Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dancing On The Abyss

You can see her dancing above the abyss. In searching for happiness sometimes our broken wiring causes us to chase after illusion. She sat in the break-room, holding an unlit cigarette speaking a steady stream of commentary, “I almost punched the guy in the parking lot. Haven’t had a cigarette yet—waiting to have this one. My I’m negative today and not even onto my first cigarette.” Her skin and perhaps some old nod to normalcy keeps shaking at bay. Still there’s a wiry tension there as though she will start shaking, jump out of her skin—some lack of calm. Still when the words stop the dirt-ingrained nicotine stained fingers keep moving the cigarette in a variety of arcs.

Short years ago she worked in the floral department; married, two young children; husband seemed a nice guy. Even then there was a mild tempest below the surface. When she engaged you in conversation you could hear the Sirens calling. Short circuits led to divorce and keeping company with the wrong crowd. Husband got the kids—most of all for their own safety.

Mary said, “She’s doing well. She’s getting back on track; working a small yogurt shop in town.” The lies seem less so if we give them spoken voice. To admit that people chase bad choices is so negative.

We all want happiness. All our wiring is broken, all of our silicon imprinted with wrong information. We need a patch to get us back on track. Dancing on the abyss is so slippery…

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seeking Savior Time: Christmas Worship and New Years' Goal Setting

Santa has only one focus once a year. It’s his only job and he’s good at it. The rest of us can easily get bogged down this time of year. Unlike Santa we have one paying job and on top of that we make the list of goodies to get then have to run around and purchase them all. On top of that we’re baking and attending parties; the church social, the church sub-committee social, the work social and the social for the inner circle at work. Stack New Years Eve on top of that and you’ve got a full plate for the season. It gets overwhelming and before we know it we’ve completely lost sight of the important things.

Some nights ago the daughter was out with the boyfriend and the wife had gone shopping while asking me to do the dishes while I was at home. There I was in the kitchen with Pandora booming out Christmas songs on the Tennessee Ernie Ford holiday station. Caroling at the top of my lungs is when it hit me. The house was quiet. I wasn’t running to and fro; I was standing calmly at the sink and singing. That is what we miss so easily. At Christmas we should make time to be still and worship. Isn’t that the point of the Wise Men/Manger motif? On New Years we should carve out the time to set goals for the year and to review the year past?

Between the frantic running around and the friend and family time try and find some shepherd seeking Saviour time. Make that time to ruminate on the blessings you have. Take time to whisper, “Thanks,” to God and rest quietly at His feet. Take some deep breaths and forget making the list and checking it over and over like you have OCD. Refocus and remind yourself why you are buying the gifts and baking the cookies. It’s the giving and the celebrating. Find the quiet.

It’s easy to make New Years all about the party, or the games or the day off. What’s it really about anyway? Why not go to your favorite park with a journal and list the joys and heartaches of 2013. Take some time to dream. What could 2014 look like if you made some small changes? Walk into the New Year calmly; don’t run as if 2013 is still on your heels.

Find the quiet and rest there. Be contemplative. See if there is any Frankincense and Myrrh in your garage. Then go lay it at the feet of the Savior; resting there, in the quiet, listening, to your heart and hearing, truly hearing, what it says.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Those Things Which Won't Be Shaken

My friend Forrest has cancer. His life is on a roll; he just passed a test to teach special education, he was just married and every aspect of his life seems to be blossoming. Than this—cancer of the colon and in the liver. My wife and I lost a sister-in-law this year, we know a guy in church and a number of friends wrestle with cancer as well.

I am currently reading through the Psalms. They are full of tension; “Consider my groaning, heed the sound of my cry for help,” and “For you have maintained my just cause, You have not forsaken those who seek you.” There is a certainty that God can and does act for His beloved. The cry of the beloved is in reaction to calamity. The enemy pursues, poverty threatens and evil men exert authority that breaks the backs of those under them.

The whole issue of what God allows rocks my thinking. I understand in my thinking that suffering yields significant fruit in the garden of God. It is that wrestling with God’s goodness over against the difficulties we face in frailty. David is up against this in the Psalms as well which explains his seeming schizophrenic (h/t Steven Curtis Chapman) verses.

It is in the midst of these questions that we are driven with the Psalmist to fall on our faces and rest in the character of God. In the midst of it all it comes down to those things that are rock solid, those things that won’t be shaken when all else is; “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you, He will never allow the righteous to be shaken….For you have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God in the light of the living.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Freedom: Freely Loved In Christ

“When we say that God loves us, we must never think of that in terms of a cold statement of doctrine; we must understand that the Holy Spirit is God in the act of loving us, embracing and enfolding His arms about us. The Holy Spirit is God running to us, flinging His arms around us, and passionately loving us.” (p.195)--Malcolm Smith, The Lost Secret of the New Covenant

That the Christ follower is freely loved is a radical thing. In that love we are wholly freed. Unfortunately this concept is hard to grasp for many Christians. I understood the basic concept early on but it took another twenty years for it to sink in.

I was in the middle of a divorce. I was struggling with my own sexual brokenness. I was attending a group to work through my brokenness and one of the leaders handed me a series on God’s unconditional love by Malcolm Smith. At that place in that season God used the series to ground me in His love.

We are fully free through the cross of Christ. We experience that freedom fully when we understand God’s deep love for us and that we do nothing to earn it. This frees us to enjoy life. It is so easy for us in the church to worry about behaviour; the music we enjoy, the food we eat or the places we hang out. The Biblical key is of course to glorify God in whatever we do—whether we eat or drink or go to the movies.

Oh that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…” Oh to live in joy and freedom in Christ!

“Agape is not wakened or created by the beauty of its object, but arises spontaneously from the heart of God. It is therefore a love that cannot be earned or deserved… His love for us originates in who He is, not in our being loveable.” ---Malcolm Smith

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Season To Assess Your Inner Little Drummer

It is the season to assess your inner ‘little drummer.’ Of all times of the year Christmas is a time when we buy and do things as response to outward pressure. Beyond Christmas comes the New Year where goals are written on a clean tablet. Amidst the noise it is easy to listen to the wrong voices and sing songs that don’t resonate with our innermost being. Let the archetypes of Christmas; the shepherds, the Magi and the Christ child speak to us of what is important and let us hearken to our heart.

The Christmas story is unabashedly hard and real. The rugged ride into Jerusalem and the unwelcoming, the trek of the Magi and the shepherds answer to the call were the responses of individuals that walked differently than those in their culture. Page after page the Bible is full of such people; Abrahams’ call out of Ur, Noah’s call into water and Esther’s calling of the king call us higher; to march to our own conscience and our own drum beat.

Each of us is on our own unique journey. Other folks can’t see inside us nor are they privy to the ins and outs of our everyday life. Deep is calling to deep. The challenge we face is to act in the fullness of who we are and what we deem as important. Our gift-giving, what we eat and don’t eat and how we choose to celebrate should reflect the people we are even if it ruffles some feathers along the way. We are in good company.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Freedom That Matters Requires Discipline

Most believe that freedom is the ability to live life unbridled when in fact a freedom that matters requires discipline. I am certain that wanton excess would be perceived as the goal of freedom by many today. A life spent pursuing sexual satisfaction or the freedom to spend cash like its water would be the answer to the question; What is freedom? Though these are true in a sense; the freedom that rewards result from boundary.

Spending money like water is like trusting a broken cistern---when you go for water you will find it empty. Making a commitment to saving money requires discipline. According to the Deloitte Center for Financial Services; of Americans surveyed 58% don’t have a retirement plan; nearly 40% don’t know what an annuity or mutual fund is; and 20% expect to rely purely on Social Security for their retirement needs. Anecdotally I would put the statistics of those I work with at significantly higher for having no financial plan at all. If one is to have financial freedom later in life it will be a result of discipline now.

The holidays give ample opportunities to speak with my teen daughter about alcohol boundaries. At a recent event where many of the adults were incapacitated by drink the talk turned to boundaries. To enjoy beer, wine or drink isn’t wrong but to abuse it for the sake of drunkenness is. The Biblical injunction is not to get drunk. There are corollaries as well but those aren’t my present point. Simply put the enjoyment of wine is best had in the context of self-control. This goes for sex as well.

The Biblical pattern is to save sex for marriage. Much destruction will come from a brazen approach to satisfying flesh. Physical and mental guilt and emotional scars can result from loose liaisons. The act was always meant to be in the context of commitment not to satisfy one’s own selfish desire. It isn’t the sex that’s wrong it’s when and how. The fullest freedom comes when having sex inside a marriage.

There is reward in diligence and dignity in discipline. Delaying gratification enhances the thing obtained and the recipient. The fullest enjoyment of all good gifts comes when there is a safe and secure environment in which to enjoy them. This environment is founded on discipline and opens up to freedom. Sex for sex’ sake or spending for things--- or any other pursuit apart from discipline---the result is the same. Like the wife that is there as friend and lover in old age and the bank account that lets you live comfortably they are the sweet fruit of seeds long ago planted.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Raise A Toast To The Usual Suspects

Thanksgiving found us once again eating dinner with all the ‘usual suspects.’ Coming together year after year a bond is formed. There is an otherworldly alliance that has been forged over ten years of meeting together. This coupled with rituals and rights of passage make the family Thanksgiving dinner more than just one more night out.

There is the Tri-Tip purchased in Cardiff. The rub and marinate on the steak make it amazingly tender and delicious so much so that the locals call it Cardiff Crack. Of course the prep isn’t anything without my brother-in-laws barbeque which culminates in a steak that just about drips off of your tongue. Couple that with turkey and traditional plates brought by the cousins and the in-laws and it’s a night of rich celebration.

On paper it makes little sense. These are people that we see two times a year. We don’t share life with them on a day to day basis. We don’t follow them on social media. No we meet for half-of-a-day and share one or two big moments that happened to us over the last year. Yet somehow we enter into the joy and, sometimes, heartache with this present company that we join with on this night. Our kids are a year older, our backs a year sorer and most of our jobs are the same. We’ve lost friends to trauma and had children return to the fold.

So we raise glass or bottle to toast another year and celebrate our kinship in spirit and through blood. In this same tradition this year my wife partook of the inaugural drink of Riga Black Balsams (a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur) with nary a flinch.

Alcohol, amazing dinner and rich deserts take their toll on our blood streams and we begin to fade. For some the following Friday is a work day which will come to early. For us it’s off to a local hotel. We give hugs and bid farewell to this once-again meeting which can only be a taste of Heavenly fellowship. The warmth remains as my sister’s house fades in the rearview as we look forward to doing it once again for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tri-Tip, Thanksgiving And The Cure For Bitterness

It’s easy to start with the little reasons for giving thanks. One can be thankful for snow on the mountain tops; for wind-blown cloud formations and for planets that shine like stars in the night sky. Smaller scale is the little kid playing with his parents while shopping or the dignity and perseverance of the man with a disability that pushes himself through the grocery store with much effort doing a thing I take for granted daily.

I need to give assent to parents that taught me to say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” and be considerate of others. I am thankful that God convinced me early on not to speak ill of my mate and to recognize the significant blessing she is. Then too I am thankful for a daughter on the threshold of adulthood and that there weren’t any bad phases of child-rearing—each was a unique blessing; the twos, the fours, the elementary school years and the beginnings of independence as well.

Tonight I have friends living life day by day as they battle cancer and wait for God’s healing. I think again on our decision to write our will and to set things in place for death or sickness. Today there is hope.

Tomorrow we’ll visit with family. We’ll revel in the taste of Tri-Tip prepared by my brother-in law and reminisce on a year gone by. It’ll be Thanksgiving night but hardly any thanks will be given, hardly a minute spared in prayer for providential keeping. Which is unfortunate for it’s a way of acting that staves off bitterness and plants us deep in the realization of how much we truly have.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Is More Than Friends And Family

A commercial that runs on radio says, “Just like its not Thanksgiving without friends and relatives.” They miss the point entirely. There is a deep delight in traditions and time with friends and family touches that deep part of us. Though that be missing our attitude daily and especially on Thanksgiving is to give thanks to God for His providential care that goes beyond circumstances.

In church circles it is easy to give thanks to God and say He is good because of the answered prayers; the eye that was healed, the car that the mechanic honestly fixed or the money that arrived the day before it was badly needed. It is difficult to give thanks in the midst of the ongoing surgeries that don’t fix the problem or the metastasizing cancer or the smaller trials that continue over time without working out as we desire.

Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving for, “the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks…” The deepest delight we have is to find joy in God who is the “Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” Our trials will have some good in them even it it’s only drawing nearer to Christ Himself which paradoxically is the greatest good.

There will be good seasons and days of feasting. There will be darker harder seasons. Our challenge, my challenge, is to give thanks not only because I get to hang out with friends and family. My goal is to give thanks for God, for His working in character and working out dross like pride and arrogance; for His meeting my needs and for even showing me what good looks like. This Thanksgiving and in every day we choose to celebrate and render service to God for no matter what the season looks like, in Him we have fullness of joy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanks For Opposites

It is a concept we teach our three year olds; black/white, hot/cold, up and down. In my prayer time today I arrived at a place where I found myself thanking God for opposites. The rain which I’d been waiting for arrived and I had the chance to enjoy a hike in it at forty-seven degrees. Walking in the brisk cold rain is exhilarating. I give thanks for the cold. Knowing how great it would feel to get home and crank the heater I give thanks for warmth. The rain begins pelting downward but I have on hat and insulated shirt. I am wet on the outside and dry on the inside.

Grey clouds blow across the vast expanse of the sky silhouetted only against darker grey. Under the big sky I hike a small and thin trail which winds through a grove of Willow and then follows the bed of a wash. I follow the trail which curves and winds then goes straight. Evidence of the summer flash floods is everyplace; broken, flattened fronds and dried river of mud; strong rushing force now weak, still and quiet. I give thanks.

My hike takes me up from the wash bed, crusted and uneven, to the wood trail smooth and flat. It dumps me into the parking lot. I throw wet hat and shirt into the trunk and get into the car. My gas gauge reads empty. I stop at a gas station on the way home and buy some gas. The tank now full I head home.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Waiting For The Rain

I’m waiting for the rain to come. I spent this past weekend in the mountains of Big Bear where the lake sits nine feet below its’ usual watermark. An adjoining body of water, Lake Wilson, is non-existent. Understanding why there’s no water isn’t rocket science. We’ve had no rain or snow pack these last years. That coupled with a significant increase in population has severely depleted any store of water that existed.

We’re like the lake at times. I spoke with the wife of a jewelry man and watch repair guy yesterday that is working until nine or ten each evening. He is tired and nearing clinical burn-out. Yet he fails to see and comprehend the steps necessary to manage his time. He’s to close to the situation to see the dryness in his life; can’t see that his pushing to hard is draining everyone around him—wife, kids and whatever friends he has left.

Today was my day off for the week. I’m in the midst of a series of six-day weeks. Though some close to me accuse me of being ‘Type-A,’ I need days like today. I did some reading, paid some bills and removed the salamanders from the light housing (don’t know where they came from---I suspect alien invasion). I went outside a couple of times as well and looked at the sky. I’m hoping Big Bear gets some snow and that we get some rain. We need the refreshing and refilling.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Discipline and Its Pursuit

“For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced;
Therefore, I have set My face like flint…”

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” That’s a pro.---The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

Diligence demands that she is the focus of our primary energies. Other suitors will call out to us; the barbeque, the television or the night out with friends all seem such simple activities. Friends whisper, “It’s only a night. You can go back to her tomorrow.” Tomorrow is full of different demands and frailty causes us to skip out on Diligence one more day. Then we find a month has gone by and the relationship has suffered. Diligence hasn’t brought forth what was promised---but the promise was broken and half-hearted from the outset.

The disciplined individual will be misunderstood. The man that sets aside an hour a day to seek God’s face is a man that culture can’t comprehend. A commitment to writing the blog or the novel, to hiking for health or training for Everest necessitates a focus alien to the culture. The man who spends sports season rooting from the armchair and the teen keen on X-Box fails to grasp both the pleasure and pain involved in such pursuit.

Diligence demands forethought. We must be willing to skip the night out or the once in a lifetime show at the Bowl. The pursuit of the art or physical excellence; the listening for the voice of God will entail some personal pain. The pain is part of the process if there is to be fulfillment as the end result. The reward will come later.

We must set our face toward the object of our desire. Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem and the resultant fire spread outward and changed the world. We must strike steel against the flint of our art that it too may ignite many.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Teenagers and Boundaries

The good thing about having a teenager (almost to twenty) when you are the wrong side of fifty is that there is fifty years of experience to draw on. You just have to be selective. When discussing boundaries for example I can tell her that my parents’ only rule was “Call us to let us know where you are and when you’ll be home.” Oddly enough the daughter thinks that one’s a good rule even though I tell her that love means curfews and boundaries.

I can tell her that the lack of boundaries means I could have gotten into some serious trouble. It was God’s hand that kept me from making even more rebellious mistakes (sins) thsn I did. I used the story of a friend of mine that thought he’d gotten a girl pregnant. He’d spent about a month acting abnormally due to his fear. I too was breaking boundaries that shouldn’t have been broken but even then God shielded me. As the Psalm says, “The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

I haven’t had to broach the tougher parts of my bio yet. I am hoping I don’t have to wade into waters that reflect on my years of serving self and manipulating circumstances. Looking back it is startling that so many stories end with, “But God being rich in mercy….” The car that didn’t roll, the lawsuits that didn’t happen when I’d slapped a kid or broke a kid’s leg (he flew off the top of my car!), the physical boundaries and through it all a rich expanse of friendship some strands which are still in place today. Much experience to draw on, “The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Excellence and Bad Spelling

I’m not anti-mistake I’m pro excellence. Today I gave a guy his toasted bagel and the bag that should have had two butters and the bagel in it. I missed the bag and dropped both pads of butter into the drawer adjoining the toaster. When the customer got the bagel he told me, “This is missing the butter.” I told him I’d put it in there. I hadn’t. That was a mistake which he noticed and I corrected. Sometimes the situations are never corrected through error or ignorance. Following is a list of errors I’ve encountered over the last month along with some others.

Sign on a cooler at work: “Don’t use this cooler. Its broke.”

On a church website, “Over the last couple of years he has severed as head usher and a board member…” At least it didn’t say he severed the Head of the church or the body of believers.

A friend in HR once received a cover letter in which the applicant wrote, “I always pay attention to derail.”

The daily schedule at work last week had the day and the form spelled out on the top line; Sadurdays Bultin (bulletin).

The unfortunate thing is that most of these mistakes go unnoticed or uncorrected. These are the small ones. It’s a problem in our culture and our workplaces that we don’t take the time and effort to pursue excellence. When a mistake happens it isn’t addressed or made right. Perhaps I’m just being overly critical. I suppose it depends on which side your bread is budderd on.

Feel free to add more examples of error in the comments!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life Deep--Living Deeply

"Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense, "Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle"…Somewhere In the Middle, Casting Crowns

“Mind deep not life deep,” Tozer is talking about intellectuals that know Biblical details but do not know God personally. Once we know God personally how does that translate to “life deep?”

Sunday found us intently listening to the life stories of a married couple that are serving as missionaries. Their passion for people found them serving others that life had placed in serious straits. We saw the same commitment in our trip to visit missionaries in Guatemala this summer. Theirs is a pouring out of energy and self 24/7. That face-to-face talk fanned my wife’s desire to life “life on life” with others. I wrestle with it.

At my deepest I desire to live life-deep. I don’t always live at my deepest. I get home from eight hours dealing with the public and want to curl up with my wife—or a good book. Weeks (or months) like this one I find I just want to ‘kick-it’ at home. Which is what most of us Americans do; most American Christians as well.

I know that living on cruise-control and the American dream would suck the soul right out of me. So I struggle. The blessing is that the root story of every missionary we know is a circumstance where God showed Himself evident and directed them where He wanted them to go. God moves, speaks and orchestrates events. That is the simple blessing of a personal relationship with God. The deepening only quickens the hearing and the responding.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Road Well Travelled

If I’ve learned anything…it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. In life we all have tempests to ride and poles to walk to and I think metaphorically speaking we could all benefit from getting outside the house a little more often if only we could sum up the courage.—polar explorer Ben Saunders in a TED talk

Sometimes I wish I’d taken the road well travelled. There were times I stepped out in faith and fell flat. I’ve had great adventures as well. Still I can’t help but think I could have been making money and living in that nice little house with the white picket fence. Truly there’s no guarantee that my rear-view vision would have come true. More than likely the little house would have come crashing down or someone would have tripped over the fence and sued me. Truly taking the safe road would have robbed my soul of joy and sent me into mind numbing depression.

It’s difficult to be wired like that though, isn’t it? To dream dreams is to open oneself up to serious disappointment. To act on the dream is to open us up to embarrassment at best and ruin at the worst.

Ben Saunders has seen the light (and the Aurora Borealis). If we are to be inspired and grow we have to leave our doorstep. If we are to inspire others we must set the example; we must walk the walk. We have to invest in people and adventures we find valuable. There is a cost involved.

There’s a price tag either way. Staying safe, warm and insulated from the world will cost something. Stepping out seems the scarier but in my mind the cost is less. Soul is satisfied as is that gnawing hunger for adventure that so many of us feel. Not stepping out is safe and death knell all at once.

The tempests that life chooses for us to ride can wall us in. Keeping that vision of that next adventure, the far country, is how sanity is maintained. Wisdom tells us that without vision a people perish. Still the sight of that safe little home with all the creature comforts will call to our flesh, “Be warm, safe and comfortable.” True adventure has a deeper call; to a satisfied soul, a lived life and a spirit ever deepening.

Friday, November 08, 2013


An innocent man betrayed by circumstance. A blameless man is forced to stop a crime, which puts him at great risk. That is the typical storyline for a Hitchcock movie. In our lives God allows lesser but similar events to force us out of our comfort zone.

This last week circumstances have forced me to make phone calls I did not want to make to solve problems I did not create. In one instance I was point man for a group that had contracted to use a facility for a weekend getaway. We got the facility based on assurances from one group member who promised the funding necessary. When payment was due that member informed the group that he would not be able to come up with the required payment. I was forced to make the phone call to the facility and explain our predicament. Though another solution was found I was not pleased with feeling my personal integrity was on the line.

So how was I to give thanks to God in these circumstances? On a basic level I was forced to rely on Christ for strength (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me). I was stretched to figure out solutions and make calls that were uncomfortable. Both of these forced me to grow outside my little comfort bubble. From my bubble I realized that none of us is truly guilt free anyway—none but one.

The great stories involve overcoming; one’s inner demons, relationship struggles or dizzying sensations worsened by spiral staircase. In the greatest story death and sin are overcome. The vehicle God used for that was a man who, at great risk, betrayed by circumstance, stopped a crime which He was innocent of and of which we were all guilty.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Soul Tiredness and Singing

“For two weeks I holed up in a Colorado cabin…during my entire time there I opened only a Bible….I tried to set aside my existential questions, my personal disappointments and consider instead God’s point of view….”---Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God

“I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”---Psalm 13:6

I spend too much time (one minute is too much time) thinking about past mistakes and failures in my life. Usually when I consider passages like Psalm 13, I look to the after effects and how God brought me through. What if I’ve got it sideways?

On reflection I see glimmers that indicate God was working in the crucible of the trial itself. From God’s point of view those were periods of hammering out and shaping. I am coming to consider that the bountiful dealings include, nay, speak more directly to those seasons of pressure than to the milder, softer seasons leading up to and following the trials.

It’s not a coincidence. My wife is reading a book by Ann Voskamp. The challenge is to be thankful and find God’s gifts in the midst of life. I am in the midst of a dryer season, a season of soul-tiredness. We both are evaluating our place in life, ministry and this season. It is easy to be critical. It is crucial to maintain sobriety and a thankful, joy-seeking perspective. Bitterness and anger come to me without working at it.

Fall and winter are cold and dark months in the high desert  I will be working through the process of giving thanks. Walk with me as I try to see life with God’s point of view. I’m hopeful that I can awake from this weariness of spirit as I pursue God’s perspective.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Screams Of A Child

I was decompressing. It was my first hour home from work. Over Pandora I heard the screams; “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” I was jarred enough to quickly walk out the front door and round to the house behind mine. In this age especially the screams of a child cause one’s mind to race.

Coming around the corner I saw a little girl of about ten years age in a big white jacket, long brown hair and black glasses. She reminded me of the boy from the movie Christmas Story. I told her I was Mr. Dillo from next door. She said her parents weren’t home. She was locked outside. To add to her panic we were in the middle of a wind warning---the cold wind was howling at speeds up to 60 mph. Poor kid; ten years old, alone, in a new neighborhood, on the first cold day of winter-- and mom is no place to be found.

In days past perhaps I could have had her come into my house. You just shivered, right? These days I didn’t have that option. My mind raced but I had no solution. She knew her mom’s phone number. I gave her my phone to call. No answer. At that moment, Cindy, of The Eternal Yard Sale, came around the corner. She volunteered to take the girl to her house until her mom arrived.

Fortunately Natalie lives in a neighborhood where there is a loose (very) connection of neighbors that know one another. Those were fearful screams I don’t want to hear again. What if no one had come? My heart aches for that little girl. My soul aches for community that doesn’t happen enough and neighborhoods full of houses that stand alone.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nakedness of the Storyteller

“Oh, did I mention that he was a urologist?” Some people were not meant to tell jokes. A good joke, like a good story, relies on material and timing. If I have one fear of writing it is that I won’t deliver on one or both points. A good joke is succinct. It holds the audience.

There are days I hesitate, put off and delay posting. Often times it is because I’m feeling negative. It is alright to share that I feel a critical negative spirit within me. It is not my goal to have the reader leave with that same attitude.

My friend had the stereotypical dream---but the ending differs. He dreamt that he had to give a speech and that he was naked. He gave the speech and the audience was so connected with him that they never noticed that he was naked. A good story and a good joke should draw you in so that you are expectantly waiting the punch line. You shouldn’t notice the nakedness of the storyteller---unless he wants you to.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Road Signs

He reached up, pulled the cars’ visor down and sneezed. The visor was by now sun-baked, dried out plastic held together only by dust. He drove toward the ocean. He needed a break. Life was coming at him like falling Dominos. Everything cost money they didn’t have. The marriage was strained; what with the two toddlers. Not to mention that he’d broken his ankle in the accident on the loading dock.

The car bounced along making noises every time a shock engaged or a joint was put under stress. It too was held together by dust and perhaps, like the universe, God’s voice kept it from blowing apart.

It was a full day’s drive out to the coast. He wasn’t even sure why he was driving there. He’d thrown a mental dart at an imagined dart board and made the decision to go. The thought occurred to him that he could just keep driving. Then where would he end up---a crippled man in a beat up car? Not surprising to find himself thinking of escape. Maybe he could keep driving onto Loreto; Mexican waters, whale watching and no one watching over your shoulder.

So he drove squinting into the setting sun. Road signs for the canyons meant he was almost there. The car careened around the turns and gravity kept it on the road. Now and then running water off to the side of the road, a small waterfall, not what he expected but a pleasant surprise.

The main road along the coast more freeway than highway. He pulled into a lonely parking lot, got his jacket and crutches from the trunk and went out onto the sand. Decided that crutches and sand weren’t a good mix---was going to just have to hobble. Found a rock still warm from the sun and crawled up onto it. Stared out at the ocean. Such an immense body of water. The waves pounding, pounding, pounding onto the shore.

There was something about the vastness and the power that spoke to him. So much beauty and he was but a part of it. So much power under constraint. The beauty and the power; perhaps a provident hand holding it together. Not an answer but a spark of hope. Thinking on that he decides to spend some more hours staring and meditating. Then to try to find a hotel for the night and back home tomorrow. Not with answers—but a spark of hope which is what I guess he was looking for all along.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Frameworks, Strangers, Aliens and Anchors

Bible doctrine is the theology which provides a framework for my life. Some might even call that wisdom. When life slams us up against things we have no answer for (violence, death, cancer, child abuse, handicaps—fill in the box) the thing that keeps me sane is a Biblical framework with the person of Jesus Christ at its center.

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…” An anchor holds a ship in place so that the storm doesn’t move it out of the harbor or even into other boats. The anchor centers and secures.

We need centering, we need securing, and we need someplace sheltered. I do anyway. Peter calls the early Christians ‘aliens.’ Earth isn’t home, they don’t belong here. At times we all feel that way. There doesn’t always seem to be a safe circle. At times I just feel like a freak. I see the world differently. I have thoughts that bounce from sane to scary. Friends and family are my closest allies yet still they can’t really know me (yes you like me but do you---like me, like me?). Where do I go for shelter?

I lean on a framework. For big picture sanity I lean on Romans chapter 8; God causes all things to work together for good, if God is for us who can be against us, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. The smaller pieces fit into smaller frameworks; I raise my daughter in a framework of releasing an adult into the world one day. My marriage is framed biblically, trying to love my wife as Christ loves the church. Outdoor exercise grants me mental and physical strength. Framework provides the context for our lives.

Chesterton makes the point that even a freestyle artist will choose a medium and a boundary (a frame if you will) for his work. Once the boundary is established the artist can render beauty for all to see. So the boundary frees rather than inhibits and the artist is free to move fully and create beauty to the utmost.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Last One Picked For P.E.

3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade I was the last chosen in P.E. To this day I can’t say it was a bad thing. I just wasn’t an athlete, wasn’t popular, wasn’t pretty. Having asthma certainly didn’t help either. Truth is I’d have rather been reading than playing sports. That’s probably why I grew up enjoying solo sports like hiking and cycling.

Are there days that I wish I had normal lungs and excellent speed. Certainly. I can ride or hike forever. The hiking I can do at a good clip if I need to though not the cycling. There are moments, riding with others, that the frustration turns to anger at things I can’t control and genes I had no choice in inheriting. Still I’m more the tortoise than the hare so I keep plodding along knowing I’ll finish—just not in record time.

I think it’s forced me to choose camaraderie over contest. If I am going to go along with you on a bike ride or a hike I won’t be racing. I try not to enter contests I can’t win. If you ride with me you ride for the shared experience. Perhaps that is God teaching you something. Sometimes it’s about ministering to that slower guy even though your time is going to suck. Still maybe your heart will improve in the process.

I suspect a greater design in all of this. Even if I used EPO or steroids I’d be the slowest guy on the course. These physical and emotional challenges force me to evaluate what’s important. My prowess doesn’t allow for pride. I have to recognize that I will always be slower. I still won’t be the first one picked. I am forced to choose quality over quantity, slogging along rather than racing. I’m better at the long race than the sprint—and that’s what life is like anyway, isn’t it?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Socialism Feeds Our Selfishness

They’ve done a nice job of brainwashing us. In the present political climate it won’t be long before you hear somebody say, “I think everybody should have healthcare.” Add that to an already established list of benefits like Social Security and Welfare. Those same people would say that everybody should be taken care of in their old age and that there should be no poor people. Nice sentiments. Social Security was established in the 1930’s. Welfare programs grew and the Aid to Dependent Children program was established in the same era circa the Great Depression. What did the American people do before that?

The Judeo-Christian concept of doing unto others was woven into the American framework. It was incumbent upon individuals and religious institutions to take care of the sick and feed the poor. These are Biblical concepts going all the way back to Moses. God has always had a heart for the poor, the orphan and the widow.

Significant need of our neighbor was great opportunity to give resources to meet our neighbors’ need. These needs allowed great opportunity to enter into the trials of people in the neighborhood and create caring community. Opportunity presented itself in ways that challenged selfishness. Sharing was normative, hoarding was looked down upon. We did unto others as we would have done to ourselves. Today we let the Government do it.

No need to feed the family next door. I can just point them to the Social Security office; maybe even pick up the forms for them on my way home from work. There was a time they’d knock on the door of neighbor or church. Now, if Ned next door can’t find work—at least he’s on the dole. Yes the opportunity still exists to enter into my neighbors’ need. It just doesn’t feel as pressing. Now there is Big Brother and Uncle Sam to help out.

As the State takes over it erodes opportunity for selfless caring community. There’s a solid government built safety net now. I can trust that and I know my neighbor can. So there’s no need for me to open my field up for his children to glean tomorrow’s lunch. They’ll get that free at school. Was there a time that the mom next door might pack an extra lunch for the neighbor kid? No more, no need. Those once occasions for selfless ministry happen less and less through government aid, pride and progress. No need to do unto others—that’s what we pay taxes for.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Development of the Soul

“And the only solution to this would be that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul….”—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

This belief that life should be a cakewalk seems an American thing. It could be much wider-spread; perhaps the whole human race believes it. We believe it in the face of much evidence. Still we shout and stamp our feet when things don’t go as we think they should.

We rob ourselves of peace thinking this way. We shatter deep connections or never allow them to develop---connectedness with our fellow human beings and openness to the God that created us. We expect other people will be gentle and settled, that their lives, of course, are going along smoothly. It is tough to reach out to them when each of us is stamping feet and throwing tantrum. Admitting life is tough and taut with trials allows us quiet in ourselves to reach past the roar of the other.

I grumble incessantly. I’m pretty much the wimp. My soul should be better developed. Maybe those Old Testament saints fought so much for a reason; war and being whisked off being more the norm than the exception.

The fix for our mindset is to fit the complexities of existence into perspective. Wish I could say I was successful even half the time. So in all our celebrations and all our difficult circumstances the focus should be on developing the soul. For all flesh is like grass that withers but the soul is forever.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Know Thyself

In some Christian circles psychology is anathema. Words like introspection and concepts like knowing one’s self scare some. This may be because back in the sixties and seventies there was a movement toward self-discovery and finding-oneself which oft meant finding one’s personal mode of self-stimulation and self-aggrandizement. Still I propose that knowing oneself is a worthwhile study.

At a follow-up physical I asked the doctor about lowering blood pressure. We got to talking about stress and he said that some people know how to manage it and some don’t. I wonder if I fit well into the ‘don’t’ category. I do know that this week I’m feeling mellow, moody and worn. So yesterday before leaving for work I grabbed a Tom Waits CD on my way out the door.

Music is a “go-to.” I choose music to help or hinder my mood. A bad day at work will warrant Third Day, Jeremy Camp and I have a Zeppelin channel on Pandora; a good day means a praise album of sorts. So I knew Waits fit the bill on Friday. Still slightly surprised, as I suspected, running errands with Tom slowly changed my mood.

There are other “go-tos” in my life. People around me know that going hiking in The Preserve means I need significant one-to-one time with Jesus. Granted it’s not that I am wise enough yet to foresee stupidity before I commit it. Ask the wife about the last time I barked. I do know though that I will be easier to live with when I seek these outlets.

The key is recognizing when my moods and my thinking are not consistent with that person that I desire to be. When I am fuming in anger or focused on the negative or when thoughts easily derail into brokenness I know part of the process is to pray. Part of the process is to implement those anchors in my life that secure me to what matters. I seek to know myself better that I might mirror Him who knew me thoroughly from the beginning.

Friday, October 04, 2013

We Fall On You

We fall on You like Saul on the sword,

We fall for life, we fall for words,
Spoken to us in anger, spoken to us from hurt.

We fall on You when life makes no sense,
When those who do wrong get no recompense,
Their garment of violence covers them.

We fall on You when flesh rises up,
We fall with crying, we fall face first,
There is no condemnation in You.

We fall on You like deer for the brook,
We come with hunger, yearning deep thirst,
Our soul satisfied only in You.

We fall on you when our enemy—death,
Has stolen our life, has taken our breath,
You are the resurrection and the life.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Many Coloured Thanks

From the Peanuts comic strip:

Lucy: There was a real lesson to be learned from seeing Snoopy’s house burn down.
Adventure builds character…without adversity a person could never mature and face up to all of the things in life.
Charlie Brown: What things?

Lucy: More adversity!

Fall looks like a good season in the Dillo household. Mr. and Mrs. Dillo are both working full time while the teenager has a full plate with high school, boyfriend and winter dances all fully scheduled. It is good to enter into a season with breathing room.

Invariably life comes with challenges. Even as I write there is talk of a looming grocery store strike. There are also those trials that come without notice. Being able to enjoy cool fall nights resting in front of the computer watching Hulu, nestled in a blanket with Mrs. Dillo---these are good things. It is good to recognize these big and little blessings and give thanks.

It is almost a natural reflex to cry to God when things are bad, especially when there is no answer that man can supply—like a new job or antibiotics. So I am trying to be better about giving praise and thanks when things go well.

The trials will come. Peter and James note that they are variegated and multi-faceted. In this Fall season during the calm before the storms I praise God for vestiges of Spring and delight in cooler Fall days. I give thanks that good seasons too are many-coloured---like leaves in Autumn.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Edgy Gospel

“My father left my home when I was young, so when I was introduced to the concept of God as Father I imagined Him as a stiff, oily man who wanted to move into our house and share a bed with my mother….” Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

Edgy: adjective; having a bold, provocative, or unconventional quality .

Mine is a unique age whereas those that I once considered edgy now seem status quo. Certainly I see through a clouded lens. Edgy isn’t measurable. There are variables. I am now familiar with those I considered edgy. The teachers I grew up with are now older, many being in their seventies and eighties (Swindoll, MacArthur, Sproul). Age sometimes smoothes the edges off---teachers, pastors and pundits not being immune.

What I am not saying (Lord keep me from thinking this) is being different and unique for the sake of standing out is a good thing. What I am saying is that using new media, a fresh writing style or balls out speaking style to challenge people in their complacency is a good thing.

Truth and transparency are edgy. Those that are seeking to grow and go deeper will respond to truth in a medium. They are used to hearing, “blah, blah, blah, status quo,” over and over. When somebody comes and speaks truth they will hear it. For example look at this text from Acts, “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” The message penetrated because it was seasoned with truth and transparency.

The challenge I face as a communicator and that we face in proclaiming truth is to be not only relevant but thought provoking. God doesn’t fit inside a box. Neither should the way we present Him.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scheduling and Serendipity

Shhh---I’m writing this while the wife isn’t here. Don’t tell her I miss her. She’ll probably feel funny about it…

Since our marriage she has been substitute teaching. Two years she has been able to adjust her schedule. Two years she has worked less than five days per week. The first year she decorated and rearranged the house—numerous times. She made dinner---numerous times. And for the most part when I arrived home from work, there she was to greet me with a kiss and a hug. These two years have spoiled me.

The wife has landed a full-time teaching position. This is a great thing for her soul. She delights in teaching; ala Chariots of Fire, when she teaches she ‘feels His pleasure.’ An added boon is the additional paycheck which will provide necessary breathing room. Getting the contract has been an answer to prayer.

We have to rely on more planning and less serendipity. To avoid the temptation of fast food we plan our dinners. Calendaring is crucial not only informational. Scheduling time with the teenage daughter demands flexibility and forethought. Planning date-nights and weekend getaways allows both spouses assured connectedness and passion.

Even in the good things its easy to slide and let gravity and life drive us---usually to the couch and television. Making time for the important things will take a little more energy. The payoffs both short term and long term are worth it. Still I miss those lazy weekday afternoons...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Travels of The Trunk-Lidija's Demise

Two things cause people to perish; lack of vision and lack of community. Grandma Lidija moved into her small apartment alone. Having spent the previous years raising her granddaughter and caring for the horses, dogs and house she now had all day to herself. That is the thing we often say to ourselves, “If only I had all day to myself.” We fail to understand that ‘all to ourselves’ is a death sentence.

The walks started out as a good thing. Grandma would walk to the mall or to a local restaurant. She would spend mornings exercising and exploring the local community. My mother and I would drop by her house to find it empty but she would return for lunch and would touch base. The walks went from fit to fugue. She would take walks and forget how to get home. She would take walks and forget lunch and dinner.

I had a number of dogs growing up. Once in a while they would dart outside in search of adventure. On occasion we were forced to walk around the block yelling the dogs’ name over and over; widening the search until the dog came running or returned home. This is what we ended up doing with Grandma. The occurrences increased and the anxiety mounted with each experience. Gradually it became obvious that Grandma needed to be taken care of. So we moved her into a facility.

I vividly remember her last years as her mind slipped away along with her health. The grandma that fed hay to horses and ran a household now spent hours in a wheelchair.

Grandma was raised Lutheran and her church experiences impacted her worldview. Somehow my conversion to Christianity converged with her early experiences and when I would visit she oft mistook me for a priest. I would spend hours with her and she would often request that I “lead her to the blessed hope.”

She was ushered into that blessed hope in her 92nd year. Her belongings, boxes, books and letters were all ushered into my mothers’ garage. So it was that my Grandma Lidija and the travelling trunk finally found their rest.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Travels of the Trunk Part 1-Grandma Lidija

In my memory it was always there like the linoleum in our kitchen. Truly it could have arrived, filled with books and papers, after grandmas’ death. It sat in our garage for years; out of the way, under the work table. It wasn’t practical to hold onto the thing but it seemed wrong to get rid of it. It was afterall the trunk that carried everything my grandfather, grandma, mom and uncle owned. It was the trunk they carted with them as they fled Latvia eventually ending up in the United States as sponsored immigrants.

My grandparents Lidija and Augusts Mitrevics were famous actors in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Sensing and seeing the effects that the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty would have on Latvians the family fled. Obtaining sponsorship while waiting in a refugee camp my grandparents took up residence in Connecticut where my grandfather worked as a janitor. Grandpa does not live in my memories; dying while I was still a child of four years old.

I remember Grandma Lidijas’ apartment in North Hollywood with its’ wood floors and the stand that held the black and white television ever broadcasting Days Of Our Lives (Like sands in an hourglass…). A visit to Grandma’s meant Hershey’s mini-chocolate bars. If my sister and I were really fortunate there would be “Roommates’ Bread.” I don’t remember the roommate yet she got credit for making the bread. Roommates’ bread is a traditional Latvian sourdough rye whose real name is Saldskaaba Maize, which I will go out of my way for even today.

Some years later Grandma Lidija left the invisible roommate and went to live with her son and his wife aka Uncle Ed and Aunt Audrey. They bought a house in Shadow Hills with horse property and a dog. These were soon followed by the appearance of my cousin Tiffany. While my aunt and uncle worked Grandma’s days were full. She took care of the horses and raised my cousin. In my mind life went along like that for my grandma many years. Life changes and dreams evolve. Ed, Audrey and Tiffany took up their trunk and moved to northern California. My grandmother gathered her belongings and that infamous trunk and moved into a small apartment in Woodland Hills. This was the beginning of the hard years for Lidija--- to be continued tomorrow.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Be Kind

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”---Ian Maclaren, author and theologian

Some face the battle head on. Some go AWOL hoping it will just disappear. Many fail to recognize it exists; instead they tell you life is just moving on from one big party to the next. Many of us have spent our time in each camp, even returning from leave to fully engage again and again.

Being kind seems like an easy assignment. For those gentle souls that recognize they are in a battle and are being hammered by life it is easier to be kind. The difficulty I have is with the many that choose to be bitter and angry. Worse still are those that pursue evil. There is an arrogant evil where individuals and groups prey on the poor and the helpless, widows, orphans and strangers. Faced with hearts cauterized by evil my gut reaction is to war with them—not recognizing that the war lies elsewhere. Still “Be kind” is the command, “Be kind to all”that“they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

So it is incumbent upon us that see clearly to be kind. We that understand the fight, yay, some of us have suffered some serious wounds. We have seen evil wielded and been slapped by darkness. The battle is difficult for all. Kindness is one weapon in our arsenal.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Peace I Will Both Lie Down and Sleep

All I can remember of the dream was a girl going off to school, something about kissing and a 70’s model muscle car parked at the curb. Yet something about the dream triggered in me some serious angst. All morning long I felt these strong troubling emotions about mistakes I’ve made in the past---in life at large and in relationships. Not knowing what else to do I prayed and quoted scripture.

In my spirit I perceived it was spiritual warfare. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis we make two mistakes along these lines: We dismiss these instances as having to do mostly with what we ate for dinner and watched on television or else we ascribe everything to an attack of the enemy.

I have had similar instances of the same mental and emotional trauma related to my past. It is a ridiculous path to travel down because on its face there are only two paths; to change the past or to wallow in guilt and shame. Fortunately in Christ neither path is necessary. I simply grabbed hold of the fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. On top of that, the icing on the cake, is the promise that even the worst of paths God has promised to use for His glory.

The dread feelings of that morning slowly abated as I prayed and praised throughout the day. The rest of this week both sleep and waking have been better for as the Psalmist says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

The High Cost Of God's Holiness

Conceived in violence and through a king’s abuse of authority the child was marked from inception. God says to the king, “the sword shall never depart from your house because you have despised me,” and “by this deed given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.”

It was not the type of behaviour expected from a military leader and Type A commander. The text reads, “Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house…” We know the rest of the story. David sees Bathsheba bathing and determines to have her. Have her he does. The first consequence is hammered out in three words, “The woman conceived…” David has her husband, Uriah, struck down by sword. God parries in return. Despite David's fasting and prayer the baby dies.

“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” God’s desire to be seen as holy, pure and set apart is also seen in the New Testament. When Ananias and Sapphira are struck down after lying to the Holy Spirit God is purifying the early church. A bad beginning would mean an infancy giving occasion to blaspheme. Better to strike down this couple.

In this present age of grace it is so easy to give occasion to blaspheme without dire consequence. I sat at lunch today with some fellow co-workers. One turned to me and apologized for the gossip I was about to hear. Then she spoke to the others about a woman committing adultery, “I can’t believe she was banging him. It wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t so very religious. She even says she can only listen to God music.” So the same God that struck down David’s son puts up with rebellion because of the blood of His only Son.

In Psalm 51, penned by King David, he cries out for God to, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness…For You do not delight in sacrifice…You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Our blaspheming acts of rebellion may give others opportunity to mock the most high God. Doing what King David could not do for his own son God does through Christ. The sword which we deserve pierces the King---and His own children live forever.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deck Chairs And Death

Though happy for her I think this change will kill her. The Service Deli manager announced today that she is retiring next month. Beyond that she sold her house and is moving from the high desert in California to Nashville, Tennessee. This is a woman whose pride is that she never missed a day of work and was only late once. She’s been in the business since high school. Her husband passed last year. I hope I’m wrong but the statistics bear me out.

According to an article in Freakonomics, early retirement is “bad for your health.” “The study showed that for every extra year of early retirement, workers lost about two months of life expectancy.”

I know that after my dad retired I watched him slowly decline. Though it can be argued that health issues played a large part I saw him lose joy in living. He gave up music and his beloved photography and simply sat around the house. Had he worked longer and not retired at 55 I think he would have remained more agile in spirit and thought life.

One can’t help but think of John Piper’s illustration from Don’t Waste Your Life. He tells the story of a retiree who walks up and down the beach in his Bermuda shorts throwing stranded star-fish back into the surf. His life isn’t invested in anything that matters. Having that investment can be life saving.

I can’t cite statistics but gut level it seems investing your life in a cause greater than you will keep you alive. One of the elders at our church says he’s busier now than he ever was when he was working. I suspect his vision for the church and the energy he expends will add years. It’s the retiring to the armchair or the deck chair on the beach that will kill you early.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Four Key Components To Happiness

In the country song, Letter To Me by Brad Paisley, the author writes to himself as a teenager offering his young self advice. One wishes such a thing were possible. So what would be the next best thing?

In 2011 David Brooks of the New York Times published “The Life Reports.” In these reports readers over seventy years of age evaluated their lives. As summarized by Readers Digest there were key themes cited by “his happiest respondents.” These four key themes are; resilience, commitment to family, predilection to risk and realization that life gets better decade by decade. Readers Digest notes that, “by their 60s many contributors had found their zone.”

For me these are byproducts of faith in Christ. Yet we all know people of faith that mirror none of these traits. So it must be something else. These key components of happiness are not easily distilled. We can define resilience as bouncing back when you are knocked down. How does one come by that trait? A sense of humor plays a part as do tenacity---and some aspect of hope.

How is predilection to risk a good thing? Seems rebellious and counter-culture at best. Is that the type of person we should be? It seems the message these seventy-somethings are giving to us is to live a life without asking, “What if?” Right? I’m guessing that the more you are willing to risk (which is a huge range from asking that cute girl out to climbing Everest) the less regrets you will have when you are older.

These are some deep waters. Brooks spent significant time in his blog exploring these numerous responses. The challenge to us lies in pursuing these keys to happiness. The pursuit will look different for each one of us. Pursue we must for we can not forego such deep time-forged wisdom. We’ve got to risk it—It is after all one of the keys to happiness.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dignity Always Dignity

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

I've had one motto I've always lived by: Dignity. Always dignity."—Singing in the Rain

I was twenty something years old and working as a bank teller. A woman that had just had facial surgery approached me. Her face was covered with gauze; what wasn’t covered was battered, black and blue. I processed her transaction all the while treating her as I did every other customer. At the end of the transaction her eyes connected with mine and she said, “Thank you for looking at me.”

At the age of sixteen I was on a bike ride up the coast from Santa Barbara to Solvang, California. At one point on PCH there were a number of storm drains grated the same direction as the road. My bicycle wheel dropped into one; stopping my bicycle and throwing me over my handlebars sans helmet. I stopped ten feet later. My septum was deviated, my face and shoulder looked like hamburger. After a couple of days of healing I returned to high school. For a week I heard, “What happened?” For a week I was exceedingly aware of the face I presented to the world.

James recently developed a cyst by his ear. The cyst grew to envelop the entire side of his face. Being on public insurance it took him a while to be able to get treatment for it. When they finally did operate they had to shave his head and cut him open from the top of his head to his neck. They removed the cyst but left a bag of skin where the growth had been.

James did not want to leave his house. He has been subjected to people who in their own discomfort have said things to him like, “You look like you have Cerebral Palsy. What’s wrong with you?” People have treated him as a leper. Still he manages to find the courage and strength to leave his house and lead his life.

Christ’s healing for the leper was two-fold. First He touched him, then He cleansed and restored him. If we have health and look normal it is a blessing. May God always give us the grace to look—and see the person underneath the skin. Dignity, always dignity.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Would Mom Use The Internet?

Mom owned many cookbooks and had a lifetime subscription to Sunset magazine. What she did not own was a microwave. She wasn’t big on current technology. She finally conceded to an answering machine which she never used. If you wanted to talk to her you needed to call, let the phone ring ad infinitum, hang up and call again. All that makes me wonder if mom would have used the internet.

I am in search of a recipe for a jerk rub for fish. Unlike mom I have few cookbooks that would contain such a recipe. The wife had suggested I seek out recipes on the Food Network. So search I did. The Food Network must have been infiltrated and broken up because I could not access it at all. Mr. Google sent me to a place called Yummy---a place I was eager to go.

I understand my moms’ bent well. A child of the 60s I prefer ink to apps, books to Kindle. Most walls in my house support a bookshelf. Logically a Kindle would make great sense for one that reads so much. And I suspect that I will convert at some point. I do in fact get most of my news online.

Nah. Mom would always be more comfortable with ink. There’s something innately satisfying about scribbling, “good,” or “Christmas, 1985” in a margin as opposed to an electronic earmark. That being said, I’m adding ‘Yummy’ to my internet favorites list.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Personal Growth Is a Three-Fold Process

Where does the Professor who is top in his field go for advice? It seems that he must both be surrounding himself with peers that wrestle with ideas and theories and he must be constantly reading. Ever reading and wrestling seem the only way to keep from growing stagnant.

Becoming Christian in California spoiled me. I had multiple opportunities to listen to the best of Bible teachers both live and on the radio. Attending seminary and church gave additional chances to soak in scripture. My wife had similar experiences in Huntington Beach. Having been raised in such fertile soil we desire this depth all the time. Though a great desire I am not certain it is a good goal.

If we are diligent there comes a time that we will cease to be students and become peers with our teachers. At that point we mustn’t bemoan the fact that there is little new to challenge us. We must take it upon ourself to seek out those with like hearts. We must cry to the Creator to answer that deep longing in our hearts. We must continually expose ourselves to those that have gone before as well. Though they be dead their thinking will most likely have gone deeper than ours ever will.

The challenge then falls upon our shoulders for depth. In that seeking we will also become the teachers. So growth is finally a three-fold process, reading, wrestling and teaching. It is therein that we find our fulfillment.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ocwen And The Loan Modification That Wasn't

Ocwen’s motto is, “Helping homeowners is what we do.” I suspect the motto is true for the small percentage of homeowners that fit Ocwen’s desired profile. We didn’t. The house in question is no longer lived in by me due primarily to a divorce. We now rent out the property which has two existing loans on it. The house is worth less than the amount of the loans. We are, as they say, upside down.

I prayed very much about the house as it is a large financial burden. Based upon significant counsel the first plan was to do a short-sale. However the banks desire that first you try a loan modification. To be eligible for a modification the first thing you have to do is miss a payment. We did that. We then applied for a loan modification with both Ocwen and Wells Fargo. Then it begins; the banks assign you a representative that tells you what hoops you have to jump through. For my ex this meant creating a P&L statement. For me the paperwork was easier. None the less we filled out all the paperwork and set up numerous phone calls with each banks representative. Each one would tell us the next step and then schedule a follow up meeting. This process went on for over six months.

For over six months I dealt with the banks and with the ex-wife attempting to get a loan modification. In one of the last phone calls with Ocwen our representative, that has a significant Indian accent (I believe the calls are all outsourced), informed us that I needed to sign over a quit claim for the property to my ex wife. I told him I would need to check with my attorney and my CPA before making such a commitment. He scheduled a follow up call. At the follow up call I advised him that I was not going to quit-claim over the property as there were significant tax and liability issues associated with it. He barely blinked (this was the sense I had) before saying that this was okay and the loan modification would now be looked at in-house by Ocwen rather than attempting to go under the government program. He said that he felt positive about the outcome. And…we scheduled another follow up call for one week later. I was certain we would finally hear the outcome or the bank would request our first born. Meanwhile Wells Fargo continued a similar process on a smaller scale.

Both loan modifications were denied. We were informed by both banks that they would have been approved had I been willing to quit claim the house over to my ex-wife. Shortly thereafter I spoke with a property attorney. Apparently the rigmarole we experienced is common. The outcome is usually the same.

The law states that a bank cannot foreclose if you are in the process of a negotiation. The minute that Ocwen informed us that the modification was denied they put us into foreclosure.

Had we been residence of the home we would have had a better chance for the modification to go through as we would have had we still been married. We were neither.

Throughout the process loved ones and I felt that God was leading though it was only one step at a time. Thrown into foreclosure the ex fought against a short-sale though it seemed the logical next step. God graciously provided the funds to pull it out of foreclosure. Our plan now is to hang onto it in hopes that property values go up enough soon enough to sell it via normal channels. So it is that we are back at square one less some fees and penalties and a slight ding on our credit score. We didn’t fit the homeowner paradigm; and this is the story of the help we got.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Time For A Paul Simon Revival

It sounds a lot like folk music. If you turn on a popular music station you will hear music by Fun, Need To Breathe and Mumford and Sons among others. If you grew up a around the Baby Boomer generation much of it will sound familiar to you. Listening to a Fun song the other day I thought to myself that Paul Simon had come out with a new song.

I asked my daughter if she knew who Paul Simon was. Nope. Which is why I think it’s time for a Simon and Garfunkel revival. I recently bought the Best Of collection. Just was in one of those moods. Listening to it on a recent road trip I realized that much of it is good poetry set to music.

In high school I was the guy that listened to the lyrics when everybody else was listening only to the guitar. There’s still a dissonance there. The music may be terrific but often the lyrics or the subject matter are horrible. (This is a general principle: There are bands that I love for the music; I’ll listen to Cashmere almost anytime, anyplace for instance).

All you parents with teenagers it’s time to join in the revolution. Give your sons and daughters their music gift cards this season so they can buy whatever they want—but tell them they have to purchase at least one song by one of those old folk musicians.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Ode To Vampires On Labor Day

Vampires don’t attend backyard barbeques. They like a blood-red steak just like the next guy. Sure, they find the garlic mashed potatoes repulsive and opt instead for a plate of beets. Food isn’t the reason they don’t drop by carrying a salad. Backyard bbqs take place in the daylight which is when vampires get their sleep on.

Vampires aren’t the only ones that won’t be making the Labor Day barbeque today. Medjool dates are ready for picking this week (traditional harvest is the first week of September) and the local farm workers in the Coachella valley will be out harvesting. Those of us in retail will be working this weekend. Highway patrol and police officers may be busier than normal working round to clock to secure the community so that those that can’t handle their own personal celebrations don’t ruin ours. It’ll be tough to make your party but we may drop by when we get off work.

Like the vampire our eyes are blood red. We don’t sleep eight hours and we don’t sleep in on weekends. Ours is the 3 am shift, the midnight shift or the long weekend. Like the vampire’s reflection we’re invisible to most everybody. Still we are there lurking behind the scenes.

So I sing a song to those that rise up from bed in the darkness; to those who celebrate lunch as the sun rises. Revel in the mystery of the store shelves stacked to fullness; of the full storehouse at the fast food restaurant (a curtsy to the couriers and truck drivers). Tonight while we sleep they rise in the darkness. Yet whilst the vampire’s life is made full by the blood of his victims these invisible workers give us of their own blood and sleep.

Wait! There’s the moon! The casket opens, the blood flows, another day begins.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Reason For My Paranoia

“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why his is right not to sacrifice himself….As for me , I kept silent for one further 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.”---Alekandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
There is one key reason for my paranoia. Of the forty books on World Magazine’s Top 40 Books of the 20th Century about half have to do with the failure of government when government exceeds its God-given authority. So it is no wonder that I have such difficulty with Obamacare or even with the new Core curriculum for schools. It doesn’t take any imagination to see America moving that direction (see The Life of Julia).

I’m currently reading “The Gulag Archipelago,” in which Solzhenitsyn describes the horrors of communism. Some years ago I read Manchester’s, The Last Lion—Alone, the biography of Winston Spencer Churchill. History is full of many that complacently follow their leaders into evil and ruin. However in any age there are only few voices willing to say that the prophets lie when they say, “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”

If you followed me around for a week, besides being bored, you would see little evidence of my anti-state, anti-union mentality. It is only inside my mind that I store up these grains for winter. I am fairly certain the storm is coming.

What of it? We are not to be paranoid. We are to be aware. We cannot all be the voice of a Solzhenitsyn. Yet we must be a voice.
“We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep with us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.”---from The Gulag Archipelago

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strong Currents Beneath

A young boy of about twelve years of age I stood on the bank of a river with my parents and commented about how easy it would be to swim to the other side. My parents adamantly informed me that although the river looked calm at the top there were strong currents moving below its surface. I was reminded of this as I took a walk through our local preserve today. Sunday Morongo valley had been hit by a flash flood. The wooden walkway through the preserve was covered with mud. Waterways alongside the walk were now deeply rutted and the ferns which grew straight and tall were gone or flattened. What power there is in moving water!

While hiking in the Grand Canyon in 2012 we were told by a volunteer that they had just fished out the bodies of two Boy Scouts that were playing near the river; a third death of an adult that tried to save them was also reported. I came across the tragic story of Kaitlin Kenney, a 21 year old Colorado woman that was an accomplished fiddler (Colorado Sate Teen Champion) and lover of the outdoors, “friends told investigators that they shared whiskey with a passing group who visited them at their campsite while kayaking. In the days leading up to her disappearance on the night of January 11, Kenney had eaten some of the hallucinogenic mushrooms that she brought with her, but their effects would have likely worn off by the time she walked away from the campfire that fateful night.” There is some doubt as to the mushrooms but an autopsy revealed a significantly high blood-alcohol level. Newspaper stories speculate that she may have got up in the night and fallen into the river.

On every internet news page I pulled up there was a picture of Miley Cyrus on the sidebar. Brant Hansen has a great blog post where he apologized to her on behalf of all adults.

Life looks safe but there can be savage undercurrents that are not initially visible. On occasion the raging waters just suck us out into their vortex. More often than not we fail to heed the warnings from parents, friends and counselors to be careful. “Guard your heart with all diligence,” says the Teacher, “for from it flow the waters of life.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

We Groan Inwardly

There are days we groan inwardly. We may understand our grey mood or it may come upon us seemingly unprovoked still “we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” It is the universal experience of all mankind.

I groan for the woman married last week who I heard say today, “You men all want to get away from your women and go drinking or to a strip joint.” I can only hope her new husband will be better than her experience so far. I ache for those old and bitter that have lost joy and those young and searching that don’t know where to find it. These are minor groanings.

Then there are the groans for those life situations that seem so unfair; the loss of a child, the loss of a mother and the questions that echo down hallways and into bedrooms that are more quiet now than they’ve ever been.

Sometimes the grief just rolls down and our hearts cry with Amos “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” We cry out and pray but justice doesn’t roll on in a flood or even drip in a trickle. Some days these things hit one harder than other days.

On these days I seek solace in the Word or glean from the field of others that have spent time there. I find I am most encouraged through stories and songs of those that have persevered through trials and groaning and come out singing on the other side---or are singing in the midst.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who could be against us….But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

Sunday, August 25, 2013

God's Steadfast Goodness In Parenting

It’s the thing that should have freaked me out most of all. Along with the anxiety I’ve had regarding finances, jobs, marriage, divorce, marriage again and all the rest of life thrown in I find the thing that should have caused me the most fear hasn’t. I stand on the brink of seventeen years raising my daughter and God’s been faithful each step of the way.

The stereotypical picture is that of them handing the baby to you on the hospital steps without an owners’ manual. Some at that point can point to experience---perhaps their parents did a standard job of raising them so that they have a framework. I had no framework. I had snapshots I’d gleaned; other families that did it right, sermons I’d heard and books I read after the initial hand-off. That little fragile package should have sent me into paroxysms of fear.

The daughter just announced to me that she in her first male-female relationship. Today I quake just a little. Not for fear springing from who my daughter is. No, I hesitate because of who I was. All teenage boy with no boundaries.

There are, I confess, some significant past life events where I still question outcomes and providence. Yet in the raising of my daughter God has had extensive mercy toward my feeble frame and lack of framework. It’s as if God has said, “Having proven myself in this small thing shall I not show Myself faithful in the larger things?” Life is full of things that cause me to quake but today the faithful hand of Providence bids me be still and be at peace.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dependence, Pride and Psalm 5

Listen to what I say, LORD!

Carefully consider my complaint!
Pay attention to my cry for help,
my king and my God,
for I am praying to you!
LORD, in the morning you will hear me;
in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.

Dependence doesn’t square neatly with my pride. One of the continual tests since getting married has been our finances. There are a number of factors affecting the money situation. I dragged my wife to a new city which means that to teach she had to establish a new network to get a job. The other is a rental property that is upside down, owned with my ex-wife and a fiscal fetter around our necks. These burdens and day-to-day living are depleting all our finances.

Life can turn on a dime. A teaching job could open up tomorrow. The house could…heck, I’ve no idea how anything good can come out of that situation. All these situations are out of my box, out of my control. So what’s to do?

King David prayed. In the morning, when he finished, he eagerly waited for an answer.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Baptist Preacher, A Rapper And Two White Guys

What does a 60 year old Baptist preacher have in common with a Rapper and two guys that play acoustic guitar? It seems there was a time when older people like myself only listened to music that they grew up with. Travelling in a car with older folks meant stodgy old music. This would have been true for me if my daughter hadn’t encouraged me to listen to her local pop station and “embrace it.”

“I hate rap music. Rap is crap. Rap isn’t really music at all.” These are the comments I hear when I tell my peers that I like Lecrae. “Le-who,” they say. To which I say he’s a rapper. Then it begins. Funny thing is that I was exposed to Lecrae through John Pipers’ Desiring God website. His lyrics are deep; his theology spot-on.

This week Piper introduced me to Shane and Shane. They have been playing for a while but I’ve not heard of them til now. I was moved by the song, Yearn. It’s the prayer we all have. It doesn’t matter which point you are at on your spiritual journey. It’s the cry that Moses had, “If I have found favor in your sight, let me know your ways that I may know You…Show me Your glory.” It’s the common groan we share with all creation. I am dust and clay—but I want to yearn for You. Enjoy.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Friends, Family and Transparency

Unique access to our hearts is given to friends and family members. My cousin celebrated his 50th birthday last weekend. At the party were some relatives I’ve not spoken to since my teenage years. Upon introduction the conversation rapidly sped forward. Though we touched on the trivial there was an ebb and flow from surface to deep as we shared.

It makes me wonder. With those with whom we have connection we can skip decades and start up the conversation as if there’d never been a break. We open up our hearts with ease. It’s surprising we open up at all. We are capable of building such nice walls just as easily.

A teacher of mine (Wally Norling-see the link for more wisdom from Wally) was fond of saying that we should live transparent lives. Talk about a tension! It’s a scary world full of scary people. We want our privacy and our safe little front-yards. To cultivate openness and transparency is counter-cultural. Wait! Weren’t those early Christ followers a little counter-cultural too?

It’s a process; both becoming transparent and being transparent. Because not only does it go against the grain of society but it cuts against the self-protective skin I live in.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The End Of Vacations

There is dissonance in coming home. You have had a hundred adventures in one week. Everybody back home has been doing the same thing they always do day in and day out. People will ask about your vacation. When you begin to tell them that you saw God working or that you saw His power in Creation; a rock slide 100 feet at 500 Cubic Feet Per Second, you get a blank stare. How do you explain that this one week instead of watching television you had reserved seats for the Perseid Meteor shower?

A missionary friend related how a husband had gone to the mission field for a short-term work while his wife stayed at home. When he got home he was exuberant with emotion about experiences he’d had. To her it felt as if he’d had an affair.  Coming home feels like that.

The vacations end but the adventure continues. Whereas it’s great to see God in creation it’s deeper and more real to see Him work through difficulties in the workplace, sickness in souls or struggles with finances. Therein we get glimpses of Jesus’ heart and of those that pursue that same Spirit. These are the places where, as they say, the rubber meets the road.

So we escape the grind of life, the cell phones, the screens and screams to experience God leading beside the still waters. We soak Him in, we find Sabbath rest and allow ourselves to ‘Be still and know’ He is God. If we escaped enough we draw on the week we had while the world was living normal. From that place we are able to engage our culture and encourage them to seek, to know, to “Be still and know.”