Pine Cones and Simplicity

Pine Cone

Here comes the Pine Cone fleet! 

Spending time in the wilderness always resets my life a bit. It’s not always relaxing but I usually come away with either a clearer understanding of something or experience something brand new. Last Thursday morning was a combination of both.

 

Thursday Morning with Caleb

I was having my early morning quiet time while sitting on the bank of the Metolious River; Caleb, our ten year old son, was with me. I was busily praying and journaling when I noticed him tossing pine cones into the water. Their buoyancy fascinated him as did the quickness of them being carried away by the current. In no time, he was gathering armfuls of them, throwing them in at the same time and then following them by running down the bank as they floated away. Watching him I wrote in my journal:

“Caleb is playing a pine cone fleet game. He tosses them into the water and watches them ‘race’ through the channel and through a vegetation tunnel and out the other side if they don’t get stuck.”

He was having great fun just collecting, tossing, racing and watching pine cones flowing away in the river. I marveled at the simplicity of it. As most American kids his age, he has a computer with some appropriate games on it, he has a Wii U loaded with Lego City Undercover and we recently got him a smart phone (the Weather.com app is his favorite). So the kid is definitely “gadgetized,” but on this Thursday morning he was unplugged and loving every second of it.

 

“Light Bulb”

I was struck by the simplicity of his game. It wasn’t complex, the parts were easy to find and already assembled, and there was only one rule: which ever pine cone got to the finish line first, won! Simple, basic and fun.

His simple pine cone game got me thinking about faith, especially faith in Christ. How easy it is to complicate it, losing sight of the basic elements of our faith. We over-complicate God’s grace and mercy and certainly over-complicate salvation. We lose sight of the significance of the resurrection and of the ascension.  It reminds of 2 Corinthians 11:3:

But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ. Amplified Bible (AMP)

While I greatly enjoy deep theological discussions and writings, I can’t let the seriousness of such discussions distract me from the simple truths. Truths such as it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9), and that “in Him we live and move and have our being: (Acts 17:28), or the biggie that Paul and Silas expressed to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

These are simple, yet profound truths. They are the pine cones in the current of our lives. And the one “rule” to this is faith. There are no set of complexities we must accomplish first and we don’t have to assemble it because it is fully assembled in Christ. We just need faith; yes, even the faith of a child (Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 10:14-15).

More to Do, Little to Be

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“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

—Luke 6:12

“To be in His presence is gift enough.” This is a phrase I heard last week at the Hope Pregnancy Clinic banquet. It is a compelling quote, especially when feeling distant from God. Personally, my life is so full of stuff needing to be done that life itself has become a series of to-do lists. I’m slowly and sadly morphing into the recent cliché of living as a human-doing rather than a human being. Perhaps an overused phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it.

Jesus spent hours just being with His Father, I’m sure He had requests but given the amount of time spent with His Father it is likely that much of the time was just basking in the presence of the Lord. Jesus was longing to hear the voice of His Father rather than His own voice. Conversely, much my time with the Father is nothing more than a ten minute “prayer session” of requests and laments. I don’t give enough time to listen to anything other than my own voice. There is no presence of God because I monopolize the time with my own presence.

Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine states in Sensing Jesus that life for a Christ-follower is an apprenticeship with Jesus and “apprenticeship needs meditation and time” (p. 26).  Part of this time is spent in prayerful meditation on the character of God or on a portion of Scripture, such as the one mentioned above. It takes time in any conversation to move into the deeper waters of relational richness and soul-moving transformation. It reminds me of strolling with Jesus down a leaf-strewn path, kicking and crunching through the fallen foliage just talking…talking about the deep things like longing for Heaven, or enduring through chronic pain or fearing the future. It is asking Jesus to speak into the darker areas of my heart; the areas of selfish ambition, or the desire to be in control or my covetousness. It is intentionally opening the doors and windows of my soul to the refreshing and cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit wafting through unhindered, removing the stench of sin and clutter. This opens up spaces for healing and transformation, and for two-way conversation.

Be More Than Do

Instead, Jesus is kept at arm’s length with carefully crafted to-do lists and requests. We have accomplishments next to little check-marked boxes of things we have done; but Jesus is interested in transforming our being, not our doing.  We are called to be lights, not do lights (Matt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:15).

What if our mindset was to be healing rather than do healing? And being bathed in the presence of Jesus is in itself healing; yes, the aches remain and things needs to be done for employers, school, and ministry—but that time of being with Jesus can help us become a healing presence for others. But when we focus on doing, our soul shrinks to the size of our check boxes; Jesus wants to transcend us above such a small soul to become more like Him. To become more of a healing light, drawing others to Jesus’ healing presence.

We are to be more than we are to do.

Getting Back to Joy

hose

I am fascinated by the idea of joy. Actually, truth be known, I’m more chagrined by the lack of it. Joy, by definition, means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (Dictionary.com). Jesus says that “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

What things did He speak to them and subsequently to us about? He spoke that He was the way to the Father and about the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He spoke about His peace being given to us and about abiding in the Father. Then after He speaks of us having joy He then calls us friends.

First John speaks to joy as well: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jo. 1:4). This encouragement comes after he has reminded us that we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But notice that in both verses God desires our joy to be full; not half full, not a whiff of being full, but fully full!

Stepping on the Hose

It is also interesting to note that the word ‘joy’ occurs over 150 times in the Bible. God desires us to have joy; so much so that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). ‘Joy’ sits between ‘love’ and ‘peace.’ God wants us to have joy. And since joy is part of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it can just flow through us if we leave the Holy Spirit unquenched. However, if we are always downcast or morose, then joy is obviously not being manifested in our lives. This should lead us to ask, why? Somewhere, somehow, we are quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is as if we are stepping on the garden hose supplying the refreshing water to the soil of our hearts; we are somehow resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Are we harboring some secret sin, hatred, or fear? Are we overworked, overbooked or overwhelmed? Where are we stepping on the hose of God’s refreshing?

If we live joylessly, then is it any wonder we’re not winning others to Christ? Who wants to become part of a dark cloud society when Jesus Himself is light and life?  And how do we get back to joy?

Unquench

Prayer, that’s how. We need to honestly approach God in prayer and plead for him to search our anxious hearts to reveal all that is contrary to his light in our lives (see Psalms 51:7-12 and 139:23-24). If in raw sincerity of our will we approach God with this request he will honor it even if it hurts a little. But the end result is the restoration of the joy we have in our salvation that will seep out of our lives to draw others into the same joy of the same salvation (Psalm 51:12-13).

Blood Moons, Division and Jesus

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

—Jesus, John 13:35

Blood_moon

There was a blood moon a couple of nights ago. It was quite a stunning sight as we were standing in our backyard at 3:27 AM. It is an event caused by the earth slipping between the sun and moon. Many considered it significant because it is the second of four consecutive blood moons occurring on Jewish feast days, what people are calling a tetrad. This particular day was the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot. Typically, though, blood moons unto themselves are fairly common occurrences.

This blood moon tetrad is generating a lot of discussion around various biblical prophesies and predictions of the end times. Opinions are all over the map for all sorts of different reasons. The problem, however, is how hostile so-called Christians are against other Christians that have differing views on what the tetrad means, if anything, and how it relates or doesn’t relate to the end times. All of this anger proves nothing except that no one has a definitive lock on what will happen when and that a bunch of so-called Christians look foolish and are making a mockery of the faith. Frankly, it’s pathetic and highly un-Christ-like. I again draw your attention to the verse at the top of this column; Jesus’ disciples are to love one another and when they don’t love one another, well…maybe people need to lay their cyber bombs to the side, look in the mirror and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse them.

Perhaps what the blood moons ought to do is remind us that we are not sovereign; but are instead broken and fallible people desperately in need of a Savior. Maybe we should look at the ‘blood’ as a reminder of Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross. Maybe we also need a reminder that what will happen will happen regardless of your opinion or mine. The one thing we do know is that if we have faith in Jesus we will eventually be with him forevermore, amen!

So let the skies do what they will while we remain focused on Jesus and His call for us to love others.

A Cognitive Dissonance of Faith

Caleb_bush_treatmentBless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:14-15

Blood Cries Out

I feel a little strange today. Right now my youngest son is riding his bike around the cul de sac bellowing like a siren; he’s pretending to be a paramedic. I rejoice at the joyful heart of my child and his innocent imagination. I am also proud of my oldest son as he makes a life of his own in North Dakota. He’s a grown man now that makes his father proud. And yet there is a heaviness in the pit of my soul; it is like a mournful cry rising out of the earth itself as little children like my own are being murdered for their faith. The dust of the Middle East is muddying up in the blood of the innocents. God have mercy.

Dissonance

Amidst this I still have a paper to write for my Old Testament class, on God’s grace, oddly enough. I will eventually get on my bike today to enjoy the countryside, the sunshine and the feel of my body laboring in the love of cycling. We will probably grill up some tasty steaks on the back patio with an avocado salad.

And yet the pit of my soul beckons me to pray..pray for the children, pray for their parents, pray their faith remains strong, and, yes, pray that the murderers wake up to the wrong they reap with their own hands; no matter what they do, Jesus is still Jesus, and they will someday meet Him. I pray they come to faith prior to their meeting. Even so, I pray for God’s justice to reign through all the cruelty humanity heaps upon humanity.

A New To-Do List

How, then, am I to live my life? Do I hang my head in guilt that I’m not suffering as they? Do I pack, leave my family and head into the danger zone? I don’t think so. I think part of what I’m learning about this pit in my soul is the Holy Spirit encouraging me to pray as mentioned above. But He is also using this to remind me to be thankful for the life I am living, to love my sons with all I have, and to protect my marriage and my Bride by not taking her for granted, or having a wandering eye, or by thinking of her as anything less than a dear daughter of the Most High God. And to take care of myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I can rejoice and I can weep. I can pray and I can celebrate. I can rebuke guilt and embrace the love of God that washes clean each heart of faith. I can go on with my day with a new motivation to never take for granted the life I live and the people I love and the people that love me.  And I can pray…

Birds of a Different Feather–What We Learn from the Birds

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“That whoever believes in Him should not perish.”

—Jesus, John 3:16

“One of the biggest problems in our families, churches, and missions is that we often insist that others think and judge in the same way we do.”

—Lingenfelter and Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally, p. 64

I enjoy this picture because we see different birds of different kinds and sizes all hanging out together on the same log. There’s no bickering, no pushing and shoving, just hanging out in the neighborhood. They’re not comparing the size of their beaks, the color of their feathers or what they consider to be their favorite dinners. They’re just hanging out together.

What about us? Are we like the birds? Are our churches like this log, where all who come feel welcome? Would Jesus even feel welcome or would we expect Him to be like us? Do we expect people to fit in our box or do we accept them as they come? Didn’t Jesus accept you and me as we once were? What if Jesus said instead, “Whoever is right-handed with blue eyes and a Southern accent will not perish?” Clearly implying everyone else is doomed in spite of their faith in Him.

But He didn’t say that then and He doesn’t say that now, but do we? Are we as accepting as Jesus? Are our arms as wide open as His?

Sure, it is often challenging to get to know someone that is different than us; most cultures gravitate to those like them because there’s a commonality and a shared heritage that we draw comfort from. We like what is familiar. But Jesus encourages us to expand our comfort zones. No, we don’t all have to go on a foreign mission, but we can introduce ourselves to the new person in the lobby, or the homeless person in rags at the food bank or to our neighbor that flies a flag of a rival sports team.

The ‘whoever’ Jesus is speaking about may be thousands of miles across the globe or may only be across the room; all you have to do is approach them in love and let the Holy Spirit guide your words. Who knows, you may be able to touch their heart, or…they may be able to touch yours.

The ‘R’ Word

Rest is somewhat elusive for me. I’m not prone to resting nor do I find it all that productive. Sure I get tired and I sit down, but even then I’m usually “doing” something whether it’s reading, writing, watching YouTube or having a conversation. But does all this constitute rest?

 Psalm_16“Therefore…”

Psalm 16 has an interesting expression of rest. “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope” (verse 9). Why is the psalmist, in this case, David, feeling a sense of rest and what does this word mean?

 Answering the second first will reveal as one scours a reliable concordance or Bible software program that rest means to become quiet, to abide or dwell, to settle or even to fix. Also, if you scan my blog archive you’ll find I’ve written on or around this subject many times. But Psalm 16 has a slightly different ring to it when answering the first question. Verse 1 states, “preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” Verse 8 says, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”

 Seeing More Clearly

Ah ha, I’m seeing yet another theme to rest I had not seen before; that is, I can have a sense of rest in my soul because I have placed my trust in Jesus. No matter if I am busy or sitting quietly, I can still have a sense of rest in the depths of my soul because I know my ultimate destiny is in Heaven.

 This doesn’t mean I will all of the sudden jettison away the importance of resting my body and mind, those remain important, but now I have a fuller understanding of rest; that a fully developed sense of rest includes ceasing or quieting from physical and mental labor, but it is not complete until one has placed their trust in Christ.

 I’m tired now—see ya later!

Trees, Forest and Eternity

Tree_forestI am fascinated by the both/and nature of Jesus. So often we are tempted to put Him into a box; even pastors from the pulpit put Him into a box of theologically constructed rules and regulations. But Jesus has none of that.

 For instance, in John 14:2-3 Jesus is teaching to both the disciples present and to you and I today. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Trees

In the foreground in the picture above is a single tree. It is an alpine tree so it is not as full as trees at lower elevations. This tree represents the person to whom Jesus is teaching. That person is the disciple in the upper room sitting at His feet in rapt attention and it is also the reader of Scripture in 2014 riding the subway to work. It is a timeless message to each individual that has accepted Jesus into their lives. It is a promise that has not yet run its course. It is an equal promise to all that have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is a promise of an eternal destiny with Jesus for evermore.

Forest

In the background is the forest—a whole bunch of individual trees gathered together in an evergreen community, withstanding all that the elements of climate can throw at them. The trees are the community of Christ-followers. This community is both local and global. It is both then and now. It is past, present and future. This is the Kingdom of Christ being built throughout the centuries one tree at a time.

The Mountain and Eternity

The mountain sits in the very back of the picture. The mountain is immoveable, ever-present, majestic and beautiful. That is our destiny, the mountaintop of forever existence with Jesus.

Yes, it is true, that we can’t really see the final destiny with our eyeballs; we can, however, sense it in our inner being by way of the Holy Spirit. And yes, many of us, myself included, suffer pain of some sort every day this side of our Eternal Destiny. Yet we know that one day when we do finally arrive at that Eternal Destiny that all pain will cease, we will be completely redeemed, restored and made new (see Rev. 21 & 22 and 1 Cor. 15).

 Endurance

But like the bike ride it took to get to place to take this picture or to climb the mountain in the background we need endurance. Marathoners need endurance as do backpackers and parents. Those that suffer chronic pain or unspeakable persecution need endurance. Jesus needed endurance. We get our endurance with proper care of our bodies through nutrition, training and rest; but we also need to prepare for spiritual endurance by absorbing Scripture, spending time in prayer—which is really communion with the Father, and by being connected to our local forest whether it be a church, home group or a huddle of refugees.

 But to all of us, both then and now, the promise still holds true, that Jesus is preparing a place for us and one day we will all be with Him for ever more, amen.

Cycling to Sisters and: The Why

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Climbing up Tombstone pass, portions of which pitch to a ten percent grade, causes one to ask the question: why am I doing this? My lungs weren’t exploding but my quads were. Even though I had already put in nearly 1,000 base miles, I had not trained for hills this big, especially in the altitude we were moving into. Again, the question, why?

 I don’t know.

 The day before Tombstone, we had ridden from Keizer to Sweet Home, about 58 miles and change. And of course, there were hills, big hills; but nothing like Tombstone. In fact, it was uphill for 40 miles from Sweet Home to the top of Tombstone, 11 miles of it between six and 10 percent in grade. What am I trying to prove?

I don’t know.

Maybe it was the thrill of the adventure, the challenge of pushing my body beyond anything I’ve done in 25 years, or maybe it was the fellowship with friends or the scenery, or wanting to see how far I could push my triple-fusion neck. Maybe it was a combination of all the above. Maybe I need to see a doctor.

 Before the trip even began I thought maybe I’d get some nice quality prayer time while spending hours in the saddle. But that didn’t happen. I was suffering too much to truly pray other than pleading for help up this massive mountain that seemed to head straight up into space. I prayed I wouldn’t get hit by the many cars speeding by. I prayed my dizziness wouldn’t all of the sudden cause me to veer into the speeding traffic or off the side of the gravelly canyon. Oh yes, I prayed, it just wasn’t the prayer of solitude, but more the prayer of panic. Why?

 I don’t know.

 But I made it. Granted, I didn’t turn a pedal on every mile but I rose to the primary challenges while also being humbled—humbled by the hills, humbled by my slowness, and humbled by the loss of former physical abilities. I am not 28 anymore and I do have a compromised spine. I also have a loving God that allows me to participate in such endeavors.

And perhaps this is the answer to the why, deepening humility while also, as ironic as it sounds, deepening my gratefulness to God. I did draw closer to Jesus if only in recognizing that, yes, He was with my in the terrifying descent down the Santiam Pass and into Sisters. He was with me on the last arduous climb the day after Sisters where I swore I’d quite riding (although I was riding less than 24 hours later after we got home). He was with me as I was so dizzy I could hardly keep my bike in a straight line. And He is still with me now, even after such a quest; a quest I didn’t need to do other than verifying to my own soul that, yes, even now, I am alive, I am well, but even more, I am alive and I am living life, not letting life live me.

 That I do know.