Monday, December 31, 2012

A Sober Look Forward To 2013

This is going to be a difficult year. Economically we begin by going off a fiscal cliff. Most families in America will face financial difficulty. Despite our president’s promises the economy remains stagnant. There are hiccups of hope but no evidence of increases great enough to make a difference. On top of it all our leadership presses toward socialism and away from solid economic principles.

There is no firm cultural absolute either. For those that hold to Judao-Christian principles the battle will grow increasingly difficult. Cries to compromise and be open-minded will harangue those that choose truth over relativism. Freedoms will decrease for Christ followers in all churches. Sexual brokenness will dominate the culture; being sensitive to it will be required by those that preach a respect for other’s opinions. The courts will grow to back wrong and sentence right. Black and grey will blot out white.

Joy will come in the morning. In the midst of the uphill battle we face there will be opportunities for growth in character. Our friendships will secure us and we will delight in them. Laughter will be richer and love grow purer as we are hard pressed by a world that desires beauty but settles for cheap imitation. Those that hold to Christ will find great opportunity to walk in faith and they will see Christ honour their commitments. Dross will be strained out and the gold made pure.

Let us keep sober in spirit. This year let us fight for our joy and hold dearly to our principles. There will be severe battles. We may feel we are fighting against the world. We serve Him who has overcome the world. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hemmed In

Grey clouds closed in on the foothills bringing flurries of snow. He sipped his Costa Rican coffee and watched as the moons reflection danced off the puddles and ice outside. His broken ankle made snowshoeing impossible. He was hemmed in like the mountains.

Salt and pepper dotted his hair now. Days like this he missed the freedom of youth. Life was good but there always felt like there was more out there someplace. He thought that maybe it went beyond the mountains and past the pristine pools of blue sheltered in their valleys. Perhaps there was a brighter place where you never felt hemmed in. Battered bodies and broken bones don’t matter there, maybe. Retired and restricted aren’t words there because you are living in fullness of who you are. He lifted his gaze to the hill tops and pondered.

Searing white pain hissed in his head as he twisted the ankle the wrong way en route to the porch. He kicked his feet up onto the railing, water drops flying and flakes falling as he did so. He’d heard stories of that place beyond the snow caps. They said pain didn’t dwell there; said the price of admission had been paid by a king and the ticket was free now. His feet came off the rail and without thinking he set his elbows in their place. Straining almost imperceptibly his body leaned outward. He believed in that place. He drank another sip of coffee. “Beauty here is beautiful,” he thought, “but it still doesn’t satisfy.” He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Down Side To Goal Setting

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

We are not in control. There was a television show called The Outer Limits which began with these words, “We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.” That is life. The great adventure isn’t always a fun adventure. That is life too.

Dr. Larry Crabb distinguishes needs from desires; God will meet our needs. Generally goals are our desires. Setting goals is important. Being able to scrap your goals is just as important. Life may send those goals into a death spiral. You plan for retirement and the stock market crashes. You promise to love until ‘death does us part’ and death comes in the first years of your marriage. Life rattles us and breaks our goals.

We must drive hard and trust the airbags. In setting a goal we strive in seriousness to accomplish it. We focus on that one thing and exclude others. There is that strange dichotomy in that the goal is the push, the drive, the objective that brings desire to light and defines each day. Conversely we must hold each goal lightly because God may have a different plan for us.

Blocked desires will result in anger. That is one way we know we are holding on to tight. The tangibles that make up our goals are life principles; the way we raise our children, how we save our money, we discipline to guard our health and invest in romance to fireproof our marriage. Children aren’t ours and neither is our money. Pour ourselves into life we must but still somehow allow God the hand to take away what we cherish most.

The awe and mystery is found in making God our utmost goal. That one God will meet. He will take us into the greatest adventure. It is our job to listen and move trusting all the while that we may not be able to go to this place or that place. The glory of God must be the one thing we seek above all. The rest we let go and leave in His hand.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Let God Be Your Support

It’s not everyday that you cuss out your boss. I’d had a very bad morning running the kiosk. People had been lined up all day for coffee. In a situation that screamed for two baristas management had only given me enough hours for one. So when I found out that they cut my hours for next week my words erupted relaying the emotion that had been percolating all morning.

Over dinner I said, “There are many things I like about my job. It’s the lack of support that really bothers me.” To which my wife replied, “It is at those times that God must be your support.” That is a true and serious statement.

What does it accomplish though? I want change and action. I want the ruler of the universe to step in and kick upper management’s…understanding of customer service into the trash can. Letting God be my support seems so uneventful. Picture Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Would he let someone else be his support? No he’d go in guns blazing, “Yippee ki yay!”

I think my wife hit the nail on the head. We serve a different type of leader. We don’t go in to battle trusting in our flesh and regalia. Our kingdom is not of this world. The leaders of this world lord it over them but we serve.

It’s in the serving that I must learn to lean on God. I must allow Him to support me that I can serve and support others. It’s tough for me. I’d rather be screaming “Yippee ki yay” then, “Thy will be done.” That’s how it feels anyway. So it’s a battle. As Paul said, “though we walk in the flesh we do not war according to the flesh.” Perhaps Peter said it best,
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
May I find the support to do so.

*With special thanks to Val who inspired today’s blog post.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Planning And Goal Setting: Benefits and Categories

"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there." - Will Rogers

"If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."

“How do they do it,” we ask. We wonder how it is that (insert name here) has time to do what they do, or how they know so much Bible, or have a good savings account, or children that play piano and speak five languages. That is one key reason for goal setting. Without setting goals we go through life reacting and whatever we achieve by the time we are lowered into our coffin is by accident. Better to aim higher and achieve greater things.

This whole idea of goal setting can be overwhelming. The rewards are well worth it though. Some goals I’ve personally set and reached in my life; riding from San Francisco to the San Fernando Valley, an inner city mission trip, reading through the Bible, blogging daily and yearly road trips with my daughter. Beyond those there are a myriad I’m working through including visiting every state in the United States.

This year I am going to break my life down into categories and then into sub categories such as: Marriage: a) time (retreats, dates, home-life), b) spiritual (praying, seeking, planning), c) miscellaneous. Typical categories include the spiritual, financial, travel, physical and artistic.

Gleaning through all the questions (who, what, why, how, when) I arrive at goals in each category. Finally I establish markers regarding measuring each goal; excel spread sheets or calendars. For instance the wife and I will take time this year to seek God as a couple. We will calendar a number of periods (days, weekends or weeks) to retreat to a place that allows us to be still and listen. The goal is measured by attendance on the pre-set dates and is fulfilled when those commitments are kept.

It is an exciting process. Though it seems dry and dusty in the mechanics of the process the joy comes when God fills in the outlines that I’ve penciled in on paper and breathes life and fullness into prayer and planning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Coming Up On January 1st-Goal Setting

It’s coming up on January 1st. Traditionally I look back at the old year and set goals for the new. Last year I spent much time thinking about story. This year the wife and I have some key goals established already. Certainly though we need to be purposeful in setting direction for this new year. We either shoot blindly hoping to hit something or use tools to get us to where we want to go. I am thinking I need a grid of some sort.

Let us spend the following week thinking about goal setting. What does it look like? How do we do it? We do know it has to be achievable and measurable. It should be specific. Advisors will tell you to use the SMART acronym when goal setting (see the Mind Tools article):

A-Attainable (action oriented)
R-Relevant (rewarding)
T-Time bound (trackable)

I’m going to spend tomorrow working through my own personal grid. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Half Jewish

It’s not a usual pedigree being half-Jewish. My mom was lukewarm Lutheran and dad was Jewish by blood (not practice). There are rare occasions when I realize I don’t fit perfectly with Jews for Jesus but I don’t completely fit the typical church going stereotype. Though this sometimes feels awkward there is one thing that’s resulted from it. I feel a strong connection to characters in the Old Testament story.

I feel a strong connection with King David for instance. Not because I’m royalty or anything. I recognize that I want a heart for God. I also realize my total depravity and that I am capable of king size blunders. It is easiest to connect to David in these blunders and to cry out with his words, “Wash me thoroughly from my inequity and cleanse me from my sin.”

The only hope for cleansing comes through King David’s bloodline and to the city named after him, “for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It is a mixed bloodline as well. The ancestry of Jesus contains four women, all gentiles, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. The fullness of the lineage is met in Christ who is our peace, “who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” For it is written, “Joseph, son of David…take Mary as your wife…She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trial By Fire

I’ve read enough stories of suffering to know this isn’t unique. In an interview regarding her documentary “Trial by Fire” Megan Smith-Harris said that if given the choice of having had the experience or not all the victims would still choose the experience. Not that they would choose the pain all over again but that the depth of character forged via the trial was worth it.

Joni Eareckson-Tada has said in her testimony that she would rather be in a wheelchair with Jesus than healthy without Him. God has developed in us some bizarre hard-wiring. On the surface we want the life of ease and comfort. Still the conviction expressed in every biography, every good story, is that suffering produces strength of character that doesn’t come from a life lived at leisure.

This truth is difficult for me. I want the big house, the huge garden, the Sunset magazine kitchen and the Bill Gates pocketbook. I am the first to cry to God when hit by hard times. I want my ducks in a row and when God moves them it bugs me. The knowledge that God uses trials to deepen my character and to grow Christ like attitudes in me makes me cringe. It’s the Romans 7 principle. I know what is best for me but my flesh wants to live in comfort and self protection.

I want my cake and Christ’s character. It’s all I can do to recognize the principle and cast my frustrations on God. Mentally I must acknowledge, reckon in the old English, that God’s best for me will come down paths I have no desire to walk. The battle is to always ‘reckon myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Or as Peter puts it, “even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Almost Forgot Christmas

A nickel was such an absurd amount. I’d spent a week with Adventure Bound (Outward Bound with a Christian emphasis) in the outdoors. It was a week filled with times of meditation, friendship, and backpacking deep in the backcountry. On the way home the leadership dropped us off on a corner in Vegas with a nickel. We had an hour to see if we could use it in a redemptive way. Coming from the beauty of the mountains in the company of friends the contrast hit me hard. I remember seeing countless people at machines and in hotels; most with glazed eyes and faces without joy.

I felt like that today at work in the grocery store. Humanity seemed downcast. I had only five people return my greeting of, “Merry Christmas.” The people that filled the store lacked joy. They were on a mission to get Christmas supplies but they couldn’t remember why. Dejected and depressed they looked preoccupied. The mood eked my way and I began to feel down, ready to throw up my arms and give up. I almost forgot Christmas too.

I sensed God saying that’s how He feels. So to a depressed and downcast people He sent His son to be born in a stable, “Behold I bring you news of great joy which shall be for all people…” Through Him we have joy and a command to share that joy with all men. Rather than throw up my arms in desperation I will lift up my arms to pray. That’s my mission. I almost forgot.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tolkien And Good Works

In one of Tolkien’s stories, Leaf By Niggle, an artist, named Niggle,
“lives in a society that does not much value art. Working only to please himself, he paints a canvas of a great Tree with a forest in the distance. He invests each and every leaf of his tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every leaf uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision….”Niggle knows that he has a great trip looming, and he must pack and prepare his bags. Also, Niggle's next door neighbour, a gardener named Parish, is the sort of neighbour who always drops by whining about the help he needs with this and that. Moreover, Parish is lame and has a sick wife, and honestly needs help — Niggle, having a good heart, takes time out to help.”
Niggle never has enough time to work on his art because he is often helping his neighbor. Finally taking his trip he ends up in a new country,

in fact the country of the Tree and Forest of his great painting, now long abandoned and all but destroyed (except for the one perfect leaf of the title which is placed in the local museum) in the home to which he cannot return — but the Tree here and now in this place is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete form of his painting.
Focusing on family and others keeps us busy.  Life keeps us from finishing the perfect work we always want to begin, to work on, or to complete.  Scripture tells us “not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”  Then at the end of the trip we will see the beautiful fruition of these good works that never feel perfect down here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Long Days and Counting Joy

It’s been a long day. We all decided the daughter would go to school despite rumours of violence (see previous post). I spent the morning catching up with a friend that shattered his tibia and has been unable to put weight on it for three months. The wife was a substitute teacher for a 6th grade class that was out of control. I found out I need to have my wisdom teeth yanked out by an oral surgeon because the root system is too convoluted for the dentist to risk.

One of the things that make so many of the above difficult is in fact the connection with people; my friend, my wife, my daughter; not my dentist. If they have bad days then I have a bad day. On the other hand it is the richness of these relationships that give joy to life.

Today I’m counting that joy. Delighting in the time I had catching up with the friend with the broken tibia. Reminiscing about singing Christmas carols at church last night standing near a buddy of mine with our wives next to us and laughing tonight as my daughter made brownies in the kitchen.

It’s a deliberate focusing on the positive. It is easy to focus on what is wrong but life is infused with so many great experiences that we can be lifted up as we let ourselves find the joy in each of them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Psychotic Ripples From Newtown

The psychotic ripples from the tsunami of Newtown, Connecticut have reached our little valley. My teenager and her friends are afraid of going to school on Friday. There is a rumour that someone is going to go to the school Friday and shoot people. There is no proof of this that I know of, only whisper and innuendo.

It is a frightful tragedy on a score of levels. That children can’t feel safe at school is the greatest tragedy. Add to that the fear of the unknown and the angst reverberating in the heart of kids in puberty. They should be worrying about pre-calc and crummy teachers not the fallout from one brutal act of violence.

We are developing a societal angst about meeting in large rooms. First theatres were frightening places and now the schoolroom. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie the dread isn’t in what’s actually happening but is in the possibilities that the character won’t survive.

My heart breaks. There’s no simple solution or logical answer. Tonight I pray for grace to triumph and fear to be broken, for children to be safe and feel safe. The initial quake shook us to our core. The aftershocks remind us that the ground we walk on isn’t as safe as we once thought it was. May He make our feet like Hind’s feet…Habakkuk 3:19

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Sheltered World Breeds A Sheltered Mind

A sheltered world breeds a sheltered mind. Exposure to life via food and art open us up to appreciate experiences larger than our world of self, parents and people we hang out with. I got to thinking about Jazz music in this light after reading of Dave Brubeck’s passing.

Jazz music can refer to a number of genres. I enjoy jazz of the type played by Brubeck. I wasn’t raised listening to jazz music. I had little knowledge of jazz or what it was for my formative years. I had friends who listened to jazz. In college I took an intro to jazz class. I was acquiring a taste.

Jazz like theatre of any sort is best experienced live. A friend of mine had seen a review of the best jazz clubs in Los Angeles and decided that we should visit them. A few of them were in Inglewood and environs. In a few of the clubs we were the only white boys present. This was in small scale compared to a full scale trip we would do later; following the roots of jazz up the Mississippi through New Orleans and north to Chicago.

My addiction to coffee evolved similarly. An enjoyable first encounter followed by quality experiences. Today I’m a coffee snoot.

I have a sixteen year old daughter that keeps me from being insulated in my little world. I am exposed to music I wouldn’t choose to listen to. I watch video clips that I’d be clueless about, “YOLO.” Still I have to fight stagnation. I get older and it gets harder to push the envelope. To grow into an interesting adult I must continue to stretch and grow. Comfort and complacency make for shallow boring adults. Time to face the music and live.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Just Thinking About The Weather

The clouds are rolling in for Winter Storm phase II. It won’t be much of a rain. They are predicting somewhere between thirty and fifty percent chance. No snow predicted. My family loves crazy weather. The perfect day would be one of snow outside and warm coffee and space heater inside. We hardly ever get those days though. God invented coffee and hot chocolate for those. We drink these often but they find their perfect blend with cold wintery weather.

I know people that dislike anything apart from a sunny, warm day. The city of Palm Springs is full of people like that. They go there to golf. They also go there to be embalmed while living; the dry air and sun act like formaldehyde. Storm systems mess up the dry embalming system. They tip the scale somehow. The high heat of summer does it too. To make up for it the air conditioners run 24-7 at the perfect pressure for body maintenance.

It’s a soul thing too. Storms are rough and tumble. They are unsafe, uncomfortable, even unpredictable. You can’t control them with a thermostat. Life separates people into those two categories. Those that want to moderate their environment and those that enjoy life because it’s unpredictable.

There’s a balancing act going on here. I enjoy the storm knowing I can return home to hearth and coffee. I’m not up to a full Everest climb. Still I’d rather the tempest than the unruffled tepid days spent by many. God knows I’m wired this way too. That’s why He keeps me guessing. Out of the storm He speaks in quiet. Safe, no; invigorating, yes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Satanic Persecution and Mighty Works of God

The news this week brings the end of the world and the depravity of man into the spotlight. Historically we see that whenever there is a work of God there is a rise in demonic activity. In praying for the victims in Connecticut today the preacher reminded us that Herod, enraged at the Magi because they did not lead him to Christ, slew all the male babies in Bethlehem. Satan responds with full blown rage to the delivery of the Deliverer.

The reaction of Satan was the same at the birth of the human race. Showing up as a beautiful creature he deceived Adam and Eve into rebellion. With one sweep of his tail the dragon of Revelation swept mankind out of Eden. He tried the same ruse in the days of Moses.

Exodus begins on a dark note, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Pulling back the curtain you can see the demonic prince whispering to the Egyptian leaders. Persecution increases in severity with the assignment of taskmasters and the affliction of hard labor. Not satisfied with physical torture the king instructs the midwives to kill the male newborns. The demons still miss their mark. After Moses kills an Egyptian they put out a hit on him. Moses flees to Midian where God raises him up as deliverer.

Elijah is a marked man. He utters prophesy after prophesy none which comfort Jezebel and Ahab. The crisis culminates on Mount Carmel as Baal’s prophets are shamed, cut and shattered. Jezebel comes after Elijah even as God continues to protect him from the wrath of the world.

1948 saw the birth (rebirth?) of the nation of Israel following the slaughter of six million Jews. Satan saw something coming that frightened him; some birth pang that anticipated an even greater cataclysmic event which has not yet come into being.

James tells us that Elijah was a man like we are. We wrestle with the ‘world forces of this darkness’ in the midst of our time and our lives. The prayer for Connecticut and the hope for each of us that as we come up against wickedness of all sorts that it is a precursor to powerful works of God in our midst.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blessed, Thank You

“Blessed, thank you,” she said upon my asking how she was. She wore a bandana which covered, seemingly, a head without hair---sporting the same type of style that my sister-in-law with brain cancer currently has. A brief interaction but it caused me to think.

My response to, “Hello, how are you,” is often a statement akin to “Hanging in there.” For my customers I try and be more upbeat and respond with ‘fantastic,’ or ‘great.’ All these statements are true at different times. Why not ‘good’ or ‘blessed’ on most days?

It’s a reflection of my heart. Both Jesus and James make the case that it’s the words (or acts) that come out of man that show where his heart is. Certainly I tend to focus on what isn’t going my way instead of the many things that do. When I focus on the riches that I have then I am more apt to see myself as blessed. That is the challenge for me; to count my blessings and share my joy with the world. How blessed is that?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We Have Only Words

Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words; but you saw no form---only a voice.

We have only words on a page. We have only faith in a man. Viewed from outside, sometimes from inside, it seems that these are skeletal images we rely on. If they were even bones without flesh still we could see them recognizing form and function. At some level we have less than that. How is faith fleshed out so the bones are those of life?

God was concerned that Israel would dress the form in ill-fitting flesh. He warns them not to make a graven image to simplify their worship. Obviously it is easy to create God in our image or the image of a beast. We wrestle with the tension between the fullness that is God and the message that comes to us in Word and voice. We want the skeleton or worse a God that looks nothing like the Holy one.

It is incumbent on us to stake out the truth. God has given word at the outset. Today in salvation we have the Spirit liberally poured out in us. The words are illuminated, the voice is given authority and resonance. We rest in promises we rely on the Spirit and we mark altars where God has proven Himself faithful.

That seems the model. God reminded the faithful to follow His commands and commemorate the great escape, “And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power.” We must lean on God’s character demonstrated in that redemption.

Christ came in flesh that we might more fully flesh out our view of God. Still we mustn’t create images of what we think He looked like. We have to go with the word picture. The gospel accounts do that for us. Let us rest in Christs’ words then, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Elf Sneaks Out

My Elf On The Shelf has been helping himself to my wallet! I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up around two and heard a noise, like a mouse, moving about. I turned on the hall light. From the corner of my eye I saw him get back into position the little Elf. I needed to think and to formulate a plan.

During the day I put a sock over his head and placed a little camera into his sock. I woke again at two, listened and turned on my laptop to view the little man. Where would he go in this town? How would he get there? I saw him pull a small motor scooter from the side of the house. Then he was off.

When he walked into the building I gazed in shock. Half horrified and half amazed I watched as hundreds of little Elf On The Shelf people partied it up in a small disco. There was elf karaoke and elf dancing, elf drinking and elf bad behaviour. I could only hope there were elfin designated drivers.

He snuck back in late that night. Waking up early I turned all the house lights on and brought a flood light into the drawing room. I cranked the stereo loud. If elves have hangovers I trust they are without magic much as ours are. Then I velcro’d Mr. Elf to the shelf and attached a keychain to his ankle. I kissed him on the head and got ready for work.

Tonight something may awaken you at two or three am. Before checking on the children or inspecting the pets check up on the Elf On The Shelf. He may be up to no good.

Idea courtesy of Writers Digest

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I Write or Angst The Companion, Sex The Compulsion

The need began in Junior High school. I am not certain what the catalyst was. Perhaps it was something I read. I know I had this impression that I would be famous and that people would want to read about me. So I started journaling.

I continued to journal in High school. I began writing creatively as well. Angst is the teenagers’ companion and sex the compulsion. There was much to write about. One day in high school Sydney made an appearance. If you’ve recently begun reading this blog you are not acquainted with Sydney of Australia and his sidekicks Roscoe and Veronica. They initially surfaced in those high school years; Roscoe a street in the valley and 7-11, where I used to work, his secret lair. Truth is it was more fun to write Sydney stories than to listen to chemistry lectures.

In college I took a journalism class but the professor was an arrogant blankety-blank and a lousy teacher. I received a bad grade in the class and was dissuaded from the pursuit of journalism---thus saving me from the probability of life as a liberal.

Throughout all those years I was compelled to write. I dabbled with starting a greeting card company, I wrote notes to friends for fun and I wrote letters to the editor. There were also a lot of love letters written which I hope have become fuel for Franklin stoves at this time. I kept journaling. I wrote poetry. My mother enjoyed my poetry (dark as it was) and encouraged me to keep writing.

I played around with the idea of starting a blog. On a trip to Portland my friend Glenn strongly encouraged me to begin blogging. It continues to be both voyage and adventure. Like Sir Edmund Hillary in his pursuit of Everest, I must write because ‘It is there.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hidden God

Ever feel like God moves in other people’s life and not yours? I read stories about how God has met others financially, or in healing, or clearly leading them into missions. And I wonder. If I can pull back just a little I can see myriad ways that He has met and led me. I can even point to one or two big things He’s done like my marriage and my teenager. Still ‘the hunger stays.’

There is a current running through Christian thought that speaks of His being, or seeming, hidden. The result for us is that, “Like the deer pants for the water so my soul cries out for Thee.” Seems like my life is ever that battle between believing and panting after. I trust that God wants it like this.

The Psalms are full of this language. “Do not be silent at my tears, Why have you forgotten me, Why have you rejected us forever?” The cry of the common man in a cruel world where God seems absent. I have hours and days where my heart echoes this cry; in loneliness, in brokenness, in persecution. It is in those dark periods that my hunger for God is deepest.

Though this thread runs through the Psalms more so they claim God’s presence sure as the Sun and solid as rock; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever, my heart will not fear.” Finally I find consolation in the words of Him who came in the flesh that we might see God, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fragile Circuitry

Most people never hear the timers. The coffee spot I work in has timers that go off to remind us to change out the creamers and coffees so that they stay fresh and at right temperature. As I waited on this customer the timer began beeping. As the beeping grew in pitch and intensity I could see her face grow tight, her eye lids raise and her eyes get more focused. She covered her ears and said seriously with a touch of panic in her voice, “What is that beeping?” She went on to explain that she had a brain injury recently and she has become sensitive to noise.

When I worked as a disability claims manager I had some clients with Lyme disease. They could not function at their jobs because the lights and noises affected them so significantly. Sufferers of Lyme disease also experience tinnitus, inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of the face (Bell's palsy), hallucinations and hearing loss.

It is surprising that we live reasonably healthy lives. I could have suffered some serious damage myself having been in a bicycle accident at 16 in which I skid on the pavement for ten feet without a helmet. Beyond that I had fallen off swing sets and out of trees. Despite having blacked out in those accidents I suffer no affects mentally or physically (though some close friends may argue this point).

We take credit for our health. We take vitamins and try and eat right. Scientists tell us this will stave off certain sicknesses and cancers, cancers which science now tells us are carried about in certain genes from birth. Certainly we can sway the statistics but the odds remain significantly against us. It seems obvious that what happens to us physically is out of our control.

There is no guarantee that we can prevent cancer or stop accidents from affecting us. Certainly we can not prevent death. Our only hope is to rest in a certainty that a wholly good God works things out for His glory and our best. Joni Eareckson Tada has stated that, “I relearned the timeless lesson of allowing my suffering to push me deeper into the arms of Jesus. I like to think of my pain as a sheepdog that keeps snapping at my heels to drive me down the road to Calvary, where, otherwise, I would not be naturally inclined to go.” Going into the arms of Jesus seems the only place to go in the throes of our pain and fragility. May we be willing to enter his embrace when life breaks us.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Bittersweet Christmas

You can taste it in every Christmas carol; Christmas is a bittersweet season. If you managed to make it through childhood I’m guessing your Christmas is tinged with some feeling of sadness. The tension that is Christmas actually started in childhood for me. Christmas meant bringing in the live tree, cleaning house, baking cookies and rising excitement as Christmas eve approached. The tree, dust and excitement created in me the perfect storm which invariably led to severe asthma attacks which left me sick on the couch most vacations. I no longer suffer these attacks but now Christmas is tinged with other memories.

Christmas eve of 2008 was a unique celebration for my family. Since childhood we celebrated with dinner at my mothers’ house. When she got older and feeble the celebration moved to the house of my sister. That year we did not eat dinner in a house. My mother was diagnosed with cancer that year and the family met in her hospital room to give her gifts and have a small celebration. Since all the family had driven to the hospital it was easier to have dinner at a local restaurant than a specific house. That was the only year that we’ve celebrated at a restaurant.

That same year my divorce went through. The rich blessing of Christmas day that year and all the years since my marriage blew apart was celebrating with close friends. Knowing that I would be lost at Christmas the year of the breakup I was invited to celebrate the day with a close friends’ family. This year will mark six years that the tradition has continued. It makes for a rich and blessed Christmas day but the invitation to partake came out of my pain and brokenness.

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed---and a sword will pierce even your own soul,” “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, be became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem…” So Christmas was bittersweet since the beginning.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power, When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Making Wise Choices

It was M. Scott Peck that said, “"Life is difficult.” (Peck, 1978/1992 p13). “We must attest to the fact that life was never meant to be easy, and that it is nothing but a battlefield of problems. We can either moan about them or solve them.” Choices come at us in myriad forms. This week I was offered the opportunity to take on a small consulting job. The simpleton would say ‘yes’ simply based on the money it afforded. The better option is to run the decision through a values grid.

Does this job put too much pressure on my family? Is the money worth the stress? How valuable to me (and to God) are my days off? Will taking this job allow me Sabbath rest? Will my wife and family benefit by this? The list can go on ad infinitum dependent on your own values. The aforementioned are some of mine.

My career decisions have been in part based on need and in part based on the freedom they offered. Whereas some choose work based on salary my choice has been lifestyle and freedom. For me that means freedom to invest my life outside of work. There is both a price to be paid and a reward to be gained. For me my choices allowed me to be present for my daughters’ school activities. I am one of few fathers that can say they have been to all their child’s plays, debates and rewards ceremonies. The down side is that I could have made more money.

Life is full of choices; a battlefield of problems. If we are to choose wisely we must know who we are and what our goals are for this life. Goal setting is a good place to start. Following that create a grid based on significant values; time, money, family, rest and exercise for example. Run the decision through your grid. Pray. Finally do not allow yourself to be coerced by the tyranny of the urgent. The important things will wait.
The unimportant will fade away. Stay true to your beliefs and stay on target. Solving the problems is necessary. Solving them with wisdom and the right tools will yield life long blessing.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

In Search Of Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…No, it’s not. Does anybody else out there feel like Christmas is different this year? My wife and I drove home tonight and noted very few Christmas decorations up. It’s more than that though. Something in the air doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because the weather is warm and weird or because it’s an election year or the end of the Mayan calendar. Don’t know for certain but there’s an odd feeling that pervades.

I know Christmas isn’t about the lights and Santa Claus. Oddly enough it’s all that commercialism and Kringle focus that gets me upset in the first place. Perhaps I’m feeling uneasy because I’m realizing the truth. We live in a culture that wants Santa Claus and not some man that died on a cross. Santa’s a safe guy. I mean, c’mon, how many people do you know that ever received coal in their stocking? That Christ guy though knows how to rock the status quo. Santa’s Mr. Milquetoast whereas Christ calmed the storm raging on the Sea of Galilee. Santa wants my behaviour, Jesus wants my heart.

Bottom line the heart is where I need to focus. Despite my feelings I need to go deeper with Christ. We’ve been reading through John Pipers’ Advent meditations. Advent is about Christ’s coming. It’s a season for us to be vigilant; as we should always be. It’s a season of hoping. It’s a season of waiting. It is in that mix that the prophets and saints were stirred to search their own souls as they sought God. It is in the quiet and the uneasiness that God is most desired. So I will seek and pray as did the Shepherds and the Wise men. They found their Christmas in a world unaware. May we as well.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

I Wanna Be Reckless

We are in the process of making financial arrangements for my death; life insurance, a will and all the accompanying paperwork. It brings you face to face with your mortality my wife pointed out. Here’s an odd thing. When you are young and think you will live forever you are zealous for everything. When you know you are going to die soon (relatively speaking) you are slower about making commitments. Shouldn’t it be the opposite?

It’s coming up on New Years day which is when I do my goal setting for the year. Now that I’m older I tend to revisit my goals and revise them. I’ve pointed out before that we are trying to be more aggressive about writing our story. At least the part we can write.

I feel like the proverbial drunk man on a horse. One day I lean toward living a safe comfortable life and the next I vow to go all out for what I believe in. Like the man on the horse it’s difficult to sit centered. This year I want to spend most my days leaning toward radical. Jeremy Camp says it well:

Everytime I try to play it safe
Holding back just a little part of me
I find myself forgetting what
I say that I believe…

I wanna be reckless
Cause You are endless
I wanna be shameless
And shout Your greatness
I will not be afraid

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

We Are Expecting

That is the air we breathe (for in Him we live and move and have our being). As Christ’s followers we hope---having the conviction of things not seen. We lose this hope and we perish.

The hoping doesn’t come easy. Despite the Holy Spirit’s being poured out liberally onto us at our birthday. Page after page the call and the conviction are that we walk by faith. Yet our walk is in the flesh. We are a Missouri people. We have to taste and see things before we believe them. When a loved one battles a disability since birth we struggle to believe. A friend chooses brokenness over life despite hours of prayer and we resist right thinking. Friends continue to celebrate darkness rather than the Light; our life seems so dull and ineffective. The hoping seems something outside of us that we can no longer access.

The Psalmist repeatedly encourages us to look to the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth. The Old Testament is full of stories of those that looked to God and were saved either in spirit or in the flesh. This isn’t a Sunday drive in the park. Paul likens the maintaining of expectant, exultant hope to that of fighting a battle. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh…We are destroying speculations and…we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” When gale force winds threaten to destroy our world we lean on truth and choose hope. We wait expectantly for God to speak and move.

We are expecting. We are expecting Christ to come and set things right. We are expecting all Israel to be saved. We are looking forward to bodies that don’t hurt and minds that don’t bend to brokenness. Until that day we cry out. In this season especially we sing,
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Finances And Fear A Journal Entry

Journal entry: December 3, 2012

Stressed out about finances. Way stressed. I thought I was fine until I got into work. Was told by three (count them) people that Payroll wouldn’t pay because I didn’t follow the bureaucratic rules. Note: I will not be a good citizen of ‘The State’ if the State is in control. I hate rules and bureaucracy too much.

Thought: The one world government will be a big government agency. Lots of inefficiency. Good for the Believers working in the underground. Bad because it will allow guards and those in positions of power to exercise significant abuses.

Found out nobody had read the entire email. Payroll can pay sick pay if specially approved by a special person; Queen of Payroll (‘In the Land of the Blind the one eyed woman is queen’).

Home. Paid bills. Val stepped out for groceries. Prayed. Visited Desiring God blog. Good post on 2 Chronicles 20. The takeaway: We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. (verse 12).

Did Advent reading before dinner. Tacos and chips—homemade. Yum! Watched The Amazing Race. Posted Blog.

Going to spend time praying with my gal before bed. One more work day. Off Wednesday. Finally getting back on the bicycle after the surgery. Can’t wait…even if it is windy and cold. Til next time….

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Love Connections

I used to think that life was hills and valleys – you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don’t believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.---Rick Warren

I was reminded of this Rick Warren quote after the weekend we just spent. The wife, the kid and I visited the in-laws. We crashed at their place Friday night. Saturday we drove out to the beach for a reflective retreat. We joined a small group for a time of prayer and celebration entering into Advent. As one member said it’s all about, “Location, location, location.” The church is located three-block between ocean harbor and sandy beach. It lends itself to quiet meditation, to stillness, like the glass smooth water calm in the harbor. The retreat ended with hugs and deepened connections to the group and with God.

Connecting on a different level all the girls in family at large got together to bake cookies whilst me and father-in-law went out for steak. My daughter was there as were the nieces and in-laws. Some in the group are going through significant trials; cancer and brokenness. In the midst it was enriching to see the family network opening arms to pray and sing, and share life with those walking the ‘bad’ in life.

It’s those connections that we give thanks for even as we struggle together with the hardships life throws at us. The conversations and the baking, the praying and the singing, the love, laughter and the hugging seem more meaningful against all the little and big trials we walk through. That’s what Advent is about as well. Christ gave up equality with God to make connection with us. Against that backdrop and the darkness of the world the love of a Saviour causes us to give thanks.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Following In Their Footsteps

Some of mine are dead, some, obviously, living.  John Piper claims his are dead overall.  Hero's of the faith; those saints that we look to as our examples when our own framework of dust and bone doesn't provide context enough.  I look to Joni Eareckson Tada for inspiration and a bunch of dead guys; C.S. Lewis, Biblical saints and Spurgeon to name a few.

Life is difficult.  No surprise there.  When I throw my little pity parties (because it's all about me) it helps me to remember that Joni has had to have somebody dress her in the morning for the last 45 years.  Yet she remains one of the most positive and Christ exalting people I know.  Job lost it all yet maintained a perfect faith in God's goodness and holy character.  I look to these saints and see God's handiwork therefore I believe I can trust Him with the difficulties in my own life.

The apostle Paul repeatedly told others to follow him as an example of following Christ.  Peter said of Christ that He died, leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps.  It is important to find yourself those Christ affirming, Christ exalting role models to follow.  For myself they flesh out what Christian life looks like especially in the midst of affliction.  Their reality destroys my petty fantasy of my own importance. 
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.--1 Peter 2:21


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Petraeus, Pride and Protection

The General Petraeus scandal reminds me of the scandal of another military leader: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army….From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.” My purpose isn’t to focus on General Petraeus but on the sin he committed. Know that I write both as one that has experienced the betrayal of adultery and as one that has committed sexual sin. I do not cast the first stone.

I can only imagine the pain, shame and embarrassment this has brought to all concerned especially wife and children. Beyond that it certainly has impacted many as the ripple circled out from the initial admission of guilt; those serving under the General as well as those that respected him. Like David’s sin it was a private act with far reaching consequences.

The text says that King David ‘sent Joab out.’ I wonder if General Petraeus also sent his leadership away that there would be no immediate accountability. I am certain that he has many serving with him that have his back in the field of battle and in daily public life. It is sad that there wasn’t someone there who had his back before his shirt was off.

It was pride that set him up for his fall just as it did for King David. Humility is our first protection from attacks of the flesh. Rather than send our friends away we need to open up our lives to them. We must be willing to be accountable. This means that they have the right to ask us how we are doing in the private areas of our life. We give them accessibility. We keep short accounts with our friends/or our accountability partners. When we screw up we admit it. Pride does not allow such open sharing of human frailty.

“Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” One has to go through many steps to maintain an adulterous affair. In the case of the King this eventually led to murder. I do not know all the steps Petraeus maintained but I suspect one at his level could manipulate much to hide much. At that point you have closed yourself off to the world to maintain your sin. How much easier it would have been to open yourself up to a few trustworthy men?

We are told that King David had a heart for God. The conclusion is easy to draw; if David could commit such a horrible sin so could I. In the grocery store magazine covers (like that of Time magazine) shout out the sad story of the General’s sin and fall. It should be warning to each of us (and not men only) that pride comes before a fall. David’s fall began in Spring but every season has its dangers. Let us stay humble and transparent that the enemy may not gain a foothold.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.—Hebrews 3:12

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Music

My uncles’ favorite chorus is “Bring me flesh and bring me wine.” It’s from Good King Wenceslas which celebrates the Feast of Stephen. Growing up mom would start the Christmas music in small amounts after Thanksgiving and it would reach its peak on Christmas Eve. We listened to quite the mix including The Mormon Tabernacle choir, Harry Belafonte and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Usually I say that I first heard the Gospel in a Mormon household but truth is I first heard it in the Christmas music I listened to as a child.

Growing up on Tennessee Ernie Ford is reason, in part, for my taste in Christmas music. I say, “In part,” because the other piece is just that I’m wired weird. This next is one of the glowing differences between my wife and I. She likes all Christmas music. That means she likes the crooners (Bing and Frank) and the modern, the schmaltzy roasting chestnuts and snow falling stuff. Yeah---not me. I lean strongly to the Christ-exalting stuff especially the hymns, except for one which I’m just tired of.

Little Drummer Boy has been done every-which-way by every artist from Jars Of Clay to Audio Adrenaline. Initially I liked the song. It’s fun to hear each different rendition. It’s just that it’s played every other song on the radio, kind of like White Christmas.

Whatever the tune we enter into the Christmas season celebrating the birth of Christ and the ransom paid for men. Let us sing the hymns loudly and celebrate the seasonal songs. In it all let our hearts and our characters reflect Him whom we sing about;

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing. ---Good King Wenceslas

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marriage And Weekend Getaways

In a life with little discretionary time and income; How important is it to get-away as a married couple? I ran this same question by a close friend who emphasized the importance of going someplace that, “It’s just you two and thousands of people you don’t know.” I don’t know if this is something that can be measured scientifically. Anecdotally it makes sense. Certainly there are some caveats as well. In my previous relationship we did take trips away; but she brought the laptop and neither unplugged from work or plugged into our relationship. But my marriage now is the antidote to that anecdote.

There is mystery and adventure in being ‘just you two and thousands.’ There are the days to discover new places and share experiences and serendipity. Seems it opens up opportunity for discussion beyond, “Can we pay the gas bill this week?” Ultimately it paves the way for that “We’ll always have Paris” moment.

The wife and I are reading the Old Testament A whirlwind tour shows that God mandates Sabbath. God too values ‘having Paris.’ Why else insist that Israel put up altar after altar (some of them even on river bottoms)? God encourages rest and making memories.

The weekend getaway allows unhindered time to be relating. It’s that time free from stress, routines and errands. It’s a little weekend that is a stepping stone to the big picture. For those reasons and a thousand more the getaway is important. Finally it’s also the carrot that gets us through these months. That’s important for us two.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Safety Of Fences

I grew up in a house without fence or hedge. At which my sister would yell, “But our house had a hedge all around it!” There were no immaterial hedges. For example as a teenager I had no curfew and only needed to call my mother and give her my location and estimated time of return to home. So it was that I had much confusion and anxiety in my youth.

Imagine my excitement years later to find out that God had provided a fence and guide for me. There were directions for what was best for me. There was a place to run when the world got too scary. There were boundaries which kept me protected. In midlife I continue to depend on this guide to hedge me in and keep me safe.

Midlife has no guarantee that terror will not press in. Some pressures are greater; one knows more people that have died. The ignorance of youth gives way to clarity---this is a two edged sword. Conviction in one’s decisions is easier. The list of those you know that have crashed and burned is longer. It is easy to imagine the worst.

I could have grown up with no safety net. Then the terrors of life would lead to angst and spiral into a death dive. Instead I find hope in the ‘light unto my feet and light unto my path.” I run to the one that calls the descendants of Abraham His friends encouraging them, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.”---Isaiah 41:10

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me…”---Psalm 16

Sunday, November 25, 2012

They Know Drama

“…Dad who was by then an energetic orthopedic surgeon, always a rocket right out of bed even after a night of surgery…woke up slurring his speech, unable to move his left side, and trapped in bed. He was having a stroke.” So writes Ted King about how ‘Ted’s parents taught him to succeed in cycling.’* The point of the story is that he learned more about perseverance and success by watching his parents struggle through his dad’s brain injury than by cycling with them (which he rarely did). The best stories are often the toughest to hear.

That rather scares me. My wife and I are praying to live a good story. To some I expect that means money and comfort. God seems to have the same motto as TNT, “We know drama.” Seems the good stories have some character desperately at the end of their rope. The rope frays, stretches and just as it’s about to break and send our hero into the abyss God steps in. Personally I’m much more comfortable with the riches and comfort story.

Life is like that. If we had to choose between the story we’re given and “What’s behind door #2,” we’d pick door number two every time. In reality the wife and I choose to trust the Author and rejoice in the story. You know what? That edginess makes getting out of bed an adventure.

*The Best Lesson by Ted King, Bicycling Magazine, Nov. 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stuck Or Letting Go?

It feels like slogging through mud sometimes, doesn’t it? You know you shouldn’t be getting sucked down but you are. The world is pulling you in. Spiritually and emotionally you know you should get free but you can’t. You are on one level but there is still that strong pull made evident by the sucking sound every time you lift up your foot.

We have these material bodies that get sick and need comfort. We have food and property, medical bills and school bills. These slam us up against the reality of being aliens and strangers, people that have a house not made with hands. It’s this slamming up against that is so disconcerting. Lift foot from mud, walk, lift foot from mud, walk…that’s how the faith battle feels most days.

That’s why Peter said, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them…” Without the reminding it’s easy to sink down into the mud. We don’t feel like we have an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and reserved specially for us. The telephone calls from the bill collectors and our sin nature scream at us and when we look about we just see mud.

When we pull free from the mud Peter reminds us to rejoice. We have to deal with the mud for a little while because, somehow, it proves our faith. At the end of the day mud will turn to faith “that is more precious than gold,” though it be tested by fire.

So we endure the mud. We walk by faith and we remind ourselves and each other that mud isn’t our inheritance. Kept by faith we press on to that which is ours; imperishable, undefiled and reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Family Traditions As Anchors

Why would you leave your ship in harbor unanchored? Yet when I look at the lives of those around me that is how they appear. One of the great tethers we have to joy are family traditions. In the big picture those can be blood line, friends or even assembling together in a church. It is those connections that help secure us to life.

Trying to figure out where to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas is a joyful and frustrating event. It comes down to tradition. Growing up my family celebrated Christmas eve. Since mom’s passing my sister continues the tradition at her house. Thanksgiving too has been held at her house. Christmas day we celebrate with close friends. It surprises me how powerful that is.

Yesterday I was reminded how deep those anchored affections touch us. The sharing of hugs and greeting family and friends affirms our belonging. There is a rich well that flows through those year after year connections we make. Hugs given and toasts over beer celebrate commitment and connection to one another. The bond strengthens more as we share the year’s events; deaths and blessings, family coming home and marriages that are sweeter and stronger.

Thanksgiving ushers in a season of decoration and busyness. Deeper still we enter into the Advent season. Looking forward I am reminded that it is not about the superficial stuff. As we come together week after week we come together as family. Driving all over Southern California on Christmas it’s also about family. These are the anchors and foundations that secure us here. These are the traditions that anchor us through the storms.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Counter Intuitive Christ

People don’t usually respond the way I want them to. Working with the public I find all type of petty attitudes amongst customers and co-workers. My petty gut reaction is to respond in kind. Jesus’ gut reaction is to love them.

I am reminded again that Jesus’ response to life is so counter intuitive. We want our enemies to suffer. He tells us to forgive and love them. We judge others faults. He reminds us to look at the log in our own eye. We are petty, proud and arrogant. He is humble and meek. We push away. He embraces.

I am reminded that when I first heard truth it was Jesus saying these type of things. It was the counter intuitive responses that He requested that caused me to think He was God.

On this eve of Thanksgiving I am thankful for that counter intuitive, radical, loving response to humanity. Gospel principles have changed my priorities and focus in life. They pave the way for me to love and appreciate my wife and my kid. I don’t love them well enough now, I couldn’t love them well enough without Gospel truth.

Tonight I give thanks for the many blessings given me. For the God whose heart cuts through what seems right into what truly is, and who loves humanity in a way that is so very different then our broken bent.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Prayer and Waiting: The Silent Season

My wife and I find ourselves in a silent spiritual season. God brought us together a year ago which was a cataclysmic event. We took our first year to mesh and set up house. In June we began praying toward our future. In the mix of life and us my sister in law found she had cancer. Through all of that we prayed.

It seems that nothing happens. My sense is that I’ve done a lot of deliberate praying in the last six months. We pray for a mix of items such as healing for the sis, enlarged spiritual territory, finances and vision for employment. Still we don’t see change.

It’s four in the morning and I stand in the steam filled bathroom after showering. Soon I will head out the door to work. Work has been tough lately as morale has decreased as demands on the employees have increased. The mirror is fogged up, I’m still tired, and I wonder about answered prayer. Does God hear my praying? Is God mad at me? Those answers make no sense in light of God’s character.

It is in the revealed character of God that we trust. Beyond that we have the past to reflect on and see how He has answered previous prayer---like for a spouse. I suspect the waiting is part of the answer. The rest will get answered as God desires as is best for us His children.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Do We Change A Culture?

How do we change a culture?  In an article by Marvin Olasky quoting Ross Douthat (the conservative voice of the New York Times) he writes of “an Obama coalition “created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.” Douthat wrote of “the growing failure of America’s local associations—civic, familial, religious—to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.”  Without a solid Judao-Christian framework the culture crumbles. As an earlier writer has said, “If the gold rusts, what then will the iron do?”

There is no changing culture without changing hearts. That is why corporations fail when they attempt culture change. It is usually an outward change while the marrow inside is still rotting. As Jesus indicated a shiny sepulchre still holds a dead body.

The change can’t be political or legal. It needs to spread one by one until a wave rolls forward changing the landscape. Christ changed the world through the disciples and change through the gospel is responsible for countries changing and walls falling. Simply look at the history surrounding this country’s establishment or the fall of the Berlin wall. Each was a result of a spiritual movement spurred by spread of the Gospel.

Changing a culture is difficult work. For those of us who are serious Christ followers there is no other option. It is a one by one, person to person quest. The walls are going up. We must struggle to break them down again. Like Israel rebuilding the wall in the days of Nehemiah we do it with sword in one hand and trowel in the other. Only we tear down the walls to build a better framework.  We have no choice. To arms!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Conservative On NPR

Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Driving home from work today, a journey of forty-five minutes, I grew tired of my normal radio pre-sets.  KCRW falls on the dial between two local Christian radio stations and a show on investments caught my ear.  In typical NPR style it was divided into a number of smaller segments one of them on families in Joplin that survived the tornado thanks to God’s intervention and good investing.  This particular story had a mother tell her daughter to climb into an old chest, ‘for fun play’ as the tornado hit.  Afterward they found themselves in a house with a stairway leading nowhere and a complete view of the skyline---the roof had been blown away.  The thought occurred to me as it has a number of times I’ve listened to NPR: they know how to tell a good story.

Searching the dial on road trips I am always thrilled to find a broadcast of Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk or The Splendid Table. Other times I’ve wiled away hours listening to stories about music or aspects of the human condition. The stories resonate at soul level. I laugh, sigh and stay entranced as I am drawn into the story.

There has been some controversy these last years regarding funding public television and radio. I suspect part of that is because some conservatives state the news reported on NPT is liberally slanted. Honestly I have no clue either way. I don’t get my news from them but they are often along with me as travel companion in my car.

In the scheme of things funding public radio is inconsequential.  What is of consequence is relationship wisdom and auto advice from Tom and Ray (with Chief Legal Counsel from Dewey, Cheetham and Howe) and Americana from our own national treasure, Garrison Keillor.  If the day comes that they chuck the funding it may be the baby going out with the bathwater.  He'll be awfully cold out there in Lake Wobegon.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cycling Solstice

It’s not the bicycle riding I miss. It’s the pushing hard against the pedal, adrenaline coursing through your veins as you inhale a stream of cold air and spit it out. It’s the spitting out that’s the thing; blowing off the crummy boss, the half-hearted employee and attitudes that spiral downward in the breakroom. The whole adventure happens on one level while at another you are enjoying your surroundings.

Winter riding is different. My Excel spreadsheet shows previous rides to snow level. Going downhill at forty-five miles per hour in summer cools you off to normal body temperature. Downhill in forty-five degrees makes any extremity hurt and your snot freeze.

Five days post surgery and I’m looking forward to getting out again. I tap the bike on the seat as I walk by it and I check the tire pressure by feel. It’ll be the first ride post-election. We’ll see if all the signs are down.

Nature should be waking up.  The hawks should be out. I type with my fingers and think cycling. My lungs fill with air in memory and anticipation. I’m thinking the weekend after Thanksgiving. The body will have bloated enough the blood slowed enough in the arteries to have reached a level below equilibrium. Time for renewal. Time for my cycling solstice.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lisa Whelchel, Identity, and Survivor

If real life were like the movies----In the movies the good guy turns in his Sherriff badge so he can get the bad guy without his job (and it’s ethics) getting in the way. Even in the movies you can turn in your badge but you can’t change your identity.

I keep coming across articles about motivation. I read articles pertaining to motivation and men and motivation and positive thinking. The reading got my head spinning about motivation. The reading and one more thing got me thinking about motivation; this season’s Survivor: The Philippines.

One of the survivors this season is Lisa Whelchel from Facts Of Life. She is a professed Christian and is trying to play the game with a level of integrity. That takes us back to the badge imagery. For some Christians playing poker is decidedly difficult. You have to allow yourself to bluff. I had the same experience as a teen playing Dungeons and Dragons. To be the evil wizard meant setting aside your world-view for three hours. Easy enough for a teen, harder for a poker player—impossible on Survivor?

It comes back to identity. Identity is the person you are when no one is looking. It is the ultimate motivator. It was his identity as a preacher of the gospel that allowed John Bunyan to “choose prison and a clear conscience over freedom and a conscience soiled by the agreement not to preach.” It was his belief (later realized) that he was a modern day prophet calling Soviet Russia to account that led Solzhenitsyn to cry, “As for me, I kept silent for another reason: because those Muscovites thronging the steps of the escalators were too few for me, too few! Here my cry would be heard by 200 or twice 200, but what about the 200 million? Vaguely, unclearly, I had a vision that someday I would cry out to the 200 million.”

Ultimately it is our identity that motivates us. It is who we believe ourselves to be that denotes how we will respond to life as it bears upon us.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marriage, Rocky Waters And Safety Equipment

The book Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti talks about how men and women are wired differently. The idea is to know the differences to help us communicate with each other. I once led a group in which the men, having read the book, felt that since their wives knew they related differently the wives should address that. It was an eye opener.

Knowing me you know my first marriage crashed and burned. You’d think having gone down in an airplane one time one wouldn’t want to do it again. Some folks just don’t think like that. The fun part (if you allow it) of being remarried is focusing more attention on doing things right. Right now we are reading through Bill and Pam Farrel’s other book, The First Five Years.

The first year sailed smoothly. Now we are trying to dive deeper into the relational waters. There are some rocks down there that you don’t notice when you are dating. Or you notice them but decide to go to a different spot for the night. Now it’s year two and we are having discussions about deeper stuff. We are trying to figure out how we mesh and how God means to blend the good stuff and the broken stuff. It is a fun and scary process.

We were navigating around these waters last week and hit some choppy areas. Unlike my first flaming disaster we affirmed our lifetime commitment to each other. As we move forward it is important to know the life-preserver is there. Life navigation in new waters can be a blast but sharks prowl about seeking whom they may devour. It is good to know the safety gear is intact.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Desires: Property-Living Between the Answers

There are no boards designated ‘Asceticism’ on Pinterest. There are great pictures of the ideal house, the ideal yard and the ideal vacation spot. If I had a board in my head it would look like Pinterest. I dream of the perfect house but life has taken me down a different road.

I had a short period of time living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Then God moved me out to the desert. Shortly thereafter I married a wonderful gal that He moved to the desert so she could be with me. We live in a little rental that has broken tile in the kitchen and bottom-line sinks and faucets in the bathrooms. We long for a nicer place that is our own.

That is the struggle. We want more yet we want to live within our means. Currently our means don’t allow for more. We are not alone in this. Many in today’s economy simply don’t have a basic house. Still we have a roof over our head and food on our table.

So we wrestle with wants, we grapple with longing. To want the dog and the yard to entertain isn’t wrong. To learn to live in a way where we can invest finance and life in people who have less than we do is our calling as well. Like so much in life we pray and live between the answers.

Stand and sing the words about his majesty
They're all found on page four hundred fifty-three
We could sing them to the walls in holy trances
We could touch the Lord of all
Between the answers

Between the Answers written by John Fischer

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Desire And Work

"Within my lifetime in England money was (very properly) collected to buy shirts for some men who were out of work.  The work they were out of was the manufacture of shirts."

If I had all the chocolate in the world, the fastest bike, the most money, carte-blanche at Trader Joes; the wish-list starts in childhood and changes as we grow into adults. Still it never goes away. For some adults it ever stays at the chocolate wishing phase. If we are serious we attempt to break down desire into healthy/unhealthy, needs or wants. My life like yours is one in process. For me part of the process comes in blogging as I wrestle in hopes that the sharing and grappling will produce answers.

In our life’s work we question ‘calling.’ Is this a western idea or are we called to specific work? Or are we to just do our Nine-to-Five and find our fulfillment outside of those hours? We can count on one hand friends who have careers that imbue their life with meaning. There are aspects of my work that I enjoy, the customer interactions (mostly), the sharing of life and knowledge of coffee. I dislike being underutilized, having no respect and given authority not commensurate with my position.

What of the rice farmer in China—or in Fresno for that matter. Do they feel called or are they simply putting food on the table? C.S. Lewis writing on Good Work and Good Works says, “…so we shall do better if we remember at every moment what Good Work was and how impossible it has now become for the majority. We may have to earn our living by taking part in the production of objects which are rotten in quality and which, even if they were good in quality, would not be worth producing---the demand or ‘market’ for them having been simply engineered by advertisement….”

We have two basic needs; security and significance (Lawrence Crabb). Ultimately these are found in Christ; in doing our work to the glory of God. In eking out our work we seek fullness of both of these. I sense that we may never fully arrive yet we dare not cease striving to do both good work and good works.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Investing Or Moving On

My little church had a father-daughter dance tonight. I sat next to a Marine that joined our church recently and who I am just getting to know. As we were chatting he told me that though they’ve been in ‘29’ since 09 they were supposed to move to Camp Pendleton next year. My internal reaction was mixed; I felt bad that the relationship wouldn’t go longer and deeper. I felt hesitant to invest any more time. That connection won’t last. Looking around the room I had a different feeling and thought.

I’ve been in the desert seven years and my wife is going on two. Our plan is to leave when the daughter graduates. Yet each year we are here the roots go deeper and the connections stronger.

As I looked around the room I saw all the fathers dancing with their daughters; the men in jackets and ties, the girls in party dresses. I know the stories of so many of the men that were there tonight. As the music played and I looked around I thought of the stories that will go forward.

A mix of fathers was in the room with a mix of daughters; step daughters and nieces. I know the dad’s in the room love their daughters. You know though that all will parent imperfectly and some will make catastrophic mistakes. God willing the daughters will grow up morally strong and rich in character. If you’ve been around the block a bit you know that there will be children going astray and hard stories along with the great ones.

As God keeps us here we will be part of those stories. At this juncture I don’t know if we will keep these connections or move on. Today we invest and pour our lives into those of our friends. Tomorrow we wait to see if our orders are to march away or stay connected and grow deeper roots.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Living As Having Nothing To Lose

Solzhenitsyn writes in The Gulag Archipelago, “From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you…..For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on by body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.” There is surprising freedom in having nothing to lose.

I wonder if that’s why some of my elderly customers act the way they do. If I were driving an electric cart and ran into a door or knocked down a wine display I’d be mortified. My older customers aren’t fazed by it. In a more real sense looking death squarely in the eye makes one bolder and free. On KFI radio Tim Conway and Steckler have a shtick where they yell, “We are the middle class and we have nothing to lose.” Having nothing to lose makes you all the more bold in the conviction you have.

Paul knew this as well. In writing to the Romans he continuously encouraged them to ‘Reckon yourselves dead to sin.” The dead man has nothing to lose. In our authenticity and our convictions we should live like that. Not looking to please others, not self-protecting, but promoting ideals that are lofty and true. That is how we must live if our lives are to count to the utmost; having only our spirit and our conscience as most precious and important.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Perfection And Obedience

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is is lovingkindness toward those who fear him…”

“True whole faith is better than sacrifice.”

There are days when I look at my life and see all the big mistakes I’ve made. The past weighs me down like a ball and chain. Today should look bright but I’m blinded to it. Despite my past God continuously restores ‘what the locusts have eaten.’

During the implosion of my previous marriage as well as the days afterward I sought to do what God wanted me to. In part I did the right things because they were right. Greater still I tried to do right because I took pleasure in the joy that flowed from God into my life.

When I started dating Valerie we were both seeking what God desired. We even evaluated our relationship in terms of God’s rules for remarriage. Up to and through the dating process we tried to listen to God.

We ended up getting married. We are into year two of a marriage that is rewarding and soul-satisfying. I have friends that say, “It’s great that you did all the right things. You deserve it.” Know what though? My life wasn’t a hundred percent perfect after the first marriage blew up. Val and I didn’t walk into our marriage in perfect holiness and perfection. We sinned along the way yet God did not deal with us accordingly.

All along the way God dealt with us (and is dealing with us) as a loving father that gives not because we are perfect. Certainly our hearts desire matters. Still He gives because He is a loving father. Father’s give the best they have to their children because they are their children. So it is with God. We deserve the devastation of locusts but He has redeemed all of our days.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Us Against Them

Wednesday I was talking with a fellow employee when another employee that is African-American sarcastically said to us, “Why are all the White guys so upset today?” I don’t know if he voted for Obama because of his policies or because of his skin color. Either way he insinuated that he had an us-against-them mentality.

America has denigrated into a structure where some type of warfare is warp and woof of who we are. Growing up we had debates about whether America was ‘melting pot’ (different elements melting together) or ‘salad bowl’ (cultures mixing but staying intact). Neither quite fits anymore. We look more like the dinner plate of my daughter where different foods can never touch.

The president continuously incites class warfare into his speeches and programs. We hear all about the rich republicans and their dislike for the normal folk. Latino rights are large in the southwest with radical agencies such as La Raza marching to a beat that incites the same us-against-them mentality. After Tuesdays’ election Romney supporters don’t understand the mentality of the Obama supporters and they say the same thing about those of us that support Romney. We are a divided America.

There is no easy solution. In the movies this problem is solved by the intrusion of a common enemy like a Hitler or an alien attack. We have gone so far astray of truth and Judeo-Christian ideals that compromise is impossible. The only route that I can see for repair is the Christian route. In Christ, Paul says,
Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.-Colossians 3:11
I see no other ideology or hope that can save us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama And Our Downward Slide

"...and Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money. It's quite a characteristic of them."---Margaret Thatcher

I sent my daughter a text: Sorry for the world that you will have to live in. The darkness has begun. President Obama was elected to his second term last night. If it were simply a difference in personalities I would not feel this way. It is four more years of debt increasing above the current 16 trillion. It is the ongoing devaluing of the dollar as we continue to print money. It is the hostility toward Israel and the friendships with the enemies of Israel. And of course it is the fleshing out of Obamacare. These will produce greater financial strain on the nation and stagnate an already dead economy.

My generation has had it relatively easy. There haven’t been any world wars in my time, no depression, no wide-spread famines and no dust-bowl (though we’ve come close). At this juncture I sense an American downhill slide.

It’s the slide that causes the greatest angst. A socialist president, four Supreme court appointees, and half a country which supported his election.

Tomorrow my plan is to recalibrate and find equilibrium. I will spend time in prayer. Tomorrow I will seek God’s perspective on this mess. The truth is that God is in control of all these things. Life has always been difficult.

So the people without understanding are ruined…Hosea 4:14

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Television, Taxes and the Presidential Election

It’s all about the taxes! We’re voting to keep em, or raise em, or vote for people to lower them and keep them from destroying us. I was talking with a customer today about our taxes in California. I told him that I figure I will be working til I drop dead. He sells high quality window treatments. Having ten or more years on me he says he is going to work until the day when he goes to somebody’s house and he hears, “There’s an old man at the door.”

I’m not in the mood for another rant about taxes. Suffice it to say I’m Libertarian when taxes are involved. Government should only tax us for infrastructure-roads, maintenance and military. That ain’t the philosophy of the current administration. So tonight we wait…

Election day at my house means I’m glued to the computer. Being newly married the night will be a tad different. We are going to watch Survivor on Hulu which seems a good pairing for election eve. We are following that with Last Man Standing; I’m feeling a theme here. Perhaps we should finish out the evening with Last Resort.

After winding down with Hulu we’ll click over to Fox news and follow the voting results for each state. My lovely bride had me assure her that I’ll get some sleep tonight. Hopefully there will be good news before bed time. Til then we pray and hope that next time we talk about the Obama administration we use the words Once Upon A Time.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The 46 Percent Still Believe That Crap

That’s the point Rush made this morning. If (when) Romney wins with a margin of 53/46 that means that those 46% believe the anti-Romney propaganda. Certainly there are other reasons people may vote for Obama as well though there is no logical reason to do so. In my post on January 18, 2009, I asked

Will he establish and maintain laws that give dignity to life, or establish such laws which would greatly expand government funding of abortion(among other things.) Will he recognize Ahmadinejad and Hamas as terrorists, or invite them over for tea? Will personal freedoms be enlarged, or taken away?

Four years later and Obama has negatively fulfilled my predictions and I am not a professional pundit or prophet. Charles Krauthammer writes that,
“An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.”
Sadly still the country is divided. Many will vote for Obama like my employee that mimics rhetoric that Romney is for the rich, Ryan will take away Medicare, they will steal away the rights of women and gays.

The 46% will continue to believe lies and turn from the truth. As we become a nation of relativists and self-seekers we choose based not on truth but on what best benefits us. Sadly that blindness leads not to freedom but to chains and slavery. The minority fail to understand that there choice would lead to bondage in taxes and socialism and movement away from individual freedoms including the freedom to worship and speak as we choose. Let us hope that those with clearer vision will continue to be in the majority and that many will finally recognize that, as I wrote 3 years ago, the current emperor has no clothes.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Coming Out Of The Party Closet

A Christian friend of mine recently confessed that he is a Democrat which is anathema in the small rural community I live in. He leaped out of the closet when confronted by a fellow believer that said, “You can’t be Christian and a Democrat.” My friend said that by stating his voting party he betrayed his rule to never discuss politics.

It is unfortunate that we don’t discuss religion or politics because they lead to controversy and discord. If we are serious about our beliefs we should be serious enough to discuss them in the public square. Certainly a valid discussion of religion is a life or death (or afterlife after death) discussion. Since God exists how we respond should carry tremendous weight. Similarly we vote based on our convictions because we believe it makes a difference.

Perhaps it only makes a difference based on how you weight the issues. My friend indicated that he opposes abortion. He also believes that the government should take care of the masses, i.e., social justice. His actions indicate that he places societal good above the life of unborn children.

If we hold our convictions based on reasoned thought and contemplation then these ideas should be discussed at other places besides dinner. Unless of course we hold them for convenience and safety. In which case they are not convictions at all. They are simply concepts carried on the wind,  seeds never taking root and growing.