Picture This – 9/30/09


Identify the location and win

Picture This! We’ll show you a photo taken in Monmouth County. You tell us where it is located. If you have not won in the last 3 months and you know the answer, send your response to: [email protected]

Please include with your name and the town where you live. Be the first person to respond with the correct answer and we will publish your name and town.

Previous winner:


Chris Fotache, of Middletown, NJ was the first person to respond with the correct answer.

A. The Henry Hudson Trail in Atlantic Highlands (just east of the harbor).

Shaped by the Stories that We Tell and Remember

george_hancockstefanDuring a course that I am teaching at the seminary this fall, one of my students told me that instead of giving them an exam, I should ask them to tell me stories in the same way that I use stories in my lectures. She went on to explain that her mind works better if she can connect a story to a particular concept. The story brings the concept to life and she is able to remember it better than she would the concept alone.

Jesus Christ was a story teller. The parables that he used are stories. Sometimes these stories are historical – they actually happened. Other times, like every good story teller, he created them for the sake of illustrating the lesson he wanted to teach. A preacher friend of mine who has gone to be with the Lord told me one time that most of us as preachers do not spend enough time finessing the conclusions of our sermons. He ended all of his sermons with a brief story. He then told us that he would read somewhere between 50-60 stories each week, looking for the perfect story to end his sermon.

Our family learned hospitality from my next door neighbor who was also my aunt. She had an expression that God’s courtyard and table are very wide. While I believed that idea too, she transferred that concept to her own courtyard and table. People from the village stopped by her courtyard to talk, to rest, to hear a word of comfort. Her door was always open, or if it was not one could knock and if she was home she would welcome you in. However, it was not only her courtyard that was open. Her table was always open to friends both new and old. She would ask people if they had eaten and if they were in a hurry she would give them some bread, some cheese and often some milk to drink. If they could tarry they would be invited to stay for lunch or dinner. Her life and her story have affected my life, the life of my parents and the lives of my wife and daughters and taught us about true hospitality.

I also learned from a story that some things are better left unsaid. After the death of the wife of one of the church’s elders, another elder decided to tell him that his deceased wife had a brief affair about forty years before she died. The comment was made in a complimentary way. He told the husband that he was a saint to love his wife so much, considering that she had this affair when they were in the first years of their marriage. The problem was that he did not know about this affair. The news devastated him so much that he went to the cemetery and dug up the coffin to have a conversation with his dead wife! When we heard this story, we could not believe that this person felt that he needed to tell this story, without a thought for the possible consequences. This story has shaped me into a better counselor and pastor who is entrusted with many details of people’s lives. While I am not a Catholic priest, I do practice the confessional rules and absolutely never repeat the things heard in privacy or tell any stories that could have a negative effect on the hearer.

The last story that shaped me was a story told by one my favorite teachers. He read a letter to the editor in a magazine that was surprisingly written by his pastor. In this letter, his pastor wrote that would rather be a fool on fire for the Lord than a scholar on ice. My professor says that he took that magazine, laid it on his bed, knelt down and prayed for God to make him a scholar on fire for the Lord. Today he is regarded as one of the top New Testament scholars and his lectures are always regarded as hours of worship because he is indeed a scholar on fire for the Lord. His story and what I have seen of his life have shaped my life in such a way that I love to teach in the academic setting, I like the rigors of the academy, but I also like to bring these academic concepts into my preaching and teaching in the church.

What stories have shaped you? What are some stories that people remember about you, stories that will shape them? While I have not re-written my exams, I am glad that I have stories to tell that shape people’s lives and enable them to remember the more difficult subjects.

Cleaning up the Bay One Creek at a Time

joe_reynoldsAutumn arrived on September 22, and with it comes a series of annual fall community cleanups of beaches, streets, woods, and waterways. Soon after the crowds of summer people have diminished, many local people put on old clothes, boots, and gloves to devote an hour or two of time to collect trash. Without this important seasonal chore, it would be nearly impossible for our society to protect the marine environment from human garbage that piled up all summer long.

One of the first cleanups to take place this fall occurred last Saturday near Pews Creek, along Bray Avenue in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown Township.  Even though Pews Creek is not a well-known name to many people, this 1.7 mile long tidal waterway is an important part of the drainage area to Sandy Hook Bay. If we truly hope to clean up the bay, then we have to dedicate time to cleaning up the pollution from small urban waterways that flow in daily to the bay.


Pews Creek begins as a freshwater wetland situated in the wooded area west of the Thorne School property some 1,000 feet south of Crystal Pond. From here, the creek rolls and meanders slowly near many people’s houses, streets and storm drains in Port Monmouth. Nearly every day, small things such as pet waste, excess lawn fertilizer or cigarette butts fill the creek with an unhealthy level of bacteria, chemicals, and litter.


(Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour! Plastic bottles pile up mountains of waste in our environment with no end in sight)

Held as their annual autumn creek cleanup day, the Pews Creek Cleanup event was hosted by the NY-NJ BayKeeper, the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, and the Middletown Environmental Commission.  The event drew over 20 people, mostly local residents.


The volunteers scoured the wetlands for trash between loam to noon picking up around 1,000 pounds of debris by day’s end. Most of the junk being discarded cigarette butts, plastic bottles, food wrappers, fishing line, fishing lures, straws, and bottle caps. Past creek cleanups have shown that up to 85 percent of this trash arrived from inland sources, passing over streets and through storm drains, and finally out to Pews Creek.


Unfortunately, all the garbage came from people. It was the only reason why the trash was there. If volunteers did not pick up other people’s trash, it would have caused the untimely death to countless species of marine life, which accidentally swallow trash thinking it is food, or feed it to their young. Balloons, for example, an item frequently found at cleanups near waterways, can be eaten by whales, fish, birds, or sea turtles, where it can clog the animal’s digestive tract, making it impossible for the animal to eat.

There is no doubt that the creek is polluted because of the activities of humans. Hopefully, people are starting to gain an understanding that all the trash in the streets and parking lots goes straight into a creek, then eventually into Sandy Hook Bay, and then the Atlantic Ocean. Everything is connected in the environment. Even though someone might live two or three miles away from the bay, that person is still connected by a local storm drain that ultimately drains to the bay.

While people coming together to clean up a creek for a few hours in the autumn may sound like the answer, it is not. All of us need to work together to educate people on ways to better manage trash.


(Cleaning up the environmental is a good example for kids to learn about being involved in the community and to care about the environment)

First and foremost – DON’T POLLUTE! There are enough garbage cans or trash cans for people not to throw plastic bottles, cigarette butts, or other forms of trash on the street. Better yet, reduce, reuse, and recycle the amount of garbage you use each day.

Make sure to throw your leftover garbage in a garbage can that has a lid, so it will not blow around. Moreover, while it’s not fun to pick up after others, please try to pick up a few pieces of trash that others have left behind, resulting in a cleaner area for everyone. Maybe someone will see you and get the hint!

Praise Obama from Whom All Blessings Flow

woody_zimmerman_118_2007Mmm, mmm, mmm!
George Dub-ya Bush! (Yeah!)

He said that all must lend a hand
To make this country strong again.

Mmm, mmm, mm!
George Dub-ya Bush! (Yeah!)

(With apologies to Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, and the Worldwide Fellowship of Rap)

This simulated rap song – using the term “song” loosely – consisting of numerous, similarly mind-numbing verses – was never sung or rapped (or whatever you do with this kind of thing) in any school or church or community center. I know this because if it had been, the heads of millions of liberals simply would have exploded, leaving a massive cleanup for the country. It would not have been a pretty sight.

Moreover, although he has not said so explicitly, one imagines President Bush is also deeply grateful, for more practical reasons, that such a song about him did not hit the Internet charts. He might have injured himself trying to do a hip move during one of the performances – perhaps on Jay Leno. (Having been born a few years before Mr. Bush, I can say with some authority that you’ve got to be careful what kind of moves you attempt in the passion of the moment…)

Undoubtedly my readers are way ahead of me here. Excepting those who might have been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard during recent weeks, most of them know that the above verse was bowdlerized from a new hit song that has taken the Internet (and some cable-news channels) by storm. It was sung by a choir of New Jersey elementary school kids in a now-famous clip found at http://www.breitbart.tv/update-new-crisper-version-of-obama-anthem-school-song-provides-lyrical-clarity/

In case you couldn’t catch all the words of the “Obama Anthem,” I furnish them below:

Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama!
He said that all must lend a hand
To make this country strong again

Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama!
He said we must be fair today
Equal work means equal pay

Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama!
He said that we must take a stand
To make sure everyone gets a chance

Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama!
He said red and yellow, black or white,
All are equal in his sight

Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama! Yes!

Mmm, mmm, mm
Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein Obama!

Needless to say, the performance of this new classic by those charming students from Burlington Township, New Jersey, has caused a stir across the country since hitting the Internet, cable TV, and finally the Mainstream Media. Complaints about kids singing praises to the Dear Leader immediately arose. Some articles even compared the Jersey kids to the Hitlerjugend (i.e., Hitler Youth) who marched, sang and Sieg-heiled for the Führer in the 1930s.

Really, I thought the latter was a bit of a stretch. After all, how many American kids can march in step, sing and salute, all at the same time? There’s simply no comparison to those spiffy Deutchenkinder in their matching uniforms.

Nevertheless, the words and imagery of the song were disturbing – especially the part about “red and yellow, black or white/all are equal in his sight.” The passage appeared to have been borrowed directly from the old Sunday School song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (not to be chanted in rap-cadence) –

Jesus loves the little children: all the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

It seemed to me that plagiarizing this Christian children’s song was waaay over the top. Call me a racist (again), but I didn’t like the smell of it. I have never heard of schoolchildren singing paeans of praise to any past president – not to George Washington (who was a personal friend of mine), nor to Abe Lincoln. Not even to the sainted FDR. Why is that?

The president is our head of state. He is a government official who balances the “triangle of federal power” with Congress and the Supreme Court. He is not king of the USA. He is not our ruler. Nor is he our Leader – “Dear,” or any other kind. He does not gaze benignly down on us from on high, nor is it his job to inspire our children to “change” the country so it will conform to his concept of “social justice.”

What is the president’s job? Here’s what the presidential oath of office says about it:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Notice that there’s nothing there about “changing” the country – or enlisting schoolchildren to help push the president’s political agenda – or promoting “equal pay for equal work,” etc.

It is wrong to represent an extra-Constitutional presidential role to children, as though it is his true job. At the very least, this is poor teaching. At worst, it is seditious. Children not old enough to know one thing from another should not be taught – via jiving mantras of praise – that a particular president can “save” the country, any more than they should be taught that another president has “ruined” the country. The inversion with which I started this article illustrates this clearly. If anything like this doggerel had been sung about George W. Bush, in any school in the land, his political opponents would have sued to stop it. And they would have been right to do so.

Like the president, and all of us, schools have a job to do. Their job is to help children gain the skills and factual knowledge that will help them become functional, productive adults in the nation’s social and economic life. Activities that detract from that are inappropriate.

The country has more or less decided that religious instruction of any kind does not belong in the public schools’ educational mission. I’m OK with that. Now perhaps it’s time for a serious debate over whether political indoctrination belongs in that mission. For starters, I’ll cast my vote against “Barack Hussein Obama – mmm, mmm, mm…”

How about readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic/Before we see any more of this? (Mmm, mmm, mm!)

I Feel America ‘Bleeding’ into Another Great Depression

gordon_bishopI feel America bleeding, as more and more of our working class are losing their jobs, homes and families.

More than 26 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed workers.

President Obama promised during his campaign last year that, if elected, he would stop the  unemployment losses at 8 percent.

Well, the USA is now approaching that scary 10 percent.

When the 1929 stock market crashed, unemployment hit 12 percent.

Seems even Barak Obama, whose nickname is “The Messiah,” can’t stop this jobless recession from losing 12 percent of our working class since he was sworn in as President on January 20.

The stock market actually started its downward slide in late December 2007. I remember it well. My Fidelity Investment portfolio had reached almost $230,000. It dropped to $170,000 when Obama was leading in almost all the political polls as America’s next president.

Politics have a great power over the jittery stock market. When it goes up, we all celebrate. When it drops like a lead balloon, we all wonder what happened?

What happened was the liberal media won with its man — Barak Hussein Obama — and the silent, law-abiding majority in America lost!

Lost really BIG!

I know, personally, because I was in that avalanche of lost money. I lost more than 40 percent of my rertirement investment.

With luck — and faith — we should be out of this recession-depression mess by 2016.

How many of you reading this column can wait that long?

Those in their  80s and 90s are counting the days — not the months or years.

The sad Reality is that America — the world’s economic powerhouse until this spring — is now sinking, along with countries that still believe in ‘Democracy. (Actually, the U.S. is a Republic, not a Democracy, which evolves into Socialism — and Communism.)

America is up against a slippery slope where no one really knows what the outcome will be.

Already, no foreign countries are investing in the United States of America, until conditions here dramatically change. (No, not Obama’s “CHANGE” and ‘HOPE.”)

No wonder America is up to its eyeballs in Debt.

America is broke.

America is bankrupt!

Who wants to invest in a losing battle?

Obama won the election because of his corrupt ACORN organization based in Chicago, where he served as both State and U.S. Senator and now President. Obama, an attorney, as is his wife, was ACORN’S lawyer. The FBI is investigating ACORN’S criminal activities in some 13 states, where tens of thousands of fraudulent votes were cast for ACORN’S leader.

Obama,The Magician with his bag full of dirty tricks, fooled American voters with  his sweet, stylistic words sent to him on his unseen prompters. Wherever Obama went, so did his magical Prompters.

The guy’s a fake — like an old western town in the movies, which has only a facade instead of a completely built structure.

Wherever Obama goes, he comes with a stage full of U.S. flags, like a patriot in disguise.

America wants to know, who is the “Real” Barack Hussein Obama?

We may never know because of his background as a Muslim (and Christian) who claims he was born in the United States. He has yet to deliver a “legitimate birth certificate” showing where he was really born (in Mombasa, Kenya, Africa). He claims he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His white grandmother said he was born in Africa — which means he cannot serve as President because only American-born citizens can be sworn in as President.

Historians in future years will describe the short Era of Obama as perhaps the greatest folly  ever in America’s political history.

Will America ever recover from “OBAMANIA?”

Yes, if Americans can ever overcome the public madness of this unknowable creature from the South Side Streets of Chicago, the most crooked city in America.

America will be back on its feet when the unemployment number gets down to 5 percent, which could take another 5 to 7 years to happen.

Meanwhile, folks, tighten your belts and pull down the hatch until “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

(Gordon Bishop is a ‘Who’s Who in the World’ national award-winning author, historian, syndicated columnist and New Jersey’s First “Journalist-of-the-Year — 1986/New Jersey Press Association, founded in 1857.)

Obama Proposes Longer School Days, Shorter Vacations

anne_mikolay_120In an effort to give American students an educational “edge,” President Obama has proposed lengthening the school day, and shortening summer vacations. According to the President, our children spend too little time in the classroom, which positions them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe. Education Secretary Arne Duncan agrees.

“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students,” Duncan said. “I want to just level the playing field.”

Some parents may be dancing for joy at the prospect of increased time in the classroom for their kids. Others may be happy that teachers may lose their “cushy” jobs and summer vacations. I, however, do not share that mindset.

I well remember my school days. Despite being an honor student, I had a watchful eye on the clock at all times, and couldn’t wait to get out of class. By 2:23 pm, the end of my school day, my mind was “stuffed” with learning, and I simply couldn’t take any more. The pressure I experienced “back in the day” was nothing compared to the experience of today’s students. My son, a high school junior, for example, is learning more difficult subjects at a much faster rate than I ever did. Perhaps that’s due to the current mind-boggling technological advancements, but the reason matters little. Our children are under extreme pressure. Rather than increasing education or the appreciation of the process, lengthening the time spent in school will raise the drop-out level, and lead to student and teacher burn-out.

Summer vacation, in my opinion, is not a “perk” for students or teachers. It is a mental health necessity, and anyone who doubts it should try their hand at teaching, standing daily in front of a classroom full of kids of all personalities and ability levels. It’s no easy task. Teachers, and the school system, are not babysitters. They should not be expected to supply child-care for parents in need, and when you strip away the rhetoric, that’s exactly how many parents will regard increased time in the classroom for their children.

President Obama is aware that his controversial proposal to lengthen school sessions will not be popular.

“Not with Malia and Sasha,” the President said. “Not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

I think he is missing a major issue.

Life is a constant challenge to maintain balance between work and leisure, something we adults have a difficult enough time doing without thrusting the same burden upon our children.

Obama has two school-age daughters of his own – one in third grade and another in sixth grade. He said that he knows that longer school days and school years are “not wildly popular ideas. Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.” Obama also proposes opening schools on the weekend so kids have a safe place to go.

I want my kids to like learning, to appreciate education. And if it winds up being a nearly all day year-round thing, they surely won’t. What is it they say…absence makes the hard grow fonder?

Kateri and Collin

danvance_120Some of my best ideas for featuring certain people have come from editors publishing this column. Such was the case with the editor of the Grand Island Dispatch near Niagara Falls, New York, who suggested Kateri Murray and son Collin.

In 2004, Kateri was pregnant. A sonogram detected a birth defect causing an enlarged bladder in her baby, said 30-year-old Murray in a telephone interview from her Grand Island home. She ended up delivering at 30 weeks. Collin was born with an abnormal obstructing urethral membrane.

“We were told several times Collin wouldn’t make it,” said Murray. “His lungs had collapsed five times and he wasn’t urinating. About the third day, they said to prepare for a funeral and consider turning off the life support machines.”

While the Murrays were pondering their decision, a nurse said there was “something special about this kid” and perhaps they should hold off on their decision another 24 hours.

“We did, and we begged our church, family, and friends for prayer, and we prayed,” said Murray. “In 24 hours, he pulled through. His heart rate normalized, his blood pressure and lungs improved, and he began urinating. It was really miraculous.”

Collin went on to experience one challenge after another, including having a brain bleed and severe acid reflux. Then in 2007, “he began regressing in development,” said Murray. The change happened literally overnight, about ten days after a flu shot. His fever reached 104. He was in a mental fog, stopped eye contact and answering questions, and started biting his tongue. Another doctor then diagnosed him with autism, which is a pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others.

Later, he was diagnosed with stage four kidney failure and doctors pondered a kidney transplant. After a gastric tube implant and dietary changes, Collin physically stabilized and began gaining weight.

“He’s a smart boy with an incredible memory,” said Murray. “But the autism puts him in a fog. He loves swimming, reading, and memorizing. God blessed me with a boy that loves hugging, which isn’t true of many children with autism.”

Besides other issues, Collin has sensory and communication struggles, and echolalia (repeating what others say).

Her advice about autism: “Do as much research as you can. So many people have gone down the same road. It is survivable, but it’s a long road. Find a support network.”

Contact danieljvance.com [Palmer Bus Service and Blue Valley Sod made this column possible.]

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up, Winston?

dennis_mikolay_09Last February, I warned that Americans should be wary of the unwarranted idolization of President Barack Obama. I won’t argue that Obama, who rose from obscurity to being the leader of the free world, is obviously a role-model for a great many children. As the leader of the free world, he deserves the respect of the American public. That being said, the widespread deification of our current president, a phenomena which began before he was even elected, is extremely unnerving.

To understand the “Cult of Personality,” and the devastating effect it can have on a society, one must look to the former Soviet  Union. During his reign as the leader of the former USSR, Josef Stalin enjoyed unparalleled popularity.

Stalin’s smiling visage was portrayed in art, movies, and literature. He boosted the Soviet economy, and defeated the Nazi invaders. He was regarded by his people as a warm-hearted father-figure; nothing could be farther from the truth.

Stalin was the exact opposite of what his people believed him to be. He was cruel, repressive, and paranoid. He executed his enemies, tortured his people, and starved millions of Ukrainians during a forced famine. And his victims still held him in high regard.

It was the first time the modern world became acquainted with the eerie cultural phenomena of the “Cult of Personality.” Such widespread adoration is carefully engineered, and thankfully, the United States had never witnessed such a phenomena. While some leaders, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, were held in high esteem by the public and the media, neither were considered infallible, and they certainly weren’t regarded as “saviors.”

President Barack Obama, however, is regarded as just that.

It appears that many Americans actually hold Obama in semi-divine status. He is a god-like figure walking among men. Proof of such indoctrination was presented in the form of a  YouTube video

which shows a group of New Jersey school-children literally singing the praises of Obama.

If the verse: “He said red, yellow, black or white,  All are equal in his eyes…Barack Hussein Obama ”sounds at all familiar, it is because it is lifted from another, more popular, song.

That song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” has been re-tuned to praise the president. This should erase any doubt that there are some people out their who consider Obama to be a Christ-like figure, but it should also instill a sense of wariness in the American public.

Now, lets make it clear: I am not asserting that our president, his policies, nor his ideology, are similar to Josef Stalin’s in any way.

His “Cult of Personality,” however, is frightening. While Democrats will likely argue that criticism of the video is unnecessary such a display of juvenile political indoctrination shows the weakness, and potential vulnerability, of the American people. Are we really going to teach our children that the president is invulnerable? The president is a human being. That’s one of the primary selling points of democracy: the American people can choose a leader, who is like them, to represent their needs.

That’s the difference between a democratically elected president and a dictator. One is a man, who exists to serve the people. The other wants you to believe he is a god. America may be coming to the crossroad where we have to choose which one we really want. Judging by the children in the video, it may be a frightening future.

Friends Can Sometimes be Enemies

jack_archibald_120As everyone knows, politics can be a rough game.  There is also the old saw that politics makes for strange bedfellows.  What seems uncommon is often the norm,  and sometimes the adage that there are no friends in politics is true.  A brief look around the United States during this political season also reveals that sometimes in politics, your friend is also your enemy.

Take the recent case in New York.  Granted, Democrat Governor David Patterson is not a popular fellow right now and his chances for re-election get slimmer each day. But did he really need the President Obama and the White House to publicly acknowledge that they would prefer that he step aside and not run for re-election? Typically, a sitting Governor would welcome his party’s leader with open arms, but the overt push from the White House had to be a bit of surprise to Patterson.

Across the river, the Democrats almost canned Governor Jon Corzine.  The Governor, in a tough race against Republican Chris Christie, has felt the wrath within his party.  It was suggested several times that Democrat leadership in the state was going to dump Corzine, because they didn’t think he could beat any Republican.  It is also interesting to note that

Democrats are not lining up to get their picture with Corzine, as they don’t want the public to be reminded of the top of their ticket.

Not to be outdone by the Democrats, Republicans can squabble amongst each other.  In Texas, a very solid Republican state, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is stepping down from her Senate seat to take on Republican Governor Rick Perry in a primary.  Perry is the longest serving Republican Governor in Texas and Hutchinson will be forfeiting a very safe office for herself.  Like New York, this race promises to get uglier in the future, as the primary date is not until 2010.

It is kind of funny to watch this happening right now. One would think that both sides would be closing ranks and getting together to save these high profile Governor spots, while saving their powder for the general election.  Given the disenchantment with our politicians, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that primary challenges abound.  The toughest elections may come from within the Democrat and Republican Party, a true testament to what friendship can get you in politics.

Changing Youthful Definitions

george_hancockstefanWhen I was in my twenties, I was discussing various difficulties imposed by aging. I remember saying that I would be spared all of those things because the Stefan males die young. However, my sister told me that one of the great notes of thanksgiving and praise to God that my father had was the fact that God has blessed him with about 10 years of life above his father (His father lived only until the age of 60, he lived to be 70). Now that I am approaching the age of sixty I am thinking that it will be a great blessing if this Stefan will reach the 80’s in good health.

In the Stefan family we always had a strong faith in eternal life. There is no doubt in our hearts that when we leave this world, we will be in the presence of the Lord which is by far better than this earthly life. Yet, I find that in our lives and the lives of biblical writers there is a tension.

I see this tension in the lives of the Apostles Paul and Peter. They are certain of both – there is eternal life in the presence of God and they will be there. Yet, sometimes they are more ready for one than the other.

In Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost there is an emphasis on the immediate return of the Lord – Jesus Christ will return to restore the Kingdom of God. There is immediacy in preaching because Christ is coming back.

However as the years are passing by, Peter tells us that there are mockers who are disdainful about the promised return of the Lord Christ. To them, he gives this answer, “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. But they deliberately forgot that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:3-9). The coming of the Lord is still certain; however the time is unknown. It is in this waiting period that people should not scoff, but repent.

Later on he receives a message from the Lord that he will soon face death. He writes, “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (2 Peter 1:13-15) Peter’s desire was that the church would remember well the important doctrines that he taught.

I am even more captivated by various variables in the life of Paul. He writes to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Phil 1:21-26) One can ask if this change was due to Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Philippian Church. Did God extend his life on this earth because he was needed here for the sake of the believers? The verse lends credence to that conclusion.

Later on he writes to the Thessalonians, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17). Paul believes that he will be among the living when the Lord Jesus returns.

As he approaches the end of his life he writes to Timothy, his beloved disciple, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8) Paul is ready to go home. Jesus is not coming yet, but he is certain that in that glorious day when Jesus appears, Paul and the saints will receive the crown of righteousness.

Jesus Christ is asking each one of us to give our lives completely to Him because on the cross He gave Himself completely for us. Peter and Paul have done that and because of that they were looking with great joy to the day when God will crown them because they have been faithful here on this earth.