Monday, July 30, 2012

Reaching for the wall

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:42

And why pray tell is this true?  I certainly know with my brain that praise from man is ethereal, wispy, evaporating in the morning sun as so much Arizona dew, so transitory as to be of absolute no value.

And yet.  So very often I catch my heart making a sideways glance.  Is anyone noticing?  

There were mixed reviews on the John O’Hair sermon yesterday, but one thing stuck out: No man can serve two masters.  And I have all of those lovely Olympian images of beautiful people fixed on one goal, which drives the symmetry, grace and strength.  But with the merest sideways glance, all is lost.  s

Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Unstable in all his ways.

And if I truly believed with all of my heart, soul and mind, there would be no hesitation.  

LORD, help my unbelief.  

An invitation reissued

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. John 12:23-25

His disciples did not understand these things at first.  John 12:16

I first read this verse, really read this verse, twenty-two years ago, almost to the day.  And although I knew that I was committing at a new level to die, it is of course absolutely true that I did not understand at many levels what that meant, and certainly what it would look like, this death of mine.  

It is true that bits of me attempt on a daily basis to scrabble through the piled-on dirt in protest.  But He is faithful to hold me to my release.  And bring me back once again to this death so I might live.  Truly live and bear fruit.  

It was impossible to escape the heat.  Even before the sun had lifted above the crooked mountain range lining the northern horizon, sticky sweat slid down my temples and between my shoulder blades, tickling like so many lazy flies.    I flipped open my tattered Bible, haphazardly scanning familiar verses for something for the afternoon women’s study in Osobaumpo.  

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. 

To the death.  Carelessly I let the idea tumble through my memories.  Had I truly died yet?  Had the beast been stabbed through, or was I still scraping at scabs bits, in the manner of Eustace the dragon in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader?  Surely Christ was here… deep in the Sonoran Desert, nestled in between a chicken ranch and a pig farm, alongside the few scattered ejidos of crinkled-skinned, warm-eyed subsistence farmers.  Images piled fast and furiously.  Howling grief-stricken Dominicans swirling around an uplifted baby Nicole, Pushing a double-cab truck through a rising river bed with three children peering anxiously through the back window while God’s clear voice queried if I would accept its loss as being from His hand, if it was swept away with the tumbling boulders. Kneeling beside a trembling two-year-old Heather Moon-eyes, delirious with malaria fever, and releasing her with only the slightest hesitation to her Heavenly Father.  Even smashing wedding plates tossed by laughing college interns pierced the old nature cowering and clinging in the shadows.  But to the death.  How could there be anything left rotten and gasping, and why was I unable to slip confidently past this challenge of a weary Lord who had set His face towards Jerusalem?  

OK.  I am no fool.  I had already worked my way through the fruits of the Spirit… asking for patience full well aware that irritating, mindless, tedious folks would wend their way into my hectic life to let the Spirit do His thing.  Done asked for love, and then a woman with a grating voice and self-pitying whine moved in for six months.  But to the death.  Bar nothing.  Toss in the whole enchilada.  Why was God going there this August morning, just before the routine rush of tortillas and bean sorting and clothes scrubbing began?  I could already hear early riser Heather scrabbling around in the living room book shelves and Andrea clumping up the stairs to our little room.  

I loved my life, in spite of the non-stop people, scorpions, and frog-stained water.  I loved the families who worked alongside us at Escuela La Argentina.  I loved the two little church families in Navojoa and Alamos who had embraced us seamlessly into their own. I loved my three little women’s sewing groups who met weekly for crafts and a Bible study.   I loved the bright-eyed and sacrificial volunteers who filed down to stay with us a few days, a week, a month, a year to deepen their relationship with God and to serve alongside the Mexican nationals.  And most of all, I loved my three sparkling little girls and my brilliant, creative husband.  Life was good and I loved it.  So what?  I had always figured this was the found life promised to me because I had turned my back on air conditioning and salad bars, for His sake.

The screen door slammed below and I knew I had to make a decision.  Quickly.  To the death.  For the glory of God.  I stepped into the challenge, scooped up Andrea and headed towards the kitchen.

All day the dying kernel kept coming back to me.  It was a tough time at the ranch.  Legal land issues were always bubbling below the surface, and the first day of school was rapidly approaching with teachers’ meetings, trips to town for supplies, and the ever-looming question of enough water down at the school site.  The two-year drought was ravaging the water table on which the hand-dug wells depended.  Brandon was doing his best to repair the school van before classes began.  One of the cowboys was apparently stealing firewood and selling it off the back lot.  Miguelito, a boy-now-young-man from our refugee camp in the Dominican Republic had finished two years of agronomy college and was arriving in two weeks to work with us, if we could get the paper situation straightened out.  The goats seemed to have another sort of skin disease and another trip to the vet was required.   And right now, Nini and I and the girls needed to get lunch on the table for eighteen people.  You know God, yeah, you can take this life.  It’s all yours.  

So I look back to that day.  And all that death and life has brought me over these years.   But there are still more layers around that kernel that need to be broken down and ripped through and released, and I know once again that is where He wants to take me.  To recommit to following Him, wherever He might lead.  In the same way that He set his face toward Jerusalem, that we might have life.  And have it abundantly.  

Yes LORD, to the death.  

What that feeling in my heart looks like

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  John 12:3

LORD, may I so release all that I am and have and am concerned about so that all people notice is the fragrance of You. 

Wali and his bright red pants

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  John 11:5

Some people simply hold our hearts.  

Tracy Brumme facebooked me yesterday asking for a copy of one of the plays I wrote, and really, I haven’t seen her for, um, for about sixteen years.  But I love her.  There was this moment when she took a clump of cowed sixth graders and turned them into a cackle of hags mocking Aslan.  In twenty magical minutes.  

And some of those little middle school kids that have gone through my life.  I mean, sure at one level, I love them all and would drop whatever, whenever to help them out a bit.  But some of them are different.  Little Edgar Garcia with his staring eyes.  Ariana Molina the poet.

And some of those kids who have wended their way through 220 S Country Club.  From everywhere.  Dragging my heart along behind them.  

It’s pretty inexplicable.  And really it has very little to do with merit or time together or reason.  Jesus fell in love with the rich young ruler even though he totally did not get it.  Or, I guess he did get it and walked away. I mean old Mary is the sinner of the next chapter, who washes His feet with her hair.  Everybody in town knew her story, but that’s who He hung out with when he had extra time in Bethany, house of figs.  

Mary sits at His feet and listens.  And Martha is in the background scrubbing the floor and grinding wheat, and He loves her too.  And Jesus loves Lazarus, but He still lets him die, which could not have been that much fun.  Especially when your friend, your very special friend who could do something about it, doesn’t even show up.  

So that God could be glorified.  That is the point that ties all of these stories together.  The chief end of man and Jesus came to show us how to live.  

I seem to remember that Thomas was Marco’s favorite Bible guy.  Straightforward and practical. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”   He certainly did not get swept up into the emotion of the thing.  He spoke with a wry irony which protected his heart. But.  He loved.  To the highest measure: So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:6
And today, may I love Him.  Straightforward and practical.  Without hesitation or distraction.  With no longing eyes in other directions.  So God may be glorified.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

He is insane; why listen to Him?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10 

So when Nicole was fourteen-years-old, her Grandpa Voelkel had her memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It was a period of transition for Nicole.  She was shedding a little bit of her missionary kid dorkiness, Mr. Tvrdy had lent her his shoes for her first cross-country race ever when she lapped all the boys as well, and one of those vaguely suspicious modeling agencies had found her somewhere and pressed their card into her hand and begged her to come by and check them out.  So, I mean she was a fourteen-year-old girl and this was the dream and so they lined her up with some rather tedious gigs that involved a lot of time hanging around in back rooms watching nervous women re-line their lips in three shades of red and just a little bit of time draped in doorways or peeking through windows while cameras clicked.  And it was ok but not great.

But then this agency brought in this fancy-fine photographer from L. A. Models and paid him to create a portfolio and they offered to fly her to Florida for some national search and Ford Modeling was offering a 100,000 dollar contract for a year in New York City and they had some lady who would take care of her and make sure she would do her homework and go to cultural events like plays and the opera and here is the dotted line.  

And then Nicole’s mother had one of her crazy words-from-God from Numbers and Balaam and the ass and somehow it meant not to settle for God’s second-best for her and Nicole was ok with that if that is what God said, which is actually fairly shocking when one considers the gold baubles being dangled.  

So Nicole met with the photographer one more time and looked over the portfolio and her lower lip was a tiny bit too full but that was ok because the mode was about to shift away from tiny frail models to lean athletic models and she was perfect.  And Nicole said that she had changed her mind and that she wasn’t interested.  And he absolutely could not wrap his mind around it.  And he came out of the room and tried to reason with her mother.  He said, “I told her she could have everything.  She could do anything she wanted.  Even if she decided to drop out after one year, she would still have all that money for college.  And I looked her in the eye, and asked, “What do you want out of life?  You can have it all!” 

And Nicole, her grandfather’s daughter said, “I want to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

And the nice photographer shook his head, gave me his card, and packed up his bags for Los Angeles.

And that is why He came.  

If I mutter and complain it is indeed a grievous sin.  He is not enough.  It is a public declaration that I am seeking outside of Him.  And when I step into this joy it is a declarative  statement of His goodness and faithfulness and abundance.  

And it glorifies God.  

And that is the chief end of man.  

Tapping along with a white cane

Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them,“If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. John 9:40

 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.  Romans 2

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater —has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Ephesians 5:5

So the question came up at small group last night, the one about the wrath of God coming on those who are disobedient.  And that disobedience covers the gamut of sin, even a hint of coarse jesting or greed or immorality.  I am quite sure that I know is that I don’t understand how it will all exactly sift out at the last judgment, how all of the Scriptures fit together.  And I am thinking about this conversation as I read about Jesus and the blind man from birth and the Pharisees who are fussing about the Law.

One thing is perfectly clear, we are not the Judge, nor are we to judge. Jesus was REALLY unhappy with the Pharisees who were so busy looking at the Law and rules that they missed Him.   And I don’t even think that it’s much of a matter of keeping an eye on even ourselves and our own behavior.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  And I can easily get bogged down, wretched man that I am.  It’s another way of missing Him.  We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. 

 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. And it is by living in the light that we expose fruitless deeds of darkness.  Not by the pointing of the finger, but by how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

It is clear that God hates wickedness.   His wrath fall on this evil, this evil that has tangled itself up into our very being, The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Romans 1:18

But it also very clear that we have been saved by Jesus from the wrath of God.  While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.  

What then shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? No.  We are to produce fruit in keeping with repentance: goodness, righteousness and truth.  We are to follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us.

Back to Jesus, and the blind man and the spit and the pool called “Sent.”  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him.  This is the man who came back seeing. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's always darkest just before dawn

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and earth were born, from age to age you are God. You turn back to dust and say, “Go back, O child of the earth.” For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night. You sweep us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered.  Psalm 90:2–6

Yesterday afternoon the family gathered around Mary Anne as she shared some of her thoughts from the past week, as she was preparing for surgery.  One small detail that she offered up was that somehow she feels like prayers during the night watch are somehow more precious to God.

I know that watch.  

That night I had stayed with my father because his nights have been restless.  And I couldn’t really think of how to monitor his wanderings without laying a hand on his arm as I drifted through the hours.  His skin is paper-thin and there is absolutely no flesh protecting the twisting muscle and bone.  It was a quiet night.  The red digital dial clicking away the minutes.  The dark is a blanket settled down gently over.  Nothing to do.  No rushing about.  All is calm.  Holy night.  

This is not the watch when anxieties or should-have-saids keep me tense and tossing.  This is the watch of David with his sheep... scanning for the first hint of dawn, the first moment when the silhouette of a distant mountain range begins to draw lines in the dark.  It is the watch with relinquished control.  Nothing I can do can get that ol’ ball of fire moving one iota faster.  (OK, I KNOW that REALLY our little planet is the one spinning on its axis, hurtling around the sun in a rapidly expanding universe, but REALLY how often do we act on what we KNOW rather than what things look like?)

It was the watch in the waiting room at Tucson Surgery Center yesterday. In the background CNN newscasters searched in vain for new particles of information to share about the movie theatre shooting in Colorado.  Small clumps of families in the other chairs whispered, flipping through messages on their iPhones.  Jack had a stack of 3 x 5 cards of Mary Anne’s Bible verses to guide our prayers.  But really it was a moment of relinquished control.  God had said, “I will be glorified.”  And with that we waited for the dawn.  

And when the doctor entered the room, light on his feet, a broad smile in his eyes, the wait evaporated like a mist.  Like yesterday now that it is past.  A thousand years but a moment and all the wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and bombings in Bulgaria and Syrian troops clashing with rebels and Jokers with an AR-15 assault rifle and two 40-caliber Glock handgusn and a Remington 8-guage 1270 shotgun will be no more and long nights will disappear and nations will come to His light, and kings to the brightness of His dawn.  

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

My favorite thing ever was building forts

And there was much muttering about Him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” John 7: 12

It wasn’t easy.  Nor straightforward.  Not even his brothers and sisters could figure Him out.  Things seemed especially dense around the religious people, the folks who had gathered, for instance, to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  

Maybe because they missed the point.  The Feast of Booths was when the people were to  construct small huts of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and really do nothing else but delight in God’s provision.  Kids LOVE this holiday, running pell mell through the fields, free and happy.  I so remember all of my fort building activities as a child. Away from the clutter of society, we would brush aside the dry leaves, gather sticks and branches and sit happy.  Sweet.

Rather than abandoning the routine of everyday life and celebrating God and God’s goodness alone, it seems that the grown-ups had brought piles of baggage along, preconceptions and personal efforts that had been dragged behind them, like so many overloaded carry-on suitcases with misdirected wobbly wheels.  The more pious, the higher the bundles.  

Hey wasn’t He supposed to be born in Bethlehem? Hey why is He saying these things even though He is uneducated? What’s with this healing thing on the Sabbath?  Mutter, mutter.  Trying to figure out how God is supposed to be and how He fits neatly into our timetable and our plans for our future and not make things uncomfortable or dangerous.  Carefully hewing cisterns out of rock, nice and sturdy. But empty.  

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  The choice is clear.  My heaps of stuff.  My busted cisterns that hold no water. Or rivers of living water flowing out of my heart.  Tumbling into freedom.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Coming back for seconds

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  John 6:35

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

So sometimes I come to Jesus and I still feel hungry.  And I sometimes am thirsty when I believe in Him.  So I thought that, hey, let’s look at some of those folks in the Bible whose stories are there so that we can know the many ways that God has shown Himself to man, the folks that fought it out, who refused to go away until they were filled. Like the Gentile woman who demanded the crumbs from under the table and the blind man who cried out all the more,”Jesus have mercy on me.” Jacob came to mind, and while there in Genesis, I stumbled across an interesting footnote.   The name Israel, which came to represent the idea of God’s chosen people, or even perhaps, God’s Chosen One, means “He who struggles with God.”

So that struggle is in the mix somehow, somewhere in there with being led by still waters and the crawling up into the Abba Father comfort.  It is not easy in this broken world, which we see through a glass darkly, but like dear Peter, who calls a spade a spade, I can but say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? I have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

And hold out my plate for at least one more slice.

Thy kingdom come

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. John 6:15

But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16 

It happened in these days, that He went out to the mountain to pray, and He continued all night in prayer to God. Luke 6:12

And early in the morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. Mark 1:35

And they came to a place called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." Mark 14:32

Prayer is to seek the heart and mind of God before life happens.  When the people sought to make Him king or it was time to select the twelve or if the pressing crowds of broken people seemed insurmountable or even when the next step was onto the rocky path to Golgotha, he didn’t start writing pro and cons sheets or priority lists or pull out Microsoft Outlook.   Rather he withdrew and fell on his knees.  

Prayer is sifting through the circumstances of life, one by one, and the people in my heart, one by one, until I come to the point, “Not my will, but Yours be done,” even if it takes until dawn.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Just in case you were wondering who I AM

But Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth. The Son can do nothing alone. The Son does only what He sees his Father doing. The Son does the same things that the Father does. The Father loves the Son, and the Father shows the Son all the things He does.  But the Father will show the Son greater things than this to do. Then you will all be amazed." John 5: 19-20

So Jesus answers the guys who wanted to kill Him, this is what is True.  This is what I am about.  How did He live, that I might live?

He depended completely on the Father.  Totally and completely.  He states upfront that He can do nothing alone.  This indeed is a core understanding that I step off of daily, attempting hither and thither on my own.  But Jesus, the one in whom and through whom all things were made, was dependent.

He noticed.  He looked around Him and clearly saw what was true, unblinded by the god of this world.  He saw the greatness of God and His faithfulness, and started off each conversation with “hallowed be Thy name.”  In awe and gratitude of what was around Him, even if it seemed grubby, uncomfortable or downright painful.  Not looking at the circumstances, His eyes were fixed on He would holds the circumstances in His hands.  Even more so, He saw into the heart of man, with tenderness and grace, undistracted by outward appearances.  

He obeyed.  Step by watchful step, He followed the footprints left by His Father.  Sort of like the people of Israel and the pillars of cloud and fire.  It moved, they moved.  It paused, they paused.  The presence of the LORD enveloped them, because they stuck so close.

He accepts God’s love.  It is a given and at the core of who He is.  He is loved by the Father.  Straight up, no qualifiers or hedging. It’s what the Father does.  It’s not me; it’s Him.  I simply hold open my arms and cry, “Abba.”

And the adventure continues.  Life is a glorious gift, ever shifting, growing, and even more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend.  It is not a stagnant pool with sniffs of putrified rituals and Shall nots.  It is further up and farther in.  We will be amazed.  

Even if you have jiggle the key a bit

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” John 4:8

Thirty-eight years is a long time to wait. It really doesn’t matter how beautiful the five-roofed columnade around the pool Bethsaida near the Sheep’s Gate was.  It is a long time. Waiting for the movement of the water, waiting for restoration, waiting for freedom.  But pretty much a hopeless sort of waiting, because “Sir, there is no one to move me when the water is stirred, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  What I am waiting for is simply not humanly possible.  

The Aramaic or Hebrew word beth hesda (בית חסד/חסדא) means house of mercy or grace, which we know.  It also means shame or disgrace.  Both of the ideas rolled into one.  

Because, really, that is what mercy and grace are.  Reaching into someone’s disgrace and releasing them from the prison cell of shame.  And it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, or why they are locked up, hopeless.  The point is the mercy and grace.  

And that is how I am to live.  Extending mercy to each and every soul around me, because my Father in heaven is merciful. That is the motivation, our Father’s mercy, with nothing to do with merit or change of heart.  That guy was doing absolutely nothing.  The go and sin no more part came after the release, after the extension of grace.  It was not a conditional prison break.  

And He offers that same moment to me.  Release.  Freedom from what aches inside.  Freedom from what keeps be back from living in His joy and a spirit of thankfulness.  The Jewish idea of healing is about not being separated from the light of God, it’s about being united, being joined, being bound together, being in fellowship, being allied with.  It involves the whole person, body, soul and spirit.

So one thing we can learn from the guy by the pool.  It is never too late.  The gates never rust shut.  The hinges can’t fall off.  God’s mercy or grace is relentless.  I will not look in anger on you; for I am merciful, says Yahweh, I will not keep anger forever. Thirty-eight years is a long time, but it is not eternity.

Therefore, let me be merciful, for blessed are the merciful.  Holding back nothing from my neighbor.  Or myself.  Take up my bed and walk.  Free.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

But the boy replies: "I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest."

When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” John 4:47-50

At first read, one (me) could think, “Hey Jesus, why are you being so snitty to this poor guy with the dying kid?”

But Jesus isn’t talking to the dad, he’s talking to His people, the Jews, the Chosen, God’s Special Ones.  They aren’t living up to their name.  This “you” is plural, which is not so clear in English, but it is clear in Greek, just like it would be clear in Latin or Spanish. 

He just returned to His homeland, after traveling among the hated and looked-down-upon heathen Samaritans, who had eagerly run out to see Him, and gathered around and clung to his every word, and believe in Him because of what He has said, that He is indeed the Savior of the world.  A very, very cool time with the pagans.  

But when He gets back home, and the first thing that greets Him is this guy running out and saying, “Give me, give me.”  Which reminds Him about the judgmental guys hanging around the temple last time He was here, demanding, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” It was just a little reality check, the religious guys are all about me, and what are You going to do for me?

And then big important religious official pulls Him back from this real sorrow and said, “I am just a dad with a dying kid, remember me?”  Sort of like Julia Roberts when she said, “I’m just a girl.”  

All of the politics and fancy theology and parsing of doctrine and prophecy of who we were expecting the Messiah to be and look like and the where we worship, either here or there or in Jerusalem don’t matter now.  The official pushes past the crossed disapproving arms and frowning counting of who was baptizing more people and why, and simply says, “I need You.”  And Jesus took compassion upon him, and healed his son that very hour.  

As I consider this story, and who I am and how I approach my LORD.  I am reminded of the children’s book, The Giving Tree.  It starts out with this kid who loves this tree, and they enjoy each other and laugh and sing and be.  And the tree is happy.  And then as the kid grows up, slowly the relationship isn’t so much about being, but what can you do for me?  Give me your apples, give me your branches, even chop yourself down, give me everything.  And it’s ok.  Because the tree loves the boy.  But it’s not the same thing.  

And I think that is what Jesus wants here.  He is willing to heal and give us bread and walk on the water because He loves us.  But that’s not what it’s all about.  What He really wants is me to sit down by the village well and hang out and listen and hear what He has to say.  It’s about Him, Him who longs to walk in the garden with me in the cool of the day. But I, like Adam and Eve, am too busy hiding behind “We thoughts” and “were embarrassed” and my rushing around with my schedules and my want-to-dos and my things-I-should-dos and by the way, can You fix this for me right now?  

That’s why He came.  Really.  To restore the hanging out time to the way things were created to be.  That’s what it’s all about.  

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.    


A long and winding road

So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word.  John 4:40-41

So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him, having seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.  John 4:45

I so did not let students start sentences with “So” and “Then” when I was teaching English at Grace.  These are coordinating conjunctions, and they should be used to connect equal ideas, so how could they start a sentence?  Logical.  But certainly the Gospels are full of this connecting tool.  Because it is one big long story.  His story.

Yesterday I met with this guy who has this project.  For eight years he has hauled a handful of high school students up and down the California coast for two weeks in the summer in his yacht.  And they read Steinbeck and watch Master and Commander and dive and journal and dissect sea urchins and paint and visit museums and sit on high cliffs and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  And he wants me to write this all down in credible educational verbiage so that this vision lives on.  So I was poking about, trying to get a handle on Essential Questions and Measurable Objectives and all that and this is what it boils down to: What is man that You are mindful of him?  and We all have a story to tell that is part of the story of God’s great love.  

Who knows what Jesus said during those two days in the Samaritan town?  Or what he did in Jerusalem besides cast out the money changers from the temple?  We, two thousand years into history, simply do not know.    To whom else did He say, “everything I have ever done.”  He knew her story, and that knowing pierced her heart to the tender spot.  What stories were told, and whose stories were told?  Not I.  But those moments were woven into the plot, the rising action to the climax, connected by coordinating conjunctions, each soul connected to the next, equal in the eyes of the LORD.  The exact details unrecorded, but part of the tale.

And it continues.  We have two thirteen-year-old Chinese boys here with us for five days.  I am pretty sure the details of 220 South Country Club Road and Guerro Canelo and A Mountain will dissipate into a blur of the Disneyland, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and the Lincoln Memorial whirlwind.  But as Mary Anne stepped into Grandpa’s place, and with gentle words tucked two of the little Bibles that he has stacked high in the spare room in five languages into curious and eager hands, one never knows.  

Jesus said to them, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

What I am thinking about as I stare off into nothingness

But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God Himself is the truth.  John 3:33

The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the wrath of God.  John 3:36

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), He left Judea and departed again for Galilee. John 4:1

So I have spent the past few days walking through a Bible study that Heather is putting together for the Vineyard on listening prayer.  And the need to slow down.  Heart and soul and spirit open to receive from the Spirit Who reveals God’s truth.  

And how John, after this pause, examining and reflecting on all that he had seen and heard and lived, was willing to stake his life on this: that Jesus was from God, spoke the truth, had unlimited access to the Spirit, and In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.  

And those who believe Him are in the light.  And those who refuse, are in the dark, the outer darkness with the wrath of God poured out on injustice and evil.  The choice is ours.  Meditating on the wrath of God.  The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched.  Romans 5:10 The fierce wrath of God, as detailed in Revelation.

And just the incidental thought of how Jesus lived his day-to-day decisions, what motivated him.  Reading about a jillion versions of John 4:1, one of those little verses that I never really noticed as I raced back and forth through Scripture, I suddenly got it.  Jesus wasn’t about silly little arguments- who was greater, who had the most followers, who was “winning.”  Things were digressing into what was not important, so he left.  He was about His Father’s business and simply chose to stay focused.  Which led him to the unexpected yet foreordained: the woman at the well.  

And as I consider Who He was and how He lived, I betcha that when He went by Himself to lonely places at night to pray, that He was not doing the talking, not babbling on and one as the pagans do, but He was doing the listening.  Our Father Who art in heaven, holy be Your name.  
And James, reading and rereading James yesterday all the way through in one fell swoop.  Out loud.  Trying to be a hearer.  
Don’t I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves. The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God’s law, the law of freedom, and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness.

And doer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

No good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him... And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. John 3:17-21

The Great Scale at the End of Times that lurks in the unspoken of each soul.  ...when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of His voice... All of our deeds, like so many sacks of moldy laundry are dug out by... surely no one pictures great winged Cherubim doing the dirty work, so perhaps our collective imaginations have some sort of Santa’s helper or Gimli-like dwarf dumping the accumulation onto the balance, shaking it firmly to get every last bit, and then stepping back to see where the dial falls: being welcomed through the Pearly Gate by no less that Peter the Rock with his big long Michelangelo beard playing the role of maître d', or if things don’t measure up, Gimli with a grimace works the big lever that opens up a trapdoor beneath our feet.  

But that isn’t what Scripture teaches.  True, those who did good will come forth to life... but their good deeds are simply the natural product of the heart issue, the fruit that is produced, the works that have been carried out in God.  

C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce seems much more accurate, true to the teaching.  The end of times is not so much Dante’stormented whirlwinds damned for their carnal sins, rather They will be fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities, some gaunt, some bloated, some glaring with idiotic ferocity, some drowned beyond recovery in dreams; but all, in one way or another, distorted and faded, drifting away from each other in bleak misery, fleeing the light because they hate it.  

Matteo wrote me the other day, asking why the unfaithful steward, the one who had buried his talents in the ground, was treated so harshly, cast into the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s not so much that he dug a little hole in the ground and ran.  It’s not the deeds.  The what, the big bags of stuff.  It’s the why.  Why, when offered grace, offered life, offered light, he went the other way.  

Christ the King is not our Judge.  He is our Savior.  Our works will judge us.  Our works will reveal, will prove, the hidden recesses of our hearts, what we hated and what we loved.  And Who we believed to be true.

Last night daddy spent a quiet night here with Alan and me.  And once again, this morning as we gathered around yellow bowls of Raisin Bran with a cut-up banana, he led us in the prayer: We are Yours.  May we prove faithful stewards of Your grace.
Indeed.  In deed.

He Who molds every heart

YAHWEH looks down from heaven, He sees the whole human race; From where He sits he watches all who live on the earth, He who molds every heart and takes note of all that men do.  Psalm 33:13

But Jesus on His part did not entrust himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He himself knew what was in man.  John 2:24

This is yet another claim by John that Jehovah God and Jesus are one and the same.  Which is stunning because John from birth had of course been brought up to know to believe to understand with every fiber of his body: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one," and that Truth was the foundation for all that he was and thought and did.  

And yet, Jesus his companion and friend, the guy from Nazareth, revealed Himself to be the I AM so clearly, over and over, that a fresh revelation of what is True was able to take root and flourish.  

And it seems that sometimes this was lost in the day to day, in the grumbling and complaining and the shooing away of small children.

But every now and then, the wind and the waves would calm, and John and the other disciples would fall to their knees and worship Him.

Dear LORD, please calm the storm of my heart.  Tear away the curtain.  I fall to my knees and worship You.  

Seat everyone you can, Mr. Sheriff, and those that can’t get seats, let them stand around the wall

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When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2:22

We all have these moments, lightening bolts from the sky, when it is clear.  That yes, indeed, the Scripture is truly the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Marco had yet another vaguely humbling moment in class again.  The professor stood in front of his collection of world leaders-to-be at the world’s leading graduate school devoted to the study of international affairs, economics, diplomacy and policy research.  Does anyone here know the Ten Commandments?


More silence.  

Marco looked around.  No one had anything to say.  So he began, “Thou shalt have no gods before me...”

And as it turns out the guy was looking for something a little more theoretical, perhaps Blanchard and Cottarelli’s Ten Commandments for Fiscal Adjustment in Advanced Economics, or simply put what advanced countries need in clarity of intent, appropriate calibration of fiscal targets, and adequate structural reforms. Or the Croson and Gächter’s Science of Experimental Economics ―anomalies in individual decision making and the body of evidence from experiments on bargaining, public goods, coordination, markets, auctions and individual decision making has grown.  Or whatever.

Mike Begley preached last Sunday.  And I gotta appreciate the pell mell nature of his Navigator Scripture memorization.  Sometimes it is one more veer off the logic path, but it’s so good.  The lilt in his voice, “and what about this one” as he rattles off yet another passage.  

I gotta appreciate my fundamentalist childhood as well.  Sometimes it is true that I trip over preconceptions or misconceptions or sadly incoherent conceptions and where did that ever come from, but there is also a foundation of Read Through the Bible in a Year little folding bits of paper that shaped my morning routine year upon year.  And I so believe that it produces its harvest even now, sown deeply into well-tilled soil. 

And as I believe with my heart and soul and mind, I must remember what is true.  An’ if them fancy-fine gentlemen (to quote sweet Mayella Ewell) cling to a self-imposed abstractions rather than the moral truth which binds together reality, I myself have no excuse.

I made some promises, a long time ago, standing in the front of Morgantown Baptist Church, on the outskirts of Dayton, Tennessee, just a stone’s toss from the very courthouse where William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow argued over the veracity of modern science and human knowledge as pitted against the Scriptures as interpreted and enforced by state legislators:I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word.  I will make it a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto My path, and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.

And I know that I prayerfully remind God of His promise, as I wander through my daily prayer list, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
So be it. 

Stomping grapes out back

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” John 2: 3-4

Some thoughts.

First, Mary who knew Him best, and knew that He knew her, still brought her requests to Him.  I am quite sure He could figure out that there was no wine, but nevertheless part of their relationship involved articulating needs.  

Perhaps it is because we need to admit that we are needy creatures.  At a deeper level it involves being aware that I am a needy creature rather than one just floating through life, taking what may come along, with no engagement.  Sort of like snorkling which I found to be the most relaxing thing ever, adrift.  Great for a moment, but not a good way to live.

And we need to know where to go with our problems.  Mary was certainly not out back stomping grapes.  Rushing off to the neighbor ladies.  Selling the family heirlooms.  No sense of panic or What am I to do.  She took her needs straight to Him.  

Second, it’s about timing.  Jesus operates on a totally different definition of time.  And He is in control. Things don’t operate on my limited understanding of what is urgent.

Yet, be ready to leap into obedience when the moment arrives.  No hesitation.  “Do whatever He tells you.”

The results?  His glory was manifest and the disciples knew that He was indeed the Promised One, the Christ.  

And they stayed.