Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Is Being Known

I would be dead without hope; “If your Law had not been my delight then I would have perished in my affliction.”  This is why Christmas matters.  It is all of Christ and all of hope made tangible.  I realized early on that I was capable of good things; I have lofty goals and a romantic disposition.  Beauty causes my heart to soar.  A brisk wind stirs my soul and music makes me sing.  I want the best for humanity but I am not deceived.  I do not expect world peace.

I am capable of great evil.  Christ constrains me.  Without hope hedonism becomes my god.  I will feast on food and flesh and never be sated.  Never.  Knowing this about myself at times leads me to despair.  And the world we live in; let’s not even begin.  So much dark.  Which is why Christ living here as a man makes Christmas of bedrock importance to me.

I feel awkward and out of place.  I don’t fit in.  This is my normal experience.  God gave me my wife, daughter and some close friends to make it through.  Christ knew loneliness.  You’re God living in flesh; pitching a tent among humans.  You know what not fitting in feels like.

Christ put up with all the junk that I do.  The selfishness of men and the unruliness of individuals; poverty, hunger and sickness experienced all firsthand.  I live with my brokenness.  Christ sees into the heart of man.  Wicked governments?  He was crucified by them. Sin his stripes. Whores his best friends---you think they didn’t share their torment, shame and anger with Him?  I am reminded of the song by Rich Mullins, ‘the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man; He had the shoulders of a homeless man.’

Christmas is being known.  It is that beautiful mystery; ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are; yet without sin.”  For He is the image of the invisible God…by Him all things were created…all things have been created by Him and for Him…He is the beginning and the end.  Christmas is all about hope.  Being fully known I’ve been bought by the blood of Jesus.  He is with me in my struggles here where I don’t fit in.  He has reserved me a place imperishable and undefiled.  Finally home fully known.  Entering into rest and realizing hope.

Monday, December 07, 2015

This Isn't A Call To Walden

My phone died.  The whole weekend without being stalked, followed, liked or texted. I didn’t wake up to my phone; didn’t check it before bed and went a whole night without beeps telling me someone cared.  My Saturday night was restfully quiet; I went Sunday morning without screen time.  This experience isn’t that unique.  I’ve had a Smartphone for a month.

This isn’t a call to Walden.  There is visual and visceral delight in seeing your life flash in Instagram.  How tremendous to be followed by people you’ve never met; and who cares why they’re following you?  Putting your family photos and activities out there is a sane safe thing to do.  Truly---I’m borderline addicted.  And Facebook is a great mix; pics of kids; prayer requests and political posts.  The knee-jerk is to respond to every half-baked post.  Wrestling with that; grace and light are good; inflammatory repartee---perhaps not.

I’m seeing my phone’s death dimly through this grid (call it a life app) I’m working through.  When all the information and data stream in unfiltered its overwhelming.  Adrenaline flows and stress mounts.  There is no peace.  Doing the things I enjoy (the things that make me come alive) restores my passion.  Life posted and pictures ‘liked’ in Instagram is positive.  Monitoring my walks on Strava ties me to technology while I’m walking up hills I’ve not seen; praying prayers I’ve prayed before.  Tying technology to my life is good.  Getting tied down by it isn’t.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Like Moses-Wandering and Waiting

I’m waiting for my own burning bush.  Like Moses this is my wilderness period.  Moses’ wilderness season is set in motion by his slaying an Egyptian.  My season is due (loosely) to a change in management.  Murder or management God is sovereign over all of it.

Certainly we are all as qualified as Moses, David and even Paul to accomplish some great spiritual work.  The Haystack prayer meeting is said to be responsible for launching the great missionary movement in the early 1800’s: 

“It was Mills' custom to spend Wednesday and Saturday afternoons in prayer with other students on the banks of the Hoosack River or in a valley near the college. In August, 1806, Mills and four others were caught in a thunderstorm while returning from their usual meeting. Seeking refuge under a haystack they waited out the storm and gave themselves to prayer. …Bowed in prayer, these first American student volunteers for foreign missions willed that God should have their lives for service wherever he needed them, and in that self-dedication really gave birth to the first student missionary society in America."  Kenneth Scott Latourette, the foremost historian of the church's worldwide expansion, states,  It was from this haystack meeting that the foreign missionary movement of the churches of the United States had an initial main impulse."

Moses, King David, and Paul; all murderers and David an adulterer on top of that.  We delude ourselves believing it was because they were brave and bold.  Not true.  Moses excused himself on grounds that he was, “slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Paul’s testimony to the Corinthians was that he was “with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”  On these grounds I am more than qualified for a fruit-bearing season.  

It’s the disruption, the waiting, the life upheaval that is the most difficult.  Yet Gods’ desire, His purpose, is wrought as much in the forty years of shepherding as in the forty years of wandering and waiting for the Promised Land. 

My own burning bush won’t be leading a nation or nailing thesis to a Wittenberg door.  It may be greater platform for my writing or greater opportunity to minister to my neighbors.  Meanwhile Midian is a harder place to live than the kings courts in Egypt.  I just have to trust in the loving kindnesses and sovereign care of the King.  Through it all I hope to gain the heart of Moses who “left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Father Wound, Freud and Gods Promises

“The message delivered with my wound…was simply this: You are on your own, John.  There is no one in your corner, no one to show you the way and above all, no one to tell you if you are or are not a man.  The core question of your soul has no answer, and can never get one.”---John Eldredge, Wild At Heart

A change in my role at work, from running a department to being an employee in one has escalated my anxiety to significant levels.  I needed to lose fifteen Lbs. but not this way.  Day after day I make the drive into work.  Physiologically I feel it.  Each mile and each minute closer to work causes some level of anxiety which I am not used to.  This isn’t normal.  I know God’s promises; I recite Philippians to myself---“Be anxious for nothing.”  I tell my soul, “God is with you.”  The feeling does not abate.  Where does this come from I ask myself?

Freud was convinced that a father was responsible for the development of principles, rules and values of society within a child, if the father was missing; the child’s view of his position in society was askew. (Lynn, D.B., 1974).  God makes it clear that a father is so much more than that.  Our earthly fathers impact our view of Father God.  Like Eldredges’ dad mine went missing for most of my childhood.  I don’t know what its like to have a dad that is accessible, supportive and, yes, huggable.  My dad was distant for a chunk of my childhood.  An invisible parent for part of my formative years.  So when God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” I can’t relate.

There’s much in the mix; Eldredge says part of the yearning of the male heart is the yearning for validation.  You can see that in the father picture, right?  Validation is in a dads’ job description.  When I look at God’s promise in Isaiah 41 I can’t relate.  That big protective, passionate papa that I have in God doesn’t square with the father I had.  I suspect that’s true for most of us. 

I think that is a piece of the puzzle that’s missing.  I am having trouble assimilating the truth of who God is as my father.  When we are frightened sometime we fall back to early belief and experience.  That isn’t always a good thing.  Much better to fall into and rest in that which is true.  The Father I have now is a perfect father; accessible, supportive—and, yes, someday huggable.  Til that day comes I learn to hold tight to who He says He is and let go of that which never was.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Private Lives, Social Media

Lazarus didn’t post his resurrection on social media (‘Puppy is glad master returns to life’). A small circle of friends knew of his sickness.  That same circle grieved at his death, a larger circle was aware of Jesus raising him from the dead.  Still it was a very private and personal event affecting primarily Lazarus, his family and close friends.  We see the world through a private prism and close friends walk with us through our experience.

This prism is uniquely my prism; the way I see the world not perfectly balanced, my fear, paranoia and personality color my perception.  Lazarus had his sisters---and Jesus in the flesh.  His acquaintances may have seen him weeks before he got sick and maybe a month later.  “Hey Laz, you’re lookin good.  What’s shakin?  Anything new?”  Not being in the close group they missed his brutal sickness, his slide into death and his resurrection.  His close friends knew---they were there through all of it. 

The more things change the more they stay the same.  In an age of social media we still connect with others as we always did.  Sure I like knowing what your cat is up to.  But what impacts me—and you---is the time and work we put into personal connections.  The phone calls we make to each other, the hour sipping coffee with one another mid week, the texts that we shoot to each other to find out if we’re still shining in the midst of the encroaching darkness.  That’s the point.

Though my prism is unique; God made you my friend because you see and understand my viewpoint.  Sometimes you grieve with me.  Often you come alongside like Jesus in the flesh; to comfort me or question me---making my perspective more reasonable and realistic. 

The prism can imprison too.  Tempting to pull into myself and give into my view.  That too is why I invest in relationship with you my close friend.  I may need you to pull me back from the abyss.  Its reciprocal.  One day I will be there for you as well.  Meanwhile: you should see how this girl trained her dog to do circus tricks!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Have You No Scar?

“I’m sad to say that my marriage did not survive, and that’s been part of the unmaking that God’s been working in my life. He’s been so kind to me in helping me understand that crisis and disaster and personal failure and sorrow do not have to be something to be ashamed of or be hidden….” Nichole Nordeman in an interview with World magazine.

This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! –2 Cor. 4:7 Phillips

When I was a new believer there was something that happened in church.  We called it “conviction.”  The pastor taught the Bible and I recognized that there was a gap between the life I lived and the way God wanted me to live it.  Sometimes I made easy course corrections.  Long term issues like pride and arrogance still spring up like weeds in a garden.  There have been some issues of deep moral brokenness that took me many seasons to realize affected me---and years of struggle to get a grip on. Group counseling was immensely helpful in coming to terms with sins committed in my brokenness; as well as confession and accountability to other men.  “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again,” says Proverbs. 

The conviction I mention above happens because I believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word. Therefore it has authority over how I live out my life---and the choices I make.  My first marriage ended in divorce.  When dating my second wife we committed to doing it God’s way; so much so that we enlisted accountability partners---primarily to keep us out of bed.

We yearn to know Christ so we embrace His word.  My heart breaks today.  Friends who are Christ followers are unwilling to make Biblical choices which will wound them in the short run.  They choose saving face over deeper grace.  They choose shallow happiness over the abounding deep joy found in clinging to Christ.  Yes we slip and stumble; but we are raised seven times through Christ that He might ever more be magnified in us.  In the words of Amy Carmichael;

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail they bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound?  No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has nor wound nor scar?    

Saturday, September 19, 2015

When To War Against The Culture

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I look at the state of the world and feel that I can do nothing. It is easy to watch the news and get into a depressed funk.  The funk leads to flight, flight to fantasy escapism. Our world is wired for that.  So easy to retreat into hours on Facebook, to watch ‘reality’ television or to find that perfect Zone Out app that you’ve been looking for.   It’s a battle we all face; I spend to many hours on Hulu myself.

My daughter is the arrow shot forward into the next generation.  I’m fortunate to have a child, fortunate to see she’s gleaned some principal values from her parents among those are a love for Jesus and a love for nature.  That’s a great thing. 

Still my heart cries, “What else can I do?”  The world is so big, the Syrian refugee crisis looms large, the Mid-East is a powder keg awaiting a match (can you say Uranium enrichment?) and things at home have grown from bad to worse.  At least knowing all the facets of my Pit Pal BBQ app will garner short time rewards (like great ribs).  Big picture stuff I can’t fix; right?

A current option bandied about by some in Christian circles is the Benedict option (think Benedictine monks).  To quote Rod Dreher, “Let’s stay involved in the outside world, but let’s also do a strategic retreat. That’s not, “head for the hills.” That’s doing things like turning off the television. Back away from the culture.”  Marvin Olasky’s counter to this is what he calls The Daniel Option.  Taken from the book of Daniel the idea is to engage culture at whatever juncture possible.  When individuals and culture are defying God and Judeo-Christian principals we need to take an aggressive stand. 

Daniels’ story shows a man that knew how to live quietly and peaceably in the midst of a pagan culture.  He also knew when and how to rock the boat to draw attention back to God.  Being ‘salt and light’ we are to saturate the culture.  Faithful fenced-in isolationist folks say we need to regroup to fight better.  I say we’re in this shape because we stopped fighting in the first place.  We withdrew from the public square and the public school leaving a catastrophic vacuum.

I have few answers when dealing with the big bad world.  I suggest we plant our feet and fight.  We pray for wisdom; there’s a balance between both Martin Luther the monk and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Both understood when to fight on their knees and when to peaceably protest in the public square.  In that spirit may we be as bold, as brave and as successful in our day-to-day lives.  We start there.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Want a Positive Perspective? Go Outside.

“Nature is calling him to health and beckoning him to joy.  He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy…..Charles Spurgeon

She unlaces her sandals and walks to the water.  Waves crash upon the sheen of sand, lit by the crescent moon.  Deeper she goes, salt and surf causing her shaved legs to tingle.  She hopes there is nothing under the water to scare her or cause her harm.  She shivers and smiles. 

She’s come to pray.  It was one of ‘those’ weeks---and the following weeks promise no better.  Part of the problem with all the regular life crap is that she can’t wrap her head around the why.  Can’t get perspective; don’t feel like giving a darn.  Giving in and giving up seem reasonable.  Can’t find God in the mix; can’t get herself out of the mix. 

When everything comes crashing down the beach gives perspective.  Pushing the pedal through the curves means less than half-an-hour from house to sand. 

Kicking at the water she half-skips, half-walks onto sand.  She lays down---can shower later.  So much force to the breaking of the waves.  They roll on forever.  The vastness of the sea; seems no end to it.  She feels small by comparison.  “A good thing,” she thinks.  Perspective; God created this.  Staring into the sky she remembers, “He calls them all by name; because of…His might…not one of them is missing.”

She recalls standing at the base of a waterfall on the Virgin River; water crashing down a red rock canyon.  The peace she felt that instant.  Pristine, cold water; refreshing, life-giving---life felt balanced and purposeful.  Felt full of possibility.  There was a purpose---a design.

She shivers.  Cold creeps in through wet clothes.  She walks back to the truck.  A quiet, subdued ride home.  Satan still roars; the problems still loom.  They seem manageable now though, “or should I say, managed?” she says to herself. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What's Black And White In A Gray World?

How do we establish right and wrong without objective measure? “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion,” said the Impact Team, an individual or group that claims to have completely compromised the database ofAshley Madison (AM), the site for married men and women (the Impact Team claims ninety-plus percent of everybody on the site are male) wishing to have an affair.  The Impact Team advised AM that the site must be shut-down immediately or they would make public customer records, files and credit information and other significant data.  How can the Impact Team make a moral judgment about AM then break the law and commit some serious sin themselves? *

The Impact Team is blindly headed down a slippery slope.  They claim moral absolutes exist for others only.  Hypocrisy at least.  More likely the result of life lived in a culture that ignores absolute truth.  Is it okay for me to break the law and hack a company yet wrong for you to have a sexual affair?  Is it okay for me to publish the sins of one man or many men without going to each man first individually?  That is the Biblical standard from the same God that gave us the rule for marital fidelity. According to Greg Koukl, “An ethical discussion involves comparing the merits of one view with those of another to find out which is best. But if morals are entirely relative and all views are equally valid, then no way of thinking is better than any other. No moral position can be judged adequate or deficient, unreasonable, unacceptable, or even barbaric.”  So I question this act of barbarism.

I began to cheer when I heard this report.  The cheer stuck half-way in my throat.  True, having an affair is a egregious act.  Hacking into a company’s computer files based on your own personal values is evil on a different scale. The Bible states revenge is to be placed in Gods’ arena and not ours.  We are specifically told to put aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy and slander.

One is reminded of the story in the book of Judges wherein a certain man sets up a shrine because he wants to become a priest.  The text goes on to say, “In those days there was no King in Israel…,” there was no law, there was no guidance and there were no absolutes.  It finishes with this famous commentary upon those days, “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”  May God deliver us from those who do evil and call it good.  There are absolutes; we must not pick and choose.

*Some evidence infers this is the work of an employee with a grudge...

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Summer Of Letting Go

Regret is like Necrotizing Fasciitis.  It will destroy you from the site of the wound outward.  The wife said the luggage would be fine in the back of the truck---midday, crowded parking lot, nice restaurant.  My gut told me otherwise.  I second-guessed myself and simply moved the truck to where I could visually check on it.  Walking back out to the truck the sight of cut tie-downs and missing luggage was like being punched in the stomach. 

Each of us spent the ensuing hours in negative self-talk, accusing ourselves, berating selves, pounding on our hearts as the poison in the wound spread outward.  We sensed the poison spilling out between us.  Conversation was cold and stinted.  A day in and we decided this had to stop.  The past is past and focusing on the ‘what-ifs’ would only rob the present of all its’ joy.

I’m close to my daughter.  The Daughter spent that week with us in the Sequoias.  Haven’t seen her much since then; she’s eighteen and her calendar is full.  Come September she will start college.  I’m used to seeing her multiple times per week.  Used to lots of face-to-face time.  That will change.  Most days I’m fine with that.  Still I feel a disruption in my soul someplace---a sort of emptiness.  Not all sadness. Its simply change and difference and growing up.

Sending The Daughter off to college is a predictable change.  The news I received at work yesterday was much less expected.  A different direction means I’ll be demoted.  I’ll lose some autonomy, a chunk of freedom and some perceived job security.  It rattles the cage a bit.

A friend noted that in her childhood the vacations where things went wrong were the vacations most remembered.  The good stories, the ones we tell over and over are those where the victor overcomes.  A cure is found for the creeping bacteria, the trip goes on despite stolen suitcases, and the daughters’ college experience deepens, moulds and changes her life.  The man demoted finds joy in the midst of it all.  The greatest regret would be a failure to push forward and persevere.  Conflict colors the ending and makes it a happy one.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Importance of a Personal Mission Statement (What Donald Miller Didn't Say)

Ten people read my blog---I’m being too hard on myself---maybe eleven.  Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller went Platinum, selling over a million copies.  In short that’s why I find his advice valuable.  For his newest project, Author Launch, he took part in a Webinar; ‘Ask An Author Anything.”  In that interview about writing a book he said, ‘new writers should practice by writing a book’, “Practice what you want to do.”  He advised not to blog or Instagram; but write the book.  I get it.  I just find it interesting that while writing his newest book, “Scary Close” Miller was blogging for Storyline and running Storyline conferences.  The reason for this is that Donald Miller’s vision is larger than writing a best-selling novel. 

“The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either,” so begins A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  Miller’s heartbeat is to live a great story.  His mission is to stimulate others to live a great story as well.  Whatever your vision is; whatever your art is, it needs to be defined.  Your vision must be clear; your goal clearly established. 

My neighbor works all day at the Marine base; comes home, turns on the television and sits in his favorite chair while his wife makes dinner.  The television shows change but the routine remains the same.  My neighbor is a great guy—he goes to church, cares for others, loves his kids, and loves his wife.  Is his personal goal five hours of TV a night?  That’s doubtful. His goals are not defined.  He has no mission statement.

I don’t want to die like that.  When my last breath comes; however it comes (or doesn’t come) I want to have few regrets as possible.  I need to know I rode hard---even if it was only for one good season---still I want it said that I rode hard, played hard, tried living full, stumbled certainly, but pushed harder than most.  Focus means there’s a target.  Pushing hard means there’s a goal.  Beating my best means there’s a baseline.  Let’s take some time to dream and evaluate.  What’s our vision?  What fires us up?  What’s that look like lived out?  What dies if we succumb to the comfort of our living room Barcalounger?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Blame It On Y2K

It was the midnight the world was going to come to a roaring crash.  Abbreviating the four-digit year 2000 with two-digits meant 2000 was indistinguishable from 1900 which would cause computers world-wide to implode.  When the world woke up on New Years’ Day only the calendar had changed.  For months we’d heard that there was going to be this pandemic failure of systems sending us back into the dark ages.  It didn’t happen.

I hear whispers on the wind of Shemitah and Blood Moons.  To quote one site, “Bestselling author of The Harbinger and the new book, theMystery of the Shemitah, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn has uncovered a startlingconnection between the Shemitah and the financial markets here in the US.”  Huge cataclysmic disasters are coming upon America in 2016.  I’ve not read the book but apparently that’s the message.  Unless we change direction; the Old Testament cycles predict demise. 
No doubt, barring a change of direction, these United States will suffer some financial upheaval.  As far as these conspiracy theories go I take them with a grain of salt.  I could be wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with stockpiling food and water (I stop at munitions).  I’m cynical. 

Let me note a caveat and a concern.  The concern is that I’ll miss a serious message that God has for the church; that in my measured, calculating sobriety I will dismiss what I should have responded to.  The caveat is that there will be a judgment.  Christ will come once again; not as Suffering Servant but as ruling glorious king.  Hope will be met with its’ fullest reward; faith will then be sight.  The Bible lays all of this out for us.  Not so for any conspiracy---even ‘Bible based’ ones.

The same article states that these authors “believe God is trying to send a message to mankind- repent and seek Him while there is still time!”  I agree with the message but dismiss the media being used.  I’ve seen too many prophesied dates come and go.  I blame it on Y2K.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Living Here And The Beauty I See

The visitor gasped; astounded he couldn't believe that I hadn't visited the aerial tramway which is only miles away.  “And you live here!” He exclaimed.

Though I've not been atop the tram its true,
I’ve seen the night sky rich and darkest blue, 
I've seen the citrine moon, (like a balloon),
Resting on the desert sands somewhere,
Between fingertip and edge of the horizon. 
While out away from city street,
I’ve seen a ram, heard its’ bleat,
Seen a moose—six point rack;
Stood waist deep in the Narrows,
Not a care upon my back.

Transients pushing their baskets,
Skin brown-red from years in the Sun,
They walk down street, through parks they troop,
I’ve seen many from the seat in my air-conditioned coupe.
And I’ve seen a boy, his little head without hair,
A face covered with mask to keep out any bad air;
Leukemia---cancer; blood, bone and brain,
I’ve seen it take both the young and the aged.

A woman with her children, her home cinder block and dirt,
A life without hope or means for food and shirts;
Behold brilliant bold colors, variegated texture, the fabric woven woof, warp and square,
A Missionary family from here and local body in Christ; living proof, hope and care.

Though I’ve not been on the twirling tram,
I have to think through all I’ve seen,
Through human stuff and natures’ splendor,
That there’s some kind of human ‘dark’,
And some kind of majestic creator.

Monday, March 16, 2015

God Is Made Most Sweet In Times Most Bitter

In my most difficult seasons I draw closest to God.  It is paradoxical; God is made most sweet in times that are most bitter.  I can appreciate that God has the universe wired this way.  Still part of me would much rather skip these seasons of testing and settle for God-lite.  Unfortunately God-lite doesn’t improve character or slam one up against one’s own pride.  There’s no need for a great big God when I’ve got little ole me running the show so-very-smoothly!

It is easy to lose perspective.  Feels like it’s always been this way.  There’s no way out.  I’ll be sucked down into the vortex; ever spinning, more and more out of control until it all collapses.  The bills are overwhelming and getting a handle seems impossible.  The rental-property is an ever depressing source of bad news; termites, tenant-problems, increased premiums, asbestos in the attic.  To easy for it to color everything if I let it.

Viewed from a different angle it’s been a great month.  The wife and I had a number of weekends filled with visiting friends and family.  The daughter and I got away to the beach Saturday where a close friend and pro-photographer shot her Senior pics.  I could write line-on-line of the blessings experienced even this last week.  That being said I suspect I’m wired like everyone else and the stressors overwhelm and shade all the rest of life.

I’m forced face up against fear and overwhelmed by events out of my control.  For help, for comfort, for Rock and Shield I spend more time in prayer.  Because God speaks through His word I find in myself an increased hunger for reading the Bible.  On top of these I pile on Spurgeon and Piper.  Perspective is gained, right focus restored—though not without struggle.  In this oven of trial the sweet taste of God comes forth.  He is made sweeter in seasons most bitter.    

Monday, March 09, 2015

Freud and Undersea Diving

What would Freud think?  Twelve years old and what I want most is to climb into a dark, round metal dirigible and be submerged into the ocean.  It’s one of the few times my parents said, “No.”  And it’s the one that I remember—still.  

 Week after week, while mom and dad sat on the couch and my sister and I sat on the floor, Jacques Yves Cousteau explored that first frontier.  It was the early 70’s; we’d gone into space and landed on the moon.  Trips into space were difficult to comprehend.  Trips down into the depths of the ocean were broadcast into my living room.  .  Rod Serling provided terse commentary; we were right there with the crew on Calypso!  This was no Sea Hunt where we knew that every week Mike Nelson would save the world only to get the bends.  No, this was exploration in full Kodachrome color; a mix of science, adventure and wonder.  Oh the wonder; who knew that such creatures existed—or such dangers lurked at such depths?

This was a modern Bathyscaphe, a balloon-like diving saucer such as the one the crew of Calypso used.  There it sat on the pier in Santa Barbara.  One could be submerged in it; for a price.  I suspect the price was the reason my parent said no.  I remember little else but what shows in my mind’s eye; a steel balloon, a pier and a chance to dive deep under the water.  Still I wonder if I’d taken that dive---would my life be different?

I wanted to become a marine biologist up into my senior year of high school.  Then I found out that marine biologists had to take extensive chemistry and math courses.  I’d gotten a ‘D’ in Chemistry in Mr. Gobble’s class---only escaping an ‘F’ because I was a nice student.  If I’d taken that dive would my drive have been stronger?  Would my love of exploration been cemented?  Wanderlust was with me in the womb; would this have lit that drive up like a space-ship; changing my life’s trajectory forever?

It’s a series of the no’s and the yes’s that set our lives on their courses.  Serling would say it’s the signposts that cause us to choose the straights and the turning.  Those turns may have been tragic or filled with wonder.  Id and ego; self and sacrifice.  We are a glorious mix of all those crossroads.  Looking back one can ponder; living the adventure ahead—so much greater!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ash Wednesday Isn't For Brownie Points It's For Freedom

This week across the globe people will commemorate death.  On Ash Wednesday folks will begin celebrating Lent.  Many will have the sign of the cross made on their forehead with ash.  This is to identify with death, specifically as related to the verse in Genesis, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Lent is forty days of preparation for Passion.  Oh that we lived in the fullness of that Sunday and not in the shadow of that Friday.

People get stuck on Lent.  They focus on the giving up.  Somehow it gets to be all about them and what they’re giving up---that’s been my impression anyway, “Hey, if I give up Twinkies God will love me more!  Brownie points for Twinkies, yay!”  This is my first year doing Lent.  The wife and I are giving up minor food-stuffs in hopes that we will be more focused on Christ and Resurrection Sunday.  Not for Brownie points, just as a spiritual nudge to think about what matters.

What matters isn’t the diminutive deprivation (we’re not giving up coffee).  It’s more about who matters than what matters.  We choose to focus on Christ, His sacrifice and the resurrection which bought us complete freedom to live in the fullness of whom we are designed to be.  That is the fullness of that life-giving Sunday.  The words that changed Martin Luther, “Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is what matters.  It’s free.  No Brownie points to earn God’s favor; Christ died, Christ paid, Christ rose for us.  It’s that simple.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness,” says Paul.  We have fullness.  Or as MercyMe sings it, “You are holy, righteous and redeemed.”   We fast for that.  On Easter, we feast for that.  We break fast, celebrate and enter into that fullness that Christ bought for us that Sunday when He rose from the dead.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

When He Has Tried Me I Shall Come Forth As Gold

“Behold, I go forward but He is not there,And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.“But He knows the way I take;When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Here’s the lie; “If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, peace, happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you.”  That’s a quote from Joel Osteen.  Here’s truth---from the Apostle Peter, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing…”  The Biblical truth grounds me; lies like that from Osteen hurls me into spiraling chaos.

Job persevered because he knew that his suffering had purpose.  The knowledge that a sovereign God ordained his pain allowed for hope and final victory.  What if Job was an Osteen follower?  Not that it has to be Osteen; the lie has always been the same; God wants you happy, God wants you rich, God wants you pain-free and all your desires maximized.  Can’t you hear Satan whispering the same message through the ages?

Personally I’d be dead or on psych meds if I thought my personal trials were meaningless.  I've fallen into that thought process before and it leads to either self-destructive behavior (porn and women in my case) or depression bordering on a clinical not-gonna-get-outta-bed level. 

Perseverance, proven character and hope are brought about through trials.  That is the consistent truth spoken throughout the sixty-six books of the bible.  Pain has purpose.  “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised,” says Joni Eareckson Tada.  In her book Pain and Providence she writes, “God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.”

I don’t understand how people persevere apart from belief in a sovereign, loving God.  How does the recovering alcoholic keep at it if he’s only trusting in a ‘higher power?’  If that higher power isn't Christ; didn't bleed for him, then what?  If there’s no guarantee that ALL things are working for his good; then what?

In the context of a life lived in God; pain has purpose.  So I can say through everything, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pushing Past Complacency

 Outside my window the trees bend eastward; palms and pines shaking moisture from frond and needle. We are into our third day of rain.   I delight in the brisk wind and smack of cold I feel as I step outside the house.  Its how I want God and verve to blow into my life; fresh and clear; brisk, sharp, cold---invigorating.  I think that the shaking is happening; the blowing and clearing my life of dead stuff.  Not a quick storm; it’s more a shaking season.  It’s less invigorating and more frustrating. 

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind,” writes Lewis in Mere Christianity.  I have a sense that the rebellious employee and the demanding supervisor at work are placed there to bring me up against my own selfishness.  I have these conversations with Christ and ask him how He did it?  How did He live among us; put up with us and love us?  I don’t serve well and I want revenge when you go against me.  The wind blows cold and smoothes layers off my thick skin. 

Life delivers these growth opportunities to my door.  I’m never asked to sign and approve delivery; they just show up uninvited; the good and the bad.  The choice then is mine; to ignore or to improve.  Minute by minute I decide to move into doing the right thing.  I deliver ice to the Service Deli as requested by that areas’ manager---though I’ve a million things to do.  I am frustrated but pray and choose to serve.  At home I sit down to write some paragraphs believing my writing will be improved.  It’s the walking against the wind where we grow.  Usually that is the case.  Sometimes we stand still and just hold on.  Always the decision to move forward—or at least to stay standing—is ours. 

If you look around you its easy to see complacency.  You don’t have to look far to see reacting.  Finding people that choose to act is much more difficult.  The couch potato and the sluggard live next door to every one of us.  The fighter is hard to find---albeit hard to be.

The wind blows harder, colder; everything shakes.  The sky above is still grey.  In the distance there is bright blue; the grey pales against it.  I can almost reach out and touch the blue.  The season will pass.  Spring will come with perfumed air; bright skies and life.  It’s only a season.  I press forward.  I hold on.  We press forward.  We hold on.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Healing In Impossibility

“A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”

“From where I lay to the healing pool it’s fifteen feet of impossibility.  Day after day I lay here.  I plan the way to get to the water when it is stirred up.  Each time I begin to crawl and every time somebody beats me to the water.  Some are able to walk on in.  Some have a close friend or family to put them in.  I am bereft of help and relationship.  I will never be healed.  I can think of no other options.  In every direction there is only darkness. 

How agonizing to be so close yet never make it.  Day after day for years on end.  I have tried everything; crying, screaming, begging and bleeding but nobody would lend a hand.  I will never make it crawling on my own.

I've cursed God.  How could I not?  God had provided others with help.  Heck, God had allowed others to live healthy lives.  I can’t remember health.  Musing leads to bitterness, bitterness to self-pity, pity to self-loathing and God cursing.  Still I focus on the pool and its’ healing water.

Sometimes it takes years to break a man; once in a while it happens quickly.  I’ve had a long time to reflect on my sin.  Boatloads of sin.  Throw in the cursing and I’m done for.  Someday maybe I’ll walk.  My spirit never will.  God will never forgive me.” 

Jesus singled out this man.  He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”  The sick man replied, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…”  “Why are you asking me this?  Yes, can’t you see how I long to get to the water?  But I can’t!” I say it, gripped with emotion.”

Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”  Later on Jesus tells the man, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you.”

The final kicker is that the man had spent many years focused on the water and it wasn't the water that healed him.  In the full context there’s a larger point to the story.  I see a great lesson here in the smaller scale.  The man focused on the water and almost missed Jesus.  Still Jesus stepped into his life and solved his impossible situation.  There’s hope there.  Even if my focus is wrong God can walk in and fix my impossible situation.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Using Personal Talent To Project Beauty

“Don’t know if I could write like that!” I said to myself---finishing a chapter by Anne Lamott.  Every artist feels this way at times.  Pressfield says, “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”   In every endeavor the temptation is to look at the great (famous) artists and say, “I’m no Ansel Adams or Annie Dillard so I best find something else to occupy my time.  Perhaps I should do something more akin to who I am.  I can finally accomplish that goal I have of watching every Hitchcock movie!”  The comparison is a false comparison.

I’m acquainted with a bunch of artists.  I know thespians and photographers, painters and roasters (I consider coffee roasting a fine art).  Each of them captures the beauty of this world and projects it.  Each has a small audience that appreciates their work.  Here in the high desert there is a local theatre which puts on plays.  Many of the actors are astoundingly good, some uproariously funny.  They are delighting others with their craft. 

The gift that each of us has is uniquely personal.  It’s like the story of the talents.  In the biblical story a master goes on a journey and gives each of his slaves talents “each according to his ability.”  To one he gave five, one he gave two, and to one he gave one.”  So too I have a gift unique to me.  The challenge is twofold; to act on investing it and to be wise in the investing. 

My life is made rich by the artistry around me.  It is in these that I am reminded of beauty---and reminded that there is an Artist as well.  We encourage and fuel one another’s passion when we use our gifts.  The world would be a much more horrid place without them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Principled Living Provides Peace and a Sound Footing

As a teen I had no boundaries.  My parents let me get my own subscription to Playboy before I was eighteen.  I had no curfew.  My moms’ only rule was to call and let her know where I was and to provide an ETA.  Some might think this wonderful.  They’d be wrong. 

Up through college I tried working out my own personal guidelines.  I’d found some anchors along the way but an anchor’s no good unless secured.  I wandered a lot.  I tried to figure out my career path without a counselor.  I screwed up many a relationship.  Pride and foolishness caused many a crash; spiritually, relationally and physically.  I got nobody pregnant and I didn’t kill anybody (though I came stupidly close on both accounts).  I didn’t get into drugs.  God kept me from ruin.

Up through the 20’s I was everything but firmly planted.  Boundaries are important.  Principled living guides one’s life along a solid pathway.  Psalm 1 puts it like this, “…He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”   As I grew older I discovered key concepts to live by. 

The Bible is the filter through which I find my parameters.  It is the bedrock for every other tenet that I hold to.  In that vein I have some nuggets which keep me on track:
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” which is John Pipers’ summation of all of scripture.  “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,” a saying which adorned my wall when I was a teen.  A life truly lived means taking chances.  “Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it,” an Eldredge quote—put simply---be yourself.  Finally that principle taken from Jesus which is that we are to die to self and live for others. 

I view my early years with considerable regret and some personal pain.  Though there was considerable joy and richness of experience there were some serious mistakes whose ripples are still felt.  Now I can run my questions and experiences through a grid that’s not all about me (and I always wish it were less about me).  Now I have sound principles to securely guide my heart and my actions.   A great deal of peace flows from that.

There is some wisdom in hammering out our own guiding principles.  The caveat however is that any principle apart from God will eventually shipwreck us.  Hammering out our own principles is good, ‘working out our salvation with trembling” is better. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Vibrating Senses, Thanks and Coffee

The screaming alarm awakens the senses to the new day.  Each experience contains opportunity for being thankful.  Hearing the morning alarm means my ears are working.  Somehow the sound of the alarm vibrates the air and my ear processes it.  My brain shifts gears.  My mind goes from dreaming to screaming as it processes the sound.  Leaping up from the bed I note the pounding in my chest.  My heart is pumping properly, adrenal glands are functioning quite nicely too.  My feet feel the cold tile as I head toward the coffee pot. 

Making the morning coffee centers me.  I grind the beans until I no longer hear chunks being decimated (ears still working).  The coffee is measured out; cold water is poured into the machine.  I press the switch to begin brewing.  The smell of coffee permeates the kitchen…..

Orange juice is another morning enjoyment.  Drinking orange juice is a three-dimensional delight for me.  There is the sweet taste and the feel of pulp on the tongue.  I realize too that there is a memory component.  Drinking good orange juice I remember great breakfasts out; such as sitting on the Omelette Parlor (or the Summerland Beach CafĂ©) patio with a view of the ocean.  I think back on late nights at a friends house during college; where grabbing a glass of orange juice before driving home became ritual.  Then too there were the Alta Dena milk-man deliveries in Thousand Oaks; where we’d get fresh milk and fresh-squeezed orange juice right to our doorstep.

The body and all my senses react as I open the front door with one hand while the other holds a hot white mug.  The heat from the cup contrasts the blast of cold as I walk to my car in brisk morning.  My eyes take in the stars; light against the still-dark sky.  I set the cup on the dashboard.  Steam clouds the window.  Starting the car and grasping cup in hand I leave morning behind me and head off to face another day.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Resolutions From the Wrong Side of 50

 A friend refers to my age as, “The wrong side of 50.”  I’m closer to retirement (or worse) than I am to college.  I can think of only one friend that has a father still living.  Of those that have moms still alive most are at an age where leaving the house is an adventure.  So I wonder if the resolutions I make this year should be different than those of previous years.

There are key areas to focus on—save and simplify, live and enjoy, grow and improve.  Retirement, if it comes, will be a challenge.  Wisdom and financial gurus tell us to have a sizeable chunk of change in the bank.  This is cause for anxiety.  Life has thrown me a number of curves which drastically impacted savings.  Still one flesh always wants more, more and more.   The calmer voice of the spirit tells one to slow down and simplify.

Life is less about accomplishing things.  I’m in the season of enjoying things.  More free time is important.  I want to enjoy friends more.  I want to sit out on my wood porch and read.  This life season will be one of simplification. 

There is a tension in setting these goals.  I want to live a great story.  I wish to explore and travel with my wife.  The saving of money and the simple lifestyle slam up against these other goals and pull in two directions.  The setting of goals helps in making judgments. 

There is a constant wrestling.  For in sitting on my porch and reading I enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee.  These beverages enhance my enjoyment of life but impact my pocketbook---tension again. 

My father grew sedentary after retirement.  This is what killed him.  Some goals shouldn’t change.  I will continue to bicycle even seeking to improve my speed.  I will do at least one 75 miler.  I will discover new music.  I will try new restaurants.  I will celebrate travel with my wife.  I will keep moving. 

I’ve finished the hors d’oeuvres and I’m into the main course.  I’m going to savor and enjoy it before desert comes.  Then I’ll excuse myself and go for a walk.

“We are not now that strength which in old daysMoved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;One equal temper of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in willTo strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”