June 23, 2008

A Note To "Random"

Dear Random,

I noticed that you took your blog down today. I know it wasn't yesterday because that is when I last left a message. I can only conclude that your latest pain filled posting was, and is, a matter of current grief. What is one to say to someone in this situation? I could offer you platitudes like, "Time will make this better," or "This will make sense someday," but I refuse to devalue the depth and reality of your grief. Instead I can only offer you words of hope from my decidedly, and unapologetically, Christ-centered worldview.

God is there. I understand that you may well be shaking your fist at him in rage right now. I assure you that it is not the first time. As George Bernanos said in Diary of a Country Priest, "Shake you fist at Him, spit in His face, scourge Him and finally crucify Him; what does it matter? My daughter, it's already been done to Him." Shout at the heavens honestly ventilating the heavings of your heart and though it may seem there is a deafening silence returned for your troubles, be assured there is One who hears and knows.

God knows grief. "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces" (Isa. 53:3) At the cross, pain is not eliminated, but it is stared down. If you have difficulty believing that God is truly with us look not to the manger, neither look to the mauseleum, rather look to the cross. It is there that God decisively and with astounding finality says "I am with you and I am for you not against you." He chose to endure the pain. That is something you didn't do but you are discovering, much to your dismay, that pain has been thrust upon you univited. Imagine inviting it. This is exactly what God in Christ has done. He knows grief.

God is with you. Though you may desire Him to be far from you He is, in fact, very near to you. Scripture states, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18) It is entirely up to you to decide whether to turn toward Him or away from Him. He will not force Himself upon you, even in this your moment of greatest grief. He is far too much a gentleman to force His love upon you. Even so, He patiently and longingly waits to comfort you. "So long as there is pain the Comforter walks beside us." (Calvin Miller)

Random, please know that there is one shepherd who prays for you during these days. Your voice will be missed. I hope to hear it again joined to the chorus of those who believe.

Blessings in your grief.


June 19, 2008

How Do You Read It?

This is the question that Jesus asked of a lawyer who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus knew the man was well schooled in the writings of the Hebrew faith and, as expected, the man confidently regurgitated the right answers from scripture. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus affirmed his perfect score on the test paper but was not content to call that a 'passing grade' as He pressed this lawyer beyond information to transformation and called on him to "Do this, and you will live." (Read the entire story in Luke 10)

The question of how one reads changes the game completely. I'm pretty good at remembering and regurgitating lists of things. Give me a fill in the blank or listing test and I'm good to go. But ask me to take this same material and put it to work in my everyday life that's another thing altogether.

Recently our Wednesday night bible study centered on Genesis 4. Among the issues raised by this passage was the issue of worship; why was Cain's offering unacceptable? In the midst of the conversation mention was made of the difference in Cain and Abel's offering, Cain's from the harvest and Abel's from the flock.

One commented, "What's the big deal?"

To which I replied, "You've never had a garden before have you?"

"NO." they answered.

I asked our group the question, "How many of you would be willing to give up that first tomato of the season?" (Audible groan)

Suddenly the text became alive. Not just a dusty and dried up story. It became our story. A story to which we could suddenly, and unexpectedly, relate.

The other morning I, once again, had the joy of turning dirt in my little patch of rocky and sandy soil. In the midst of this simple, humble act of faith I thought of Cain. I suddenly became Cain. I heard his cry of anguish at being banished from working the soil. There is simple joy in turning dirt and I was arrested by the fact that the first thing he mentions concerning his judgment from God is this, to no longer be able to do that which he loved. I ached with Cain. I understand now.

How do you read it? It must come to life. It must enter into the living breathing, dirt turning, sermon preaching, child rearing, teeth brushing life that I am living. When it does, something remarkable happens, I am transformed.

June 12, 2008

Maybe She Should Speak Instead of Him...

Mrs. Bush's Op-Ed piece in the WSJ is worth a read. This is the clear minded expression that is devastatingly missing from Mr. Bush. Maybe she should begin giving the speeches. Just a thought.

The "stand out" paragraph for me is this: "It is important – and smart – for the world to invest in Afghanistan. Americans learned on a clear September morning that misery and oppression half a world away can manifest themselves on the next block. That lesson has been retaught in the years since, in cities from Jakarta to London to Madrid."

You can read the first lady's comments here.

June 11, 2008

About the Picture - A Sower Went Out to Sow

"And he told them many things in parables saying, 'A sower went out to sow'" (Matthew 13:3)

This is the little patch of dirt in which I have the joy of growing things . As dirt goes it not the best or most fertile but it's dirt with which I have a growing love affair. Turning dirt over and dropping seeds in it is something that is most certainly in my blood. I have clear and fond memories of both of my grandfathers standing by themselves with a straw hat on their head and a hoe in their hand while working in the gardens they tended. I remember sweet corn, cool cucumbers, pungent peppers, and glorious watermelons being the marvelous fruits of their labors.

Gardening is a singularly humble pursuit requiring great labors and recognizing a miraculous partnership. It is humble because it is in the dirt. There's just no way around getting your hands dirty in the work of growing things. Often I find myself on my hands and knees pursuing yet another weed or admiring the marvel of root systems exposed by clearing away weeds.

It is a miraculous partnership as I recognize that from the moment I drop those dried up, seemingly insignificant, little seeds into the earth something greater than all my efforts must enter into the equation. I am powerless to make things grow. The life contained in those tiny repositories is a grand mystery. Yet, by providing the rudimentary elements necessary they explode into life. I find it instructive that with all of our scientific brilliance we are still unable to mimic the miracle of nascent life.

This sower went out to sow. What will be reaped when the time for the harvest comes? That remains to be seen.

June 10, 2008

This Shepherd is in the Fields

Blackberries are coming in (I picked a gallon of the bounteous beauties this morning and simply had to quit because time was ticking and my back had started aching). The plum tree is patiently waiting to be relieved of its burden of fruit (I can almost hear the limbs sigh with relief each time I pull a ripened plum). Crookneck squash are growing at a breakneck pace. The bell and cayenne peppers are profusely proffering their produce. The grapes are hanging with luscious beauty. The honey bees are happily working while they wait for the corn to tassel. And this Shepherd is enjoying this season of productivity like never before.

You'll pardon me if I don't post quite so often. I'll be busily soaking up the marvelous colors and savoring the unmatched flavors of food fresh from the garden. Should I have a rainy afternoon, or a sweltering sunny day that runs me away from pursuing the produce I will take a few photos and post some good notes for you.

I must tell you that this is a teachable season for me as well. Jesus instructed his followers to "consider the lilies." I watching, listening, and learning. There are lessons that just can't be learned in a hurry. There are moments of the miraculous that only show themselves by careful observation. I'm learning and experiencing some of these life lessons. A couple of examples...

1. Weeds always grow. Inattention for even a short while produces an undesirable crop of weeds. Weeds also steal life giving nutrients. Left in the garden they result in less productive plants.
2. Humility is necessary. It is impossible to grow a garden without getting down in the dirt.
3. There is joy in the harvest. When the produce comes the labor is forgotten.

Excuse me while I go and fix a fresh tomato sandwich (Salmonella free!).

June 3, 2008

Just Another Reason

The following quote is from "OnMission," a publication of the North American Mission Board. It's just another reason I'm proud to be affiliated with the Souther Baptist Convention.

"As Southern Baptists we celebrate a baptism every 38 seconds and 831,725 baptisms worldwide annually. Southern Baptist churches start 53 churches every day (19,401 worldwide annual total). We've rebuilt 11,000 inner-city homes over the last 15 years. We're the third largest disaster relief provider in the nation. And we've been ministering to AIDS victims in Africa since the 1980's, long before it became a celebrity-championed cause." (Source www.cpmissions.net)

This only scratches the surface of the good work being done by Southern Baptists. My hat is off to every church member who will give a week of vacation and pay real dollars for the privilege of serving others in the name of Jesus this summer. I applaud every nail driven, every English as a Second Language class taught, every box of food given, every child loved and encouraged at VBS this summer, and every mile driven to meet the needs of a friend or a stranger.

June 2, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Hannah

If you are unfamiliar with this wonderful woman's story then, by all means, take a moment and familiarize yourself with it. You will find Hannah, Elkanah (her husband), and Peninnah (the other wife) and Eli (the priest of YHWH) in 1 Samuel chapter 1.

A few facts followed by a few observations will suffice for this post. I'll leave the conclusions to you.

First the facts.

Hannah lived in a day and time that the social security system was birthing children. Like it or not, fair or not, the cultural context of the ancient world (and much of the modern world for that matter) was not necessarily "woman friendly." Should her husband die there was no pension or inheritance and therefore, unless she had children to take care of her in her old age she was hopeless. In fact, many considered a childless woman cursed by God a fact attested to in this passage as it states, "the LORD had closed her womb." (v. 6)

Hannah was mercilessly tormented by the "other wife" because of her childless state. So much so that she could not eat and tears were a common sight on her face.

Hannah was deeply loved by her husband but this did not solve her inner struggle with the fact that she had not borne any children.

Hannah turned to the only place she could to find an answer to her dilemma, the one who had "closed her womb" was the only one who could answer her deepest need.

A few observations.

Hannah was a desperate woman. Desperate people pray. I like the bumper sticker that says, "As long as there are tests there will be prayer in school." Sure it's tongue in cheek but it's right on. Take your Bible and flip to almost any page in Psalms and you'll notice a song and prayer that comes out of desperate situations.

Could it be the reason we struggle with a prayer life is we are not really desperate? Jesus instructed his followers to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." How many of you are truly concerned about where your next meal is coming from? Not many. Most of us have this weeks bread in the pantry and if we don't we'll just hop down to the corner store and get some. Daily bread is a desperate thing.

Hannah was a decisive woman. There came a time when she had to do something. The status quo just was not going to cut it any longer. There are two words which speak volumes in this passage. In verse 9 it says, "Hannah rose."

Hannah was willing to discuss this issue. She goes and prays literally pouring out her soul before the LORD. I'm pretty sure this was not one of those polite conversations that you are likely to overhear in the church. I've got an idea (because I've got a wife) that when Hannah started speaking her mind God got an earful. All the hurt, all the anger, all the disappointment, all the confusion, all the questions came pouring out and they were directed at one target - God.

Now I often get the "Oh, we're not supposed to question God!" statement thrown at me. To which I reply, "Since when?!" I often remind people that they are in good biblical company when they pour out there honesty to God. I love what Walter Wink has to say about prayer. "The fawning etiquette of unctous prayer is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an oriental bazaar than the polite monologues of the churches."

In the midst of this prayer something happens, something changes in Hannah. I find this intensely interesting because externally NOTHING has changed. She is still childless. She is still tormented by Peninnah. She is still loved by Elkanah. But she is different. Verse 18 ends with these telling words, "and her face was no longer sad." What had she found? What had she discovered? What changed?

The simple truth is she found that the very one who had closed her womb was the one to open her heart. Though she railed against God she discovered that indeed it was God she truly needed. God told Jeremiah, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:13). Sometimes it takes a desperate season to cause us to seek God with all our heart. Are you desperate?