Thursday, December 25, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be their peace. (Mic 5.2ff )
Bethlehem: "house of bread". Bread: simple, common everyday food. Bread to fill your stomach when you are hungry; bread to give you strength when you are weak. Bread permeated with yeast, and yeast the symbol of sin. And in the house of bread, would be born the Bread from heaven itself. The Messiah who would fill our hungry souls and strengthen our spirits when we have no strength. But this only because he would take on all our sin; a stable-born king who left his riches and became poor for our sakes, so that we through his poverty might become rich.
Bread for life; yeast for sin and death. Richest of Kings born stable-poor. Sinful man loved by him who knew no sin. He dies; we live.
But then throughout history God so often did things that boggled the mind. Didn’t he back Moses and his people up against the sea with no way of escape when the Egyptian army came in to annihilate them? Quite a poor battle plan. But then he did something else totally unexpected: he opened the sea and led his people across dry land. And when Gideon had 10,000 troops at his disposal to attack the Midianites, didn’t God tell him to send all but 300 away? Bad strategy. But with those 300 God delivered the Midianites into his hand. And here in this very town hundreds of years earlier, didn’t God choose a shepherd boy to be King over the nation, one not even the prophet Samuel would have picked? And yet this was one whose heart beat for God and from his line would come One whose kingdom would never end.
So much that just doesn’t fit our expectations. But then our God is a God of paradoxes. His ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. It’s THAT – the difference – that sets the stage for our amazement and awe at what he does. That the King should be born in a stable? Yes, on second thought, this too might bear the fingerprints of God.
Monday, September 8, 2008
O Lord, you are the giver of all good and perfect gifts, and Ryan and Kenlynn have been gifts to us. This was your idea. THEY were you idea, for before either of them were even the remotest of our thoughts, you, O Lord, saw all their days from beginning to end. You alone know what lies ahead of them.
You are a severe God, but you are also severely compassionate, and you sent your Son as the ultimate demonstration of your love and determination to provide a way for us to know you. And Ryan and Kenlynn DO know you. And they know that life is not about them; it’s about you.
So I pray for their success, in all ways, of course, but ultimately in the only way that really matters, that their lives together reflect your presence, your power and your grace. Be the center of all they are, and have, and undertake to do.
Be their sufficiency when they lack.
Be their stability when they waver.
And be their hope when they are discouraged.
We commit them to you with great joy and thanksgiving. Keep them firmly in the center of your merciful, loving, gracious, and relentless grip.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
we have a few souveniers to physically extend the visit beyond ourselves and share it with others who stayed here: “here’s a piece of the sea of galilee”; “these are from the ravine near where david fought goliath”; “this is for you. i wish you could have been there.”
we have a collection of new neural pathways that have been etched in our brains and souls, the proof of which are the hebrew-flavored phrases and songs that we hear echoing in our minds when we wake up in the middle of the night, or that spring to life randomly during the day: hatiluni el ha-yam; gol, gol, gol al-adonai darkekhah…
and then we have things like this: reflective post-mortems done in the attempt to trap the evanescent fleeting thoughts that will surely escape if no attempt is made to tether them somehow to some kind of verbal stake, thoughts which no image or souvenier can capture.
i was struck by the veneration displayed for places; churches built on top of rocks where tradition has it that something significant took place: Jesus wept here, Jesus broke the loaves and fishes here, the foot of the cross was here. perhaps more striking was the smoothness of the rocks themselves, the results of hundreds of thousands of visitors over the centuries who at least with curiosity, if not with awe and reverance, have approached the rocks and touched them, and maybe crossed themselves and said prayers in their presence. i’ve wondered what lies behind this. are they attempts at achieving a tangible, physical connection with someone the world can no longer see or touch, to reach back into history and maybe make their faith “real”? is it perhaps a longing for a kind of magic, for a transfer to take place: that maybe there is resident in these rocks a trace of His power – “let it pass to me to help me live a better life”? i felt all this myself, but at different places. not at shrines, but in gardens and sea shores, uncluttered by buildings. “Jesus surely walked up these steps”, “Jesus saw these hills”. and as i sit on the beach at migdal and sift sand thru my fingers i think “Jesus walked along these very shores…maybe he even touched this rock”? and so with my own sense of wonder and reverance i pour sand and shells into a bottle to take away with me…hoping it is not just sand, but a piece of history actually touched by the Master. but then it occurs to me “Jesus DID touch this sand and this rock” realizing that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” in a real sense all places, whether in israel or here, are holy; all things have been touched by Him; and all souls that have stretched out hands to touch “sacred rocks” – or not – are to Him sacred, the works of his hands, invitees to His mercy and His grace. i save pictures and rocks and sand to remind me of places he may have been; He, on the other hand, saves me, and those like me, and reminds me of his unfailing love and compassion on all in all places at all times. to Him be glory and honor forever. Amen.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
in kibbutz tzuba
exhiliarating, exhausting, expensive
barrage of verb forms...morphological confetti
4 hrs a day
← wrbh n ll ←
little by little
"אישה רעה; תן לי את העז"
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Well, what about shepherds? I’m no expert, but it doesn’t seem like it would take much skill to be a shepherd. I mean, after all, what do you have to do but sit around all day and watch the sheep? Oh, I suppose you have to protect them from harm, and lead them to food and water as well. But even so, shepherding certainly doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of upward professional mobility. All things considered, being a shepherd wouldn’t be too impressive on a job résumé.
The irony of ironies is that this is the picture the Lord God Most High, the Creator of heaven and earth, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, gives us of himself. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says (Jn 10.11). How odd. Why would he identify himself with an occupation that by most standards is nothing short of a professional black hole? Probably because it’s a clear reflection of his character: unlike the corporate climber, the young urban professional, the CEO of a multi-national conglomerate or the celebrity on a red carpet surrounded by papparazzi, the shepherd is focused not on himself, but on the well-being of weak, defenseless, fairly stupid creatures who get lost easily and do nothing all day but consume to fill their own stomachs. Creatures rather like us, as a matter of fact. Selfish, belly-centric, and prone to take the wrong path. Creatures who need protection and nourishment. Creatures who more often than not do not recognize the extent to which they benefit from the character of their caretaker. Creatures who find themselves in the center of the selfless, constant, loving and compassionate gaze of the Good Shepherd.
Then I remembered thinking once long ago "I am NOT the sum of all my failures." Initially a comforting thought. But if holes is what I am NOT, what indeed AM I? Is this comfort in actuality some kind of psychological stowaway, hidden somewhere inside the vague hope that maybe there IS some redeeming element, something worthwhile, some measure of intrinsic value in me, even apart from God?
Thoughts of Grace's teaching on Romans flow thru my mind; if one thing is clear it's that there is no excuse, no cause for boasting, no justification whatsover before God – apart from Him and His intervention I am irrevocably unredeemable.
So the niggling suspicion that I am a collection of empty holes turns out to be, in fact, closer to the truth – except for one thing; it does not end there: the holes are voids, hollow places to be filled by the grace of God. Then let the holes be deep and cavernous and gaping – and let God pour into them, to outrageous overflowing, all the grace that He can muster. Then it will be true that I am not the sum of all my failures – for I am failure met by the unmerited favor of God, and He has made me a vessel of His relentless, unfathomable and incalculable grace that can fill all the holes in me. To Him be all glory and honor.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
"...my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
a desert wasteland. thirst, hunger pangs, weariness, intense physical longing… you are my "enemies"… bodily stuff to conquer, to avoid, to master in one way or another, and not just for me, but for the world as well. who would ever opt for you if the slightest alternative were offered? but blessed be you, who remind me that I am not perishable flesh and blood only, but also spirit, made in the Image of God. blessed be you, who day by day, hour by hour, second by merciless second, so relentlessly point me to Living Water, Bread of Life, a yoke made easy by my Yokefellow, and pleasures at His right hand forevermore.
Friday, February 29, 2008
even if there is difficulty, even if surrounded by enemies, God is there. who would know better than someone like David, whose whole life was filled with difficulties, yet thru those difficulties an awareness of the presence and provision of God the likes of which i can scarcely imagine.
so, what to pray? "O Lord, deliver me"? Maybe.
or "O Lord, let me see you even here"? Surely.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
15 feb 08
Tombstones: what pitiful markers for those who have punctuated our lives with their presence. An inscription like "Kenneth Lysle Watters. June 22, 1917-January 12, 2008" will never do justice to the totality of a life, certainly not in this case.
I've just come back from a memorial service for Ken Watters, who died a month ago at the age of 90. He was one of the "old guys" who labored to make Wycliffe Bible Translators the organization that it is, whose name would often appear in publications and organizational newsletters, such that you were always left with the impression "he's a 'Somebody'". We went to the memorial, not because he was a Wycliffe 'Somebody' – we never even knew him – but we know his kids, our peers, and wanted to honor and support them.
I've been to funerals where there is no hope; where people struggle for words to say at the departure of a loved one…sometimes grievious, sometimes welcomed. There have been other memorials, however, whose textures have not been so dark and sombre. And I can scarcely imagine a more eloquent and joyful memorial than this one was, truly the celebration of a life of service, full of integrity and lived for the glory of God.
I'm left with numerous impressions.
Person after person stood up and lauded his life, and not merely with the perfunctory "he's in a better place"-type platitudes you might hear in similar circumstances. They shared about his contributions in so many areas: military service, his involvement with Navigators, his history with Wycliffe. Truly a remarkable man. Themes of honor, integrity, his kindness, his love for scripture, his love for God, how he sacrificially cared for his wife, what an example he was were voiced repeatedly, the sheer volume of which only confirmed their veracity and could not help but leave me with the impression "I wish I would have known him too." What an incomparably valuable legacy to leave behind.
But then Josiah, one of grandsons shared…"I never knew my grandfather as an important person; I never knew him as someone who accomplished great things in the navy, or in Bible translation. He was just my grandpa." A tender, yet haunting statement. It made me reflect on how often my life casually touches specific points along the trajectory of the lives of others. They have a history; they have a future ahead of their present. And yet so often I treat the contact in a cavalier fashion, sometimes even wanting to avoid them altogether. But i'm reminded by this statement that I don't know where God has brought them from nor what God has in store for them in days ahead. There is simply too much about them I don't know to exclude them from the category of "important people". As C.S. Lewis has said:
"…It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses." (from The Weight of Glory)
In light of all the post-mortem honor heaped upon this man I could not help but think "What will my children say about me?" Now THAT's something to ponder. I know that countless impressions I've made during the course of my life are already planted, rooted, grown, harvested and fully digested in their minds and souls. So i figure I should get the jump on things now and write out what I want them to say while it's still fresh in my mind!
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
11 jan 2008.
Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12.15)
as i sit in the aftermath of 3 ½ wks of demolition and reconstruction, eating a bowl of ants with cereal on top, it seems like a good time to reflect.
the other day as i was sweeping piles of dirt and debris off the floor, it occurred to me that a rich man could pay for someone else to do this. in fact, a rich man wouldn’t likely find himself in this situation at all, of having to live in the midst of chaos and cold and confusion for weeks on end, while his house was being undone and redone. a truly rich man would likely have enough money to simply hire others to do all the dirty work, while he lived elsewhere.
how could we volunteer to destroy the most important portion of our house during christmas, and then be responsible for feeding an extra family of 5 for almost a month? truly a miracle of bad timing.
but then it occurred to me that this remodel is riddled with other miracles and much more meaning than would be attached to it if i had simply conscripted strangers for the job, precisely because people we love and who love us have permeated the process since its inception:
- stephanie, kait, and carly ripping out carpets
- lonnie, in whose mind this whole kitchen scheme was spawned and nurtured
- larry h, mary p and individuals in the grace group who in spite of their own need contributed funds: voilá: le grace group front door!
- donna t, ralph g; and sally.who provided – and still provide – inspiration and input
- tim and alli, drew, luke, brooke, brent who with crowbar and sledge hammer launched d-day with a bang
- cloyd m, lending his RV to us, total strangers, so that we could house 3 teenagers in our driveway
- annie and walter providing over the fence lodging for lonnie and mary
- lonnie’s tireless work…sometimes even 16-17 hrs a day, even now still pondering the reorganization of the bathrooms for yet another project!
- gracie who was always willing to help, complaint-less even after being bitten by the dog
- spencer, and especially taylor, initially bitter about being forced to give up his christmas at home in arkansas, yet returning with treasured memories and accomplishments – especially the mantle – and bearing an obvious deepening of his maturity
- mary kathleen keeping things like the unglamorous trash in their proper places
- aaron r, between jobs, yet driving over from pasadena, not once but twice, to put up sheet rock for nothing.
- don d coming from beyond sacramento to contribute 2 weeks of his life to making holes in our house and filling them with windows.
- billy coming many times and giving of his time and talents even though his only connection to us was thru don and joby
- harold l, the electrician with an oil well in his front yard, wiring our house and garage for free
- john b, who in spite of weakness caused by chronic liver disease gave us steps that now lead down into the den
- sally and ted, joby, walt and sherry and the williams bringing gourmet dinners, along with all the contributions of grace groups who pounded us when we got to the states.
- and evan, and mike and heather ...and others i've probably forgotten, forgive me.
- and erik, ryan, lucas and melanie…especially melanie
i can only conclude that this is not my remodel; this is OUR remodel. each and every nail and screw, each and every cut of the saw, every board pulled up and put back, every stroke of paint and swipe of stain, every shim to level doors and windows, every expenditure of mental effort to design and redesign and re-redesign, every dustpan full of ex-house, every meal cooked either by us or by others… each is a gift, the willing voluntary contribution of members of the body of Christ who have injected themselves at every step along the way towards making this house a home. their fingerprints on every surface declare their love for us. none of this could i ever buy. miracle of miracles: i am much richer than the rich man.
there are certain days throughout the year i particularly look forward to: any sunny day in Lima, my birthday, christmas, the first day of a vacation at the beach when i take my watch off and begin to forget what time it is….there are others. but this …THIS is not one of those days. not because it is not an honor to be asked to address these guys one final time…it’s the ‘final’ part that’s the problem…and this time is more final than ever before. i’ve seen people facing “final” times like this and have heard them promise themselves that they will not cry. i can make no such promise. what i have to say here is not for you, but you are invited to eavesdrop for the next few moments.
to the kids:
now to you, who are vitamins to my soul,
this month you will hear graduation speeches encouraging you and giving you advice for success as you go out to take on the world. well, this cannot be a 20 minute commencement address for 2 reasons: for one, we don’t have the time, and besides, i've already had the unparallelled privilege of encouraging you and giving you advice almost every week for anywhere between 1 and 4 years depending on just how long you've been subjecting yourself to the youth group. and frankly i have every confidence that all the material for success – in its truest sense – stands here before me today.
so much i still wanted to say to you: about suffering, and accountability, about the world that will come rushing in on you with a ferocity so subtle that it would leave your head spinning if you could but detect it…
a dozen other things to hopefully help further ground you in the faith you take from here. i don’t really know what words have planted themselves in your souls as a result of our times together. i’d actually like to know, and was going to ask last nite, but with the beach thing and chocolate and t-shirts, i just didn’t have it in me to organize a group discussion as well….write me some day and let me know. regardless, it’s now the job of others to fill in the holes i’ve left, as well as the holes i may have created…and there are some…probably many more than i would have the strength to acknowledge. for any and all wounds, my deepest apologies.
so what will be my parting shot? ultimately, the best thing i can do now is to remind you of what i’ve already told you on numerous occasions: remember who you are…and i’m not talking about the fact that each of you is delightfully weird…and some of you are more…delightful…than others.
so who are you? besides being:
whoever and whatever else you may think you are, remember this first:
that because you trust in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, you are forgiven… acquitted of all crimes against God. you are released … free to go.
But not merely forgiven; you are innocent. He has declared you righteous and holy, blameless in his sight…not on your merits, but on his, because he embraced the death that was rightfully yours and gave you the life that was rightfully his.
you are now sons and daughters of the most high God, the King of Kings. you are royalty with unspeakable privilege.
you are his workmanship, his poem: living masterpieces in the making…do not forget that
you are his delight, the intentional objects of his good pleasure and will.
this and much much more. so whatever you do … or are tempted to do, remember who you really are.
so hear me now, you who are salt of the earth and light of the world, you recipients of his lavish and incomprehensible grace.
what is my hope for you? well, the best of all good things of course, but not in the guise you may think…
i hope that in your life God makes you uncomfortable ….and thru that shows you that your only real comfort is in him
that he will stretch you, even to the point of breaking, ….so that you will learn that he is the only one that holds you together
that he will bring you to the end of your resources, ….so that you will see that in and of yourselves you can do nothing; and that he alone is your truest treasure
in this toxically egocentric age when the vast majority around you will be zealously devoted to the religion of self-worship and self-indulgence, i hope that he takes you increasingly out of yourselves, and then invades you and possesses each one of you in the fullest sense of the word, so that he himself may walk freely among your peers cleverly disguised as you.
i'll be happy to take partial credit for any of these difficulties that come your way, but do not forget that if they do, it's probably mostly your own fault…if indeed you ever prayed – however glibly – that God would help you to get to know him better. He will take that prayer seriously and the answer may be other than what you expect. my hope is that thru it all, you remember that his grace and love for you is so vast that it will take him an entire eternity to show it all to you.
i will indeed miss you. … i won’t particularly miss the mess you make in our home on saturday nites, but i will most certainly miss you.
this is it. so now, as you go, remain firmly and confidently in his mighty, gracious, wise, ever-loving, unrelenting and unbreakable grip. ladies and gentlemen, my friends, light of the world … salt of the earth…it's been a privilege.
My words here are reflections of my own mix of emotions that so many endings and beginnings together bring to the surface.
As parents we want to pray for their safety, but you, Lord, have never been a safe God. And if indeed we placed them into your hands when they were infants, now as young adults we have even less control over where you will lead them.
We may want to pray for their comfort, but how can we do this, and also pray that you use them for your glory, knowing that those you have used the most have also suffered greatly?
You are a God who throughout history and our own lives does marvelous and spectacular things. But you are also the God of the mundane and supremely subtle. I pray that they may see your answers to their prayers especially when the answers don’t look like they thought they would.
I pray that their faith be truly theirs and not simply an heirloom inherited from their predecessors or peers. That when their faith is challenged by those who hate it they they would know why they believe what they believe and know it well and speak it forth with boldness.
I pray that they learn not to trust on their gifts and abilities, which surely are many and which surely will fail, but on your grace which will not. Teach them that it’s never been all about them, but about you, and you in them, and thru them, you in the world.
That when they are lured by the world, that you would be their magnificent obsession.
I do not pray that you give them wisdom or strength, but that you BE their wisdom and strength; they they find themselves lost in you and be ever more like you.
For you are a loving and faithful God. who loves with wreckless abandon, faithful and firm to the end, wise in all things.
They leave our sight, O Lord, but not yours. Indeed your servant David said:
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in--behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, n you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps 139 1-10)
O Lord, that these be not just words in their ears, but the sentiment of their souls and the comfort and assurance of their hearts.
So here they are, Lord. They are yours. Thanks for having lent them to us for this brief time. We commit them to your faithful, relentless, and wholly merciful grip.
3 jan 07 – Cerro Azul Beach, Peru – I've just been stung by a sting ray – we are having lunch in the restaurant, and as the burning creeps up my leg, up comes of group of about 4 men – all Peruvian, except for the taller, lighter – skinned one – his accent made me think he was from Spain. He’s a bit older…is he their mentor? Why do I think he’s a priest? There are no outward trappings; no robes, no crucifix – nothing quite so obvious.
We ordered lunch; they ordered lunch. A little boy about 8 or 9 comes into the restaurant porch where we are sitting. “¿Tienes carro que puedo lavar?” I had a car, of course – but the girl at Union Church washes it every Sunday ... we’ll be there in a few days – so “no”. He falls off my radar.
We resume our family conversation. The waiter brings our food. Several minutes later I notice the waiter bringing food to the Spanish man’s table … and a plate of food to the car wash boy, who is sitting next to the Spanish man. The Spanish man is chatting with him, asking him questions. The car wash boy is enjoying his lunch … a very nice lunch for a car wash boy.
It’s amazing how many things can flood your mind in an instant; it takes so much longer to write them down. All of the sudden i realize:
the car wash boy was hungry
he didn’t want to wash cars, but it might help him feed himself
i saw him as a minor intrusion on family time.
the Spanish man saw thru the question
the Spanish man must be a priest – his job is people – caring, looking for guys like this – he loved the car wash boy
The priest will not lose his reward – he received the car wash boy and offered him what he himself enjoyed … an 8 year old dining in the company of adult strangers. If the Spaniard IS a priest, he lives his faith better than I do. Woe is me! My life is too fast – too cluttered with things that blind me to those around me. How many opportunities like this have I been presented with in my 25 years in Peru?
The car wash boy will not remember me – I dropped off his radar as soon as he dropped off mine. The car wash boy will remember the nice man who bought him lunch – he will remember him forever. And God will remember them both. I will too…as a memorial to my insensitivity and blindness. I did not have enough love to invite Jesus to my table.
choked sobs, muffled cries, silent bleeding wounds.
only the sighs of God himself suffice.
empty, ruined, desperate, tired longings for
someone besides me to fill this skin of mine
to make this body move,
to make this mind think,
to make this heart love God with each and every beat,
to do for you what i cannot.
for this, your Spirit, promised, given and grieved…
oh my life, be for him,
oh my blood, course for him,
oh my eyes, see for him.
oh my heart, oh my heart…
may your grace be as great, and vast and lavish as you say!
may your love be furious in your pursuit of me.
may you be the sure, relentless hound of heaven
and track me down, your reluctantly willing prey.
you don’t desire my years of tears,
there would never be enough to atone.
oh, wrench away my cherished fears
and make me yours and yours alone.