Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shhh . . .

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him . . . Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him . . . O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge . . . God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you . . . Psalm 62: 1, 5, 8

Cry out to God -- threats surround you -- the danger is real -- cry out to God!

Cry out to God -- how many times do the Psalms by exhortation or example encourage us, Don't hold back. Cry out to God?

The writer seems to describe a different response to danger. Is he suggesting that an enemy is so close that to cry out would give away his position? Twice, in an atmosphere charged with peril, his calm resolve is, Shhh! Don't cry out. Wait quietly for God to show up. Victory comes from him. Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him . . .

Have you read the story about David and 400 of his men hiding in the caves at Adullam (1 Samuel 24)? It's a good read. Paranoid, jealous, and psychotic Saul was determined to kill David, God's hand picked and appointed successor to his throne. As it turned out, Saul and his army of 3000 passed so closely to where David and his men were hiding that the king went into the privacy of the cave to relieve himself. Standing back in the shadow and crevices of the cave, David's men whispered to him, Today the LORD is telling you, 'I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.' Instead, David crept close enough to cut off a corner of the king's robe. After the king left, David was overcome with guilt because he believed he had dishonored God's anointed. From the mouth of the cave David called out to Saul, and showed him the corner of his robe -- proof he could have easily killed the king. He reasoned with Saul that those were not the actions of a rebel or one orchestrating a coup. Saul agreed.

It seems that our Scripture could come into play here. David's nemesis was in such close proximity that at best he could only offer up silent prayers. He had decided, I wait quietly before God, I will wait for God's deliverance. Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. Rather than taking vengeance he patiently trusted God to take control. His friend's solution was logical, and no doubt tempting, but the Psalmist declared, Thanks for the advice, but no thanks. God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you . . .

We too, have options when responding to spiritually hostile situations. Like David, we may have to sift through the words of caring and sympathizing and convincing friends who contend that God has provided us with the perfect situation to strike back. Like David, our resolve must be that a word from God will trump the well-meaning words of others. Shhh. I will wait quietly before my God, my victory comes from him. God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you . . . Not us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Last Stop

At 5 AM the alarm went off. All my clothes were laid out -- on the porch. There was a reason -- for the last 6 weeks my hunting gear has been in the garage, and I wanted to swap the smell of indoors for the smell of outdoors. Temperatures had dropped to the 20s, and when I retrieved them they glistened with a thin layer of frost. I brought them in and dried them over the electric heater (made for that purpose). In a few minutes I was walking beneath a canopy of brilliant stars on my way to my tree stand.

I disappeared down a faint trail guarded by thorny, invisible vines that pulled at my pant legs. An old earthen dam was the next landmark to negotiate before I could get to the rusty fence line that would guide me the rest of the way. As I got to the fence I rousted a deer out of bed. One thing is for sure -- a deer can move a lot faster in the pitch black than I can! Finally, I stumbled to the base of frosty platform, climbed the bent tubing ladder, and waited for dawn.

Nothing stirred. Whining tires from the highway, and the distant bawling of a few cows were the only sounds. On my right the once golden field now looked like a frozen lake. I kept a close eye on it hoping it would provide adequate back-lighting to reveal any movement. Nothing moved. I always bring a book along when I am going to be sitting, and as soon as it got light enough I pulled out, Writing about my life, by William Zinsser.

Do you know what I have experienced a number of times while reading in a tree stand?

My senses become aware of nearly imperceptible changes around me, and I will look up at just the right moment to see game.

It happened again, and instinctively I lowered my book, and my eyes immediately zeroed in on the presence. The first time it was a deer about one-hundred yards away appearing and disappearing among the trees along the top of the ridge in front of me. I never heard it, or even had a chance for a shot, but I knew something was out there.

About forty-five minutes later it happened again -- without even thinking I once again lowered the book, and my gaze was dead on. This time I caught a glimpse of something traversing the same ridge at a pretty good clip. It was a coyote! I don't like coyotes. Tucking the book under my thigh, I raised my rifle and quietly whispered, C'mon stop -- for just five seconds!

He did -- it was his last stop.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Is God Like?

Go inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and He will guide us until we die.
~Psalm 48: 12-14

Hear the sons of Korah! Go to Jerusalem the crown of Mount Zion, and inspect her closely. Walk around her slowly. See the many towers, the fortified walls, and the citadels. They will one day vanish, so take careful note of what you see, and ask . . .

Why the watch towers?

Watchmen are always there with an eye for approaching danger; they will give warning before peril is upon you.

Why the fortified walls?

When the threat arrives the impenetrable walls will keep the adversaries at bay, and within the ramparts you will be safe.

The citadels?

They are the strong places of refuge and sanctuary to preserve our way of life.

Write on your heart each fascinating detail, and tell them to future generations. One day, if only in their imaginations, they will reconstruct her and relive the glory of the days gone by.

But remember -- there is a greater significance -- Jerusalem is metaphor. As such, she is the image bearer of our One True God, an object lesson imprinted in memory, so that we can recall the true nature and glory of God. What does such imagery tell us? Jehovah watches over us, in Him we are safe, and He is our refuge and sanctuary. Our Jerusalem will disappear, but our God will live forever and ever. This landmark on the hill guides us back to the city of God. It is temporal, but our God will guide us until we die.

Look once again. Never forget because that is what God is like.

Rest

Myrrh, aloes, and cassia perfume your robes. In ivory palaces the music of strings entertains you. Psalm 45: 8

"There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it." In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by "rests," and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives; and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. How does the musician read the "rest?" See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between."
~ January 22, Streams in the Desert

The Warrior King is back in the palace. For the time being the smell of sweat and dust and the sounds of battle are replaced with the scent of perfume and the resonance of music. Wild and ferocious scenes of men fighting for a cause -- for their king -- for their lives -- for the lives of others -- are gone. Now the king is surrounded by ivory pillars and a more civilized world.

Is he at rest?

Yes.

Is he restless?

Probably.

In the melody of a soldier's life there is the need for rest and recuperation and rejuvenation. The discordant refrains of warfare bruise him, drain him, and sometimes demoralize him. Yet men of war are not at ease in prolonged periods of rest. To remain fresh and battle-ready they will accept a breather, but inside they churn. The ivory pillars soon become prison bars. Destiny pulls them toward noble conflict. They fight for a cause -- for their King -- for their lives -- and for the lives of others.

In the background are the poets and scribes who compose the battle anthems and chronicle the unfolding epic. Appreciation and inspiration flow from their hearts -- to the pen -- to the paper -- to the ones laying it all on the line. Their place in the story should never be discounted.

Chancing the charge of being arrogant, for me the "rests" are a difficult time. My heart is not proud; I am submitted to the Divine composer, there is the making of music in His "rests." During the journey my spirit needs a breather, a sabbatical, and a time to sort things out. I need to decompress from the burdensome and discordant sound of "taps," or the "funeral dirge" that mourns another spiritual casualty. But being forced to lay down the sword because of sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts has surely brought with it the grief of knowing my part in the battle hymn is missing.

I love my King!

I know my King loves me. I am not foolish; the song has not ended. True and steady, I will beat out the time, and I will reenter the score with the right note at the right time. The breaking place will finally be memory. I know whose I am. I also know what I am, one of His instruments -- an instrument of war -- and honored to lead a charge!

Written from the heart -- To the warrior's heart.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Under Attack -- On The Attack!

Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! In your majesty, ride out to victory, defending truth, humility, and justice. Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds! Psalm 45: 3-4

A song writer introduced this Psalm with passionate, gentle poetry (verse 1). With great drama the poet's imagery changes. His lovely poem turns to a cry for war. He exchanges his poetic tongue for a powerful sword. His imagery is striking -- a warrior in majestic regalia, the clash of ancient weapons, and the sound of pounding hooves carrying a mighty one into battle.

Under attack is truth, humility, and justice!

On the attack is a glorious one. How the battle will end is never in question -- ride out to victory . . . Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds!

Little has changed. As in days gone by, so is it today, that same blessed trinity of divine virtue is once again under violent assault. An evil trinity -- Inaccuracy, Insolence, and Injustice -- presses the fight forward.

Stand to your feet! Cheer! Change your disposition! On the attack is the Glorious One, and how the battle will end is never in question! Ride out to victory . . . Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds. Dramatic events are underway. Now is the time to join Him in the fray!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beautiful Words

Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. Psalm 45:1

A lexis resides of uncommon words in the heart of a poet -- exquisite language that can capture emotions and images. You have heard it said, "A picture paints a thousand words." Let it also be said that with remarkable skill, uncommon craft, and romantic eloquence, the poet, with a single word, can paint a thousand pictures. The rhythmic grace of carefully chosen words can arouse and awaken the shy and slumbering beauty hidden away in every man's heart.

Lyricists are compelled to do more than ingeniously construct clever and flowery verse. Their prose lays bare their intense yearnings to lavish the object of their love with fresh and elegant expressions. Poems in their varied forms of verse, ballads, and sonnets are sifted, assessed, and singled out to compose phrases worthy of loving adoration. Beautiful words stirred the Psalmist's core. Uncontainable love breached the boundaries of his heart. Words once inexpressible flowed like ink to the tip of a quill, and his tongue became the pen of a loving poet.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Jr. Thermometers and Thermostats

The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot or cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. Jesus Christ's timeless message to his church.

It still seems impossible that a civilized society once embraced, once believed in, once proudly promoted, and once fiercely fought to preserve something as hideous as slavery and its sister, segregation. It's even harder to believe that the church at large walked hand in hand with such twisted company.

But that's what happens when individuals or institutions choose to be thermometers, rather than thermostats. They simply adjust to room temperature.

Change requires a commitment to a non-negotiable sense of right and wrong. Right things warm your heart -- wrongs things send a chill down your spine. Change means that something once conformed to is confronted -- by non-conformists. These non-conformists are of a noble and special kind -- their consciences have been raised to the highest standard, and God himself raised the bar.

Christ's verdict on the matter still stands -- he despises thermometers. Christ himself says "Be hot or be cold -- but never adjust to room temperature -- room temperature makes me sick."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Single Digits

Thirty-two degrees is cold for Savannah -- and this morning -- yesterday's rain turned to a slick skin of ice that covered my truck. When it was time to climb behind the wheel and head back home, my doors were frozen shut! Shortly after I hit the road my son Justin called, he was on his way back to Massachusetts from a camping trip in Canaan, Maine. No tent, no cabin, and no shelter -- just them against the elements! "Dad, we loved it; the temperatures were in the single digits!"

Both of our sons are lean and mostly gristle. Since they were 12 and 13 years old they have been wedded to the outdoors. I have always loved that about my sons, and have never let reasonable risk or danger manipulate me to deprive them of those kinds of experiences. Neither of them ever took up hunting, but that is about the only passion for places with no walls or ceilings we do not share. Josh just called, late yesterday afternoon he stopped on the edge of the Mojave desert, climbed a mountain, and watched the sun set over Lake Tunedae.

At the moment Sandy and I are watching the AFC championship between the Patriots and Chargers. The good guys, New England, are up seven to six. Winner goes to the Superbowl! What's this? Asante Samuel just intercepted Rivers -- Brady gets the ball back. Two plays and the Gaffney is in the end zone -- 14 to 6!

On the long drive back from Savannah I remembered I forgot to make a friendly wager with my good friend Richard I. -- steak is always good barter. Man, did I see him coming when the Sox were in the World Series. The poor guy believed that Colorado would win. I told him they would not win a game, and put my steak where my mouth is! Great pride and joy filled my soul when the boys from Beantown put the smackdown on the Rookies from the Rockies!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Savannah

The drive from Orlando to Savannah was like going through the world's longest car wash.

James and Karen have a beautiful home, and their children, Alyssa and Colton, are seven years older than the last time I saw them (It seems impossible that they are the same little ones I was with hours after they were born). They are sweet, secure kids who feel right at home with their old pastor. Colton, James and I played tennis, baseball, and bowled on wii (interactive video game). I am not very good at it -- I got smucked! Little wonder, since the last video game I played was Super Mario!

Earlier today as I was driving along the Interstate my cell phone signaled that I had a message. I took a quick glance -- Meg had sent me a picture of snow covered roofs and lawns in the Atlanta area. She was thrilled that God directed some of the white stuff from His storehouse her way. Instantly, that brief, single glimpse opened a storage box in my memory . . . Have you ever put on a pair of beaver tail or bear paw snowshoes and made the first tracks in a clean white blanket laid down by nature? Have you ever experienced the peace and serenity and quiet comfort of walking under branches of fir, spruce, pine, and cedar laden with ice crystals? Have you ever seen how humbly and gracefully they reach down to welcome you into their wonderland? Have you ever peeled the loose bark from a birch tree, gathered some tinder and twigs and small branches and built an outdoor fire?

Thoughts like those, long locked away came back to life.

Today has been nostalgic in other ways too. All at once we have been getting lots of calls from old friends. Suddenly folks we haven't talked to in months or years felt compelled to check in on us. If you have ever had to pull up stakes and leave all that is familiar you know how heart warming a few minutes on the phone can be. Conversations pick up where they left off -- deep friendships are that way.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fogged Inn

Orlando is under the influence of a major weather system. We have been drizzled on or enveloped in clouds since I arrived Wednesday.

I am at Asbury Seminary taking a course of Free Methodist history. John Wesley, its founder, was closely linked to George Whitefield. Whitefield was the great evangelist who spoke to outdoor crowds of up to 30 thousand. Ben Franklin considered him the most compelling speaker he ever heard, and said Whitefield voice could be clearly heard up to a mile away. Wesley, too, began preaching in the fields at Georges' encouragement. Wesley is well remembered because of his radical commitment to discipleship, and he and his brother Charles, the great hymn writer, produced a mind boggling library of training materials and contemporary Christian music for their new converts that keep their memory and impact alive. Whitefield simply preached, and preached, and preached. He literally preached himself to death. A great way to go (I knew all this before I got here. I was born on the same day as Whitefield, and I have long been an admire of the Methodist circuit riders who opened the West to the gospel and were as tough as rawhide).

Tomorrow afternoon I will drive to Savannah and spend the night with James and Karen Taylor. James was my associate in Norton, Massachusetts during my last ten years there. He is one of the finest men I have ever known, and the most loyal friend I have ever had.

I miss my family terribly. Sandy and I talk everyday, and Miss Meagan and I have been writing back and forth. My family in Maine is getting buried by the white stuff, but everyone is doing well.

No time to edit this, so look past the spelling and germatical (smile) errors.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

As Intended

Every night this week our church family gathered for prayer. Christ Community has been doing this for a number of years, but it was my maiden voyage with this new community of believers. Each night our intercession had a particular focus, and the petitions and praises were intense. CCC is a multiracial congregation, and the tenor and atmosphere reflected our diversity. I think I can speak for all of us when I say -- it was an inspiring and encouraging and unifying experience that brought us into the presence of God.

Christ Community is west of where I live, and while driving to our last prayerful assembly, God unpacked His brushes and palette. On this night an unreproducible Masterpiece was on His mind, and He began to paint. No two clouds are alike--some ragged edged, some slowly dissipating, and some that looked dense enough to stand upon--they slid and shifted and merged. Even the most subtle of changes in the billowy skies transformed my windshield into the lens of a kaleidoscope. Deepening, then lightening, vanishing then reappearing, the canvas that stretched across the western horizon constantly and colorfully and vividly changed.

Sitting at a red-light on University Avenue I smiled when I saw a church steeple back lighted by God's beautiful tapestry. My thoughts? Christ's Church is undergoing changes. It needs to change. A make-over is underway and congregations are no longer blandly white or black. New shades and tones and tinges -- a blending of humanity is converging. Beyond a doubt, Christ is returning us, his Church, to our intended beauty -- into a Masterpiece.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Did Not Have To Choose

It amazes me how moody a disposition the weather can have; one day it is dark and stormy, and in a matter of hours its tantrum subsides and it is bright and sunny again. Last night thunderous sounds rattled our houses, ragged flashes of lightning stabbed at the ground, and a deluge of rain descended upon us. Today? We were drenched in sunlight.

This afternoon I got on my bike and left my neighborhood behind. I decided to push my average speed significantly higher, tack on an extra 20 minutes, and concede to aching legs tomorrow. Other than that, much of today’s ride differed little from the last one. On Fulton Road I saw the remains of a slow-footed armadillo, his armor plating cracked and dinged and faded to a light gray. His remains have not yet returned to dust, and he has been wadded up on the shoulder the last four weeks. The horses were behind the fences where they usually roam, and endless pastures continued to suggest—a rich person lives here. Across the street the tumbled down shack sags. The sills have lost the last of their rigidity, and the little wood frame home is being sucked down into the earth. Junked autos surrounded the shanty, and the goats that usually patrol the yard like guard dogs provided some comic relief—they were curled up sunning on the roof, bed, and hood of a tired old truck.

For months, Georgia had baked under relentless heat and skies that refused to surrender but a few drops of moisture. Each ditch and gully that provides a highway for run-off has seen nothing flow through except an occasional wave of dry leaves chased by the wind. I noticed for the first time how far I could see back into the woods. Nature’s recent outburst had robbed every tree of their fig leaves. Nothing was left to cover their nakedness, but there was a beauty in their nudity. It took a moment, but something I had not heard since I left Maine seized my attention—the pleasant sound of running water! A gurgling swath, a little stream, formed from torrential rains, was tumbling along a hardwood bottom, pulled by the silent strength of gravity.

In that brief moment, I was cycling in the Peach Tree State, but I was sitting by the river in the Pine Tree State. For a few seconds, I got to indulge two favorite pastimes, and I did not have to choose one over the other.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Security Of Obscurity

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. ~ Colossians 3:1-4

Everyone can retrieve recollections of someone who lived large, cut a wide swath, and was a force of nature. Elvis -- the King of Rock n' Roll -- was one such person. For years after his death, overactive imaginations reported postmortem sightings of Elvis! Presley's estate has grown exponentially, multiplying by million$. Hordes of tourists journey to the Mecca of Rock n' Roll -- Graceland -- every year, and nostalgics dream of the icon who branded a new kind of music, starred in movies, and caused females to swoon. His aging posse still mourns his passing, keeping vigil every August 16th, and the anniversary of his death.

The myths and memories of Elvis portray a man greater than he ever was.

Paul's passage talks to his listener’s memory of their old life -- the one before they became new creations in Christ. The two lives are contrasted. Paul used the dichotomy of the old and new man to give them a line of demarcation, a distinct boundary that emphasized the difference between what they once were, and what they now are.

Christ is their life.

That old life is hard to shake isn't it? The reason? Because sometimes past actions, once dead, resurrect and come back to haunt us, sometimes people think of us as we once were, and not as we now are. More frequently, it is us who chooses to bring back to life the old man. Why do we do that? Because the old man garnered a lot of attention, generated popularity, and enjoyed advantages in the good old days, which in reality, were not so good. But honestly . . . there were some exciting days, sensational days, unfettered days, unflattering days, glossed by distorted memory. Scripture concurs, their is a fleeting pleasure associated with our old man. The writer of Hebrews (11:24-25) speaks clearly to the possibility of the old man living fat and happy -- for a while.

But just as there were two Moses -- the old one, and the real one -- the real one chose a time of obscurity with a mistreated people, and Paul talks to the same spiritual dynamic working in our life. At times the new man must live without spectators. God hides us away just as He hid Moses -- just as he hid His Son -- for a time. Now is not our time on the stage, and we must reject the temptation to resurrect the old man for a few more minutes in the limelight of notoriety. Encouragement is given for these seasons; days we may consider as insignificant. These are training periods, times when we learn to be content while on the back burner. During these respites intimacy with Christ keeps us secure. We are satisfied that He will determine when we are ready to be put us on the world stage. When it is time for us to show up -- Jesus will show up with us -- and he will be the main attraction!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Where The Action Is

Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ -- that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. Colossians 3:

Cyclists keep a close eye on the road. They must -- the majority of the time they are traveling at speeds that would result in serious injury should they take a spill. Hunched over, looking through the handlebars their gaze rarely ventures out more than 50 meters. Road debris, traffic entering from your left and right, from behind and in front are a few of the hazards to monitor closely. Riders see stuff invisible to the eyes of most people, because straddling a lightweight frame attached to two skinny wheels, and wearing only a Styrofoam helmet for protection, gives a unique perspective.

There are some parallels between what I have just written about cycling, and Peterson's paraphrase of something the apostle Paul wrote 2000 years ago. Like cyclists, those whose mode of transportation is faith, are not allowed to live with hands in their pockets, eyes down, shuffling along, the highway of life. No. Going though life living in a space no bigger than the size of our feet has no appeal.

Conversely, eyes are wide open and alert, and the perspective different. Not only do the eyes of the faithful see things invisible to most -- the spiritual debris and danger that surrounds them -- they also see what is going on around Christ and make their way to it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Come And Talk With Me

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” My heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Do not turn your back on me . . . you have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me . . . teach me how to live. Lead me along the right path.” Psalm 27:8

What would I do if I could not turn to God’s Word and read the prayers of David -- the man after God’s own heart. Lyrically, gently, lovingly, and peacefully his words often flow like a lover’s poetry. But in a blink they can become a torrent of raw, painful, and uncensored desperation. Stanza after stanza alternates, first revealing a heart at rest and then the warrior steps forward and grapples hand to hand with his own emotions that violently oppress him.

I need David. I run to his expressively recorded, divinely inspired, and eternally preserved poetry. I have to know that I too can remove my veil, and candidly plead guilty to unwelcome and gut-wrenching sensations that are mine. I need assurance that my wavering is not always unearthing a weak faith, but instead, a belief that God can handle my questions.

Is David God’s -- is God David’s? That is the crux of the Psalmist’s deepest question. The shepherd boy promoted to king, is wrestling with a brush with uncertainty. He must decide -- am I God’s—is God mine? Do you believe those questions too scandalous to broach? Honestly? If there is any veracity, if there is one shred of humility, you must come clean, the king’s angst reflects the same inner clash that many Christ-followers find familiar. Though we are often afraid, embarrassed, or reluctant to admit it, his words resonate. We are in secret agreement—the quest for companionship with the Holy One is at times grinding.

But there is consolation to be found in David’s transparency, and authenticity will always find refuge in those who are authentic.

It was brutal honesty that evoked the confession that a clear word from God had to be recalled – it was not a present reality. Private collapses are rarely made public, but David is the exception. He admits that he wonders if God is going to come through for him. He doesn’t like what he sees—God’s back—and He appears to be walking away.

Sometimes all we see is what is most obvious. In this case it might be David’s brave declaration, "you have always been my helper." But like the deception of an iceberg, his declaration is weighted down with considerable bulk just beneath the surface. I mean, what do we do with these queries, are you still my helper . . . have you left . . . will you abandon me?

Like David, I too, am compelled to write out my own conflicts. I do so prayerfully but not without conflict. Pride screams, DON'T DO IT! God says, "Don’t worry just write. But don’t mince your words. Authenticity will resonate with the authentic. That’s how I taught David to pray—a man after my own heart."

Friday, January 4, 2008

Here! Catch!

I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born . . . Future generations will hear about the wonders of the LORD. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done. Psalm 22:10; 30-31

That first phrase, I was thrust into your arms at my birth, kind of hit me funny. I picture a nervous, first time parent playing hot potato with their newborn child, saying, Here, you take this! What am I supposed to do with it?

I have been reading through a Psalm or two each morning, and this portion thrust itself upon me (couldn't resist). I sit staring at the words trying to process the Why. As in, why have these words asked me to stop for a while and give them consideration? In a few minutes, I realize there is an irony in my initial response. It begins to reveal a thread that connects it to the deeper experience of God speaking to me. In a very real sense, the voice of God is not always a still, small one. Sometimes he chooses to thrust himself upon us. A conversation between our heart -- and the heart of God comes to life about as quietly as a birth.

I will not be so presumptuous as to speak for others, but often I can seem to get my thought to full term, let alone through adolescence and on to maturity. Sometimes I get a little nervous, even agitated, and say, Here God, You take this! What am I supposed to do with it? How about you? Do you sometime feel like you need the Rosetta stone, or the Urim and Thummin to interpret what on earth God is saying? Do you feel like God has thrust something upon you? Do you find yourself staring down on it asking, Now what? Wait a minute! I was not looking for this, prepared for this, and it was my reflexes that caused me to catch it! Do you want it back? Can I thrust it on someone else -- like you thrust it upon me?

None of our encounters with God, even those thrust upon us, are gratuitous. For a time we are puzzled, but we have the assurance that an interpretation is coming. If not for us, then for future generations. Those not yet born will one day have their own Divine encounters, and they, like us, will not always or immediately comprehend the significance of theirs. They may get a little nervous or even agitated with the weight of a meeting with God. Might they not respond, Huh? What is this? What do I do with it?

But do you know what will get them through? It may well be that God's mysterious choice to thrust something on you -- a communique that seemed indecipherable -- will be clearly understood by them. Our questions will be their answers.

Let's continually remind our selves, God never meaninglessly says, Here! Catch!

Bright, Blue, and Beautiful

A bright blue, beautiful sky has tried to bathe us with its seasonal warmth. Try as it may, blasts of cold air have been racing through the Chattahoochee Valley causing resident Georgians to dig out there scant supply of winter clothes. Temperatures ranging from the high teens to the upper forties equals winter in the South, but many of the natives tell me they welcome the heavy frosts and are fascinated to watch the mercury dive toward zero.

I got a ride in this morning. My face and my feet got pretty cold, but other than that it was great. Exercise is not optional for me -- I have to -- but also love to, so I don't find it hard to commit to a little discomfort. I took Meg and Josh out for lunch. A couple of their friends joined us, and we enjoyed a time of rambling conversation. This afternoon, I have been reading about South America: its geography; history; culture; economics, and such. It is an enormous continent of giant extremes. Most of the population is cramped together leaving miles and miles of sprawling, open land, and soaring mountain ranges. Christ Community Church is making a significant commitment to the homeland of Hugo Chaves -- Venezuela. So I am studying to get a better feel of it all.

Sandy's life is moving at warp speed. Today is the first day of Master's work on her MFA. Cambridge, Massachusetts will be her home - away - from home for a while. Her room is pleasant and comfortable, and she seems content. I also know that the next 11 days will be draining. So for those who know my bride be sure to pray for her.

In closing, do you despise cold weather? If so, cheer up! I talked to my mother yesterday who lives in Maine; she told me that the forecast for this morning was minus 15 degrees. Again I say -- Cheer up!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Leaving A Trace

A Delta jet touched down in Boston, Massachusetts early this evening. Sandy was on board; tomorrow she begins her low-residency at Leslie University in Cambridge. Justin and Erika picked her up at Logan Airport, and they went on to dinner. Tonight she plans on getting back to her hotel room and in bed early. For the next 11 days the academic tempo will be ratcheted up. Leslie's, Non-fiction -- Creative Writing program is intense.

On Saturday Meg will return to Georgia College. Monday, Josh will begin a road trip across our country with a couple of friends. Their destination is Los Angeles. One of their buddies is returning to the City of Angels to resume his career in cinematography. On the way they might swing through Mexico. Speaking of L.A., the City of Angels -- angels never come to mind when I think of that smoggy land of fruits and nuts.

For the last week I have hoped Sandy would finish a book. Before leaving she turned the last page and gave it to me. It is titled, Leaving A Trace. Both of us put a high value on keeping a journal, and that is what the book is about. Some of our journey is revealed in our blogs. My blog, in particular, devotes the lion's share of time and space to spiritual themes. Scripture most often begins each post, but from time to time (like today) I write as though I am keeping my New England family -- mom and dad and sisters and brothers in the flow of our lives here in the Peach State.

My bride and I keep other journals. Others of a more personal nature -- meant to be read posthumously by our children. Preserving a record of our life with its blessings, struggles, discoveries, and questions never answered -- is important to us. We are certain that down the road Justin and Josh and Meg will cherish our most private history. Some events -- for the time being -- may seem to them confusing and senseless. But one day some word or sentence will be like finding the key to a treasure chest filled with gold coins of our memories and musings. Hindsight will give our children a better understanding of the forces that shaped our family. Long after we are gone, and unbeknown to us, they may read a simple, raw sentence that opens a window into our souls, a window that for now, has the shades pulled, and the storm shutters fastened tightly. But when the light streams through that unblinded window, it will cast revealing beams that will make their lives and heritage brighter and fuller.

Journals, even the most meticulously written, only bear witness to fragments of life's sojourn here on earth. Sometimes they are a hostile witness, sometimes they are witnesses with conflicting testimonies, and sometimes they are the corroboration of many witnesses that are -- accurate -- passionate -- beautiful -- complete. But no matter what shape or form they take, the time, effort, vulnerability, and commitment they require are worth it for us. A life worth living is a life worth writing about. Indeed, it would be a travesty to experience this adventure without Leaving A Trace.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Art of War

These are the nations that God left there, using them to test the Israelites who had no experience in the Canaanite wars. He did it to train the descendants of Israel, the ones who had no battle experience, in the art of war. He left the five Philistine tyrants, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians . . . They were there to test Israel and see whether they would obey God's commands that were given to their parents through Moses. ~ Judges 3:1-3 (Amplified)

Some background from Judges, chapter 2

God kept raising up judges to rescue the Israelites from their oppressors. Sadly, Israel would quit listening to their God appointed judges. Even worse, they transferred their undivided attention and devotion to false gods and idols. Stubborn resolve to prostitute themselves with bogus deities led to a recycling pattern -- God would raise up judges to rescue them from the hand of there plunderers. Once the pressure was gone, they would dismiss the guidance and leadership of the judges. The judges would die, and and so would their constant rehearsal of God's loving, but serious boundaries. Unfettered by goodness, Israel would resume its pursuit of the lesser gods. Stifling slavery and abject abuse by new captors would soon follow. Once again, God would dramatically rescue them by sending yet another of his appointed judges. Like night follows day, the cycle would resume. Each time they came full circle God's children would delve deeper and deeper into the paganism of Canaan.

Then, God's mercy left, and God's anger entered. No Divine eruption took place, but instead a slow burn of God's wrath was ignited. No longer would He drive out Israel's remaining enemies entrenched in the land. Those foes receiving dishonorable mention were: Five Philistine tyrants, all the Canaanites; the Sidonians; and the Hivites. From that point on the Hebrews would pay dearly for every inch of real estate. Israel's continuing Exodus would be marked with blood soaked foot prints. If His love and protection could not woo them, He would let brutal enemies herd them back to their Shepherd.

Strangely, God worked both sides of the street during the entire mess -- He disciplined the Chosen to test them -- would they return to their faithful heritage. Even more extraordinary -- God taught a naive generation the art of war. Unlike Joshua, the mighty successor of Moses, they were soft and did not know how to fight. And battle they must, because formidable adversaries would not roll over, and give up their ground.

Fast forward. In 2008, God still loves His own, and His love will still bring discipline to all who belong to Him. We have to choose whether or not we will listen to his prophets or disobey (Hebrews 12:5-6). Our response will determine the intensity of the Father's discipline. Is His sole purpose to put us back on the straight and narrow? There is more. With us, He too, works both sides of the street. Out of those spiritual spankings can come something glorious -- we learn to fight back!

Against God?

No!

In the midst of discipline God reveals our naivete and spiritual weaknesses. They must be addressed -- we have to learn to resist and fight back. We must be taught to use the weapons He gave us -- not our own. Our heavenly Father who lives in unapproachable Light knows the black hearted oppressors who defend against our advance. Our discipline is painful for our Father and us. But it is necessary -- because God prefers we avoid defeat and capture -- disciplining His children is always preferred to seeing us reduced to pitiful slavery.

Tyrannical Philistines, Sidonians, Canaanites, or Hivites are not the enemy. But don't remain in passive naivete. Do not convince yourself to believe our adversaries are not real. Aggressive spirits relentlessly probe for unguarded places, but God turns us into fighters. We gather spiritual strength through engaging in war -- not by avoiding it. From each battle we emerge craftier. More gritty. More cunning. Just as He did with Joshua, we are miraculously transformed into the spiritually brave and courageous.

The Evil one knows nothing of bravery and courage, but he is matchless in his knowledge of, relentless in his pursuit of, and successful in his attacks on the naive and the spiritually soft -- those who do not know the art of war!

A Magical, Mystical Mystery

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end . . . Surely I am coming soon. The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The clock struck 12, and in a split second 2007 vanished into the dark of night. The year of our Lord, 2008 began its steady voyage across a blackened universe in pursuit of the first glints of sunlight -- of the first dawn -- of a new day -- a new year. Millions of romantics witnessed this magical, mystical moment -- history and future swapping places. Sandy and I were there, too.

Least recognized but profoundly greater is the greatest mystery -- the Alpha and Omega lies behind us, resides in us, and promises to come for us. For him, time does not transition -- He was, He is, and yet He promises -- I am coming soon. Truly magical. Truly mystical. Truly a mystery.