Sunday, December 28, 2008

Planet Earth

I have been watching Planet Earth. I find it hard to believe that God would not want us to see much, if not all, he has created!

Do we work so hard to gain things that man has made, that we never enjoy all that God has provided free of charge?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Up Around the Bend

There's a place up ahead and I'm goin' just as fast as my feet can fly.
Come away, come away if you're goin', leave the sinkin' ship behind.


Come on the risin' wind, we're goin' up around the bend.


Bring a song and a smile for the banjo, better get while the gettins' good.

Hitch a ride to the end of the highway where the neons turn to wood.


Come on the risin' wind, we're goin' up around the bend.


You can ponder perpetual motion, fix your mind on a crystal day,

Always time for a good conversation, there's an ear for what you say.


Catch a ride to the end of the highway and we'll meet by the big red tree,

There's a place up ahead and I'm goin, come along, come along with me.


Come on the risin' wind, we're goin' up around the bend.


Up around the bend ~ Credence Clearwater Revival.

Credence Clearwater Revival, belonged to a niche of artists called "Snipers." They were referred to as "snipers," because their songs were usually only 3 minutes long or less, and were delivered with the precision of a sniper's bullet.

One of CCR's bullets is "Up around the bend." There is nothing lurid, sexual, or immoral in the lyrics -- no "sinful" enticement. It's just a good tune with a simple message of optimistic restlessness, and it resonated with tens of thousands of people. There's a place up ahead and I'm goin' just as fast as my feet can fly Come away, come away if you're goin', leave the sinkin' ship behind.

At our core we resent settling down -- there is something unsettling about settling down. A completely safe and mastered environment doesn't bring the fulfillment expected. Rather than delivering a sense of contentment it creates more discomfort. We truly are not hard wired to forever live safe and sound -- we are wired to explore.

Yet, it seems that many believers have bought into the assertion that devotion to God means we douse any urge to expand our boundaries or take risks. It seems many have embraced the idea that there is something noble about grabbing a deck chair on a sinkin' ship, be it a church or ministry that has been sitting - and will continue to sit with its sails wound tightly around the mast. Forever looking like a ship -- but with no intentions of sailing into the deep.

Thank God there is another option . . .

There's a place up ahead and I'm goin' just as fast as my feet can fly Come away, come away if you're goin', leave the sinkin' ship behind.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Retro

This 25th day of December has been peaceful and relaxing. Justin, Erika, and Meg are here with us. Billy and Naomi, now married, and once classmates with Justin are here. There is a little one growing inside Naomi with a due date of May! Nostalgic conversation and steady laughter circles the table.

A pleasant sound.

Justin, Meg, and Josh bought me a couple of CD's for Christmas -- Credence Clearwater Revival and Folsom Prison, by Johnny Cash. During my teen years, I used to cruise around in my Mustang listening to CCR, and when the boys were young the only "Rock" music I would let them listen to was CCR (it made sense at the time). I didn't listen to Johnny Cash much, but Justin and Josh love his music, and there is something about Cashes story that reminds them of me.

This afternoon, Justin asked me to take a ride and listen to my new tunes. Sensory perception is remarkable -- as CCR played I was transported back in memory over 35 years. Clear as a photogragh, many faces of teenage friends flashed before me -- faces unchanged by time -- and it made great father and son conversation recalling the setting of specific songs.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Way of Life

We had a weekend of wild weather. So extreme, treacherous roads forced us to cancel church! Dealing with fickle winter storm systems is a way of life for New Englanders'. Case in point -- this afternoon the snow turned to sleet, and then the sleet to rain, and now it is sleeting again! At dawn it will be 11 degrees, a sheen of ice will make everything sparkle like diamonds, and a brilliant blue sky will be above us. When we step outside into the glowing world of snow the pupils of our eyes will shrink to the size of a BB.

On Wednesday, Christmas Eve, it will be 50 degrees here in southeast Massachusetts!

On a more somber note -- we got word a couple hours ago that Sandy's aunt Barbara passed away. Sandy's mother and Barbara were sisters. On December 22, eleven years ago, Sandy's mom died. Please pray for Sandy and her family during this time of loss.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Possibilities

It is still snowing, and we won't get the official tally until it stops, but I don't think we have been short-changed -- it looks like we got a foot. We love it -- even the 15 degree weather has not deterred us from enjoying the morning outside shoveling. As long as you have the right clothes for it, and we do, you are warm, dry, and comfortable. I know . . .that does not seem possible.

Our next door neighbor Al, the winemaker, was extremely grateful for Sandy, Meagan, and me clearing his driveway and steps. Just before we finished, Al disappeared into his cellar. Minutes later he emerged with a big smile, and a bottle of his home brew! "This for you. My very good wine. Thank you, my very good neighbors."

Later on I am going to take a long walk in a enormous cemetery not far from our house. If I were sure that the wooded area along its back boundary was public property I would pitch my tent there for a night. I know . . .that does not seem possible, either

Friday, December 19, 2008

Black and White

Have you ever seen Christmas lights that hang like icicles from the eves of houses? Looking out our kitchen window I am watching our neighbor's sway back and forth as the wind and snow batter them. Our automobiles are entombed in a casket of snow, and the gnarly grape vines along our fence are now woven strands of purest white.

Up the street a towering fir tree's branches sag under their wintry load. At the mouth of our driveway, the street light provides just enough illumination for the erratic orbits of a thousand snow flakes to reflect its glow. Two twisted, yellowed, frozen fingers of ice stretch from its glass rim, and look like they want to claw at the ground beneath them.

The floors of our house shudder as the heavy blades of snowplows rumble and bounce along the frozen roadways trying to muscle their way through the steadily falling snow. Vehicle passageways are becoming like the constricted arteries of a diseased heart, and traffic is forming clots.

Things are stirring in my neighbor's front yard. It appears the entire family has been conscripted to fight the battle of driving back this ferocious advance of winter. Shovels full of snow are flying every which way.

For the past couple of hours, I have been watching a giant, inflated Santa Clause bob and weave like a cagey boxer, ducking the hammer blows of a boisterous wind. Oops! Saint Nick just disappeared -- a knock out punch? No, apparently my neighbors pulled the plug on him!

Outside the world is black and white -- like a giant photo negative -- except for a tiny tree wrapped in strands of multicolored lights.

Closing In

This morning the sky was a canopy of clouds that darkened and then faded into shades of gray. My sensory memories came alive, and I could taste and smell the storm charged atmosphere. Coming back inside, I said, "Meg, go outside and breathe the air. You can smell the snowstorm. It's been so long since I have smelled that smell and felt that particular sensation on my face."

That was 5 hours ago. Since then, the muted and patchwork colors above have run together, become more uniform in hue and texture, and the weight of their burden is pressing them to the earth.

Later this afternoon the storm should be dumping several inches an hour, and I will be tramping around in the swirling frenzy of wild weather. Accumulations are steadily being updated, and the projections are getting higher and deeper. According to all the information being gathered by satellite and radar, the Shoreys should be in the big middle of the heaviest snow!

My plans are to camp out tonight, but now there is a question as to whether I can even get to the State Park I have in my sights. One way or another, though, I will find a way to enjoy this extraordinary storm in an un-ordinary way!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Been Soooo Long!

If all goes as predicted a foot -- or more -- of blowing, swirling snow will be arriving tomorrow. I know, I know, the white stuff will get old by April, but I am going to enjoy this first big one.

Nothing rejuvenates me like being immersed in God's creation, so this afternoon I got my extreme weather gear together, and my backpack is waiting to be stuffed. It has been soooo long since it has seen action. The last time was 4 years ago, when I climbed Mt. Elbert in Colorado. Elbert is the second highest mountain in the contiguous United States, after Mount Whitney in California, and is 65 feet (20 m) shorter than Whitney's 14,505 feet (4,421 m). If for some reason I am unable to spend tomorrow night in the woods (the State Park I have in mind may shut me down), I can still spend the day in some wild New England weather.

Manicured golf courses, resorts, boats that have motors, and mechanized transportation are OK, but for me, getting away from the civilized world is a necessity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meant To Be

Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. ~ Psalm 119:109

Interesting statement by David. Especially so, when we remember that it was human breath that delivered the words that are God breathed -- inspired -- Scripture. God was alive in David.

David's primary audience was his God, and he speaks with Him as one who wanted to preserve a sacred trust. Taking his life in his own hands was not the same as taking his life out of God's hands. Explaining was not necessary for God's benefit -- it was for David's. It's a beautiful picture -- David certainly knew, in a "theological" sense, that God was aware of his every action and the intentions that motivated them. But David's relationship with God was far more than cerebral. His communion with God was personal, soulful, spiritual, and deep. A loving trust bound them together -- It was Life the way Life was meant to be.

Like David, we have to constantly take ownership of our lives every single day. But we can do so without disregarding God, because what we do is guided by what we know, and what we know is gained through Who we know. The glue of our relationship with God is communion -- not explanation. A personal, soulful, spiritual, deep, and loving trust -- like the Life is meant to be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Song and A Book

Sunday morning the mercury dipped into the low teens. Rays of sunshine beamed brilliantly toward earth with nothing to filter or dim them -- the sky was clear and with varying shades of blue.

Sandy and I were sitting quietly reading, checking messages, or researching something of interest. Breaking the silence, Sandy spoke. "John looks older."

"John who?" I asked.

"John Eldredge," she replied. I stood up and craned my neck to see around the edge of her computer screen and look at John's picture.

"Yes," I said, "He does. His goatee is getting streaked with white, and the lines in his face are etching deeper. He's been in the war a long time."

I went back to my own computer and clicked the icon for John's website, Ransomed Heart. Instantly and simultaneously, images from cyberspace--and an indescribable sense of loss--converged and blew-up my senses. A deep tiredness pressed down on me, pushing the blood from my face. Sandy was eye witness to it and with deep concern asked me what was wrong.

I buried my head in my hands. Tears and audible sobs spilled out from deep within my soul.

"I don't know," was my response.

I wanted to stay in the moment and work through all the commotion going on in my spirit, but I am a pastor, and I had to leave for church.

Later, back at home . . .

Over and over again, a life changing song and a life changing book kept coming to mind. The song -- The Great Adventure, by Steven Curtis Chapman. The book -- Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge.

In 1991 it was the message of the song that rescued me from Christianity. Prior to the rescue, a suspicion had been growing that there existed a journey with God distinctly different from the one that I and those around me were experiencing. None of us would have disputed that God's record, his Word, declared a spiritual, exhilarating , dangerous, and untamed adventure for those who dared to take up His Son's offer, "come and follow me." Most Christians, though, felt that such a message was for the less civilized world of early Christianity.

Then the powerful lyrics of The Great Adventure came along and gave me the courage to take the first steps to pursue the journey I was created for.

In 2004, it was the message of the book, Wild at Heart. W/H became the most battered book in my collection of hundreds. Why? Because of the countless times I slung it across my office, or living room, or cabin, or lawn, or into the woods. John Eldredge's uncensored journey (he was refreshingly raw -- uncivilized -- didn't use christian speak) brought me to a crisis of belief.

The crisis?

For a couple of years I had been giving consideration to exiting the road less traveled of following the wild and untamed God. I would reengage in a more secure church culture. As the old spiritual goes, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Reason told me I had certainly paid my dues. Big church. Big pay. Big house. Big deal. But as shocking as this may sound, years of observation and participation had brought me to the conclusion that there are few things more pointless than scheduling a gathering for the religious, week after week, to teach them about God and the Bible with no expectation that God would show up and such encounters would change the hearers, who in turn, would go out and change the world.

I don't like that kind of life. Not for me.

Why the tears and wrenching reaction?

The brief dialogue Sandy and I shared revealed unidentified and unexpected grief -- the Adventure has come with some great costs and extreme pain -- I was feeling old and etched in my soul.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We Have Been Told

God believes that people are capable of amazing things. I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me. I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has great faith in me. ~ Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis)

And the glory that you gave me I have given them . . . ~ Jesus Christ

After Sandy, Meg, and I finished eating gumbo we sat around the dinner table for a couple of hours chatting. Conversation meandered, but almost all the dialogue took some spiritual form or other. After a few minutes I told Sandy and Meagan about a book I had been reading -- Velvet Elvis. I asked them if they would like me to read some of it aloud. Sections of it pertained to our talking points. They wanted me to read -- so, I did. During my monologue, I asked them several times if they wanted me to stop (I read nearly a dozen pages). The answer was an emphatic "No!"

All of us were captured by Bell's quotes above. We discovered that . . .

Neither Sandy or I can recall ever being told, Jesus believes in me.

Neither Sandy nor I can remember ever being told, Jesus has great faith in me.

In the hundreds of sermons we have heard we cannot recollect one passionate proclamation or passive remark that -- the glory God gave Jesus -- Jesus gave to us.

We rejoice! Ignorance can not keep truth captive!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow

When Sandy and I, along with Josh and Meg, left New England over 8 years ago, we looked forward to the prospect of warm winters and none of the icy white stuff. Since moving back, I have have been more than ready to see the earth covered in a pristine white.

When we pulled back the covers this morning and headed downstairs for our morning coffee, one glance out the kitchen window told us that all the grays and browns, evidences of the death of summer, were gone -- buried beneath our first blanket of snow.

Here in the Northeast daylight is getting pretty scarce. Each afternoon it gets dark by 4:30. The Winter Solstice -- December 21 -- is around the corner, and proves to be the stingiest, yielding the least sunlight of the year. But beginning December 22, the days will begin to lengthen, and in spite of the arctic blasts that will invade from the most northern fringes of our continent, and the snow that will likely accumulate by the feet, we New Englanders' will find ways to make the weather something to be enjoyed, rather than endured.