Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking for Diamonds

There's a saying in our snow country, that you know a storm is over when the snow starts falling from the trees. As I write this blog, the trees have been heavy and laden down with snow the last several days. There's more snow on the way.  The weather man confirms it, telling us it could be 10 to 15 more inches. Sometimes I have to wonder how much more the boughs can take before they simply break; and sometimes, now and then, they do. Especially when an early snow hits, and the trees aren't prepared for the winter yet. 

That's what happened in Buffalo, NY when we arrived a few years ago, the week I learned to drink coffee (but, that's another story). An early snowfall, the worst storm to hit in mid-October in a hundred years. The trees couldn't handle the burden, the weight, and the branches snapped, causing no small amount of problems. Power lines fell, roads were blocked, electricity shut down throughout most of the city.  Life came to a wintry stand still. All our events were cancelled. It was cold and there was no way to get home.  All this because the trees weren't ready for the storm...

We're quite a bit like those trees. Storms almost never hit when we're expecting them. The harder they hit, the more difficult it is to stand firm, unwavering in faith. When the snow flies, we feel laden down, heavy-hearted, and unable to carry on.  We stand frozen in a black and white world, and wonder if we'll make it through to the sunshine.  The probabilities are good that the sun will break through's just easy to forget when it is sooooooo cold, and sooooooo dreary, and we feel soooooo overloaded with the weight. 

But, unlike the trees in our yard, I can do a few things to ready myself for the storms to come. I can remember that storms are inevitable, and not be caught off guard. I can position myself so that in the midst of it all, I can catch glimpses of the son-shine about to break through. I can cling to the warmth of truth that comes by remembering what the Son has to say about storms and how to stand steadfast in the storm. 

For when the Son does shine, the heaviness is lost, and all that remains is sparkling beauty, like glistening diamonds falling from his hands. I'm looking for the diamonds. You?

This continues to be God's call for me as I march steadily into this new see the sparkling diamonds of his glory as he slips them from his hand on my behalf.  As I am privileged to behold his glory, I'm discovering, even in the storms, an ability to hang on, even when the weight of hardship is straining.  Yes, I'm trying to focus on the diamonds.  I'll ask again, are you?

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

…In Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.
Psalm 16:11b 

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Always a Good Time to Smell Freedom

There we sat, all eight of us, a rather peculiar sight, I might add, all in a row, 3-D glasses perched on our noses, waiting for The Rise of the Guardians. Unexpectedly (for me, at least), an announcement showed on the screen. I'd never seen this in a movie theater…EVER.

Please rise for the National Anthem.

Seriously?  I looked around.  No one else seemed to be in question.  Everyone rose. Cool glasses came off.  Hands went over hearts.  There in Sharky Theater, Pearl Harbor, the theme of our nation played, a background of music to a waving flag, battleships, submarines, military formations, pictures of warrior men and women, America's unsung heroes.  There I stood, as my eyes began to fill, with other warriors and their families, who did not even once question the playing of the anthem before a movie. Military to the core, this is a community who understands that the right to assemble is a gift.  This is the right they have left families, traveled to foreign soil, and sacrificed days, weeks, months, and, even years, away from their children to defend. These are days, weeks, months, and, years they can't get back - not EVVVVVV………...ER.  

There in Sharky Theater, Pearl Harbor, where some days and 71 years before, freedom was shattered by the sound of bombs dropping, something in me began to stir.  Was it national pride?  No - somewhere within a radius of miles, our President was on an expensive holiday, a fiscal cliff looming, and another American right in embattled question.  We are living in an age of entitlement.  Entitlement which corrupts the purity of hand-over-heart-sacrifice. Was it nostalgia? Maybe - no question, I see a different America than the one in which I grew up.  Was it the blessing of having sent a son to war, who returned when others didn't?  Certainly, that was a part of it. Yet, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was stirring. Not until days later, when we gathered in an outdoor venue to worship. Picture it: Church. Outside. Mega-audience.

Less than two weeks before, we were in Cuba. There, under the banner of another form of government, the authorities frown on large gatherings who worship together. You might get away with it…once, but never twice. We were warned after an evangelistic crusade, where about 3,000 turned out, that we had a one-night shot. If we were to try another gathering again, the authorities would be on the church's doorstep. This kind of meeting would never occur weekly.  So, when, on our way home from church, out of the blue, our son made one comment, "In spite of all our problems, we are still the greatest nation on earth," the reason for the stirring came clear.  We are a nation with problems - big ones.  Yet, we are still a great nation.  We are still free to gather and worship (or watch a cartoon as a family), to bear arms for the purpose of defense, to speak truth without fear… That's why in the middle of a movie theater, men and women held heads high, with hands over hearts, honoring, while our nation's anthem was played.  Of course, we could interrupt our lives for a few minutes, just to remember.  Why wouldn't we?  We are blessed with certain unalienable rights; rights they fought to defend; rights we, the general public, often take for granted.  Not there, however...NEVER there…NEVER on a military base…NEVER among the men and women who "get it, because they have lived it."  There is not even a whiff of the smell of entitlement - not there.  NEVER THERE.

That is what stirred inside me that afternoon. It was the smell of the purity of FREEDOM - freedom without entitlement.  I had forgotten what it smelled like, amidst the decay and corruption of this thing called politics. Can I just say, it smelled GRRRRRRRREAT (and, a little bit like popcorn).   


A good reminder:
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority.  In order, that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.
1 Timothy 2:1-3

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Rest of the Story

As I put the editing touches on Monday morning’s blog (last week), I very clearly sensed a nudge to write “the rest of the story.”  I have to say it’s not a pretty picture of my desire to be more focused on every man, but it’s real, and it’s me…it’s who I am.  So, here’s the rest of the story…

It was a rare afternoon, where I was alone in our Phoenix apartment. I decided to spend a little time reading a novel I had picked up over the holidays.  I was all caught up on housework, the checkbooks were balanced, and the usual things that hang over my head on my to-do list were complete, so I cuddled down in my bed to read.  That’s when I heard a knock on my front door.  My initial thought was to ignore the knock and pretend I wasn’t there… However, with the apartment on a college campus, my second thought was that there might be an emergency.  So, I grudgingly got up and answered the door.

I expected to look into the eyes of a student, or one of my co-workers…but no one stood across from me.  That’s when my eyes traveled down, and I took in the upward eager face of little just-turned-six-year-old Mordecai from across the yard. 
“Hey, Mordecai, what can I do for you?”
“Hi Peg, I was wondering if I could come work with you and help you, you know, do some house work, or something.”

What does one say to that?  Especially when the eyes are huge, and sweet, and innocent, and…did I say, eager?  I could see his mom watching from the door of her apartment.  It was one of those moments where I felt an immediate war inside of me. I should invite him in and do something with him.  I didn’t have “work” to do, but I could play with him. I should give Mordecai’s mom a break from one of her four boys.  I should be a good neighbor and do the right thing.  But, the truth was, I didn’t want to do the right thing.  I wanted some me-time.  I wanted to snuggle back down in my bed and read.  So, that’s what I told him.  I was honest…

“I don’t really have any work today, Cai (I said it as sweetly as I could)…I finished my work (I felt guilty saying it, as I know his mom never catches up with her work, not with four little boys under six).  I’m taking some time this afternoon to rest.  I was just lying down on my bed with a book.  I’ll catch you another time.  Thanks for thinking of me, though.”

With that his little eyes clouded over with disappointment, he headed home, and I shut the door.  Jerk-moment.  As I sat back on my bed, I remembered the blog I had written that morning.  Every man.  Wasn’t Mordecai an every man?  In my selfishness, I had missed an every man moment and the words of the Apostle Paul weren’t even hours-old in my soul.  I had prayed to be more focused.  An opportunity had knocked, and I had missed the opportunity.  I was thinking hours, but it could have been simply minutes with an every man that could have had an eternal, memory-making impact. 

Here’s what I took away.  My morning prayer to be more Paul-like-Jesus-like was honest.  I was sincere.  That new resolve was much like purchasing a new car.  At the moment the resolve was new, I wanted to keep it fresh, and clean, and free from dents or dings.  There was a little sense of anguish over the moment when I wouldn’t get it right…when I would scratch the surface of the “new.”  We all know it’s going to happen.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon…

The truth is life (and every resolve we make in life), like the new car, is going to get scratches.  It’s going to get dents…sometimes they will be BIG ONES.  My life song will sometimes be played with sour notes.  When it happens, it doesn’t make me a failure, just a learner.  I’m still in training.  I’m still a Christian – a little Christ (emphasis on “little”).  Like John the Baptist, I realize that he must increase and I must decrease, but this is a process. 

There is a shop on the island of Oahu where they have a multitude of gear with their copyrighted logo: HE > I.  This is the journey I am on.  I’ll receive new truths, pray a prayer, seek to get it right, take a step in the right direction, make a mistake, wallow in my own selfishness, fall down, but not quit.  Never quit.  Stay steadfast.  Persevere.  Get it right once, maybe twice.  Fall again.  Pray again.  Keep going.  Three steps forward, one back.  It’s still progress, and HE is still in the process of increasing in me, becoming > I.  That’s the good news. 

Now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Monday, January 7, 2013

Every Man

And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Col. 1:28-29).

The Apostle Paul would never have received a passing grade in English 101 (well, his translators wouldn’t).  Bible grammar is fairly sketchy, at best, and Basic English rules are simply not adhered to, overall.  Look at the above verse – as an English teacher, I would have frowned upon using the same combination of words three different times in one sentence (i.e., every man).  Yet, when it comes to Biblical Interpretation the rules are different.  When words are repeated, pay attention!  When they are repeated three times, REALLY.PAY.ATTENTION.  So, why this combination of words - and, all in one verse?  Here are my thoughts...

Every man.  This was Paul’s heartbeat.
(Boom) every.
(Boom) man.

This was Paul’s life breath.
(In) every.
(Out) man.

His path.
(Left foot) every.
(Right foot) man.

His time-piece.
(Tick) every.
(Tock) man.

This was the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:5).  Paul had caught it.  He loved it.  Lived it.  Died it.  Every man.

Wherever he went – it was with the same purpose: to proclaim Jesus, to admonish, to teach...every man.
Wherever he went – it was with the same goal:  to complete, perfect, bring to maturity...every man.
Wherever he went – it was with the same intentions: to labor, striving, in the SPIRIT’S POWER (not his own)...for every man.             
At all times...every man.

Oh, to be so focused!  This was the verse that caught my eye this morning.  It’s our ministry passage (for FOCUS Ministries).  I’ve read it a hundred times.  This morning every man came to my attention.

2013 may look very different for me.  Change is inevitable.  Yet, like Paul, who imitated Jesus, my calling will not change.  There will still be people, wherever I go.  Not projects.  Just people.  People who need Jesus-words.  Jesus-heart.  Jesus-attitude.  Jesus-hands.  Jesus-hope.  From me.  I am to be about every man.  I am not to pick and choose, not to isolate, not to curl up on a couch or in a chair with a good book or a good movie, but to keep being about being used – through the power of HIS GLORIOUS MIGHT.

Forgive me, Lord, for the times I think I just want to be alone, to see no one, say nothing, be a vegetable.  That’s not really my’s my distraction.  I want to be an imitator of the one who imitated You.  Open my eyes, that I be ready, for every man.   Amen.