Skeleton Key

Key: “a small metal instrument specially cut to fit into a lock and move its bolt.”

When I was a child of about five, the World War to end all wars had just ended. My father moved us to a small farm outside of a community called Crossed Keys, Pennsylvania. The farm had an old white house and red barn. The barn became my favorite play area. Entering the dark barn meant that I hid behind bales of hay piled under a loft from those nefarious pirates always stalking me. Next to the loft on the first floor were several empty stables and a tack room. The loft area had more bales of hay and some very old and musty equipment lying around. And there were pigeons … lots of pigeons who were never appreciative of my disturbing their roosting area. Their old eggs that never hatched and stank to high heaven when broken, became my source of ammunition at imagined invaders of my castle.

It was here were I developed a childish love affair with keys. I loved poking around that old barn. By the time I was six, I had a ring of them four of them … the old-fashioned kind that I knew were once used to unlock secret cabinets, dungeons and cellar doors. When God assigned my DNA, he gave me a large dose of imagination. That is why I knew possessing the  keys associated me with frightening and mysterious people. I knew that every one of the keys that I discovered held some old mystery that would be dangerous to uncover. Somewhere in a movie I had heard the term skeleton key and so that is what I called all of them. Just the word skeleton brought up intrigue and untimely deaths in my mind.

My keys were ornate in design and made of heavy iron. They generally had a long barrel with one end that unlocked something and the other end was the end that was held. As I grew up the keys morphed to the Yale lock type. Because they were boring to look at to my young mind, I knew that they were unimportant. My mysterious keys soon became lost as much of my childhood things did as I grew toward manhood.

The “skeleton” keys of my childhood soon became important again. Fast forward sixty-five years to 2007 when my wife and I moved to South Africa. I quickly discovered that almost all the locks on modern doors had this same type of key. The keys were shiny and new but it was still déjà vu back to my childhood!

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Flag Lesson

My first school was in Washington’s Crossing north of Trenton on the east side of the Delaware River. It was a small red brick building housing kindergarten through third grade. The basement was only partly below ground so that there were large basement windows. This made the first floor above  the ground. The kindergarten was on one side of the basement and on the other side was the storage and furnace rooms. Walking in the double front doors there were wood stairs leading down into the basement and wood stairs leading up to the hallway on the first floor. First and second grade was the classroom to the right and third grade classroom was the door to the left. At the end of the hall on the right was the girls bathroom while on the left was the boys. At the time of this incident I was in the third grade.

One day, before the start of the school period, the third grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, would choose out two boys to run the flag up the flag pole in front of the school.  This day Mrs. Walker picked me and another boy to go and put up the flag. This was a big deal and an important honorary chore. She asked us if we knew how to do it and we both said yes. That was a lie because I had never put up a flag in my life. But I did not want to look silly in front of my class mates and besides, how hard could it be. I had watched other boys do it from the windows. We went to the cubby hole next to her desk and got the neatly folded flag. Out the classroom door, down the stairs, out the double doors and down the front marble steps and across the gravel driveway to the flag pole we raced.

Now came the interesting part. Ingrained into us youngsters was the rule that the American flag was never to touch the ground. This was a big flag and we were small. We could see some of our class mates watching us from the windows. We unfolded the flag looking for the three grommets where the flag attached to the rope. We were struggling mightily to not let even one corner touch the ground.  Finally we got the job done and craned our necks to watch the flag wave in the wind. Our chests stuck our just a bit more because we were proud to know that we had put the flag at the top of the pole.

Later in the afternoon, just before school was to let out, a strange man came into the class room and talked to the teacher. She looked at us and then nodded to the man and he turned and left the building. After the man had left she called us two boys up to her desk and asked us to go to the window and look at the flag. We did and saw the flag proudly flying. She asked if we saw anything wrong. “No Mrs. Walker” we both replied. “Look closely at the flag boys. Where is the blue field?” Then I saw it. The flag was upside down. This was a sign of distress. Were the police going to come and arrest us? Turning to Mrs. Walker, with our heads hanging down we said we were sorry. “That is OK boys. You probably will never forget this lesson about the flag. More importantly, it is a lesson for you to always check your work! Now go and take the flag down and fold it properly.” We hurried to the classroom door. Mrs. Walker was right. I was not much of a student in school but that was one lesson I never forgot.

Truth or Consequences?

I know a man who 45 years ago made the decision to build his career rather than listen to God calling him to work in His Kingdom.  He told me that the lure of “getting ahead” was more important than being obedient to the call that God put on his life to go into ministry.  “What if God wanted me do something that I hated or that would be outside of my ability to be successful accomplishing?”  He described this as a paralyzing fear.  He looks back on his life and sees missed divine opportunities on several occasions.

The more I got to know him, the more he revealed how he made a series of choices that took him down paths of rebellion.  The consequences were felt emotionally, mentally, financially and physically.  He related to me how this pig-headedness caused undue stress in not only his own life but those closest to him.  As he moved further away from God he sought to expel any remnants that God had been part of his life.

He told me that all of his best efforts to build the career that he desired failed.  “There is not one company I have worked for that is still in existence under original ownership or name” he claimed.  “During this frenzy of trying to build my career I was twice fired; three different companies I worked for changed owners and the new owners laid me off; four times the companies downsized due to economic conditions with a subsequent layoff.  During the 30 odd years of frustration, he told me that his stubbornness prevented him from turning from his rebellion.  He never did obtain the career he sought after.  He became in his mind a ‘victim’ with no sense of contentment or security.  He emphasized that those early choices to go his own way … to walk away from God’s plan for him … put him and his family into needless hardships.

“But you know what?  God does not give up on us!  As Jesus told Peter after he boasted about what he would do for Jesus, ‘after you have turned, strengthen your brothers.’”  This man is walking now where God is directing him.

It is all a matter of perspective


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<![endif]–>There is a story that comes out of India that tells about a donkey who was very proud of himself. He was a diligent donkey because he was easy to ride and did not have to be prodded. Many who rode him commented that they thought that he actually enjoyed his work. However, his pride turned to arrogance after he carried one particular man. His arrogant pride got so bad that he could no longer get along with other donkeys. He is a famous donkey who is recorded in history over 2000 years ago. You guessed it. It is the donkey who carried Jesus on his last trip to Jerusalem. So why was he so proud of himself? Did this pride come from the fact that he was privileged to carry Jesus? No. In his own words this is what he told the other donkeys:

Here I am minding my own business standing on the street corner waiting for my master. Two strange men [they smelled like fishermen] came up and untied me and started to lead me away. My master came running out of the house shouting at these two men. One of the men turned and said ‘the Master has need of me’ at which my master just shook his head and walked back into the house. I was led to the outskirts of our village where a crowd was gathered. Someone threw a cloak over me and then this man climbed on my back and we started out toward Jerusalem. As we went the crowds got bigger. People were throwing their cloaks on the ground for me to walk on. That was really nice because sometime small stones can get wedged in my hoof. Then the crowds started singing Hosanna and throwing flowers toward me. It was a wonder trip into Jerusalem with all of the clapping and waving for me! I was so happy. Finally, I was getting the recognition I deserve for all of the hard work I do. No other donkey has ever had praise heaped on him like me.”

We can be just like that donkey. We too can get caught up in all of the clapping and waving and think that it is for us. I am thankful for all that God is doing in us, through us and around us. We work hard. However, if anything of eternal value is achieved it is the Lord who has accomplished it. When we think otherwise, we are in danger of being like the prideful donkey.

Martyrdom…

In the gathering twilight, the two mujtahid, Ahmed Abu Zeid and Dr. Sayyed Abdul-Rauf heard the loud voices outside the compound gate and then the splintering of wood as the four men on the battering ram demolished the gate.

From their shadowy vantage point behind the curtained window of the second floor overlooking the courtyard, they saw eight of the enemy running toward the front entrance below them. Simultaneously they showered deadly fire at the intruders, three immediately falling in screams of agony. The rest scrambled for shelter against the wall under their window. Five assault rifles were now aimed at the window eagerly waiting for a target.

Sitting beside the window in the darkened room, the two men were listening to a radio tuned softly to a local station.

“The still night air had a calming effect on his nerves,” whispered Ahmed. Suddenly, he grasped the Doctors arm. “Did you hear that sound?” He heard the distinct sound of metal snapping below and recognized instantly that a grenade pin had been removed. This is it he thought.

“I heard it. Allah is one…”

The radio announcer interrupted his words with: “Breaking news Jihad soldiers! In the Hadera marketplace, an explosion killed five adult Israelis, one Palestinian and injured 30 more Israeli children. Allah be praised. More infidels have been overcome by the hand of God!”

“That was my son Hassen, Doctor. Today he obtained martyrdom, my friend, just as we soon will.”

“Allah is praised. Did you remember to purify yourself this morning at the mosque?”

“Yes and I…schuss! What is that sound?”

From below, they became aware of running footsteps as two grenades landed on the floor next to them. In unison, they both began reciting: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is…” but a flash of light and thousands of pieces of shrapnel cut short their sentence as they were blasted into eternity.

* * * *

A grieving widow, Ruquaia Zeid sat on the floor of her brother-in-laws living room weeping. She held to her breast the only reminder of her loss…a picture of a teenager and his father both holding rifles. Many women gathered in the room weeping while the men were in the next room talking angrily.

“You can celebrate that they both died as martyrs for Allah” shouted out one of the men.

“I wanted to celebrate my son getting married and having a family!” wailed Ruquaia. “I wanted to grow old with my Ahmed. Now I have nothing!” There was bitterness in her voice and a deep-seated God-question plaguing her now.

Rachael Sauvget put her arm around her sister, weeping and rocking with her. She knew this was on of the many opportunities coming her way. “Lord Jesus,” she silently prayed, “give me strength, courage and wisdom to be your ambassador in the midst of enemy territory…”

Behind the clouds of eternity, angels were gathering around the two women, eagerly awaiting the coming celebration of a new birth…

Eternity…

The young man’s twisted body lay on the hard ground in the aspen grove. He stared with unblinking eyes at the early morning sun light filtering through the canopy of golden yellow leaves. A crimson pool of blood had spread out staining the ground around his torso. A numbing cold was replaced the searing pain.

He had made a dumb mistake trying to climb through the barbed wire fence with a loaded shotgun. Climbing through while watching intently the four-point buck running through the grove, reached back to pull the gun to him. A loose piece of barbed wire caught on the trigger. Then an ear-splitting roar and a punch that hurtled him through the air to crash into a dead tree. Now there were no responses from anywhere in his whole body to commands from his brain. Calling for help produced only silence. The cell phone was buzzing in his backpack. He tried to shout but only an ugly rattling sound came from his throat with each breath.

In his mind he could hear his Dad “preaching” to him last night that safety was a moment-by-moment conscious act…that a split second careless act could be fatal. Why had he been in such a hurry?

He had felt so grown up this morning leaving the house before dawn. His Mom had gotten up when she heard him showering and fixed breakfast for him. She had talked to him again about giving his heart to Jesus…that God had placed Eternity in his heart. “Mom, I have my whole life ahead of me…later…I’m going to be late.” He saw his mom’s eyes fill with tears and he felt a pang of remorse. He knew she loved him but his life was just starting and he wanted to be his own man. Looking away, he finished his breakfast, got up and gave her a hug. “I’m almost grown now, Mom. I can take care of myself.” He squeezed her hand, grabbed his coat and backpack and left.

Tears formed in his eyes as he realized she could not help him now. He sensed he would never see her again.

The rays of the sun seemed to be darkening. Was it getting cloudy?

His body jerked. Where was he? Had he drifted off to sleep? And what was that unnerving noise? It was unbearable screaming, wailing…voices of agony. It was so dark. He could see nothing even when he put his hand before his eyes. Had he gone blind? Was this some sort of cruel trick of God? Did He turn him blind while freeing up his body to move? He swings his arms in a wide circle, but still could not feel anything. He rubbed his eyes but could not feel them. What was wrong? He could tell he had a body but he could not feel it. The voices he heard of people sounded very close to him but there was nobody to touch.

“Mom!” he shouted instinctively. No answer. Only the incessant scream of pain. Where had they taken him? Then he knew. A flash of recognition. He was in Eternity.

“Lord, Oh God! I gave some money to the crippled man. I gave some money to the church when I had extra! I am not that bad. I’m just a kid!”

“Yes, you did. And yes, you are. My Son gave His all for you and you continually turned your back on Him.” Responded a Voice that was full of sorrow.

He cried out for just a drop of water to moisten his tongue…