What is it about us that many of us are just not happy to use a generic mailbox? Where I have lived, either careening cars or snowplows have taken them out often enough that it never would have paid to get too creative. But that doesn't keep me from admiring the variety that I see on the roadsides. I especially like the mailboxes that fit my "Country Touch" theme.
One type of "Country Touch" mailbox could be classified as the reused antique farm equipment genre. You have to have some room for this one so it is usually found in the countryside. Hopefully they are found in places where they are unlikely to be a hazard to errant drivers. Personally, I'd rather see this old John Deere with its lug wheels restored but... The plow one works because it is situated slanting uphill.
Then there is the type of mailbox where the building geniuses have been at work. Materials and themes vary. The example here is definitely a sturdy one made to look like the maple syrup shanties common in that area. The mailbox looks like it's made by a good welder and I don't think the road salt will bother it either.
Despite all the other web competition and especially despite the inroads of Facebook, my blog remains by far my favorite social media expression. Here are a few of my reasons.
Blogging seems so much more suitable to a writer. The very idea of Twitter is just not me. I desire to measure my words, not blurt out the first phrase that stumbles out. Plus, how do I say it in 140 characters? And if I want to banter on Facebook, I prefer it to be about something with substance like a blog article—or maybe a family picture.
A blog is something I get to format. I determine the theme, how the post looks and how the pictures go with it. I enjoy this creativity, even though it requires some continual learning of page construction.
A blog post seems more enduring than a Facebook post. The latter is quickly lost in the scrolling mass of input. A blog post remains close to the top of my blog much longer.
A blog is an enduring resource for others on the topics which the blog’s creator chooses. Blog posts can be accessed quickly by category or tag. Each blog adds to the internet’s treasure trove of info on the topics the writer chooses.
A blog post can be a source from which other social media can draw. It would not work the other way around.
Appeal to a writer
Facebook has taken over as the necessary advertiser for blog posts and the locus for blog comments.
How Facebook affects blogging
There is no doubt that the biggest change since I started blogging is the rise of Facebook. It provides strong competition to the blogosphere. The fact that I wrote the last paragraph at all is an indication of that competition. Here are some other ways I think Facebook has affected blogging.
Some less enduring posts are put on Facebook instead of the blog. This has the negative effect of lessening the amount and breadth of material on the blog but the positive effect of strengthening the quality and depth of material on the blog. The longer and more thoughtful posts tend to go on the blog. The lighter, more ephemeral stuff goes on Facebook.
Unfortunately, for most people, much family and personal history may end up being more on Facebook since this is where people tend to note happenings in their lives unless they use Twitter or Instagram instead.
Facebook has pretty much taken over as the public relations place for a blog post. If I write a post and don’t note on my Facebook page that I wrote it, very few will read it. But if I make a note about it on my Facebook page, then I get readers. So Facebook has become the necessary advertising vehicle for posts. The other day I allowed the Jetpack automatic feature to notify Facebook of my WordPress post. It did so only routinely and did not use the picture I wanted. It garnered one “like” all day. About eight hours later, I used a more related picture and wrote a short advertisement on Facebook for the same article. Within a couple hours it had 5 “likes” and a comment.
Facebook has also taken over the role that blog comments formerly played. In the last couple years, I have received nearly all my feedback on Facebook, not via blog comments. Considering all the spam issues and the maintenance required to keep blog comments open at all, I have seriously considered doing away with them. I have not done so as some readers who are professionals dealing with the public, such as teachers, police, etc. do not use Facebook.
I modify my choice of picture byte sizes according to what I think Facebook will pick up when it advertises my post. I don’t claim to understand the relationship but I know it often affects what I do.
I noticed that the total count of my posts, pages, sermons and comments on my blog has passed the 1000 mark. More than five hundred of those blog events are posts. Just over one hundred fifty are sermon manuscripts of messages prepared since coming to Copper Hill UMC. To be honest, I thought I would reach this 1 K milestone much sooner. But with a semi-retirement pastorate and two wonderful grandchildren in my life, I’m been much busier than anticipated. In addition, my personal blog now has much more competition for my computer time than it did when I began in 2010. Now I have a busy Facebook presence and a Pinterest account, plus I manage a second blog for our church, contribute to our church’s Facebook page, and help my wife with her blog-style website as well.
Posts + pages + sermons + comments > 1000
New Page Software
Renewing my blog
One goal as I reach this milestone is to renew my blog. Change is inevitable. It takes intentional change to create a fresh face and keep progressing.
Toward this end, I decided that two new categories would be helpful both to me in initiating new material and to my readers. The new category called “Country Touches” will be pure fun—interesting pictures and observations. Another New Category named “Best Five” will be a vehicle for passing on to my readers some quick lists of top five in my experience in any area that comes to mind. I hope it helps others tap sources of wisdom that I have discovered.
I’m also experimenting with new page creation software by SiteOrigin. The Country Touch post about my sister’s outside décor was the first to use that software. It looks like a hit. I’ve experimented with a program called Sway as well but it did not format well online and I think SiteOrigin will replace it.
It is a constant goal to use higher quality pictures and pictures that fit the content better. I hope there is a new phone camera in my near future to help this goal along.
Three goals for future blogging
This milestone has also made me stop and review my blogging goals. What do I intend to do with my blog going forward?
I plan to continue the emphasis upon wisdom. Learntobewise.com has become more than my blog address, it has become a mission. Wisdom is so lacking in our world today. In fact, in general I believe we do not have wisdom enough to know we are short of it. Action is valued; adrenaline is sought; acting is pursued; sports prowess is idolized, but wisdom is neglected. So I pray that by God’s grace I can make my blog a place where words of wisdom are shared, both ones I write and ones I find and forward to my readers via my blog. I pray that God gives me wisdom enough to do so (James 1:5).
I want my blog to be a place for some fun, both for me and for my readers. Look for more posts in categories like Americana, Country Touches, and on subjects like being a Grandpa, vacation accounts, daylily galleries and Christmas train set pictures. They are all blogging fun for me and I hope for my readers as well.
More public messages pages
I plan to continue building the sermon archive on my blog as a reference and resource for parishioners, other pastors and Christian workers. Crafting sermon outlines and writing messages for our congregation comes relatively easy to me and if I can provide resources to others, I would consider that a privilege. It fits with my goal about sharing wisdom and it would extend the use of my gifts and my influence as a Bible teacher and preacher. I am especially humbled to note that many readers of my blog are international. And I am aware from my missions trips that Christian workers in other places often do not have access to all the Bible education that I have had. Besides, it is wise use of time and resources to edit slightly what I already write each week as a part of my pastoral ministry to also build my blog.
Jung Courville’s case is another example of the immoral policy of attempting to deport a parent who has been in the country for years as a law abiding citizen. Of course, she and her husband and her neglectful lawyer should have resolved her immigration situation many years ago. Of course, the laws should be changed like the lawyer expected. But given the current situation, deportation is a just plain immoral choice. The right answer is to resolve such cases quickly, either by further extension or preferably by some more permanent fix. Where is the wisdom and the legal structure to do so? Does the administration think this kind of debacle is good publicity? It probably makes good press for Senator Bumenthal to fight the administration on this case. And I am glad he is for the sake of the conscience of us all. Yet how about him joining a coalition to actually get the Democrats and Republicans to agree to a compromise “fix-the-system” legislation. Now there’s a thought! It seems like both parties would much rather make hay with their bases by bashing the other side. Meanwhile people like Jung Courville and Marco Reyes and their families suffer. This situation is unacceptable. It is clear that people like Jung and Marco need a way to fix what has unwisely been allowed to happen over the past twenty years. We need politicians that will get that job done!
If you object to me saying that deportation of parents like Jung and Marco is an immoral choice, I defer to Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan and to the repeated direct words of the OT. When the Bible is this clear we have little excuse for obfuscating.
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien. Ex 22:21 NRSV
There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. Ex 12:49 NRSV
I just love outside country decorating touches. I don't claim to be good at making them happen myself but I certainly do recognize them when I see them. And I usually know why I like them too. This little corner trio is at my sister MarySue's house. What a great way to treat an otherwise boring driveway corner.
Being from the farm originally and having an appreciation for antique farm equipment as well, I have always liked the big wheels. In addition, I have handled milk cans like this one as a teen on the farm. Plus, I'm a gardener. So I am predisposed to like this trio. But there's more.
I love the repetition of red and white. Notice the country touch of leaving the "weed" in the flower pot, I suspect because the flower is white and fits the scheme, in fact adds to it.
I love the variety and the trio. It's a pleasing number of items with a delightful contrast of texture, shape and size with the large wheel, the middle sized can and the low spreading red petunias.
What a great way to treat an otherwise boring driveway corner.
Last week I took time for a walk up into the woods. The woods that I normally walk is filled with beautiful stands of oak, but on this particular noontime walk I happen to notice that there were many smaller black birch trees scattered in the hilltop area where I had stopped to half sit, half lean against a loaded-pallet sized boulder to rest.
I was suddenly taken back in my mind to a walk that I had taken with my family as a boy. Occasionally we picnicked in a deep wide ravine which we called Tough Gully. One day as we were hiking back up out of the gully from our picnic, my father pointed out a large black birch tree with branches hanging over into the field where we were walking. He plucked some twigs and told us to chew them because they would taste like root beer. I did.
Now on this day, more than 50 years later, I suddenly remembered and I walked over to the nearest black birch and knocked down a twig from its 9 foot perch with my walking stick and began to chew it, and, sure enough, it tasted like root beer! Thanks, Dad for the memory and the lesson. I’m sure such demonstrations are one of the reasons I know what a black birch tree is today and how its twigs taste. I snapped a picture of my twig with the tender bark gnawed away.
On the way down the hill from my walk I saw a young man walking up and I thought he might think it strange to see me chewing on a twig. So I explained what was going on. He gave me the strangest look.
I wondered to myself. Who in my family will know this little piece of forest lore when I am gone? Not that it is an earthshaking or survival-crucial fact. But how many other tidbits like it will fall forgotten when my generation passes? And how much practical info must have already fallen forgotten when the generations before us have gone on?
I thought about how important it is to spend somewhat unstructured time with future generations. For as things come up in life experience or in conversation, it is then that we in the older generation have an opportunity to pass on something that we have learned or that was passed on to us. Some of it might be interesting trivia, like enjoying the root beer tastes of a black birch twig. But something else more weighty that we share might someday become crucial for the emotional or spiritual or even physical survival of someone we love. Chewing on the memory made me value all the more the time I get to spend with my daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren.
One of the illuminating side stories of the passion of Jesus is the mini drama of the choice that Pilate proposes to the people of the crowd assembled at the trial of Jesus. Pilate is looking for ways to avoid condemning someone he believes is innocent and he remembers that it is time for him to honor a custom of releasing a prisoner at the time of the Jewish feast (Matt. 27:15). So he asks the crowd who they would like him to release, Barabbas or Jesus.
Barabbas’ full name
There is an interesting historical fact that adds further drama to the narrative. Twice Pilate uses the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” (vv 17, 21). The reason for this becomes clear when we discover that in some of the very oldest manuscripts Barabbas is named Jesus Barabbas (Barclay p. 361). This reading was known to Origen and Jerome, very early church scholars, who both thought it was correct. Most modern translators agree and have included it in their translations (NIV, NRSV, TEV). It makes Pilate’s choice of words make more sense. He is asking the crowd for a choice between Jesus Barabbas, a rebel against the government, and a murderer, and Jesus who is called Christ. Influenced by the Jewish leaders they shout for the release of Jesus Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus who is called Christ. Pilate was hoping they would choose the good man over the murderer, but the chief priest’s contrary influence won out.
The irony of the choice
The irony of this choice is incredible. First, the name, Jesus, comes from the idea of salvation (Matt. 1:21). Jesus who is called Christ had said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
The first irony is this. Barabbas means “Son of the father,” father being a term for a Jewish teacher and leader (Barclay). So the name Barabbas itself speaks of the choice the people were making. The people were choosing the influence of the Jewish teachers and leaders over that of the true Anointed One who came from the heavenly Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). They listened to the Jewish teachers and choose Jesus Barabbas. Jesus who is called the Christ had warned, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).
Second, being a rebel, perhaps even a Zealot (J. Sidlow Baxter in Explore the Book), Jesus Barabbas represents salvation by political and even violent means. This was the way the disciples mistakenly thought the Kingdom would come. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter drew his sword to start the battle. But Jesus forbade him. Earthly politics and military action was the way the Jews also thought they would be rescued from the Romans. Their choice of Jesus Barabbas, the insurrectionist, was ironically consistent with that erroneous view. In rejecting Jesus who is called Christ, they rejected God’s way to salvation, a salvation that changes hearts and transforms minds first. Jesus who is called the Christ rules a heavenly kingdom as he answered Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
In a third irony, Jesus Barabbas was a robber (John 18:40). Jesus who is called Christ accused the Jewish leaders of turning God’s house into a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Jesus who is the Christ warned that the thief comes to “steal and kill and destroy.” But in contrast “I am come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In choosing Jesus Barabbas, the people unwittingly choose allegiance to the Enemy of our souls, the one who steals from our lives and rejected the Anointed One who gives life.
This would all be very academic if it did not so accurately reflect the parallel choices that we make when we choose against Jesus who is called the Christ.
We can also heed the wrong voices! Sometimes we listen to the insistent and immediate voices of peer pressure, rationalization and other influencers. We cast our lot with them even though we sense the opposing pull of the moral power of “Jesus who is called the Christ.”
We sometimes choose the weapons of this world to fix things. We can’t quite envision how a spiritual kingdom makes a difference so we indulge in hatred and succumb to the lure of seeking salvation for our world by political intrigue, or even by violent intervention. We crucify anew the one who urged us to love our enemies, whose coming had been announced with “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), and who himself said, “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27).
We unwittingly choose that which depletes our joy. We give in to the siren call of habits that harm our health, relationships that are not God’s best plan, and we hate discipline. Then we wonder who has robbed us of health and peace and why our selfishness has also left us lonely. It’s hard to admit that we have been influenced by the enemy and have little by little rejected the one who wants to make us truly alive (Ephesians 2:1-5).
This is why we need to celebrate Good Friday–to remember how much a part of wrong side of that frightful day we are. In the words of a contemporary hymn, “Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers”
(by Stuart Townend in How Deep the Father’s Love for Us)
What will you do to honor Jesus this Easter? Let’s be creative and look past traditional habits and token self-denials. Are there other practical answers to that question? Unfortunately, many people who answer to the label as Christians will do little or nothing to honor Jesus this Easter! No one could guess from their Holy Week activities that they were a Christian at all. That’s not the way it should be.
Honor Jesus with action
During Holy Week true Christians remember the suffering of Jesus including his death on the cross. Easter is the highest point of the church year, the time when we remember Jesus’ climactic victory over death. Above all times, this is when Christians should be most active in celebrating their Savior. And our celebration should not just be with words. Words alone cannot honor one who taught us to put his sayings into action (Matthew 7:24-27). But not everyone will want to honor Jesus in exactly the same way. So here are five suggestions all of which will help us truly honor Jesus this Easter.
Give a gift of your time and love to help someone in need. This could range from random acts of kindness to strangers to volunteering at a nursing facility to visiting a disabled friend to doing outdoor work for an elderly neighbor to… The more in-person the gift, the better for this one. Jesus was always helping someone in need. He told us he came to serve others and urged us to do the same (Matt. 20:25-28).
Give a gift of money to a cause that helps those who are among people who the OT would include among the “oppressed.” Such causes include aid to those suffering from natural disasters, aid to refugees, aid for victims of racial injustice, groups working against systemic poverty, food banks, etc. If we are not willing to acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give of our finances to others, we have not yet caught the Spirit of Jesus.
Worship at church during Holy week. First of all, Jesus deserves to be honored by our presence in services in his honor. Second, it is the upward look that sustains our outward focus and dims our self-centeredness. At Copper Hill there are three opportunities from Palm Sunday through Easter.
Speak to someone about your faith in Jesus. This conversation could be a short personal anecdote describing some way that your faith has helped you. It could be an invitation to a friend to attend a service with you. It could be an offer to pray for someone who is going through a tough time and would appreciate a prayer. There’s no better time than Easter time to make Jesus a positive part of our conversation.