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.