Because He Lives

Why do we sing the songs we sing in worship?  What makes them appropriate?  Are worship pastors purposeful in the songs we select or guilty of picking their favorites or the songs most requested by others?

The only true “series” I keep with on this blog is the “Why do we sing that?” series.  I like series, but I just haven’t found the kinds of serial topics that work with my designated purpose for the Schoeneblog. Yes Wiseheimer, the Schoeneblog has a purpose.  If you missed it, I blogged about it here.

A couple weeks ago we sang the great hymn by Bill and Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives.”  You know the song.  We’ve sung it in our churches for years.

Because He Lives

Verse 1
God sent His Son they called Him Jesus
He came to love heal and forgive
He bled and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove
My Savior lives

Chorus 1
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives

“Because He Lives” is a great song and I will continue to slot it into services of worship when it is the right fit for that particular Sunday. But I want to use it as an example of the positive and negative potential of a song that has been in our lives for an extended time.   I’ll start with the positive power of such a song.

  • The positive influence of Familiarity. Songs can become the sound track for our daily living.  Worship songs remind us of truth that Jesus lives.  We live with this truth directing our steps each day.
  • The positive side of Sentiment.  A song can bring us back to a moment when God was performing a particular work within us.  When we hear that song again, we are reminded that God is active and working in our lives.  We also are reminded of the commitment of surrender that we have mad to Him.  We can also be reminded of the great heritage of faith that passed the songs down to us.

Okay, now for the disappointing news.

  • Familiarity can breed apathy. When we become too accustomed to a song we tend to mentally “check out” during worship.  The is something we should never do since we are instructed to Love the Lord with all your heart with all your mind and with all your strength. I realize that people can “check out” during a new song as well, but right now I’m reminding us of the adage that familiarity breeds apathy.
  • Sentiment can deter our focus. If a song has attached itself to a particular memory or feeling, we tend to give our hearts permission to remain in that memory rather than participate in the presence of Holy God. For me, I can’t hear “In the Garden” without thinking of a casket.  It doesn’t make it a bad song. It just makes it a challenge for me to focus my worship on God.

When we sing songs in worship that we have heard at least 50 plus times, we are prone to the apathy that comes with familiarity and the sinful side of sentiment.  But it doesn’t have to be so!  As you see, there are great benefits that can only be reached by repeating a powerful song often enough that it becomes a helpful companion on your faith journey.

I thank God for the song Because He Lives.  As a child standing on the pew and peeking over the top of the shared hymnal between my mother and father, the song made it clear to me that Jesus is alive!  And it reminds me still today!  The fact that He Lives propels everything we do as a church family and as followers.  At FSBC, it’s the first three words of our purpose statement.

Because Jesus Lives! FSBC exists as a local body of Christ to: worship God; share the love and Good News of Jesus Christ with our community and the world: encourage and equip believers in the faith; and serve others with mercy and love.

It is implied in our statement of mission: Connecting people with God and one another. We seek to connect people to a LIVING God. Were Jesus not living, we would pursue our mission statement in vain.

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I Appreciate You!

Many churches across the country designate October as a month to tell their pastor that they appreciate them.  I have experienced this in  each church I have had the privilege to lead as pastor of worship.  It’s difficult to express just how much a word of encouragement from someone within the congregation can lift my spirits.

Somewhere I heard these  statistics; Upon receiving good news, a person will tell 3 people but when receiving bad news, the same person will tell 11 people.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think the church as a body can take a different approach.  When someone does something well, we should tell them.  It matters.  It’s encouraging.  It’s instructed by God and recommended by Paul!

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Jesus words) Matthew 7:12

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

At the top of this blog is a picture of my collection of encouraging cards and letters I have received throughout the years of my ministry.  I keep them all.  During times of discouragement I pull them out to be reminded that I am doing something that really does have a positive effect on the lives of those I’m called to serve and lead.  But it’s not always a Dayspring card coupled with a favorite candy bar.

I also have received my share of criticism and hate mail.  I hope you are not familiar with this style of communication.  It usually looks something like this.  The letter is addressed to you, but your name is spelled incorrectly.  If it comes in the mail, there is no return address.  Most likely it was found by the secretary because it was left on her desk, however, it is more likely that stepped on it Monday morning because it had been slid underneath your office door.  It is not signed.  The subject matter is almost guaranteed to en-capsule an event – which you do not remember – that happened months ago.  The handwriting is barley legible because of the spots where the goading instrument broke its lead or forced the ink through the paper onto the other side. The letter continues with a generalized evaluation of your ineptitude and lack of qualifications and social graces.  Several names for your misguided leadership style are suggested.  It is not signed.  This is where I file these letters.

Thankfully I have not received a letter like this for a long, long time.  If you have a pastor or staff of pastors, it is likely that they have received one or two of these during their tenure.  But this is not a blog about unfair critics and hurtful comments.

Please take the time to encourage your pastors next month.  Ministry can be full of discouragement and it’s easy to become disheartened.  A simple word of encouragement from you can go a long way.  Consistent prayer can go even further.  When both take place consistently, your pastor will begin to feel like he could move mountains!  Based on some of the best encouragers I’ve known over there years, here are a few ideas on how to encourage your pastor(s).

  • Send a card that expresses how much you value the role they have as your pastor. (cards are easier to file than emails)
  • Let them know that they made a difference in growing your love for Jesus. (often times the enemy tries to convince us that we aren’t making a difference)
  • Be specific about something they said or did and how it benefited your relationship with the Lord. (sometimes the deceiver tries to convince the pastor that no one notices)
  • When offering spoken encouragement, look your pastor in the eyes. (it’s a nonverbal way to communicate that you are their friend) (-Pastors sometimes falsely believe that they aren’t allowed to have friends among the people they lead. – I reject this thinking!)

I know that this blog has readers who are in a lot of churches other than mine. So I feel comfortable offering this as a 3rd party intermediary.  Don’t say to your pastor, “hey, I read this blog and it said I should give you this.”  Feel free to leave me out of it and make your encouragement your own.  Be personal.  Be genuine.  And let me know how it goes.  Share here on this blog what you did to encourage your pastor (or what you intend to do since it is not yet officially Pastor appreciation month.)

Bill Hybels has said on many occasions that he believes “the local church is the hope of the world.”  It’s true because the local church – when healthy – carries the light of Jesus.  Healthy churches are led by encouraged pastors.

And to my pastors; Joe and Andy, I love serving with you.  Thank you for being pastors for me and my family.  Know that I’m praying for your leadership and I submit to you as brothers and leaders under Christ (Ephesians 5:21).  May God bless your ministries wholly and completely as He has blessed me through each of you.


Holy

by Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Jonas Myrin

Verse 1
What heart could hold the weight of Your love
And know the heights of Your great worth
What eyes could look on Your glorious face
Shining like the sun
(REPEAT)

Chorus 1
You are holy holy holy
God most high and God most worthy
You are holy holy holy
Jesus You are Jesus You are
(Jesus You are Jesus You are)

Verse 2
Your name alone has pow’r to raise us
Your light will shine when all else fades
Our eyes will look on Your glorious face
Shining like the sun
Who is like You God

Misc 1
(BRIDGE)
Who shall we say You are
You’re the living God
Who shall we say You are
You’re the Great I Am
The highest name of all
You’re all You say You are

Verse 3
And You will come again in glory
To judge the living and the dead
All eyes will look on Your glorious face
Shining like the sun
Who is like You God

In scripture we are instructed by the psalmist.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring and offering, and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness, tremble before him, all the earth. Psalm 96:7-9

This instruction means for us to acknowledge out-loud the attributes of our creator God – to give him the credit, respect and honor he deserves because of his character.  So in this song we attribute or ascribe several things to God and we do this as one body, a family.  Here is what we are ascribing to the Lord in this song;

  • Holiness (You are Holy)
  • Power (your name has power to raise us)
  • Glory (all eyes will look on your glorious face)
  • Great love (what heart could hold the weight)
  • Great worth (or know the heights)
  • And in case we miss anything we declare (You’re ALL you say you are)

As we ascribe to the Lord the glory due him, we also declare that this is true of his Son, Jesus.  Jesus demonstrated these things to be true in his life, death and resurrection.  He showed to us the character of the Father.  So we are indeed singing of Jesus, the God-man when we sing to the Lord.  After asking his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” he asked a more personal question.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Matt Redman’s song Holy gives us the opportunity to answer that question in unity singing, “You’re the living God,” “You’re the great I AM.”

As you worship the living God this Sunday may your worship be a sweet sweet sound to his ear, and may your singing be an extension of your obedient life.  This is our reasonable offering.


Don’t Tell Me How to Love God

To many, the term worship has become a smorgasbord-word and the definition varies with each individual according to how they fill their plate.  Successful worship then is judged according to how the song arrangements makes them feel.  To allow more people to “feel” like successful worshipers, we ask pastors and worship leaders to become short-order cooks and prepare only the favorite dishes week after week.  We might be extremely disciplined in our physical diets because of our desire to live healthy lives, but when it comes to the spiritual we only want what tastes good.  Caught in the trap of this mindset we reject any disagreeable exhortation from fellow worshipers.  We think it a comfortable compromise to say “You love God in your way and let me love Him in my way.”

Matthew 22:37-39 is referenced a lot as a foundation for building a healthy worship philosophy.  I’ve used it many times when leading worship.  Most worship leaders, if asked for a two word definition for worship would very likely answer “Loving God.”

“Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-39 NLT

This is an important statement by Christ and because we acknowledge that Christ is the Son of God, we know that this greatest commandment is God revealing what He expects of us, His people.  But what does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul and mind? Is He talking about feeling love toward God? If I have a happy feeling about God does that mean I am worshiping? Though our God is Righteous, I can’t see Him warning us that we’ve “Lost that lovin’ feelin’.” Would we dare to define true worship with the words of Blue Swede -“Hooked on  a Feeling?”

There’s more to it than just feeling love for God.  Worship isn’t meant to be passive.  It’s active.  Over and over again Christ reminded His disciples that they should obey.   John 14:5 relay’s Jesus’ instruction most clearly “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” How do we love God? WE OBEY.  This is successful worship.

Obedience is a worship dish that is best served hot!  We don’t go at this obedience half-hearted.  And we don’t with grumbling in our spirit.  We serve God with a glad heart and with our whole heart.  It is our desire to demonstrate our love to God that should motivate our obedience.  It’s easy to obey when there is a reward, but what if our obedience was simply obedience.  My kids are much more obedient when they know they are earning a special privileged or if they know that Christmas is getting close.  This obedience demonstrates a love of self.  We are all guilty of this when it comes to our worship.

I have had occasions in the middle of leading worship when I sing a lyric such as “all of you is more than enough for me” and I know that I haven’t lived as if that were true. While I keep singing, I begin to pray in my heart and repent from the times I’ve lived for myself rather than for God.  If all of Jesus is more than enough for us then we demonstrate this by pursuing him with relentless obedience motivated in love.


Keep Sowing

Remembering that Christ used seed as parable on multiple occasions, please read my following story with your spiritual eyes wide open.

There’s just something very refreshing about coming home from work and walking out to the garden with fresh seeds.  That’s what I got to do Monday evening.  After I pulled into the driveway, carried my backpack in and set it by the sofa, I kissed my wife on the face and asked “where’s my packets of seeds?” I hadn’t needed them since I planted in the spring.  That was months ago so I lost track.  I found my seed and tromped out to my garden spots determined to sow a little hope.

In the spring I had such high hopes for a garden that would feed us a bounty of fresh food.  I sowed tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, radishes, snow peas, onions, garlic, strawberries, basil and asparagus.  I knew that it would take a couple years for the strawberries and asparagus, but there would be plenty of other vegetables to feed us over the summer months.

But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.” 1 Kings 17:7

Fortunately I started my garden earlier than I normally do.  I had some nice radishes and we really enjoyed the snow peas but it went downhill fast after that. I waited and waited to get some nice peppers but only had four all season from four pepper plants. Onions = 0, Carrots = 0, Garlic = 0, Strawberries = 7 tiny ones (but small enough to add up to one barely full sized berry.) If it weren’t for the lettuce and tomatoes we got to enjoy, we would still have lived like those who think that food only comes from the grocery store.

I have had several gardens through the years, good ones too.  Everyone’s gardens suffered this year from the extreme heat and drought.  I don’t begrudge or complain. Because I enjoy gardening and the taste of fresh produce I won’t stop planting.  In order for us to enjoy the fruits once again, we have to labor in the garden where life is yearning to burst forth.  So many of my little seed packets offered two seasons for planting April-May and July-August.  It’s not too late to work toward a harvest in the autumn season, so I will sow more seed and keep sowing seed.

Father, would You bring the rain of Your word once again to so many who are thirsty for You.  Help our churches to sow the seed of Christ into the souls who long to taste the freshness of new life in You.  Even we who are in You are hungry for a fresh work of Your power in our day.  We repent from our dry season of complaining about the weather and harsh conditions of our culture.  You have commanded us to sow Christ.  We ask You to let Your healing rain fall on us once again. -Amen.

Have you suffered a dry season in your life and recovered to see a season of growth and strength?  Have you asked Christ to do something new and bold in your life lately?  Have you given up on a friend only to share Jesus at a later date and find your friend surprisingly receptive?


A Bit About Blogging

After took a break from blogging during the month of July, I heard from many of you who read my blog.  Thank you for asking me when the next blog would come and for encouraging me with your kind comments.  I would love to hear from you in the comment section and benefit from your voice in the conversation.

Blogging is not easy.  I enjoy writing and fleshing out my thoughts, but believe me when I tell you that it takes constant discipline on my part to sit down at the computer, take the ideas spinning around in my head and organize them into, what I hope to be, a clear and useful blog post.  With my six week blogging hiatus behind me, I need to remind myself again what it is that I hope to accomplish with the Schoeneblog and why I started the blog in the first place.

My hopes and dreams for the Schoeneblog:

  1. As I post weekly about Christian worship, I hope that the process of meditating on and articulating scriptural truths about worship will make me a better worshiper and a better worship leader.
  2. I would like the Schoeneblog to be a place for conversations about worship, both personal and corporate.
  3. I hope that the ideas shared here will aid readers in their personal growth and help shape the way they think about worshiping God.
  4. As readers add their comments to the blog, I hope to discover from them resources and ideas I would otherwise miss.
 
 
Do you read other blogs about worship?
What other blogs to you read?
What do you seek to gain when you read the Schoeneblog and other blogs like it?
If you are a blogger, why do you blog?

Happy Dependence Day

 

Wednesday we will celebrate the anniversary of when the United States first declared its independence from the oppressive empire of Britain.  (This is history, not politics.)  In contrast, every Sunday, as believers we celebrate our dependence on Jesus Christ.  The United States, at its very foundation, gained its freedom by declaring itself sovereign then fighting and winning a war for liberty. As believers, we recognize Christ as our sovereign.  We trust in the battle that Christ won on our behalf; His death on the cross a substitute for our sin, His resurrection from the dead that we might have life.

The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:35-36

In this word picture, Jesus explains why He, the Son of God, had to be the One to pay the debt of sin owed by humanity.  We are all slaves to sin because of our sin nature.  We owe a debt that we cannot pay.  As slaves, we do not have authority over sin.  We cannot break its power over us by our mere, limited words.  But Jesus could pay our debt and He did.  And after paying our debt, Jesus as God’s Son, has the authority to declare us free!  And He does, to all who believe in Him and call upon His name!

Christ is the One who has made us free!  Let us celebrate our dependence on Him.

This post originally appeared in “The Connection.”  The Sunday morning publication of First Southern Baptist Church Lawrence.

 


From The Inside Out

From The Inside Out

by Joel Houston

Verse 1
A thousand times I’ve failed
Still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in Your grace
Everlasting
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never-ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

Verse 2
Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise
Everlasting
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never-ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

Pre-Chorus
In my heart in my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out Lord
Let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Chorus 1
Everlasting
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never-ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart
Is to bring You praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out

This song by Joel Houston and Hillsong has gotten a lot of play on christian radio lately.  And I hope congregations are singing these words as a “healthy part of a balanced worship.”  At FSBC Lawrence, this song is our theme song for our “What Is God Searching for?” summer sermon series.

In this summer series we have taken on the challenge of living out the christian life so that the world sees Christ as he truly is and not the “stereotype” of christian the world has gotten to know in recent years.  We will look at several attributes demonstrated by Christ, but our underlying theme is that Christ is the one who changes us “from the inside out.”

Moralism would have us believe that we please God but simply living good, moral lives.  But moralism is a false Gospel.  The picture we are given in the gospel is one of surrender.  According to the gospel it is not possible for us to live good lives.  In fact even our very best effort, which Isaiah calls “our righteous deeds,” are no cleaner than “filthy rags.”

“We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6

It is important to recognize first that we can not change our behavior by simply “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” We can only be changed by the person of Christ.  When we fully surrender, He comes in and begins a new work in us that changes us “from the inside out.”  In the words of Paul…

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

The church has a responsibility to instruct and encourage the body to live rightly before God and to live our lives as a testimony to a rebellious world.  But as we offer such instruction, we must always be clear that changing our moral behavior is not the means or the end. Rather it is the follow through, and obedience, of a heart that has already surrendered to the Savior.

Only Jesus Christ can save and redeem us.  Logic follows that only Jesus Christ can than transform our lives, “From the Inside Out.”


Do I Care What Others Think?

When it comes to corporate worship we can’t escape the fact that we are in the presence of others.  Wherever we sit or stand, we are surrounded by other worshipers. (And non-worshipers) In a world where image is everything, do we concern ourselves too much with what others think, when we should be focusing on God?

“What if they see me crying?”

“If I raise my hands, they will judge me.”

“Remember to turn the offering envelope upside down, so no one sees what I give.”

“Nobody complimented my shoes!”

“If I put the envelope in slowly, everyone can see how much I give.”

With the popularity of social media formats such as facebook, twitter and pintrest, etc… we are more concerned than ever before about maintaining an acceptable image.  Haven’t we taken this image conscious mindset to an unhealthy level?  Social media can be a great place to interact with friends, but in our humanness, we tend to only put forth the image we want others to see and we hide our real selves. I’m sure this isn’t true all of the time, but it’s true enough of the time.

Does this same tendency toward image influence our corporate worship?  Scripture teaches that God is the audience of our worship, not others.  When we make God alone our audience, we will care less about maintaining our image in front of others.  The next time you participate in corporate worship set aside the image you want others to see and lay your life open before God.

When we drop the image facade, our worship can be a testimony.  Let us be Spirit and Truth worshipers who enter His presence without our masks and worship the Savior without pretense.


Nostrum – Chapter One – Up The River

nos·trum  [nos-truhm]

noun

1.a medicine sold with false or exaggerated claims and with no demonstrable value; quack medicine.
2.a scheme, theory, device, etc., especially one to remedy social or political ills; panacea.
3.a medicine made by the person who recommends it.
4.a patent medicine.
Origin:
1595–1605;  < Latin nostrum  our, ours (neuter singular of noster ); referring to the seller’s calling the drug “our” drug

 

1.

Up The River

Two years ago…

Reuben stood on the pontoon of his seaplane and shouted across the water toward the shore, where his brother, Parker was loading one of the canoes.

“Parker! If you’re going to take so long loading that canoe, throw me a piece of fruit or something.  I’m starving!” Reuben issued the challenge.

He saw Parker smirk and pull an aguaje from a sack in the canoe.  Parker stood up straight on the bank of the Amazon and slowly lifted his head until he could see Reuben just under the bill of his camouflage San Diego Padres baseball cap.

Reuben reached behind and grabbed his catcher’s mitt from under the passenger’s seat of the airplane.  “Come on Parker, just like old times.” He whispered.

Reuben held his mitt up and waited as Parker nodded and pulled the fruit up to his chest. “1… 2… 3” Reuben whispered then suddenly flinched as Parker spun through his wind up in a flash.  Reuben barely saw the aguaje before it splattered into his mitt.

You still got it, Parker. Reuben thought to himself, but said out loud. “You still tip your pitches!”

“You flinched!” Parker shot back.

Reuben stood, tossed the catcher’s mitt back into plane and took a bite of the bruised aquaja. As He waited for Parker to bring the loaded canoe out to the plane, he watched Parker and his family say goodbye to the Amazonians they served and loved.

 

“Daddy, I don’t want to go.  I feel fine now.” Lydia pleaded.

“Lydia, it will only be for a week.  We can’t take any chances.” Parker replied.

 

“I’ll be so glad when this trip is over.  What if the cancer has come back, Parker? What then?”  Jeane said to her husband doing little to conceal her emotions.

“We’ll pray it hasn’t, but even if it has, God brought her through it once and He can do it again.  Our God is good.”  Parker said to Jeane.  It was the health of their only daughter, nine year old Lydia, that weighed heavy on their heart.  It was also the reason they had to make this emergency trip and leave their remote mission field.

“Don’t worry, mommy, I’m fine.  I know it.” Lydia tried to comfort her mother, still trying to convince her parents to cancel the trip to the Pelo.

Lydia’s cancer had gone into remission almost eighteen months ago. This was a miracle and had allowed them to return to their missionary work in the Amazon Rainforest after less than a year hiatus.

“Alright ladies, let’s say goodbye.”  Parker prompted.

As they spoke, they were joined on the bank by several villagers, whom they now acknowledged with handshakes and hugs.  A short man, the tribe’s leader, leaned in and said something to Parker.

“Thank you, Ake.  You are a good friend.  We will pray for you as well.  If the news is good, we will return in ten days.  If the news is bad, we will send word back with Reuben.” Parker replied.

God had answered the prayers of Parker and Jeane Long once before and spared the life of their nine year old daughter. Now, standing on the banks of the river, they loaded their belongings into a couple canoes and rowed out to the seaplane.

“Bro, help Lydia up to me, then start with the big suitcase first.” Reuben instructed.

“Here we go, Lydia.” Parker helped Lydia up to the door of the seaplane.

“I’m so glad you’re here Reuben, you truly are a God send.” Parker said as he grabbed Reuben’s hand and shook it.

“Where else would I be?” Reuben quipped, then lifted a much bruised fruit to his mouth, took a bite and smiled.  “Now hand me the rest of the bags and let’s get this plane off the water and in the air.”

The village of these native people, whom Parker and Jeane served, sat on the edge of the Amazon river, two to three days deep into the heart of the rainforest.  The trip out would be much quicker by plane.  By the end of the day tomorrow Lydia would be to a hospital where doctors could scan her abdomen and confirm whether or not the tumor had returned.

In the six months since their return, they had left the rainforest once every four to five weeks as a break for Lydia and to see Rueben.  This time it had been longer because they worried the long trip would take a toll on Lydia.  Instead they sent a message for Reuben with a fishing boat headed down stream, with instructions for Rueben to come for them in his seaplane.  But, Reuben wasn’t there to receive the note.  He was already on his way. He knew, somehow he knew to fly to the remote village and bring his family out.  He always seemed to know when family needed him.

Parker, Jeane and little Lydia were the only family he had left.  Their widowed mother had passed away only 5 years ago.  Cancer. Reuben hated the disease. He was the only one left to care for their mother and he watched as she turned from a vibrant, fully alive saint, into a sickly and humiliated shadow of herself.  After her death, he traveled back to the Amazon to be close to the only family he had left.

After the last bag was loaded, Reuben reached his hand down to Parker and helped him up into the plane.  Then he pulled up the anchor and closed the door.

“Everybody strap in” Reuben checked the map one more time. He had flown into Pelo before, but only from his base which was on the edge of the Amazon.  From there it was as simple as following the coast, but flying over the rainforest would be more complicated, especially during this season, when insect swarms could force him to change his route.  He closed the map and set it beside his pilot seat, started the engine and the propeller began to whir.

“What’s the deal? Nobody wants to sit up front with Uncle Reuben?” Reuben directed his glance backward toward Lydia.

“If it’s alright Uncle Reuben, I’d like to sit back here with mom and dad this time.”  Lydia said, placing her left arm around Jeane’s shoulders and her right arm around Parker’s.

“Well I’m sure you have your reasons, I’ll try not to feel too hurt.” Reuben wiped a fake tear from his cheek.  “If you change your mind, you’ll have to wait until we are in the air.”  Rueben said as he flipped a few more switches and checked the gauges.  Then he pulled back on the throttle and the engines began to roar. The seaplane crept forward with the current.

“Hang on” Reuben instructed.

The plane sped down the river, then slowly pulled away from the water and lifted into the air. Reuben turned the plane and rose across the trees as they gained elevation.  Minutes into the flight, Reuben saw something unusual rise up from the trees below.  First it looked like a simple column of smoke from a village fire pit, or some explores’ campsite, but thicker.  Then it changed shape and no longer appeared as a column but more like a black cloud.  It twisted and rolled as it grew closer to them.

“It’s a swarm!” Reuben gasped.

“Hold on!”  Reuben shouted and then pulled back drastically to gain altitude over the swarm, but they were too close.

The plane sped directly at the center of the swarm.  The aircraft ripped a whole in the middle of the buzzing sphere as the propeller sawed through the insects, spraying bug juice onto the window in front of Reuben.

He switched on the wipers, but they did little to help as more insects splattered onto the glass. Reuben held the plane on a steady course until they passed through the cloud of insects. Then he rolled down his side window, grabbed a handkerchief from his back pocket and reached around to the outside of the window.  With his handkerchief, Reuben smeared around on the glass until he had cleared a small circle directly in front of his vision.

“What was that uncle?” Lydia asked with panic in her little voice.

“A swarm of bugs.  Wasps, I think.  I’ve never seen them swarm like that.  I’m going to have to land the plane and clean off this windshield before we can go any further.”

Reuben stuck his head out the side window and spotted the river to his left, then he turned the plane and began the descent downward toward the ancient river.   Normally he would have flown above the river to line up the plane but his vision was too obscured by the bug residue.   He would attempt to descend the plane and at the same time angle it toward the river.  His only visibility was through his side window and that small smudge of a circle he’d smeared in front of him.

The plane dropped lower and lower and closer to the tree line.  At the last minute they cleared the trees and the plane swung level out over the river, Reuben straightened the plane, to begin his water landing, but he entered the river at a critical bend where it turned sharply back to the south.

He banked the plane to the right as quick as he could maneuver.  But as it spun, the tail of the plane slammed into a tree above the bank of the river and the branches of the trees caused the light plane to jerk back the other direction.  They lost altitude quickly and headed nose first toward the water.

Reuben pulled back hard to straighten out for another run, but it was too late.  The plane hit the water and lunged forward. Reuben’s head hit the ceiling of the cockpit and he rebounded back down into his seat.  The back end of the plane swung out above him and the motion threw him forward again, face first into the control panel.  All sound and sight faded into blackness.  The tail, weakened by its collision with the tree tops broke apart from the rest of the plane, spilling Lydia and her parents out into the water.

Lydia and Jeane screamed and Parker reached for them both.  He grabbed the unconscious body of little Lydia first.  She was closer.  A few strokes and he lunged for Jeane but missed.    He instructed her to swim toward the front half of the plane which now floated on its nose, but the current was pushing them away faster than they could swim.

While he struggled to keep Lydia’s head above water, he had the rest of his attention on Jeane.  She tried to swim, but he could see she was only using one arm.  Her other arm was injured.  She struggled frantically but the current was carrying her farther downstream.  Parker saw Lydia’s face in the water and he held her up again, which caused his face to go under.  He swallowed a huge gulp of river water and choked.

Parker shouted for Reuben as the distance between the plane and the desperate threesome grew farther.  But Reuben, still unconscious, could not hear him.  And he would not hear the Parkers voice again.

 

Reuben awoke to the sound of a motor.  He looked up, where the tail of his plane had once been, and saw nothing but the sky above him.  The plane was face down in the water, balanced on its nose and wings, bobbing up and down as if it were a bobber and a perch were toying with the bait beneath.  He struggled to climb out but his legs were weak beneath him.  He grabbed his throbbing head with both hands.  The cockpit seemed to be spinning around him.  His eyes stung with the blood from his head wound and his hands were now slick with the blood from his face.  He knew he had to get out and help Parker and the girls.

He tried again to climb out, but he failed in his second attempt, and only succeeded in the rocking the plane back and forth.  On his third try he steadied his feet beneath him and stood to see the fishing boat, named the Marianela, coming toward him.  He could not, however find the tail of his plane nor any sign of Parker or the girls.  A wave of desperation surged over him.

To look backward, up the river, he stepped up and stood on the back of his captain seat.  As he did, he shifted the balance of the craft and the plane tipped over and fell back down onto its pontoons.  The momentum sent Reuben sliding out of the plane and into the water just before the fishing boat reached him.

A hand reached out over the starboard and pulled Reuben’s head back above water.

Reuben choked on the water in his lungs and pleaded with his rescuer.

“Parker! Jeane! Lydiaaaaaa!  Help me find them!  You… have to help me find them.”

“Sorry friend.  I see nobody.”

“No,”   Rueben gasped.  “You have to help me find them.” Reuben choked again.

“The tail section of your plane is downstream. Nobody there.  It is a miracle you are alive.”

“We have to look.  They’re out there!”  Reuben wouldn’t give up.

Reuben shouted. “Help me find them.  You have to help me find them”

Reuben stumbled forward. His legs still unsteady beneath him.

“If you had passengers in that plane, there is no way they could have survived.  I came from downstream when I saw your plane go down and I tell you I didn’t’ see anyone until you.”

“NO, NO!” Reuben could not accept this. This time he stood up to his rescuer and began shouting.

“I will not lose my family! Now you can either help me or get out of my way!”

“Listen to me, friend! It has been too long.  I saw you go down a hour ago.  You are the only survivor.  There is no way any passenger is alive.” His rescuer reached out his hand in an attempt to calm Reuben down.

“I’M FINE!” Reuben screamed “My injuries can wait!” After shouting this, Reuben tried to stand but his legs gave way and he went down to one knee.

“Okay. We’ll look together.”  The captain turned his vessel around and went back toward the area, he’d seen the tail debris.

“No, no, no.  God, NO!”  Reuben murmured as the Marienela sped downstream.  Its captain and Reuben scanned the banks of the Amazon for Parker and Jeane and little Lydia.  They examined a few fallen trees in the river to see if someone was holding on.

The captain shouted to Reuben.  Reuben turned to see the short man laying on stomach and reaching over the edge of the boat.  Reuben rushed over to see the captain pull an object out of the water. The captain turned and handed wet camouflage San Diego Padres baseball cap to Reuben.

Reuben clutched the cap and started choking. “Parker, NO! This can’t happen.  This can’t HAPPEN!”  Reuben dropped to the ground and heaved the remaining mud and water from his lungs.  Shaky, he rose up to his feet.  “We have to keep looking.”

They continued the search until Reuben blacked out.  The captain of the Marianela patched Reuben’s head wound and turned upstream to a small village he knew.  He was met at the bank by a curious villager and her short chief, Ake.

Ake called out for others to come to the bank and help Reuben.  Soon, Reuben was being carried up the bank by five Amazonian villagers.