Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Day God Did Not Promise

The Cashier at the supermarket cried. This morning I started making Pumpkin Spice Bars. We had no raisins in the house so I drove down to the local market. I was in line behind an elderly couple (checking out) and a single man (indicated by the one large can of beer in his basket). As I came up the cashier said to the elderly lady, “Let me give you my phone number. You are making me cry.” She then wrote down her number on the couple’s receipt.

The cashier went on to tell the single guy that the elderly lady was dying of bone cancer and had asked the cashier to take care of her husband when he came in. The cashier has been checking for twenty years and has lived in this community for thirty-five. Upon hearing this the single guy related that a friend of his just died from breast cancer to which the cashier replied, “They just found bone tumors in my son.”

As we get rooted and live in community we touch others and are touched by them. That is one of the benefits of being established. At my workplace I’ve had people tell me they look forward to seeing me when they are in town every year. This past week I had a customer ask me how long we’ve been in business. In customer service especially though people see you only once a week they are impacted by your life.

My pastor is always giving thanks for, “another day which God did not promise us but that we have never the less.” It is good to be reminded that life is a gift. Solomon once wrote, “It is better to go into the house of mourning than into a house of celebration. For that is the end of every man and it causes the living to take notice.”

I headed out the door feeling grumpy about the extra trip to buy raisins. I returned home celebrating a day off to go to church with my family. I took notice.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Little More Money

The story goes that when someone asked a rich man (Getty or Hearst or somebody I forget) how much money was enough the answer was, “Just a little more.”  Today I was reading Penelope Trunk and came across this quote,
“I used to think if I could just earn a little more money then I’d stop worrying about money. But no amount of money feels safe. And I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Daniel Gilbert shows, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, that we are hard-wired to not feel safe with the amount of money we have.” 
If the Rich Man worries about needing a little more, and a well known author worries about earnings, and the human race worries about money then it’s pandemic.  We need a cure.

Getting the right perspective on this money issue is a pervasive personal battle for me.  In my thirties I got into serious choking debt.  Every month I robbed Peter to pay Paul.  I took out low interest loans to pay down high interest loans.  I put off the payments I could to make payments I had to.  I’d go to bed but rather than sleep I’d stare at the ceiling and imagine worst-case scenarios.  The minute I woke up in the morning fear and anxiety would rush in.  I felt like throwing up or sleeping in.  Day after day I lived like this.  I never want to go back there.  When I see money in the bank dissappearing and (imagined) bankruptcy looming on the horizon the old fears start tugging at my heart again. 

Here is Merriam-Websters’ definition of anxiety: 
an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it. 
 When anxiety knocks on my door I have to go to Jesus for help.  Jesus knows financial struggle is killing the world and wresting away joy.  To the rich man, the blogger, the father, the single mom, the intelligent and the average He writes,
“…Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air…And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin…But seek first His kingdom and His rightousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 
This is the cure.  Oh for a vaccination to maintain right thinking.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What The Canditates Won't Discuss

My landlord obsesses about water. It is included in our rent—apparently with reservations. The tenants have been using a lot of water so his bill is very high. He has gone out of his way to make that apparent to us. Water is a treasured commodity. I’ve lived in Southern California all my life and it’s always been an issue.

It was an issue in 1960 when, “…California voters approved financing for construction of the initial features of the State Water Project (SWP). The project includes some 22 dams and reservoirs, a Delta pumping plant, a 444-mile-long aqueduct that carries water from the Delta through the San Joaquin Valley to southern California. The project begins at Oroville Dam on the Feather River and ends at Lake Perris near Riverside.” My friend John lives in Paradise near Orovillle, a trip by car of twelve hours. I take it for granted (as my landlord reminds me) when I turn on the tap. No wonder water level in the Sierra is so important to California. Hopefully they are right about this being an El Nino year so that we won’t have another shortage.

A brutal and terrible shortage may hit us quite hard in six months. News reports say there will be a bacon shortage. A vegetable or fruit shortage would not alarm me. I will pay extra for the salad I eat every three months. Take away my bacon and I will weep. What will I eat with my biscuits and gravy? My pancakes won’t be sweet and savory without the crunch of bacon. I will have to buy a freezer and stock up. It will be a difficult winter this year unless things take a turn. No long hot showers and no bacon for breakfast. These are hard things yet I’ve not heard them addressed by either presidential candidate. These are dark times. Tomorrow I start stocking up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lazy Days

Lazy days off are good to have. Today the wife and I had a relaxed breakfast with lots of good coffee. We spent time reading the Bible and doing meaningless things (Pinterest, Facebook) on the computer while together in the living room. After picking up the daughter from school I went bicycle riding with a friend. Dinner was good food and some crazy deep laughter together as a family. These days yield rest according to certain parameters.

I suspect if we had spent time alone watching television we would feel less satisfied. There is a place for quality rest in the context of family and soul refreshment. I do have plenty of experience with brain dead rest as well. I spend plenty of time watching television. It’s worse when there are things that you should do but you didn’t do because the next episode of Life With The Kardashians was being broadcast.

You can’t really plan the perfect rest days. Its more about being purposeful to carve out the time. Gravitating to the less selfish actions fulfills. Perhaps the choice is shopping with the wife vs. staying home, drinking beer and watching the game. Is it better to play a board game or game of solitaire?

Reflecting on the day today it seems obvious that there is ebb and flow between personal time and family time. The balance is to float smoothly between the two letting both energize you. Like everything else in life a good rest day is a purposeful rest day. Lazy days are good but wasted days are not.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spinless or Spineless

News Flash: The French police broke into the hotel room of a bicycle racing team (oh, no, not again) and arrested the team for possession of property illegal to own in France. Among other items the police found toothpaste, deodorant and a spine.

I have little respect for spineless people. Perhaps it is like being an ex-smoker. During periods of my life I had little backbone. Pretty much since I can remember though I was the guy that said what nobody else would say. I was the kid that screamed out, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Of course I was to shy as a kid to scream that out but once I hit sixteen I had no qualms about voicing my opinion. As a teen I often voiced it selfishly with little regard for the feelings of others. It wasn’t about truth it was about me.

Now I want to scream out important things. Growing older clarifies the important from the passing. There is still some spinal confusion going on though. Me still wants center stage at times. Still I’d rather be bold and honest than regret being either.

There are costs to having backbone. My dad missed out on some promotions because he blew the whistle on some unethical behaviors at his work place. People that kiss butt seem to get farther in the business place than the truth tellers. The world loves its own---and its own are significantly spineless.

As a Christ follower I follow one that walked in such truth that people hated him for it. Still He loved and spoke the truth even with His last breath. A back bloody, a spine bruised and a heart that never turned from love or truth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Safety and Self Protection

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”—C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

“He wraps himself in his Christianity as a safety net,” he said at dinner one night. Of our mutual acquaintance he said, “It is too bad that he shies away from controversy. That is how we grow.” We agreed that we all do it. It is easy to avoid hard truths especially if it’s a truth about God that destabilizes your world view. This usually happens when that truth makes our position look less tenable. It may be a difficult truth such as the holiness of God or a difficult concept like predestination. We may be called to act in accordance with God’s heart. One example might be having to forgive a person that wronged us. It may not feel right in our gut but is a clear cut Biblical principal.

My friends observation is a challenge. How do I use my view of God or my Christian status for self-protection? Are there things I don’t do because they are not ‘my calling?’ Do I fail to respond to God because it would mean stepping out of my comfort zone into a place where I am forced to trust Him? As I’ve said before I like my ducks in a row. Feeling a loss of control and needing to trust God shakes me.

The walk with God isn’t safe. “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” To grow and know Him is my desire. I am introspective and I ask Him to search me. This growing and learning process isn’t comfortable. Stagnating is easier but riskier. Pools of dead water reek of rot. Living water cleanses and refreshes. Time to set aside that safety net and be vulnerable and transparent. All right God go ahead and rock my world.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Halloween and Evil

It isn’t often that you come face to face with evil. I remember one time walking into a restaurant where a person at the bar had an aura of evil such that my hair stood up. The idea of ‘witch’ isn’t day to day for me but in that specific case my dread was so dark that witch seemed the obvious reason. In many years of life in customer service I’ve had only one or two other encounters that caused me to shudder and pray.

In this season of Halloween the topic of evil occurs more often than normal. I understand those that choose not to honor the day and the celebration. Since she was a baby I have celebrated Halloween with my daughter. Before the daughter I dressed up and went trick or treating on most years. I see the potential for evil yet see the fun in the dressing up, playing and eating candy.

The world is full of evil. Much evil that occurs isn’t obvious. The challenge as Christ followers and parents is walking in truth and turning from evil. It is a training of the conscience. Even King David succumbed to evil when he listened to Satan and numbered the troops in Israel. It creeps in subtly sometime.

Legalism creeps in easily. The conviction I’ve held is not to throw out the Baby Ruth with the bathwater. Most children that dress as witches have no understanding of evil beyond that of Maleficent. This will ever be a controversial issue. Holding fast to good and knowing Truth are I think the lines we need to draw. We are called to be in the world and not of it. In my house that means dressing up for Halloween. True evil wears a prettier face and sports a darker heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

God Smells

It makes you think of a night with your wife, your mom’s cookies or Christmas growing up. Your sense of smell is an amazing thing. What we smell is catalogued and channeled into our brain so that a specific smell brings about a mental and physical reaction. Perhaps that is why God likes it so much.

The Tabernacle that God had Moses build impacted the eyes and senses for worship. Of the finest of spices (myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, etc) Moses made anointing oil. A different recipe of spices was used to make incense, “a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure and holy.” A unique mix of spices specific to the tabernacle and worship.

If you’ve ever been outside of a good BBQ place or quality coffee roasting house you know that the air becomes thick with the smell and before you know it your mouth is salivating and you are reaching for your wallet. Imagine the first time the Israelites smelt the perfume and anointing oil. The smell then became associated with God and worship. It was a fragrant aroma from tabernacle to man up to God.

In the New Testament God tells us that our prayers are a sweet smell to Him and that our fragrance is the smell of Christ to God among those who are being saved and an aroma of Christ and death to those perishing (2 Corinthians 2). The same way that Aaron and the Levitical priests reeked of oil so we smell of Christ to the world.

Unless you are catholic I suspect there isn’t much of a smell that reminds you of church. There are songs and stories, people and places that do remind us of our church and the body that belongs to it. To those around us and to God we are a fragrant aroma—and vice-versa we to them. It’s a reminder to me that all my senses and experience should be present in worship. When I walk into church this week may God draw me in through the whole experience.

“Thus Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” May it be so.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

God's Providential Care

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust.
...Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;  For the pestilence that walketh in darkness, Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at thy side, And ten thousand at thy right hand; But it shall not come nigh thee.....Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him.---from Psalm 91 NASV

At play in a lot in Italy two children uncover a piece of metal which turns out to be a leftover mine from WWII. This story from a missionary friend has a happy ending with nobody hurt. We can either chalk it up to coincidence or we give thanks for God’s providential care. The same can be said for our lives. I play the video of my life and note time and time again things that could have gone wrong but didn’t.

Today I noted that others at work are having great difficulty with my boss and his attitude toward them. I don’t know if it’s something as simple as relating to his sarcasm but I’ve been unscathed. Reverse to the 7-11 I worked at after high school. The other part time employee that worked same shift alternate days was constantly getting his car keyed and being attacked personally. The paint job on my car remained intact. A hold-up at the same store left me shaken but without bullet holes. I’ve had run-ins with trucks which turned out to only be near misses. Break-ins to neighbor’s cars happened on a weekend I just happened to be out of town. It’s a long list.

We see through a glass darkly but to the man that is completely blind these instances seem simply serendipitous. We heard from a Marine today about one of his buddys that lost a leg in an assault on his MRAP-MATV ( Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle). Terrible result of enemy attack but his life was protected. On the heels of a week where God seemed far away it is good to be reminded that His hand is outstretched and holds me in it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Waiting On Prayer

“It is the life that prays…but what kind of life? Jesus puts it very simply in John 15:7: If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”---Ronald Dunn

“God did not answer the two biggest prayers of my life.”---Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There Pray Something.

In my imagination I force myself to see a battle taking place in Heaven as sword of Spirit forced demons of dark to recede and relinquish ground on Earth. I hope this is what was taking place. The reality doesn’t feel that way though. I pray for the same things. Some of the things I pray for I’ve been praying since God got hold of my heart. I still don’t see the big answers.

God does meet me in a million ways. He sustains with food and comforts. He provides rich friendships. I have a delightful, fun, good, God worshipping daughter. I have a lovely wife. It’s the other prayer answers that confuse.

I seem to get no direction, wisdom or vision for a job. Truthfully James tells us that if we lack wisdom and ask He will give it. It just doesn’t feel like wisdom. I see no burning bush or cloud of fire. No messengers telling me where to go or what to do. This has been a continuous frustration.

There are loved ones that I’ve prayed God will speak to. I see no changes in them, no questions, no seeking or any indication that the Hound Of Heaven has been in their neighborhood let alone on the doorstep of their heart. I want so much. I know God is able to do so much.

What then? Perhaps the quietness is of itself God’s way to keep me seeking. Faith is the assurance of things not seen the bible says. Tonight it comes down to seeking and believing, tomorrow expectantly praying all over again. One day it will all be made clear.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Train Wrecks and Culture

I will spare you all the grisly details. During dinner my daughter recounted the plot of a movie about the holocaust. The main character feels guilt for not saving her brother and ends her life by leaping in front of a train. The way the brother died is dark and depressing. The mood of the movie stuck with me though I’d not seen it. The ultimately tragic thing is that the girl felt she had to commit suicide rather than find redemption and forgiveness. In current culture there is no redemption offered because the characters react as animals rather than being proactive as human beings.

If you read the titles at your local Redbox or video store you will see that the heros are being acted on by sex, violence or monsters. It is as though they are acted upon more than they do the action. There is no God or clear-cut morality that guides these poor souls. The best they can do is kill the monster or give in to the urges. I just tuned in to the season finale of Castle which ABC describes like this: “after four seasons of “will they” or “won’t they,” Richard Castle and Kate Beckett finally gave in to their feelings for each other in the much anticipated Season 4 finale. Season 5 picks up on the proverbial morning after…:” In this instance it is not guilt that causes our heroes to throw themselves in front of the train but their sexual urges.

When Hollywood heroes fulfill their human potential the movie is guaranteed success. Think of a movie you fully enjoyed and see if I’m not right. The characters chose to respond to a higher moral law and stepped up to the plate in the fullest of their humanness. Still they keep making those other movies where poor souls are helpless to their urges, feelings or beings outside themselves. Oh that Castle and Beckett would have chosen to act as adults and dealt with their feelings and hearts rather than acting as mating animals. Oh that the girl wouldn’t have thrown herself at the train but would have cried out to a friend, counselor or God. That is a movie I would be much more likely to see.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Coffee, Cancer and Proposition 65

When the government starts interfering in my coffee drinking they’ve crossed the line! The Coffee Bean that I work at is now required to post a Proposition 65 warning stating that brewed coffee contains acrylamide which in large doses can cause cancer.

The fact is that “Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in many plant-based, high-carbohydrate foods after they are heated. It was first discovered to be present in food by the Swedish National Food Authority in 2002.” According to Wikipedia studies have found acrylamide in black olives, prunes, dried pears and coffee. Prune juice has a high concentration and it is found in cocoa powder, roasted almonds, whole wheat breat and Pringles.

So how did it come about that Coffee Bean, Peets and Starbucks (to name a few) must post signage stating that coffee may cause cancer? On February 2, 2010, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (“CERT”), a public interest group, issued a series of pre-litigation notices of intent to sue a number of companies, including Peets, which sell “ready to drink” coffee in California for allegedly failing to issue clear and reasonable warnings with regard to potential exposures to acrylamide in accordance with Proposition 65. There were a number of companies named in an action filed in California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, on August 7, 2010. On December 14, 2010, CERT served a new 60-day notice letter alleging additional violations of Proposition 65 arising from potential acrylamide exposures from coffee sold at retail and brewed and consumed elsewhere.

This is what happens in a state (California) which is hyper litigious and excercises strong government interference in the lives of the people. Coffee prices which are already to high are now going to be even higher as they need to protect themselves from lawyers and fringe groups like CERT.

This is the crazy thing. Proposition 65 may have been written with good intentions. Now it is used to turn people away from coffee shops in California. Despite there being significant scientific and anecdotal evidence that coffee drinking is good for you CERT would have you believe that it will give you cancer. What next? Will we all be required to carry umbrellas because the sun causes skin cancer? Will they outlaw bringing food to a high heat? Will the elderly be forced to give up prunes?

This is an example of why we need less government in our lives. We need to cut back on laws which benefit small fringe groups. We need to be governed with common sense and sane ideas established in bedrock truth. This is the principle our country was founded on. Tea party, yes! Coffee party, perhaps. This whole thing makes me so mad I could spit. There’s probably a law against that though---or a special interest group suing to get one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Going To The Dogs

Today was our day to sleep in. While still in bed and in pre-coffee getting up soon mode the dog next door began barking. It was a funny bark, two barks then a break, three barks then a break, two barks again followed by two more then a complete series of barks which comprised his finale. Tonight as I type the Pit Bull across the street is barking in what seems a random manner as it starts then stops then starts again. I wonder if these dogs lose sleep knowing they are missing out on a greater fame.

On Facebook a friend is following Atticus. America’s Got Talent was won by the Olate Dogs. It seems that if you want to be successful it helps to have a cute dog as your gimmick. Even Steinbeck wasn’t above this and has written an engaging book about his travels in America called, “Travels With Charley.” The list of famous dogs is quite large really; Lassie, Marley, Marmaduke, Snoopy. I don’t have a dog. I’m missing out.

It’s one of the reasons I want my own house again. It would be nice to have a dog. I grew up with Samoyeds which certainly aren’t the ideal desert dog but mine survived growing up in the San Fernando Valley. God hasn’t seen fit to move me into a house yet or get me a dog. Which is too bad because I need the gimmick to promote my next book tour.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Camera And Photography

“Your sensor is filthy,” he said. I felt as if I’d taken my clothes to the dry cleaners and they’d said, “You wore this in public?” or as if I’d died with dirty underwear on. Due to the amount of dirt on the sensor I was in the camera shop for some time. Initially I walked over to each of the clean, shiny glass display cases to view the accessories inside. There were Rolleiflex and Leicas and all the current name brands. I thought, sadly, that it’s a shame I never inherited my father’s old camera equipment. There were long lenses and short lenses of every type and carrying cases for them all.

As I looked around I realized that I knew so little about an art where there is so much to know. I take pictures of what I like. I don’t know much about lighting, models, average white balance, macro or micro. As I looked around at the shop it pressed in on me and I felt like screaming, “Never mind! Give me my camera and I’ll go home.” Instead I perused the photo magazines displayed on the wall.

I view the magazines on the wall most that deal with work of various current photographers. When captured in its fullness nature displays a grandeur that takes my breath away. Those that draw us into these scenes with film magnify creation. In still life they move our hearts into beauty so that we are held still as well. The human body is intricate and awesome as well and with film one can capture realities we don’t appreciate day to day. As with everything beautiful there is the possibility to pervert and twist to darkness.

There are pictures of the human body in poses inappropriate. They push the boundary of decency as if that made them a better artist. They move to a dark balance rather than staying with form, beauty and light. This is the dark side of photography and it has become mainstream. That is unfortunate.

My sensor fixed I scooted out of the photo shop. My desire to shoot photos was once again ignited. I will try to focus a day or two to practice and experimentation. I don’t know all the technical stuff but I have an eye for it---and a clean sensor.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is This What Sabbath Rest Should Look Like?

Is this what Sabbath rest should look like? My wife is in the kitchen making a pie for ‘the girls get together’ tomorrow night while I am writing this post. We just returned from studying the Bible with a group of friends. At dinner with the wife we discussed being purposeful about what we do. Sharing life with friends feeds soul and energizes spirit. It’s all about the balance.

Since coming back from retreat last week my thoughts keep coming back to the idea of simplicity. It’s an ongoing struggle to not get overwhelmed by doing the good things and missing out on the best things. I’ve read books on the subject; Margin, Ordering Your Private World and Celebration of Discipline. It seems I’m always struggling with doing too much or too little or just doing the wrong thing completely.

I wonder if God is working something in this season so that I can work some things out? I don’t have a normal Monday through Friday job with weekends. Rest is always a struggle. My times with God lately are sporadic. My time to rest and think are a surprise when they happen.

Perhaps I’ve stumbled onto something as it drifted up from my subconscious; kind of like the Titanic hitting that little block of ice. I hope the results are exceedingly opposite. Cud for meditation during the week. Which I suspect is why God encourages time of rest and rumination.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Being Alone

Though the word of the Lord came and an Angel visited I suspect Elijah had days and seasons of feeling alone. When reading the account I don’t see a Tonto for Elijah. I’m reading through Exodus now. Moses had Aaron but even at that it seems he lacked an equal to share his burdens. He had no choice but to be satisfied in God.

We have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and still I suspect most of us feel loneliness at times. Life is just difficult and though we have great wives and funky loving children sometimes they just can’t touch those places in our hearts. Sometimes it feels like even God can’t.

The world is set up for surface satisfaction. Nothing really tastes. Jesus walked that road and kept up a continous conversation with His Father, as Peter says about Him, “He kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” There is no simple satisfaction for the hunger of our hearts to be in fellowship.

Funny thing that when we feel worst we want to be alone or so we tell ourselves. That is a big lie. We need deep friendships that touch heart and hurt. Skating on the surface is like skating on thin ice. Soon it cracks and we come up short. I don’t have the problem of deep friendships. I do feel alone. I’m working on being real with God more and sharing this stuff. The wife of a year delights in deep relationship as well. So I take a deep breath. I admit the feelings and that I don’t get it. I write it. I pray it. I pursue fullness in Christ.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ”

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Unique Window

“It looks like a universal battle,” my wife said. Tuesday night the clouds surrounding our little valley lit up with lightning. There were big flashes that lit everything up and rods of lightning directed toward the valley. It was difficult to focus on the road in front of my car on the way home the storm was so engaging. We went to sleep by the lightshow outside of our window.

We have a unique window on three shows playing in the Heavens throughout the four seasons. Summer brings thundershowers and lightning storms in late July and August. When I first moved to the desert I would sit on my car with my ten year old daughter and watch at lightning ringed the valley we live in. You’d think that I would get bored with it. Every year there is at least one dramatic show of light that captures my interest.

The Perseid meteor showers come late in August and signal that Fall is on the way. Being a southern Californian that does everything with my car means my car was also there for this amazing show. Joshua Tree National Park is known for smog free, light pollution free viewing of the stars. With car parked I lay down on my trunk and watch as stars streak across the sky. Flaming balls of fire they plunge toward the Earth in numbers nearing fifty per hour. If the calendar doesn’t allow one to catch the Perseid shower the year ends with the Geninids meteor shower which is also spectacular.

Where Summer brings lightning Spring, Winter and Fall bring great sunsets and sunrises. The locals constantly comment on the marvelous sunsets seen here. Perhaps it is because the view is wide, long and open uncluttered by trees and buildings. Perhaps we are closer to Heaven or because the air is thinner. Whatever the reason the sunsets come in glorious colour and shadow. I discounted the suns’ rising and setting in the summer but this season has good ones too especially if colored by the smoke of a local or distant fire.

Monsoon season is over here. I am glad the overbearing moisture has left the air so we can once again breathe and use our evaporative coolers. It is bittersweet though as I miss the large glowing cloud formations and the lightning that often accompanies them. The Perseids being over I mark my calendar for December when the Geminids arrive. Until then I will enjoy the crisp air and the startling sunsets as they catch me unawares once again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Parenting And The Bell Curve

My daughter pushes herself hard. She has to be the best in her class, on her homework, in her picture taking and her environment. Tonight found her stressed, tired and unfocused. Her mother pushes her to excel sometimes beyond what is reasonable. I have Type A tendencies as well and suspect that they may also be imparted into my daughters world view. We relate to our environment molded in part by the example of our parents. There is no escape from that.

We are raised by, at best, two imperfect parents. On a typical Bell Curve most parents fall somewhere near the middle average. Others miss the mark by small deviations or come near to falling off the curve. Then as teenagers we look at the world and try to process it so that it makes some sense. We process all this data post puberty with little information and less experience.

We are fortunate if our parents raised us from the apex of the Bell Curve or if they had healthy teaching from the church or the community. If our family was crazy dysfunctional the initial framework we choose will be unsteady and easily shaken. Talking to my daughter tonight I tried to provide some reliable information framed in stability and sanity. I told her to not stress out, see the big picture and get some rest. I’m not certain if she heard any of it. So I say the same words to myself and try to listen; don’t stress, see the big picture and get some rest.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Resistance and Perseverance

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”-The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

“We jerk back and forth between business commitments and family responsibilites. While we are busy responding to the needs of friend, child, parent or spouse , we feel guilty about neglecting the demands of work.When we respond to the pressures of work, we fear we are failing our family and friends….If anyone needs a simplification of life, we do.”---Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster

Most men don’t swim upstream they simply swim with the current. The professional cyclist and the master barista become experts by overcoming resistance. It is the buckling down that sets them apart. The world doesn’t understand resistance. Resistance is by its definition opposition or force applied to another.

Tiredness alone could keep me from writing. On top of that there’s Back To School night and chattering families (not a bad thing unless you are trying to write), bills to pay and friends that want to ‘touch base.’ Living life well boils down to one thing---overcoming Resistance.

Pressfield identifies family and friends as agents of resistance and sometimes they are. Yet Resistance occurs when pursuing relationship as well. Praying with your wife or reading your bible should be easy but there are always interruptions and distractions. A simple act feels like the world is pushing back to keep you off track.

Even the simplicity that Foster promotes in his books involves commitment and meets with Resistance. It is easy to give up it is difficult to downsize and simplify. That’s the challenge I face. I think of the remnant that returned to build the wall. They built with shovel in one hand and sword in the other. Overcoming resistance is like that, drudgery and battle. We build and we swing the sword. We find others to encourage and remind us of our commitments. We push hard, go to sleep and do it again tomorrow. If we give in we will be swept away by the current that ever runs contrary to the direction we are headed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Focus and Fungus

These two old guys were sitting down and drinking coffee.  This is what I overheard:

“I’m seeing Dr. Collins.”

“I’m seeing Dr. Smith.”

“Didn’t Smith move from Palm Springs?”

“Oh, you used to see Smith?”

“No but I heard he moved. Do you like him?”

“He doesn’t do anything about this fungus I have. I don’t think he cares.”

“Nothing you can do about fungus. If you find a cure for fungus you’re a zillionare.”
I hope the fungus guy lived an unhealthy life eating all the wrong foods and getting zero exercise. My wish is to live healthy until the end then just drop into my soup during dinner one night. That’s part of why I exercise and eat sorta right. I just want to keep the fungus and aches at bay.

I know that it’s not realistic to expect smooth sailing into my later years. I know too that I will sit around with my cronies and discuss the latest aches and pains since I do it now. The question it raises is how much control do we have over what we are like when we get older?

My brother-in-law is reading a book about diet and cancer that indicates most cancer is lifestyle related not genetics related. I’m not certain I buy it. My mother smoked like a chimney until dying at eighty years old. She drank like a fish also. In my ignorance I’m believing it’s a combination of both and that good genes and moderate conditioning equal engaging and enduring older years.

There are no promises that I’ll even make it though my wife promises to kill me if I don’t. For now though the thing to do is focus on the target. I’m going to exercise and eat well without getting crazy legalistic about either. That’s my hope—and that someone finds a cure for fungus and becomes a zillionare because they deserve it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Friendship Is Like That

They resumed their conversation thirty-five years later. Pat hadn’t seen his friend since in his teens he’s in his fifties now and she is sixty years old. Upon getting together they talked as if that small gap of time had never happened. That is friendship. It makes me wonder what Heaven will be like.

Max: Jackie I haven’t talked to you since you died in that car wreck.
Jackie: I never understood it ‘down there’ but it brought about some amazing transformation. Let me tell you….
And on Jackie and Max will talk as if the gap had never occurred. What about talking to Jesus? What is that going to be like? Here we have these conversations where we hear Him sometimes. Other times we feel like it is only us talking or we feel our words only bounce off the ceiling. You pray regularly so Jesus has talked with you at length and in depth. So how will it feel face to face?

Last night was spent in the company of friends of a quarter century. There were hugs all around. We picked up the conversation and it went from shallow to deep at the speed of light. Familiar phrases and nicknames were immediately on lips. Stories of original meetings and updates on life, family, character, trials all shared in a context of love and hope. That takes place here behind this veil of tears.

What will our friendships be like when they are brought forth in full fruition? What richness and depth when we are known face to face and heart to heart? What of fellowship with our Father and worship with His Son. What delight when that conversation that started humbly for each of us resumes and continues for eternity? Friendship is like that.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Bad Karma

Karma: Noun - the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence.

The idea of Karma is widespread in our culture. From television shows such as My Name is Earl to movies such as Pay It Forward there is a belief in some type of Karmic reward in this life. The whole idea that there is a law outside oneself is positive. The idea that if your life is weighed in the balance the scales tip in your favor is ludicrous. More likely that the message delivered to King Belshazzar will be yours as well; you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.

Where does the idea of right and wrong come from? Why should we care about karma? Will our deeds judge us in the end? All have been weighed on the scales and all are deficient. There will be no grand heavenly reward for deeds committed here. How shall we shine a shimmering white marble statue with dirty rags? Can a few good deeds outweigh a core of wickedness. No, we echo the heart of Daniel crying, “We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from your commandments and ordinances…Righteousness belongs to you, O Lord, but to us open shame….”

What a great lie karma is. That men would believe that their paltry good deeds would exalt them to a better life. There is no karma. There is a God who pardons based on belief in His son. Then there is no condemnation. In karma there ends only open shame.

A karma believing scholar,
Never stole single dime or dollar,
He saw his brothers in Hell,
And continued to yell,
Why didn’t the prophets give them a holler?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

It's Just Pieces...Pieces Of Time

Richard stands about 6’4” with hair that is graying and thinning. He is thin and sturdy looking, his face is more hard than lined, his muscles still looking strong. I’d peg him closer to sixty than his actual 72 years.

 “I lost my cell phone. Earlier this week I found some money, forty dollars, fifty dollars, floating. I don’t know how they got there. Maybe I fell asleep. I don’t know what’s happening. It’s just pieces…pieces of time.”
We stop in our tracks. It could be us in our winter years. My dad went from being an angry man to an angry man with Alzheimer’s. The fits were brief in the beginning. Understanding and comprehension were there most of the time. That made it confusing. Then the illogical would occur. The stomping of feet during my daughters’ ballet performance because he didn’t like the way someone looked. Then there were the outbursts at home the repeating sentences and the fugue states. That’s my gene pool.

What makes me good at what I do is that I remember. In my job I remember names, drinks, family stories and unique tid-bits. I know my customers and they appreciate it. When I’m writing I recall things I read five years ago. I piece together songs, events and ideas into one whole. So when I have those instances where I forget a name or that I met you previously at church my breath catches. I think, “Oh, no, this is how it begins.”

I know there will come a day when the pieces of time slip from my mind. It’s part of the process of dying. We wind down until we are unwound completely. I have no answer. I just know what I want and what I don’t want. What I want, in the end, is to accept all my days with grace and joy and to have my ears work well enough to hear, “Well done my gracious servant. Enter into your rest.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Can You Be A Christian And A Democrat?

My turn from being a Democrat was the result of a good friend’s question. “Is your being a Democrat consistent with your values as a Christian?” I don’t remember answering the question immediately. The thought fermented in my mind. When you focus on one thing similar things come to your attention. I began to seriously compare what Republicans and Democrats believe. Clinched by a visit to the Reagan museum I made the decision to become a Republican. Looking at the platform for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week I can see no way that a clear thinking, bible-believing Christian can be a Democrat.

The newest platform for the Democrats fails to recognize God’s authority over men as the word, “God” has been removed from their document. Abortion is promoted front and center at any time and at taxpayers expense. The thing they do right is to reinstate the wording recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. They obviously do it to make political points not because it’s a principal they actually hold.

God is pro-Israel from Exodus through Revelation. In Psalm 122 we are told to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Though this President is far from being pro-Israel all those who call on the name of the Lord should be.

I know that there are those that call themselves Christ followers that have no qualms with abortion. I can’t logically see how that lines up with God’s heart. Being ‘pro-choice’ is not a coherent or logical position.

So I ask the question of all Christ following Democrats. Is it consistent with your values as a Christian? If you can answer yes then perhaps your commitment to Christ and scriptural truth is weighted with less belief than your belief in the Democratic platform.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Doldrums Continued

Seared into my mind as a teen was the image of a sailboat stuck in the ocean in a dead zone aka the doldrums. I disliked feeling trapped with no control in a place of boredom or forced inactivity. I am no more fond of that feeling now that I am an adult. I like to be moving or if my body is inactive to have my mind engaged in reading or movie. The only reason to sit in one place without those occurring is taking a nap.

My mind kept running to the hopes for a different (better) job and more money. In reality I was stuck in the little kiosk I work in. I was alone with little or nothing to do. Enter sailboat imagery or mental video of airplane in death spiral…

Yesterday I made the decision to pull out of those mental death spirals. Each time (and it felt like a hundred times) the spiral began I actively engaged my thought process. I planned menus for winter getaway with the wife, I thanked God for his attributes, I sang hymns and spiritual songs. I wouldn’t say that I felt elated once I changed course but I’d kept my vessel moving with the wind.

This isn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped. I’m continuing to pray for a change of venue. Still there will be days, maybe (gag) lots of days, where I feel dissatisfied and dead in the Doldrums. The plodding along is difficult for me. I must remind myself that someone has said that the important thing is that God find you at your post. I hope that when He does I’m engaged and not sleeping.

Video courtesy of Papergygre's photostream

Monday, September 03, 2012

Contentment and Coming Alive

Enjoyment at work is gone and now I go for the paycheck. That’s what it feels like most days. The thought gripped me that I may be at this job for an indefinite amount of time. That’s what gets to me, the indefinite. It keeps going on. Meanwhile I have to get out of bed every morning and get there.

So how the heck can I make it feel worthwhile to get out of bed? Yes there is all the theological stuff. That’s part of it. What things can I concretely do to make it interesting for myself. I started thinking about this at work.

It’s the downward spiral. I’m not having fun, I don’t allow myself fun, now I’m really not having fun. I need to break the cycle and attempt to have fun. Maybe skip down the beer aisle or sing or under-the-arm-farts while I’m making lattes (I haven’t done those since my daughter was younger). I need to work to keep positive.

Theology is positive and God is obviously part of the process. I need to keep God in the picture. I need to figure out ways to bring God into conversation and lunch breaks and foaming cappuccinos. The things I talk about are the things I need to do and keep doing.

The thing I talk about most is to keep fighting. I’m flashing back to my Boy Scout oath, “To keep oneself physically strong, mentally awake…” I need to find ways to stay awake when the doldrums press in. As Milo found when he ended up in the Doldrums,

'It shall be unlawful, illegal, and unethical to think, think of thinking, surmise, presume, reason, meditate, or speculate while in the Doldrums.'
"Well," continued the watchdog impatiently, "since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking."

The main thing is, I think, to keep thinking, fighting and not get stuck in the Doldrums---to keep coming alive and staying content in the process

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sleepless In The High Desert

Scientists tell you that you need eight hours of sleep per night for ideal health. You ever wonder how they arrived at that conclusion? I figure they must have tested a bunch of people in a lab---people without children, jobs, or in-laws. I know maybe two people that get eight hours. Which I guess makes the data feel correct, nobody gets eight hours, everybody wants eight hours, eight hours is the ideal.

I go to bed around ten in the evening and wake up at 4 a.m. My wife never gets enough sleep as she has serotonin issues and physical complications. My close friend is a truck driver and sleeps in short shifts. My buddy in Portland is painting a house holding down a job and helping his mother with real estate deals. He’s not getting eight hours either.

I don’t know what the cure is. Clutter may be the problem. I suspect it was easier when the sunset meant it was near bed time and sunrise meant getting up. Now we have gadgets and distractions galore to keep us humming along. Perhaps that’s the problem.

I try to carve out 15 minutes a day to blog. This one is taking longer as I keep fading out and staring at the monitor. That is the most insidious thing about short sleep. You spent little time doing it and then you spend all day thinking about it. It’s kind of like sex that way I guess. I’m not even going there. You have to forgive me for rambling. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together

I’ve heard it said by many people over many years. “I don’t need church. I watch preachers on Sunday morning. My Christianity is between me and God.” The words of people that lack depth and understanding. There is a strength and delight in meeting together as people of God whether it is in church or over dessert.

The wife and I have a commitment to, as she puts it, ‘walk alongside others.”  One of the traditions we are establishing is to have people out to the house for dinner. It is a continual surprise at the mix and stories people have about their own lives. We ask questions that elicit answers. “What brought you to the desert? How did you meet God? How did you meet your spouse?” Our guests have been dragged by trucks, shot out of airplane ejection seats, missed car-crashes, battled with sickness, struggled with alcoholism, been in love and met the Saviour. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In coming together we are reminded that we are much more similar than we are different. The struggles we face are common. We are not alone with our financial struggles or health struggles. If we face these issues alone they chisel away at hope and rob us of stamina. We come together and hear stories from those that are on the upside of the trial. How do you think that makes us feel?

It is a hollow and emaciated Christianity that thinks church is a private event. It is the weak zebra that is eaten by the lion. It’s not much of a lunch after all seeing as it was sick and bare boned. Strength and succor come in the presence of the herd. This in part is why we meet together. For in meeting together we find friend, ward off foe and keep the darkness in perspective.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.---Heb 10:25