Thursday, October 31, 2013

Short trip


This trip to Maine was unplanned. Originally, Mom was coming to Georgia for Thanksgiving, but a couple months back she took a terrible fall that resulted in two brain bleeds and a detached lens in her right eye. Mom just had a second surgery on her eye, and may require one more. For the time being we are having a good visit and, as always, her spirit is great. She is one tough gal! Justin and Josh will arrive on Friday--icing on the cake.

I always enjoy the drive along Route 2 from Old Town to Greenbush that runs parallel to the Penobscot  River. From time to time the trees thin out or a field spreads out toward its banks and I can look for something out of the ordinary unfolding on the river. This drive was no disappointment. On a small sandbar an eagle was hunkered down with a fish in its talons. Violent jerks of its beak it stripped away pieces of flesh. I slowed down to a crawl and watched.

Fading hues of orange, yellow, and red have replaced the lush green corridor that just weeks ago walled the gravel road that leads to the cabin, and then transformed into a brilliant palette of vibrant Fall colors that explode across New England each autumn. They disappear as quickly as Fourth of July fireworks.

Our cabin has no insulation or electricity, so this time of year whatever the temperature is outside it's gonna be the same inside the spartan dwelling; it was 24 degrees! Needless to say, the first business at hand was getting a nest of kindling into the wood stove and a nice hot fire going! For the next couple of hours I fed it with small, fast burning wood and hovered over it trying to get warm. The particular aroma of burning wood, glowing embers, and the crackling and popping sounds of a fire never grows old. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hide-and-Seek

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, "I will confess my rebellion to the LORD." And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:1-5

Often when we are feeling guilty it is because we are. If we try to stuff that awareness down beneath the sensitive edges of our holy conscience it only increases our spiritual blindness, and creates a callous on our righteous souls that allows us to expand our boundaries of unacceptable bad behavior. We convince ourselves it is acceptable. If we refuse to take ownership of our sin, and we are a child of God, He will lean on us day and night. Heavier and heavier. God never sleeps and is quite weighty.

What do we do with guilt?

The best thing we can do with our sense of guilt is to take it immediately to God. That was something, by his own confession, David did not do. Choosing to hide it, his once stout spirit evaporated, cracked, and dried-up like a dusty river bottom under a desert sun.

Never play hide-and-seek. But if we are not sure what it is that's wrong, David gives us a clue as to where to begin the search. We must ask ourselves, "What are we trying to hide?" Rest assured, nothing brought to God will remain hidden, and we can clearly and concisely confess our sin.

There is another aspect to confession that is equally important--accept God's forgiveness and clearing away of our guilt. Live in the new found transparency, the light-hearted freedom of forgiveness, and boldly declare, "All my guilt is gone."  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wicked Good

Beth, Miss Meagan, and Anna

Like I said, I am over-Chicked!

Miss Meagan's,  best friend, Andrea, tied the knot. Meg was a bride's maid. Sandy and I traveled to the venue in north GA. to attend the ceremony. It was a clear and beautiful day, even though the temps were a little cooler than usual, for the open-air wedding. Meg and Andrea roomed together and attended the same university. All of us have spent a lot of hours together during their college days and after. For years Meg has drawn really cute line drawings that have shown up as doodles, celebrated friendships, or decorated book covers. She drew one for the bride and groom that was about 3'x5' and mounted outside the reception area. I enclosed a picture.

Before the wedding, Sandy and I drove up to Helen, GA. The architecture of there is Bavarian style, and the entire city, tucked away in the mountains, is touristy-themed likewise. We were pressed for time, but got in a little walking, ate lunch at a street side diner, and picked up some apple fritters from Hofer's to have with our breakfast coffee! They were wicked good!

My girls looked beautiful all dressed up for Kirk and Andrea's big day! I was over-Chicked! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Grateful

My Über-woodsmen friends, Brent and Glen, cleared trees at the cabin last winter

As soon as there's enough light my chainsaw will be whining. I just came in from outside and staring up at a sky full of stars. Cool air has finally arrived, and I am looking forward to opening up one of the tree lines toward the west, and stacking some wood for the fire pit. Hot dogs, s'mores, and marshmallows will soon be on the menu.

If everything comes together, we will have some of our family here at the farm for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, all of our children, our daughter-in-law, Erika, and the Amazing Wyatt will make the trek to the southeast from both ends of the country.

Sandy and I are grateful beyond words to have this beautiful spot here in Cataula, GA. to call home. The quaint little guest house is ready to host our kin to celebrate Thanksgiving, and the birth of Christ. Our pond will yield a string of largemouth bass, and miles of undulating woods trails are just waiting to be hiked. Double ovens will be cooking up fabulous meals, and the grill is on stand-by.

Halloween is a few days away, but we live so far back off the beaten path that little goblins, witches, and hobos won't be ringing our doorbell.

Hunting season is open, and we haven't seen hide nor hair of a deer that have been hanging around the edges of our yard. We miss nature's company. Tomorrow, we will be attending the wedding in north Georgia of one of Meagan's best friends. Miss Meg is a brides maid, so we will see her in just a few hours. Can't wait to hug my baby girl. The high temperature up that way will get half way between fifty and sixty. Gorgeous. I am told about one hundred thousand Georgians will also converge on the area to see the foliage. Through-hikers are finishing the last leg of their north-to-south journey across the Appalachian Trail. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Where God Finds Pleasure

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. ~ Psalm 146: 10-11


Cowboy, rolling on the ground laughing at my story!

We trotted through planted pines, loped along old woods roads, and galloped across fields enjoying the warm sunshine and the crisp air of an idyllic winter morning in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Rays of sunlight highlighted the muscular physique of the mount that carried me effortlessly along the fence line that led back to the barn. I was feeling comfortable in the saddle and in perfect rhythm with the rocking chair motion of the smooth stride of my Tennessee Walker. After all, it was only my second time straddling a horse. I was feeling pretty good about my skill in this new adventure.

Did you know horses sometimes take off like they are shot from a canon as they get closer to the barn?

I didn't.

Well, my horse lurched forward, then squatted backwards, and uncoiling like a jack-in-the-box, she literally launched me from the middle of her back. I sailed over her front in an ungraceful arc, landing square on my back. Slowly, I rolled over on all fours, hunched up like a cat walking a tight-wire, trying to get my wind back. In a couple of minutes I got my legs under me, and stood up. I brushed off the dirt and grass. The embarrassment I was covered with still clung to me.

In that moment I found no pleasure in the strength of a horse!

Was God not pleased with my horse? Actually, in that scenario, I think God found great pleasure in the strength of the horse! I believe our Creator has a sense of humor, and to go further, knew what was about to happen--Heaven would enjoy a little comedy relief. No worries, it would not be a Humpty Dumpty ending. In my imagination, God gathers a few of the saints around, and says, "Want to see something funny? Watch this."

Amid oohs and aahs and laughter, some saint giggles, "That had to hurt!"

The Psalmist is reminding us that God's greatest pleasure isn't found in the natural physical strength of those things He created--not horses and not people. Instead, His greatest pleasure is found where He finds the supernatural strength of faith. Nothing is more pleasing to God than a man, woman, boy, or girl who holds to the hope--that no matter what happens, they are in the Providential care of a God who unfailingly loves them.
  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mantras and Memes

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. ~ Psalm 146 (I encourage you to read this short Psalm in its entirety)


Written after the Babylonian Captivity that enslaved them for nearly six decades, God's people are now back in Jerusalem. A host of social problems plagued their society: political oppression, hunger, human rights violations, sickness, alien immigration, fatherlessness, and wicked people that preyed on the powerless and broken. Leaders, who were supposed lead God's people to follow them--as they followed God, instead slickly promoted themselves to godhood and blazed a trail into spiritual oblivion. The clueless and equally godless followed. It did not end well. Never does. Never will.

Sound familiar?

Let's get this straight, the messenger is not advocating that God's people trust no one, and conversely spout the pious mantra, we trust only God. That's not the way it works. That won't work.

Then what is he saying? Approaching the problem from the back door, he reminds them that they must come to grips with the heart of the problem. It the problem that leads to all others--if they didn't want God's help, they wouldn't get it. They are free to follow whom they chose.

But as mortals their attempts to solve problems--as immortal as the soul God gave them--were destined to fail. Spiritual problems are only solved with spiritual solutions. His charge was crystal clear--people of faith must turn back to God. Their mantra must be God-centered: Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the maker of heaven and earth. The way out is to humbly confess to God that we are in a mess of our own making, we need His help, and He is our only hope.

The Psalmist humbly implied to those who looked to him, "You can't trust me, nor human solutions, to bring deliverance. Let us seek God's deliverance." Sadly, that's a mantra we are unlikely to hear from world leaders, or a new meme posted on Facebook. Instead, we will continue to look for mortal gods to solve the problems only The Immortal God can.



Monday, October 21, 2013

This Needs Not Happen

One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty...They will tell of the power of your awesome works...
~ Psalm 145



My father has been with the Lord for several years now. He left all of us with many memories, and a legacy of kindness, faithfulness, hard work, and humility. I have an old black and white photo of my dad from his boyhood. It intrigues me. Standing on the rocks in the middle of a stream somewhere in Maine is my dad. Something is rolled up in his little boy hands. Maybe a ball cap? The sleeves of his white shirt are turned up at the elbow. He is wearing a necktie. A necktie? The first time I saw it the question immediately came to mind: Why was dad wearing a necktie? Was this an afternoon picnic after church? Where is this place? Who took the picture? I have wished a thousand times I knew where that spot is, so that I could know a little more about his childhood, and stand where he once stood--maybe as much as seventy five years ago. But I don't know the backstory, or where he was, because he never told me, and there are no living witnesses to that summer afternoon decades ago. Dad told me a lot of things during his sojourn. Important things. He and mom made sure that me and all my siblings knew the greatest story ever told, the Gospel. But the context around the picture is one he didn't tell me before he left, so I will never know it here on earth.

Each of us is leaving behind memories that are pictures and impressions in the minds of those we share life with. I, too, will also leave behind my story, Enjoying the Adventure. It is important to me that those within my sphere of influence know what my life was about. When I am gone there will be times when loved ones will reflect on: what I held dear; why I went to China; why I committed my life to advancing God's Kingdom; what made me tick, and a host of of other things. As paradoxical as my life is, I hope my legacy of successes and failures are unquestionably linked to God's glorious splendor, majesty, and awesome work. The collusion of God working with man will always be an enigma.

In the Psalm above, David spoke of how important it is to pass on the greatest of all stories--the mighty acts of God. Reading what David says, I realize that any family, no matter how far their Christian heritage stretches back, is only one generation from the scarlet thread of redemption being broken, and the spiritual bloodline ending. For this to happen, all that needs to happen is to not tell them what happened. How important it is that we live with an awareness of what God has done in our lives, and not miss opportunities to declare those deeds to the next generation. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wild Mustangs

Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust? It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength when it charges out to battle. It laughs at fear and is unafraid... ~ God's response to Job


I have always loved horses, and through the generosity of my friend Cary have the pleasure of riding from time to time. I am a cowboy wannabe, with spurs, chaps, riding boots, and a Stetson. Now, I am taking an art class on drawing, and just posted my first drawing--a wild mustang.

As the old saying goes, "There's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse." Once I am in the saddle, the boy in me is fully alive. Leaning over the edge of the saddle, I pretend I am  tracking a deer or an outlaw. Ducking under a low-hanging branches, or short gallops through a meadow in the woods is exhilarating. As I bob in the saddle through dappled sunlight, I admit it--my imagination runs wild, I keep a keen eye out for places a real cowboy could have been ambushed and lost his scalp.

A few years ago Sandy, Meagan, and I went to Montana. While there, our friend David Roberts guided us sixty miles out into the desert in search of wild mustangs. As we drove along a dirt road our eyes scanned the horizon, peering through rising heat waves as far as we could see. We passed some mustangs that were corralled, but wanted to see the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, unbridled, and running free.

The odometer continued to spin and plumes of dust billowed-up around the Subaru as we traveled further and further into barren, hilly, desert-like terrain. Finally, about a half mile off the twisting gravel line we followed, stood a small herd of five mustangs gathered at the base of some foothills. David, pulled the vehicle off to the side, and we began to slowly make our way toward them. As the gap between us closed, I expected them to bolt away, manes and tails streaming behind them and across their spines. They didn't. Slowly we inched in their direction, ever checking the ground beneath our feet for a coiled rattler, scorpions, and knee-high thorny briers that grabbed at our bare legs. Lizards skittered and jackrabbits disappeared in a few prodigious bounds. The mustangs held their ground.

For us it was a God-moment. Soon we had front row seats on the desert floor no more than fifteen feet away from the beautiful creatures. Our hearts pounded inside our chests. They were majestic and breathtaking. Among them was their leader and guarantee of a progeny; a jet black stallion! Each of the mares was unique. Nervously they twitched, and we could see the gorgeous muscles of their magnificently sculpted bodies. Streams of sunlight reflected off their backs revealing hues of buckskin, red, gray, blue, and mousy browns. Ever on guard, the big stallion rolled his black eyes toward us, stomped and snorted in our direction, making sure we knew who was boss. Old scars and fresh slashes ran in different directions along his neck and rump. He had been battle tested. Obviously, many an interloper had been turned away from his harem.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Hard Time

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked  ~ Proverbs 24:16

Take a good look at that Scripture and listen to its voice. Here is what it is saying, "You are godly, you will get back up again. You are godly, not even seven disasters will overthrow you."

Sandy and our oldest son, Justin.
That's not "positive" thinking. It's Biblical thinking! God in us, or godliness, is always going to take us in one direction when we fall down; up. That is true, not because I fully understand it, but because God repeatedly says it. Elsewhere the Apostle Paul said it this way: But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ's triumphal procession...Christ has begun a good work in you and he will see it through to completion. Christ's message not only captured us, but it also captivates us and carries us to the finish line. He is leading the procession, and though we may get knocked down, we will not be knocked out. We must be quick to repent, but notice that the Proverb still refers to the fallen as the godly.

I say this because of its powerful truth. More and more, I have come to find that when godly people fail we re-categorize or re-tag ourselves with a name that puts us in some sort of a spiritual purgatory--not quite godly and not quite ungodly. If we do so, we will live out of that false identity. From that point on we will never fully rise out of the ashes of our failures to our full stature in Christ. Wrong thinking swaps our captivation with the Emancipator--to a Prison Warden. Rather than being led up and away from our failings by our Deliverer, we live in a spiritual halfway house, and surrender our complete freedom to the jailer. We stagger along with just enough belief that the Emancipator has commuted our sentence to do hard time, but we resign our self to a hard time. For those emancipated by the gospel, our truest identity is godly. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let's not swap it for a prison number.





Thursday, October 17, 2013

All In/All Out

Bring me out of prison so I can thank you. The godly will crowd around me, for you are good to me. ~ Psalm 142: 7


There are different kinds of prisons, but at least once a week I spend time talking with men who are currently in prison, or transitioning out of Federal and State Prisons. Through conversation, these men take me into their world. We talk about how they landed in prison, how long they have been incarcerated. As trust is gained, so, too, is permission to go deeper into their story.

Earlier this week Sandy and I were talking about Psalm 142, and looking at it from different perspectives and applications. And don't you know, later that same day God arranged an opportunity for me to talk to a man who has been behind bars for fifteen years, and to another young man who was a former gang-banger, a prisoner of a different kind--locked up within the walls of a destructive lifestyle.

During both conversations, it seemed that God was giving me the green light to drill beneath the surface and get more of their story. Both hold the hope of ending well. Why? Because godly people are reaching out to them.

My friend will soon finish his sentence behind literal barriers and bars. Outside, Believers--the godly crowd around him, have stayed in touch with him and his family and are helping him put a plan together to live in a world with no visible walls. My felon friend is obviously a bright guy, his relationship with God is remarkable and seems as genuine as any I know. When the time is right, and with his permission, I will write his story. Just know this--I love the guy, his testimony is compelling, and I pray for him daily.

The second guy goes by the name "Whop." Short for Whopper.

"I was a really big baby when I was born, so my grandma called me Whopper, like in Burger King." He explained.

Whop writes, produces, and performs rap music that carries themes of deliverance he has found in Christ. Whop is All In with Christ, and All Out of the gang-banger life. My favorite song he has written tells of his journey and is titled "Crossed Over." I play it regularly. Ironically, he isn't allowed to sing the new song God has given him in his church (like I said, there are different kinds of prisons and chains). It doesn't bother him. He said his church family loves him in other ways--the godly crowd around him, helping him grow in Christ. He loves them. Venues continue to open for Whop to share the redemption story, and he keeps singing of his Redeemer. Recently, Whop sang at the funeral of one of his friends he used to gang-bang with--a young man shot to death in a drive-by shooting. He had a hard time singing, and with a touch of embarrassment, said he cried through most of it. Hundreds were at the funeral. Many of them from Whop's old gang. After the service, out in the parking lot, Whop shared the gospel with a group of five from the "Hood."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Unsettled Hearts

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them...I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.



True friendships bring couplets of sorrow and joy, relief and concern. We are not talking about sorrow or concern in the sense that a friend may hurt us, or joy and relief as they reach out to us. Instead, let's think about friendship from the perspective Paul addressed in his letter to his comrades in Thessalonica: the burdens and concerns our friends carry become burdens and concerns that we vicariously share with them, and they can leave us unsettled. The Believers in Thessalonica were unsettled, and the state of their faith raised a fear in Paul's heart--a healthy fear, because he knew that the tempter was trying to get his hooks into the hearts and minds of his friends and drag them away from the life of faith.

The apostle is incredibly clear-minded and realistic about the situation. Immediately, he reminded them of a truth that must always be kept in the forefront: You know quite well that we were destined for them [trials]. It's unavoidable, advancing the Kingdom will inevitably bring an entirely different set of problems into the life of one who becomes a fully engaged Believer. Why? Because they are stepping out of the darkness into the light, from slavery into freedom, and from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. It is a rugged journey. Make no mistake, Paul knew that Believers are family. Connected. He knew that the unsettling he and his fellow workers experienced could be misinterpreted and settle into a bout of discouragement, and a loss of faith in his friends in Thessalonica. That unsettled Paul and he acted.  

The apostle Peter said very much the same thing in a slightly different way: Don't be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening. Don't mistake Peter's attitude when he told them not to be surprised at their trials. The once upon a time fisherman, was being anything but cavalier. No, he was coming alongside them to share the burden his friends carried. He knew what was at stake: they might interpret their trials in such a way that would unsettle their faith, and that left Peter unsettled. It was time to reach out.

The bottom line is this. When God puts fellow Believer on our hearts, we can know that it is time to seek them out, bring our strength to them, and be an encouragement. When a God-sent niggling arrives, letting us know that a friend is bent under a burden, He is also calling us to be burden bearers. It is a holy unsettling to remind us that we need to help settle the disquieted heart of a friend--and our own heart, by being a responder.



Monday, October 14, 2013

A Fair Question?

We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2: 18-19

Sherran and Sandy--best friends since grade school

Have you ever thought much about these words Paul sent off to his friends in Thessalonica?

He told them that Satan was dead set on keeping friends disconnected.

"We kept trying to connect with you, friends, and Satan kept preventing it from happening. Again and again!"

Why does the Evil One do that?

Because he knows how important relationships are to us, to others, and to God. They aren't just one of the nice things in life, they are a necessity. They are the Life!

The Apostle's words are truly thought provoking. "Where will we find hope and joy?" he asks. "If not in our friends?" Consider this: Paul, who was indeed a Super-Saint, relentlessly pursued his friendships. He didn't buy into some super-spiritual/Lone Ranger credo and try to walk The Walk alone. No, he knew that friendships provide a reciprocating conduit through which the faith-renewing energy of hope and joy flows between Believers. It doesn't matter who we are, we need friends. Satan actually does conspire to separate vital comrades. "Go it alone." he tries to convince us. But we know we can't.

Is this a fair and reasonable question to ask? "Who, not what, is really at work disconnecting me and my friends?" It's an important question, too. Enduring friendships in this life will matter even more in the afterlife, because, said Paul, they are spiritual rewards and crowns inseparably linked to holiness. Regarding our relationships we all want to hear Jesus say, "Well done."

Let's stay in touch, friends.






Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don't even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn't prove I'm right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 1 Cor. 4:3-4


One of these photos is upside-down.

Which one is it?

This post is interactive...

Grab a felt-tip or whiteboard marker, and use it like a ruler to measure the distance from the bottom of your chin to the top of your head (don't poke yourself in the eye).

You may have found that the distance from the bottom of your chin to the top of your head may be one-and-a half marker-lengths, plus or minus.

Now, go to the mirror you use each day to put on your make-up or to shave.

Stand at the same distance you do every day and look at your reflection.

Take the marker and draw a horizontal line on the mirror where the bottom of your chin is.

Now draw a horizontal line where the top of your head is on the mirror.

Measure that distance between your chin and the top of your head that you marked on the mirror with your marker.

Amazing, huh? You just found out that your image in the mirror is about half the length of the actual length of your head. You have also learned that the left-side of your brain can make you see what it, or you, wants to see. Your brain told you you were seeing an exact image of yourself in the mirror. Actually, you were scaled back; the mirror reduced you by one-half.

The Apostle Paul didn't trust himself to see himself as he really was. He knew the power of the human ego to see what it wants to see. Paul reminds us of something we all know--someone can take information about you and manipulate it. You know what I mean--there are people who, due to limited information and observation of us, think us much more saintly than we actually are. There are others, who selectively take information about someone and demonize them.

Paul was pretty "straight-up" when it came to his own self-evaluation. He knew that he was unable--with perfect objectivity--to evaluate his own conduct. He also knew that nobody else was either. What did Paul do? He kept his conscience clear through regular confession of his failures, and by giving glory to God for his successes. In the end, he left the final evaluation in the Lord's hands.


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Artist...

Toward the eastern horizon and the back corner of the pond there is a V-shaped notch in the tree line. At dawn, as the sun climbs out of bed, it first peeks into our back yard through that slit. Most mornings the sky is clear, so the distribution of light is uniform as it first silhouettes the round edges of the deciduous trees and the steeple-like shapes of the Georgia pines. It's a wonderful welcome to another day.

Some days, though, in that same easterly direction, and above the wedge of ragged skyline there is a cloud covering as heavy as a carpet, or wispy like a horse's tail. Other times, it is like islands of white sand dotting a sea of blue. Fall has arrived, and with the cooler weather the advent of a new day causes light-gray patches of fog to rise and slowly drift across the surface of the pond.


Yesterday, just before daybreak, the Creator began blending His colors. Straight ahead of me was His canvas and easel. As the stars began to dim, and the day began to brighten, The Artist pulled shades of green from the trees, darkness from the night, soft reflections from the fading stars, growing light from the coming day, and mixed them on His palette. First He sketched the faint outlines of the clouds that would arrive with first light. For a moment He stood still, and then began to illuminate the backdrop. With the swirl of His brush, Islands of the whitest-white appeared before my very eyes. Perfect in composition, He dispersed them across an ocean of azure that grew deeper and deeper in hue. With gentle strokes He laid down tendrils of fog whose ghostly fingers captured shimmering rays of light and pulled them into its embrace. Suddenly, into the breach He splashed the golden sun that exploded and flashed through the funnel-shaped opening. For his finale, it seemed like The Artist tipped over His canvas--what He had created in the heavens, He brought down to earth.

And I got a picture...    

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dreaming...

When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. ~ Psalm 126


Nearly every morning Sandy and I have a coffee together. Then she goes to her office just off the living room, and I go downstairs to mine. She curls up in her big chair to read and journal, and I go outside, sit in a red canvas chair, take in the stars, and then settle in behind my desk to read and journal. Before we head out for work, we huddle up a few minutes and sort of debrief. Last week we talked about the Psalm at the top of this post.

We feel like we have come out of captivity. Don't misunderstand, we do not consider our stint in China as serving time. Far from it. No, ours was an incarceration of a different kind. The best way I can describe it is to say that as things unraveled we just didn't have the confidence of God's leading in our lives--like we were always looking through prison bars. We felt battered, and a sense that we were being bounced from pillar-to-post. In the midst of it all we continued to bring our disquieted souls to God as best we knew how and prayed for the restoration of our fortunes. God only knows that we had financial needs, but those were not the "fortunes" we were seeking. What we needed most was a new song, a renewed joy, and a fresh vision from God.

God is doing just that. Materially, our needs are being met. Geographically, spiritually, and emotionally the prison doors have been sprung, and we are walking toward the daylight of an ever expanding freedom. Friends in our world are celebrating with us the great things the LORD has done on our behalf. Together, we are filled with joy. We know that weeping and sowing will always be a part of the journey, but some of those tears have begun to bring forth fruit, and a harvest is just around the corner.

We are possibility-dreaming again...the prison bars have become window frames.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

As Seasons Change...


Slowly and deliberately, the mercury still climbs into the middle eighties. But mornings are much cooler and serve notice that Fall is advancing--one falling degree at a time. Each day, the sun stays closer to the edge of the horizon.

Sitting in our backyard, I can see--even smell--the advance of autumn. Everything green is losing its brilliance, and reveals splotches of gold and yellow. Thousands of leaves cast-off their bowlines that once anchored them to sweet gum and oak trees, and flutter to the rippled surface of the pond. Like miniature ships, laden with the last vestiges of summer, they sail away. Only days ago, Lantana, once dotted with hundreds of golden buds, is becoming a solid, muted, hedge of green. Butterflies, that floated above it in abandon, disappear earlier and earlier each afternoon. Above me, the skies are gray. Breezes sift through the trees and whisper, "Summer is past."

In the Southeast, we welcome the retreat of summer, and cheer the advance of cooler weather. Here in the countryside of Cataula, farmers are making a last-ditch effort to mow hay, churn it into wind rows, and roll it into huge, round, bales for one last harvest. Hunters pray for rain that will cause their food plots to spring up; they dream of coaxing a trophy-mount into range of their bows and long guns. It's about bragging rights. Hikers are unpacking their gear, checking the forecast, and romanticizing of trekking along winding trails, and spending the night around a campfire under a canopy of starry lights.

Before you know it we will be basting the turkey, gathering with family, and giving thanks for all that God has provided. Thanksgiving will meld into the Christmas season, and resolutions for the coming New Year will fill our journals.




Learning Curve

I am still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely in the the arms of God. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Teacher...You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?" But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at at it." He asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's they replied. Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."  ~ Mark 12:13-17


One of the things that separates Jesus--the original Christian, from much of today's Christianity, is Scripture's record of his constant engagement with his world. Jesus made no attempt to surround himself with those who would protect him from the hard questions, and the hard-nosed. Indeed, there were those  who followed him in awe, and leaned favorably toward his message, but mostly we see Jesus living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities among those who pushed-back against his message. Jesus didn't proclaim himself The Way, The Truth, and The Life, and then never lead the way, debate truth, and engage in real-life. 

Jesus' example and Bonhoeffer's confession are worthy of every believer's  careful consideration. I say that because we, as Believers, often shrink back from the hard questions and hard-nosed people of our world. We know The Truth, The Way, and The Life, but instead, may play it safe and cloister with those who are of like mind and like language and insulate ourselves. That is not at all how Jesus went about his days. 

A second thought--one I have had to address in my own life. Most of my adult life has been spent in vocational Christian ministry. During that time I've had many un-churched/non-religious friends, and I engaged with them as their life unfolded outside the church. However, the lion's share of my time was spent with people who shared most of the values I did, and spoke a common language heavily accented by the Faith. But in the last five years I have been working in secular environments, and the ratios have completely reversed. Now, I spend a little bit of time immersed in a Christian culture, and a whole lot of time around many people only marginally connected to Christianity. On a day-to-day basis, I am no longer surrounded by a pastoral and church staff, or gathering with masses of people who carry Bibles, and know the words to praise music. 

That being said, the last five years have been a time of discovery. First, in spending as much time in a non-church environment I have discovered that many Christians in the workplace choose to disengage in the very world God has placed them to show the Way, share the Truth, and live the Life. I have battled my own temptation to assimilate into a mindset and actions that requires no faith. 

My new environment sets the stage for a challenging learning curve of faith. I am embracing it and enjoying the adventure. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer's quote--I am continually discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that I am learning to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, I have to throw myself completely into the arms of God. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sound Choices

Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. (A song my mother taught me when I was a child. A song I still believe.)

Picture of a little picture taker I took while in China. 

During the first service at Christ Community Church this morning, there were 400 to 500 people in attendance. One of our pastors, Derek Shields, gave a powerful object lesson...

"This past week we had a gala for Sound Choices. Hundreds attended. Sound Choices is a ministry that exists to give women considering abortion the option to carry their yet born infant to full term. In the last twenty four months Sound Choices saw the lives of four hundred and forty two infants, the equivalent of nearly every person here in attendance, spared."

And Heaven rejoiced!


Riding the Waves


This morning the edge of the horizon looked like the shores of the ocean; the clouds stacked up in rows like sand caught up in the waves as they rolled onto the beach.

In a couple of hours I will be bringing a part of the message during both services at Christ Community Church. Praying that I will catch the wave of God's work, and ride it. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Still As A Statue



A Great Blue Heron, and a White Tail Deer standing as still at statues in my back yard. Scenes like this are serendipitous, but every morning I circle the inside of the house, check the outside landscape from every window, and look expectantly for something beautiful to reveal itself. I know that I am a nature junkie. When wildlife shows up in such an unusual way, to me, it's supernatural, and a gift from the Creator.

Next week is my last class on the fundamentals of drawing. Next I will be taking lessons on how to draw animals. From there, I will move on to portraits, and then to watercolors.

For years I have had the yearning to learn to write, draw, and take up photography. I believe it's a God thing...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Twenty Seconds

A blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road. He heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, and he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" "Be quiet!" many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder...When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, "Tell him to come here." Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus Asked. The blind man said, " I want to see!" And Jesus said to him, "Go, for your faith has healed you." Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road. ~ Mark 10:46-52

Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of courage. ~ A line from the movie, We Bought A Zoo


Blind Bartmaeus had never seen Jesus, he had only heard about him. But in his mind he could see him. And what he saw was someone walking his way who was merciful, powerful, and the descendant of Israel's greatest King, David. An impoverished and impotent beggar, and a king in waiting. How could their lots in life be any different? It didn't matter. Something rose up in Bartimaeus, and he cried out to the image he held in his mind.

"Bartimaeus! Shut up!" angry voices screamed at him. Disheveled but not dissuaded, the beggar craned his head upward, his empty eye sockets spasmed, and the veins in his neck bulged and pulsed as he desperately bellowed all the louder. Cupping his dirty, rough, brown hands around his mouth he let loose another pitiful and primal scream. He knew that in about twenty seconds his cries would fall short; the feet of the Miracle Worker would have carried him beyond the sound of his pleas. Bartimaeus found the courage to believe in the image in his heart for about twenty seconds, and called out for mercy.

Jesus is always nearby; his Spirit does not come and go as Jesus did during the days he physically walked this earth. He is an ever-present help in our time of need. In our moments of desperation, often all we need is twenty seconds of courage. But like Bartimaeus we have never seen Jesus, so we must ask ourselves, "What image of Jesus do I hold in my heart and mind?" Merciful? Powerful? King of Kings? Think about how important that is, because it is in those first moments-when things begin to unravel--that the courage of faith or the discouragement of hopelessness wins the day. Only faith can heal us, and those first twenty seconds are where we find out who we believe Jesus really is. In our crises of belief, and in nearly every situation--we make up our mind how we will respond in about twenty seconds.

Remember this, too. Voices will try to shout-down and shut-down our belief that Jesus cares one whit or will do one thing about our lot in life. A din of angry babble will converge, intent on convincing us to sit on the curb--our spirits impoverished. To remain blind--to the world of possibilities Jesus has for us.

If we listen to those voices our Hope will vanish...in about twenty seconds.



  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Waiting For the "Yes."

Then Peter began to speak up, "We have given up all to follow you," he said. "Yes," Jesus replied... ~ Mark 10


Invisible rays from the afternoon sun pour down on the white fence that links from post-to-post across the pasture, and the boards glow. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows that surround me, I can see tiny, neon colored lizards scamper across the deck and railings. Across the pasture of freshly mown hay, bluebirds flit in and out of the dark holes in the beige gourds--homes originally designed for swallows. Fall is coming, and leaves are ever so slightly turning. Fly Catchers acrobatically whiz by doing what they do--catch flies. Butterflies float by in gentle, happy, but haphazard patterns of flight. Acorns plunking off the roof and the shhhhhh of the air conditioner are the only sounds.

It could be just the melancholy that is never far away in me, but as I sit here in the quietness of our home, reading and writing, I can't seem to get away from Peter's words to Jesus, "We have given up all to follow you." I'm thinking that Peter spoke his mind more as a question than as a declarative statement. I try to imagine how Peter and his comrades felt when Jesus, whom they so deeply loved and respected, responded, "Yes, you have." I also know that time and testing proved they had yet to give up everything. There was a lot about them that wouldn't work if they were to pick up the mantle and continue what Jesus started. I know that Jesus confirmed them where they were in the journey. He knew that as far as they could perceive and understand, they had given up everything to follow him.

It causes me to think about my own spiritual journey. I know there have been times when, like Peter and the other eleven, I believed I had given up, or let go of, everything to follow Jesus. I know that I love him. I also know that time and testing proved there was much I still clung to more dearly than Jesus. I know that yesterday's heart is not always today's heart, so I pray Peter's prayer, "We have given up everything to follow you." Mine, too, is more of a question than a declarative cry.

I wait to hear from Jesus, "Yes, you have."

To My Ten Friends :-)


This Sunday, October 6, I will be speaking at Christ Community Church in Columbus GA. It's an opportunity I am thrilled with, and surely not taking lightly. Putting this out in cyberspace is a great risk, a friend (and bantering nemesis) warned me. "Don't let the word out, or the Sunday crowd might be thin."

About ten people probably read my blog, so the risk is minimal!

Keith, the Lead Pastor at CCC, and I will be having a conversation about the impact believers in businesses and organizations, who are also leaders there, can have in the workplace. It's a relevant and important topic. In the New Testament alone we see instance-after-instance when business leaders who became believers--such as: Lydia; Matthew; Zacheus; Cornelius; Joseph, called Barnabas; Philemon; the Roman Centurion; the women who supported Christ; Joseph of Arimathea--saw their vocation as a platform to advance the Kingdom.

There were other influencers who were believers, or stood at the cusp of belief, who did not: The rich young ruler; rich Christians that James spoke of; Simon the sorcerer; Ananias and Sapphira.

As you can see, it's not a marginal topic.

Over the years I have had friends (even my bantering nemesis) who have not compartmentalized their life into secular and sacred, but instead, view it all as sacred. They invest the blessings of their position in the workplace, their position in the community, influence, and resources God has providentially provided, to advance His purposes.

It works...

During the week, I spend my days in the workplace--all secular businesses--where owners and leaders give Corporate Chaplains of America the privilege to care for them, their management teams, and their associates. This year, we have seen thousands come to Christ, and have cared for people in every life-situation imaginable. Many of those we serve have yet to darken the doors of a church or embrace the message of the Cross. Many never will. We give care to everyone. Unconditionally.

Here is the Mission Statement we pursue together:

To build caring relationships, with the hope of gaining permission to share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ, in a non-threatening manner. 

So...I ask my ten friends who read this blog to pray for Keith and me as we prepare to speak this Sunday.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Irrefutable Evidence

Then Peter began to speak up. "We've given up everything to follow you," he said. "Yes," Jesus replied, "and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property--along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then." ~ see Mark 10:17-31

Peter spoke these words to Jesus just moments after the moral and wealthy young man declined Jesus' rite of passage into discipleship training, hung his head, and sadly walked away. Jesus' prerogative is to assign each one of us a place in the Kingdom, and the level of sacrifice may seem unfair. From our earthly viewpoint the cost of follow-ship is much more for some than others. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor... Then come follow me. Peter recognized this. Dumbfounded, he asked, Who then can be saved?

At the young man's core was a high level of commitment to morality and money. When you get right down to the brass tacks, those two things defined him. His request simply revealed he thought he could be moral, rich, and sold-out to the Kingdom. Jesus knew in his case that was impossible.

We've given up everything to follow you. Jesus agreed with Peter, and gave a confounding response. At first glance it appears that Jesus was saying--Whatever you give up materially, I will materially return one hundred times over in this world. That is not what Jesus was saying. A quick read of Fox's Book of Martyrs, Hebrews chapter eleven, or the New Testament in general debunks that interpretation. No, entering the Kingdom is not at all like investing our last red-cent to purchase a Megabucks ticket, knowing full well we have the winning numbers.

What Jesus was saying is that when a person completely sells out for the Good News, they receive in this life spiritual blessings that exceed their wildest imagination. For sure, just as it was Jesus' prerogative to set the terms of discipleship for the rich young man, in some instances Jesus' prerogative is to bless some people materially. But he is not bound to that give-and-take exchange.

Look at that passage again. Notice what Jesus also said...

Did you see it? They will receive--persecution. All-in means all-out spiritual warfare. That is the testimony of the Church that Jesus Christ is building, and it is irrefutable.