Friday, May 31, 2013

The Ants Go Marching

As the temperature heats up the ants appear. All winter the ants are nowhere to be seen. With the coming of warm spring weather we see them routing large holes in our front yard. Thus far we have escaped the advance of their armies. In previous years they have aggressively marched into our house and taken over the kitchen. One day I walked in to find them making pancakes.

There are two memorable ant invasions. The first was one in which the little black ants formed a line across the ceiling and down into the kitchen. They were after something in the trash can and made a line (a bee line?) to whatever grease or sweets they were after. On that occasion I made the mistake of reaching in and shooing them away while taking the trashcan outside. Unbeknownst to me I had incurred a number of small ant bites. The next day my hand swelled to twice its usual size. Thank goodness for Benadryl.

While dating my wife she baked us a large bunch of oatmeal raisin cookies. We were going on a trip so she left them in a plastic bag inside the house by the front door. When we returned to grab them up they were being devoured by a hoard of large red ants. Having learned my lesson these went out without direct skin contact. This was a sad loss of time and energy as it was a special gift. Perhaps those cookies will be better remembered having been lost than having been eaten.

Today I found a line of them stretching from two houses down and going up our outside wall and onto the roof. I don’t want to know what is up there. My fear is that they are stockpiling battering rams and weapons for some future attack that will come from the ceiling and not from ground level.

We spray poison now. It doesn’t seem to help much. Like clowns coming out of a car at the circus there is a never ending amount of ants that live all around our house; largely in holes in the front yard. They have the upper hand. We remain vigilant at all times. Always on guard we hold out against them until winter comes again. Then we gain a season of rest.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Language, Television and The Muppets

The problem with posting daily is that I feel I have to produce a treatise on whatever topic I talk about. I considered a post on English grammar using an interview I heard on the NPR money show as a springboard. In the interview a writer and expert on societal norms said to the host, “Ya know ya gots to.” I almost swerved into the other lane. It is alright in conversation to be rather loose but not in a professional interview! I considered posting on this but I don’t feel I’ve enough material.

My wife and I were discussing favorite Sesame Street characters tonight in response to last nights’ mention of Kermit The Frog. Though it has been pointed out often it is staggering the effect that television has on our lives. So much so that we have discussions about shows that took place thirty or forty years ago.

These ideas may be the root of an upcoming post. This years commitment means I still am going to attempt a post for each day in June. Ya gots to read it every day or you’ll miss somethin. Just sayin.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's Not Easy Being Green

“When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well for the land, when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation.”---Aldo Leopold quoted in Scorched Earth

The sad truth is, as Kermit the Frog said, it’s not easy being green. Culture has moved forward in the last years so that most of us have trash cans for yard waste, trash and recyclables. We won’t ever arrive as long as man is purely self-centered.

It takes work and an educated mind to think in terms of being green. In the store I work in many use plastic bags large scale for their groceries. They take handfuls of napkins, sugar, stir-sticks and other products instead of using what they need. “Me” is their mindset not you and not the environment or the state of the nearest landfill.

My landlord and the tenants in my community throw things into the recycle bin willy-nilly. They don’t know or don’t care what is supposed to go into the bin. They simply know that they have trash and it needs to go out. If they fill up their trash can then they simply put the overflow into the recycle bin. It’s all about convenience with little care about the impact large scale.

In “Land Ethic,” Leopold wrote that ethics rests on the premise that the individual is a member of a community of independent parts. Our instincts, he said, prompt us to compete for our place in the community but our ethics prompt us to cooperate. Leopold’s community included soils, water, plants and animals. Until we choose to live ethically we will live independently. Conservation and green living are not compatible with an independent and selfish lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

That's What Summers Are For

My daughter’s got ‘sophomoritis,’ my wife has ‘substitutitis’ and I am plain tired of work. Summer is coming and for the Dillo family that means travel. The rest of the year our travel comes chunks of two or three days since we have jobs that require availability most of the year, and the teen has classes. It’s instilled in us from birth; summer is the time to travel.

The family I grew up in took two road trips that I vaguely remember; one up to Canada and one south down through Baja California. My sister can remember a number of incidents which occurred on these trips. I don’t remember much (even now)---which is why I take pictures. I remember a mish-mash of things; Senor Frogs restaurant, my mother having to stop often as she was on diuretics, our car overheating (I think this happened on this trip---it happened often) and a big statue on a significant parallel (the 28th?). Beyond the road trips we spent one or two weeks each summer in Big Bear at a cabin owned by my fathers’ childhood friend.

Ironically my father never accompanied us on our trips to Big Bear. To this day I’m not certain why. One might think that this would make the Big Bear trips bittersweet but these were rich times made richer by their recurring every summer---and one winter trip which taught me that one man sleds were best not ridden in a group. The summers were spent walking into town with two or three rolls of nickels and spending the day in the arcade playing Skee-ball and miscellaneous other games. Higher scores in the games meant the machines would spew forth tickets which could be traded for prizes at day’s end. I had quite the collection of small furry plastic animals (not stuffed animals) each with a name of their own.

We’d walk back home at dinner time before the streetlights went on. Free of rolled nickel we carried our prizes in bags or pockets so they wouldn’t fall if the walk turned to a run or a race. After dinner the day would end but we’d get up again the next day and spend it hiking or playing or shooting more Skeeball. School and home were a dream we’d return to some day but today was a day to play and be a kid. That’s what Summers are for.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why We Do World Missions

In front of you is a large rectangular table that is quite heavy. On one end of the table there stands one small weak woman and at the other end of the table stand five strong men. If the table had to be moved across the room what would that look like? The five men would have no problem with their side of the table but the woman would have to strain to even get the table off the ground let alone to move it to a different location. That is one visual of believing Christians worldwide. We here in American would be the five men while the unreached of the world would be the woman at the other end.

The U.S. Center for World Mission defines unreached as, “those groups whose populations (which can range from hundreds to millions) contain only a very small percentage of people who follow Christ (2% or less). Typically, this small percentage is not sufficient to build and sustain a movement to Christ internally. Those who are part of an unreached people group have little to no opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the Gospel—one that is culturally intelligible to them. In this case, the gospel must be presented and lived out by people from outside their people group.”

Certainly not all of us are called to become missionaries to the unreached. We are, however, all called to “disciple all nations,” which means that even if we stay here our hearts should be focused there---and so should our prayer and our pocketbooks.

I am enjoying marriage to a woman that has the same focus and understanding as I do regarding Christ’s call to reach the unreached. We have both supported and prayed for missionaries as well as for the persecuted church (“Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment.”). It has been refreshing to be reminded through her of the importance of this focus. That too is why visiting missionaries is important; it keeps you focused on the important things.

The table is easier to move if there are enough people to carry it. The gospel is better spread if there are enough people to share it. “It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of room; and a big, big table, with lots and lots of food.” Let us go invite people to the feast.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Grace Lost And Found

The free gift of grace gets buried in life like bills on my desk get buried under less important paperwork. I crank along day by day, going to work, eating, keeping church commitments and connections going. Free grace gets buried. Then it’s easy to begin thinking that somehow in the running that it’s about the running. The running leads to more doing. I begin to think it’s about the doing and earning; earning grace.

I get to running so hard and I wonder why I can’t feel the wind in my face. My legs feel heavy and my body strains against some invisible load. One day I wake up knowing that I’ve lost joy somewhere along the way. Time to hit the refresh button---but nooo (h/t John Belushi) I run harder and work harder. I say I’ll trust God to help me figure it out. The grace will come I’m sure. The joy will come I’m sure. The alarm clock rings and I’m back in the grind.

In a window of quiet amidst the run, driving seventy down the highway without traffic, the moon glints off the walls of the road-cut and a voice whispers, “Free, free, free.” The Spirit speaks to my spirit and I am reminded that grace is free and His burden is light.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Travel to God Forsaken Places

“Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”---Biography of William Carey

“Why go there? Why would you choose to go to that God forsaken place? Don’t catch Malaria! I mean I respect the people that go to those places but I’ve no desire to go.” We are visiting Guatemala to spend time with some Christ following missionaries and to see if God is moving us into missions. There are two opinions one hears when travelling to places that are far off the tourism grid. People are either excited because you are going to have an adventure or they think it a waste of time and finances.

The call to missions is not a call to comfort though certainly it is a call to adventure. I sympathize with my neighbor. If my wife and I were not seeking to serve Christ we certainly would choose luxury and fine-dining over wet weather in the Mayan highlands. We didn’t verify the comfort of the sleeping arrangements nor the quality of food on Trip Advisor. We were challenged to go and we are going.

In his book, Radical, David Platt explores a variety of claims about our purpose in life “that are contained in the Gospel yet contradicted by the American Dream. Claims such as these: Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God….Ultimately Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience and enjoy.” Platt challenges his readers to spend a year ‘to radically alter the remainder of your life.’ One component of this is to: Spend time in another context. This works out to be 2% of one year or about one week sharing the gospel in a different context.

Through prayer and networking God has led thus far to the “God forsaken” country of Guatemala. We didn’t have the desire to go anyplace initially. Enlisting in the adventure has been (and we trust will continue to be) a lesson in listening and following God. We hope it will be ultimately satisfying. We know that the cost is worth it.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” ---Jim Elliot

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Place Of Prayer In Public Meetings

This fall the Supreme Court will consider a case concerning public prayer before public meetings. Part of me is astonished at this. This has been an established practice since the founding of our nation. The fact that the Supreme Court is even willing to hear arguments for the case is proof that (as was in the days of Josiah) the law is lost.

My daughter would never say to me, “Dad, do you mind if I go down to the corner liquor store and steal some candy bars?” I would laugh then we would discuss right and wrong. There was a lengthy period in our history when such a legal suit would have been dismissed immediately. The suit would not have been in keeping with established law nor with common sense. Unlike in my household it is presently alright for a minority to sue and to place their own agenda over against that of the whole.

According to Dr. Del Tackett this is consistent with a State run government as well. A religion based on moral absolutes as set forth in the Bible are inconsistent with the agenda of the state specifically when they set forth family, community and God over against the desires of the federal government. Removing prayer, especially prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, opens the door wider to a general state religion with principles set forth by the state. The state then determines the absolutes.

Even if the court decides that it is proper and fitting to open a public meeting with prayer ‘in Jesus name,’ the lines have already moved. They will only be prolonging the inevitable. Unless the law is pulled from under the rubble and restored to it’s proper framework we, like Josiah’s Judah, will cease from greatness.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Very Short Post

One thing you can’t know by reading this blog is whether or not I practice what I preach. Tonight I am doing exactly that. It’s been a full day beginning with the wind-in-my-face bike ride that I predicted in yesterday’s post. I did get in a good nap afterward though. That was followed by the normal errands which life demands and just now the daughter drop off at her moms’ house.

Four in the morning comes early so I am choosing sleep over blogging. The good news here is that the wind blew in cooler temperatures.  We will open the window and sleep deep and "sweet" as the wife is prone to say.   I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Full Force Of The Wind

The Wind In the Willows, Gone With The Wind, Chasing the Wind and A Killer in the Wind are some book titles with wind in the title. Google says there are 162,000 results. Wind is much on my mind today. Oklahoma is on everybody’s mind today because of the wind. Wind of two-hundred plus miles per hour in a hurricane ranked as a leader in its category. It is impossible to relate to the level of loss brought on by such a disaster.

On a much, much smaller scale I am disappointed due to the wind. Tomorrow is a training day and the weather forecast here is for wind everyplace. In the scheme of things it is obviously a small thing. Still it will make tomorrow’s ride seem mostly work and very little of pleasure.

In poetry and classic literature wind speaks to us of our transitory stay here and of the impermanence of our life as echoed in the popular Livgren song, “All we are is dust in the wind.” The writer of Ecclesiastes sobers us with words about the wind saying, “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” Isaiah compares the speed and devastation of the wind with our own brokenness for ‘all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’

There is no real shelter from the full force of the wind and no escape from insignificance. Yet there will come a day when, “Behold, a king will reign righteously and princes will rule justly. Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, Like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land. Then the eyes of those who see will not be blinded, And the ears of those who hear will listen.”

Monday, May 20, 2013

FAT Guarantees Success

During my initial years as a Christian I was told I needed to be FAT; that is, Faithful, Available and Teachable. That little acronym laid a foundation for my current worship life as well as scaffolding me to my current level of knowledge and understanding. The acronym isn’t only for people that go to church.

Watching The Voice I noted that all of the contestants that moved forward in each rounds listened to their coaches, applied the teaching and worked at it. They were being FAT vocalists.

This little acronym provides three keys to growth and success in the area you apply it. If you wish to grow spiritually, in your career or in your hobby or talent being FAT guarantees improvement and growth.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cycling and Life: Breaking Through to Joy

Anything that was a first love can become burdensome in time. Over these last years it’s been a battle to get out and ride. I would get out, ride and remember how much I enjoy it. Then I would do a long ride and choke because I’d not put in the time on the bike to build up enough to make the long rides a fun challenge. Instead they were a challenge that left me frustrated at the end of every one.

Life just got in the way. I hear stories of people that work full time and are married with children in high school. They spend hours every day riding then ride for long chunks on the weekend. It’s a trade off-it always is. The people I know that know these riders say they keep it all balanced. I find that difficult to believe.

This January I signed up to ride the Lake Almanor 100 mile Bike Ride with a friend. One hundred miles is a long way so I began to take training seriously. Last month a funny thing happened. In the middle of a seventy mile ride the joy returned. The ride was still difficult but I felt a joy in riding that I’ve not felt for many seasons. As I’ve pushed myself to consistently ride I am back to enjoying the challenge. The discipline is still difficult but the joy has returned.

I suspect that in both simple and weighty endeavors there is this cycle (as it were). We may push and stay invested in the battle but there are long seasons that it is just drudgery. Then somehow we invest of ourselves as much as we feel we can, then a little more than that, and the grind goes and expectant perseverance takes over. The trick is this: We never know when the grunting will turn to a joyful challenge. The change is in the persevering.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Those Nights Kept Us Alive

12:45, quarter to one We're talking all night, talking all night, all night 1:45, quarter to two We're talking all night, all night, yeah baby---Hall and Oates

Remember when we'd
Stay up late and we'd talk all night
In a dark room lit by the tv light
Through all the hard times in my life
Those nights kept me alive---Skillet

Many a night in my teens and my twenties were spent talking all night. Though I’ve done this a few times recently (dating my wife before the marriage) the resultant energy hemorrhage was a high price to pay the following day. What kind of magic is it that allowed us those nights of deep, hallowed talk in our youth?

We would set up lawn chairs on Mike’s front lawn. Three in the morning or so a neighbor or a parent would come out and yell at us to keep it down. When I lived in the ‘House of Guys’ I’d get up for OJ and invariably one of the roommates would be up also. Many a long night’s discussion started in the kitchen and was cut short because we knew the next day was a work day. Still I don’t recall the physical or mental affects to be nearly as brutal as they would today.

In my mother’s later years she kept no normal hours. She would often be puttering about late nights; working in the kitchen or watching late night television. She was happy to get in a discussion and keep at it way beyond what my internal time clock indicated was possible.

I hope that in old age some of the magic of those long nights will be restored. For those were magic nights. Issues seemed daunting but never overwhelming. The talking, the laughing and the believing kept us alive.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

We Make Choices And Pay The Piper Accordingly

One of my regulars bought her husband a latte today saying, “Maybe it will make him feel better.” Naturally I inquired. She says he’s working too much and doesn’t even have time to go to the gym. He’s all stressed out and in a bad mood. What I didn’t say was, “It’s a choice.” We make choices in life and pay the piper accordingly.

According to today’s Los Angeles Times, “In ground-breaking action, the Los Angeles Unified school board voted Tuesday to ban suspensions of defiant students, directing officials to use alternative disciplinary practices instead.” In an interview on talk radio today one of the teachers indicated that the teachers are upset about this because they have fewer and fewer options to maintain discipline in the classroom. We make choices in life and pay the piper accordingly.

My daughter’s English class is reading Lord Of The Flies. Tomorrow the teacher is having the class debate the subject of nature vs. nurture. The teacher has limited the discussion to Robert Ardrey’s theory for the nature side and Behavioral psychology for the nurture piece. Neither proposed argument allows for free will, Adam’s sin or inherent human characteristics. My daughter’s class notes cite Tabula Rasa as a point under, the ‘nurture’ category. Yet she doesn’t allow for the classical meaning which allows for greater personal freedom and spiritual reality. As understood by Locke,
tabula rasa meant that the mind of the individual was born "blank", and it also emphasized the individual's freedom to author his or her own soul. Each individual was free to define the content of his or her character - but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. It is from this presumption of a free, self-authored mind combined with an immutable human nature that the Lockean doctrine of "natural" rights derives.
 We make our choices and pay the piper accordingly.

We make seemingly little choices on a daily basis. Those choices will influence who we become as individuals and what we do with our energy and our time. When greater forces are exerted in life or the classroom those choices will have consequences. How we respond to each will affect the payment we receive in the end.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Good Old Guilt

Two or three times in the last two or three days I’ve heard men say, “I feel guilty because…” and then they list off an expectation for bible study, or prayer, or being a missionary. I get it. We are hardest on ourselves. Our heroes seem to do everything right whereas we see ourselves as doing most everything wrong---or underperforming. At that point, well, we used to say change the tape. The key is to listen to a different message.

It was Martin Luther that said it is okay for the birds to fly over your head as long as you don’t let them build a nest in your hair. That’s the point. The feeling and thoughts will scamper through your head but you mustn’t buy into them. It’s time to clamp down on a Bible verse such as Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

A blog I used to read was written by a mom with three girls that played music, sewed, fed the hungry, learned different languages and were charmingly perfect Christian girls. We can compare ourselves to others all day and we will come up short most of the time. I am reminded of a song by Keith Green in which the refrain was, “Keep doing your best, bravin the test, and He’ll take care of the rest.” That needs to be the song we’re singing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Whitewashed Christians

You want to be a winner, Without taking a loss You want to be a disciple, Without counting the cost
You want to follow Jesus, But you don't want to go to the cross. Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord, Nobody wants to die.
John Fischer
All of us like the fuzzy, comfortable, milquetoast Jesus that speaks of love and peace. We deny and shy away from the hard truths that require us to submit our minds and emotions to Jesus and do what the Bible says to do. This whitewashed Christianity reveals much about our shallow faith and little about the Jesus we claim to follow.

The last straw in my first marriage was the affair my ex-wife had with the guy that fixed the tile in our house. The entire situation tested my willingness to forgive and allow for reconciliation. I kept coming back to the person of Jesus and how He forgave. We are told to follow in His steps.

Christ’s wasn’t a half-hearted forgiveness nor a lack of willingness to suffer at the hands of His enemies. Many a Christian draws a line in the sand and says, “I will only forgive up to this point.” Oddly enough those that sin against them always pass that point. The same goes for other ways in which we follow the example of Christ; our work ethic, our praying for our leaders, our loving the homeless guy in the produce department.

Galatians tells us that “(we) were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Our calling is not to live the easy, shiny-on-the-outside Christian life. Ours is to be willing to live life in the power of the Holy Spirit, dying to flesh and living fully for God.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Days of Play

I’m drop dead tired and shooting for a short blog post. Darryl and I drove down to the lower desert today to watch the Amgen Tour of California. We brought our bikes along and took a short twenty-mile ride in temperatures predicted to hit 108 (they hit 111). Following that we had breakfast and then found a place on a lawn at the base of the road up to the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. We didn’t work today. We didn’t solve the world’s problems. We just had fun.

We can feel guilty about work and getting stuff done. Even on a Sunday, after church, we feel guilty because we choose a nap rather than crossing something off our huge ‘to-do’ list. When Jesus returns what will He say? I suspect He’ll ask if we loved each other. Hot on the heels of that question He may ask about our joy---since the two are inter-connected, “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.” Fun with friends and ministry to others is big on Jesus’ list. My getting through that list of ‘to-dos’----not so much.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Real Beauty: Perception Vs. Reality

There are days I look in the mirror and see only the scars on my forehead (including this big gash that runs at an angle like something a character would have in a Raiders of the Lost Ark or a pirate movie). It’s not a beautiful face but fortunately I’ve not let that drive my self image. What we see or perceive in the mirror doesn’t correspond with who we really are (H/t Valerie). People see us differently and God sees us differently.

The classic story regarding outward beauty is that of Samuel’s choosing King David. David’s dad parades all his brothers before Samuel. You can imagine the brothers with puffed out chests as they try to look impressive. At this point God tells Samuel, “Do not look at this appearance or at the height of his stature (at which point all 5’6” of me whoops), because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Our culture puts emphasis on exactly the opposite of what God looks at. Yet ‘charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.’ The challenge for us is to see ourselves through God’s eyes and the eyes of those that love us. That is the true measure of who we are.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mom Was Funny About Mother's Day

Mom was always funny about Mother’s Day, birthdays and any day that meant she was the center of attention. It was palpable; part of her would have been hurt if love wasn’t shown but she wasn’t comfortable being put on the spot. God’s not like that.

As God is the perfect Father, creator and giver He delights in praise. Like my mom He doesn’t force anyone to make a phone call, write Him a card or send up a soft-spoken, “Thank you.” When the sunset is perfect, when the music hits your heart just right and when you are reminded that there is a fullness you were created to walk in He is worthy of thanksgiving.

My mother is gone now. My attitude toward Mother’s Day was how I gave thanksgiving to God. Activities that I delight in now flow from who my mother was; growing plants, appreciating music and enjoying the rich textures and tastes of food from every culture. I could have (wish I would have) recognized these gifts of character earlier and praised my mom. I didn’t. Character traits and passions I have flow from whom Father God is too. I could go deeper and praise more. I don’t.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’ll take some time out this year to be purposeful and give thanks. I will give thanks for who my mother was and who my God is.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why We Travel

What kind of traveler are you? In her book, Overbooked, the Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism (heard on a radio interview) Elizabeth Becker breaks our travel into 3 categories: Consumer, Culture and Nature. Consumers are those that go travel to purchase things. An example of this would be the women in my church that go on retreat and include shopping as part of the experience. Cultural travelers are those that go to experience and learn from different people groups.

As a rule I don’t purchase gifts and memorabilia when I travel. I enjoy learning about other people and other traditions. Most I enjoy hearing individual’s stories. Thinking about it my focus in travel isn’t extremely different from the way I am at home.

I am primarily a nature traveler. I seek to see the countryside and hope for some wildlife to wander into view. Most of all though I seek travel and vacations as week long Sabbaths to regain insight and refresh my soul.

It seems the question to ask ourselves in our travelling is; Why? What is our goal in going? How does it fit into the broader story we are writing for our life? In that regard our travel should flow from who we are and what we desire to have written in our eulogy. Is my vacation an escape from the rest of my life? Travel should be an experience that stimulates and integrates perspective so that we may more deeply live life upon returning home.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Advice For All Day Events

Rebecca Rusch (Bicycling, September 2011) on all day events states, “…No matter how good or how bad you feel, it won’t last. Knowing this keeps me in check when I feel great and helps me push when I feel terrible. You will feel both. And you won’t be the only one.”

This is good life advice as well. There are days when we feel great and days we are overwhelmingly worn. We have seasons of darkness and seasons of joy. We need to check our attitude. The need is to push through on the hard days and celebrate on the good days. Knowing that life is in flux that it is not permanent will help assure proper perspective.

Not to be simplistic or to pound the pulpit on this point but it provides incentive to keep pushing. At work it is easy for me to become negative or cynical along with my co-workers. Pushing to maintain joy seems a great effort and going along with the status-quo feels much easier. My legs and spirit are ready to quit on a long bicycle ride and then there often comes a second wind. Settling for status quo is the same as giving up. Choosing being positive and joy-filled will result in that refreshing second wind.

We’re not the only ones. So we keep pushing to encourage others along the way. Yes it’s a long day. There will come a finish line when we can enter into rest.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

It Was Of The Lord

    When we walk with Christ we constantly place our faith over many things which seem true. We place faith over selfishness when ‘me’ seems crucial. We place faith over experience when the Bible says one thing and experience screams otherwise. When faith says forgive we do. When faith says pray we do. When faith says all things work together for good---they do.

In the story of Samson, recounted in Judges, Samson falls for a Philistine girl and says to his parents, “She’s a hottie. Get her for me. Yeah, baby (14:4).” Then the writer puts in this little note, “his father and mother did not know it was of the Lord.”

I’ve spent the last week wrestling with this concept for various reasons. Think about it. Did God authorize Samson to pursue a relationship outside his tribe? Outside his Jewishness? There is more active here than passive. The text indicates something beyond God’s knowledge of the event. No, somehow God allowed or caused the process for His own glory and the good of Israel. How do Samson’s lust for a hottie with a body and God’s calling Samson from the womb fit together? I’m still wrestling.

The greater concept here is that things that are happening and have happened to us are ‘of the Lord.’ Those terrible decisions and dark failures are working together (still) for good. The deep hurts and scars that we’ve only told God about; those are of the Lord too. The great joys we face and the rich blessings that are so good we feel guilty about them---those too.

Each of us walks through doubt and darkness that are unique to us alone. God has adopted us and loved us deeply. Misgivings rise up triggered in part by our own brokenness; fueled by an enemy that knows the buttons to push and the images to flash.

We walk by faith and not sight. Sight was the hottie in our youth. Sight is the way the dark closes in on us today. Faith is God saying, “Do not fear; for I am with you.” All of it is of the Lord and He will cause it to work for good if we are His.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Mystery Of The Musician

My wife and I lay listening to Ravel’s Bolero one lazy morning last week. “Why is it famous,” she asked. So we spoke of the intricacies of composition. The amazing process whereby a composer is able to hear in his head the way a symphony will sound. We pondered how it is that a conductor can hear an orchestra play a piece and know that the woodwinds are flat or that the tuba came in an eighth of a beat to early. Incomprehensible wonders to me. I was reminded of my days in high school.

In high school orchestra there were musicians and there was me. The musicians in my class amazed me. Off the top of their heads they were able to play a melody in a different clef. They somehow could, by sight, rewrite a stanza ‘a half-step down’ or play it in a different key. My brain wasn’t able to hear the music apart from when it was played. They spoke a different language that I was not able to learn.

Still it is amazing that most of us can appreciate music in many forms. We are able to predict certain styles and we innately know basic rules that music follows. I continued to think about music. How it is that a brain can know when a note is perfect. How do some people have perfect pitch? It is not something one can see. A musician’s brain hears the correct note and somehow runs it through a grid then verifies that the note is correct. How can a deaf musician write symphonies knowing what it will sound like though not hearing it in real time. How beautiful the gift of music!

Most of us are common folk that say of music what the man said of art, “I don’t know anything about it but I know what I like.” In his mind Ravel heard a musical refrain and in humor or seriousness decided to echo that same refrain through each section of the orchestra. That he could do it and stir our hearts in the process is magic. That we can enjoy music like that on a slow lazy morning is enchantment as well.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Inspiration and The Writing Process

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.  It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.  Resistance is protean.  It will assume any form, if that's what it takes to decieve you.  It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nime-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.....Steven Pressfield, The War Of Art
I’m going to let you in on an uncomfortable little secret. Before I sit down to blog I consider quitting. My mind and my emotion tell me I shouldn’t write. A little voice reels off a list of reasons, “Almost everybody writes better than you. You won’t say anything original. It doesn’t make a difference. Who are you anyway that you think you have something to say?” That voice is really good at presenting reasons not to write. Pressfield calls this Resistance. His exhortation is to show up anyway. So I do.

When I set my butt onto the beat up blue office chair at my desk something amazing happens. Often I sit down with no idea of what I’m going to write on. I’ve settled on a maxim from Hemingway and I write down one true thing (H/t Glenn). This usually gets me started. I type and words that scaffold the ‘true thing’ flow from someplace. I do not say they flow from my brain because that’s not how it seems. They do pop into my brain but they seem to show up out of nowhere. Pressfield calls this ‘the muse,’ most agree that it’s some intersect between talent and spirit. To me it makes sense that a superior Creator would allow for or give His people the ability to create on a much smaller scale, as we are created in His image. However it works ideas and images flow through me and onto a Word document.

The piece begins to come together and the ideas keep coming. There are junctures where a phrase or concept will percolate and in my gut I know it works but logically to my mind it seems not right. In these instances I go with my gut believing that to be, again, some interface between spirit, my subconscious and my rational processes all working together…which leads to a deeper thought….

What must it have been like for the writers of the Bible to write under inspiration? It would be like my experience but on steroids. In that case they wrote God breathed scripture attested to by the Holy Spirit and formed in them by each step and experience that God had led them through. Theirs wasn’t an interface with self or (small s) spirit but with the Living God Himself. I can not imagine.

With my butt still plopped down in the big blue chair the process culminates in lashing together all the pieces and ropes to make one sturdy concise piece. This too seems otherworldly since I often fail to see the whole while working on each little section. Even the ending seems to come from a center that isn’t mine; mine are just the hands that tie it together to strengthen the piece into one.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Tonight It All Seems Possible

Me and the wife pull up wood chairs to the kitchen table and pour a half glass of Napa Valley wine for each other. We laugh and talk over a simple salad, romaine lettuce, feta cheese and our favorite dressing. We open the screen door, finally fixed, to the back yard. The neighborhood cat, brown and striped, scampers away to a place without humans.

The wind roars through the valley announcing the coming storm. The plants are shaken back and forth like a man caught in a whirlpool. Yesterday summer shouted, “I am here,” ninety-five hot degrees forcing itself in upon all of us; we raise our hands to shield our faces---we aren’t ready. The wind runs like horses in battle forcing summer into retreat. Brisk refreshing air blows in through the screen door.

Need To Breathe singing from speakers, gospel and positive possibilities. Another glass of wine, the wind rattles the shades. Smoke from fires down the hill color the sky. Storm clouds compliment, creating a dark circle surrounded still by sunlight. The air cools, the wind blows.

Looking through the screen door it all looks beautiful. Zephyrs hint at revival to come. The smell of moisture in the air gives hope that the fires will abate. We throw our heads back and laugh. Tonight everything seems possible.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Why We Walked Away From Pain And Gain

I haven’t walked out on a movie since “Ghost” which was released in 1990. Tonight my wife and I walked out on “Pain and Gain.” It’s a badly written movie that is hostile toward God, women and humanity. My wife and I were both surprised that any of the actors agreed to do this film especially Tony Shaloub and Ed Harris. If it were me I’d rather sell fries than rob patrons of their money.

I am guessing that other’s in the theatre had their integrity and intelligence assaulted by this film. The turning on and checking cell phones was my first clue. Unfortunately nobody else walked. There is a place for that but most would rather suffer than break with the norm and leave the theatre mid-showing.

The fact that the theatre was mostly empty still gives me hope for my fellow man. Usually I check the reviews before going. I’ll make certain to do that next time unless I’m well acquainted with the material (i.e. Star Trek). We suffered the pain they got the financial gain.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Game Has Changed Me

“Outlast, outwit and outplay.”

The contestants on Survivor will often be heard to say, “The game has changed me. I will approach life more confidently now.” That’s the upside to any challenge whether we choose it or it’s given us to walk through. The pastor said last night that God wants perseverance not quick fixes and easy wins. It seems that in some way we should exult in both---especially as men.

If we are honest as men we will admit that we desire the battle. We are not satisfied in flesh or soul with status quo (though if status quo is the battle we will say we want rest and the quick fix). The bible is full of exhortations to delight in trials because of what they produce in us and because God has ordained them for His purpose. That is the deepest truth. As men we crave the test and long to be stretched.

The athletic men I know enroll in sporting events that stretch them; marathons, triathlons, Century bike rides and hiking expeditions all fulfill us as men. These are the battles we choose to stretch us within normal and safe limits. These feel controlled yet still outside our comfort zone. These are the games we choose to suffer in.

We don’t choose many battles that come to us in the scheme of normal life. We wrestle with issues as work, we struggle with our own infirmity. Even the smaller battles like finances and being a covering for our wife are struggles that stretch us. Greater ones will come down the pike as well, sickness, job loss and the death of those dearest us. These are difficult but ordained fights that God has us walk through to grow in confidence, dependence and fruitfulness.

The game will always change us whether we choose it or are placed down into it. The mental piece is to exult and find joy in the midst. As men there is a level in which just being in the battle should assure that life is worth living and living hard.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

When Plans And Monkey Wrenches Collide

I once met (on a road trip with a good friend) someone that had a daily to do list of 50 to 100 items. This is not the pathway to going with the flow. As you know by now life doesn’t just take a bow and wait for you to proceed with your plans. It throws monkey wrenches into the whole mix. Some days the plans and the wrenches comes together positively.

I took a long bike ride today. I had no idea that the winds were supposed to be gusting up to thirty miles per hour. This was foolish of me since I did know that the temperature was going to cool by ten degrees and that never happens here unless accompanied by wind. Of course life never happens here unless accompanied by wind. I had no time frame to return home by so the wind and the hills bothered me less. I also had two chance encounters; one with a fellow rider that pulled alongside to chat, the other with a family that asked where I was headed. The dad of the family shared a bit about cycling in his youth and some stupid things he did. It was an enjoyable little meeting that wouldn’t have taken place if the hills—and the wind---hadn’t slowed me way down.

We have a girl in high school. This means extracurricular activities. Once in a while those activities conflict with my plans. Tonight we pulled into the church parking lot as her bus was returning to town after a swim meet. The wife dropped me at church then picked up the daughter. Perhaps it was the expectation that I’d miss church but it was quite enjoyable being there.

There is a benefit of keeping a short list of things that have to be accomplished each day. I’m getting better at committing to the important and allowing margin for the disruptions. Sometimes the conversion of the two is a good thing.