Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's hard to focus on what is important with this big stick coming out of my eye

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

Weston sent me some thoughts on this last night. 

The Pharisees were furious.  Jesus had just healed a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. Hopeless and helpless, he had lain by the Pool of Bethesda, waiting.  And Jesus healed him at once, and he picked up his bed and walked.  On the Sabbath.  

So rather than celebrating this grand manifestation of God among man, these folks wanted to kill Jesus, not only because he was a lawbreaker but because He was making Himself equal with God. 

And yet Jesus extended mercy, sort of.  But not really.  He promised to not accuse them before the Father on the Day of Judgement.  Rather He would allow them the same mercy they extend to others; they would be judged by Moses and the Law.  This was a perfect sermon illustration of His teaching: Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. It sounds like the full weight of the Law will be on their head, and really the whole point of Jesus’ coming is that no one can possibly bear up under that hopeless and helpless weight.

And sometimes I get distracted in my heart by what seems to me to be other folks still clinging to the Law when Jesus not only fulfilled the Law but He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. Colossians and Romans are pretty clear: God nailed the law to the cross and it is dead.  Those do not handle, do not touch, do not handle people have an appearance of wisdom in promoting a self-made religion and asceticism but they are of no value. And it grieves me when they impose this wisdom of law on others when they can’t even keep it themselves.  And march around with signs that talk about Who God Hates and Who Is To Blame. But really, really, that is their Day of Judgement.  And if Jesus won’t accuse them for rejecting His sacrifice, calling it insufficient, then who am I? 

The one with a stave sticking out of her own eye. 

Be merciful.  And you shall receive mercy.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Come to the waters

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6

I am putting together ninth grade lesson plans for Steinbeck’s The Pearl, and what was done in the past is a little sketchy.  I am one of those spell-it-all-out sort of planning teachers, and pretty much have inherited one or two word bullet points for curriculum, one of which is “compare to The pearl of great price parable.”  Which gives me lots of opportunity to mull things through and make it my own.

So I am working through breaking down, scaffolding for us teacher-types, what does it mean to “hunger and thirst” for something. Really hunger and thirst.  Above all else.  Willing to sell all that he had to obtain it hungry and thirsty.  Because in Steinbeck’s book this unexpected pearl that is found not only takes possession of Kino’s plans and dreams, it becomes his very soul.

This pearl has become my soul... If I give it up, I shall lose my soul. -Kino

Hungry and thirsty.  All that matters. 

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Well, it certainly doesn’t work, seeking blessed happiness elsewhere.  Life is just one long stream of moments that do not satisfy.  That evaporate in the morning sun, leaving not a trace.  And lots of uneasy moments that tie my stomach up in knots and take away my appetite for what is good.

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
John 7:37-38

Believe.  That is the question.  Do I really believe?  Is He my only option, or do I drag my foot along looking for another shelf to stand on?  Is He my only hunger and thirst?  He who became sin so that I might become the righteousness of God?  Can I join Simon Peter in his confession: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.

If I give You up, I shall lose my soul.

Oh, to be satisfied.  A belly full of fat goodness and an overflowing stream of living water.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

When it is all said and done

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Here Jesus is simply quoting from Psalm 37, “the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” And because “meek” is the sort of word that we really don’t use much these days as a character trait, especially using it to describe winners and not losers, it is helpful to review the descriptors David lays out.  Actually, in this Psalm meekness is equated with righteousness, which makes sense.  The focus of a meek person is The LORD and what is good, and not what is Me.  

The meek trust in the LORD and do good.
The meek befriend faithfulness.
The meek delight in the LORD.
The meek commit their way to the LORD.
The meek wait patiently for are still before the LORD who will act.
The meek fret not.
The meek refrain from anger and refrain from wrath.
The meek give and are ever lending generously.
The meek are people of peace.

And when the dust settles, that is who remains. The meek are left standing. It is not coincidental that the meek action verbs sound a lot like love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Because when the dust settles, that is what remains: love, joy, peace.  And the greatest of these is love.

Friday, July 26, 2013

If I was a bird, I'd go out on a limb, shake off my wings and get off the grid. Carlos Arzate

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Matthew 5:4

So yesterday afternoon I was ripping through some books from next year’s curriculum in the waiting room, waiting for Wali to get out of surgery. And one of the books I had been planning to dump was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a book that the eleven-year-old me had remembered as being pretty dopey.  

Probably because I didn’t get it.  

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

Somehow Fahrenheit 451 rang more frightenly accurate than all of the other dystopia novels on our to-read lists such as the 1984s and Brave New Worlds sorts.  Because the evil is quiet and unarticulated and from within.  Because the people were too comfortable and distracted to ever be bothered.  About something important and real.  

And of course Fahrenheit 451 feeds my deep set resentment of television inherited from my parents and confirmed once again as mom and I flipped through more than a hundred cable stations in our last-night-in-Montana hotel last week and found nothing deemed worthy of even being background noise.  So we read.  Which keeps both Ray Bradbury and myself employed, so there could be a bit of self-preservation in our copped ‘tude.

People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these. All to the heart-grinding keyboard soundtrack rolling in the background. And our preoccupations are very full of real people cooking and buying and traveling and styling.  Except they aren’t so real, really. We can’t love them.  Not in the Jesus way.  The Jesus way is not distant and not sliced and diced and not by-the-way-can-you-click-on-my-link love. The Jesus love costs; the Jesus love hurts.  

And Jesus declares that the Spirit of the LORD is upon Him, and that He is anointed to comfort those who mourn, to pour the oil of gladness over their head and into their hurts and bring true healing. 

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

The repentance in Fahrenheit 451, turning and seeing life in a new light, led to a salvation of sorts, in that if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore, while worldly grief was a dark, unarticulated pain that did indeed produce death, death by overdose of sleeping pills, death by driving just a little too fast, death by disappearance. 

And what a blessed happiness it is indeed, to mourn, to feel the pain of a broken world including me, if Jesus is the One who gathers me up under His wings and comforts me.  

It’s the real thing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nothing in my pockets (day one and two)

Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, his disciples came to him. And He opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:1-3

Day One: Last night’s living room conversation stretched out late and long, touching on many stories and many themes, but resting for quite a while on the harm and abuse that is done under the guise of “You have to listen to me because God is on my side.”  In contrast, the Bible stories of men and women about to be used powerfully in the kingdom begin with totally understanding this idea of “poor in spirit.”

Miriam said, “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted.”
Isaiah said, “Woe to me… I am a man of unclean lips.”
Gideon said, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house. 
Hannah said, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
Jeremiah said, “Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”
Moses said, “Who am I?” 
Mary said, “And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid.”
David said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house?”
Peter said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.” 
Paul said, “I am the foremost of all sinners.”

This particular Hebrew word “poor” means destitute and without hope, not just merely “not rich.” Unless we confess and utterly believe in our personal brokenness, our hearts are not open to receive the kingdom so freely offered by our Father.  When the son kneels in the dust and says, “I am not worthy,” the Father lifts him up and says, “'My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” 

The kingdom is now.  Present tense. Jesus among us.   And all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. No place for pride at all. 

Day Two: The Pharisee praying in the temple had a closed fist heart: The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” And sometimes I can smirk a bit, as I notice lots of Pharisee-types around me, especially sitting in the folding chairs next to me Sunday morning.

Or sitting in my folding chair. With the tiniest bit of encouragement and quiet reflection, that Holy Spirit can point out a few branches fogging my vision. Because I too have a Pharisee heart, pointing out those specks in other eyeballs.    That don’t seem so tiny, like extortion and unjustness. And I get sort of glum or discouraged or crabby. Quite. And none of these are fruit of the Spirit. That is one sweet thing about the beatitudes, this nice clear simple list of factoids that Jesus explains to those who are following Him: a + b = c.  Poor in spirit + Kingdom of God = Happy.  Whoever is poor in spirit will be happy because they will be open and eager to live the kingdom now. They are so destitute, so hungry, so not bringing anything to the table.

May I be poor in spirit. Me. Sitting at His feet, looking up into His face at the love He has for me. Yet this is not a passive sitting.  A sitting on my hands sort of sitting. This love of His is an active love, an outstretched arms sort of action. This love so freely offered and received. Unlike the Pharisee heavy weight of rules, Jesus yet again keeps it simple: Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul and mind...And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  
Love as He as loved me.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Who is He that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.1 Timothy 2:1-4

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35

And for today, Keep It Simple Stupid.  Happy.  Poor in me and rich in Him and happy. The world is a dark place full of broken injustice and dirty tricks and stomping on those already underfoot and there is plenty of work to be done in His love.  

In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Through Him.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

That time of darkness and despair will not go on forever

And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 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: 23-24

As much as I dwell on the love and grace of God for His beloved children, there is still the cry for rightness in my heart, particularly when I read the newspaper headlines, I long for those who oppress the poor and helpless to be held accountable for their actions as in May They Experience Woe: Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

Perhaps it is because it is a shared longing.  He is the one Who reached past the natural law of Survival of the Fittest and instilled His value of justice. This is part of the good news of the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim: good news to the poor and liberty to the captives; sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed.

And what a comfort to hear testimonies from Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey that His good news is still being preached in Syria, and among the more than two million refugees who have fled their homes and are clinging to life along the borders of because of murder and mayhem and “oppressive decrees.”

But what draws them to Jesus and His life and death and life again is not a message of justice, but of forgiveness.  Not a message of vengeance is Mine sayeth the LORD, but of mercy.  Not a message of hatred, but of love.  

Where do you get this message? His followers are being asked.

This is the good news from the One who heals every affliction among men. And who, when faced with the greatest injustice of all, was able to cry out, “Father, forgive them.” And it seems that we more the injustice we suffer here on this earth, the more we can be like Jesus. drawing close to His heart.

Perhaps that is how He was able to lift His eyes up to His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, and say: Blessed are you who are poor now. Blessed are you who are hungry now. Blessed are you who weep now. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil. You will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

So easily entangled.

And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Matthew 4:19-20

Although I am sure that people wiser than I have waxed eloquently and with great profundity about the significance of "nets" in this passage, and how Peter and James and John were able to walk away free and clear to follow Him, right now those nets represent something else to me: all that so easily entangles me and trips me up with a great big splat on my face when I am longing to be Mz. Joyful Spirit all day long.

Even when I am wearing the bright red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON t-shirt from Frederic.

Yesterday as I gaped dumbfounded at a sweet but hurried ticket agent as she explained that it would be much cheaper and faster for me to rent a car and drive back to Tucson even though the plane was practically empty and not leaving for two hours and this is how Delta makes its money charging an extra $800 per ticket and after the car rental guy said he would inspect the car sometime in the next hour or two and then send me his results and the bill in the next couple of days, and after the nice reservation man fixed our tickets after the plane took off hooked me up with someone who would give me a "great deal" because I was a stranded passenger but actually ended up charging me more than the walk up to the door and ask for a room price, and the way too extensive patdown including running a finger all the way around under Mom's waistband because she has had a knee replacement while all of the rich guys who can pay to avoid this humiliation pushed past in their special roped off section left me polite and grateful to the minimum wage person standing in front of me who probably doesn't even get health benefits but inwardly I was raging against the machine, the systems devised by some guy with his feet up in a windowed office overlooking the Hudson River to squeeze the little guy until he is absolutely dry.

And I was stubborn and firm and kept moving up the ladder and sort of straightened things up but I betcha that a lot of people, especially the weary and downtrodden, don't know how to play the May I please speak to your supervisor? game.

But the point is, it was starting to get to me, inside, where it matters. So easily entangled.

And I got called out by someone who was maybe a manager of the airport, who asked me if I was having a rough day after we stood in a long wrong line that was not properly marked because of a construction project and he cracked a really dumb joke to get me to smile. Which is not how it should be. But it is a reminder that I cannot produce love, joy, peace through my own determination and strength.

One more eye-opening repentance. One more decision to practice the presence of God. One more dropping of the nets, And following Him.

With eyes wide open

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

Repent isn't so much about saying "I am sorry," which btw I say way too often so it drifts into vaguely annoying nothingness as I attempt to shoulder responsibility for everything that passes my way, be it flat tires to blinking hard drives, but it is about looking, about seeing reality in a brand new way, as in "You must change your hearts and minds, for the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived!" (Phillips)

This was John's message as well: Pay attention, take notice, turn around from what you are doing with all of your own busyness and preoccupations and Stop, Look, and Listen. or you might miss God Among Us.

Just as the snake-bitten Israelites had to turn and look to the lifted up bronze snake it is the Father's will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him has eternal life.

This eternal life has begun. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Taste and see that the Lord is good. May I live in this truth.

And the sun is glinting off of the scraped black peaks and pouring down the three-hundred-year-old forest as mom and I head off down the Going-to-the-Sun road, may our faces indeed be radiant, inside and out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Be gone, Satan

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:10

Yesterday my mom and I were wending our way through the rolling grasslands of Montana outskirting Glacier National Park when she burst into our silent thoughts with something along the lines of, "You know that book Mary Anne got me? The author said something that has been so helpful to me; rather than focusing on our problems and having flitting thoughts about God, we should fill our thoughts of Him, and only allow our problems to flit."

 The word worship is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship—to give, at its simplest, worth to something. Evelyn Underhill further explains, "Worship asserts the reality of its object and defines its meaning by reference to it."

And so very often do I not give worth to my frets and worries, much more so than to the LORD of Hosts, the King of Glories? 

And I might pretend that my problems are real, but the reality that I have experienced time and time again is that of torturing myself with what never comes to pass outside of my vivid imagination. Not only myself, but every living soul in my vicinity with my joylessness.

The conversation turned to the truth that we experienced in the last six weeks of life, right after that vaguely concerned phone call I received from mom the morning of my last day of work, "Your dad isn't getting out of bed..." The last days had weighed so very heavily on us all, particularly on mom, for so many years; would it all be too much for her to bear?


Wham,wham,wham. The support pieces fell, hmm, miraculously, into place. A bed rolled in the front door, and boxes of supplies hefted in the arms of caring, experienced souls, and Zach and Emma arrived from Virginia, and Jenny from Denver, and Julie from Casa Grande and comfort care set in from all angles. And God was real, and our doubtful worries were not. The season was one of celebration of His provision and faithfulness rather than one of overwhelmed despair.

And I guess this pilgrimage to the ripped out mountainscapes, carved over the eons by glacial silent forces making their way through time and space to work their beauteous will is a reminder, an Ebenezer stone. And although I do not particularly enjoy tripping over the masses of fellow pilgrims at first glance, there is indeed a simple joy in a shared gaped-mouth awe of something so much bigger and above our so very smallness.

Thus, "Be gone, Satan," and let me return to my first love, in recognition and worship. And Him only shall I serve, rather than murmuring and groveling before all of these cluttering preoccupations.

Back to Evelyn, "Worship is the absolute acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us—the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator, to the Eternal Reality from which they came forth."

Thus, as we return to our journey this morning, wandering through flower-filled meadows and  past quaking aspens and across crashing streams, may our hearts and minds ever be aware of What Is True, Who is spanning above and beyond all else: 
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Be gone, Satan.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mission accomplished

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:10

Frankly, it’s been a rough couple of days for me. Not for the usual suspects, what one would assume to be the issues surrounding a beloved father’s death after a prolonged illness. 

Rather it has been the dozens of well-meaning friends who have gripped my arm and leaned in with lots of eye contact and lugubrious tones, and murmured, “I am so, so sorry for your loss.” For some reason that has left me sputtering, struggling how to explain the great joy bubbling up in my soul.

In many ways my father’s life was one big fat rocket-scientist experiment.  Are God’s promises trustworthy and true?  All those verses about giving and it shall be given unto you, Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much. Are these just nice platitudes to comfort the disillusioned masses, overprescribed opiates? Or are they a solid rock upon which one can build a home sturdy enough to withstand all of life’s storms?

And much as the astrologers who had left their houses and families and fields to follow a star rejoiced exceedingly when it proved trustworthy and true, our family and friends could not help but rejoice at the evidence and logical conclusions derived henceforth from my father’s big life science project. As the stories unfolded, an intentionality was revealed, although perhaps disguised in a flurry of beloved but silly riddles. Alan’s slideshow ended exactly right: Say what you mean, and mean what you say, and don’t use big words, Dad’s variation on a theme first articulated by St. Francis and how the gospel should be preached.

And last night, one last time of gathering around a beauteous spread of deliciousness and small clusters of real conversations, the topic turned to that of hymn lyrics, specifically the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which framed mom and dad’s life.  And what is an Ebenezer anyways?  

Mr. Google reveals that the prophet Samuel lifted up a rock and named it Ebenezer, which means the stone of the help, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” The setting up of stones in such instances was not unusual. This seems to be equivalent to building altars, memorials, or setting up marker stones to identify family land.

Thus the past few days, weeks, months have been a time of lifting up the Ebenezer, a time of remembering, reflecting and commemorating the faithfulness of God, identifying the family land, celebrating the Rock upon which our home was built.  And what can we do but join the wise men in rejoicing exceedingly and falling down before our God our Maker in worship. and offering Him our treasures, our gifts, our very lives, because my Father’s hypothesis, once a faded bumper sticker on the family station wagon, has been proven true thus far: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. -Jim Eliot

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The fragrance of God

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Matthew 2:7-8

Herod is sort of mind-boggling; I mean how garbled his thinking was. Somehow he believed the prophets enough to seek out pinpoint details written 700 years previous, and seven hundred years is a long time, like acting on a line from Canterbury Tales. And yet still plotted how he, one little old puny person, could stand against the tide of history and change its course. 

And yet how often do my actions not line up with some very firmly held beliefs? I am the first to admit that there are a lot things that I don’t entirely get, that I am still trying to stumble into practice and understanding, and most likely will never become clear until That Day.  For instance, I know that God heals miraculously and instantly, and yet, sometimes He doesn’t.  And the whole concept of time and how it fits together and prayer and grace and predestination. And then of course there is the pile of stuff that I want to do in my head, like floss my teeth, but my flesh is weak. 

In both my head and heart I believe in God’s unconditional love for each and every person. But do I plot out my day on that belief, or do I think I can stand against the tide of His love which is warp and weave of His very character?  So very much is going to be swept away into nothingness. Of so very many things do I worry and fret, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. Chose the better part.

I read a testimony today in Christianity Today by an Iranian man’s search for peace out of rage and hatred, beginning with a vision of thousands of people praying for their enemies rather than fighting. From that moment the forgiveness started to heal him, but his search continued, leading him to India and to Mecca and to selling all he had and giving it all away in order to follow any sign God gave him.  Somehow he ended up in the United States on a tourist visa and someone took him to a church for English lessons, and when he entered he thought, this smells of God.  A few weeks later he entered the service, looking for his teacher, and he saw the pastor and the entire congregation on their knees praying for the one word he understood, Iran.  A thousand people gathered there with their heads bowed, on their knees, praying for their enemies, showing love instead of hate. Since I was a young man, this had been my vision. 

Standing in the back of that church, immediately I started crying, laughing and and dancing.  I didn’t care if someone I knew saw me.  I was so happy.  This was peace.  I finally understood this was a place where I could know God, where I could know peace.

And today, as we collectively gather under sweeping tower of Northminster Presbyterian and sort through what remains of a life well lived, and what was blown away like the weeds of yesterday, I am glad that the scattering of the ashes on Mt. Lemmon will be framed with this Scripture: 

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And my heart joins the millions of children of God who for this season of Ramadan are offering up this prayer: Dear LORD God of heaven and earth, please reveal Yourself.  And may we have eyes to see and ears to hear.  And the will to obey.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

iacta alea est

Dear LORD God of heaven and earth, please reveal Yourself.  And may we have eyes to see and ears to hear.  And the will to obey.  Prayer of Ramadan

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. Matthew 1:24

I am reading Matthew 1 right now, and many of the words used to describe Joseph also describe my father: just, resolved, considered, and most of all, “He did as the LORD commanded him.”

I got a letter a day or two ago from a friend making a big decision who was asking for advise.  And he closed the letter with this advise that the other wise guy in his small circle of counselors had given him: He told me not to let the decision process take too long. It's best to be decisive especially in these big life-changing decisions.

And of course, since I tend to be a Peter-leap-off-the-boat kind of guy, there is a place for “considered,” mulling things over a bit.  But not too much.  Maybe just one night for prayer, like Jesus did before selecting the twelve disciples, a decision that would set the course of history forever.  In so many ways, beginning with a kiss.

Because otherwise, the voices set in.  The voices of fear and what-will-the-neighbors-think? and watering our root of bitterness and our-thought-are-not-His-thoughts. And it becomes about us.  And not about Him.  And there were a bunch of of very good reasons why Joseph should not take this obviously pregnant woman to be his bride, Excuses abound.  Excuses are myriad.  Before we kneel down and pray when edicts are proclaimed, or when we refuse to bow down when edicts are proclaimed.  It’s not the action.  It’s the heart of, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening.”

Because there is only One who knows the rest of the story.  I just have to be willing to take the next step. To kneel down and pick up my cross and follow him. And as I reflect on my father’s life and try to articulate the core values, among which are found those of Joseph, “just,” “resolved,” and “considered,” I know that he was a simple man.  Things were not too complicated.  Leave things cleaner than you found them. Be a leader for good. Quit ‘cher bellyaching. Is there anything I can do to help? And “I am Yours.”

The die is cast. No turning back.  No turning back. 

I am learning to ask, “Who will be honored by this decision?”  Whose are the voices I hear in my head, well-intentioned as they may be.  There is a place where Gandalf is leading the fellowship through Mordor, and neither path was clear, but after a night’s sleep, he decided that one had a faint odor of death.  And he took the other path. 

Because really and truly, each decision sets the course of history forever.  

Not finished by Tom Coverdale

                  My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me? Mark 15:34

And so the Author of Life finds his incomprehensible death on a cross hewn of hate. An irrational, unjust, and apparently unexplained end to a life that was meant to show The Way. The Way It Was Supposed To Be. How can it make sense, that a Father-God who is defined by love—a God whose character actually gives us our definition of love—would allow his Son to die apparently hopeless and alone? How can such an event, there, hanging between Heaven and Earth, be pronounced as descriptor of a love relationship, enacted by the author of love and relationships Himself?

Perhaps the cross was a meeting place. A heaving moment between two worlds: one bound by the dimensions of time and place, yet riven through with the Other World, the one filled with the shining truth of eternity, the Dimensionless Truth of meaning. The events surrounding that rugged cross was the advancing of a Kingdom.

We have all had these crystalline events in our lives from which it appears we glimpse the intersect of these two realities—the reality of the life we live by sight, and the life we live according to things unseen. It is the intersection of this temporal and that eternal, the present finite and the more present infinite—it is at this intersection wherein lies the possibility of redemption.


It was one of the most fearful noises I had ever heard in my thirty-two years. By that time of my life, I had had many experiences of perilous adventures in mountains, caves, and rivers; so fording the icy, full-banked Colorado River in late February on a backpacking trip in the Canyonlands with my brother Scott was, in and of itself, not a cause for trepidation. More often than not, we sought “the unexplored” and the “officially not-recommended.” Nor was I new to the idea that Scott was pushing some envelope of courage in the face of uncertainty—adrenaline-rush was kinda the idea anyway. Instead, it was probably the combinations of these factors and the uncharacteristic display of pathos from a brother who always held the most profound poise in the umbrage of direst disaster. What shook me is that Scott really recognized that there was a good chance he was about to die.
And there was nothing I could do but watch.
Our week-long trip into the Canyonlands saw us twice ford the Colorado River. The speed, size, and frigid temperature of the water required that we swim the river without packs, while we trailed a line tied around our ankle with which to float the packs across after our traverse. Though the strongly-currented ford was rapid-free, immediately downriver lay a bouldered decline that ensured destruction to whomever the current caught. Scott had become disoriented in his crossing, and had spent much of his life-dependent energy and time swimming against the current rather than across it. I watched his disorientation unfold before me, with my violent screaming drowned by the rushing river that sought to now kill my brother. He had stopped for a moment to check his progress, realized his error, and had yelled his hopelessness to the indifferent river.
And his little brother watched, frozen in horror from the boulder and log-strewn river bank.
I stood, helpless, a spectator to my brother’s death. My fear was deep because my stoic brother’s cry showed he had given up, the final punctuation after all solutions were explored and found wanting. The yell meant a certain and inexorable end. Utter despair; all hope had been forsaken.
This morning, in Tucson, I heard my brother sobbing.
It was not the sound that took me back to the banks of the Colorado; it was what the sound meant. It meant that an end—that same, forsaken hopelessness had been reached; that an inescapable current, relentless and sure, was pulling Scott to a certain destruction onto ragged rocks of an isolate despairing.
And from where I stood on the other side of our house’s entryway, there was nothing that I could do.
We both had watched a sleepy man that we did not know indifferently roll our dad’s wasted corpse past us, ease it over the street curbing, and mechanically secure his terrible cargo into a white paneled van parked in the street. The van, with its indistinguishable lettering, wandered down 4th Street in the heat-rattled night. Somewhere a volley of sirens began their wails across town. The van paused at Green Hills Drive, turned left, its headlights poking a way through a somehow hazy darkness, and was gone.
And then the sound from my brother.
And so I watched from where I stood, unable to throw a lifeline or physically bridge the raging, emotional torrent. Such is the way of my brother’s deep and powerful love.
Such a fierce love that wrenches, tumbles, and pulls.
Such a fierce love.           
Scott and I have talked a lot about eternity in the past few weeks, and the closest that we can get to understanding it is that maybe eternity is realized in the moment—the nearest we can perceive of the Dimensionless is when it passes through the singular strand of our linear existence of successive moments. And so the eternal gives its quality of potential to every moment in which we allow it to bear. It’s in the “now.” The Greek word kairos is this “now”ness with the added idea of immanence, almost a burgeoning moment that turns a single point of time into the exponential of the event. Kairos means timeliness, like a perfect union of what is and what can potentially be. Kairos is the word Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of God in Mark, chapter 1. In the Kingdom, there is not only a single strand of a timeline. There is, instead, a dozen, a hundred, a limitless number of lines of dimension that pierce every moment, which defy that single point on the timeline and allow us to live in the moment rather than merely witnessing it.
Maybe this is how all things can be experienced in eternity. We may call this “time travel”—like traveling along a different line of dimension in some cosmic Twilight Zone; but more importantly in a Kingdom full of the King and His Decree, this is how all things can be redeemed. It’s likely that the nature of eternity will reflect the character of its Source and Author—the kingdom will reflect its King: Redeemer. In eternity, the once-confined will be unbound, rife with the inevitability of redemption. In such places where the Kingdom intersects with the kingdom of this world, there is even now allowed the opportunity for redemption.      
It is in these punctures of time where life as we know it can stop, and the Spirit can speak to us, can change us, and give us the words and understanding to minister redemption to us, and us-to-others. Here, still living in our limited strand of time, we can glimpse into the burgeoning realm of eternity that Christ called the Kingdom. It is kairos, and we can see how we are made to love in the same manner that He loves. It is an invasion, most militant, of a Kingdom pushing its way by siege and thrust into another, into our world’s lesser kingdom where despair and silence now sometime rule. That is the worst: the silent response we receive to our cries of hopeless despairing.
Today, in a predawn morning, I saw in an event which revealed to me the depths of a Heavenly Father’s eternal love that exists in a perpetual domain that occurred in three moments along an earthly timeline. In Tucson, Utah, and Golgotha
A love of father, brothers, Son.
Such fierce love.
Moments all rife with the inevitability of redemption.
We recognize the redemption reality of a pain and despair-strewn Son dying alone on a cross. Such desolation was a set-up for redemption in the eternal realm that would forever affect all that is time-bound.
And there on a dark, Tucson summer morning, a passing corpse, a sobbing love-split son:

 It’s another set-up for redemption.