Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Heart of God

I offered pizza.  
They happily agreed to my offering; standing in the rare sunlight of a February afternoon, with smiles on their faces and shovels in hand. 
So I phoned Domino's the next day.  They delivered lunch, and the folks from Stone Soup Gardens went to work on placement of four, 4000 gallon water catchment cisterns for the community garden being built on the south parking lot of our church.  

A couple hours later, I was talking with the crew during a short break.   They thanked me for the pizza, and I said, "Can I just say to you how much I appreciate all of the work you are putting into this project.  I don't know your faith background, but I think that the work you are doing makes God real to people who are struggling, and need to know that someone cares. Thank you for that."   

Regardless of what we believe, I think that each of us at some point, ask ourselves, "If there is a God, How does he feel about me? Does God even know who I am or what I am going through?"
I wish the church was better at showing how deep God's love is.  
I wish that I were better at it too.  There have been many times that I have prayed that God would allow me to have his heart, that I could share a better hope or a deeper peace with someone who needs it.  When that prayer is answered,  I am drawn into a depth of concern and focus that is all-consuming and relentless.
So, I want to suggest that our God is an emotional being, and much more than we tend to imagine. 
His heart is BIG and incredibly sensitive to what we are experiencing individually.
                                  All of us...all of creation...all the time. 
We have emotions because he made us in his image, so he is an emotional being.  
Also, I don't know if we really believe this.  
We are not convinced of the idea that our God is really that deeply connected to us when we are hurting. 

In response to that uncertainty, I give you Jesus.
                           Luke 19:41-42English Standard Version (ESV)
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it..."
That means he sees the village life on the outskirts of Jerusalem as well as the dynamics of those living in the urban settings.  
He sees the families that just arrived in the city, trying to make their way in new surroundings and those who have lived there for decades.
Those who have work and those who don't.
Those whose social standing is elite and those whose standing is servitude.
Those struggling with addictions and those who are free.
Those surrounded by family and those who feel completely alone.
Jesus takes a sweeping look at the city of Jerusalem. He takes in all that is happening there...

Couldn't  that be the Kent-East-Hill that he is looking at?  
Or Covington, Renton Highlands, Tukwila, Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn, 
Maple Valley...The Greater Seattle area or Tacoma?
Can't it be wherever we live?
He sees our neighborhood. 

                                     He knows our issues, all of them, and He weeps.

In another gospel account...same scene, He says, 
         "How long have I wanted to gather you unto myself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings"
      That is not an image of a God who only cares on major holidays, like Christmas and Easter, or only pays attention when it will bring media coverage.  That is the image of a protector, a nurturer, someone who desires to be as accessible as possible, 
                             and is moved to tears when he has to watch us struggle on without him.

Then, there is this SECOND illustration, found in John's gospel...it is more intimate still.
                        John 11:33-36English Standard Version (ESV)
33 When Jesus saw her (this is Mary, Martha's sister) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[a] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?”They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”



These verses show us again, that Jesus doesn't come to us 
     as a doctrinal concept, 
              a theological position,                       
                             a core value....
Jesus is not a something, but a someone.
...And he weeps over the pains we experience and the separation that we feel from him...when we are trudging through it alone.

He is...The Heart of God.


       
     













Friday, October 13, 2017

So That Healing Would Come

Broken relationship is ugly.
Whether viewed from a distance or up-close.
In the home, in the church, in our nation or in the world we have to get to a place,
where we acknowledge that we see it, and we won't have it.
We want something better.
We want healing, and we will give each other permission to learn and grow in understanding
in order that the healing would come...Here is what I'm learning.

Sometimes the cause is unfaithfulness or selfishness.
Sometimes simply misunderstanding or even just a difference in opinion.
There is shock, confusion and hurt.
Followed by silence, or at least a cold and removed dialogue.
Walls formed; caring and love being snuffed out.
It happened in an instant,
            and past hope seems irretrievable.
It is heaviness.
It is life-sucking.
It is dream-gouging.
It is faith-shrouding.
I need to remember that there is always a work in progress, with this effort at its core:
                                           to steal, kill and destroy.
   
Too much ends up, in one of those three categories and is never redeemed.

But I have also been part of, and witness to, the opposite of this process.
I have seen people move from a settled place of seemingly unflinching, stone-like, anger
into an experience quite different; a place where
   something fairly miraculous is rediscovered.

It too, arrives in the room, or the moment, in an unpredictable fashion.
It comes sometimes by choice and sometimes through revelation.
Sometimes prayed for, or sometimes just hoped for,
         and it comes when something else leaves...

                     When blame exits the room, it leaves the door open for forgiveness to enter.

I am not suggesting that we would pretend that painful wrongs were never committed.
Some acts are so destructive that to ignore them would not only be foolish,
                                                                   it isn't an authentic action toward true healing.
What I am suggesting is that holding onto our anger doesn't bring us power,
                                                                                it makes us a prisoner to our own pain.

Somehow we need to find release, even where a complete restoration is impossible.
I believe that it will seldom come to us by seeking justice.
Almost never by debate.
Our release comes by letting go, rather than trying to grasp hold of something.
Finally... no one else can pry my hand open it has to be my choice.

We do have a model.
It is strong, and bold, and also, quiet and sacred.
It is beyond us and yet available to us by His Spirit.

                                        "For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, 
                      no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out..." 
                                                                       (1 Cor.  5:19/The Living Bible)










Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Bado kidogo..." He says

I go to the cemetery sometimes, when there is no funeral to attend.
I know it sounds creepy, but it's not.  Let me try to explain why...

Wandering down a paved walk.
My heart whispers...Stop and listen.
I look at the markers.
Notice the cuts that frame the stone and the interior carvings.
Angels and flowers.  Crosses and Star of David.
Names and dates.
There are husbands and wives.
Beloved Mothers and Fathers.
Daughters and sons.
At rest.

That whisper again...Listen some more.
A deep breath, and then let it out.
I start to speak, to ask a question, but catch my tongue and bring my lips back together.
Sit down at a bench.
Close my eyes and bow my head.
Another deep breath.
It is a struggle to... be still and know.  To wait.  To truly become silent.

Wind.
Warmth.
Clouds and sunlight.
Birds chatter in the trees.

"Listen some more," He says...softly.
"Come a little farther," He says.  
Before I should speak.
"Bado kidogo..." He says...
Because I can still see the slender Kenyan man, from memory, pointing me down the red, dirt road, toward a rounded turn up ahead in the distance.  There is my destination.  It is just beyond the field of maize, just past anything I can see clearly; just beyond all that I know.

So I continue on, in quiet, and then...I'm "there"... and I know it, because I can feel it. "There" is not a place but still an arrival.
I exhale.
And I realize that it is in this quiet, that
                                            I am found and in full sight.
In this willingness to inch myself away from the cool, hard concrete bench and those
things that my eyes can see, my heart and mind are opened up to so much more.
                                                             Because I am now a witness to this world through Him,
I can become small again, and be protected; under His wing.
I can become whole again, and be hopeful; by His strength.
I can find peace again, and be healed; by His grace.
                                            But only when I step away..."Bado kidogo..." He says.

* Bado kidogo is a phrase in Swahili that roughly translated means, "just a little bit farther."  :)







Friday, June 2, 2017

Creator or Custodian

I'm looking through the living room window this morning at the sunlight pushing its way onto the walking trail behind our house.
There are some tall fir trees and a huge maple. The maple has leaves that remind me of dinosaur footprints, waving back and forth in a gentle breeze, swaying in the sunlight and shadow.
There are smaller, evergreen seedlings and various bushes lining the trail.
There is a shrub with small white blossoms, another with purplish ones and one plant with tiny red berries to add color.
It is beauty.
It is warming.
It is comforting.
I made none of it.
I just get the opportunity to view it and be thankful.

Somehow, this is a reminder to me that in this process called life, I am in great need of being shaped by someone other than myself.  I need a Creator.

To some degree this is the sentiment behind Psalm 62:1 - Take me to the rock that is higher than I.

I am concerned at times that instead of seeing God as one who we are in awe of, as one who is wholly different and beyond us, and yet has a deep, self-sacrificing and passionate love for us, we more or less see Him as our Custodian instead of our Creator.

In other words, we look at the relationship to God as though He stands at the ready, ONLY to make alterations in us that we grant Him approval to make.  We also instruct Him as to when those alterations should happen.  In other words,  we come to Him when we believe it's time for a bit of maintenance, or clean up; only when we are certain that we REALLY NEED that kind of attention.  

So, when He interferes with our plan, without our approval, we are resentful.
When He asks for more of us than what we feel is a fair commitment of time, energy or resource, we back away from him and complain.
It also shows up when get our feelings hurt by someone, or something that happens which troubles us.  Our response is that we don't pray, or read our bible for a week or a month...or six months. We skip worship at the church we attend and say, "we need a break!"  (Someone is reading this right now and is irritated with me for this observation; feeling like I am being too narrow in my perception of the Christian experience.)

Let me say this, just to help...Church attendance is not the measure of our faith.
However, can I also say that our lack of attendance, does not equate to a greater freedom in Christ.

I guess what I am leading up to is that when I allow myself to be "author and finisher of my faith," it may seem like I am in control, but I'm actually removing Jesus from his role as Creator, and have made him into a

                                                     Jesus, who is my Custodian.

If the truth of God,
                    His living, reality in my life,
                                                             by His Spirit,
                   does not have the freedom to work through me the way He desires it to work,
           I may be more comfortable.    
                                     But is "comfortable" what I really want?

Many years ago, Rich Mullins wrote a beautiful song that lyrically addresses some of the thoughts I have tried to connect within this post.  My favorite lines in the song say this in relation to God's truth,
     
I did NOT make it,  No! it is making me.
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.

Enjoy!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3i-_VWxOAc
(This is a re-recording by Third Day/Brandon Heath)



                            









Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jogging With George Jetson

As a pastor, it has always been a challenge for me to speak truth that has an edge to it.  Truth that brings comfort is hopeful and easy to deliver.  Truth that brings challenge is difficult to share.  With that thought in mind, here goes:

I believe that fear is working to drain the life out of the church in the United States.  We have not been surrounded and had the hope strangled out of us, we have handed it over freely in favor of a "holy huddle" until Jesus comes.  

To expand a bit...There is evil in the world.  It does exist.  Since Genesis we have had pain, problems and death (and this is just the short list).  But our real issue is that we have forgotten how to rally under The Banner of Love in the church in order come against that evil.    

We act as though the end is near (insert cardboard street-sign here) and duck for cover.  We grimly cling to a truth that protects, preserves and insulates us from the pain around us.  What if, instead, we moved outside the four walls of the church, and carried with us the truth that protects, preserves and reconciles others who are in pain.  Isn't that what is defined by Paul's words (2 Cor. 5:16-20) when he calls ALL OF US to be "ambassadors?"

So, let's not get sucked into the trap of fear, or it will swallow us up like George Jetson's treadmill.   Come on church!

"Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Pick the right battles.  Choose to have courageous conversations with your neighbor; someone who is not like yourself.

There is a fresh harmony that can return to the church today.  Honestly, it isn't new.  It's something that has been encouraged throughout the scripture story.  It's an idea that could unleash The Spirit of God like the prophet Joel spoke about and Luke repeated in Acts 2.  It bridges all that tries to separate. We have only to walk boldly, humbly and repentant toward that harmony.  A blend of race, gender, culture and age that we have somehow forgotten through time, but that the word challenges us towards over and over again.

I truly believe that His Spirit will surround us in this mission.  :)

It won't be easy.  Through time, we have given our enemy too much tether to snare us with.  Too many stereotypes to bind us in.  Still, if we allow Christ to work in us and through us, He will tear apart the tether and release us from those stereotypes that have kept us from the dreams and visions that Joel spoke about.  He will bring restoration to the church, and,
                  
                             "...all the powers of hell will not conquer it!"  (Matthew 16:18)



* For those needing a smile today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2Z8kPpLg1g

** For those who want a challenge today, The Sound, by Switchfoot, a music video in honor of Dr. John Perkins, a leader in the civil rights movement and someone I was fortunate enough to meet at a pastor's gathering at Highline College:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNQgABsUfK8
(BTW - If you are more accustomed to quieter music  :)  you may wish to turn the volume down, however Dr. Perkin's comments are interspersed into the song)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Let Nothing Be Between Us

What I hate...and I rarely use that word, because it is so burdensome, is watching a family disintegrate because they have squared off against each other.  I have seen it happen in all kinds of settings; in counseling, at funerals, even weddings.  It's so disheartening to watch.  It usually begins with something small.  Something hardly worth mentioning.  A pin-prick.  Then it grows.  Fear and selfishness push it along until the pain blossoms into a rage, a wall or a weapon.

I am not concerned about anything that would challenge us from outside the family.   We were given  more than enough to stand that test.  Like the woman in the city square, the stones were gathered in a circle at her feet, but none of them touched her.  And she rose from that place; whole and without condemnation, embraced by the love extended by the head of her new family.

I sometimes wonder though.  Once He restored her and brought her into the family, was the rest of the household able to see her as Jesus did, or was their memory too long and their love too shallow to handle it.  We give up on each other so quickly.  If God's house ever goes empty, this will be the reason why.  It won't have anything to do with the world.  It will have to do with fear and selfishness that hides out in the family.

We can't allow for that.  We just can't.  I don't know who, or how, but I'm certain I have wronged someone.  I can say that it wasn't intentional, but I know that doesn't help.  I wish they could tell me about it and that we could work it out.  I am certain we can, if we can only both lay down our fear and selfishness.  In the midst of the wind and the flame described in Acts 2, we were given the most unifying power the world has ever known, the Spirit of God.  How can we keep hold of the hurt that separates when we have access to such a power to heal?

Years ago, I jotted down some thoughts that still remind me that his plan has always been that wherever we go as a family, that we would go  together....you and me...lets never forget it.

The Church...in the beginning

At first, just His voice in the wind above the darkness,
         and somehow,
                 even then I was on His mind,
                                            and so were you.

There we were, names on the lips  of a voice from heaven.
A joyous potential, unveiled in the reflection of forever hopeful eyes.
As we have grown, we are drawn back to that voice in the wind.

It was our hands that ignorantly constructed
                                       the framework of our own forgiveness from the tree
His word spoke into existence so long ago.
                              Yet, isn’t that how it has always been?
The one who we cannot see,
      has gone before our every triumph and tragedy,
                                                               building corridors,
                                                                               and windows
that guide the broken and spilled pieces of who we are back to Him.

Yesterday,
I thought that I heard him again;
calling me back toward that quiet place
and in that same sentence
He was telling me to take your hand as well,
so that we might come together. 
I could not find you, but I will continue the search.
For there is something about you holding His hand
and me holding His hand
                  and our hands together,
that was a part of that plan in the long ago.
There have been times when I couldn’t find you
             and you couldn’t find me
                            and even times when we rested alone
in uneasy places where we couldn’t find Him,
                                                                    either of us.
But His voice above that darkness too, has led me back to Him and also back to you.
And we both know that our paths
will never be so far apart that I can’t see you over there....
no matter how tall the grass grows between us.






Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Where Do I Live?

They left last week; the grand-babies.
Going back to live near the other grandparents.  I have told myself it is good.  We need to share.  
But, I know there will be so many moments like this one that I will miss...

We were getting ready to go for a chilly walk along the rocky coastline at Saltwater State Park.  Her arms were entwined behind her back.  She twisted at the waist, back and forth and smiled at me.
"I'm ready to go Papa."
I sized her up.  
Sox and shoes on.  
Jacket too. 
She was ready.
I looked down at her shoes again and thought back to what seemed only a few weeks ago, and said, 
"You get your shoes on the right feet all the time now don't you!?"
She nodded and smiled again, and then said, "Remember, you told me that time at the beach that the toes always point in.  So, now I got it and I won't pinch my feet anymore."
"Yep," I said with an affirmative nod.
Then, I put my hand on her shoulder, steering her toward the doorway, and we left the house.

There have been many times that the lesson didn't stick.
There were many approaches.
Gentle.
Urgent.
Diplomatic.
Reasonable.
Bargaining.
Joking.
Fear-tactics.
Prodding.
Near-begging.
Warning.
Contemplative.
Comparative.
I've tried them all.

The hard part is that the recipe for successful teaching seldom repeats.  At least not with this one.  She will look into my eyes and I into hers and I will think there is a connection that will produce understanding...and change.
But it's not always so.  There is a flicker in the eye, followed by a head-tilt, then busy hands or feet or both and I know that my lecture fell on deaf ears.
AND I love her.
AND she loves me.
AND... she does whatever she wants.

It's easy to be an upset Papa when that happens; to be grumpy, but it's no fun.  Especially, when the sun is shining and our shoes are on and the outdoors is calling us toward adventure.  So, what do I do with the frustration that comes when my wisdom gets treated like a branch of broccoli on her dinner plate, and is pushed to the side in favor of....well...anything else?

Instead of trying to answer this question I have been drawn to another.
What does Christ do when I have responded to his wisdom in the same fashion?
I wonder how often he has used all of the methods listed above:  Gentle words, urgent words, words of warning, words of reason....and still I have chosen my own way above his.  Why?

I think it has do to with where I live...

I'm not talking about geography.  I'm talking about my heart.
There are words we use in the church, but only sometimes.
And we speak them with our head bowed usually.
Surrender. 
          Consecration.  
                             Repentance.  
                                             Submission.
                                                               Contrition.
They relate to our ability first to hear and second to yield to the voice of Christ in us.
They relate to our ability to "stay clay" in his hands; moldable to whatever shape he is wanting to fashion us into.
The truth is that sometimes, I struggle against, instead of yielding unto that work.  There is something in me that wants to be done with that process; wants for the work of repentance to be completed.
The actions of my will at that point are: 
                                           debate...defense...reaction...posturing.
The actions of my will when I'm living in repentance, are:
                                                         listening... open... responding...learning.

The Message bible translates Paul's words in Romans 12:1 like this:  So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 

For me, this is it.  Where will I live?  I want to live in repentance.  In some ways, it requires far less and yet produces far more.  It's peace and it's power.  It's grace that sustains.  One day at a time.  One conversation at a time.
                                      So let it be done in me.  :)