Saturday, June 30, 2012

Walking under the fig tree

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” 
And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  John 1:38-39

The is the same question that Jesus later asked the band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, who went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  The question He asks each of us, every day.

What do you seek?

What is the aching that longs to be filled?  The hole in my heart?

Andrew and John were unable to put it into words.  But they knew, in their inarticulate bumbling what they needed to do.  Stay.  

Stop seeking elsewhere.  

No person or lover will suffice. Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.  Certainly I myself am included in the all people.  I let myself down all the time as well.

No stuff. Remember moths and rust?  

Circumstances will always be as unstable as that ladder that the maintenance man wobbled on yesterday as he tried to change the florescent tube.  Down he went, like a tree in the forest.  


He alone knows me.  He sees me, just as he saw the heart of Nathaniel standing under the fig tree.  And He has given me a new name: Beloved.

And just as He looked Phillip in the eye, He looks at me and says, “Follow Me.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Veni, vidi, vici

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

So last night, Pastor Chris and Tim and Fred and I honed the Vineyard values- what is is the heart of our particular fellowship. Weighing each word, we tried to strip verbiage of all excess, leaving only the essence.

Value Five: We join God in the work of restoration.

Jesus brings healing to a broken creation – our homes and streets, the neighborhood, the university, our city and beyond.

Jesus came and ministered to the lost and needy. His death and resurrection created the way to be reconciled to God. As His people, we are called to live out His love in word and actions.

We could have messed with them forever.  Shifting and sifting.  Jot and tittle.  We are are word people- aware of their potency.  The difference between denotation and connotation.  One step to the side and the shade flickers.

And yet, at a certain point, basta.  He, with a capital H, has done it all.  It is finished.  He came, He saw, He conquered.  And while our calling as His children is to join Him in the living part, in the word and action, it is all about Him.  (I yearned a bit for “deed” but it was deemed too fusty. And yes, “fusty” made it through spellcheck the first time; I sort of thought I was making it up.)

He, not anything we do, takes away the sins of the world.


a story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise- Zafón

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. John 1:10

The thing about the family doing vacation together, no matter where in the world we wander, we drag the stacks of books around.  Alan is in the hammock rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, in English this time around.  Angie's had lots of Italian cooking in it and it was very very thick, so she is now just getting to book two, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is about a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Things I never knew about.  Guess which book is next on my list?

 I am sneaking Dustin's book away from him when he is distracted because I guess I have never actually read the Barbara Kingsolver The Bean Trees and Heather and I and my mom are doing the at least one book a day thing we do when we get rolling.  So each of us is immersed in a different time and place, each of us swathed in bug repellant and 50 SPF do-they-really-do-more-than-persuade-us-to-stay-out-in-the-sun-longer Coppertone. I have swallowed pages of used booksellers living in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and Jewish women settling the Arizona border region in the 1800s.  Personal essays by a Yale writing professor hop skip and jump from Arctic explorers to the discovery of coffee to famous people who wandered the streets in search of elusive sleep. And now Virginia hillbilly does Tucson in precise prose.  After of course an opening round ofPride and Prejudice.  Once again after a thirty or forty year break every word rings familiar, every raised eyebrow, every “What are men to rocks and mountains?” sort of quote.  I still remember it. 

The point of all this is that the world does not know Him. There is a lot of stumbling about looking for sense and meaning from the vigorously stirred mixture of beauty and pain in which we all flounder.  

And somehow I am coming out from under this avalanche of nuance more tenderhearted towards man.  Even after the brutality of the limpieza, ridding the Iberiean countryside of teachers and clerics and poets and other impurities.  For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Very very aware of the sins of the world.  In crisp black and white print.  On pages damp from the sea breeze and now sand is everywhere and we will be shaking it loose for weeks on end.  

And the Lamb of God has arrived. To make Him known.  To take it all away and leave in its place faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.  
And I am reminded that all of our efforts even for His name's sake, without this love are just resounding gongs or clanging cymbals without gain.   

And what a hope it is, this true light, which gives light to everyone, and which has come into the world.  

 Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. - Carlos Ruis Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

And after a week on Playa Uva I have a much better sense of who this world is, and of who He is, His light reflecting back in my eyes.  May it be my heart as well.

You can't believe everything you read

And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. John 1:12
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  Isaiah 11:2

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1: 5

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.  Matthew 4:24

So my stuffed-full brain of Costa Rican reading has lead from the fictional but very real darkness of the Spanish Civil War to the much closer in geography to the borderlands rife with rifles and grudges to the very real ugly and documented racial darkness of the “separate but equal” world of my lifetime to back home again.  And the reading continues.

TUCSON - The driver who Pima County Sheriff's officials say fatally struck a pedestrian this morning has been arrested, and both men have been identified.
At about 6 a.m. this morning, PCSD deputies arrived at a reported collision near Rudasill Road and La Canada to find 54-year-old Peter Morse suffering from life-threatening injuries after being struck by a motorist, according to a news release form the department. Morse was transported to UMC were he later died.
Inline image 3
• 54-year-old Peter Morse is the father of one of my heart-children.  We sat many a dusty Mexicali afternoon in the shade of José and Guadelupe’s tin-roofed trash-scrap church in watching the children bounce a soccer ball back and forth.

• A virulent email designed to slice and dice the receiver’s heart was received by someone I love.

• Con profundo dolor quiero comunicarles que esta manana, a las 10, mi mami fue llamada a la presencia del Senor. Tan pronto como tengamos los detalles del funeral se los estare comunicando. -Lisandro Restrepo

• A simple and sweet phrase in a newsletter that says so much more: Lynn and I left for Europe on June 15th, so there will not be a personal note on this letter, but know that I appreciate your prayers and support.  The bucket list as Lynn says goodbye after a weary battle with chemotherapy.

And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go back, then; let this be done for you, as your faith demands.’ And the servant was cured at that moment. Matthew 8:13

The faith of the centurion.  A heathen faith.  Not so up on on all of the theological details that the Southern Baptists are haggling out this week with as “tensions are expected to escalate Tuesday as church leaders descend on New Orleans.”  Is this really why Christ came to earth so that as church leaders gather in an achingly needy and hurting community, they are infighting over “blatantly semi-Pelagian” theology?

But he understood what was important, that the darkness cannot overcome the light. Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: “Go,” and he goes; to another: “Come here,” and he comes; to my servant: “Do this,” and he does it.’

Oh LORD, might I have this faith.  A faith that demands the truth.  That demands reality.  And does not settle for appearances.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name. May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17

 Something in my eight-year-old Sunday School brain residue sort of understood that the Law was a plan that God tried on man, and it didn’t work out so well, and then He sent the prophets to run through it again for Him, and that didn’t work out, so then He sent Jesus as a Last Resort.  

Nope.  He was the First Resort.  Part of the plan from the very beginning.  The promised seed who would crush the serpent's head.  

And the Law.  What is its role?  People sort of sift through it and take what they like and disregard the rest.  I like oysters on the half shell, so forget that part of the abomination before the Lord bit.  Remember, Matthew cared a lot about the word “fulfilled” and so when Jesus said, “jot and tittle” he meant it.  He also meant, “It is finished.”  The job is done.    But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter and for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. No more old wineskins.

But Jesus.   Grace and Truth.  He who fulfilled the Law’s requirement for a blood sacrifice to cover our sins so carefully spelled out is God’s grace, undeserved favor, and the Grace who is the “empowering Presence of God enabling you to be who He created you to be, and to do what He has called you to do” (Ryle).  

Imagine The Word who created every thing come to live among man. To eat with sinners.  To reach out to the woman at the well.  To the seeking Pharisee.  To  tell the fishermen where to cast their nets.  And we beheld His glory.  His humble glory.  And comprehended it not. 

He is Truth.  Revealed.  What it all about.  The higher bar.  What to do if you have two shirts.    And being angry.  And keeping promises.  All of this is only possible with the Spirit at work in my life:  Love, joy, peace, patience, mercy. Now it’s all about being fruit bearers to God.  And the greatest of these is love.

And surely that is what it really means to be about my Father’s business.  

The world is silent when you snorkle

In quiet and silence the faithful soul makes progress.  Even as one learns to grow still, he draws closer to the Creator and farther from the hurly-burly of the world.  Thomas a Kempis

The jungle is never quiet.  And yet there is the sense of being swathed in a thick warm blanket that wraps out everything else.  So in the rattle, throb and drips there is silence. 

It was a long, hard road to get here.  Twenty-nine hours to be precise since we first loaded the suitcases into Jeff’s rented van.  We learned that when they say roads in Costa Rica are awful, that they were not talking about potholes, bur tather traffic that crept and stopped and crepted and stopped at twenty-five miles an hour for six and a half hours.  

But we were amongst friends.  The magic Mary Poppins bags of Angie’s that brought out one wonder after another.  The enthralled delight of Heather.  The gracious patience of momma.  The manly man hefting and hauling of Dustin.  And the driving, Alan driving right through the heart of San Jose population three million with nothing more than a “Hey mister, could you tell us the way to Limón?” shouted out to taxi driver after taxi driver. My guide “turn left at the Shell station and drive 1.3 kilometers” had revealed itself to be sheer fantasy, as the rest of us tangled and retangled and hunched and wiggled in some tiny person’s idea of a seven-passenger vehicle.    At least we were chomping on the most amazing black beans and roasted chicken and cabbage and thick chewy corn tortillas known to mankind.  

May my soul grow still in this week of quiet and silence.  The silence of checklists and Micorsoft updates.  And stillness of now.  Even as Heather looks with glee for monkeys through the binoculars.  

The tidal wave of presence

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 

This Word through Whom and by Whom all things were created became flesh and lived with us fully and completely. John 1:14,16

So I have been reading Nicole’s book.  Well, Robby’s stories wrapped up in Nicole’s words.   And what is perfectly clear is that we, well at least me and I suspect a bunch of other people that I know and love, have been fiddling about with the sand crabs and seaweed along the shoreline, letting the foam run over our bare toes and then scrambling back up to the pointy black rocks that are hard to walk on and pretty much hurt all the time.  

Or we can just take the leap.  Let His power sweep us up off of our feet and carry us.  

There is a section in the book I read yesterday, not really doing my job of sorting through big ideas and logical flow, rather I was messing around the small stuff, the “its” and “it’s,” perhaps the needless details that eat away at my life overall.  A section describing the presence of God:

 During the feast of the Palms, just days before his death Jesus stood up in the midst of all of Jerusalem and shouted, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty, and streams of living water will flow from your lives.”

 All throughout Scripture, the presence of God is characterized as water.

The book of Revelation describes “a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” along whose banks are trees whose leaves are healing for the nations.”

 The prophet Ezekiel gives us a vivid portrayal the river that flows from the temple of God:

The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple...and the water was flowing from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.... Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river....When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

What is described here is a portrayal of the presence of God that flows from His throne room.  When Jesus calls us the temple of God and promises that streams of living water will flow from any who come to him, I believe He is referring to the same river that is described both in Ezekiel and Revelations.  We see in Ezekiel’s description that it’s a river of different levels of increasing depth, that brings with it abundant life, fruit, and healing.  There are many, many references to this river all throughout Scripture, and many promises associated with it.  When Jesus told his disciples, “The kingdom of God is within you,” I believe this was another reference to the “streams of living water” that will flow from our lives.  The Presence of God is associated with the throne of God and His Kingdom reign.  When Jesus told his disciples, ‘abide in me, and I will abide in you,” this was another reference to the Presence of God that is not only within us giving us life, but flows from our lives.  In the middle-eastern desert context within which the Bible was written, the metaphor was more than clear: Where there is water, there is life.  Where there is no water, there is death.  As Christians we sometimes make distinctions between what we “can” do, and what we “can’t do.”  We think, “I can be nice to people, and love them.  I can pray, but I can’t heal the sick. I can’t raise the dead.” We must not look to our past experiences to determine what we can or can’t do, but to what the Bible says is true.  Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing, in me you will bear much fruit.” Apart from God’s presence, we can do nothing.

  In God, we can do anything.

  This has been the premise behind all of my teaching but I share it now in context of Ezekiel’s description of river that flows from the throne room because I think its such a powerful visual picture of what it means to be a People of the Presence.  Our ability to host the presence of God is probably one of the most determining factors of our Christian life.  

Anyways.  These are the images that are filling my mind and my heart and my soul.  And as I pack up for Costa Rica today, making the lists, packing the sunscreen, wiping down the counters, I am mulling over these truths.  And that He will make me glad.  

 “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Free at last, free at last

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1: 12-13

What does it mean to believe in His name?  To really believe in His name?  

If, for instance, I have one of those illumination moments, a blaze of clarity and understanding that yes indeed this is He, the Word, who has come to bring me life, and abundantly, and I fall to my knees and worship Him in all humility and need- is that enough?  Once a child of God, always a child of God?

Because quite honestly, my thoughts and my feelings and my actions do not so much demonstrate one who believes.  Sure, there are those moments where faith takes a grip and propels me into an Abraham-offering-up-Isaac-his-son moment.  Wow. Where did that come from?  The Spirit who lives within.  

But bunches of times, not so much.  My feelings are haunted by fear or unforgiveness or apathy.  I can do them all.  In one day.  No problem.  And my thoughts can swirl with questions or doubts or how does this work anyway?  One has to allow for a lot of mystery working through Scriptures, which makes sense because my puny human brain is not God nor my ways, His ways.  But there are lots of those cloudy glass moments.  And then there’s the flat-out life-is-tough action moments.  Every day I stare at the equivalent of a beloved child flopping helplessly in my arms, and I can but echo the father’s prayer: LORD, I believe. Help my unbelief.  Pretty much my favorite verse in the Bible. Lays it right out there for us all to see.  

That and old Paul calling a spade a spade: So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

Not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  It’s all about Him, His love, His faithfulness, His mercy.

There is the heart-wrenching beauty in the old Negro spirituals articulating the profound realization that I am indeed in bondage and some day, one day that sweet chariot will carry me home. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

pulsing disco lights: a metaphor

All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  John 1: 3-4

The room is dark.  So that all of our attention is on the Light.  The throbbing drums... such a cute little drummer, all of fifteen or sixteen.  Waves of glory pound over and under.

My hope is built on nothing less 
than Jesus' blood and righteousness. 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, 
but wholly lean on Jesus' name. 

I know the lyrics.  But this is not my father’s church service.  Pulsing red disco lights and leaping and bounding bodies in almost every direction, but mostly up.  Elevate is the name of the game.  I glance over a little nervously at Frederic’s parents.  There are only a few people in this room over twenty, and most of them are the three of us.

Their hands shot up in the air.  The biggest fattest smiles ever on their faces.  Swaying to Jesus is our Hope. Jesus is our Cornerstone. 

“This has been the highlight of our trip to America.  And right after that, family dinner.  There were tears in my eyes when I said good-bye to your mother.”

What is this life?  The fresh, verdant coils they can see taken hold in their son’s very being?  It is tangible. And now, how to frame it into words.

The Word.

Alice asks, “What is a cornerstone?”

The cornerstone is the big solid rock, perfectly formed, that builders use to line up everything else.  The foundation upon which everything is built.  Is made.  Without Him, there was not any thing made that was made.  Any thing.  Two separate words to underline that each and every isolated particle came from His light. Not really.  Nothing is isolated.  Each subatomic particle is part of a big huge dance.  A celebration of Who He Is.  A crazy, wild, jumping, joyful dance.  Beyond our imagination.

In Him was life.  Is life.  Will be life forever.


Nothing but the real thing, hey, hey

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  John 1:1-2

This is the set, the foundation for all that John wants to tell us about Jesus, the friend whom he knows, with whom he has walked and talked and lived for these years.  The man was in the beginning, this man was with God, this man was God.  And then one more time in case we don’t get it: He was in the beginning with God.

This is what John knows.  With every inch of his soul and being.  And he is writing this all down as an eyewitness of what he knows to be true so that we may know and understand  this Truth, that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He does not want us to walk away from his book thinking, “Oh what a nice, interesting story,” but he wants it to rip at the very core of who we are and how we live and think.  John wants there to be no misunderstanding- this Jesus of Nazareth was not just another prophet or good man. He is God.

It is true that a lot of people are willing to die for a cause that they believe in- strap a bomb belt around their waist and wade into a crowd at a bus stop. They might lay down their life for a friend as a lie for a friend, such as Sydney Carton inA Tale of Two Cities, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."  But he was not dying for this lie, he was offering himself up for a truth, his love.   Here John is saying, “With reflection, and after having watched and heard and lived this “Jesus is God” stuff for all these years, I know it to be true, and I so know it is true that I am willing to die so that you, each person, know and believe and start on the path to understanding this Truth as well.  This is the Word of God.” 

And the Word.  Why does he call Jesus the Word, logos?

Jesus is God’s message to us, His beloved creation.  What he said, what he did, what he felt, this is what God wants us to know, what He wants to reveal about Himself.  This is it.  

May I have ears to hear.  

Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight. Isaiah 66: 4
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

What have I learned from two months in Isaiah?  Bullet points to live by?

  • The LORD God is just.  The LORD God is merciful.  
  • We are not.  Therefore He Himself had to reach out His own arm to save us.
  • What matters is not our religious sacrifices and fasts but a meek and contrite heart.  And we are to love justice and mercy because that is Who He Is.  That is His heart. 
  • Our trials and suffering are only for a moment; His goodness is forever.  

For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see My glory.  Isaiah 66:18

And how did the book of Isaiah inform Jesus of Nazareth?  

 He and His Father are One.  He is justice and mercy in action, what it looks like in flesh and blood.  With a very clear eternal perspective, turning neither to the right nor to the left.  Intentional and unswayed by the wisdom of the world, the incessant whisperings (pretty good onomatopoeia, huh?) of the Tempter.  

Peter turned and saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
Where He leads, I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.  

Chasing paper napkins in the wind

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  Isaiah 66:2

I certainly don’t understand this getting old thing.  It is so very painful for all involved.  And absolutely part of the rhythm of life.  

And I know another thing.  Right now my poppa is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at His word.  

Saturday was my parents’ fifty-sixth anniversary.  It’s one of those hard-to-celebrate moments because one of the participants isn’t quite sure what is going on.  So Scott came up with a plan.  He arrived promptly at 6:15 p.m. with happy Scott and Mary and Just Married and hearts painted on the car windows and a few tin cans dangling behind.  And we headed up to Windy Point with a card table and a vaguely fancy-fine picnic lunch, candles and a flowering plant from Jack and Mary Anne.

It wasn’t exactly perfect.  The vista was dusty.  Windy Point was indeed windy.  But momma was lovely and gracious, Scott was patient, and poppa was cold and needed to be wrapped in a table cloth and towel and he was still cold.  

But his prayers, his frequent prayers, were heartfelt. He was very aware that he didn’t quite understand the Big Picture.  There was no sense that he was running the show or that he could do things on his own, although he did want to help out, that’s for sure.  And his tiny halting steps reek of humility.  

After we piled back into the vehicle, Scott found another spot to gaze out over the lights.  I am struck by the silence.  All of the small bustlings loses their power when viewed from this perspective.  The grip of time is released.  There is a profound sense of the Road Not Taken leading to another Road Not Taken and suddenly here we are, fifty-six years later.  Who woulda thunk?  Our Father Which Art in Heaven.  And the hand of the Lord shall be known to His servants. 

For one, the humble and contrite man, who begins every prayer with, “We are yours.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

Our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment

Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at Your presence—  Isaiah 64:1

The god of our own making is one of compromise.  Shading the Truth, one baby step at a time.  Pilfering.  Nothing so very bad.  Because we have taken our eye off of the Standard, the Holy One.  

Cheap grace.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this long ago when the Church became boiling-lobster-pot-comfortable with evil.  The guards at the prison camps marched straight from the pews of a compromised church.  Much like today, and every day, since the beginning of history, we humans have been making excuses.  

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.   

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. 

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: "Ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden light."  Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pp 42-45

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and You are our potter;
we are all the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.

Absolute sway.  Yes dear LORD.

In all their affliction He was afflicted

I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness that He has granted according to His compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love. Isaiah 63:7-8

Yesterday Nicole asked about the melancholy tone to my morning thoughts.  A sadness woven in and out.  A faint irony shadowing even the sunlit bits.  From far away, from the other side of the spinning planet, that is what she hears.  

Ann Voscamp of course says it better.  Every day and especially this morning.

Yea though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.

If I knew no hurt I would not know His healing touch.  Only the sick have need of a Physician.  Popping nitro pills first thing every morning to calm gripping pain.  Freshly ground coffee produces the most fragrant capuchino.  You anoint my head with oil.

And I push through the glass door with the fading taped flyer about the little three-old-girl who was stolen from her bed and step out onto the cement deck lined with bright red and blue flags dangling over the Olympic pool full of hoping-to-be Olympic swimmers who head to the time trials next week.  I slip into the water now warmed by the summer sun, and Jim the swim swami reminds me, like he reminds me every day, “Steady effort.”

Early morning mud splatters on my light-as-a-feather Crocs.   I remember when Heather dragged me to one of those frightful mall kiosks.  They terrify me.  The torn emotions of pity for the desperate salesclerks bounding from behind the counter and dread.  Leave me alone.  Anyway.  Something perfect for momma.  Vaguely stylish and ever-so-sensible.  Tromp through Jarabocoa rivers and with a swipe they are ready for Country Club dining.  Almost.  Just like me. Thank you for Crocs that rinse off easily before I head off to work.

Yes.  I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD.  The great goodness He has granted.  According to His compassion.  

May His mercy shine upon us.  Today as I wait in the room outside the procedure for a beloved friend, sitting amongst the stacked and crumpled magazines and strategically placed windows overlooking manicured gardens to remind us that there is Someone Outside and Bigger than the doctors, I will raise my stone named Ebenezer for "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

It’s more about memories these days rather than memory.  As I stare down at the blank sheet of paper trying to dredge up the name.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, 
tune my heart to sing Thy grace; 
streams of mercy, never ceasing, 
call for songs of loudest praise. 
Teach me some melodious sonnet, 
sung by flaming tongues above. 
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it, 
mount of Thy redeeming love.

I will not keep silent

And you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  Isaiah 62:2-3

The Sonoran Desert does a great job of desolate.  Especially right before the rains.  The little straw sticks in clumps and the powder dry dust to which they cling looks pretty forsaken.  

And sometimes that’s how my heart feels.  

Today is my sister Jenny’s birthday.  We are exactly the same age for the summer.  And in mind she is the very picture of My Delight Is In Her.  

Golden sunrise warmth emanates from her home.  The beams are wide and deep.  The fireplace blazing.  The garden beds filled with bounty. Toy trucks and crayons and books clutter neat cubbies. The table gleams with savory goodness for the extended neighborhood and there is room for just one more.  And the coffee pot is always full of rich flavor that also supports women escaping from slavery.  There is always another cup.

The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where.  From a broken-windowed downtown community through the streets of Marrakech to a florescent-lit room full of stubborn donated computers and even more stubborn street people being dragged to their GEDs and a rescued future past the cute little bungalow nestled at the foot of a black lava mountain to something unexpected or planned for.  

Who woulda thunk?

He would.  

It’s been a rough week.  With hard news.  But no surprises.  

Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
“Behold, your salvation comes;
And you shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

For I the LORD love justice

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.' And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:17-21/Isaiah 61:1-2

This is it.  Why He came.  Why the Spirit filled Him with power.  Why He was anointed.  And He understood this and a singleness of focus marked His life, his refusal in the desert to be distracted from the task at hand.  And His before-dawn prayer moments in lonely places were not so much talking, as He instructed me not to babble on like the pagans do, but listening. Allowing the Spirit to sort through the clutter of the day, the demands, the reaching crowd that waited outside the door, and listen.

And to step into each day with His face set steadfastly towards Jerusalem, His life emanated peace because His decision had already been made.  No fretting, no second guessing.  Each moment was framed by this outcome.  

There are all sorts of poverty and bondage. Economic, spiritual, emotional, physical.  What matters is what I am supposed to be about: proclaiming freedom.  Setting free.  Being sent.  Day in and day out.  The measurable objective with which to measure every activity, every bustle, even every thought, if I want to be like Him.

And how did the world react?

And they rose up and drove Him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went away.

Living in the sweet spot, nothing can harm me in the real sense.  Even the cross proclaimed, cried out in victory, "Death, where is your sting?"

Beauty for ashes

...because He has made you beautiful.  Isaiah 60: 9

Inline image 1

June 8, 1972

For anybody anywhere near my age, this picture perfectly sums the absolute misery of the world.  “In the picture, the girl will always be 9 years old and wailing "Too hot! Too hot!" as she runs down the road away from her burning Vietnamese village.”  

Isaiah 60 is about hope.  About God at work restoring beauty, and making all things new.  
Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
a joy from age to age.

Somehow Cameron’s voice sang the soundtrack of my day today.  
You make everything glorious
You make everything glorious
You make everything glorious
And I am Yours
What does that make me?
My eyes are small but they have seen
The beauty of enormous things
Which leads me to believe
There's light enough to see that

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You.

And as I was humming this song in my head, with those little ugly off-note outbursts that Dustin and Cameron and Alan know so well, I read this article about the napalm girt.    

Who could have ever guessed?  Hope from ashes.  Beauty from dust.

And then Alan’s voice kicks in for the song for today.  A song that I learned in the home group Bible study at Lucy and John Shaw’s before we headed off to the Dominican Republic for the first time.  He gives me beauty for ashes.  The oil of joy for mourning.  The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and our days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.  Isaiah 60:21

Yesterday was filled with stories of hope. Snatches of God-at-work-in-lives-I-know and love.   And while the late night at Juan and Lisa’s after the soccer game fell apart a little bit, talking about the injustices of the health care system in America and the injustices of American CEO salaries compared to that of workers and the beat goes on, I am not shaken.  

The UnitedHealth Care policy is that a stroke victim only receives seven physical therapy treatments.  That is not enough to allow him to return to his job, to his family, to his life.  But that is the written policy.  So he will spend the rest of his life flopping helplessiy in a chair somewhere, trying to avoid bed sores, even though he has faithfully paid almost $1,000/month in insurance policies for all of his working years.  UnitedHealth Care made 94 billion dollars this year, an 8% increase over last year. And the CEO made $102 million dollars.   "After adjusting for inflation, CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled the CEO pay average for the decade of the 1990s, more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s, and ran approximately eight times the CEO average for all the decades of the mid-20th century," the study says. Currently, CEOs of major U.S. companies average 263 times the average compensation of American workers.” While nonChristian countries such as Japan sport such ratios as 11:1 and Germany 12:1.  When is enough is enough?  

So yesterday we invited one of those first-time visitors who stand up and introduce themselves to join us for lunch at Bisonwiches.  And it turns out that, however the conversation actually went with the pastor, his understanding was that the Vineyard was a conservative Christian church and he was not welcome there because he is a practicing homosexual.  And that is the problem with reading Isaiah right after reading Luke while reading James trying to understand who Jesus is because somehow I can’t picture the same Jesus who welcomed the kissing and weeping harlot wiping his feet with her tears asking this hurting and slightly angry but obviously seeking to fill-the-hole-in-his-heart man to go to a more liberal church down the road.  And nowhere in Isaiah does the prophet mention homosexuality, but boy oh boy on every page he condemns those who oppress their workers.  And James too, the brother of Jesus, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”  And Ezekiel: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

So I figure that this same Jesus sat down and broke bread with white-washed tomb Pharisees who didn’t even offer to wash his feet.  Looks like the door is wide open.  And I can worship Him with my brother-in-Christ with the Jesse Kelley sticker on his brand-new car out front, and this visitor guy can come on in too.  Jesse Kelly whose answers to the questions that face our country are “We have the highest corporate tax rate among developed nations, and I will vote to lower taxes and reduce burdensome regulations for all businesses so we can bring jobs and prosperity back to America,” and “Obamacare must be repealed in order to increase economic freedom for businesses” and of course my favorite, “We need to complete the double-layer border fence and give the Border Patrol the manpower and resources they need to secure the border.”

There is nothing new under the sun, as Isaiah 59 so vividly details.  Our LORD God is just.  And He will see justice done.   He will come like a rushing stream, driven by the wind. 

And He is framed by eternity.  So our years are but moments to Him.  But He declares, “I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it.”

And He makes all things beautiful.