March 2008

Marlene woke up yesterday morning quietly singing a Bill and Gloria Gaither prayer/song. I love my partner’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I am blest by the way she often ministers to my greatest need. (Even if she, for the moment, detours where I was going with this week’s Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs.)

Our community is in mourning. A prominent person somehow committed a ‘comedy of errors.’ Six lives were ripped out of the fabric of who we were. By the time the last act was finished there were no curtain calls and a vast audience was left holding the emotional bag of pain, sorrow and confusion. Not personally acquainted, we were yet somehow affected. Somehow, the tentacles of grief radiate outward until they reach every one of our lives. Paul said that no one ‘lives or dies to themselves.’


To speak or not to speak! And if I choose to speak, must I choose between words that are harsh and words that sound like Pollyanna?


And then comes the gentle reminder: “There’s no other, we can turn to…”


Gentle Shepherd

(Written by: W & G Gaither

Gentle Shepherd,
Come and lead us,
For we need you,
To help us find our way,

Gentle Shepherd,
Come and feed us,
For we need,
Your strength from day to day,

There’s no other,
We can turn to,
Who can help us face another day,

Gentle Shepherd,
Come and lead us,
For we need you,
To help us find our way.

Marlene and I started the day with music: Old hymns sang around the Piano. Right now the CD changer is set to “shuffle all” and serving up a virtual smörgåsbord. Josh Grobin, Joseph Hadin (inst), Randy Travis, Sarah Groves, World voyage (inst); some of our treasures, “things old and new.”

What’s playing on your machine?

If it be all for nought, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, the soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays his Son
And, with a kiss, damns all the world to hell–
If Christ rose not again.

–Unknown Soldier, killed in World War I
(From The Life of Christ in Poetry, comp. Hazel Davis Clark)


A couple of weeks ago I made a day trip to St Louis. Each such trip always leads me through Pike County, Missouri and the place of my childhood. It seems that the new, four-lane Avenue of the Saints somehow can’t bypass the flood of memories which that area of the world holds for me. One of those memories resides firmly at Peno Creek, north of Bowling Green.


Our family had been invited to join some area Pentecostals at a baptism service. It was perhaps my first non-Amish baptism service. Peno Creek, just west of highway 61, flows between a limestone cliff on the north and a farmer’s field on the south. In this setting, we gather on the banks and the minister leads the candidates into the river. Standing out there in the water the minister gives the charge: Waving his hand toward the rock face at his one hand and the corn field at his other; he admonishes those he is about to baptize to maintain a “faith as strong as a rock and as fruitful as a cornfield.”


The imagery of that day engrained itself deeply into my young mind. I think about that sermonette every time I attend a baptism service. Yes; and every time I cross Peno Creek in Pike County, Missouri.


Jonas J. Borntreger

Easter 2008

A prophetic Psalm from the book of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

And the glory of the Lord

Rises upon you.

For darkness covers the earth

And thick darkness is over the peoples,

But the Lord rises upon you

And his glory appears over you

Isaiah 61:1&2 NIV


The English word “computer” is translated as “computadora” in Spanish – but there are probably not many reasons why you should care. (There might be at least one reason why you should.)


Okay! In the interest of being ‘wise as serpents,’ it’s time to poke a little fun. Back in September of last year I made a post to my blog entitled “RFID, Mondex, Verichip, and the Antichrist.” When I wrote that little blurb I had no idea that it would be so significant a step in leading me to blog heaven. Now, months later, it is still (by far) my most popular post. Entering key words from that title into your Google search engine will quickly lead you to my site. As alluded to, in my responses to that post, I have the opinion that many come to my blog looking for support for sensationalism: Finding none, they go away disappointed. I have no desire to disappoint so perhaps some humor will sweeten the pie.


When you Google on these subjects you don’t have to dig far before you reach some pretty fantastic claims. People being shot with RFID guns and their every move traced; people having been implanted with a chip during surgery; people who are hounded by government agents because they masturbated in their basement.  While you’re at it, don’t miss the carefully prepared, many page, report that traces the lineage of HRH Prince Charles and proves that he also is, in very fact, that bad guy.


The other day I discovered, what for me, was a new one. Someone (using a computer to do it) claimed that computers were the Antichrist. That claim, in itself, isn’t new: How the researcher arrived at such spectacular knowledge is what surprised me. By taking the word ‘computer’ and assigning a numeric value based on each letter’s placement in the English alphabet, someone determined that the values totaled one hundred-eleven. That number, taken times 6, yields the magic number. Ergo: the next time, buy a ‘computadora’ from Spain or Mexico. There, the magic number comes out as 762 and you’re safe. (Wonder what it would be in Japanese.)


Who has time to dream up this hogwash and peddle it in the name of Christ? Is there any surprise that we Christians lose our creditability before the world?  JJB



The song, “It Is Well With My Soul” Has throughout the years been especially meaningful to Marlene and myself. It is a song that has been born out of great adversity and has stood the test of time.
This hymn was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean near the place where his four daughters had previously died in a shipwreck. The Spafford’s later had three more children. Their daughter Bertha Spafford Vestor spent most of her adult life doing relief work in the city of Jerusalem.

click here to hear Wintley Phipps sing this week’s edition of Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs.

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

This week’s Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs edition is Lob Song, a translation of a sixteenth century Amish hymn. Lob Song (Praise Song) was traditionally sang as the second hymn at every Amish worship service. It was written by Leonard Clock, a Mennonite minister from southern Germany. An old song book claims that Clock wrote “over 400 worthwhile and edifying songs.”


Last week marked the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. As a tribute to him, I sang the last verse of Lob Song at his funeral. The Amish tune I used, although extremely slow by modern standards, was not, however, the ‘Slow’ tune. If I remember right, Dad used to claim that Lob Song, sang properly and using the ‘slow tune’ took twenty-two minutes. (Actually I’m second-guessing myself and wondering if he said “twenty-seven minutes.”) Amish hymns achieve this feat by singing each syllable as though it were the line of a song.


The following translation is from Songs Of The Ausbund Vol. I, Song 131.


O God Father we praise you

And your goodness exalt,

Which you, O Lord so graciously

Have manifested to us anew,

And have brought us together, Lord,

To admonish us through Your Word,

Grant us grace to this


Open the mouth, Lord, of your servants,

Moreover grant them wisdom

That they might rightly speak your word,

Which ministers to a godly life

And is useful to your glory,

Give us hunger for such nourishment,

That is our desire.


Give our hearts understanding as well

Enlightenment here on earth,

That your word be engrained in us,

That we may become godly

And live in righteousness,

Heeding Your Word at all times,

So man remains undeceived.


Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom alone,

And the power altogether.

We praise you in the assembly,

Giving thanks to your name,

And beseech you from the depths of our hearts

That you would be with us at this hour

Through Jesus Christ, Amen.

It’s March the ninth, 2008; it’s East Central Iowa, and lying awake in bed this morning I heard the unmistakable signal of spring.  Never mind that we’ve had a very hard winter with more than five feet of snow. Never mind that the temperature yesterday morning was down close to zero and most of our yard is still covered with eight plus inches of snow/ice. The Robin is back! The Robin’s prophetic voice pierced the darkness this morning and announced the end of doom and gloom: “Joy comes in the morning.”


I wonder every spring what the poor thing will eat; how he will stay warm; how he will survive until the nightcrawlers are washed to the surface by spring rains. It always seems he might have a forty-day fast until it happens. But then, that’s the way it often is for God’s prophets. They always come too early and with (what seems like,) too little provision.


Yesterday morning, Marlene was sharing with me that she had re-discovered the verse about “The joy of the Lord” being “our strength” in, of all places, the book of Nehemiah. The text around that verse puzzled her: The people, exiles who recently returned from Babylon captivity, were standing and hearing the word of God being read for the first time in their lives – and they were crying. Marlene couldn’t understand why Ezra quieted the people’s weeping and told them to rejoice and give presents to each other. “Aren’t tears of repentance in order?”


The people had already previously done their weeping. They had ‘hung up their harps, sat down, and wept by the rivers of Babylon.’ It was ‘weeping for a night,’ and what a night it was: “Joy comes in the morning.”


When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.


Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.


The LORD hath done great things for us; [whereof] we are glad.


            Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south.


They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.


He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him]. Psalms 126 AV


Dear Father: ‘Turn the captivity’ of someone right now. Strengthen the week limbs and heal broken hearts and bones. To our hearts bring back the springtime. Let us hear the Robin’s voice and rejoice in your never failing goodness. Amen.

(The following reprints a comment I dropped off out there in blogspace somewhere this morning. It was my latest reaction to the ‘Emergent Church.’ JJB)

I have a brother who, throughout the years, has been fairly successful in the business world. His one secret for success: Find someone who is getting the results you want; memorize their methods; and imitate them carefully.


I think that this kind of mentality comes over into the church as well. I’m pretty certain that for many of us it doesn’t work though and the mindset leaves many of us frustrated.


Through my 66 years, I have ‘moved’ through ever so many movements. I have become tired and somewhat jaded. Now someone is, (among many other things) saying how to arrange furniture and how to use candles and incense in worship. (Don’t jump on this. I’m aware that this is not what makes anything ’emergent.’)


I believe in imitation: The part of the process of imitation that is often not understood is the unique work of the Holy Spirit in each and every instance of effective Kingdom Building. We somehow think we can do the physical things that we see others do and disregard the intense seeking and spiritual strategizing that led up to their actions.


Brothers and sisters: Don’t jump on the next band wagon that comes through town. Imitate the hunger and thirst for righteousness. There is no shortcut for hearing the voice of the Master: Nothing less will be successful in His Kingdom.



 I think I’ll call this series PH&SS for Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.

This all-time favorite was written by Johnson Oatman JR. and is based onMicah2:4 Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.

Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”


Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.


I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.


I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till Heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”


Last week I copied the new Pew Forum survey about religion and public life to this blog. (See below.) The ‘landmark’ survey catches a lot of attention because it confirms the ‘diversity’ and ‘fluidity’ of current religious affiliation in the U.S. The survey catches my attention because, I too am one of the ‘fluid’ ones. When the small fellowship that we had been a part of dissolved last year, it marked the last in a long line of church disassociations for us.


When I read the blogsphere, I am amazed how often writers will see this fluidity as a good thing. The argument seems plausible: If Christians are not having a fulfilling and meaningful church relationship, let them move on to some other Christian venue. The reasoning sounds a lot like that which a young married couple might use: “If we’re not happy, should we be forced to spend the rest of our lives together?” My own experience notwithstanding, this sort of argument, at the least, leaves me wondering.


The other thing that catches my attention is the word “community.” Maybe it is because I’m watching for it, but it seems to pop up at the drop of a catchphrase. I told Marlene the other day that “they had better not talk ‘community’ to me: After you have lived Old Order Amish you can definitely say ‘been there, done that.’”


I am not arguing for a return to my Amish roots but a little bit of community, a little bit of permanence, a little bit of home, would go a long way. Aren’t our associations with brothers and sisters in the faith, one of the things that God has ‘joined together,’ things that should not be severed? I am not arguing for a formal religion of works, ruled by demigods and hemmed in by fears, but couldn’t we somehow say ‘I do’ and mean it for the rest of our lives?


Will I go through the rest of my church experience having ‘no abiding’ place? It seems that with each successive church disassociation the wound gets deeper. Is this spiritual nomad lifestyle somehow in God’s intent? If I had my druthers, I sure would like to, for once-and-for-all, come home.