Thursday, November 29, 2012

Life's Leaps

It all started very early in life for me. I was blessed to have a dad who was a natural teacher of life lessons. Dad knew that life, real life, has to be anticipated and prepared for in very real terms. So, throughout my growing up, he would just naturally slip into these very practical teaching moments.

One such lesson came as a recurring game that he and I used to play when I was very small. I think I was probably not more than four years old at the time.

My grandparents owned a mom & pop type grocery store. And it was a place that we frequented to spend time with them. On several of those occasions my dad and I would play this game.

He would stand me up on the check-out counter in the store (about three feet above the floor). He would then take a step or two back, lift his massive arms, and say,with a shining smile, “Do you trust me, son?”

Always my answer was the same. It was some form of yes. And then he would yell, “Then jump!” And, I would - every time. And every time, he caught me, and hugged me, and tickled me, and we laughed.

I’m sure there are some who will read this article and be aghast that a father would take such a chance with his child. Please. Did I mention that I was only three feet off the ground? 
And if those dear faint hearts had known my dad, they would have known this about him – he never misses

And had they been so blessed as to know him, they would also have understood that he knew very well the worth of what he was doing. He was teaching me two things. 


First, he was teaching me that he, my father, was trustworthy. This lesson came in pretty handy throughout my life.  But, that was especially true in my teen years. 

When I went temporarily insane (as does most of my gender) in those years, he had a perfect track record of trustworthiness at which to point.  And, by then, it was confirmed by much more than our childhood game.  And, it was really his trustworthiness that got us both through that “train wreck” period of my life.

When you don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, it really
helps to know someone who does. We had many conversations in those years that started off with, “Do you trust me, son?"

Second, he was teaching me that life requires us to take risks. And he was absolutely right. Life is all about risk – like it or not. 


It is not necessarily about recklessness. But, it is inherently about risk. We encounter risk of every kind every day as we try to go forward in life.  Where we are attempting to experience personal growth, or to achieve our goals, or to enter into an important relationship - risk comes into play.

And on some of those occasions, we are required to risk ourselves to the sufficiency of someone else. From the airline pilot, to a fellow soldier, to a wise parent, to the Savior of our soul, we must sometimes trust others to “catch” us.


So, I did not learn recklessness through our game. In fact, my dad taught me the foolishness of that throughout my growing years. But I did learn that we simply cannot always be safe in life. 

And, as I learned about risk, I also learned something about assessing life’s risks. And I learned a bit about how to assess who and what you trust to take you past those risks.

I can still see my confident, twenty-five year old dad standing there smiling. I can still hear his strong, challenging voice,“Do you trust me, son? Then jump!” And I did - every time.

It is also easy to anticipate God’s voice, on occasion, offering this same challenge to His children, “Do you trust me, child? Then jump!” And, I would like to think that we will – every time; because, in fact, He never misses, either.

“For I know in whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day. – The Apostle Paul

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Invisible

When I was a little boy of nine years or so, I was fortunate enough to capture a couple of extra nickels occasionally – usually about the same time I was fortunate enough to encounter my Grandfather. And every time I did so, I bought the same thing. It was a toy airplane made of balsa wood. And then I would spend hours of pure joy watching those little airplanes sail on the wind.

On one such occasion, I had been playing with my airplane for hours when, on one long flight, the vertical tail piece slipped out of its slot and floated away on the wind without my notice. I looked for it for what seemed an eternity to a nine year old - to no avail.

Eventually, I decided to pray about the situation. I simply ask God, "Please help me find my airplane's tail." As I finished praying, my eye began, involuntarily, to follow a small trickle of water that was running across the yard from a rain the day before. 


As my eye followed that small trickle of water to its upper end, I spotted it. There lay my toy airplane's tail. And, I suppose, from that day to this, I have been aware of a simple reality: Sometimes help comes in an invisible form.

I know a lot of people have a problem with invisible, especially when it comes to God. But, I just don’t. Invisible is OK with me. Invisible is simply what God looks like.

Maybe I’m just used to it by now, but I never really think about it. Invisible makes Him no less real. It makes Him no less loving. It makes Him no less attractive. In fact, I think it may actually make Him even more attractive by virtue of the mysteriousness of invisibility. But, whatever the case, the fact remains, God is usually "clear."

It is also true that we cannot touch God. Nor can we smell Him, or taste Him, or hear Him with our physical ear - at least, not on most days. So, out of the five physical senses, exactly none of them normally enable us to encounter the reality of God.

This has not always been true, of course. The Savior, as He walked upon the earth, enabled us to know God through all of our physical senses. But, even then, with all of our perceptions in play, we found ourselves still unable to really grasp God - so much so, that we crucified Him, instead of embracing Him.

So, bottom line: we will never be able to know this invisible God with just our physical senses. He is simply too sophisticated for such puny equipment. On our best day, God will still be incomprehensible to humanity’s sensory, and even our empirical,  probes.

And granted, there are some among us who are very upset by that fact. Their attitude seems to be, "How dare God presume to be bigger than my sensory comprehension?" They seem almost to expect an apology for such a presumption.

However, I don’t really think an apology will be forthcoming. I believe God is pretty confident about who He is. And I am pretty sure He is not going to apologize for it.

I’m truly sorry for those who think God somehow obligated to present Himself to their physical senses for their inspection. He did, indeed, do it once, in Christ. But, I think He is of the opinion that, "Once is enough." 


And I don’t think He is very inclined to do it again, and certainly not on a demand basis. He is not really a big fan of human demands in any form.

So, for those who embrace such an arrogant approach, perhaps I could simply suggest another. You might consider humbly presenting yourself to Him for inspection, instead of expecting Him to do that for you. 


I think you will find this a much more effective way to discover the invisible God. He is a really big fan of faith in this form. And, He responds to it quickly. 

Nevertheless, I suppose there will always be an arrogant segment of humanity, who believe the Universe is supposed to revolve around their wishes. I feel for them. And, I pray for them, as victims of their own delusions. But, be that all as it may, I must admit, my bedrock aspiration is not their enlightenment.  It is “the chase.” 

I still get up every morning looking forward to the ongoing process of running after this invisible God. And that is true because I have discovered that, though I cannot see God with my eye, still I can see Him. He looks like love and innate goodness.

And though I cannot hear God with my ear, still I can hear Him. He sounds like wisdom and a song of righteousness. 


And though I cannot feel God with my hands, still I can feel Him. He feels like warmth. And, He feels close - very close.

And when I cannot smell God with my nose, still I can smell Him. He smells like the sweetness of a Renewing Spring. 


And when I cannot taste Him with my tongue, still I can taste Him. He smacks of the rich, bold flavor of holiness.

Oh, come to think of it, I gotta’ go! After all, the chase is still on. There is an "un-seeable" God out there even as we speak. And, I’ve made it my mission in life to discover as much of Him as I possibly can.

Tallyho! And, good hunting to all who can get past their on shortsightedness to discover this invisible God!

Give Me That

When I was a little boy, something happened to teach me of the ways of God. I have not forgotten the lesson to this day. 

I was sitting in Sunday School in my ninth year of life. I'm sure I had been cutting up and generally making the teacher's life miserable, even though I loved Ms. Crawford dearly. Why do boys express their love as terrorism? 

Anyway, Mrs. Crawford was trying to settle the class down and take up an offering. My mother had given me a quarter before class. So, I pulled it out to put it in the offering plate. And, I was just sitting there waiting for the plate to arrive so I could deposit it.

Then, I heard Him say something in that voice of unspoken word. Kids have an easy awareness of God. Innocence (if not good behavior) seems to afford children simpler access. But on this morning, I could hardly believe what I was sensing. 

"I want the dollar" was my very distinct heart impression.  I don't know how, but I knew God meant the silver dollar in my jeans pocket. 

My Grandfather had given me that dollar; and, I was never without it. It was very special to me. I carried it everywhere.

I was very surprised at the tender age of nine, as you might expect, that God would ask for my chief treasure in the whole world. But after a brief pause, I knew what I had to do. So, I put both the dollar and the quarter in the offering plate as it went by.

I did not hear the Sunday School lesson that morning (which was not really that unusual). I was completely preoccupied with what had happened. 

As I remember, there were a lot of swirling question marks: "Why did God do that? Why today? Was it really God or just me? Why did he ask for the dollar? Did I do something wrong?  Did I do the right thing?"

Then it was time for church. But I didn't hear the sermon either (you guessed it, again, not that unusual).
 But, this time, I was still just trying to figure out the events of the Sunday School hour. 

Finally, church was over, and we piled into the car to head for home. The sacred seating order was duly observed, as always. Dad was driving. Mom was in the front on the passenger side. I was in the back behind Dad (the most sacred part of all). And Judy, my sister, was behind Mom on the passenger side.

I heard Mom and Dad speaking softly between themselves about something in the front seat.  But, I didn't pay much attention (ok, ok). 

But, this time it was with good reason.  Some portion of my sister's dress had protruded over the sovereign international border that bisected the back seat between "her side" and "my side." 

So, a full blown diplomatic incident was in progress. No border trespass was ever allowed to go unaddressed. Thus, my sister and I were preoccupied with a serious territorial war of words.

The war was cut short, however, when my Dad raised his voice to ask me a completely unexpected question. He said, "Larry, can I see your silver dollar?" 

The border skirmish instantly ceased, as did all sound from the back seat. I had no idea what to say. I didn't know if I was in trouble - or what. But I was very aware that, all of a sudden, that silver dollar had surely become important to a lot of people.

After a short silence, Dad said, "Son, have you got your dollar with you?" Again, silence. 

He said, "Larry?"  And finally, I said, "No sir."

He said, "Where is it?"

After another short pause, I finally told my Dad the whole story. Just as I finished my story about what had happened to the dollar, my Dad's big leathery hand came slipping over the back of the front seat. He turned it over and opened it. And there, in the palm of his hand, was my silver dollar. He said, "Here son. I bought it back for you."

My Dad was the Sunday School Superintendent at our church. And, when he was counting the offering, he saw the dollar. Dad was always very intuitive; and, apparently he sensed something of what was going on. So he redeemed the dollar for me.

I spent the rest of the trip home listening to Dad reassure me through his own occasional tears that not only was I not in trouble, but that I had absolutely done the right thing. He confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that it is always right to give God your all, your most precious, your very best. And he made sure that I knew that if we can't do it in the real terms of "silver dollars," we are probably just kidding ourselves about doing it in the other areas of life.

I'll never forget that Sunday morning. And I have never forgotten the lesson that my Dad so carefully drove home to my heart that day. Now I know that it is really just the first lesson of all - You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength.

Since that Sunday morning, I have had other similar encounters with God. They have been basically the same. They are encounters of consecration and faith. 

As I think about it now though, it seems that as the years have passed, the decimal point involved in His requests may have moved steadily to the right. And the "cherish factor" has become even larger. And the faith requirement has become noticeably steeper. But ultimately, all of these encounters just come to this: His "How much?" question awaiting my "With all my heart" response.

I know that this is a lesson easily misapplied. Crazy people can use the "God told me to" thing to justify everything from jihad to doing harm to their children. But they are crazy. And crazy people do deranged stuff with or without a lesson. 

Nevertheless, the Bible is replete with these consecrating encounters between God and His people. And their purpose is not to encourage extremism, but to confirm and enlarge our devotion.

The simple truth here? When God puts His finger on something and says, "Give me that," the real purpose is not to take something from us. It is to give something to us. 

In these faith challenges, it's never really about the "silver dollars." God is merely setting the stage for us to experience the personal elevation which flows from such an act of faith when it is finished.

"...nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing."  - King David.

Manageable

So, it went down like this, late in 2008. Andy (our youngest son) was in the hospital in Florida, and I was in Texas. Time to travel. But, the plane that I needed was in Dallas, and I was in Texarkana. Time to rent a car.

But, the plane was leaving very early in the morning on the travel day. Time to make a reservation at a hotel near the airport for the night before. 

This was so I could drop off the car at DFW Airport the night before the flight, catch the hotel's airport shuttle back to the hotel for the night, order a delivery pizza for dinner, sleep a few hours, get up at 4:30, take the shuttle back to the airport, and catch the plane to Florida. We won't talk about airport security that day (it was only a hunting knife - just kidding).

A week later, when the visit was over, time to catch a plane in Tampa to come back home. Once in Dallas, time to rent another car for the trip back to Texarkana. 

My arrival in Dallas was at a weary, eyes-beginning-to-burn and droop, 10:30 PM. The Avis clerk took one look at me and said, "Time for a free upgrade." For that timely kindness, I have been a loyal Avis customer ever since.

Eventually, "three hours eventually," I arrived at my own door. Time to go to bed. I love my bed.

As complicated as all of this may sound, that was still the simplified version. For a country boy this was all a very harrowing process. 

I rented the first car on Saturday near noon when the rental car people (not Avis) were way more worried about getting off on time (straight up noon was quitting time) than actually renting me a car.

Dropping off the car in that city that Dallas calls an airport, you start to wonder if there really is a rental car area.  And, if there is, how in the world do you get to it. 

When I did find it, there were literally acres of cars belonging to multitudes of rental companies. And unintelligible signage was everywhere - all designed (I know) to confuse country boys.

But eventually, after working my way through this cast iron jungle - with very courteous attendants I might add - it was time to go sit at the hotel shuttle stop. 

As the sun started to set and darkness started to creep in, I suddenly became very keenly aware that I was no longer in the "Kansas" of my familiar hometown.  And so, I started to wonder. "Is that shuttle really going to show up? Am I too late to catch it? I wonder if this is the right bench for the right shuttle for the right hotel."  Then, "Ah, wait! There it comes. Shooo."

Manageable. It's a nice word, and a nice condition in life. We like life to be very manageable. In fact most of us work hard at keeping it that way. 

We don't like to be in an uncertain or uncontrolled or unfamiliar (all just other ways of saying "unmanageable") circumstance. But, in fact, there are times when unmanageable is preferred - not usually by us "country boys and girls" - but by the God who created us. This is true because "Manageable" is often the bane of a strong faith.

If we insist that our faith always be manageable, in the sense that its demands must be easy to meet and fit comfortably into our schedule, our priorities, our plans, and our budget, etc. - then we must also make ourselves comfortable with spiritual anemia - at best. Because that is exactly what an always manageable faith always produces.

On the other hand, a not so easily managed faith - a faith that places significant demands on our intellect, our will, our resources, and our personal plans - that faith stretches us, strengthens us, and matures us. That faith authenticates us, and takes us to the depths of relationship with God.

On that trip to Florida, I was way out of my easily manageable element. At every new juncture there was uncertainty, misgivings, emotional discomfort, and even, at times, PANIC. But, here is what I found the solution to be: "Surrender to the journey."

So, I did. I simply gave myself to the process of getting to Florida, whatever that journey entailed. And after that, it was easy. It simply became a matter of simply continuing to put one foot in front of the other, so to speak and allowing those steps to take me past each problem.

The same approach works for a demanding faith. By its very nature faith often leads us into circumstances that don't fit into our "druthers." It is suppose to do that. 
God often calls to us, sometimes very insistently, to enter into a reality that we cannot control, that is uncertain, that is unfamiliar, and that doesn't fit our idea of manageable

But those are the calls which most define a vital faith. The key is not to run from the challenges placed on us by a vibrant and growing faith.  Rather, the far better thing is to simply surrender ourselves to them. 

If we would get to the place of God's intimate friendship, then the obvious course is to give yourself to the process which gets us there. And, once you truly embrace the reality of "unmanageable" in pursuit of that friendship, then, again,  it truly does becomes just a matter of one foot in front of the other.

God will draw on your faith. That is what He does. He will ask you to do some things that don't fit your parameters for manageability. Time to grow. 

When God calls you to a purpose or a providence, just say "yes." And let Him bring you to a whole new awareness of what braving the unmanageable can do for you.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The God In Your Ear

The letter was devastating. The short version: the monthly income from the sale of a company, which was enabling me to go to college full time in preparation for the ministry, would no longer be arriving in the mail. The new owner of the company had gone bankrupt after only about three years.

I was about to begin my final year of school and suddenly, without warning, the funding was gone. And beyond that, there was no immediate prospects for a job.

I ran to God, fell on my knees, and began to pray as, perhaps, never before. I prayed often, and long, and with a great deal of energy. 


And, eventually, it began to seem that everything needed that same kind of prayer. Until, finally, it was as though I was never really out of the spirit of prayer. Always, at least on the “back burner” of my mind, I remained mentally and emotionally heightened toward God's presence and His "doings."

At first, admittedly, it was desperate, even panicked, prayers for the material help which we needed. But, gradually, it became something much more, something much better. Eventually, my desperation became anticipation, and then it morphed into what could only be described as an “addiction.” 

It was an addiction to the higher level of divine interdiction upon the normal flow of life. As a result of these more desperate and thus more energized prayers, I discovered a God who was much more obviously engaged in the events of my days.

I now found myself also praying with a great many more people on all kinds of occasions. We prayed about everything from my good friend’s wayward brother to a fellow minister’s struggles at his church. I cried easily with people, as though their struggles were my own. I truly experienced a rich empathy for them. I felt God’s love literally filling me and changing my approach to others.

And again, beyond those heightened emotions and sensitivities, or perhaps through them, I began to see God moving and working in a much more visible way. For example, on one ordinary day, a friend and I were praying in an off hour between classes for an upcoming revival meeting where I was to be the evangelist. We had been doing so for some time in the empty sanctuary of the church 
near the school where we were both members. 

When we finished, we got into my car, which was parked in the rear parking lot, and headed back to the school for our next class. As we rounded the corner of the building, I noticed a van parked in the wide driveway of the church. The logo on the side indicated that it was a cable service truck. And, I could see that this was a two man crew. They were laying a trunk cable across the church property.

Just as we passed the van, I heard the faint echoes of the divine whisper. It remains amazing to me how a voice so soft spoken, can sometimes be so insistent. The impression: “Speak to those men!” 

It wasn’t, “Speak to those men about this, that, or the other.” It wasn’t, “Tell those men what Christ has done for you.” It was just, “Speak to those men.”

So, first I tried to dismiss such an abrupt demand as religious insanity on my part. That argument had worked very effectively in the past. But, come to think of it, that was before this new prayer lifestyle thing had become so prevalent. 

In any case, the insanity defense wasn’t working very well on this occasion. The divine impress remained insistent.

Once the insanity ploy failed, I started to argue a bit. The argument went something along the lines of, “A little help here, Lord? What do you want me to say to them?”

With that commanding tone, God began immediately to explain Himself – yeah, right. You guessed it. He merely continued to offer more of the same. So, by the end of the second minute of our drive back to school, I realized that I was going to be late for class this day.
I let my friend, Richard, out at the classroom building and asked him to let the instructor know that I was going to be a little late (they actually cared at my school). Then, I drove back to the church.  It was only two to three minutes away. 

I pulled up directly behind the van. The two men were now eating their sack lunches. Both front doors were open on the van for ventilation. I walked up on the passenger side.

As I stepped into view, both heads shot around in my direction. I said, “Hey guys, I know this is going to sound crazy, but as I past you a few minutes ago, God impressed on me that I should speak to you. But, the problem is He didn’t tell me what to say.  So, I’m just trying to do what He impressed me to do."

There was a short, and very awkward, silence until the man on my side said this. “You don’t have to say any more, preacher, (I guess he just assumed I was a minister). God has been dealing with me for weeks about getting back into church. The man began to weep. And though those tears he choked out these final words, “I will be there Sunday.”

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. To be part of such a powerful and obviously divine intervention in a man’s life was instantly humbling. And then the other man spoke up.

While his partner wiped his own tears, the other man said, “Sir, I have not been very religious in a very long time. And I can’t tell you that I am going to be in church on Sunday. But, I will tell you this. I am going to think about this long and hard. I didn’t know it worked this way.”

It was an amazing moment. I could not concentrate for thinking about it when I finally got to class. And there have, since, been many other such moments.

It's those times when God is not quite so insistent on remaining behind that veil of invisibility and intrigue. It’s those times when He just boldly steps into our situation in a remarkable and unmistakable way.

As I have looked at the phenomenon of these “God enriched moments,” for lack of a better term, I have realized something over the years. It is that life is supposed to be lived this way. It really is, as the Bible indicates, God’s every day intention to be, “Emanuel,” the God among us.

So, when and how has it become such an unusual thing for God to obviously insert Himself into our daily circumstances? Why isn’t there an “always obviousness” of God's presence in our days?

The answer to those question is completely uncomplicated. It is simply because we have made our prayer life to be more a matter of convenient moments, and appropriate occasions than a constant and vibrant connection to the heart of God.

Obviously, such an approach to prayer is much different than that of the fifteen minute morning “obligation.” It is also quite different from our ceremonial prayers. And, this energized and vibrant prayer life is certainly different from our quiet, head-in-hand prayer which allows for and even facilitates an occasional “drift off.”

Ceremonial prayers and casual and isolated moments of prayer will simply never do what this “day saturating” type prayer will do. So, how do we come by this unbroken connection? Well, it is pretty much exclusively the product of desperation. 

It does not have to be financial desperation, as mine started out to be. It can be simply a desperation for His divine presence in you day and in your circumstance.  Or, it might be a desperation to defeat the darkness which hammers our world every day. 

Or it might be a desperation to see good and great things accomplished. But, yeah, desperation is the first ingredient in this life altering form of prayer.

This is true because only some form of desperation will drive us beyond the convenient limits of our mind to establish and maintain this constant mental alliance with God. Only desperation will push us to go into seclusion with Him more often, and to stay longer. 

Only desperation will cause us to make larger mental and emotional energy investments in our conversations with Him. And, only desperation will awaken the other emotions and sensitivities which enable us to weep, and laugh, and be angry and compassionate in perfect concert with the heart of God.

Life, and Satan, and the worldly norms are all dead set against this kind of prayer with its attendant impact to our reality. The Darkness always prefers that there be no more than isolated moments of anemic, rote prayers - at a maximum.

Nevertheless, we dare not acquiesce to those preferences. Prayer should never be relegated to be only about short and "appropriate" moments. 

We of true faith must never settle for a distant God or a sedate spiritual status quo. We should live expectantly, anticipating that God will "show up" every day.  

And it will happen if we retain the ancient key: broadly giving ourselves to His companionship. If you want to have God, you gotta' have "game." 

If you really want to experience an exciting God that graces your day with extraordinary things, it’s always a matter of serious personal seclusion with Him. And for that great amount of time well spent, you can know the sweetest place in all the earth - that place where God "shows up." 

“Pray without ceasing.” -Paul, the Apostle Christ

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Accounts

Sometimes, because life comes at us so fast and moves on the same way, we cannot manage to adequately take care of all of the issues of our present. So later, in our minds, we go back. We revisit and work through the issues of our past.  We do our best to reconcile those intellectual, emotional, and relational accounts.  Among all of God's creatures, only humanity has this ability.

As I look back over my own life from the high vantage point of 61 years, I, too, have some some regrets. And some of those run very deep. And, almost without exception, my significant regrets revolve around people I have hurt or somehow wronged.

Some of those issues, Christ, in one stroke of forgiveness, reconciled for me at my conversion. Some few, far too few really, I have had the opportunity to actually ammend.  And, still others of those lingering issues, I have, with the years, been able to "square" in my mind with careful thought, and prayer, and repentance, and time. 

But, there is one regret that still haunts my days - not every day - but the quiet, reflective days, when I tend to assess life with a little more frankness and honesty. Days like this one.

The issue that still troubles me most is how long my "boyhood" lingered.  
To be born a boy is to have some things predetermined about who you are, and how you will behave, at least in general terms. 

It means you will be more aggressive. Thus, you will push some limits. You will be mission oriented. You will be more prone to take risks. You will exert more pressure on those around you. 

You will seek the "top." You will be enamored with accomplishment. You will tend to embrace confrontation and competition. You will tend to dream dreams that are much bigger than you can easily achieve. 

You will push harder and demand more, and demand faster, and demand, and demand, and demand. It may not be politically correct to say such things, but reality speaks louder than even political correctness. And these are generally the ways of boys and men.

I would never apologize for these basic realities of my gender and this God given male "wiring." And I would never apologize for expressing myself upon society in a thoroughly male way. God made men to fill a role.  


But my regrets regard my failure to properly transition from boyhood to manhood.  When I married my wife she was eighteen years old and I was twenty. But in real terms, though I was two years older than her, she was, by my estimate now, at least 4 years my senior. 

So, in the real terms of maturity, she was at least twenty and I was still 16. And I spent the first 20 years of our marriage lingering behind her in that maturity gap.

And especially when our children were born, I actually lost ground as she leaped ahead.  With each child she became more and more the consummate mother and a truly responsible parent. 


 She became increasingly wiser, more balanced, and more selfless and loving; while I remained far less changed.

Across the years that we raised our children, she became a model of true love, of protecting love, of mature love - often sacrificing herself to the process of caring for her family. Perhaps I did grow up a little in those years, but not nearly enough and not nearly fast enough.  Thus, I left upon her delicate shoulders the weight of more responsibility than she should have had to carry.

Too often, I allowed her to take the lead in the tedium of life and to care for far too many "menial" (by my prideful estimate) details. When I should have protected her from the abrasions of life, big and small, I left her gentle spirit much too exposed to the world’s threats.

And my children were touched by these same failures. Sometimes there was simply too much distraction, and not enough Dad. I should have been more their protector and more often their playmate.

So, for far too many years, I remained a immature in the practical prosecution of our life together. And even as I did begin to mature, I continued to pushed too hard toward my personal aspirations, and understood too little of my broader stewardship as a man. 

I often invested myself minimally, and yet, demanded too much in return. I involved my self in noble goals, but I took too little note of the larger cost of my schemes.

I had a sense of purpose, but it was not tempered nearly enough with a sense of "first responsibility," and "basic responsibilities," and "relational responsibilities." 


As men so often do, I knew where I wanted to go.  But, I paid too little attention to the ground under my feet.

I think that most people who have known me across my life would probably say that I was and am now a good husband and father. I think my wife and children would also make that same charitable statement. 

But, truly - it is not as true as it should be. It is not as true as I wish it were. I have only barely squeaked past the basic requirements of love, if you correctly understand that true love is much more what you do, than what you feel.

I am glad that God has given us the capacity to revisit our past and reconcile our intellectual, emotional, and relational issues. I am glad we can, at least in some measure, "square" our mistakes and failures by making amends, getting forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, learning our lessons, growing up, and doing better. 

But, in my role as a husband and a father, I will always wish that I had done it better - from the beginning. I know many who have. And, while I have made some peace with my own failures, my advice to young men is always this: "never have to."

It is a far better plan; and, it reflects much better upon your gender if you will simply let the "boy" go when it's time.  It is far more noble to not ask your wife or your children to pay the cost of your boyish aspirations.  And, it is a much more true love which never stops being a loving contributor to be an over achiever.

God did not design you to be a man who leaves a wide wake of regrets - for yourself or others. He designed you to be a good man - a man that leads the way forward with a highly developed and well balanced sense of responsibility - from the very beginning.

So Seldom Pure

Life is so seldom purely good. It seems that evil most always finds a way to taint our moments. But sometimes not. Sometimes there are those priceless moments when life is purely good. The following is part of my personal list ...

Life was always purely good at my grandmother's breakfast table when I was young. When I stayed overnight at her house, I would awaken in her front bedroom to the smell of coffee; and from there on, it was always the same. Down the hallway to that bright kitchen and her big ole' loving hug. Paw was already at the table; and he would pour a little of the coffee that I was not supposed to have (too young) in his saucer, blow on it to cool it, and then slide it over to me with a grin.

By now, you could cut the smell of bacon with a knife as it fried in the skillet with the eggs. And the biscuits, baked from scratch, were the highlight of the menu. Paw and I would cut 'em in two, butter 'em heavy, and sprinkle sugar on 'em 'till you couldn't see the butter anymore. I always did mine exactly like Paw did his. I always did most everything like Paw did his.

The brightness of that happy kitchen, filled with morning sunlight, is as vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday. Every time I ever sat at that breakfast table, I knew only pure goodness expressed as laughter and love.

As time moved along, and I grew older, I came to understand that such moments and places are rare. But I did manage to discover another. It was my neighborhood of a simpler time. It was called Rose Hill. And it was straight out of "To Kill A Mockingbird" even down to my "Boo Radley" neighbor.
It was about a 20's model neighborhood, so it was 30 or so years old by the time I came along, and some parts were a good bit older than that. It was laid out in neat city blocks with old growth shade trees and cracking sidewalks. It was filled with responsible working people who all knew each other, or at least knew of each other, and were very respectful as neighbors.

My school was one block from my house. And on the way, I would stop, going and coming, at Ms. Gray's small store, in the middle of the block, for one brand or another of pure sugar. That store was the happy event of every school day, and most days that weren't, for that matter.

This part of town was made out of old charm. Most all of the yards were neat, and there was constant tension between deep shade and bright sunshine. And everywhere there were bushes, and big lush shrubs, and overgrown alleys and all of it screamed, "I've been here a while."

I was a kid in that neighborhood, the way a kid is supposed to be a kid. Between Indian attacks and cavalry charges, my cousin, Frank, and I played a thousand games of baseball there. I had countless bike races and wrecks. Fun came easy, and in a wide variety of forms there.

The summers on Rose Hill were hot, humid, and magical with smells of honeysuckle, and roses, and gardenias, and the escape of frying and baking smells through open kitchen windows. And amid those aromas, I spent long summer days doing the most important nothings that ever were done - all with my two best friends, Jack Jackson and Johnny Camp. (Now an engineer and a judge, respectively, and also reeking, these days, of "I've been here a while.")

Rose Hill died with the people who lived there in my childhood. Oh, the streets are still there, and most of the houses. But they aren't so neat or respectable any more. But I remember my neighborhood, back in the day. And it was purely good to my childish eyes.

But, as I have gotten older, as with most people I think, the barnacles of cynicism have attached. And it seems they make it even harder to ferret out the pure moments and places. But still, I find that it is not impossible. I have discovered two more wonderfully distilled realities in my mature adulthood. The first is the joy of sitting across the table from my wife in a favored restaurant and talking - just talking - while the problems are made to wait in the parking lot.

We go to a restaurant to eat, of course, but what we truly relish the "seclusion in the crowd." I love the stolen afternoon over nachos, or the Friday evening "end of week catch up conversation" at the Mexican place. I love the bright mornings at "Big Mac" with a biscuit and coffee and her on my day off. I love talking with her over lunch on a rainy day. I guess I love her - and the food and the talk just let it come out. And those moments are purely good.

And the last purely good thing that I will mention on my list (like you couldn't see this coming) is my friendship with the unseen Jesus. He is the living ideal of pure goodness.

His daily presence brings an unassailable hope to me every single day of my life. I think His presence is so reassuring because I need to know that our ideals can not only survive, but prevail even in this tainted world. And Jesus is the living confirmation of that. He is the one purely good reality in life that is never touched by this world's smudges, and who never goes away. In my book, the only thing better than purely good, is purely good - all the time.

It's true, life is seldom purely good. But sometimes - it absolutely is. And when it is, maybe you might be tempted to start your own list of the purely good in your life. Go ahead. Those things are worth keeping up with. (I know, prepositions on the end are not purely good. They are not even "kinda' good.")

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Want That

When you’re young, the world is at your feet.  And there is enthusiasm for every possibility, every challenge that life can suggest.  And so it was with me when I was twenty six years old.

I was only recently converted to Christ; and life had become so much different.  There was this new awareness of God’s presence.  And, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, I was reexamining everything:  my values, my habits, my speech, etc.  And, in the process of all of that, I also decided to try my hand at gardening.

So, in mid- February of my twenty sixth year, the decision was made.  I would put a vegetable garden up on the low hill behind my house.  Never mind that I had no real equipment or know how.  I had enthusiasm – and a shovel.  It seemed like enough to me.  Why do young people always over play their hand?

At any rate, I set out.  I began to turn over the ground with my shovel.  I originally envisioned about a 50’ x 50’ plot that would be grass free, and have perfectly straight rows of beautiful, growing, green things that I would eventually harvest. 

I had my plot ready for planting by early march – or so I thought.  After turning the sod over, I had carefully removed all of the field grasses, with their roots from the plot.  Oh, and by the way, the shovel and I had a conference about midway through the plot preparation process; and we decide to slightly reduce the size of the plot by about 50%.  I was all for sticking to the original plan, but the shovel insisted.  So, I acquiesced. 

Anyway, by early March everything was ready.  But then, I looked again.  And, I saw several blades of bright green grass sticking up here and there in my manicured garden plot.  So, I pulled them out.  And the next afternoon there were twice as many.  So, I pulled them out.   And the next afternoon, twice as many more, so I desperately pulled them out.

Now, I am both frustrated and worried.  So, I consult my resident expert on gardening – my granddad.  He informs me that I have “nut grass,” dread scourge of every good gardener.  He further informed me that nut grass is named for the small, well, nuts that grow underground and provide it with its Superman like vitality. 

He also informed me that I had two options.  One, I could build a chicken pen on top of the garden plot.  The idea being that within a year or two the chickens would scratch up and eat all of the nuts.  Thus the grass would eventually die out – eventually.  Or two, I could enlist the help of my trusty shovel – again – and turn over the entire garden spot – again; the intent being, this time, to remove all of the little nuts. 

Hummm, what to do?  You guessed it.  There was no way the enthusiasm of youth is going to stand by and wait for two years for a bunch of aimless chickens to solve the problem.  So, hello Mr. Shovel.  Yep, we went at it all over again. 

About midway through this nut grass ordeal, my wife took pity on me, and began to help.  So, for several afternoons and a couple of Saturdays, we invested ourselves in nut grass removal.  By the time it was all over, the nut grass was gone, and, pretty much, so were we.  Our backs hurt.  Our hands were blistered and shore.  And our enthusiasm went on a water break, and never came back. 

But, did I mention – the nut grass was gone.  Several days went by, and no little green shoots.  We had, indeed, won the nut grass war.  There was celebrating in the land.  And then, wouldn’t you know it, our old friend, Enthusiasm, come back from his water break, ready to plant a garden. 

After another few days, all of the little seeds had been planted with care.  All that remained was the waiting, and the waiting, and the waiting some more.  Gardening is really hard on young nerves.

But eventually, as the weather warmed a bit, the small green sprouts began to poke their heads up.  And there was more celebrating throughout the land.

Then the daily cultivation began.  There was the gentle hoeing and checking and transplanting and thinning.  There was the doting on this plant and that.  And there was more waiting and watching and anticipating the grand harvest to come.

And then it happened.  The potatoes were twelve, or so, inches high.  The okra was several healthy inches tall, as were also the tomatoes, squash, radishes, cucumber plants, and peppers plants of various kinds.  They were all beautiful, green and healthy.  Then came the thunder.

And with the thunder, came the hail.  I had never seen hail so large.  It was the size of golf balls.  And I had never seen so much of it.  It literally covered the ground in our front yard. 

By the time the thunderstorm had pass over that late afternoon, it was completely dark outside.  So, I had a thought, “Maybe I will just wait for morning to survey the damage.”  Yeah, right.

Armed with my flashlight and my wife, up the hill I went to know how my beloved, first garden had fared under this barrage of ice, heavy rain and wind.  What I saw was amazing.  With the exception of one potato plant, the garden was completely undamaged.  Everything had been spared.  And eventually, even the potato plant recovered, with a little creative propping.  Ah!  More dancing in the land, and this time with wild flashlight gyrations slicing through the night sky.

And so, the little garden on the hill grew.  And every afternoon it became the ritual for my wife, my little girl, and me to walk up the hill to look at it, and to make our astute observations about the changes from the day before.  It was, indeed, a beautiful, and innocent, and beloved thing in our back yard.

And then, one afternoon as the garden matured, God spoke to me about it.  It was a resonating statement, deep in my heart.  Long story short, He said, “I want that.”

At first, I was puzzled.  So, I started figuring out how to tithe on a garden.  But the statement continued, day after day.  Until eventually, I realized, “He’s not taking about a tithe.  He’s talking about the garden, itself, the whole thing.”

At that point, I started to do a little “resonating” of my own.  I said something to the effect.  “Lord, this garden is an innocent thing.  There is no evil involved in this work or ownership.  And, I must be hearing you wrongly.”

But He persisted.  And, I became more and more distressed each day about the whole matter.  I decided that I was going “religiously nuts.”  It happens you know.  Wait! That’s it!  It must be the “nut” grass – not.

Eventually, I realized that this was really God, and I was hearing Him correctly.  I did not understand it then; but now I know that this whole episode was one of those confirming things which serious Christians encounter as they are learning to choose sensitivity and obedience over their own logic.  At any rate, I finally realized what I had to do. 

By now, I had purchased a hoe so my shovel would have somebody to play with.  So, I walked by the tree where the hoe was propped and took hold of it.   I walked straight up the hill; and I chopped down every plant in the garden.

Just as I was completing this horrible emotional ordeal, I looked up to see my wife coming (more like, charging) up the hill.  Looking into her eyes, that day, seemed an awful lot like looking into the business end of a double barrel shotgun. This was, after all, the same wife who had also risked her life, or at least her delicate hands, in the nut grass wars, so that this garden could live.

I knew I better explain myself quickly.   By now, I was weeping as was she.  I threw down the hoe and walked over to her.  I looked her in the eyes and said, “I know this seems insane.  And you do not have to trust me in this.  But I do have to trust Him.  And this is something I had to do.”

And, for a minute or so, we just stood there and stared at each other.  And then I saw my wife relax.  And, as her kind words of forgiveness and understanding (vague, though it must have been) came from her sweet heart, it became obvious that God had brought some wordless explanation to her, which was far superior to mine. 

In fact, there really was no explaining this.  My actions defied normal reason and logic.  They were, indeed, inexplicable – but not in Heaven.  I have come to see since, if not in that moment, that, in Heaven, my actions were perfectly understood and approved. 

I am very well aware that sick and twisted minds can use the idea of blind devotion to do sick and twisted and much more dire and sinister things.  But that is what sick and twisted minds do anyway, and with everything.

Nevertheless, it remains.  God does occasionally ask real and sometimes blind devotion of those who follow him.  And sometimes, he asks us to demonstrate that devotion very material ways.  And, in fact, these moments of decision are a real part of the growth process which Christ initiates.

I also know that these ideas make the faint of heart uncomfortable.  That is because they are not for the faint of heart.  They are for those who truly hunger after an intimacy with God.  The faint of heart are always a little uncomfortable with a God that may ask more than they want to give.  That is just the nature of their reluctance to invest.

Indeed, our times are filled with a shallowness which simply cannot deal with an “I want that” God.  Rather, the prevailing ethos is “God – only on my terms.”  But all of that is “Bologna Religion.” 

The redemptive transformation is, in fact, costly.  And you absolutely will have to face a few of these “I want that” moments.  These are those moments when God puts his finger on something, an old habit, a bad attitude, a hobby, a bad value, a dream or a possession which really matters to you. 

And you will have to make the right decision at that point.  You will have to offer, and even give to Him, that thing for which He asks.  You will have to actually demonstrate your devotion to Him in real terms.

In the time that has intervened since that twenty sixth summer, I have never, one time, not for one minute, missed that silly garden.  But, I am now convinced that, if I had refused Him that garden, that small sacrifice, and the other offerings and actions of devotion which He has occasionally required of me along the way, I would now be living far beneath my privilege and my opportunity.

The wayward minds of our shallow times have fashioned a god who makes only the most manageable demands regarding love and devotion, and never seriously challenges us to live out, in real ways, a process of personal elevation.   And these times have widely advertised and touted this more convenient “designer god” as the one to follow after.  But be advised, the true and living God is not him.

The God of Heaven will always bring you to those moments of the hard decision.  And He will require that you make those decisions correctly – or try again, until you do.  But, be assured, the more of yourself you give to Him, the more of Himself, He will reveal to you.  Seems like a good trade to me: real access for a simple vegetable garden – or the like. 

You may also want to try this link to, "The Rubber Reality," an article which gives additional insights along these same lines.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Magic Wires

It was a brilliantly beautiful morning. The sun was shinning in a cloudless sky and the air was crisp. And I knew there would be fun today.

A few years ago I was working in a district position for our denomination as director of maintenance for the District Camp and Conference Center near Marshall, Texas. The facility was an old campground with a rich spiritual history. Some of the best evangelists of the 20th century preached there. Countless souls, young and old, have been won to Christ there. And it was a great place to wake up in the morning as a staff member.

A part of my job was working with volunteers that gave their time and hearts to help maintain the 35 acre campus with its more than 30 structures including a beautiful 20 room lodge. Each month I had between 3 and 12 couples who stayed on the campground and worked for 3 weeks at a time. And then there was Jerry and Cindy.

Jerry and Cindy were not actually family members, but it sure felt like it.  Nevertheless, they were also volunteers, but they signed on for more like 6 or 8 months solid. 


So, the other volunteers would come and go in their cycles, but not Jerry and Cindy. It seemed they were always there.  And, we became fast friends.  And, even though we are separated by a significant geographic distance now, yet we all still fondly cherish the memory that follows... 

When we were in the off week between the cycles of the other volunteers, Jerry and I would meet in the Dinning Hall to have some of the best coffee in the world and lay out our maintenance strategy for the day. This day was one of those days. I could hardly wait for Jerry to arrive because today I had a plan to introduce him to the magic wires.

You had to know Jerry. He was a thoughtful, loving, gentle guy. But, his default setting was Intense. Yet, even though that was true, you could easily push his Fun button about any time. 
It was a real hoot to watch Mr. Serious shifting gears between those two settings all day long. 

At any rate, on this bright morning, I knew the fun would start early. Finally, the boy arrived and we sat down in the sun drenched dinning hall for our coffee and prayer time together. 

Eventually, I said, "Jerry, we've got a leak in that 2" inch water line that runs across the ball field to the director's home. How about if we start with that today? We have about a ½ acre wet spot out there, and somewhere within that is the line and the leak."

Jerry immediately asked the obvious question that I knew his searing intellect (and my funny bone) would require. He said, "Brother Larry, how are we going to locate the line?" I said, "Well, I think we'll use the magic wires."

I wish you could have seen the fast moving flood of expressions on the face of Mr. Intense. It was like his emotional transmission was bumping back and forth between two gears without being able to fully engage either one. He didn't know whether to do the fun gear or stay in the serious gear.

He tried a smile, but then he obviously thought, "Is he serious?" So, the smile abruptly faded. Then he knew I couldn't possibly be, so it came back again.  And, all the while he was search my stone face looking for a clue.  

All of this happened very fast.  And, it quickly became one of those priceless which can't be bought with a VISA card.

Finally it was just too rich; and my own face cracked into a big smile. I had to "fess up"  to a trick that another friend had shown me years before. You can take two wires (as in metal coat hangers etc.) and bend them into an "L". Then, holding one lightly in each hand, when you cross directly over a water line the wires will cross and then align themselves with each other, thus pinpointing the waterline directly beneath them.

Now, you really just had to be there to see the boy's face. When I finished that explanation, we couldn't mount up fast enough for him to see if that "nonsense" would really work. So we piled into the maintenance Kubota ATV (the "Campground Cadillac") and off we went to the ball field.

When we arrived at the large wet spot in the grass, I popped out and somewhat ceremoniously removed (cradling them carefully in my hands) the magic wires (the a'fore mentioned bent coat hangers) from our rusty tool box. Safe to say, I was Mr. Confidence and Jerry was Mr. Skeptical.

Just as I predicted, the long leg of the 'L' shaped wires gradually moved toward each other as I move across the nondescript wet spot. And finally, with that last slow step, they crossed and lay parallel to each other in my hands giving a perfect indication of where the line was.

But, Mr. Skeptical said, with wide eyes, a disbelieving smile, and a wagging head, "Oh, no way! You did that, Brother Larry."

I said, "Well the proof is in the shovel." So, we got the shovel to dig. As soon as it penetrated the grass (sadly, the line was only about 3" deep) we heard this little, "clink."

Now, amazement and disbelief were flowing together like a flood tide. As I remember, and I do fondly remember, Jerry accused me at this point of knowing where the line was all along.

To dispel that notion, he made me go out into the field, close my eyes, turn around backward and repeat the discovery process.  You guessed it. They crossed right over the water line.

Nope! Still not enough.  Jerry's next insistence: "Let me try it!" 

So, with a few words of instructions from me on how to hold the wires loosely and balanced (and the pronouncement of the magic word under my breath) Jerry boy ran his own, certified clinical test on the process - and got exactly the same result.

At that point Jerry looked at me, smiled, and said, "Brother Larry, you have entangled me in witchcraft!" And then we both fell out laughing.

We ran the test about a hundred more times (I think the boy is from Missouri).  Finally, though, he was satisfied. 

And we did, eventually, get around to actually fixing the water line. When we were finished, Jerry carefully picked up the magic wires, walked out a few paces from our ATV and pushed the long end of each into the ground a couple of inches.

I said, "What are you doing Brother?" 

He said, "I'm charging the magic wires. You don't want them to run down do you?" Then the laughter was on again - and it pretty well hung around for the rest of the day (and somewhat for the rest of the week) concerning the magic wires. I'll never forget that morning. It is a cherished personal memory.

I must admit, I don't actually know the science behind "the magic wires," though obviously there is some. I have ask several knowledgeable people over the years if they could explain. As yet, no one that I have talked to has been able to do so.

But, the process works, so I just enjoy the benefit and take it at face value. And, in that way, the process is not so unlike redemptive faith, really. 

Many in our world reject the faith aspect of life simply because they cannot explain the "science" behind it.  So, absent that intricate explanation of God's processes up front, they choose to reject the efficacy of faith altogether.  And, because they can't immediately grasp the "science" behind faith, they assume there is none.

So, to the intellectually arrogant, the life changing faith which operates through Christ remains only "the delusional crutch of the unenlightened."   But again, because we cannot immediately grasp the intricate dynamics behind faith, does not mean that such does not exist.

Indeed, faith involves what might be called a "more sophisticated science."   And, not unlike the natural sciences, this science also requires very specialized equipment to unlock its mysteries - namely, a humble heart. 

That is why only those who are willing to respond to God, through Christ, without demanding that He reveal all of His secrets to them upfront, are successful in eventually understanding  faith's workings.  Faith, by nature, is about accepting the benefits at face value, and leaving the later revelations of its workings to God's discretion - again, pretty much like the magic wires

 "I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." - Jesus