelling worship are inadequate for Christmas, they are doubly so for cancelling on New Year’s Day. That ranks right up there with cancelling on Super Bowl Sunday. New Year’s Day is not traditionally set apart as a holy day like Christmas. For Americans, it is often a day of recovering from the drunken revels of the night before. Is there any sense that New Year’s Day should be set aside to God? Scripturally, first days are very important to God. Look at Exodus 12:2 and 40:2. God chose to have His tabernacle set up on the first day of the first month, and the first month was established to coincide with the exodus from Egypt. As Christians, New Year’s Day can be a special remembrance of what God took us out of– a life of bondage to sin– and an acknowledgment of our Savior Immanuel – the one who came to “tabernacle with mankind.”

Cancelling corporate worship in church on holy days sends the message to a sinful world that gathering with believers to worship God is worse than nothing. Is that the message we want to send?

O Come O Come Emmanuel

George McDonald’s Church now used for a karate gym

1) O come. O come.  Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

2)Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy People save
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer

3) Our spirits by Thine advent here;
O drive away the shades of night,
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Hallowed Ground

Posted By on November 14, 2016

by Teri Ong

camp-woods2

The backwoods of northwestern Ontario in 1972 is my story of long ago and far, far away. I was to spend my summer there that year, and several others after that. I was going to be a kitchen helper, counselor, story teller, puppeteer, musician and all-around go-fer at a mission camp well off the beaten path between Dinorwic and Sioux Lookout.

Camp-of-the-Woods was still in the development stage in those years. More cabins were needed to replace the cabin-sized tents on wooden platforms. A workshop/shed/barn was in the planning phase, as was a house for the missionary family in charge. But the swampy lakeshore land first had to be cleared of all brush in order to drain well enough for building.

There were no young campers there in mid-June, only those of us volunteers who could come early and stay late to get things in shape for the “real” work– four weeks for area campers plus evening VBS programs on nearby Cree reserves. During these prep weeks, the guys would spend hours with chain saws leveling everything that grew where a building was going to be one day. Then we gals would wade in and haul out anything loose that was laying in the bog.

All of the land we were working was squishy, but not all of it had standing water. Pulling out the small stuff at the edges of the wetland was not too bad. We could make quick progress. We knew we would be wet and dirty, but we would enjoy the evening fire in the lodge that much more, knowing we would at least start out with dry work clothes the next day.

As we worked farther into the area, however, the brush got bigger and taller and the water got deeper. There was no alternative to wading right in calf-deep, knee-deep, or thigh-deep as needed. We would heft the vegetation up on one shoulder and drag it out to the distant brush pile by brute force. Branches would inevitably get trapped in undergrowth and two or three people would have to give them the old heave-ho to pull them free.

camp-woods3I had been working in the brush for several days, long enough that I had run out of fresh clothes and thoroughly dry work boots. Every muscle in my body was tired. My legs were swollen from a multitude of itching, oozing mosquito and spider bites– yes, they could somehow find ways up my pant legs. My hands and arms were scratched and bruised, my face was sunburnt, my hair plastered down with dirt and sweat.

I forced my body to take one more step. There was a crack of branches beneath my foot and I sank deeper into the muck. My shoe made that slurping sound that signals imminent loss if great care is not given to pulling it out of the mire. I got it out– praise God!– and forged ahead.

Ahead of me was a felled sapling with a 6 or 7 inch diameter trunk. It was hard to estimate how tall it had been. Trees seem taller when they’re upright than they do on the ground. But it was a healthy tree with lots of spring sap in it– very heavy!

I strained to get the trunk up on my shoulder. I strained to take each step out of that swamp. I strained to pull that tree over to the brush pile many yards away. With each step I took, my mind chanted, “I think I CAN’T, I think I CAN’T…”camp-woods4

Then there came a realization that flowed over my mind, down to my heart, eventually reaching all the way to my sodden, aching feet. It almost felt like tears flowing down. “This tree is nothing compared to the one Jesus struggled to carry for me.”

My slow chant changed. “I can carry this tree because He carried mine; I can carry this tree because He carried mine…”

The six summers I spent in that place were the most spiritually significant times in my life. God used that place and the people of that place to keep me from turning aside onto the broad road to destruction.

Just as the cross itself was only a small part of the suffering of my Savior, the tree in the swamp would be only a small symbol of the many life struggles that would need to be shouldered in the next 45 years.

In his hymn about the suffering Savior, Joseph Swain poignantly wrote:

 

They pierced through his hands and his feet,

His body he freely resigned;

The pains of his flesh were so great!

But greater the pangs of his mind.

 

The dark swamps with their thick entanglements, heavy weights, impossible tasks, miserable damps and chills, and venomous adversaries now only pictured the greater pangs of the mind that we all experience. Peter taught us that we can suffer such pangs because of our own sinful choices, or we can suffer them righteously for the Savior’s sake. ( 1 Peter 4:1-2) We need to choose well every day.

 

No nearer we venture to gaze

On sorrow so deep, so profound;

But tread with amazement and praise,

And reverence such hallowed ground. (Swain)camp-woods

Sweet Will of God

Posted By on October 31, 2016

by Teri Ong

 

The senior missionary and founder of Camp-of-the Woods, Garland Cofield, had two sons and two daughters quite near to me in age. All of the family members were good musicians. But Father wanted Daughters to learn to play violin. At the age of 17, I had already been playing for over 12 years. It was natural that I would be asked to give lessons since I was going to be there for the whole summer.camp-woods5

They had a “copy of a Stradivarius” – $59.95 straight out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog by way of Japan. The bow bowed more side to side than it did top to bottom. I could barely make the tin strings sound respectable, and they could not at all. They were both more than a little vexed that their brothers, both accomplished guitar players, did better the first time than they did after a month of lessons and guided practice.

Music was a principal occupation every evening at camp. When campers were present, the evening service began with an extended time of singing gospel songs accompanied by whatever assortment of instrumentalists were present. We could almost always count on bass guitar, a couple acoustic guitars, accordion, piano, sometimes a wind instrument or two, and violin or mandolin (depending on my mood). If campers were not present, the lodge would attract players and singers from the camp staff, and we would play and sing “favorites” until “lights out.”

As the summer progressed, we had a stream of visitors that would come for occasional evenings. They would always join in the music. One special visitor was a bush pilot named Ed. He came frequently that summer to see a special lady on the staff named Gail. He would land his float plane on the lake and taxi up to the dock that was only yards from the lodge. What made him extra special was that he also played the violin, and he carried a good one in his plane. Not only did he play the violin, he played it well. It was a special treat to play with him.

During lulls in the singing, various musicians would sometimes play instrumental numbers. Often “Mr. C” would request particular players or hymns. When Ed was there, he always asked us to play together. Usually, we would pick a familiar hymn from the ample supply in the hymnal. Since I played the piano for congregational singing in my home church and had been raised with the old hymns, it was hard for Ed to pick one that I didn’t know.

But one evening he asked if we could play one that was not in the hymnal I was most familiar with.

“What about this one?” he asked. “Sweet Will of God?”

“Sure. How many verses?”

“Let’s play all of them. You take harmony.”

We started in on one of the sweetest melodies I had ever heard. It was only after we were done playing that I read the equally wonderful words.

 

My stubborn will at last hath yielded;

I would be Thine and Thine alone;

And this the prayer my lips are bringing,

‘Lord, let in me Thy will be done.’

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee;

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee.   (Mrs. C.H. Morris)

 

We played it more than once over the course of that summer season.

By the next summer, Ed had married Gail and I think he and his new wife only dropped in once during the summer of ‘73. After the summer of ‘73, I went to Tennessee Temple College where I  continued to study music and played in the Chattanooga Symphony. God was using many circumstances, some intensely thrilling and some intensely painful, to work His sweet will in my life throughout my freshman sojourn.

Sometime during the winter of that school year, my heart skipped a beat when the assistant pastor who read the prayer requests asked us to remember a Christian bush pilot who was lost in a blizzard in northern Ontario. There were too many camp connections in that church for me not to feel uneasy. The Cofields had been commissioned by that church.  Mr. Cofield’s sister and her husband were leaders there. Two of my three roommates had connections to Camp-of-the-Woods.  Jim Cofield was an officer in the freshman class at TTC. I knew at once in my heart that the lost pilot was Ed. I looked for Jim at the end of prayer meeting.

“Is it Ed?”

Jim nodded.

I wiped away tears that had been waiting to flow.“Let me know if you hear more.”

He nodded again.

 

Later we learned that Ed had had a hard landing on a frozen lake in a blizzard. He had gotten out of the plane, but was too injured to take many survival measures or to try to get help. He was able to get into a sleeping bag to provide some warmth as he lay there on the ice. He had lost one mitt in the process. Miraculously, he survived and was found, but one hand and one foot were beyond saving.

I saw Ed and Gail twice more in the next few years, contented and blessed with a growing family. Once was at camp and once was at my brother’s wedding to a girl he had met at camp. On the first occasion, Ed asked me to play a hymn – solo this time.

 

And this the prayer my lips are bringing,

‘Lord, let in me Thy will be done.’

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee…

Like Me– Like Him

Posted By on October 17, 2016

by Teri Ongmomb-day_8

 

What are clouds like?

The clouds piled up heavy – like a double scoop of steaming hot mashed potatoes.

The clouds wrapped the frosty landscape in a layer of cotton wool.

The cloud looked like a tooth extracted under the influence of laughing gas.

 

Describe the morning glories.

The morning glories shivered in the morning air and bundled up in leaves, knotting their hoodies with vine-y laces.10-10-14_4

The tendrils of vine hung casually over the shoulder of the fence, festive like a native girl with bright blossoms tucked in each curl and behind both ears.

The morning glories cast their eyes downwards to protect themselves from the glaring noonday sun.

 

What are your impressions of the sunset?

The sunset spread out like a smudge of pink chalk on a gray sidewalk.

The clouds suffused with pink like the cheeks of an embarrassed teenager.

The gray underside of the cloud looked like an untrimmed mustache on a farmer’s sunburnt face.

 

What about the pennants in left field?

The pennants atop the stadium flapped almost in unison, like the JV flag corps.

 

Isn’t that moon something!?

The crescent moon, like the finger of God, traced across the black page of the sky.

 

So far this semester, we have been practicing the art of description in our Chambers College writing class. It may take a thousand words to describe one picture, but there is artistry of another kind in choosing the right words to create the picture and the appropriate attendant emotions in the mind and heart of a reader.

Dorothy L. Sayers wouldn’t use “TNT” to name or describe an explosive in a story because the proper chemical name sounded too much like “toorah-loorah-loorah.” She chose instead the word “dynamite,” from the Greek word for power– “dunamos”– because it brought with it the weight of centuries of classical and Biblical allusions.

We need comparisons to be able to understand with as much clarity as possible things that we have never seen or experienced. Since our eyes haven’t seen heaven or hell or God Himself, and since it is God’s purpose for us to walk by faith without seeing spiritual actualities, He communicates about spiritual matters in the language of comparison and allusion.

Scripture teaches us through “shadows” of realities to come ( Heb 8:5, Col 2:17), through types (Rom 5:14, Heb 11:19) and through “likenesses” (Phil 2:4-9).

The most precious likeness is found in our Savior Jesus, who was willing to be made like us.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and  being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

 

We can only begin to appreciate what this meant for Him if we contrast the description Isaiah gave us in Isaiah 53 with the description John gave us in Revelation 1. The marvel is that Jesus came down so low to be “like us” so that we could be lifted up to be “like Him.”

What is He like? He said He was a shepherd, bread, wine, a door, the light of the world, the way, the true vine, our brother, our bridegroom. Poets and prophets said He was a rock, a fortress, a lily, a rose. He is the Word of God, the language of Heaven translated for mankind, the communication of the Father made flesh. Just as the Apostle John said of His earthly works, we could say of ways to describe Him, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did [or is], which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Okay, so what is He really like?

I can tell you in two words– “incomparable” and “indescribable.”

So if we are to be like Him, what are we supposed to be like?

We can only begin to know now. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Someday we will know as we are known. Praise God!

Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain

Posted By on January 27, 2016

by Teri Ong

When most people, and I daresay, even most “evangelical” people, consider this one of the Ten Commandments, they think of “swear words” and various forms of God’s name attached to imprecations for damnation. While those abuses of human language are certainly covered by the command, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7), I believe being a “cheap swearer,” a description used by the poet George Herbert, is just the tip of the legal iceberg.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “vain” as “producing no result, useless, having no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” Another useful synonym is the word “empty.” Certainly, the flow of curse words and epithets that flow from the average American mouth in the course of a day fit this definition to a tee. Some words are used as noisy and uncouth “filler” words, with no more conscious meaning than guttural “um’s” and “ah’s”. And the practice of using the abbreviation “OMG” in text messages to indicate some minute rise in human emotion is truly vacuous.  But do these things give us a full measure of what God had in His mind when He gave this commandment to Moses?

The rest of the verse in Exodus reads, “for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” If we look at the rest of the commandments in Exodus 20, we find that God attaches a blessing to the command to “honor your father and mother,” and He blessed the Sabbath day. He also attaches a curse to “You shall not make for yourself an idol… (20:4).” But to all of the rest (which are the ones we know best),

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness…

You shall not covet… (Ex 20:13-17),

there are no addendums of any kind. There are no special blessings added for keeping the command, and there are no special curses for violating it. So how is it that taking the name of the Lord in vain ranks above murder, adultery, stealing etc., in God’s scheme of curses and blessings? If saying curse words thoughtlessly makes a person a “cheap swearer,” I believe there is a way to violate this command that is very costly, and that is why God makes it a matter of such high rank.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas I heard about a controversy in some city in California. The city was holding its annual “Christmas Parade.” Besides the reality that such parades are for the commercial purpose of drumming up business for local shopping centers, not to honor Christ, the vanity of this particular use of the name of Christ was due to the fact that the planners chose an avowed atheist as the “grand marshal” of the event. The highest honor at the event went a man who denies the existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. That is taking the name of the Lord in vain!

I have also been distressed by the way the name “Christian” is thrown around in the public fracas also known as “presidential electioneering.” One of the candidates claims to be a Christian, but says that the most important book for anyone to read is the one he wrote himself. When asked if he had a favorite Bible passage, he said he did. When asked what it was or if he could quote it, he refused on the grounds that it “is too personal.”

“Christian” literally means “little Christ.” Someone who is being a “little Christ” would not refuse to quote Scripture when given the opportunity. Jesus even quoted Scripture to the devil. Regardless of what one thinks of the status of the American press corps, we can answer the “WWJD?” question with some certainty if Jesus were in the place of this candidate. This candidate’s profession of Christ-ianity seems to have “no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” It is taking the name of the Lord in vain.Tree_1

The modern aphorism that captures the essence of this command is, “talk is cheap.” It is very easy to say things with our mouths that we have no intention, or even ability, to live out. Taking the name of Christ as an expression of our faith in Him is not something to be done lightly. It is an act even more sacred than a marriage vow, which the Anglican marriage ceremony advises, “is not to be entered into lightly.”

In American culture, it is still usual for a woman to take the name of her husband when they marry. If the married woman commits public indiscretions or crimes, she has not damaged a name that belongs to her alone; she has damaged the name of her husband, which she has taken. If she has taken his name, and is then unfaithful to him in some way, she has taken his name in vain.

Tree_2  As the bride of Christ, it is proper for us to take His name. But if we say we are Christ-ians, our lifestyle should demonstrate that Jesus has produced a result in our life– He has made the dead alive, He has made darkness into light. Our profession should  not be “useless, having no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” If we use our mouth to call Him “Lord,” we should follow through and faithfully do the things He tells us. (Luke 6:46)

Sadly, many who use the name “Christ-ian” use it in a meaningless, purposeless, empty way. Some have been duped into thinking all they have to do is use the name like a magic spell to keep them out of hell. Some have misunderstood what the name really means and are at a loss to fill it up with proper meaning. Some others have taken the name for what it will do to make them more acceptable to a Christian audience in the present ag e, but they have no intention of fulfilling its demands. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, God’s name is a white cloak covering dead men’s bones.

A true confession will result in righteous behavior and in eternal salvation, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Notice the importance God puts on His name and on our name in these verses from the book of Revelation.

“I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (3:8)

“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. (3:12)

“…I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (3:2)

“He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  (3:5)

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith…” (2:13)

“To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” (2:17)

Obeying the command not to take the name of the Lord in vain isn’t just a matter of not being a cheap swearer; it is truly a matter of life or death. The person of empty words will not go unpunished.Tree

 

Take not His name, who made thy mouth, in vain:

It gets thee nothing, and hath no excuse.

Lust and wine plead a pleasure, avarice gain:

But the cheap swearer through his open sluice

Lets his soul run for nought, as little fearing:

Were I an Epicure, I would [a]bate swearing.

 

When thou dost tell another’s jest, therein

Omit the oaths, which true wit cannot need:

Pick out of tales the mirth, but not the sin.

He pares his apple that will cleanly feed.

Play not away the virtue of that Name,

Which is thy best stake, when griefs make thee tame.

 

The cheapest sins most dearly punished are;

Because to shun them also is so cheap:

For we have wit to mark them, and to spare.

O crumble not away thy soul’s fair heap.

If thou wilt die, the gates of hell are broad:

Pride and full sins have made the way a road.

 

Three stanzas from “The Church Porch” by George Herbert

Slippery Slopes and the New Normal

Posted By on October 21, 2015

In September 2013 Colorado experienced a “hundred year flood.” We’ve had several of them in the 40 years I have lived in Colorado. Usually a storm front will stall or move slowly along a particular river basin, dumping enough rain in one area that the rocky canyon drains more into the river than it can handle. Consequently, the excess water gushes down the canyon in a flash flood. Major catastrophes have arisen in a matter of hours causing great cost in lost property, and sometimes in lost lives. But in 2013, the storm front that stalled wasn’t over one river basin; it was over all of the river basins that drain out of the Front Range from Wyoming on the north to Colorado Springs on the south.

It rained for two or three days over that entire region causing every river that flows east from the continental divide to reach catastrophic flood stage. Whole towns were cut off from emergency services because all the roads in and out were under water or washed away. Power, water, and sewer were knocked out for days or weeks. Homes along all of the canyon were flooded, undermined, or swept away entirely.

Businesses were lost. The very ground on which they had stood was all washed downstream. They could never be rebuilt. Other businesses lost an entire tourist season because people couldn’t get to their favorite mountain havens. And many of those havens had become disaster areas.

Devastation in the mountain canyons was just the beginning of the story. All of the water in those major rivers had to go somewhere, and most of it could not sink into the already saturated ground. River basins drain into other river basins, so that eventually all the rivers run into the sea, as Solomon astutely observed. In our case, they drain into the South Platte basin which runs through several major population centers in Colorado. For days, even after it stopped raining, the flood water surged along the South Platte causing trouble as it went. Highways  and county roads became impassible, and bridges were washed out well into Nebraska.  Thousands of people were displaced as whole low-lying neighborhoods washed away.

One of our church members has a granddaughter who was rescued by a police unit just as her house trailer floated off its moorings. Members of our own extended family had to improvise their wedding day because not everyone could get to the same side of the flood waters which had closed a hundred miles of I-25.

Our family makes frequent trips up the Big Thompson Canyon to Rocky Mountain National Park. We havMountains2015_3e watched with curiosity and interest for two years as various things have been rebuilt (or not!). Some things are almost the same as they were. Some things look better, since people with good insurance were able to start from scratch or make major upgrades. Some places are totally unrecognizable. Some will never be rebuilt because of the expense (like our beloved Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park). Some cannot be rebuilt– like many of the picnic spots in Glen Haven Canyon– because the course of the river has changed too much.

What is my point in belaboring all of this? I am attempting to show how everyone who has lived and played in this area now has to adapt to a “new normal.” Why is this so? Because the “old normal” is gone.

Metaphorically speaking now, our society, our culture has experienced a stalled storm front of moral relativism and atheistic humanism for the past generation. We are well beyond the saturation point. The torrents of self-centeredness and depraved, debauched self-gratification have sent debris-filled waves of destruction down all the steep, rocky canyons of mass media.

Untold numbers of lives have been lost or ruined. Businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed. Homes have been taken out; some are barely standing on crumbled foundations, propped up on shaky and insubstantial pilings.

Mountains2015_4   After the historic Big Thompson flood in the 1970’s, signs were put in the canyons that read, “In case of flash flood, climb to safety.” Generally speaking, that is sound advice. Mountains2015_2But in the 2013 floods, some of the people who had built high up on the hillsides away from the river banks had their homes come crashing down anyway. They had built on “high ground,” but their lofty locations were really slippery slopes of loose dirt, prone to landslides. The Christian community has recently seen many who seemed to be safe on “high ground” brought down by the floods of self-gratification. They didn’t realize that the heights of human wisdom, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency are nothing but slippery scree.  Climbing to safety only works if you’re on the solid Rock.

SMountains2015_1o what are we to do after floods destroy what we have known and loved? We can’t move away until God calls us home. We have to stay and help clear as much rubble as we can, pick up some of the pieces, and provide help and comfort to those who have experienced loss. We may grieve for the “old normal” because the displaced boulders, crumbled foundations and up-rooted trees of the “new normal” aren’t very pretty. But this is where God has called to labor for the time being.

But we can take heart; some day the “new normal” won’t be another version of the old, groaning, sin-tainted earth. It will be “a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (Rev. 21:1)

 

 

 

Hymn 82 by Isaac Watts

Shall the vile race of flesh and blood

Contend with their Creator God?

Shall mortal worms presume to be

More holy, wise, or just, than He?

Behold He puts His trust in none

Of all the spirits round His throne;

Their natures when compared with his

Are neither holy, just, nor wise.

But how much meaner things are they

Who spring from dust and dwell in clay!

Touched by the finger of Thy wrath

We faint and vanish like a moth.

From night to day, and day to night,

We die by thousands in Thy sight;

Buried in dust whole nations lie

Like a forgotten vanity.

Almighty Pow’r! To Thee we bow,

How frail are we, how glorious Thou!

No more the sons of earth shall dare

With an Eternal God compare.

by Teri Ong

A Meditation

Posted By on September 26, 2015

Speed Star 1.1521345  00I am a cloud,
A vapor animated
By the Breath of God.
I rise up new

On currents warmed by the Sun,
Always pushed higher.
White, I reflectSpeed Star 1.1502369  00
Brilliant Light, or gold fired
Past the horizon;
Yet my shadow
May ominously obscure
Or give cooling shelter.
I can produce
Disappointing drought, or floods
cloudOut of my belly.
On wings of Wind,
I’m pushed high and higher still
Til I evaporate
In heavenly air.

 

Teri Ong
August 2015
~Written on the occasion of watching the cloud shows every evening from a cabin in Clark,  Colorado.~