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Lower Robbing Lake, Cathedral Rock and Mount Rainier, September 2010

Lower Robbing Lake, Cathedral Rock and Mount Rainier, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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God Surprises 3

There is a great debate among modern evangelicals as to whether faith is its own spiritual substance. Does faith cause miracles to happen?  Or, in a more benign manner, does it cause God to move, act or show up on our behalf?  On the other side, others argue that faith causes nothing, that God is sovereign and moves or acts according to his own will and that all that is necessary is for faith to believe and trust that God is present.

For my part, 6 years of Bible College and 3 years of seminary have left the question open ended for me. I have come to believe that faith and God are mysterious things.  The scholastic rationalism that came out of the enlightenment would eviscerate our faith by attempting to dissect our knowledge of God into its smallest parts.  Parts of God keep jumping off the table of knowledge, however, and escaping our reason.

So, the answer must lie somewhere in between what we know and the shroud of mystery surrounding the Holy One. In my life, there have been times when God has seemed to work in accordance with my expectations.  Then, there are those times when God seems to have worked outside my expectations or despite my expectations.  These are the times that God surprises me.

Shortly after our oldest son was born, we moved to Quilcene, Washington. I had accepted a small Assembly of God church’s invitation to pastor.  We found an old single-wide mobile home to live in and settled into a life on the rural Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.  Logging was the main stay of the economy besides a few Oyster farms around Quilcene and Dabob bays.  The church was newly built and most of the people who attended fairly new Christians.

My parents visited us one weekend. So, early on a Saturday morning, we were sitting around the breakfast table finishing breakfast and enjoying coffee.  I had just finished making a fresh pot of coffee and poured hot, steaming mugs for everyone.  Our son was walking by then and toddling around the kitchen between grandparents and parents.

Suddenly, faster than anyone could react, my son grabbed his grandfather’s coffee mug and pulled it on to himself. He instantly started screaming.  I got up to get to him.  My wife, Kelly, was already taking off his one piece sleeper that he was still in to get the hot liquid it had soaked up away from him.

I looked him over and noticed that his left forearm was already starting to blister with a big ugly red bubble. So, I picked him up and rushed him over to the kitchen sink, turned on the cold water and ran his arm under the tap.  He was still screaming as Kelly checked the rest of him over.  It seemed that his left arm, the one he reached for the coffee mug with, was affected the worst.

I continued to run cold water over his arm for many minutes and watched as the blister on his arm grew. I knew from personal experience that this was painful.  A few years before I had opened the cap on a radiator of a car and steamed my right arm.  I had one blister from my arm-pit to my wrist for many weeks.  It took a long time to heal.  The pain for the first week was excruciating.

As my son’s cries turned to sobs, he started to wiggle in my arms. I took this as a sign that he was done with the cold water.  So, I placed him on the kitchen floor and we looked him over again.  There was nothing else that seemed to have burned.  Only his left arm still had a big blister.

My dad suggested, “Let’s pray for him.”

So, as a family we gathered around the bewildered little boy and prayed. My dad led in prayer that his arm would heal and that Jesus would take the pain away.  Amen.  It was as short and brief as just that.  Nothing melodramatic.  Just a simple prayer.

I remembered that I still had some bandages and burn cream ointment left over from my burn experience. So, Kelly dug it out of the bathroom.  We applied a little cream, bandaged the bright red wound with its water-bubbly blister and watched as our son went to the living room to play with toys.  Soon, he was lost in his own little world playing and chattering to himself.

Stones in Beckler River, Washington, July 2010

Stones in Beckler River, Washington, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Later that day in the early afternoon, we were all outside. Our young son was running around the front yard.  He seemed oblivious to the earlier morning events.

Well, he doesn’t seemed bothered by the burn,” Kelly noted.  “His bandage is coming loose, though, I should adjust it before it falls off and he gets it dirty.”

I went over to him and picked him up to take him to his mother.

He watched as his mother unraveled the bandage so that she could re-wrap his arm again. When she got down to the wound, the blister was gone.  In fact, there was only a small red spot where it had been before.  We looked at each other amazed.  Then we called my parents over to look.  We were all surprised.

Kelly took the bandage off the rest of the way, cleaned off the burn ointment that was still on his arm and let our son continue to play. We all stood amazed as we watched him chase a ball around the yard as each of us took turns rolling it to him.  It seemed like such a small thing and yet such a surprising thing.

So, was it our faith displayed that caused God to surprise us with his grace? Or, was it simply that God enjoys surprising us with his goodness?  Maybe both.  Either way, we are always surprised.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Church Family Care

While leading a church, there were many times that I received a phone call from someone who needed help with rent, utilities, groceries, and fuel or travel costs.  As much as I wanted to help, our church’s benevolence budget was often way over drawn as it was and there were no monies available anywhere else.

I would ask, “Have you tried the various help organizations in our community?”  The answer was affirmative; however, they were not able to get the help they needed.  I felt helpless.  All I could do was offer a few suggestions, words of encouragement, and a prayer.

The communities I worked in were blessed to have so many help organizations to help those in need:  Salvation Army, Saint Vincent DePaul, Gospel Missions, Food and Clothing Banks, 12-Step Programs, Domestic Abuse and Violence Advocates, and many others.  Volunteers who have a big heart to help people in need staff these.  A paid staff of one or two is underpaid.  At the same time, their resources are also often limited and overtaxed too.

Like many churches in our area, our church always got its fair share of calls from people who needed help.  Sometimes, they were systematically, desperately going through the phone book calling churches.  Other times, they are calling blind, hoping for a kind voice and helping hand.

Sure, there are the ‘frequent fliers:’ people who abuse the system and live dependent upon the benevolence of others.  But many more people are sincerely in need.  They are often the work poor:  people who have jobs, but jobs that do not pay enough to cover basic living expenses.  Often the help they need is only temporary, until a job, a place to live, or other steady self-support is obtained.

In all of this, I see first hand the wonderful advantage of belonging to a church. The church family provides a wonderful safety net in times of distress and crisis.  It becomes like an extended family that rallies support and help.  Of course, people can have such a network of caring and supporting relationships outside of a church.  But no where have I seen it work so well time and time again as within a congregational setting.

Seattle Ferry and Mt. Rainier, June 2007

Seattle Ferry and Mt. Rainier, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Within our own church, we have showered food upon families financially strapped; helped get cars fixed that were depended upon for work; chipped in together to help with medical bills; and volunteered to take care of children during a family crisis.  I have witnessed this take place for long-term care of a family or individual, not just for short-term ones.

This is not to just brag only upon the church families I have attended or led. I know for a fact that this is repeated many times over in most, if not all, of our churches.  In the community of faith, we take care of one another because we love one another.  Above and beyond a benevolent budget, we will spontaneously extend ourselves to help one another.

Aside from your own family, your church family is your best source of help – and in some cases may even be better than your own family. Develop those relationships with your own expressions of love and care for the others there.   Someday, it will come back to you.

If you have not made an effort to be a part of a church family, now is the time! There will come a time when you will need someone else’s shoulder for comfort, arm for strength, or heart for courage.  Then is not the time to depend upon your fingers to find help in the Yellow Pages.  Then is the time to have church friends and family to call.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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It is hard to believe that the eruption of Mount Saint Helens was thirty years ago on May 18th.  It hardly seems that long ago.  I have visited the mountain and looked out over the devastated landscape a few time and am always amazed at the force that must have been displayed that day.  At the same time, I also filled with wonder at how well nature has healed itself.  The new landscape is giving way to new life.

From an eastern observatory, one can look across to the mountain and see the new mountain dome being built by the forces of nature underneath the earth’s surface.  One has to wonder when this active volcano will act again – or whether any of its sister volcanoes will follow suit in the near future.  Measuring by the eye the distance between where Mt. St. Helens sits and where its blown top now visible sits in the landscape many miles away, one can only hope it will not be too soon.  It is enough excitement for one lifetime.  Well, if you were awake for it, I guess.

On that Sunday morning 30 years ago, I slept through the whole thing.  I was attending Northwest College in Kirkland, Washington – now Northwest University.  Whether from studying for tests or completing a term paper, I cannot recall today, I decided to sleep and not go to church that morning.  I slept until almost noon.  The rest of my day was continued in my room while I continued studying, completely oblivious to what the rest of the world was experiencing through television or living through with falling volcanic ash.  Sunday’s were pretty quite days on campus; no cafeteria service, library or extra curricular activities going on so there was no opportunity for me to even hear it from another student.  I do not remember where my room mate was in all of this but he must not have been around either.

It was not until my 7:30 am class Monday that I finally got into the news loop and became informed!  I was stunned.  Mount St. Helens finally blew its top?  I did not know about it until now?  It took me some time to get updated on what had happened that day; the people who died, the ash cloud’s devastation, friends and fellow students caught in the falling ash, the devastating flooding and mud flows as well as the ecological holocaust left behind.

Anyone who lived during that event, especially those who had dramatic experiences during it, recalls vividly where they were and what they were doing that day, May 18, 1980.  There are many interesting and dramatic stories about where people were, what they were doing and how they got back home through the blowing volcanic ash.  Me?  I just remember that I slept through the whole thing.

2010 Spring in Cascades from Indian John Hill

2010 Spring in Cascades from Indian John Hill ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Isn’t this a whole like life?  While we are sleeping there is always devastation taking place some place in the world and we are completely ignorant of it until and if it breaks the local news.  Today we have the internet, which was not a luxury we had back then.  Personal computers were just beginning to be taken seriously but were still a novelty item for the most part.  Now, we can get “up to the minute breaking news stories.”  Still, most of the world sleeps.

While we are sleeping people are starving (every 6-7 seconds a child dies from hunger, that’s 80 children in an 8-hour sleep cycle), suffer through battles of war, survive – or don’t – a sudden natural disaster, hear news of a loved one’s unexpected death, are told they have a disease that gives them only a short time longer to live or suffer a horrible accident.  Tragic human events do not stop.  Most of the time, we “sleep” through them in our busy schedules.

There is One who never sleeps, however.  The cries of suffering, injustice, death and tragedy are always ringing in His ears.  He is not just on notice when a mountain erupts.  He also knows when a sparrow falls from the sky (Matt. 10:29).  If the Creator can pay such close attention to every detail of His creation, then you and I can sleep soundly.  He only asks us from time to time to sit up and take notice of those situations brought to our attention so that we can do something about it by donating our time, resources or energies in order to help alleviate the suffering, injustice and sorrow.

So, there is still a lot that I seem to sleep through in life.  I often find out about things when it is too late.  However, when I am awake I hope I am alert enough to be watchful for how I can respond.  I may be a day late but I can jump in when I am ready.  While I was sleeping in on May 18, 1980, the world changed.  I am hoping that the in the next 30 years I will have more moments where I am awake than sleeping when world events take place.  If that does happen, however, maybe someone out there can knock on my door and check on me?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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They say dreams have meaning; whoever “they” are anyway. I do not remember most of my dreams.  As I have grown older it seems that my dreams repeat themselves.  At least, I seem to, in the middle of a dream, be aware that “I have dreamed this dream before.”  They also get more weird.  When I wake up, I have a very foggy impression that I had a weird dream again but for the life of me cannot remember any details.

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It is much more fun with my youngest son, Colin, however. He has a habit of dreaming out loud.  Since I am the night owl in the family and do not have to get up early for any job, I am frequently up very late.  So, I often hear my son talking in his sleep.  Whatever he is dreaming about seems to be very lively.  Like one of his Gamecube games, they tend to be very interactive.

One particular night, as I passed his door as I was shutting down the house lights and getting ready to go to bed, I heard him loudly talking, almost yelling. Concerned, I peaked into his room.  He seemed to be upset about something and was mumbling loudly.

“Perhaps it is a nightmare,” I thought to myself.

Out of genuine parental concern, I attempted to gently wake him. Without touching him, I whispered forcefully, “Colin!  Colin, you all right?”  This seemed to do the trick as he sat up in bed startled.  But then I knew he still was not in the real world when he declared, “I’m going to build you a mansion!”

“What?” I answered, quickly realizing how stupid it was to attempt to talk to a middle-schooler caught in dreamland.

“I’m going to build you a mansion,” Colin said.

Suddenly, my parental concern turned into, “Oh.  This could be fun!”  So, changing gears, I decided to enter “the rabbit hole” with him.

“You are?” I asked him.

“Yup,” he reassured me rather groggily.  He flopped back down onto his bed.

Wondering if the fun was suddenly over, I prodded with a question.  “How big is it going to be?”

“Big!” came the sleepy but assertive reply.

“That’s cool!” I said.  “Can it be near the ocean with a view of the mountains?”

He sat up again as if to think.  He rubbed his eyes, “Sure.  But it can only have six bedrooms.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to not sound too disappointed.  “Well, I’m sure that will be plenty for visiting family and the grandkids for the weekend.”

He laid back down again.

Wondering if my fun was over, I prodded again by asking, “How soon do you think you can have that done?”

Suddenly, Colin rolled up on on his bed and put his feet on the floor.

“What?” he asked.

“How soon can you have that mansion done?” I repeated.

His head jerked up toward me with a surprised expression, “What are you talking about?”  There was still sleep in his voice but the dreamland wistfulness was certainly gone.

“The mansion you said you were going to build,” I told him.

He got up and started out of his room.

“You’re crazy,” he said.

“What?!” I protested.  “You were the one who offered!”

As he left his room, I asked, “Where are you going.”

“To the bathroom.”  And he disappeared behind the hall bathroom door.

I smiled.  Kids are so much fun.  They have such great dreams.  Here, at least, is one dream I am hoping he has that will come true someday.  That would be way-cool.  Sweet dreams, my youngest, son.  Sweet dreams.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Spring Runoff at Multnomah Falls, Oregon, 2010

Spring Runoff at Multnomah Falls, Oregon, 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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One of the Many Lakes of Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2003

One of the Many Lakes of Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Linguaphobia

People in the United States are not the only ones on earth who have an anxiety about learning another language.  It is a common problem all over the world.  Some of it is due to educational attempts that do not work real well to teach foreign languages.  Some of it is due to a strong nationalism and identity with a mother-language.  Anxiety or fear of learning a foreign language is often called “linguaphobia”.

The real problem develops when linguaphobia develops into a linguacentrism; the idea that one particular language should be the only one spoken.  This is becoming more prevalent in the United States in recent years as a result of the rise in immigration and in particular the rise of Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants.  More and more, one hears the angry declaration, “They live in America now.  They should speak English!”  As if, somehow crossing a boarder grants one the magical and immediate power to learn a foreign language.

The cultural tension becomes greater when xenoglossophobia develops among the mother-language speakers – English, in the case of the United States.  This is the fear of foreign language speakers.  It can also be called xenophobia; the fear or dislike of people different than your self.  I believe this is a growing problem in the United States.  It is a problem created more from “group-think” than any actual threat.

The fact of the matter is that the United States has always been an nation of immigrants.  As such, it has always contained within its borders people who speak many different languages.  Early on, it began mainly with European languages – German, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish among many others.  This explain the complexity of the American English language.  It is a compound of many additional foreign words!

Another fact that is often overlooked today is that English language acquisition has often taken immigrants a generation or two to assimilate so that it is no longer a foreign or second language to them.  In the Midwest for example, many community churches retained their ethnic language identities in German and Scandinavian languages up until a few decades ago!  There are still a few who use the original mother-tongue language occasional in their church services.

Indian Heaven Wilderness Stream, Summer 2002

Indian Heaven Wilderness Stream, Summer 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My Swedish grandfather came from Sweden as a child, struggled to learn English, but still retained and spoke Swedish until his death.  It was not until his children came along that English was the mother-tongue language.  As his grandchild, I know and understand no Swedish.  I suspect that for recent immigrants – legal or illegal – to the United States it will take the same amount of time.  Our own experience as immigrants should make us more tolerant and patient with new arrivals to this land of opportunity.

It is particularly shameful for those within the Church to be intolerant or xenophobic.  Since the Great Commission compels us to be witnesses to every ethnic group on earth, they should see this as a golden opportunity.  Instead of needing to go to foreign lands to the people of the world, the people of the world are coming to our communities and neighborhoods!  This saves the Church thousands of dollars in sending missionaries overseas.  Now the mission field is settling around us in small ethnic conclaves that can be easily reached by many Christians and churches.

The final picture of the Bride of Christ – the Church – we have in The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ should also motivate us to welcome and embrace people of different cultures and languages.  The vision presented to us (7:9) is a multi-ethnic, multi-language celebration gathered around the Lamb’s throne.  They will be singing and dancing – each according to their cultural and language – to the words, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (7:10).  I really do not think that at that glorious and holy moment some xenophobe American is going to yell out, “Hey, speak English!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Indian Heaven Wilderness Waterfall, Summer 2002

Indian Heaven Wilderness Waterfall, Summer 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The Easter celebration will soon be upon us.  I prefer to call it Resurrection Sunday or Resurrection Celebration.  Whatever you prefer to call it, it is a time to commemorate Passover.  This is the most important holiday for Christians and religious Jews.  What God instituted in these two events changed the course of history forever.

Passover remembers Israel’s physical redemption from slavery in Egypt.  The Passover meal is full of wonderful symbolism.  The house is purged of all leaven.  Leaven, which is natural born yeast, is a symbol of sin.  It is everywhere.  Therefore, a careful and thorough cleaning of the house takes place.  Then, special candles and dinnerware used only for Passover is set on a table.

Ceremonial food is used as sensory aids to tell the story of God delivering Israel from bondage and slavery in Egypt.  Egypt symbolizes humankind’s bondage and slavery to Satan’s work and sin.  Each prayer and song during the Passover celebration has a special message in the story.  It is a holy night.

God commanded that three main Passover symbols be used in the ceremony.  He called for a sacrificial lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread.  Each has its own unique significance in retelling the story of God’s salvation of Israel from slavery.

Since there is no Temple to offer the sacrificial lamb, chicken is now used.  Because of this substitution, the Passover ceremony presently centers around the unleavened bread, called matzo.  It is usually displayed in three pieces in an ornate bag on the Passover table.

The middle matzo is taken out of the bag, broken in two, and then one of the broken pieces is put back in the bag and hidden, or buried, under a cushion.  It is brought out from being buried or hidden and distributed at the end of the meal.  Often this is accompanied by any children present looking for the hidden matzo piece; a practice that may have later led to the “Easter Egg Hunt.”

The matzo is a cracker-like wafer is about seven inches square and is made without yeast or salt.  It is also striped and perforated with tiny holes.

Why such a bland bread at such an important meal?  It is to remember when Israel fled Egypt so fast that they did not have time to bake regular bread.  Simple water and flour was used for bread in the dramatic escape from Egypt.  The matzo, then, serves as a powerful reminder of God’s delivering power to those in the Jewish faith.

Indian Heaven Wilderness Trail, Fall 2001

Indian Heaven Wilderness Trail, Fall 2001 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The importance of the Passover matzo bread is even more meaningful to Christians.  At the Passover meal, Jesus the Messiah took the matzo, broke it, and then proclaimed, “This is my body which is broken for you.”  It is a powerful reminder to Christians of the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s foretelling of the coming Suffering Servant and Messiah.

The Passover bread is untainted by leaven, the biblical picture of sin.  The Messiah, too, had no sin in his life.  Matzo is also striped and pierced; a picture of the suffering Messiah who was striped with Roman lashes and pierced in his hands and feet by nails, and in his side by a spear.

During a similar Passover celebration, just like the one coming up soon, Jesus one time proclaimed, “I am the bread of life; the one that comes to me will never hunger” (John 6:35).  For the Christian, Jesus fulfills all the meaning of the Passover bread.  God through his son Jesus the Messiah, delivers us from bondage to sin.

For the Christian, the three wafers symbolize the three persons of the Triune Godhead – the Trinity.  Jesus, the middle person, was taken from his special place in heaven, revealed to us, broken for our deliverance, buried, raised to new life, and was taken up to heaven, returning to his rightful place, and he will one day return and reveal himself again to set up his kingdom.

Bread is the universal food of the world.  Jesus the Messiah is the bread, spiritual food, we need to have spiritual life.  He said, “It is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is the one who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).

This Passover and Resurrection Celebration let us break bread together.  Take time to purge your house and life through repentance and the forgiveness offered through the sacrifice of the Suffering Messiah and Servant of God, Jesus.  Remember the former life you once lived.  Give thanks to God for his deliverance through his son, Jesus.  And, with all your heart, seek the One who was dead but is now alive and sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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