Saturday, March 31, 2018
Being stuck is not my favorite thing. And I'm stuck. But I know not everybody feels like this. I can tell.
Contrary to what my Christian friends sometimes say, people who absolutely don't believe in God don't seem stuck. They're pretty carefree, in fact. And why not? Nobody's judging their every move. They don't have to measure up to much. Just being as nice as the next guy is good enough. It's pretty easy.
And folks just as rooted on the other end, the ones you and I might call saints or seers, well, they live in peace, too. The physical world fades clearly into the background for them. The live pretty much on a spiritual plane unknown to lesser beings. They're happy. Oblivious, sometimes, it seems, but happy.
So it's easy to be ungodly and easy to be holy. But here in the middle--not so much. This is where the tension lives. And this is where we spend most of our time. The middle ground, where both sides tug at us, and we live here. With feet planted firmly in both worlds.
How did I get here? First, there's sin. What have I done wrong and not despised? What does God clearly forbid that still secretly makes me smile? Surely they're not as bad as the letter of God's law dictates. They make good stories, at the very least. What's the big deal? I don't do most of those things anymore. I'm better now. But that doesn't matter. What's wrong is still wrong.
And then, what do I love that clearly belongs to the earth? What pulls on me whose other end has no constructive place in heaven? Animals? My kids? Art or music? The doing of good deeds? Those aren't bad. I mean, even unbelievers help out other folks and love their kids and their dogs, and as much as we do. What I love may even cause me to think of and thank God. But even if they do, they're not God.
I'm thinking that the rationalizations we nurture and emotional and physical ties we retain are the milk of faith. They're presentable on the surface, but they're not helpful. They're the spiritual slack we cut ourselves, and they don't get us where we say we want to go.
If we want full view of God, we have to brush away whatever blocks that view. Somehow, we need to release everything to His care. Cut loose our deluded past and the excuses we make for it. Unleash our confused present and the comfortable talismen with which we block our clear vision.
Take a baby, for instance. Dang, she's cute. The way she smells, the sound she makes, the way she looks into my eyes. But what do I see when I look at her? When I reach for her, am I reaching for God? And if not, how in the world do I look beyond her? She's so there.
But if I do reach for her, and bask in the pleasure she gives, I've stopped short of what I might otherwise have. If I see past her, if I release the moment completely to God, then I miss this feeling, this satisfaction, this fun. But then, if I aim for the pleasure of the baby, what's the difference between that pleasure and any other kind? Is it substantially different from sexual excitement or drug-induced euphoria? Plain pleasure, regardless of its earthly source, ties me to the earth.
Pleasure is a such a lovely stopping place,though. So nice, but not holy. People in all walks of life have had to give up pleasures to get where they so desperately wanted to go. Athletes, artists, folks on a diet. And then there are those looking for even more...missionaries, monks, Jesus Himself. They didn't live in pleasure. Instead, they find their victory amid privation, even misery.
And that has to be our road, too, if we are truly going to throw off the bonds of this world. We have to find what we want among the bones of what we might have had.
You will have trouble in this world.--John 16:33
Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.--John 14:1
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of heaven.--Luke 9:62
In the end, we will continue to be bound to either earth or heaven. In order to gain heaven, we have to throw off the bonds of earth, even the ones we love and make us happy. If we want to be free, we have to throw off what ties us to this place. We are given so much. The challenge is to hold it loosely--very loosely, always ready to grasp instead what lasts forever.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Good old Daniel. Don't you just love to hear this story? It pushes all the buttons--that gut-wrenching fear when we are faced with tragedy or trouble or doubt as Daniel is cast into the midst of a pack of hungry beasts all set to tear him limb from limb and lick their lips when they have finished making a meal of him; our admonishment from God to depend on Him, to pray, and to be confident that He will save us or someone we love as Daniel watches the lions approach--their hot, fetid breath, their plate-size paws taking step after step closer; and then the perfect working out of that confidence, God's ultimate rescue when Daniel is spared--our assurance that our prayers, too, will be answered.
But then I hear what Daniel says next:
forasmuch as before Him innocence was found in me: and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. --Daniel 6:22b
Wait a minute. Daniel didn't need to be saved. He already was. He was already innocent before God and knew it. Even if he were chewed to bits, he knew he would simply be delivered into eternity and before the Lord he loved. Many of God's children had already done this through the ages. They had died in His service in the arena, at the stake, or beneath the sword. Why should Daniel expect any different? What was different about him?
Well, probably nothing.
So, why, then, did he live?
I suspect it was this, the king's reaction:
I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God and steadfast forever and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end.--Daniel 6:26
As much as I like the end of this story, the saving of Daniel's life, I don't think that was the result that mattered. God loved Daniel. He'd created him for a purpose, and this was it. Daniel was about to fulfill God's will for him and, in his case, it was to live, to bear witness to His power before the king so that the king would believe.
But that's not true for everyone. It is not always the living that draws people to God. God had, and would, and will still sacrifice one life to save another. Remember Jesus? Oh yes, even Him.
Sometimes, it is in the dying that God's will is done. God will, without doubt, continue to either allow sacrifice or spare from it , to grant prayer or to refuse it, in order to produce exactly the result that His intervention with Daniel did: faith and salvation in an unbeliever. That is what God wants more than anything.
God can and does grant our prayers, but not when a greater good is produced by denying them. As believers, we will still die, but God would have even our deaths accomplish something in His kingdom.
This is sovereignty. This is ultimate power over creation. This is what it means to be God. And somehow, even as we bow before Him, we have to understand that we are safe in God's hands--safe not as in the ultimate preservation of either our own flesh or the flesh of someone we love, but in His Everlasting Arms.
photo credits: pinterest.com, cocorioko
Thursday, November 30, 2017
When we are faced with a suicide of someone we love, we encounter circumstances that ask us to make new sense of a principle we thought we understood, that it is not within God's will to determine our own end, that our death is God's province and God's alone. But it's not that simple.
This is what I read this morning from the book of Judges:
Samson was, as you know, a consecrated Nazarite from birth. His life was dedicated to God. And he lived with his family among their enemies, the Philistines, godless people with whom the Israelites were not to mix. However, "Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, 'I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as wife.' But his father and mother said to him, 'Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?' But Samson said to his father, 'Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.'".
Now here's the important part:
"But his father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for He was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines."
One sentence. One sentence in that whole story. God prompted Samson to do something forbidden for a reason that only He could understand. Samson didn't understand what was going on. Neither did his parents or anyone else. But God did.
How many times are we cautioned that we do not know the mind of God? Dozens. They didn't then. We don't now.
As far as I'm concerned, we can only do the best we can with the circumstances we are given. But it is only God who is all-knowing, God who is sovereign. We do not, cannot, know what He is doing from first to last.
We say we cannot judge a man's motives, only his action. But we need to remember, too, that God uses even actions that look wrong to us for His own ends. If we trust Him, we have to give Him room to work and not too harshly judge those who, hidden to us, He may have chosen to help Him. .
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Talk about feeling vulnerable.
I'm 1800 miles from home and there are no landmarks, nothing familiar to look at and say, "Oh, yes... I know that intersection, that gas station, that tree." And it's dark. And raining. Almost midnight. And my phone has died. And I have to find my way back to where I started.
Now, if one is going to get lost, the mountains east of Seattle is the place to do it. Rough, quaint, and remote, it's a beautiful part of this world. And wandering is sometimes fun. But not so much last night.
After spending a delightful evening with someone very special who lives in this lovely region, and getting ready to make my way back to the friends hosting me here, I found that my phone, by whose GPS I made my way up here, had only 8% left on the battery, not nearly enough to guide me through the twisty mountain passes for the hour it would take me to get back. After a moment of short panic, my hosts did the most reasonable thing possible--they printed out Googlemap directions and, armed with two sheets of paper, no GPS, and no phone, I set out on my way.
My first problem was how to drive and read the map at the same time. It was dark, after all, and I kept hearing that little voice that always told me never to drive with the car's interior lights on. Well, that was out the question tonight. I clicked on the light. Well, well. I could see--not only the map but the road ahead. So far, so good. And I started driving.
While I was still in North Bend, it was pretty easy. I remembered the first turns from when I'd just taken them a few hours before....424th Street, Cedar Falls Way, North Bend Boulevard, Railroad Avenue. But then came the traffic circles and the roads I hadn't paid much attention to earlier because then, I'd had my graphic display. I had no graphics now, though, and had to find highway 202. I did. Whew.
Then I was supposed to turn on Ames Lake Rd. There it was, sign looming up suddenly in the dark. I took a hard right. No time for turn signals and no one to witness them anyway. Then a left onto Snoqualmie Valley Rd., another out-of-nowhere turn. I didn't see it until I'd gone past. U-turn and another right. The next turn was listed to be Woodinville Duvall Rd. Ok. There was the sign to Duvall, but no indication of Woodinville anywhere. Do I turn? Something said not. I drove straight by, instinct telling me that what I wanted was somewhere up ahead. Again, illuminated suddenly and for only a moment, the sign for Woodinville Duvall Rd. Another right. After that, it was easy. That final turn took me right back. Back to Kelsey Rd., which I knew, and after three more quick turns, back to the house.
Then I had time to think. There's a point to all this. There's always a point.
God brought me to this place, where I have friends but no roots, no frames of reference, and withdrew all my crutches. Lean on me, He said. You have no one else.
But He gave me three tools.
He gave me written directions.
And He gave me light to see them by.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. --John 8:12.
And He gave me His voice in my ear, His prompting to fill in the blanks.
Whether you turn to the right or turn to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way. Walk in it."--Isaiah 30:21.
And I made it home. And after coming in the door, and dropping on my bed with a sigh, I finally got the message.
Far more confusing sometimes than the road to Snoqualmie and North Bend is life's road. My widowhood has left me a seeming orphan, lost and searching for a hand to guide me to the right path, but God doesn't do that. He hasn't left me groping. He gave me the tools. His Word, His Son, and His voice. If I use them, I will always make it home.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
When I brought you home, the apples still lay in bud and you were all crowned in bloom, a mat of color and life—purple and white and yellow so dense, I couldn’t see their bottom. You spoke bright summer over me then, fragrant and fertile, an easy, intimate beauty.
When I looked today, while apples, fully ripe, lay browning beneath the trees, half your blooms had withered and turned brown, shriveled without permission, exposing leaf and stem. I pulled off the withered flowers, the brown and dead, and there, just underneath, lay new buds, tight and closed. Sparser than the first, but firm. Small, but reaching for light.
I cleared the way for them, recalling the beauty of their forbears, putting to rest what was spent letting life have its way. Making room for promise.
Monday, September 4, 2017
Taken one at the time, or in small bunches, they are a rollercoaster of changes in mind and mood, but taken together, their landscape smooths into a cohesive, intentional whole. The best part of the book comes at the end, then, when retrospect has distilled them down to lessons in trust and care.
I am so grateful.
The Last Thread is available on Amazon.com as ebook and in print.
Here's the link
Read this morning about a couple married 75 years who died within hours in each others’ arms. Of course, if this were normal, it wouldn’t make the news, but I am feeling so completely different, like I have no idea how to love.
I am obedient, trying to keep the promise of my marriage vows (for a change), but sinking deeper with each day, or feeling like it.
The other day, it came to me that no wonder Dave says so often that he’s happy—he finally has the wife he always wanted, one who stays at home with no other job and spends all her days centered on him. And I resent it. I do. But then I listen to him cough and groan and witness again the grace with which he endures.
Is it a privilege to serve him? In the abstract, yes. But I feel stuck at the same time, not wanting to go forward, not wanting to go back, not wanting to stay here. And knowing it doesn’t matter what I want.
I need to focus somewhere else at least part of the time. If I let it, Dave’s illness will take over both our lives and take us down together. I am not sick, though, and I have to figure out how to help him without living his life. I’m not doing very well.
Gospel for today: New wine does not go in old wineskins.
So, God, is this how you make me new?
I am small and you are big.
Is this what it’s like to learn love and compassion? I have been a barren rock, a dry husk. Is this how I am renewed?
Image: A Little Bit Crunchy A Little Bit Rock and Roll