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.