Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hover Near


Our enemy, our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet Lord, we're bound
Imprisoned here, we dwell in our own land

Deliver us, deliver us
Oh Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight

Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay
These shackles they were made with our own hands
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give
So Yahweh, break your silence if you can

-Andrew Peterson

I’ve felt disconnected lately. I haven’t been able to go to church regularly in over 9 months. It’s taking its toll. I knew it was affecting me, but it’s become more glaring over the Christmas season. I can’t connect with the story. It’s all porcelain dolls and silent nights. I don’t like terms like Christmas Spirit and Holiday Cheer. I prefer words like redemption, rescue, and grace. There has always been since of awe for me in the reality of the story we tell this time of year. Not so much this year. I haven’t seen one advent candle lit. Not even a glimpse of the wonder surrounding the story of God with us.

A few days ago I took a friend flying. She wanted to touch a cloud. I know, sounded a little silly to me at first to. It was a great day for it. Scattered clouds at 2900, broken at 5000. We went up through the first layer and flew between it and the second. The world became white. Clouds above and below - blue sky out in front. For a while the wheels were skimming the clouds below us. It’s the second most breathtaking flight I’ve ever been on. It was fun, until she opened the window. When she stuck her hand out into that cloud the look on her face changed the experience for me. It was a look I’ve only ever seen on my daughters face, a look I thought only existed on the face of a child. So much joy – such wonder. I didn’t experience it then, but I knew I wanted to.

Tonight I read words about the Christmas story – beautiful words. Words with the power to connect to a story with the power to rescue. As I read about the birth of Christ I found myself, for the first time this year, wide eyed and slack jawed. It became real. A story about real people changed in moment by the overwhelming love of a father. It became clear to me that the only way for me to really connect with the story was to try to connect to its characters – characters that really lived and breathed. Not porcelain dolls under wooden frames, real human people with dirt on their sandals – the same dirt I dump out of my New Balances at night.

I did what I always do when I’m trying to get somewhere – put the IPod on. I listened to Andrew Peterson’s Christmas album. The story starts with Israel – my story starts there to. They were enslaved, rescued, delivered, and then spent 400 years waiting. I feel a lot like that now. Silently waiting. I’m afraid I almost missed it. Tonight as I wait I’m going to pray what I think could have been the first prayer Israel ever prayed in total unison. It’s a prayer I believe addresses the needs in my life. I need mercy. I need love. I need a Savior.

"Lord, let your judgment Passover us
Lord, let your love hover near
Don't let your sweet mercy Passover us
Let this blood cover over us here"
Andrew Peterson

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ninety And Nine



There were ninety and nine that safely lay

In the shelter of the fold

But one was out on the hills away

Far off from the gates of gold

Away on the mountains, wild and bare

Away from the tender shepherd's care

It's probably arrogance and pride, but I always feel like the one. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. That's me. I don't know why, but I can't stay put. I think sometimes it's because I like the attention the danger brings. This story is not about the ninety nine, it's about the one. I'm starting to think there is a part of me, a part I'm growing to hate, that wanders into the mountains, not because I'm confused or lost but because I enjoy the attention. I don't like the beating, but I like the complaining. I want people to feel like I've overcome, that I'm strong. I can brave the wild, barren wilderness and return with stories of daring rescue. I get restless in the fold; I want to be the one.

But none of the ransomed ever knew

How deep were the waters crossed

Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through

Ere He found His sheep that was lost

Out in the desert He heard its cry

Sick and helpless and ready to die

I can't handle the barren lands; the desert is never the adventure it seems to be when viewed from the safety of the fold under the protection of the Sheppard. I don't think it's the desert that makes me sick and helpless. I am sick and helpless, the desert exposes me for what I am - dying. Well, I was, and not dying - dead. I was dead in sin, condemned to the desert from birth by the weight of a choice I didn't make - and all the ones I have. When you're born in the desert and then carried to green pastures and still waters it's hard to understand just how difficult the journey was. I struggle to remember and understand what it cost the Sheppard to come after me.

'Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine

Are they not enough for Thee'

But the shepherd made answer

'This of mine has wandered away from me

And though the road be rough and steep

I go to the desert to find my sheep

I wonder if Jesus discussed his plan with the host of heaven before he set out on his rescue mission. This is obviously me reading myself into the story, I don't think the Lord gets questioned in heaven the way he does here, but I can just imagine them all wandering why he needed to go so badly. How am I worth what the journey would require? I find comfort in his answer - "He his mine. They will be my people and I will be their God. For that to happen I must go to the desert".

But all through the mountains, thunder riven

And up from the rocky steep

There rose a glad cry at the gates of Heaven

'Rejoice, I have found my sheep!'

And the angels echoed around the throne

'Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own!

We had a baptism service at church Sunday; it was one of the most moving services I have ever been in. A friend's husband was baptized. I worked with her for years and heard stories and occasionally saw this guy. I didn't like him much; he wasn't there for her kids and didn't treat her right. He was on drugs and in and out of jail. It seemed he only came around when he saw the opportunity to take advantage of her love for him in a new way. I'm sure on more than one occasion I told her to forget about him - to move on - to live for herself and her children. I didn't understand why she couldn't or wouldn't just let him go. Sunday was powerful. This may sound weird, but little of its power and my joy in it had anything to do with the guy who got baptized. Sunday's power was in the reminder of what kind of God we serve. We serve a God who rescues - A God who pursues. It seems to me that if you want to die in the desert you are going to have to try really hard. This guy at church is proof that God will never stop calling. What happened in his life echoes what was done in mine. His story is my story, the words are different, but the hero is the same. It's not about the sheep. We don't rejoice for the one, we rejoice for the Lord who brings back His own.

- The Ninety and Nine is a Song by Andrew Peterson.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drive By


I don't get to go to church much these days. I think I've been about 4 times in the last seven months. I've taken church for granted. Up until I got this job in March I had been to church almost every week for 28 years, sometimes several times a week. I got to where I didn't think about it much. Kind of the way you don't think about food or shelter much until you visit a third world country - or they way you don't think about oxygen much until you go skiing at 13,000 feet - or the way you don't think about sleep much until you have a new baby. This is a time of spiritual deprivation and exhaustion. Months without feeding have led to a new kind of struggle. A struggle to stand, to go on. I stumble more now and it seems harder to get back up. I'm struggling, but I'm also seeing and learning things that I think are growing me.

I was "churched" a couple weeks ago. I think of it like kind of a drive by churching. One of those things that happens fast and changes you in an instant. I mentioned that I've been in church my whole life. It's always been a place for me to give - time, talents, resources. I've, of course, gotten more that I've given, but not in a tangible way. For me its been about community and relationships more than having physical needs met. Now I find myself short on both time and resources, I find myself, for the first time, in a place where my family has needs I'm in no position to meet. I was telling Preach and Preachess about our air conditioner breaking, It was still pretty hot outside and I knew we wouldn't be able to fix it. We had already had one night sweating it out. I know it's a small thing, but it was heartbreaking to see my daughter in the morning with her little hair matted with sweat. I should be able to give her a comfortable safe place to sleep. I really felt like I was letting her down. Anyway, Preachess said there is a HVAC guy in our church and said she would call and see if he would look at it. I felt really weird about it. The idea of having a stranger come to my house and help knowing I would probably never be able to pay him back was really unsettling. Preachess said I should let the church be the church. They called, he came that very afternoon.

He was at our house for, maybe, 15 minutes, but when he left our AC worked. I know I've taken a long time to tell a simple story about a small thing, but it was huge for me. I'm going to have a hard time explaining it, I've thought about it for weeks and I can't get it right in my head. It's the first time I can remember seeing the church from this side. I understand how it works, my love of Christ has compelled me to give, I just didn't expect to see so much more clearly from this side. There is something about a man you've never seen before coming to your house to do something for you that you can't do for yourself that moves you. It's a humbling - powerful thing. He talked about his desire to give back, to make a difference. He did, in no small way, he made a difference in our lives. Not because we're more comfortable now, I am different because I've seen first hand what it looks like when someone you don't know, that you can't do anything for, shows you compassion.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

See. Do. Go

2! You’re both getting so old. You are no longer babies - You are entering little boyhood. I am so proud of the little men you are growing into. Live as big as you’re becoming.
See with compassion. Do in love. Go with Faith.

I wrote this (or something like it) in a birthday card for two little boys (twins) that I love like they’re my own. The last line there comes from a blog I read back in May. It was a simple post that changed more than the way I sing a song to my daughter - I think it may have drastically altered the way I want to raise her. Most every night of her two years I’ve gone into her room before I went to bed to check on her. I take her milk cup out, put her in the middle of the bed, cover her back up, brush her little bit of hair from left to right, and I pray. I pray for her safety, that she’ll be protected – shielded, that she won’t know pain or loss or fear. I pray that where I fail, God will not.

I haven’t checked on her yet tonight, but I think when I do my prayer will be different. I think tonight I’ll pray that she’ll live – live big.

What you see, little eyes, see with care.

This is the line of the song the blog author suggest we use. The words are so similar to the original, (Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see) that it may be easy to feel like they mean basically the same thing. I feel it’s safe to say the original author only meant to say that children should be careful what they are exposed to, input – output, right? While I agree with that, I also think there is suggestion there that we look away if something is ugly or broken or unholy. I don’t want my daughter to look away. I want her to see people. I want her to see them in their brokenness and need and desperation. I want her to see with compassion.

What you do, little hands, do with love.

I don’t ever want my daughter to be afraid to reach out. I want her to see need, be moved with compassion, and reach out in love. I want hers to be hands that heal – that hold up – that comfort.

Where you’re called, little feet, go with faith.

To do the things I hope she does, she has to be where God wants her to be. I hope he wants her to be next door to me, forever, but I’m convinced he has greater things planned for her. She’s beautiful, funny, sweet, engaging, smart, and she never stops going. She is going to do great things. Assuming she learns to listen when God calls and willing to go and do. I don’t want her to be careful where she goes. I want her to follow God with recklessness. I don’t want her testing the waters, I want her to leap with faith and go in head first.

I understand that she’s way too young to really process any of this. I just don’t want her to be afraid. I don’t want her to be so immersed in religious rules that she can’t see the miracle life is every day. I want her to be awed by God’s love and committed to his plan. I know where not supposed to be like the world, but I’m convinced we have to live in it. This may not be home, but it’s a pretty nice place to vacation and I'm in no hurry to leave.

When we were kids my youngest sister was terrified to get in the ocean. It looked like a water fall and she was afraid that if she got in it would suck her over the edge. The ocean is a big – dark – dangerous place, and we are not aquatic creatures. It makes sense to be afraid of what may happen if you lose yourself in it, but it ain’t much of a vacation if you don’t get in the water.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rise Up

Habakkuk 3: 17
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
13 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

Can you pray this prayer? This is the question Preach closed the message with today. For me, the answer is yes - I can, I have, I do. It doesn’t sound as good, but the idea is the same. It took me a long time to get here, but I know God is powerful enough to rescue – I understand that sometimes he doesn’t – I’m going to rejoice and take joy in Him either way.

This is not something that’s easy, and feel weird saying I can do it (I almost never get to answer rhetorical preacher questions in the affirmative). So, I’m going to try and explain why I’m confident in my answer this time. The reason most people have difficulty with questions like this is that the language is all wrong. The question is not, Can I? The question is Will He? People say God won’t allow you to face anything too big for you to handle - those people are mistaken. It’s almost inevitable He will.

God causes, or by inaction allows, things to happen in our lives that we are in no way equipped to handle. He does this so we have nowhere else to turn but to Him. If you try to take on these things without him you will be devoured by them. You can’t handle much of anything on your own. Can I? No. If you choose to turn these situations over to God, you change the question. Will He?

God’s power is terrifying and his motives often unclear, but He is good. Of that I am sure. Preach made a powerful statement today, I don’t remember it exactly, but basically it was that God only moves in love and always toward salvation. His motivation is love – His goal salvation. When these truths are difficult there are two passages in scripture I carry near my heart to lean on:

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future

Romans 5:20
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

Grace is always bigger than sin – God is in control. He is good and so is what he has for me. If you never receive another blessing from God - If you lose everything you have. If in that you never see God’s hand or hear His voice, He will still be there. He will still be good. He will still be God. You may not see Him, but He will be there. God will rise up to meet the storm and absorb the flood because it’s the only way you survive. All things come from Him. There is no faith, no hope, no life apart from God. You can’t. He will.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Don't Make Us Sing

http://burnsidewriterscollective.blogspot.com/2009/08/please-dont-make-us-sing-this-song.html

Psalm 137.

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplarswe hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4How can we sings songs of the Lord whilein a foreign land?

Habakkuk 1:

2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?

3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.


I'm alone tonight, have been pretty much all week. The wife and daughter were at the beach all week and tonight the wife is at a wedding. They were both here yesterday and I had the kido to myself for a couple hours tonight, we had fun, but she's in bed now and (except for the giant dog parked on my lap) I'm alone again. I don't like myself when I'm alone. I'm never sure what to do, tonight I decided on some surfing. I came across the blog I linked to above and now I'm here trying to express to you what I felt watching it. It may be that I've been on the verge of emotional for the last few days anyway, but when they kept the camera on that kid towards the end of the video, something broke in me. I think its because I've felt most of the things written on his face. There was such sadness and confusion and fear and, somewhere just below the surface, anger. When I take the church mask off I often find that to be the face I wear.

If you're going to understand where I'm coming from it's important to realize, and I think both of you do, that for me there a two very distinct spiritual times in my life. When my father was alive and since. A lot of the questions posed by events such as Katrina I dealt with in a personal way with the passing of my father, I thought I understood how that works. I thought that until Katrina, as a watched footage of that tragedy I couldn't help but feel like Habakkuk. How could God cause, or by inaction allow, that kind of devastation? I understood, again, how that could leave gaping holes in some people's theology. I think the easy answer is that the existence of such feelings points to a being created in the image of a God who is just. Without God where do we get ideas like justice and equality and fair play. These are certainly not things we see in nature. Nature is about power and ability, the strong get to evolve and the weak are devoured. Surely we did not learn compassion from such a place, the natural world teaches nothing of justice or fair play. If you crave those things I think you are forced to concede that you must be created in the image of a God who embodies those things. So we are forced to conclude there is a God and that he sometimes does things that don't seem right to us. The question becomes, how do we respond?

Some people call what happened in New Orleans justice? I couldn't disagree more. About a year after Katrina we went on a cruise that left out of New Orleans, and I got to see the devastation with my own eyes. That was not justice. The innocent died there side by side with the guilty - the guilty survived with the innocent.

I can't remember where I was going with all that. We live in a fallen world, the sin we choose takes lives every day. Sometimes it looks like justice - more often its just tragedy and despair. The world is dark, but the dawn is coming. I think it goes back to the question Ker Gire asks that I use on the top of this page, "How will we wait"? What will we do as we advance towards dawn?
You can see the answer in videos of Katrina's aftermath - in footage of 9/11 and the war on terror. You see it in hospital rooms and nursing homes and restaurants - in neighborhoods, stadiums, and churches. We do all that we can. We rescue. We are heroes. We fight. We show compassion. We live. We build. We give. We love. We sing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Enough

    The little blue engine looked up at the hill.
    His light was weak, his whistle was shrill.
    He was tired and small, and the hill was tall,
    And his face blushed red as he softly said,
    “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

    So he started up with a chug and a strain,
    And he puffed and pulled with might and main.
    And slowly he climbed, a foot at a time,
    And his engine coughed as he whispered soft,
    “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

    With a squeak and a creak and a toot and a sigh,
    With an extra hope and an extra try,
    He would not stop — now he neared the top —
    And strong and proud he cried out loud,
    “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
    -Shel Silverstein

    I read this poem for the first time, again, yesterday. I read this as a child, Where the Sidewalk Ends, was one of my favorite books growing up. This is a pretty classic tale. We're all familiar with the Little Engine that could, and the Little Blue Engine here seems on the verge of the same sort of triumph. We all love this story, we love it for the same reason we love Rocky and Hoosiers. We want to see the little guy triumph, we want to believe its possible to defy the odds. We love these stories because at times we all feel like the underdog. The deck just seems to be stacked against us. I feel that way now. These last few months I've felt like Rocky in the first 14 rounds against the Russian. I love the progression in The Little Blue Engine. In the first parts of the poem he He blushes and coughs and whispers soft, "I think I can." Eventually he starts to see the top of the hill, he begins to believe he may be able to do the impossible, strong and proud he cries out loud, "I think I can."

    I think I may be starting to see some light at the end of my own tunnel. At times the unthinkable seems almost possible. Sometimes.

    He was almost there, when — CRASH! SMASH! BASH!
    He slid down and mashed into engine hash
    On the rocks below... which goes to show
    If the track is tough and the hill is rough,
    THINKING you can just ain’t enough!

    I've had a few of these moments this week to. It seems silly to think that just because I finish flight school things are going to get better. I know how the industry works, I know what the economy is like. Thinking and hoping just aren't going to be enough. I'm not afraid I won't be good enough, I can fly. In ways I don't understand God's been preparing me to do it my whole life. Flying feels a lot like standing at the alter with my wife, or holding my daughter in the hospital. I know its right, and I know I can do it. The question becomes; how do I go from thinking it may be possible to making it happen for myself? This is question I've been wrestling with.

    Its funny how God meets you in places you'd never thought you'd be at times you least expect. I got to go to church today for the first time in a long time. I was tired and worried and discouraged, I was hoping for peace and rest. I found both. I'm thankful for a church that seeks truth in everything it does, from what the pastor says to what the band plays:

    You're the God of this City
    You're the King of these people
    You're the Lord of this nation

    You're the Light in this darkness
    You're the Hope to the hopeless
    You're the Peace to the restless

    For greater things have yet to come
    And greater things are still to be done in this City
    -Chris Tomlin

    Am I still worried about finding a job? You bet. The track is tough and the hill is rough. The last thing I want to be is engine hash on the rocks below, and I've seen enough of the way God works to know that, for him, that might not be the worst thing to have happen. Believing in and serving a God that is completely sovereign is a terrifying thing. Coming to a place where you can choose his glory of your own prosperity is maybe the most difficult of man's duties. I'm not there, but I've had flashes. I've seen enough to know that I don't want to be in this alone. With things as dark and difficult as they are there is only one source of light and hope and peace powerful enough to drive out the doubt I often carry. He is King of this city, and I'm confident that if we stay around long enough we just may see some great things.

Monday, July 6, 2009

From My Back Porch


Some guys at work were talking about the economy the other day, I try not to get real involved in those conversations because it seems like I'm usually on the other side of the isle, but one of them used an expression I had never heard before and its stuck with me. the first guy was talking about all the economic improvements that have been made in the last several months and the second guy said, "I'm sure its out there, but you can't see it from my back porch."

I feel that way about truth right now. I wish I could be more specific, but I can't. I just feel like there is something I'm missing. I just re-read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and this time its left me with more questions than answers. I'm afraid I have become convinced that if there are answers for me out there, for now, they lie in study and theology. I hate that, I really do. I don't like the language of theology and I don't like being categorized. Mr. Lewis has convinced me that this is childish, short sighted, and a little narrow. I'm not sure how to paraphrase it, so here is the complete text.
I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

I want, very badly, to get to America. I'm afraid I'm about to get into some very deep water -out in some wide open spaces. I could (I'm sure at times I will) get very lost where I now plan on going, but I've come to the place where I'd rather drown than stay on the beach. It just doesn't seem to make much sense taking this journey without some sort of map. In this instance, C.S. Lewis is right, theology becomes both necessary and practical.

I'm a short way into this journey and I'm not clear on what I've seen so far, but I'm going to try and talk about where I am now. I've thought a lot lately about how time works for God. It started in discussion about the difference between God knowing what you are going to do and making you do it. From there I started thinking (led, again, by Mr. Lewis) about what happens when you pray and how God can be as attentive as we all believe he is. C.S. Lewis says what I have always thought, that God is outside of time so that he sees it all as it is happening, we have to leave point A to get to B but he doesn't. Both A and B are His present.

The idea here is simple, it is always now for God; every moment through all of time is his present, his current reality. I've thought this for as long as I can remember, but I've never really thought about what it means for everything else I believe. This one idea touches and moves everything I believe. What takes me 45 seconds to pray God has all of eternity to listen to. The sin I commit without thinking, he has all of eternity to be hurt or dishonored by.

I haven't been able to get past the feeling that everything is finished, Jesus said it. I believe it. We can already be forgiven for sins we haven't yet committed because we have committed them, we just haven't' gotten there yet. Make sense? Doesn't really to me either. For God, right now I am committing every sin I'll ever commit. Right now God is realizing what it will take to reconcile that sin and bring me back into fellowship with him. Right now Christ is choosing to take my place. Right now my sin is being counted to him and his righteousness to me. Right now it is finished, death is defeated. In this moment I am forgiven, not just for this moment, but for all my moments. This is the hour of my salvation.

I don't know if this makes any sense, I doubt it does. It helps me a little though. I hope that by sharing here I'm able to help you, but I'm sure I sometimes do more harm than good. For the foreseeable future when I'm able to write I suspect it will be just as vague it has been tonight. I hope that when I get where I'm going you're there with me - having enjoyed and benefited from the ride.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What If

Ben Thomas: [From trailer] I did something really bad once and I'm never gonna be the same! 

Emily Posa: Do you wanna play a game? 
Ben Thomas: What game? 
Emily Posa: The "what if" game.
From the movie Seven Pounds
Kyla and I watched Seven Pounds tonight.  I thought it was just fair as the credits began to roll, but here I am several hours later sitting in a dark living room thinking about it.  It has caused me to ask myself a couple of questions.  Why do we have such a difficult time forgiving ourselves?  How far would we really go to make things right?  How far can we go?  Why do we let ourselves be controlled by guilt?  Why, when all other emotions fail, are we so often left with anger?  Why are we so willing to live a life defined by grief?  

Do you wanna play a game?  What if we understood and accepted who we are in Christ?  What if we really believed that we can do nothing and just had faith that it had already been taken care of for us?  What if we accepted the life given for us and everyday chose to live in the freedom it provided?  What if we felt less entitled and more generous and grateful?  What if we were controlled by praise and left with joy?  What if we were willing to give up ourselves and live in submission to love?  What if we were blind to guilt and shame and anger and chose instead to see provision and grace and mercy?


  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Out Of Aces


It's been a frustrating several days for me.  I haven't been able to fly but once in the last two weeks and it looks like it's going to be a least another several days before I can again.  That tends to make me feel like I'm getting nowhere.  We've had some things break around the house lately too, mower, dishwasher, leaky shower, things like that.  I feel like I'm behind.  Stuck a little.

I'm not supposed to be doing these things.  I should be so much further by now.  I feel like I'm going nowhere and doing nothing.  I really feel like I have nothing to offer right now.  I think that may be how I'm supposed to feel.  I think God has been intentional about bringing me to this place. Over the last several months I've been ok missing the occasional quiet time, I think it's because I felt like I was getting stuff done.  When I didn't make time for God I excused it by saying, "look at all I got done.  You put me on this path and I'm making progress."  I know better than to think accomplishment could ever replace relationship.  Or I thought I did.  I've found myself wanting more of God these last few days.  I have nothing else to offer, so I plead the cross.  I surrender to grace.  

I heard The Gambler on the radio yesterday and the line, "I can see your out of aces".  Seemed like it came straight from God.  There is nothing for me to offer, I am holding nothing of value.  I never have.  In that moment I decided to lay down all I have and just plead the cross.  I folded, and in doing so I went all in.  

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kill me, now


I've got a lot going on tonight.  I've been blown away  lately by God's grace and mercy.  I got involved in a little Free Will v. Predestination discussion a few days ago and I think God's used it to point over and over again to his Grace.  He's reminded me of how he pursued me, saved me, redeemed and justified me.  Today I read the first several chapters of John's Gospel, it uses the word all about four times in the first few verses.  It also uses the phrase "grace upon grace".  I'm pretty sure God isn't doing this to remind assure me I'm right in my defense of free will, I'm sure it's the opposite.  My defense of free causing me to focus on grace.  I'm done trying to defend a position, I just keep hearing God say, "I love you.  Look what I did for you.  Look at the lengths I went to just to make you mine.  I bring light and hope and rest".

I think I might be getting lonely, spiritually lonely.  It's not that I work a weird shift now and don't get to see the people I love as often as I used to, it's not missing church or conversation or community - I don't think.  I've read and thought a lot about some of the people in the Bible that went through times of isolation to prepare them for the work they had been called to do.  I don't think flying is anything like preparing the way for Jesus, I just think this may be a time that God is using to deal with me on a more personal level.  I want it, but it scares the shit out of me.  I have no more defenses - the walls have come down.  I feel naked in my depravity before a holy and righteous God.  I'm exposed, suddenly and completely aware of all I am - all I'm not.    

In my my last blog I posted a quote from Matt Chandler about how God seeks to destroy anything in us that isn't of him.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - to stop wanting it.  I heard this Caedmon's call song in the car on the way home tonight and I again found myself exposed - in true broken worship of the God who redeemed me.
Of all the duties I have done.  I quit the hopes I held before. Now, for the loss I bear his name, What was my gain I count my loss.  My former pride I call my shame, and nail my glory to His cross.  Yes, and I must, I will esteem all things but loss for Jesus' sake.  O may my soul be found in Him.  No more my God, I boast no more. 
All I've done and hoped and gained, I count as loss for Jesus sake.  I want nothing more than to kill every part of me that isn't totally of and consumed and in service to Him.  No more my God, I boast - I lie - I lust - I covet - I fail - I rebel - I resist no more.  I want it done, and I want it done now.  I'm tired and I don't think I can carry it any longer.  In moments like these I'm reminded of the last words of our Savior uttered under the full burden of our sin, "It is finished".  
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I've found.
There is rest.  The process, for me, is difficult and often I resist it with all that I have left, but I find the more of me that is destroyed the more alive I feel.  I have to decrease so that he can increase.  Without his great mercy there is only death and guilt and shame.  In his grace there is light and hope and rest.  And I weep for the praise of the mercy I've found.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Abounding Grace


18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For some time now this has been my favorite passage in all of scripture. Not just because verse 18 makes a pretty decent argument for free will, but because it (v18) provides hope and because 20 and 21 are my story. During the darkest times in my life I've found God right there with me. I have run from his love and he has pursued me. I often wondered how it was that the dirtier I got the closer he seemed to get. It seemed the faster I ran from him the more fervently he pursued me. In the face of an angry and deliberate rebellion God showed only mercy and love. Why was that my experience? Because that's how it works. Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

I've been persuaded lately to read some Matt Chandler. He's no Isaiah, but he's not bad. He grabbed hold of every part of me and has absolutely ruined me for anything but Him. The process of sanctification has been and still is quite often a very difficult one. No one told me (or maybe they did) that Jesus wanted my heart. I thought there was going to be some behavior modification and some new friends but I didn’t understand how aggressively, ruthlessly and passionately He was going to search and destroy in me anything that wasn’t of Him. Nor did I understand how dark my heart truly was and how out of fear, pride and arrogance I would argue, complain and resist almost every advance of the Holy Spirit to reconcile every part of my being into holiness.I'm convinced this is what has been going on in my life. The process for me, up until now, has been quite painful. I have come to understand just how dark my heart is, and I think through my pain and anger god exposed those things in me that needed killing. I have complained and resisted most of what he has done, but his grace is ruthless and his blood is powerful. I don't think I've fully surrendered my heart to him (I'm sure I'll ever be able to) but I know now that he won't take anything less. I know that there is little I can do to stop it now. It's still painful at times, but I'm confident in his grace, I know I can't out sin him. Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

So you know



It occurs to me tonight that I haven't talked much about what I believe when it comes to specific ideals.  I'm not going to take a long time and get into detailed arguments about why I think the way I do, I'm just going to lay it out there so you know the lens I'm looking (and writing) through. 

I believe the Bible is the perfect, inerrant word of God.  Perfectly preserved over two thousand years and given to us exactly as God intended us to have it.  I believe it to be the first and last word in all things.  

I believe Jesus was and is the son of God, the messiah.  I believe he is exactly who and what he claims to be.  I believe he walked this earth as God and yet was completely man.  I believe he went to the cross willingly and in perfect submission to will of the Father out of an unstoppable love for all of man.  I believe in dying he killed our sin and in resurrecting he defeated death.  I believe a faith in him is the only way to heaven.  

I'm not sure what the technical terminology for it is, but I believe it's the Holy Spirit working in you that first draws you to God, I believe it's God revelation of himself to you that allows you to make the first step towards him.  I believe in that first step you are saved and the Holy Spirit is with you.  I believe it happens at the same time, I believe that because it seems to me that without the Holy Spirit you could never find the strength to take the second step.  

While I believe it takes a move of God to draw us to him, I also believe we have it in us to deny him.  I think we were chosen in our creation and I believe Christ went to the cross for all of us, I believe God meant it when he said it wasn't his will that any should perish. I haven't read a bunch of fancy books on the topic, but I have read the Bible - all of it.  I have a hard time understanding how it is that God knew who would reject him and still saw fit to create them.  I don't know how you can say he gives everybody a chance if he already knows who won't take it, but I accept that the finite can never understand the infinite.  Nothing I've read in the Bible points to a God who creates a person destined to hell.  I believe that God takes his glory very seriously and I believe he is going to do the thing that glorifies him the most - I believe allowing his creation the freedom to deny him brings him glory when they freely choose him.  I have done my best to walk with God for the better part of 21 years, in that time I have lived the Christian life.  It's been real and dirty and difficult  - and the most joyfully freeing experience I can imagine.  I have hurt and ran and rebelled and God has always been in pursuit of my heart.  God has caught me - captured me.  He has done that because he has never forsaken me.  How can I claim that promise for myself and believe it isn't for everyone?  The Bible says whosoever believes - that includes you.  I believe it to be all inclusive.

I guess I'm technically an eternal security guy.  I've always believed that there is nothing you can do loose your salvation.  However, the more I see of the world and the more I think about the way salvation works, the more I believe you can willingly surrender your salvation.  The Bible talks about people trading truth for lies, the only way to trade the truth is to know it.  It seems to me that if you come to a point you can deny God then you've traded the truth you once accepted for lies, and in that case I think it may be possible to forfeit the salvation that truth provides.

I believe God is just and righteous and holy.  I believe he is love and mercy and grace.  I believe he is sovereign and powerful and tender.  He is all things good.  I believe that we, all of us, are his children created by him to spend eternity with him.  I believe sin is powerful and Satan is real.  I believe Jesus is victorious and death and Satan have been defeated.  I believe there is life and freedom in total surrender to the God who rescued us.  I believe heaven is a real, psychical place. I know that, if we allow it, the cross is powerful and grace sufficient enough to overcome all that binds us and see us safely home.   

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Instruments



I've been thinking a lot lately about my first flight in real instrument conditions.  It was a really weird experience for me.  It was about learning to unlearn what I'd spent a lifetime learning.  If that makes sense.  The problem with flying in instrument conditions is you have no visual reference points and your body tells you all sorts of crazy stuff.  It becomes difficult to tell which way is up.  I found myself flying in tight banks with the nose down without even knowing it.  You really should be able to feel something like that.  It's almost like your body has so little to go on that it makes up things that aren't real.  I found myself sort of creating horizons to fly at.  I don't care how good you are, there is no way to fly in those conditions without your instruments.  The problem is, looking at an instrument panel for six hours is really boring.  I'd be flying along just fine and get the urge to look out the widow for a while and the next thing you know I'm spiraling toward the ground.  Someone once told me I didn't have a bad experience, I had the wrong experience.  I think that's probably a good way to describe what happens when you try to fly in the clouds based on what you feel and see.

I do the same thing with God.  I've spent a lot of time here telling you how I experience God and what that says about him.  I think most of it is probably valid, I love stories and I believe God is there in those stories - healing, teaching, comforting, revealing.  I haven't spent much time telling you what I've found the Bible to say about God.  That scares me a little.  I've been scooting along here in the clouds with only occasional glances at the instrument.  

When you're instrument flying you have to trust what they say.  You have to learn to ignore what you think you know, everything your mind tells you to be correct, and fly based on what the instruments tell you is true.  The analogy kind of breaks down here because flight instruments sometimes fail and the Bible never does, there has to be a balance.

The plane I took that flight in is pretty old and going through the clouds and rain one of the windows leaked a little and I could feel the cold and water down my arm.  It made the experience real.  It was one of the most memorable moments of my life, not because the instruments were nice to read, but because the experience was real.  At the same time, I probably would have died had the instruments not been there.  I guess I'm saying; dare to fly, live in the clouds, revel in the experience, just make sure and check the gauges.              

 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prepare



The Word of the Lord came one evening
Concerning His bride's great sin
He'd send down His Word to renew her
To prepare for the Bridegroom again
The Word said repent
From seeking vain glories
While the gifts in the Lord's name you give
Repent of all the first stones cast to kill
While your own self-righteousness lives

Prepare ye the way for the Lord
Prepare ye the way for the kingdom

Caedmon's Call


I came here tonight to prepare. I haven't been to church or had any real quiet time in several weeks and I feel dirty. I feel disconnected - forgotten. I don't know what I expected to happen, I know better than to think God would be waiting here for me just because I felt like I needed him to be. I've sat here in silence for exactly 40 minutes just waiting for something to happen. I didn't know what it would take to prepare for Easter like I wanted, but I know I didn't want to walk into church on Sunday and, on the one day I'm able to be there, not be able to worship through my filth. After some time here in the dark alone I found myself singing this Caedmon's Call song. I'm again amazed by the simplicity of the way God moves. I find myself in the middle of confession and repentance like I've experienced few times in my life. I've heard repentance defined as making a change for the better in response to brokenness over one's sin.

I'm not sure what kind of change I'll be able to make. I'm sure it won't look life changing at first, but I wonder what it would look like to live without fear. Fear of what my sin makes me - fear of what my depravity drives me to become. I've found the latter to be the most crippling lately. A new found understanding and acceptance of grace helps to relieve the fear and guilt associated with past sins, but I'm starting to think a poor understanding of mercy leads me to fear what I may become. I'm probably totally off, this is feeling not scripture based, but I think it's grace that sets us free and mercy that continually revives us so we have the strength to live here.

It's funny how when one layer of weakness and fear is peeled away it often reveals another. Several Sundays ago I came face to face with God's grace. Tonight, in this place I've encountered His mercy. It's mercy that frees me to live. To fly, to love, and to laugh.

Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue.
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here.
Sin would reduce me to utter despair,
But through Thy free goodness, my spirit's revived
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I've found.

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
In the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine. -Caedmon's Call

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Smoke & Ash


I didn't intend to write tonight. I don't have anything to say, but I found myself sitting here just staring at the screen. I clicked on the Daily Bible reading. I read Deuteronomy 8 and it became clear why I'm here - I'm here to remember. My new job has me working every Sunday, and I'm starting to feel disconnected. I expected to recall all the great things God has done for me, I did, but I didn't stay there long.

My mind keeps running through several experiences I've had in the last couple of days. Reminders of what I'm connected to. I smoked a cigar with my best friend a little while ago. Just he and I. We sat on his back porch and talked our way through a couple of great cigars. I remember leaning back in my chair as I exhaled and watching the smoke escape in the night breeze. A couple of dark clouds silhouetted by the moon moved quickly by in the opposite direction. I remember not being able to decided where I loved to be more - here in the smoke or there in the clouds. My daughter couldn't sleep tonight, so went into her room, picked her up, and sang to her in the dark. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. I already know - it won't be like this for long.

My favorite blogger, in his last two posts, has written about pastors and fathers. Both are difficult subjects for me now. My pastor, up until a few weeks ago, was one of my best friends. He was a close friend who happened to speak at the church I go to. It was simple, until he brought a message that altered the foundation of how I believe. I'm not sure he could have done that as just a friend. As my pastor he changed, inspired, and ignited me. The single greatest influence in my life has been my father. He's gone now. I remember how he smiled - what he loved - how he lived. Memories of what we had, of what was lost. Fire and ash.

It's raining outside my window now. I love listening to the rain. My father did - I bet my daughter will.