Monday, November 29, 2010

Snakes in the Water

We were much shorter back then. The water coming up to our wastes may not have been all that deep, but at twelve or thirteen, wading up the tributary dumping into the San Jacinto was slow going.
The river was our playground. We shot guns there, floated on inner tubes, lay out on the sand barges and chased each other up and down the bank. On this day the idea of exploring one of the inlets won out over all other possibilities. Everything was going fine until the water moccasin dropped down from a branch and into the water beside us.
I’ve never worried much about snakes, but I really don’t like water moccasins. They’re just plain mean. Most snakes will only attack if provoked; water moccasins will come after you.
Well, someone yelled snake and we all took off and high-stepped it back to the river and up the bank on the other side. We collapsed onto the sand and looked back for any signs the serpent had followed. Fortunately, he hadn’t.
That was a very important day for me, a life-lesson learning day. No, it was not how to walk (or more specifically run) on water. The lesson was: you can’t stop the snakes from dropping into the water but you don’t have to hang around to see what’s going to happen next.
Paul said whenever a snake drops into the river God will point out the bank. (Well, sort of.) Actually, he said when we’re tempted God will provide a way of escape. Potifer’s wife was Joseph’s snake in the water. Had he stayed in the room the fangs of her temptation quite possibly would have pierced his flesh, so he ran—his way of escape.
Snakes in the river scare us. It’s bad enough when we easily spot one on the ground but in the murky water we don’t know where they are. The best solution: if they’re in the water, you get out.
I don’t wade in the river anymore. I’m just not comfortable not being able to see what’s sneaking up on me. But wherever I am, if I see a water moccasin dropping down from a tree, you can bet on it, I’m out of there.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Whom the Axe Falls

Carl and Pete prepared themselves for Thanksgiving. They knew what to expect, how it would happen, even who would do it. Clifford had explained everything to them and answered most of their questions as thoroughly as he could. Of all things, Clifford was honest. It was late in the day, the last day, and they were the only two left. They huddled in the back of the pen and gave thanks—for a good life, for good friends, and for the opportunity to provide celebration at the table of some loving family.
Clifford reached in and took Pete. Pete gave the obligatory squawk. He flapped his wings hard in a useless, though expected expression of struggle. But Pete wasn’t really struggling. It was all for show. He had settled it days before and with strong resolve he was going willingly.
Carl was now alone. Something hot suddenly filled his throat making it hard to swallow. He was next. He wanted to cry but fought hard against the urge. The trembling within his heart spread quickly until he shook uncontrollably. He kept telling himself this was okay and would be over soon. But Clifford never returned. The minutes that were clicking off much too quickly suddenly slowed to a stop. Darkness came.
What does this mean? Why was he still here? Clifford came back in. He looked at Carl and shrugged, the quota had been met. Carl knew this had not been his day. He was alone. Everyone else who had been there the night before was gone. Only he was left. Why him? He’d never know. What could he do? Obviously nothing. He didn’t know what to think. Should he be happy or sad? Regretful or glad?
He chose thankful. It covered everything. Thankful didn’t require understanding or explanation. It just required a heart willing to be grateful for all things.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Good, the Better and the Very Good

Ever fail a personality test? I took this test in Seminary that was supposed to show us our leadership strengths, pointing us to a particular area of ministry we would be best suited for. Each direction was supported by a collection of questions randomly inserted into the questionnaire. When the scores were tabulated, those numbers were transferred to a graph. The graph had quadrants with lines going off toward each corner. Once your numbers were written in, you drew lines connecting all the points. That then showed you your strength. Guess what: mine was a circle. I had no strengths. Neither did I have any weaknesses but it was embarrassing. Everyone else in the class had these egg-shaped ovals on their paper and smiled approvingly at what it proved. Me, I slipped mine back in my notebook and tried to look happy. I went up to the prof afterwards and showed him. He said he’d never seen that happen before.
Great! I’m a zero—the only person in the world to ever take this test and end up as clueless when it was over as he was before it began.
We want to be unique. We want to stand out in some way. Zeroes don’t. That can mess you up until you realize God doesn’t make any junk. After everything He created He said it was good. Then after he created people he said, “Very good.” That’s a pretty broad declaration, but that declaration included me. Oh, I’m not wonderful, the best. I’m not even great. But I’m very good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The little deer that pants for the water brook in Psalm 42, does so because he knows what’s there waiting for him. Parched by the dry air, he runs to the cool, refreshing creek. It’s there, right where it’s always been, available, accessible and free. He jumps fallen trees, darts around bushes and strains up steep hills. He staggers over rocks, dodges low limbs and outruns persistent predators. All because he wants a drink from the river of life. At the bank he bends toward the stream, giving himself to all it provides, bowing to its rule in his life. As each sip travels down his throat, the more deeply he feels it soothing his cravings. He is satisfied. It has revived him and restored him and eased his weariness. He now looks up through bright eyes and declares his thanks. His needs have been met, his life restored. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
Drink well, my friends.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Giving Thanks

The difference between gratitude and thankfulness is direction. Both have to do with appreciating, but one is a feeling while the other is an expression. I’m grateful for the good things in my life. That is an attitude that reflects my pleasure with what I have and am experiencing. Being thankful is a confession and requires a person to connect, to that for which I am thankful. In other words there is someone on the other side of my expression of thanks.

Being grateful for my wife is an attitude. Being thankful is an expression of that attitude. I may be grateful for something she has done, but I am not thankful until I express my gratitude to her.

The same goes for God. I am grateful for the blessings of my life, but I am not thankful until I express my gratitude to Him.

“Oh, He knows how much I appreciate Him.” Yeah, but the Bible never said to appreciate God but to be thankful. And any gratitude we have must be expressed to be thanks.

Praise is an outer expression of our inward devotion. Thanks works in the same way. Gratitude is the inward feeling. Thankfulness is the outward expression.

Give thanks with a grateful heart to the God who does all things well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kissing the Hurts

Paramedics have my respect. With a combination of training and instinct they respond to a situation, perform a quick triage to determine who needs what treatment and begin working the problem from the greatest to the least. I watched a team in action following a two-truck wreck I witnessed out of my rear-view mirror yesterday. A lady pulled out in front of a man who had two preschoolers and a teenager in the seat with him. He t-boned her going 55 to 60, and drove them both into a ditch. It was a brutal collision.
When I jumped across the ditch he was struggling to climb out his window. Once out, he reached back in and got the first preschooler, brought her out and set her on the ground. She was crying. When he brought out the second, I took her from him, reached down and pulled the first to me and just held them both as they cried. He was too shaken to tend to them and too much in shock to know what else to do. The teenager was bleeding and offered no help.
Though I lacked medical skills to tend to the bloody knee and the hurting tummy, I gave them what seemed best—comfort, like an old grandpa kissing a booboo and somehow making it better. The paramedics fixed the physical hurts. I went for the emotional ones.
There are times fixing the obvious shouldn’t always be first on the list. The Great Physician, who is also the God of all Comfort, sometimes heals the obvious hurt, sometimes the less obvious. Only He knows which is greater.  Blood scares us. It panics us into thinking it’s the immediate concern. We cry to God and then become distressed when He moves past the blood to deal with something else.
I’m glad the paramedics got there quickly—the blood was getting all over my pants—but I’m also glad I had a few minutes to hold two very scared little girls.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting the Crud Out

In high school, I worked for a mechanic during the summer. I loved the work but had one recurring issue: grime. I was a magnet for it. I’d open a hood and grime would launch from the engine and attach to my hands. At first I’d just wipe my hands on my jeans, then the owner told me to put a shop rag in my back pocket and wipe my hands on the rag. My mom was most grateful for that suggestion. But, what I found was, after several wipes, the rag would become saturated with oil and grease. Once saturated it became useless. You can’t clean your hands with a dirty rag. At that point I’d throw it into the box and get a clean rag.
Refineries have a similar problem: how to get rid of residual gases. In the process of transforming crude into usable products there are unnecessary elements released that have no useful purpose. Solution: burn them. That’s why in almost every refinery, somewhere on property, there is a tall stack with an ever-present flame coming out of the top. The size of that flame reflects the amount of residual gases being burned off. I often wonder what’s being released in the process.
My dad was a printer. In his shop he had a linotype machine. Back in the day that was the ultimate word processor for printing. It cast a whole line of words into one slender slug (a line of type). That made typesetting faster and more uniform. Newspapers once used these extensively. The slug was made from molten lead. A fire pot on the side of the linotype kept the solution liquid. A plunger drove the liquid into a form where it would set instantly. Within seconds liquid lead became a usable slug of words. When lead melts, impurities rise to the top. With a quick swipe by a strainer the sludge would be removed and the lead left ready for use. You couldn’t make a usable slug with cruddy lead.
How do we get rid of the crud in our lives? Sometimes wiping it off results in just smearing it around. Sometimes burning it releases toxins into the air. Sometimes melting it down produces excessive sludge. I suggest letting God have it. I don’t know what He does with it, but when He takes it away it’s gone.  No residuals. In fact, He can make us so clean it’s like we never were dirty in the first place. Now that’s really clean.

Monday, November 15, 2010

But Officer…

I have been stopped three times for speeding. Each time I was guilty. Only one of those times did I get a ticket, the other two were warnings. A speeding ticket is a limited measurement of activity. It only captures the moment at which the radar beamed onto my car and measured my speed. In that slice of time I was guilty. It doesn’t go back five minutes or ahead three when my speed may have been closer to what was posted. It snaps a picture of that instant.

The harsh reality of instants is: we either are or we are not. Instants don’t care about was or will be.

Nobody wants their lives measured by the instants. We want an average. Yesterday I was better than I am today and tomorrow I’ll be better than yesterday. So for three days, I’ll average out pretty good. Today—not so hot. Is that acceptable…two out of three? Well if every day is equal in value, probably. But what if today is a really important day and I give in when the spiritual battle rages? Does the snapshot of today ruin everything? I am guilty, you know.

Which makes me wonder: does each day have its own requirements? Micah said walking humbly with the Lord is what God expects. Walking humbly requires me to take responsibility for what happens in the instants of my life, not justifying them by wanting them overlooked or averaged into the bigger picture. If I am caught speeding, I recognize the mistake and admit it. Walking humbly also allows me to accept the forgiveness necessary to get back on the road and keep going—albeit measurably slower than before.

If I have expectations for myself that include some sort of unrealistic perfection, I have deluded myself. I cannot reach those expectations, not every day, every moment. So I’d better choose humility and be real. After all, God’s got a thing for authenticity.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Holy Cow You Silly Goose

They say if the cattle are lying huddled in the pasture, prepare for bad weather. Okay, what if the cattle are lying huddled in the pasture and a goose is sitting in the middle of them? Thus, my observation on the way to Plum Grove this morning.
As you might expect, several scenarios ran through my mind.  If the cows expect the river to overflow its banks and flood the farm, then they probably hired the goose to swim off and tell the farmer where they are. Or, maybe he’s there to honk or something when he starts floating. That way they’d have enough time to head to higher ground before things got too deep. Or, he probably has no clue why he’s there.
All my life I’ve heard the expression “silly as a goose.” I’m assuming that “silly” means something akin to unable to realize the importance of the moment, or clueless to what’s really going on, or flat out ignorant. But how is a goose silly? Does he tell amusing stories? Is he good for a laugh? Or is he just loony? And can you trust a silly goose? If the cows are counting on him for some legitimate concern, they may be terribly disappointed. I’m not sure you can ever trust in the faithfulness of a goose.
Then the scene in my mind changed dramatically. It wasn’t a goose in a pasture, sitting around with a bunch of huddled cows, it was me going about my normal routine and having my own faithfulness questioned.
Jesus wondered this about His return, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?” He’ll find plenty of us but will he find us faithful to His cause? And if I’m the goose among the cows and they’re counting on me to be faithful, will I be? Or will I just be silly?
God, may what You’ve invested in me show up for others as I live faithfully in my pasture.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Drank Coffee Before Coffee Drinking Was Cool

Money can’t buy happiness but can it buy coolness? Jan got me a Keurig single-cup coffee maker. My first encounter with the machine was at Josh’s church office. I thought it was great for a public setting. Everyone could get a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate according to their preference, fresh and made to their taste. I wasn’t sure you’d need that at home.
When he and Bethany got one, I enjoyed the choices. Then Jody and Victoria got one. Now I’m impressed. I can have my own cup of coffee at my strength when I want it. (They always make their coffee on the strong side.) Coolness was developing. It was like Starbucks® had moved in overnight.
Well, now we have one. Jan, not a coffee drinker, makes herself a cup of tea whenever the urge hits. I have my selection of coffee every morning. We’re cool. Amazing how one little machine can elevate you from bland to stylish so easily. We leave it out on the counter for all to see.
Everything we have had its own coolness back in its day. Sitting there in the store, brand new, cutting edge, high tech, we took image and forced it into need. We thought, gotta get me one of those, because it fit our concept of what the cool people had. Then six months later they got something else and we haven’t even finished paying for the first thing yet. Cool changes. You can’t keep up with it. My 36 inch, non-HD, big hunkin’ TV was cool when we got it. Now, I’m not so sure.
Somewhere we have to establish our own credibility of coolness. We either are or we are not, and no gadget is going to change that. I’m just not cool, so whatever I buy has to serve a need practical to my life. It’s not going to elevate my status.
“As a man thinks in his heart so is he,” Proverbs says. Not sure he had coolness in mind, but how you see yourself from the inside can’t change by what you have on the outside. Coolness is a state of mind. That being the case, I’d say I’m a little more room temperature than cool. But I still enjoy my Keurig.
Lord, remind me the prize I’m to keep my eyes on isn’t the stuff on the shelf, but the glory of who You are.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Lesson of the Wolf and the Lion

Not sure where I first heard this story but…
One day a hunter, walking through the woods, saw a wolf that had no front legs, lying underneath a tree. He could tell that the wolf was healthy, not recently injured, but couldn’t figure out how he lived. He sat on a log away from the wolf and watched. Shortly a lion came out of the forest with a rabbit its mouth. The lion dropped it in front of the wolf and walked away. The wolf ate the rabbit.
Amazed, the man came back the next day, around the same time. There was the wolf. The man sat on the same log and watched as the lion appeared out of the forest. He carried the leg from a young deer. He dropped it in front of the wolf and walked away.
The man began to see the greatness of God. He said, “That’s how trust works. I no longer need to hunt. I will simply sit in my house and wait for God to bring me what I need.”
After many days the hunter was becoming desperate. He had not eaten, expecting God to bring food to his door. He began to blame God and challenged His faithfulness. Then God spoke and said, “You missed the lesson of the lion and the wolf. You would rather imitate the wolf when you should be following the example of the lion.”
Somebody need you today?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oh the Agony of It All!

I started this dumb diet. Seems I have excessive yeast in my system caused by eating too much sugar, carbs, and starch. The only problem is: everything I want to eat has sugar, carbs, and starch. I’m dying here. Oh, for the joy of a freshly glazed donut!
I know what the stuff is causing, but the desire is rampant. Everywhere I look I see something I want but am not supposed to have. It’s like my eyes are suddenly fixed on inappropriate foods. Don’t they know how hard this is?
Where is the urge coming from? According to my doctor, my body is craving what it wants in order to feed the problem. Kind of a self-perpetuating condition.  It likes the stuff I’m not giving it and wants me to fudge (oh, a piece of fudge would be wonderful!) and give in to the urge. That would satisfy the moment but long-term it would keep the problem alive.
In other words, to deal with the problem effectively I must deny it the stuff it wants.
Hum, sounds like general temptation. I am tempted when I am enticed by my own desires, James says. Inside my mind are cravings for things inappropriate for my life, impulses to do or say or ingest things that prove harmful to my testimony as being a child of God. Things that are out of character with who I really am.
It’s a battle. Do I go with the flow of desire which in turn feeds the desire all the more or do I deny the desire and win the moment? A daily, weekly, monthly, yearly choice.
Luby’s had everything I wanted but didn’t need staring me in the face. I could taste the pies, the chicken fried steak, the syrup-dripping bowl of fruit, but my mind knew it was wrong. My hand couldn’t reach for what the mind told it no. The world offers so much good but yet advertises what I don’t need in my life. But the flesh can’t say yes to what the spirit says no.
What a battle!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Power of Belonging

I see a lot of road kill on my way to Plum Grove. Makes me wonder about the value of a critter’s life. From the day he was born until the day the vultures swoop in, what’s his life been worth? Is anyone grieving his loss? Will the forest miss him? I know the buzzards are happy, but does anyone else care that this has happened?
What makes a life valuable? Belonging. As long as we sense we belong we do pretty well. Whenever we no longer sense we belong we usually disappear, in one way or another.
Life is a web of connections. Whenever we lose connection, we lose the sense of belonging. Why do marriages dissolve? Why do friendships disintegrate? Why do we lose interest in church? Somewhere back upstream we lost our connection and with it the power of belonging. Once that is lost we typically walk away.
If you are around death much, especially around those who linger long, you’ll notice their friends and family begin to withdraw. It’s the quiet disconnect. It’s like a pre-grief phase that helps the griever realize the person no longer belongs here but someplace else. It’s during that phase that we stop praying for healing and start praying for God’s mercy.
Some people you meet have already disconnected. They have been forced out or simply chose to walk out of life and no longer find any value in it. Buzzards follow them wherever they go. What do they need? First of all the abundant life Jesus promised. A relationship with a million people less a relationship with God is life without abundance. That life’s default setting is gnawing incompletion. Jesus fills the void. Second, they need the millions, or two or three at best. We are made for relationship. We need others with whom we can share life. We need each other’s friendship.
Lord, I am so glad I belong to You, to my family, to my friends, to my church. Thank you for connecting me to sources that show it’s still worth me being here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Give Up…Finally

1 Corinthians 10:13 gets misquoted a lot when people are maxed out. They say, “God will never put more on you than you can bear.” What that verse is talking about is temptations and God doesn’t tempt us. The promise is not that we won’t be maxed out but that we will not be tempted beyond what we’re able to walk away from. I can say no to temptations because God will provide the way of escape.
We are going to be excessively burdened in life beyond our strength (2 Corinthians 1:8). We can count on it. Afflictions are to be expected. When Paul was afflicted with the thorn in 2 Corinthians 12, he found himself without strength to deal with it and begged God to remove it. God said, “You want relief?  Let me give you what you really need.” By asking for deliverance Paul was admitting he didn’t have the strength to deal with the problem any longer. But, instead of being disappointed, God was delighted because now He could demonstrate His strength. As long as Paul felt himself strong enough, God’s strength wasn’t needed. But when Paul admitted this was more than he could bear, God became much stronger in Paul’s life.
A drowning person typically fights to survive and while doing so will take his rescuer down with him. It is only when he gives up, decides this is more than he can bear, that he is savable. The lifeguard must wait for this critical moment.
If we’re not careful our strength can become pride and our stiff upper lip a sign of spiritual arrogance rather than faith. Afflictions help us reach the point of desperation where God becomes more important to us than how strong we are.  He promised that when we can’t even pray, the Spirit is praying for us words that cannot be spoken. He steps in and lifts us up on wings like eagles and carries us while we pass through our affliction.
He is what I am not—faithful. He has what I don’t have—strength. He gives what I must have—Himself. I can be beyond strength but I can never be beyond hope.
Lord, I will respect my suffering, knowing that when I can’t go on, You can.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You Gonna Eat All of That?

I feed two outside cats every morning. One is mine (actually Jody’s that he left here when he ran off and got married), the other is from the neighborhood. Dippy is my cat, I call the other one Slick. I don’t know his real name. They are both at the back door every day. I don’t mind, though, cat’s make you feel needed. Of course, it’s only just a feeling since outside cats don’t need you at all.
Dippy is a hunter. She’s brought me squirrels, moles, mice, birds, rats, lizards, locusts and snakes. None of this was because she was hungry; it is just in her nature to capture her own food. She has the instincts. You’d think having your food hand delivered to your dish every morning for your whole life would pretty much dry up those instincts. But given the opportunity, she’ll stalk and pounce on anything that gets too close. That’s who she is and doing so brings her great fulfillment. Talking to her about it does little good. Her nature is quite compelling.
I live in a world that feeds me. Every morning it greets me with a bowl full of delicious enticement, and, I’ve become quite used to it being there. It’s a manufactured concoction designed to make me feel full yet down deep it doesn’t satisfy. Why? Because I have a different nature that hungers for something else. This new nature is quite compelling. It draws me to provisions far removed from my dish at the back door and urges me to stalk, pounce and devour. When I do, I feel more like who I really am.
God gave me this new nature, one separate and distinct from the world nature I was born with. It fills me with urgings far superior to my natural desires and provides me with exceptional satisfaction when those urgings are fulfilled. The rest is filler that always leaves me hungering for more. The food from the hand of God goes deep and lingers long.
May I walk past the bowl at the back door and find Your provisions for this day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Captured by the Extraordinary within the Ordinary

My son, Josh, takes great pictures. He has the eye. He can see things no one else is looking at and then capture that on his camera. We’re so prone to look at the ordinary that we miss much of what’s there to see. One of his pictures he took in Denmark (while touring with the Jimmy Needham Band) was of a fishing boat. It was quite full of nautical type stuff. But on the back of the boat was a large spool of rope used to pull in the nets. What caught my eye was a seagull sitting on top of the spool. He wasn’t out of place. You might expect a bird to be in the scene, but for a moment it captured my eye. I wondered more about him than I did about the men who worked the boat or the boat itself. Was he just passing by and stopped for a rest? Did he have family nearby? Had he adopted this particular boat as his boat and followed it when it went out to sea? Had the fishermen named him and did he come when they called? Did he have an opinion about life that was worth pursuing?
For that moment, he was the more important image of all I saw in that picture. He had captured my attention.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul quotes: there are things which the eye has not seen yet and the ear has not heard yet and which have not even entered into the heart of man yet, that God has prepared for those who love Him. (CFS paraphrase) Meaning? There is so much more than the obvious. God is in things and places we might never expect. He is also in the ordinary. Even so, we might still miss Him because we aren’t captured by His presence or activity expressed in that moment.
May my eyes see what they are capable of seeing, my ears hear what they are designed to hear, and my heart receive what it longs to receive—all that God has prepared in this day.

It is my hope for this blog that what I write might help you better see the goodness and greatness of our amazing God.