Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Many Times Can We Watch A Person Die?

How many times can we watch a video of a man or woman being killed? What does this do to our minds, our hearts, our consciences?

Vickie and I find ourselves watching a segment of “news” here and a segment there because we will not watch people being shot – not even once; let alone watch the same video clip again and again and again.

What does this do to a society? This is not a sporting event (many of them are becoming increasingly violent), this is not a video game (can we tell the difference anymore?), this is not a fictional television show (can we tell the difference?) – this is video of a human being created in the image of God being killed by another human being created in the image of God – these are images of lives being shattered. But can we tell the difference between pixels and humanity?

We are becoming a society of collective judge, jury, and executioner – the irony is that we are executing ourselves. Photojournalism has its place – but when the horrific becomes commonplace and is presented without reverence for the sanctity of life, without a sense of the sacred – when it becomes “reality television” – then what do we have? What have we done? What have we become?

We ought to weep. Instead we watch it again. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lemuel and Home Depot

A number of customers were traversing the garden department at Home Depot; after a string of hot and humid days there was a break in heat and humidity and people were taking advantage of the relief to catch up on outside projects.

As Lemuel negotiated his way through the aisles of the open-air department he noticed that there was only one cashier on the busy day. He thought, “I wonder why no one scheduled an additional cashier on a Saturday when you would expect more business from homeowners? People are out buying plants and landscaping supplies – this is a weekend for outdoor projects – look at the line of people to check out.”

After loading eight bags of pea gravel onto a dolly Lemuel pushed the dolly to the end of the line and waited. Soon another customer pushed a dolly laden with material behind Lemuel. Lemuel looked at the man and said, “It sure is great weather.”

“Yes,” the man replied, “This is a welcome change from what we’ve been having.”

The two exchanged more pleasantries before Lemuel reached the cashier. As Lemuel was leaving the cashier’s counter he turned to the man and said, “Good talking with you, have a great day.”

“You too,” the customer replied.

Out in the parking lot, as Lemuel was loading the bags of pea gravel into his pickup truck he noticed the other customer pushing his dolly to a pickup truck parked facing him just a couple of spaces away. Lemuel thought, “Should I speak to him again. Should I ask him if I can pray for him? I’ve been gone too long and want to get home. I spent more time at the bank than I intended. I have things to do. I’m tired and don’t feel like asking him if I can pray for him – there is always a risk of rejection involved and I don’t feel up to the risk.”

As Lemuel sat in his truck with the window down he said to the man, “It looks like you have one of the last Ford Rangers made before they stopped production.” The man told Lemuel the year of the truck and made a few other comments about it. Lemuel thought, “Ok, I’ve had some more conversation with him, let me go now.” But knowing that he had a sense that he needed to continue the conversation he said to the man, “I’d like to ask you something that maybe you don’t get asked a lot. I like praying for people and I’d like to know if you have something that I can pray for, for you or your family.”

What that the man came over to Lemuel and shared a need in his family. The two talked for a while longer, they introduced themselves, and Darryl asked Lemuel if Lemuel had something that Darryl could pray for and Lemuel shared a prayer need with him.

It was a Divine appointment and Lemuel has continued to pray for the need Darryl shared, continued to ponder some of the things they talked about, and also has continued to reflect on the fact that if he had not waited at the bank that he would have missed Darryl and that if there had been more cashiers at Home Depot that he may have missed Darryl.

Had Lemuel become angry at the wait at the bank he may have not been sensitive to the Divine appointment at Home Depot. If Lemuel had been impatient at Home Depot, due to there only being one cashier, he may have missed the Divine appointment. If Lemuel had not surrendered his wait at the bank to God his soul may not have been quiet enough to sense the nudge of the Holy Spirit toward Darryl. Stormy souls are souls that cannot hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit over and above its selfish turmoil – Lemuel knows this from experience. But of course this was all about God and about God enabling Lemuel to wait, to be patient, to ponder, to risk, and to realize that all time and space is God’s – including the time and space in which we wait.

We wait so that we can respond. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lemuel and the Bank

My friend Lemuel went to the bank the other day to make a deposit. Since there was only one drive-thru lane open he pulled behind the car in front of him that was at the bank teller window. Soon a pickup truck pulled in behind him. Lemuel waited, and waited, and he waited. He could see the lady in the car talking to the teller…and he waited some more. It appeared as if the lady and the teller talked, then didn’t talk, then talked again.

Lemuel, thought, “If she had multiple transactions why didn’t she go inside?”

As Lemuel continued to wait he thought, “If I could pull out of this lane I could park and go inside the bank.” But the pickup truck behind him was close to his rear bumper so that wasn’t a good option.

The minutes passed. Lemuel was pretty patient, he thought that God must just want him to wait before he could get on with his trip to Home Depot.

Finally the sliding tray opened from the teller’s window and the lady in the car retrieved a paper and drove away.

As Lemuel approached the teller’s window and gazed into the bank he saw lines of people at the counter. “Well,” he thought, “looks like if I had gone inside I’d still have to wait.”

The teller, a young lady named Marla, looked at him through the window and apologetically said, “I’m sorry you had to wait, our system is down and we have to do everything by hand.”

Lemuel thought, “Glad I didn’t make a fool of myself by getting impatient or angry – that would have been stupid.” (Of course it would have been stupid no matter the reason for the wait – our day belongs to God).

“Oh, that’s ok,” Lemuel told Marla, and he meant it.

Marla had to go to the main counter inside the bank, fill out a manual receipt, and then have a manager sign it. As she returned and gave Lemuel the receipt through the tray Lemuel looked at her, smiled and said, “I’m sure this has been a tough morning for you…I hope you have a good day.”

Things aren’t always what they appear to be – it’s better to trust God than to jump to conclusions – waiting won’t generally hurt us – and as Lemuel found out when he got to Home Depot, God had a purpose for the wait…but that is the next post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When A Diagnosis Becomes An Identity

I know I’ve probably written about this before, but I recently had conversations with two people close to me who, when facing challenges, basically gave up working through the challenges because they had been diagnosed with one of many cognitive disabilities that are proliferating. In both instances the diagnosis has become the identity.

This is not only dangerous for my friends, it is dangerous for others, for when they find that others also have a diagnosis that diagnosis becomes how they see others – the identity of others becomes the diagnosis. We don’t need name tags anymore to know who we are, we need diagnosis tags.

How vital it is to know that our identity is in Christ Jesus – Christ is in us and we are in Christ. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

What Might Have Been

David's son was the wisest of men,
but his brains didn't keep him from sin,
his wives turned his heart
from the God of his start
all that's left now is, "what might have been."

[see 1 Kings 11:4].

George Bowers (author and pastor, Woodstock, VA)

As I mediate on my friend's verse it occurs to me that it is no wonder the Book of Proverbs is replete with warnings on the dangers and sin of sexual promiscuity - Solomon had his "what might have beens" and he desired that others avoid the abyss that he, and his witness to God, fell into.

People came from afar to hear the wisdom of Solomon and to see the grandeur of his kingdom - yet what could have been used for God's glory was wasted in large part - because Solomon did not obey the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," - he built temples to the idols that his wives worshiped - his sexual promiscuity led to spiritual promiscuity - and rather than model a monogamous relationship with the true and living God for the nations to witness and hopefully emulate - he profaned Jerusalem and the land with idols.

Solomon's brains and the opulence of his kingdom, even the Temple that he built to Yahweh, did not give him a "pass" to sin and desecrate the witness that God had given him. An outward temple means nothing if it is not a reflection of an inner temple. Nothing justifies sin.

If nothing justifies sin and sexual and spiritual promiscuity...perhaps we should be less enthralled with our "good works" and ingenuity and prowess as a people and repent of our wicked promiscuous ways (in all of their forms) - but of course the church, the people of God, must lead the way...it must begin with me...not with you, but with me. Then with us the church. If the nation does not follow...at least we have done what we can do by the grace of God.

Better to do what we can do...even if only God and the angels see...than to live a life of "what might have beens".

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Friendship Gate – 2

One might think that a friendship gate needs to be weeded in order to be maintained, this is not exactly true. The best maintenance for a friendship gate is use – it must be used to be maintained; and if wear leads to maintenance that’s a good thing. Paths that are well-worn are paths clearly defined, paths not overgrown with weeds. Friendship gates well-used and used well may require the occasional weed to be pulled from their path and may require the oiling of hinges, but that weed is pulled as a footnote on a page – it is not the main text on a page, and the oil is applied to facilitate the smooth opening of the gate as a matter of course – to ensure the continued smooth operating of the gate, to preserve the joy of its operation.

Friendship gates are overgrown with weeds and volunteer trees when a friend moves away; sadly, moving away has many forms – it is not always physical; it may be that the soul of one friend moves away from another, that barriers are built, that callouses are formed, that a puncture in the relationship that is not closed up leads to a larger hole and then a breach, and then a chasm, and then a canyon seemingly too great to traverse.

Gates such as these carry vulnerability, and vulnerability entails hurt and misunderstanding; the nature of friendship in our fallen condition means that there will be hurt and misunderstanding – understanding that misunderstanding is an element of our fractured condition should mean that we are quick to forgive, quick to heal the puncture, quick to pull the weed, quick to embrace, quick to open the gate again and again and again – knowing that friendship is at stake. We ought to respond to damage to friendship the way firefighters respond to fire – contain it and extinguish it. We ought to be like sailors on a ship whose hull has been breached and with sea water pouring in – contain the damage and restore the ship.

God called Abraham His friend. Jesus says to His followers, “You are my friends.” It is one thing to be created by God, it is another to be His son or daughter – it is still another thing to be His friend. Friendship is a mystery that the Father and the Son invite us to experience in them…and with each other.

There is no friendship gate quite like the Cross; no gift in life quite like friendship.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Friendship Gate

When we lived in Beverly, MA, after we had gotten moved-in and settled, we discovered some hidden things about the outside of our home, such as the time we cleared back weeds and overgrowth to discover a brick pathway from the rear porch to the side of the house, or the time Vickie discovered the friendship gate.

Wherever we have lived Vickie has planted. I guess you could say that she’s been trying to undo what Eve did, reversing the curse in creation. Often to plant you must first weed and prune and amend the soil. So it was in Beverly. There was a chain link fence that separated the rear of our yard from that of our neighbor – however, the fence was overgrown with weeds when we arrived. As Vickie applied her gardening vision to the fence area, along with her gardening passion and labor, removing weeds, clearing the land to plant, she discovered a gate in the fence – a gate indiscernible due to the weeds covering it. Soon the area was cleared and Vickie worked her gardening magic, as she did around the entire yard – whether we’ve lived in small spaces or large, Vickie has done her best to restore the Garden of Eden.

One day Vickie was talking with the lady who lived behind us and as she complimented Vickie on the transformation of our yard she mentioned the gate. She told Vickie that the gate was there because she had been good friends with the people who had once lived in our rented home (these folks were deceased and we rented from their son) and the gate had been installed so that they could visit back and forth, from home to home – the gate was a friendship gate.

Fences are one thing, gates are another. We can talk over fences but we can’t walk through them. We can’t easily share a meal over fences. We can’t easily embrace over fences. Fences do not allow the free passage of people, of bodies, of hearts, minds, and souls. Fences ensure we keep our distance; no matter how close we may be, a fence ensures there will always be distance, barrier, division. Fences mean that I can never come to your home nor you to mine.

But a friendship gate…that is an invitation. Some gates have locks, but not a friendship gate. This gate with no lock is a gate of trust, a gate of vulnerability.

Do we have friendship gates?

A Pathway of Friendship – Another Thought

How sad to think that the term “friend” is now most often associated with a web-based platform. If the electronic plug is pulled the friends will be gone…and then what?

Pathways in the earth, worn in the soil of life, those pathways can only be erased with great difficulty – if at all. But electronic friendship? Friendship that is turned on and off by the click of a mouse? There will be little, if any, trace of that friendship in the years to come.

True friendship is wrought as ironwork is wrought, in the fires of life – it takes more than an electronic switch to give it life or death. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Pathway of Friendship

I recently stopped by the Zuck Homestead to see Davey and pick up a cantaloupe. After knocking on the front and back doors and receiving no answer I thought I’d walk down to the house that was once our home to see if Davey and Sally were there. I knew they were getting the vacant house ready to rent and thought they might be there finishing their work.

The path between the houses was as familiar to me as the furniture in our home, and in retracing my steps from the vacant house back to their home (they were not at the house), where my car was parked, I thought about the many times we traversed that path from one house to another during our sojourn on the Zuck Homestead – Davey and Sally visiting us and us visiting Davey and Sally. I am especially fond of recollecting the winter evenings we sat together in front of a fire and talked and read to one another and told stories and shared life experiences. Those were holy evenings spent in sacred friendship.

The pathways of friendship are sacred, and the more well-worn the more sacred they are – sacramental indeed, precious…more to be desired than any material wealth the age can offer. I think I should like a shovel full of that dirt to be placed on my coffin when I am laid to rest. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Cantaloupe

There was a knock on our door late on a Thursday evening a couple of weeks ago, it was Davey; in this arm was a cantaloupe rivaling the size of a basketball. It was as if he had returned with the twelve spies from Canaan, bringing examples of the fruit of the land.

Davey’s cantaloupe patch could have been mistaken for an organic basketball farm this season, the size of the fruit was amazing – he had come to share the fruit of his land.

I have never been able to grow cantaloupe, in fact the only good cantaloupe that has ever grown in our garden came from volunteer seeds that were in a load of topsoil that we purchased. Yes, there was that time a year or two ago when we had a couple of ripe melons in our garden from seed which we planted, but before we picked them critters got them – they looked good, they looked like they’d taste good…but we’ll never know.

We are thankful that Davey brought us a cantaloupe, it could have fed 5,000 – as it is we are still enjoying it.

I am thankful that others can grow what I cannot, I am thankful that others can produce what I have no talent for. Isn’t envy just about the dumbest thing you can think of? Isn’t jealously stupid? Maybe one day I will grow good cantaloupe, and if so then I hope I’m smart enough to give it away, to knock on someone’s door and share it. In the meantime I’ll be thankful for the gift of growing melons that God has given to Davey and others.

Friday, September 2, 2016

How My Friend Is Praying

At lunch this past Wednesday my friend George Bowers said, "I've stopped praying that we'll have godly leaders. Now I'm praying that there will be people who want godly leaders."