Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Lesson Learned is a Lesson Lived

"Bill, teach us about leadership." SIAS University, China
As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should. Psalm 119:7

Early on in school most of us learned, "In fourteen hundred ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

Now, let's say that we memorized every map those ancient mariners sketched on their epic journey. Suppose we read every word they scrawled in their logs and diaries. Imagine that  we knew every detail of their journey--right down to the clothing they wore, navigational instruments they used, foods they ate, and the rum they drank. And, let's say we could close the gap in time, bring them and us together, and take a test based on our knowledge of those details. You know what? Based on that kind of testing we might actually outscore them!

But none of us were on those rickety, ancient ships for months at a time, sailing hundreds of nautical miles in uncharted waters. None of us survived the terror of typhoons as our wooden vessel pitched and groaned and threatened to be swallowed by the sea. Nor, in the midst of all that, try to trace out a route from an old world to a new world--a route that only existed theoretically! Would any of us be so deluded as to believe our test scores proved that we knew more about that perilous journey than those explorers who actually experienced it?

I would hope not, because between us and them there is an ocean of difference in the facts. They lived them!

Could it be that one of the great banes of Christianity is that we have become spiritual theorists and Bible information experts? Could it be that many of us have never really experienced the adventure of living out what we have learned--and learning as we live it out?

Look again at what the Psalmist said. He, too, had a hunger to keep learning, but as important as it was to learn, he committed to walking in the truth he learned. For him, the passing grade came when the lessons learned were the lessons lived.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Verses and Verve

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. Psalm 119:2-3

There is joy in obeying God, but there is an important caveat, though not as obviously stated here, that is communicated elsewhere. Obeying the Law of God without knowing the Lawgiver will not bring you to the joy the Psalmist speaks to.

Let's say you chose to follow the teachings of the book of Proverbs. Solomon states the purpose of this collection of Godly wisdom right from the introduction...

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Proverbs 1:1-4

Using the Proverbs alone, you could certainly create an impressive moral and life-action code. You could develop a behavioral system that sets you on the path of a clean, successful, and even pious life. You would shine. The predictions of cause and effect, or obedience and benefit, described in the Proverbs would manifest themselves in your life.

Your response might be, "That would suit me fine. Give me the list!"

My response would be, "Would it?"

That caveat is important. You know, that part about getting two hearts involved--your heart and God's heart. Search(ing) for Him with all your heart cannot be separated from finding joy. Consider this. Jesus, in near frustration, spoke to some of the most upstanding people of his day who lived by a wholesome regimen, rather than in a wholehearted relationship with God...

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. John 5:39

So, apart from a heart-to-heart relationship with God, we could be a pretty "good" people, just as the audience Jesus spoke to was. But it is quite clear that they weren't becoming the persons God intended. We would be like them, proceeding through life, but never really living, because that approach produces like-kind. And like them, we will find ourselves striving to obtain that other special something, when what we really need is a relationship with that special Someone.

We won't find the joy the Psalmist speaks to in obedience to a set of guidelines alone. We need more than verses. We also need the verve of the indwelling Christ. The joy of obedience comes from a spiritual source. If the magnetic north of our moral compass doesn't include God's heart, you can bet that subtle compromises will soon follow.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Putting the Pieces Together

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Psalm 119:1

I remember the first time Sandy and I walked through the multiple showrooms of an IKEA store. Room after room was set up for display. They even gave the square footage the matching sets of furniture would fill and beautify. Everything was color coordinated and perfectly spaced. We opened drawers to check out the quality of each piece of furniture, switched on lights, handled fabrics, sat on chairs, and stretched out on beds to get an idea of their comfort. You could mix and match, or purchase an entire suite or sectional. Picking out a couple of nightstands, we loaded them into our vehicle and headed for home. As you probably know, IKEA furniture is unassembled.

IKEA furniture looks very different unassembled...

Opening the first box, we pulled out the contents: panels, frames, slide rails, bags of screws, hinges, pegs, and glue. Looking at what seemed like hundreds of pieces that were to become one integrated whole, I sighed. I am not a craftsman. After a few moments of sputtering and fretting, I looked for the instructions. All the while I was thinking to myself, "I don't have the tools necessary to put this together." Then I pulled out the instructions, which said the only tool needed was the allen wrench and glue included in the assembly kit.

I thought, that can't be!

It was true. The sum of all those parts could be assembled into the solid, dark wood of two bedroom nightstands. When we finished they were beautiful, solid, and useable. I was joyful.

In the Scripture above, the writer talks of integrity. At its root, the word comes from integer. An integer is any number, negative or positive, that is a whole number (i.e. 1,2,3,4, or -1,-2,-3,-4, on into infinity). Fractions are not integers, but fractions can be combined to form an integer (i.e. 3/4 plus 1/4 equals 1).

No metaphor is perfect, and in this case we are much more fearfully, wonderfully, and complicatedly made than a pieces of mass-produced home decor. But in a sense, the IKEA store is metaphor for our life. Scripture gives us a picture of what we will look like when we are fully assembled as our Creator originally designed. In the meantime, we lack complete integrity. We are fragments and fractions--not yet the sum total of all our parts. But upon receiving our new life through the new birth, we seek to be a person of integrity, and, praise God, we can move in that direction. As we follow the instructions of our Master Designer, things start coming together. Something Divinely beautiful takes shape. Amid the adventure of it all, joy is found.

As I said, the metaphor is not perfect, because we will never be completely whole in our sojourn here. Sighing and groaning will be ever present as we await our final redemption. But God, the Spirit of God, the Son of God, and the Word of God, who is Integrity, is on our side. He is, if you will, the wrench and glue that take our fractured, disassembled life, put it together, and keep it together.

Our part is to employ the tools and follow the instructions. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mr. Bob

Having just returned from a lengthy stay in Maine, we couldn't wait to get back to Christ Community Church. Many of our best friends are there, and we love it. When among this community of Faith, there is a genuine sense of the presence of God. Who wouldn't want to be in an atmosphere where God seems to continually show up, transforming lives?

However, if you are looking for high-fashion, high-church, or high-mindedness, Christ Community is probably not your cup of tea. Fact is, it may be the most diverse congregation I have ever been a part of. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, when we gather, it reminds me of Toby Keith's song, "I Love This Bar." Threads from the human fabric of all the surrounding counties and from Alabama across the Chattahoochee River, are being redeemed and woven together to form the tapestry of this church's life. On any given Sunday, people from every walk of life are in attendance: the wealthy, the poor, and everything in between.

For instance...

This morning when we walked into the sanctuary, Joann, the wife of Mr. Bob grabbed my arm and pointed to the stage. There was Mr. Bob, eighties years old playing the keyboard! Neither Sandy nor I could stop smiling. Another guy in his fifties was providing percussion with a set of bongos and a tambourine. The base player plucking, and donning a headset, was probably in his late thirties. Two young guys in their twenties were playing rhythm and acoustic. Jae Lesley, the Worship Leader, was fully caught up in the moment. To the left of the musicians, a small choir of people stood on risers and accompanied them. We sang songs that were a mixture of contemporary music and hymns tastefully up-tempoed.

Mr. Bob is an accomplished church pianist and taught music in the public school system for years. He played the piano at a congregation I used to pastor. For the past several summers he has joined his son, Bob Jr., who has a cabin in Maine just a few hundred yards from ours. In the cool evenings, Mr. Bob pulls his chair up to our fire and joins the group of guys from Georgia, my Maine friends, and me, as we swap tales and tell lies. Mr. Bob loves to fish for hours on end, and he is tougher than boiled owl.

One afternoon, I walked up to his son's cabin. There, on the east bank of the Penobscot River, stood Mr. Bob. Ear buds in, hands raised to the heavens, and his elderly voice singing praises to his God. I am thankful for aged saints such as him. They remain engaged and relevant. Like King David, their epitaph could one day recount "He served God's purposes in his generation, and then died."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peaceful, But Never Perfect...

It's early in the evening. Peaceful. Not a breath of air stirs the foliage of the oak, pine, or weeping willow. Our pond is stained a muddy brown from the unusual amount of rain that has fallen upon this part of Georgia. Yet, it is as smooth as the surface of a mirror. Everything that surrounds it casts a perfect reflection. Even now, it doubles the presence of two tiny spotted fawns and their momma feeding along the bank.

A hedge of green lantana dotted with hundreds of quarter-sized blooms lies between the two acre body of water and me. There are butterflies, some are dark gray with patterns of baby blue eyes on the lower edges of their wings. Others are a faded yellow with black, zebra-like stripes that drip from the top of their wings toward the bottom. Their flights rise and fall as they happily float above the golden buttons, then gracefully alight. Dragonflies, like miniature helicopters, hover and then dart away in a blink. Strange looking bees--which Meagan describes as having the body of a lobster and the wings of a bumble bee--buzz about them in frantic fashion.

We all share this little ecosystem. For them, it's the source of their sustenance and their part in the larger scheme of God's creative genius. As they feed they also pollinate and join the cycle of re-creation. Observing their world feeds my soul.

I chased the butterflies around to photograph them. Finally, I got one of the gray ones with its pattern of baby blue eyes to pose. A slight disappointment came upon me when I realized its perfection was marred. Its wings were tattered. Did a bird try to catch it, or did a sudden draft of wind dash it against the rough bark or branches of a tree?

As sappy as this might sound, the peacefulness of the moment was interrupted, and that will always be the double-edged experience of living in a world that offers glimpses of beauty, but is laced with reminders of its brokenness.

Peace, but never perfection.  
Written at the cabin
July, 2013

Pannawambskek: "Where the Ledges Spread Out"

Head leaned back on my red canvas chair.
Vision diffused by an unfocused stare.

Winds whisper. Leaves quiver.
Eagles and songbirds chat with the river

Questions and memories return again.
What's in the future, and where I have been.

Entries in journals and searching for reasons,
Finding purpose in each of life's seasons.

From across the river where the ledges spread out,
A mystic Voice tells me what they're about...

"Not prestige, nor wealth. Not titles, nor tenure.
I AM traveling with you. Enjoy the Adventure!"

Friday, July 26, 2013

I am

Written at the cabin
July 2013

I am...

The serrated line of a ragged horizon. 
The Smooth edge of a river stone.

Water, surging through a channel too small.
A mirrored lake with its placid coves.

The eagle drafting hot summer breezes. 
The fledgling fallen from its cozy nest.

A pleasant walk along a wooded path.
A Creature, wounded, bleeding, pursued.

The iridescent colors of the dragonfly.
The naked landscape in the dead of winter.

A raincloud, black, moody, ominous.
A Sunbeam burning through a morning haze. 

The melodic voice of the wood thrush.
The annoying rant of a crow. 








Accepted by
The Great I AM.