Thursday, February 20, 2020

I'm Not Playin'




I wish you would have told me...

- That it was cold outside ....so I could have worn a coat and gloves
- That it was raining outside...so I could have worn a hat or grabbed an umbrella
- That there was a lot of chili sauce in the ramen....so I wouldn't have taken such a big spoonful
- That everyone in the room had the flu...so I would have kept a distance
- That the water was low in the radiator....so I would have filled it
- That the invitation said "formal wear"...so I didn't look like an idiot in my shorts
- That there was tax on top of the list price...so I wouldn't have had to leave the store without buying what I wanted

Jesus said...
"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
(John 14:2)

It's like he's saying, "I'm not playin'! This is truth.  You can count on it.  I don't make promises that I don't follow through with, or keep secrets from you in order to surprise you later."

His character is completely authentic.
He is worthy of trust.



Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Way Back

Years ago, our oldest daughter was a runner. She was in first grade. She ran everywhere. 
After school she was in a pretty loosely developed track program. The kids circled the school grounds on the sidewalk after the final bell while the teacher put marks on their hand every time they passed her on the playground. They did it every day for about an hour. One day when we picked her up, the teacher told us that our daughter circled the school more times than the other children.
"Okay," we said.
"A lot more times," said the teacher.
"Okay," we said.
Then there was a race scheduled with other area grade schools. 
We met in a city park for a one mile run.
Our daughter had been walking around the park with us and a friend of hers from her class. They were aflutter about everything happening around them.
They were holding hands and talking excitedly.
A bit later, the two of them were standing at a starting line with a mob of two or three dozen other kids. 
They looked at each other with smiles and then the gun sounded.
Our daughter bolted out in front of the the group and after about 75 yards was in front of the pack by a significant distance. 
Then she stopped. 
Froze. 
Turned around and searched through the others until she found her little friend, raced back against the onrushing tide of runners, grabbed her friend by the hand and then the two ran on together, somewhere in the middle-rear of the pack, but together.
It was incongruent when measured against the concept of "a race".
We knew that and were confused, but at the same time, there was something very right about her
actions.
In another context of course, we were really proud of her choice.
We have to remember that the pathway to healing in racial and cultural divides involves words like
reconciliation and restoration; it is a return path. 
All the way back to the beginning, there was a force at work to divide and separate us.
From God.
From each other.
From family.
Selfishness, pride and fear will separate; always.
That theme of broken-ness cuts across all of the history of humanity.
There was a complete Shalom and then there was not. All we have known since the garden in respect to race, culture and family is lesser representations of it. A hint of how it ought to be at times, but only a hint.
We know there to be a way back, but mostly we are bent by our own will to continue forward instead
of turning around. 
As though we will find some kind of new formula, fresh understanding or enlightened thought on the horizon; but it's not there.
The answer is in going back, not forward.
Even the word repentance is a return word. 
Making space in my mind for a coming home experience. 
At the Eastern Gate.
At the foot of the cross.
We were meant to be one. 
All of us. 
One blood. 
One creation. 
One humanity. 
The answer is in the return. 
I believe that if we would just find our brother and sister and join hands, exercise forgiveness and grace, ignore the race going on around us, we will discover it.
The path is overgrown and thorny, but it's there. 
He's calling us towards it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Whispered Awareness

I have always enjoyed the relative chaos of our services on Sunday...

We are privileged to have a church family with many nations represented.
So, conversations are taking place in multiple languages.
We have children racing in and out of every space in the foyer, the hallways and bathrooms.
(And six babies that have already arrived, or should arrive in the next 8-9 months!)
Young adults and seniors, smiling and laughing.
Shaking hands and hugging one another.
Music is usually playing through the sound system.
It is a joyous celebration.

However, for awhile now, I have begun to be attracted to another form of joy.

 My cell phone was orphaned on my desk in the office.
Laptop; the same.
I was alone, in the church sanctuary, enjoying the quiet after leading a memorial service on
a Thursday afternoon a couple weeks ago.
A small choir of lighted Christmas trees brought luminescence to the platform.
The manger scene also sparkled in the same light.
But there was no sound at all...from without.
Only from within.

(You can confirm this one day with Elijah, but...) I believe, He whispers in order that we might become more attuned to listening.  I am fairly convinced of this.  In fact it's at the point where we are listening so closely, that our actions are in conjunction with thoughts we cannot completely identify as ours, or His that we are the most effective as representatives of our faith in Christ.

It's me somewhere in the background, instead of me in the way.
My ego fades.  I don't need attention.
I just need to have done what He's explained needs to be done...in that whispered awareness.

As I was returning items to their original places on the platform, two people entered the space.  They ventured in, one at a time, so I had personal conversations with each, without the other present.  Both of them were a bit younger than I, a man and a woman, and they were related to the individual who had passed on.  Neither were really sure I think, exactly why they had come to talk with me.  So, when we met at the altar, their words stumbled out of their mouths, like the ideas behind them were arriving as packages that had to be opened one at a time...
"Hello...um...can I talk to you a minute?"
"Sure."
"I just wanted to say..."
Long pause.
"Thank you... I guess."
"Sure.  For what?"
"For the service...for your words..."
"You're welcome.  I was really happy that we had the opportunity to host the service."
"Also," and at this point the man averted my eyes and looked to the carpeted floor.  "I think I want to try and get back to church."
I nodded.
I listened not just to what was said, but what wasn't; following his hand gestures and body language.
"I've tried a couple places," he continued, "but haven't found anything yet that really seems to fit."
"You'd be welcome here, " I said, as brightly as I could, without sounding like I was trying to sell something.
He told me where he lived and acknowledged that if it were closer he would definitely come back.
I shook his hand, thinking that was all there was to be said and he would turn and leave.
But he didn't leave.  He just stood there, the wooden altars between us like a fence-line.
"Can I pray for you?"
"Please," he sighed.
And so I did, and then he brushed a tear from his eye, shook my hand and walked away.

Maybe ten seconds later, a woman appeared coming down the left aisle.  In essence, it was the same conversation, and it ended the same way.
There was the revelation of a hunger for God that wasn't being addressed fully in her life.
Followed by a confession as to what was getting in the way.
Then a prayer and a teary-eyed departure.

It wasn't a prepared dialogue.
I'm not even sure that they knew why they came to me.  What I do know is that it wasn't so much about the answers I gave to their questions.
It was more about the listening, and the availability.
Being available to them, and being available to Him.

I want more than anything, to sense that I am part of the purposes of Christ.  I guess that what I am learning is that most of those moments do not come when I plan for them.
Even though I am a pastor.  

We have all these good words to describe it...
Submitted.
Surrendered.
Sanctified.
Yielded.

Let's let those who are worried about the semantics sift out the proper phrasing, but most of all can we just get there!?

The world is waiting...watching...hoping...needing.

Oswald Chambers wrote, "When we are consciously aware of being used as broken bread and poured-out wine, we have yet another level to reach— a level where all awareness of ourselves and of what God is doing through us is completely eliminated. A saint is never consciously a saint— a saint is consciously dependent on God."

Dependent is a big word.  It's not altogether a word I like to use about myself.
However, I am getting more comfortable with the quiet.  
More compatible with being still.  
More able to tell myself, "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."  


Merry Christmas  :)





Monday, November 4, 2019

Awake

A friend of mine just went home.
At the beginning of the week, Rhonda and I drove to Swedish Hospital to celebrate the birth of a lad whose parents I was privileged to marry a short while ago. His eyes opened to this world for the very first time on Tuesday morning. He is beautiful and sweet and tiny. And his parents shine almost as much as he does.  🙂
In contrast, I just left the house where another closed his eyes to this world for the last time. When he opens them again it will be to a different world. 
He was in church last Sunday.
Tired.
Waiting for release. 
I have seen him at least once or twice a week for the past several weeks as he wanted to talk to me about many things.
Sometimes we just read the bible together.
Sometimes we discussed what it said.
Sometimes we talked about his antique cars.
Or roller skating.
Or his travels.
Or his cancer.
A couple weeks ago, as I sat down, I asked him how we was, and he said, "I'm doing about as good as I can. I think. I just want to get back to church. But my legs are so wobbly I can't even get to the wheel-chair by myself. Can you help with that?"
I said we would figure out something. And we did. (Thank you, Brian and Stanley). 🙂
Then I said, "How are you with Jesus?"
And he said, "He's closer than ever. Sometimes I can see him right there!" And his voice rose a bit in decibel, and he lifted his shaky right arm, emphatically gesturing to a space maybe two feet in front of him.
"I'm ready to go." he said. 
And it wasn't morbid.
It wasn't even depressing.
It was just true.
He was ready to enter into the future that his faith had promised. He had been assured of it's reality by the one he was counting on, and had in fact seen more clearly now as that day grew near. He is home.
Eyes closed.
Eyes opened.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Was It A Divine Appointment...or... Did We Get Conned by Conrad?

    I think that it works this way...with grace.
    Receive.  
    Give away.  
    Release.
    Repeat.

   Dino wheeled the little, blue Celica down Nampa-Caldwell Boulevard toward the college campus we attended. It was late Friday night, or rather early Saturday morning. We were both feeling really good about life in general. The end of the week, marked the beginning of spring break. All the finals for winter quarter were over. We had just left “Grampa and Gramma Dennises” place, which was kind of a home away from home for a handful of baseball players (and their occasional date) from our college team. 
   They had a hot-tub. 
   There was always a lot of free snack food, AND THEY HAD CABLE TV! (Remember, this was 1983, so that was a big deal).
   In addition to the freedom that we were feeling because of the end of the term at school, Spring Break also meant a trip to Portland for a week of baseball, eating out and staying in hotels. No studying, no cramming, no reading text books, just baseball. 
    When your greatest concern is whether or not your forkball is moving well, life feels pretty golden.
   The strong odor of sugar beets being processed at the factory on the edge of town, wafted into the car. We both struggled to keep our eyes open as the headlights illumined the gray-brown pavement. A hundred yards or so down the road, Dino noticed a figure cloaked in a black jacket stagger from the shoulder onto the middle of the road.
     “What is up with that guy?”
   I lifted my face, leaned toward the dashboard of the car and squinted into the darkness. Dino slowed the car and looped past the obviously drunk fellow that was wandering down the deserted stretch of roadway. I looked at my watch. It was after one a.m. I looked over to Dino. He looked over to me.
    “Do you think we should do something?” he asked
    “Yeah, I guess so. I mean there’s not much traffic, but it’s pretty cold and he’s got a long way to go before he gets to Nampa. Who knows what might happen to him between here and there.”
    Dino turned the car around and quickly we were pulling up behind the fellow in the black jacket. He just kept on walking. My friend put the car in park and we both got out. Dino reached him before I did and put his right hand on the man’s shoulder. He stopped walking and spun around to face us.
To tell the truth, I can’t remember what we said to him or who spoke first. All I can remember is the tired, care-worn face that was looking into ours, as the headlights from the Celica struck him. He blinked and looked at us, struggling to stand on the flat ground as though he were on the deck of a ship rolling on the waves. Two or three days worth of gray-white whiskers covered his cheeks and chin.
     In a few minutes the three of us were on our way to Nampa.
   His name was Conrad. He was very drunk. He told us that he was headed for Boise. There was some position at some factory there that he said he was to interview for on Monday. He had come all the way from Montana.
    Now, if you would have asked us, I’m sure Dino and I would have told you that we weren’t born yesterday, but the truth is, our experience in matters like this was very limited.
   It was decided that we would bring Conrad back to the dormitory. He could sleep in a sleeping bag on my room-mate’s bed. My room-mate had already gone home for vacation. Then, in the morning, we would run Conrad into town and send him off with a little help; food and such, and hustle back to campus to meet the rest of the baseball team as we piled into the vans that would head out for Portland.
   As I lay in bed that night, looking over at the sixty-something-year-old man five feet across from me in the other twin bed, my mind raced ahead to my future. Somehow, baseball didn’t seem so important anymore.
    In the middle of the night, Conrad got up from bed and found his way to the bathroom. He vomited several times into the toilet. There’s no mistaking that noise. He spent the rest of the night sleeping on the floor next to the commode.
    The following day, the sun rose unfettered by clouds and all things seemed possible. Conrad came joyfully down the stairs and we ate some breakfast together. He rustled through the pockets of his jacket and announced, “Here it is!”
    “What’s that?” I said.
   “The phone number for Dwayne. He’s my friend at the company I’m interviewing with. Yep, you just drop me off downtown and I’ll give him a call. Then things will be off and running. Things are gonna be O.K!”
    In view of the previous night, I marveled at his clarity and optimism.
   Dino arrived shortly and the three of us climbed once more into the Celica and headed for downtown Nampa. We pulled over across from the Hong Kong restaurant and stood on the sidewalk for a moment.
   “Well Conrad,” Dino started, “You take care of yourself! You hear?”
   “Oh, I will. I got me a job waitin’ for me in Boise you know.”
   Dino nodded.
   “I’ll just go inside here and give Dwayne a call in a minute and I’m all set.”
    Conrad smiled. 
    It was supposed to reassure us, but it didn’t.  
    I handed him a sack lunch.
   “Do you have any money?” Dino asked.
   “Oh, I’m alright, like I said, as soon as I get ahold of Dwayne…”
Dino and I both dug into our pockets and handed him some cash. It wasn’t much, maybe ten bucks or so. Then we patted him on the back and hesitantly walked back to the car as Conrad walked into the restaurant behind us.
     After going a block or two, Dino asked, “Do you think he’s gonna be okay?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Did you buy his story about the job in Boise, or do you think he conned us?
     I shrugged.
   Dino turned the car around and we headed back to the Hong Kong. Moments later we were standing inside the restaurant. A short time after that we had learned from the hostess that Conrad had walked into the lounge immediately after entering. The bartender told us that he had informed Conrad that the bar was not open yet but pointed him across the street to a lounge that was open. We started to walk across the street then stopped. I guess neither one of us really wanted to catch him there. We returned to the car, said a short prayer and headed back to campus. Less than an hour later we were traveling down I-84 with 20 other guys headed for the Blues Pass, leaving Idaho in the rear-view mirror.
    Did we get conned by Conrad? I don’t know. Most likely there was no job in Boise. Most likely the money we gave him there on the sidewalk was gone in an hour or two. Maybe it lasted him to the next day. I don’t know.
    I guess though, I don’t really care. Dino and I did what we felt we were supposed to do as an offering of obedience that night and the next day.

    None of us likes to “get took.” 
   That goes without saying. 
   Still, I have this feeling that when the Lord fed the 5000, there were a few who were in it just for the free bread and fish. They didn’t all become disciples. Jesus knew that and he fed them anyway. I am certain that in my life, I have given food, money or both to many people who were using me. I am also certain that I will do that many more times before my turn here is done. It really doesn’t bother me that much. That doesn’t mean I like getting conned. It just means that I like the fact that God trusts me with the means and opportunity to give. As sure as I am that some of my support has been under the heading of “throwing good after bad,” I am also confident that more than occasionally, what I gave, hit the mark it was directed toward, and I have no problem resting easy in that understanding...no matter where Conrad went after he left the Hong Kong.

Friday, August 2, 2019

All The Little Choices...

   Life.
   Real life.
   It is a knapsack full of triumph, stumbles, detours, joy, and pain.
   I believe...there is also an active, living, force that works against us in this unfolding story, and he's clever regarding how he goes about the subterfuge.
   He knows that mostly if we saw what he was up to we would not give him any attention at all.  So, he will use as many little distractions as it takes until we struggle to hear the voice of the one who made us; the one who keeps us, loves us and calls towards becoming the best version of ourselves that is possible.
 
   That is what these few paragraphs are about....

   Mr. Waldemarsen.
   He was at least 6' 4".
   Norwegian.
   Well over 200 lbs.
   Square jaw.
   Broad shoulders.
   Crew-cut hair.
   When he talked, which wasn't a whole bunch, you could hear the accent, heavy in his voice.  Most of the time I saw him, he was wearing maroon, rubber galoshes that went over his calves.  They had a gold stripe around the top.
    He lived in town, but he and his wife owned property just west of ours.  Probably 10-12 acres.  He had a few horses, mules, donkeys and cows...oh and one day he began to keep bees in the wooden stacks of hives toward the north end of his field. Sometimes he brought my Mom fresh honey, still dripping from the comb in a Ball canning jar with no lid.
   His arms swung low to his sides when he walked, his back straight; striding across the field to feed his cows looking like the famous "Sasquatch" video of the 70's.
   If he saw me, across the barbed-wire fence line, headed towards our barn to feed our own animals, he would stop, lift one of those swinging, tree-branch arms high in the air, smile broadly and wave.
  Sometimes I saw him talking to my parents, but in all of the years that I was growing up on the farm, I don't remember having a single conversation with him myself.  We didn't really have any reason to talk.  I was a kid growing up; doing my chores around the farm, hoping to get away and do something more exciting as soon as it was possible and he was working around his animals, the bees and his barn because he loved it.  He spent his free time puttering around all that was there on the property, I tried to spend my free time anywhere else I could escape to.
   During the summer of 1983, as a junior in college, I had secured a job in Chicago as Athletic Director a North-side Boy's and Girl's Club.  It was going to be a huge step for me, committing to dive into an adventure not only far from home but in a city that was literally a thousand times larger than the one I grew up in.  There would be a myriad of fresh challenges to encounter.
   It was just a few days before I left that my Mom handed me an envelope with a card inside.  She said it was from Mr. Waldemarsen.  My name was scrawled in cursive outside the envelope, and I noticed a small bulge in the center of the envelope, and rubbed my thumb across it before tearing it open.
   The card inside was small and white.
   It said, "Best Wishes..." across the front.
   When I opened it up, a tiny piece of wood tumbled out onto my palm.  It was about an inch long, and one-fourth inch wide.  It was also a fourth of an inch tall at one end; planing down to a razor-thin edge at the other.  There was a note written on the lower half of the card.
   One sentence.
   It said, "The enemy knows how to use the smallest wedge to separate you from God, so be watchful."
   And then beneath that sentence, "Sincerely, Don."  Then there was a smiley face.  :)
   Truth.
   I remember that note often.
   I wish I'd kept it.
   I later thanked him for it.
   He just smiled, put a huge hand
on my shoulder, and said, "I knew you were headed for an adventure, and when we go on an adventure, it's smart to prepare however we can."
   Indeed.
 



Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Place In Between

I watched for awhile, a young man at work in the shadow of Mickiewicz Square.

He was walking a tightrope,
suspended above the grass-covered park with the opera-house fountain in the background
and I thought...How hard it is to be "in between"

In between where we have been and
where we wish to go.

A thought.
           (A step)
                 A hope.
                        (Another step)
                                     A dream.
                                           (Another step)
                                                        A hunger.
                                                               (One more step)
                                                                            A prayer.

Just one foot following another...it sounds so simple.
Right heel in front of left toe.
Left heel in front of right toe.

But with each step,
the further we move away from home, or comfort....
That distance which separates us from anyone or anything in front of us, that may give us security,

                                S    E    E   M   S       T  O       G   R   O   W

Along with fear.
.....and questions
.....and negative self-perception
....until all of the GRACE-sufficiency that stilled our heart,
                                                                     hangs on the tightrope
                                                                                             by its fingertips.

I have watched as others who are closer to where they wish to be
Than the place they left behind, give up the journey.

Their shoulders sag,
                  eyes empty; 
                         they return to that place familiar, but faith-less.

Lord,
Grant us eyes to see the destination
ears to hear your voice beyond our fears
a heart to sense the peace of your presence
the will to follow one step at a time....

But, most of all, when we feel paralyzed in that place in between
Help us to move away from the image of:
                                             who we have been

that we may make firm-footed steps,
                           toward who you believe we can become...