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Threshold

It was like any other Sunday morning, but for some reason the speaker’s sermon pierced me and tears flowed unexpectedly.  Joe’s message was about what he had learned through the recent death of his 37 year old brother, Chris.  Chris had been a young pastor, with a wife and kids, but a devastating diagnosis of 4th stage melanoma interrupted his life.

And just like that, this man who served his King, was taken into His Presence.

I’m one who loves a new year.  The clean slate fuels all kinds of optimism in me for a fresh start.  It’s like having a huge dispenser of “White Out” that automatically kicks into action at 12 am, January 1.  And let’s face it, since most of us didn’t do so well on all those resolutions last year, the opportunity for starting over is sweet.  A second chance at life.

But 37 year old’s with advanced melanoma shake the foundation of what one resolves to do with the days of a given year.

The term resolution implies using my own effort to achieve what I weigh as important.  Why not let God, not only set my priorities, but enable me to accomplish them?  It might not look like losing weight or reading more books or becoming more patient.  Or maybe it would.  The emphasis is not on the actual goal, but who is setting it and how its reached. A desire for personal improvement isn’t wrong, nor is the attempt to accomplish it.

The problem becomes when we own it.

Hannah Brencher recently used a phrase about approaching the New Year that really resonated with me – “to be less expectant of myself and more expectant of God”.

The bigger God becomes to me, the more of life I’m able to turn over to Him.  So when an ugly diagnosis or any catastrophic event comes my way, which could happen to any of us, my days have already been entrusted to Him.

I don’t want to minimize the magnitude of tragedy.  Pain and death are unwelcome parts of this life because we’re wired to survive.  But trusting the One who cradles each day for our goals, application, and empowerment, erases the seeming randomness of life and glorifies Him.

Will you join me this coming year in leaning into Him?  Will you allow God’s piercing gaze to cut away what needs to be pruned?  Will you, with me, allow Him to lift the film from our eyes to see what truly matters, so with the time He yields to us, we’ll live with Kingdom intent.

And will you allow Him to carry us across the threshold into a new year, resting in His strength and wisdom, a place where failed self improvements and devastating medical diagnoses cannot limit God’s eternal purposes?

 

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The Mystery of Emmanuel

There is a hook to mystery that draws us into a story.  By its very definition it means something that is hidden.  And who has not searched for hidden things? Answers to problems, lost items, or solutions to who- dun-its?  A mystery is compelling.  It surrounds a subject with intrigue and captivates one’s imagination.

This year, as I navigate the days and weeks before Christmas, I want to recapture its mystery – the inconceivable truth that God became man.

God’s presence in the Old Testament was unambiguous.  Events ranging from an audible voice to hand writing on a wall brought Him close. Visions, a burning bush, and pillars of clouds and fire assured of His presence.  But after 400 years of silence, he came into our midst in a form few recognized.

God entered our world as a vulnerable and dependent baby.  He would have experienced cold and hunger. Absent was the antiseptic smell of a delivery room.  Instead, scent of animal hides and excrement surrounded him. Straw likely bristled against the divine face as animals licked tiny fingers.

Months earlier, a young girl who had known no man, accepted an angel’s message of a Holy Spirit conception for the entrance of the Savior into the world.  Does the mystery get any deeper than this?  And yet, this part is central to the story.

Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes,

The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further.”

Like Mary, I ask “How can this be”?  The Christmas story itself is so simple that a child understands and readily accepts it, yet so profound that its essence should take our breaths away.

As a child, I remember looking to the starry heavens, not only for Santa skirting the clouds and rooftops, but also in wonder about that holy night so long ago.  The years of adulthood and responsibility have dulled the flame of wonder in me.  I pray that my soul would not become so secure and so wise that His plan no longer amazes.

Mystery enlarges my faith.  It takes it out of my sticky little hands that try to mold, shape and make it manageable and throws open the doors to a firestorm.  To say I just do not “get it” would be to put it mildly.  How does one grasp the tension of a baby that is fully God and fully human?  But that firestorm makes me hungry for more.  And the message of this season rests on the fact that God was in that manger.

May we never rush past this in the haste of the season.

 

 

 

 

Detours

The “check tire pressure” dashboard light was still on.  I had just been to the dealership to have the problem remedied but despite reassurance from the service personnel, the light remained. Frustration had moved in.  It was then that I saw her.  For the second time.  She had been huddled in her wheelchair under the city bus stop shelter earlier while on my way to the dealership.  This time though her collar was up and her head down as if in blizzard mode.  The temperature was dropping.   Her face, obscured by the angle of her hat, kept her anonymous. And anonymous is so much easier when one’s life is on a mission and the role of good Samaritan is more comfortably left behind in the Gospel narrative.  But conviction pressed into me.  After a couple of intersections, I turned the car around and headed back to that bus stop.

I wonder how many opportunities are sacrificed because I am too busy or worse unwilling to involve myself with another’s stuff.  My life is programmed for full speed ahead with or without fully inflated tires on my vehicle.  It’s the nature of the beast that when I arise in the early morning hours and contemplate my day, there is a plan of sorts.  The problem is that once I’ve gotten my dose of Jesus, I’m off at the starting gate.   And sometimes He gets left there.

“This law of the holy love of God and neighbor is the whole tamale.  The rest is just commentary.”

JD Walt / Seedbed.com

If I hover over the Gospel long enough though, it’s pretty clear that the elevation of my plans over God’s is an oxymoron.  In fact, no matter how lovely and well intentioned my plans, if they don’t flow from God’s purposes I’ve missed the mark.  Of one thing I can be sure : His purpose involves people.  All types.  Not just the ones that fit unobtrusively within the flow of my day.

Oh, there are so many times when I wish it were otherwise.  I lack patience for all the ins and outs of people.  We are all so incredibly needy and I fear disappearing into the potential sinkholes.  I prefer easy fixes.  A quick quote of Scripture and a few choice pieces of advice and you’re on your way.  But life is messy.  And Lord knows I’m messy.

A Kingdom focus does not allow for a compartmentalized life. His touch for another will not wait upon all my criteria to fall into place before I act. When I attempt to fit God into my life as an afterthought,  I’m guilty of filling the jar with the small rocks first. Instead, the important larger ones must be placed first to allow the smaller, less important to fit later. It doesn’t work the other way around. Its a great word picture for Matt 6:33 –

But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

How easy it is to forget that His life is my life;  I died with him and I no longer live.  Lest it escapes me, dead people don’t have agendas.  It’s His agenda or nothing.  There really isn’t another choice if I call myself His child.

When I returned to the shelter, the bus was just pulling up.  The outer garment that I was prepared to offer this stranger was unneeded and the delay in my day was inconsequential. But the greater lesson learned was in that one tiny act of obedience: I shoved self aside.  I didn’t have to move any mountains that day, but I had purposed in my heart that I was willing. And sometimes that is the hardest mountain to move.

 

 

 

Two Thieves

Of all the flesh with which I struggle, forgiveness has never been one of them. Until recently.

Mr. B has waged a four year war against our family’s livelihood without basis. An angry but highly intelligent individual with no intimate relationships, real job or physical limitations, he relies upon government assistance while he spends every waking minute constructing false litigations.  His knowledge of law is eclipsed only by his apparent evil intent to deceitfully twist it to his benefit.

Loving this man is just plain hard. It’s one thing to forgive when the deed is past but it’s an entirely different matter to continue to forgive when you know the detonation is around the next corner. How does one keep the heart tender in these situations?

Hidden beneath headlines of the day to day, lies the story of one who knows. American Pastor Saeed Abedini daily endures mental and physical abuse at the hands of those holding him in Iranian captivity. Around each corner is indeed more suffering but God’s grace and mercy sustain him in such a way that numerous prisoners are coming to Christ. And what about the abusers hearts? Who can speak of what might be happening there?

Over 2000 years ago the perfect Son of God hung on a cross between two thieves. Neither thief was better than the other. Each was guilty, depraved and without hope but only one of the two acknowledged it. Even before earth’s foundation, the One wedged between them knew that sinful mankind would repeatedly tread across His heart. And yet he bore the cost of the world’s sin with his life, and offered forgiveness. End of story, right?

It should be. But it’s so much easier to justify my anger at my enemy because his venom spreads and slowly seeps into me.  The battle begins each time I see his derisive and diabolical web postings or hear he’s pursuing another malicious prosecution. My own cost in this legal debacle is not my physical life. But it might just be death to my rights and my security, all of which should rest in Him anyway.

Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

I desperately pray that Mr. B will relinquish the rage he spews our direction.  I want deliverance from this trial.  From watching the pain and exhaustion in the eyes of my beloved. But more importantly, my prayer is that he will recognize his own depravity and cry out to the One who can’t be manipulated by any law but will love him unconditionally.  Because in my heart of hearts, I recognize that Mr. B and I are both thieves, for without God’s grace and mercy, I too am desperate for my own way and trudge through the darkness.

Presence


In a few weeks I’ll be attending my second writers conference in a distant city. There’s nothing like a gathering of like-minded people to stir your enthusiasm and propel your purpose.

As I reflect upon that first conference in Dallas two years ago though, I can tell you little about what I learned as a writer. What I do remember is the front porch theology and validation I received. A dear friend, whom I had not seen for over 25 years, tenderly held my soul and peered deeply into my thoughts as if there were gold to be mined.  She listened, without judgment or reservation, to what moved me and kept me awake at night.  She looked long and deep.  And I felt valued, because in her actions I saw the magnified grace of God.

Isn’t it true that each of us hunger to be seen, to be heard, and to be known like this?

Hannah Brencher wrote a delightful memoir entitled If you Find this Letter. As a twenty something single living in NYC, she wrote encouraging letters and left them in hidden places to be found by perfect strangers.  In one such letter she wrote:

…do me a favor and know the truth: You’re worth it. You are absolutely, unbelievably worth it and you were made for mighty things.  Keep pushing on. Keep pressing. Don’t let anyone in the wide, wide world ever try to snuff out the light you bring.

The letters connected to the common hunger we all have for significance. In Hannah’s journey to help others feel known and valued, she actually found her own purpose.

I’m convinced that we need more intimate conversations like the one I had with my friend. Less talking at each other and more talking with each other. Focusing less on how to fill the silence and more on being present.

And yet, there is weight to presence. This means we have to turn off our cell phones, ignore texts, and accept an incomplete to do list.  It’s a priority of people over plans.

In conversations, I frequently look for those common threads to connect me with others.  Before you congratulate me, let me confess that often those efforts are about my own comfort. But just maybe sitting in the quiet mess of life together is where the magic happens even when your life looks nothing like mine. Validation and significance are cherished gifts when offered to each other.

Maya Angelou once said,

“They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I enjoyed not only a conference that year in Dallas, but a feast.  I consumed that which could not be taken on a fork or filed in a notebook.  What I tasted was so much more.

Baring Soul

I’ve recently entered retirement.  The air is free and breezy, drawing me into a comfortable rhythm unknown to me for many years.  All the excuses I found not to write have scurried like Arizona geckos into protective vegetation.  I feel a peace within my soul that I didn’t know existed.

Its been over a year since I’ve written anywhere other than my journal. The words were always there though.  Early mornings would uncover them.  Fresh with the kiss of dew, they would sparkle and shine with newness, only to be discovered elusive by evening.  And so it went.  The day bled into evening and night broke through to dawn. But the past months of my silence have given pause to purpose. Time has allowed assessment of my tiny contribution to the conversation of faith.

The Gospels are replete with the significance of small things. Seeds, copper coins, and crumbs of bread dot and inform the landscape of Scripture. This is indeed comforting to one who has only small to give.  God’s truths are deep and full and beyond resourceful with my fingertips only grazing the surface.  It’s this dusting that I offer along with my life fragments.

But I am also a bit of a conflict.  The same one to plunge into mysteries, loves to skirt the waters of cynicism.  I am deeply serious in private but inclined toward lightheartedness and sarcastic humor in the day to day.  For these reasons, I wrestle to project writing that is authentically me yet substantial in truth.

So this is my mantra:

I write simply as an offer of warmth amidst the chill of this post Eden world.

This place will be a basin to collect those words; a place to channel the holy randomness of living.

Welcome.

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