Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Something Beautiful--Something Broken

Our home is tucked away amid towering pines and seasonally barren oak and sweet gum trees. Undulating hay fields roll on for acres, west by northwest. Looking east, we are cozied up next to our bass and brim filled pond. Like a giant mirror it doubles the magnificence of pastel sunrises and images it captures in its reflection.

Unusual for our part of the world, a winter storm arrived in these parts. Here in Cataula, at least for a few hours, about three inches of dazzling white will cover the deathly beige hues and earth tones of fall. For a few hours, our beautiful panorama--that we call The Shire--will be even more charming.

Just north of us, the wintry mix is being dubbed snow-pocalypse. What brought us a serendipitous moment of beauty, also brought an unexpected reign of terror for others. Natural forces colluded and collided engineering a serious and dangerous situation. Thousands of motorist were stranded on ice-glazed highways. Mangled cars and tangled traffic made roads impassable. Children hunkered down in their schools waiting for parents who never arrived. Many motorists, when spinning wheels could no longer inch their vehicles forward, abandoned their rides and set out on foot. High-heels and dress-shoes be damned, they would be with their kids! Wherever they were. No matter what. Others sought shelter in churches that opened their arms, hearts, and doors. Big-box stores, or single-family homes and apartments became good Samaritans providing care for perfect strangers.

Hundreds of great stories will emerge of people coming through for one another.

Sometimes we are in the beauty--Sometimes in the brokenness. But we are all in it together. Let's never forget that...



   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Whiteness...

Automobiles and porch railings are entombed in a fragile shell of ice. Pellets of sleet bounce off the windows and lay like thousands of diamonds on the walkway. Gravity pulls trickles of water down every vertical structure, forming frozen teardrops. Above, skies are a solid sheet of dull-gray with no variance of shades. Not a bird, squirrel, or creature stirs. Snow falls straight down from the heavens. Shingles, once black, turn white on the roof of the guest cottage. 

Winter has come to Cataula


Friday, January 24, 2014

Masterpieces...

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. ~ Ephesians 2:10

While teaching in China, Sandy and I went to Thailand during Chinese Spring Festival. We had just left an area of China that was brutally cold, and where the sun had been blocked out for days on end by a heavy blanket of coal dust and smog. In Thailand we felt like we had returned to the Garden of Eden. Lush vegetation, warm breezes, and the melodic language of the Thai people welcomed us. Sitting on the beach in the powdery  sand, we prepared for our first sundown in paradise. A Thai fisherman in a longboat was gracefully casting his nets as he rowed parallel to the shore. Like a giant orange ball, the sun slowly plunged to the horizon, streaking the skies with striking colors of orange, yellow, and peach. Multiple shades of blue reflected off the aqua and air palette that filled the easel of my camera lens. As the fiery globe dropped vertically, and the fisherman rowed horizontally, the three elements provided a magical intersection and composition. On the distinct line that separated the ocean and the heavens everything merged. Our eyes filled with tears as I zoomed in on the epic scene that presented itself.

A photo op of a lifetime.

This morning, just before writing these few words, I read from Ephesians. Over and over again I marveled at how God sees you and me. To our Creator, each of us is a masterpiece as original as every sunset, more beautiful than a profound vignette, and promised that our future is all set.

That thought, too, filled my eyes with tears of gratitude...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Flood of Light and Hope...

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called--his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. ~ Ephesians 1:18

It's morning here in the Southeast, and in just a couple of hours the sun will chase away the darkness. For some of my friends in other parts of the world daylight is turning to dark. But for each of you, I am sending this prayer of the Apostle Paul's, and asking God to flood your heart with light and hope... 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Drama of Dogma


Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as "a bad press." We are constantly assured that churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine--"dull dogma," as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man--dogma is the drama. ~ Dorothy Sayer

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Audiences...

I woke up this morning with a single thought going through my mind; a voice speaking quietly that increased in strength and decibels in my soul: "Live your life for an audience of One." When Sandy and I prayed together the same phrase turned into a spoken request: "Remind me to live for an audience of One." When I opened God's Word, the same message leaped from its pages: "Live your life for an audience of One."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The-God-Who-Is…The-God-Who-Is-Not

After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz. "I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately of me, as my servant Job has. ~ Job 42:7



Every nerve ending screamed pain as the rough edge of the pottery shard scraped the dried blood and brittle scabs covering the volcanoes of suffering that had erupted through the surface of his skin. Fresh crimson flowed like lava gathering gray ashes that left streaks down his arms and legs. As Job reeled from the violent death of his children, his vanished possessions, and his livelihood, a concoction of sympathy, pity, confusion, and loss of hope caused Job's wife to wail. "Curse God and die." He would curse the day he was born, but he would not curse his God. But the tortuous days turned into weeks, and Job's thoughts and complaints went deeper into the dark question of "Why?"

Suffering will raise questions the good times never will. Does anything stir up the content of our faith more than pain? Eliphaz and others presumed to have all the answers to the root of Job's suffering. But God never answered Job's questions. God's silence surprised and confused Job.

We are no different.

In suffering our very questions are steeped in our belief in God and our un-belief in God. Meaning, if we didn't believe in Him at all, we wouldn't hold him responsible for our Providence, yet we don't believe in Him enough to trust our Providence to his care. Hard words, I know, and like so many before us, we have lashed out during suffering.

Toward the end of his epic, Job revealed that he had misgivings about God, and that he based some of his beliefs about God on what he had heard from others. In the latter, I don't believe he was trying to pass the buck; I believe he was stating a revelation that suffering had brought about. "It is I--and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me… I had only heard about you before…"

Sometimes we need to deconstruct and un-learn what we have been taught or come to believe about God--especially regarding suffering. Brutal honesty may mean a confession/repentance that we have listened to too many theological/theoretical voices or placed our wisdom above God's without ever listening to The Voice that speaks amid suffering. Misconceptions about suffering can destroy our faith. Often the God we believe in is one we have created, rather than the One who created us. Trusting in that God--the one we created--we come out of suffering not as gold purified by fire, but instead may become a simmering caldron of molten and consuming anger, disappointment, and disillusionment.

"Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." That would be, as Brennan Manning says, ruthless trust. I, for one, bravely and sincerely adopted such a mantra, and maybe you did too. Then, we learn that we have to live with pain that transcends the physical, like broken dreams and relationships, God's seeming favor lost, career advancement reversed, or diminished health and wealth. One at a time, or all at once, life caves in on us. It is in those circumstances that what we believe about God comes to the surface.

In the end, Job got it right. He chose The-God-Who-Is, rather than The-God-Who-Is-Not. He did not come away an agnostic or an atheist.

Neither will we.

To God be the glory...


Saturday, January 11, 2014

First Try


Sketch of Sandy. Not exactly a mirror
image…

This is the first time I have tried to do a pencil portrait of some one I know...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Letting Go...


In any divine analogy, there is a similarity between the human words used about God and the reality of God himself; there is also, however, a radical dissimilarity… The more we let go of our concepts and images, which always limit God, the bigger God grows and the more we approach the mystery of his indefinability. When we overlook the dissimilarity, we begin to speak with obnoxious familiarity about the Holy, make ludicrous comments such as "I could never imagine God doing such a thing," calmly predict Armageddon, glibly proclaim infallible discernment of the will of God, and trivialize God, trimming the claws of the Lion of Judah. ~ Brennan Manning

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Aslan


"Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
~ C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Big Small Moments...

I am sitting at my desk reading, gathering thoughts to write down, and waiting to see the sun that is being filtered by a winter blanket of clouds illuminate the treetops on this first day of 2014. Sandy and I have been up since about 4:30 talking non-stop about a wide range of topics. Not to be pitied, because we didn't choose to watch 2013 pull the shades on its final night. Maybe we will watch the first night of the New Year turn to the second morning. We will spend today together thinking, talking, praying and planning about how we will spend whatever days ahead God gives us.


Squares, triangles, circles, and ragged patches of blue are appearing through the gaps in the horizon, and duplicating their symmetry on the still surface of the pond. My door that leads outside is ajar, so I will be able to hear the birds stir from their slumber and begin to call to one another. Even now, trills and tweets are building to a crescendo. Rain or shine they always seem happy and thankful for a new sunrise. On the other end of the pond the gray light is casting enough illumines to reveal the amber hues of the field, and the thick trunks of oaks and pines. To this point I don't see any dark silhouettes of deer, coyotes, or four-footed creatures foraging for food.

Over the last month, I have stood by the bedside of three infants and two young adults that didn't make it to 2014. Not including the death of our friend Robert. Each encounter was a constant reminder that life is precious, fragile, and its duration unpredictable. Such realities can prove to be "God moments." They are sobering, but they can also be turning points that cause us to appreciate every day and to live out our redemption like each may be our last.

As we think about the next 365 days ahead--tabbed 2014, let's live like we believe the words of Jesus: "I have come that you might have life and live it to the fullest." Let us remember that as life happens in small increments--seconds and minutes, in reality they may be large moments. Let us not make big moments small. How else can we avoid them turning into meaningless days and weeks and months? Let us ask ourselves perhaps the most important questions of all: Why did Jesus come--and through his eyes--what does a life fully lived look like?