A Pastor’s Question

“Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life whether you understandannunciation it or not?” That was the question posed by our Pastor this morning. It was posed in the context of what’s known as the Annunciation; where the arch angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

—Luke 1:28

Mary is “very perplexed” (NASB v.29) or even “troubled” (NKJV) by this sudden visitation from the arch angel. Gabriel goes on to encourage her to “not be afraid” then drops the bombshell statement on her:

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”

—Luke 1:31-32

Though you likely know the account of this record, May was currently a virgin. It was impossible for her to conceive except then Gabriel states that God the Holy Spirit, will cover her and she will conceive and bring forth what Matthew refers to as Emmanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) and what John the Baptist declared as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, see last week’s post for more on the Lamb of God). In other words, May is going to bring forth God incarnate.

Astoundingly, Mary’s response is:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

—Luke 1:38

mary_josephShe was young; most theologians and biblical historians place her from 14 to 16 years old. And she may have lived a simple life, but she was not ignorant of her culture or ignorant of what she was saying “yes” to. She knew that saying “yes” in her culture would mean significant ridicule up to and including community banishment. Here she was, an unmarried teenage girl and pregnant. Yes, she was betrothed to be married, but she was not married yet, so her fiancée could easily tell her to take a hike; in fact, it is likely that that is what was expected of him—to send her away in shame. And on top of it all she was proclaiming she was still a virgin and carrying the Son of God.

Simply stated, she demonstrated great courage. But not only that; she also demonstrated equally great humility and trust. She trusted God even if she didn’t fully understand His logic or His approach.

This brings us back to the Pastor’s question. Do I have the same trust? Or courage? Or humility?

This question really hit me upside the head today for this reason: pain. I was not intending to blog about this, but I got to thinking about another blogger’s question from earlier in the week. It’s from A Fractured Faith Blog and the post was Why Do You Blog? I blog because I desire to be an encouragement to others and to help make Jesus real for people. So now back to pain.

I evidently haven’t properly healed from this summer’s hernia surgery. My left side has significant muscle and nerve pain. I am now also experiencing pretty serious lower back pain as well. The back pain can at times be so intense that I lose my balance and well up in tears. Just rolling over in bed at night causes intense pain shooting through my back like a thousand hot needles burrowing into me. I pray for healing, but the pain remains relentless. I’ve tried alternative methods of treatments only to have increasing pain by the day. I will go and see my medical doctor later this week. I fear seeing her because I fear what she may find. Actually, she probably won’t find anything but will instead recommend yet another MRI (if so, it’ll be my ninth). I like to fancy myself in robust and indestructible health. I’d like to be able to workout as insanely as I used to. Maybe someday I will; or maybe the insane workouts of my past have contributed to my painful present.

But the question from my Pastor, inspired by a 14-year-old girl from over 2,000 years ago, rings loudly in my brain. Do I still trust God even though I desperately want the pain to go away? And even though I really don’t understand why I must endure this will I still pursue after the Lord?

Honestly, the overall answer is yes, I will still trust God and pursue after Him. But I admit it’s a lot harder to when my eyesight is blurred by pain and I have to be careful with every single move I make, whether making dinner or simply sitting down.

But I also know that, unlike Mary, I’m not alone because many others around me suffer from chronic pain as well. No one has gone through, or will ever go through, what Mary bravely and humbly went through. Perhaps, then, this is where my humility gets a little bit of a test in that I am challenged and humbled by a 14-year-old girl. And, frankly, I’ve never really found inspiration in Mary—that is, until today. Oh sure, like so many I admire her and am definitely grateful for her decision; but this is the first time I’ve found her to be an inspiration to keep-on keepin’ on. Who, except God, knew that it would take me over 50 years to be inspired by one of the greatest persons that ever walked the earth. Yes, we still call Mary blessed (see Luke 1:28, 42 & 45)!

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Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Hard Lessons

We’ve had a good week. It’s definitely been busy; but at least it’s been a good-busy. It’s weird, though, because sometimes I feel guilty for having a good week when I realize there’s much suffering in other areas of our country. Granted, we’ve encountered our tough challenges as well the past few months with health issues and a pretty significant set-back in the parenting arena. But this last week was a good one.

What I’m learning, and you’d think I’d have this figured out by now, is that attitude and Perceptionperception play a lot of importance in having a good week. I have typically paid more attention to what I think someone else’s perceptions are rather than more carefully examining my own.

For instance, I recognized that challenges I encountered earlier in the year seemed more serious than they really were. So, I asked myself, why? Sadly, I discovered it was because I was perceiving these challenges as a personal attack or some intentional disparagement foisted in my direction.

In discussing this with my Bride she gently recalled the attitude of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable. He was all bent out of shape because his world revolved around himself. His sphere of perception was barely beyond his own ego. Now I don’t think I was this far gone, but I was not properly examining the motives of others around me; I was, instead, being more protective and self-concerned and therefore misunderstanding other people’s words and actions. Neither my life nor employment were being challenged, no crimes were being committed, I was just uncomfortable with some of the challenges and expectations confronting me and a little jealous of someone else’s situation.

Shameful, I know. God has really blessed me. Yes, I struggle with health issues, but each one can be dealt with and even though my activity levels have been adjusted, I’m still as active as I want to be; I just need to do my activities differently than I used to.

So what am I learning? Well, to have a realistic view of my own perceptions. Oddly, I don’t think this leads to being self-centered, I think it actually leads away from it; that is, if I’m honest. Under the scrutiny of brutal honesty, I am better able to detect where my perception is skewed toward self-centeredness or self-protectionism.

ThankfulAnother key feature I’m learning more about is thankfulness. Scripture encourages us to be thankful. Philippians 4:6-7 encourage us to bring our concerns to God in prayer but to do so with a thankful heart. We’re thankful because the God of the universe cares enough for us to listen and respond to our cares. He may not change circumstances, but He can deepen or sense of peace and joy while also enlightening our wisdom (James 1:5).

Another lesson is being more intentional about keeping Jesus the focus of my life. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not on ourselves (Hebrews 12:2).

So, the next time I’m feeling stressed or somehow minimized, I need to stop and examine first what’s going on between my ears. Is my mental state appropriate? Is my perception of what’s going on what’s really going on—or am I fabricating a false perception because I’ve moved back into being the center of my universe? I’ll be able to more successfully navigate through this life once my mental state is on the right course and my perception is based on reality and not on fabrication.

Thoughts on Holy Week

“It is finished,” said the broken, bruised and battered man; struggling to lift his bloodied body holyweekfor quick gasps of air. Then He died. The horrible result of Roman crucifixion had claimed another victim. But this was no ordinary victim; this was “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This, of course, was (and still is) Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

He had entered Jerusalem with celebration, the laying down of palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). Not even a week later, the same people were crying out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him” (John 19:15).  

Fickle lot, we humans.

Hopefully you know the story, but even if you don’t, after three days and nights in the tomb, Jesus, much to the astonishment of not just humanity but the satanic realm as well, rose from the dead. Yes, I believe whole-heartedly in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not some sick, psychological fantasy to appease grieving souls; the body was not stolen; nor is it some figure of speech. Jesus was tortured, crucified, buried three days and three nights, and, yes, rose from the dead. This same Jesus, God in the flesh, that entered humanity as an unborn baby in the womb of a young virgin allowed Himself to be mercilessly treated, even to point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

But why?

Simply stated, because of the sin of humanity and the abject rebellion of humanity against God. Only a perfect atoning sacrifice would suffice. Nothing is more perfect than God. Therefore, God entered humanity in an astonishing way and exited His earthly life in an equally astonishing way: by being executed by the humanity He came to save.

Easter Sunday, perhaps more accurately referred to as Resurrection Sunday, is the acknowledgement of this miraculous resurrection event. The world of darkness celebrated the death of Jesus because it felt that this salvation business expressed by Jesus in the famous John 3:16 (and other places as well, of course) was now laid to rest. As the old adage goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Salvation and hope was now a tale silenced in the dank and dark coldness of a sealed tomb; a sealed tomb under guard by Roman soldiers no less.

But brutal beatings resulting in death, sealed tombs, dank darkness and several feet of solid bedrock could not keep Jesus in the grave. At the right time, He broke loose from the shackles of death. At this very moment, Jesus showed His power over even death. Weather, physical laws and demonic strongholds could not withstand Jesus (Mark chapters 4-6), and now even death was firmly trampled under His feet. He had conquered the grave, proving that even all of hell couldn’t stop Him. He is, was, and will forever be King of kings and Lord of lords, the Captain of our salvation (Revelation 17:14 & Hebrews 2:10.

Eternity Awaits!

And we can partake of His eternal victory by simply expressing faith in Jesus by confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9)! This isn’t just good news, it is great news with eternal results. If you haven’t confessed Jesus yet, I invite you to do so and become a part of His kingdom both now and forever more. If you have confessed Jesus, how will you approach this time known as Holy Week? I ask, because I’m asking myself the same thing: what will I do to draw even closer to Jesus? What will I do to better understand the significance of His sacrifice on my behalf, a broken and sinful man?

I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. But what I do know now, is that when I think deeply about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, I tear up and become speechless. Maybe you do to.

The Great Calm

Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:

The Great Calm

A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.

This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.  When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms.  Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.

Fight Familiarity

Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.

Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.

No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.

Finally, they awoke Jesus.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).

Great…Calm

There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm.  The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.

Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.

Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.

The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.

And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:

He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.

There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.

 

Safe At Home

I’m struggling with what to write. This was a tough week for me. I don’t usually have tough weeks because I try not to internalize the wrong things. However, this week was a bit bumpy at work, Caleb’s struggling with being back at school and Janey’s adjusting to the opportunity of having more hours with her work. All of this means that the beginning of the year is less than stellar so far. Maybe you can relate.

But even in the every-day trials of life, we can find rest and solace in Jesus (see Matthew 11:28-30, John 14:27 and Colossians 3:12-16). Alongside this, I’m thankful I can be safe at home. Both Janey and I have experienced otherwise in our distant pasts, but with each other we are safe. Our home is a safety zone. We can relax, unwind, vent, cry if we need to—and just be ourselves.

In fact, even with a bumpy week we were still blessed to celebrate Caleb’s first Christmascaleb_first_christmas_concert-2 concert (which included him performing a nice solo). We had a great snow storm all of Saturday, which brought great           janey_caleb_tobaggantobogganing; and we assembled a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle of Snoopy and Woodstock. snoopy_woodstock

And tonight, it’s roast beef with horseradish sauce!

So, yes, it’s good to be home.  

Hunkerin’ Down and the Holy Spirit

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes or where it goes…”

—Jesus, John 3:8

A big storm rolled through the Willamette Valley yesterday. It brought heavy rainfall and some significant wind gusts. Knowing the storm was coming I wanted to get my long walk in prior to its hitting us. Nearing the end of my walk, the leading edge of wind gusts swept in. The gusts behind me sounded like cars, almost like city traffic was coming my way. And before the gust actually hit my back a large swirl of fallen leaves came swooping by, clicking their dried edges along the asphalt; it was like they were fleeing to escape the gusty onslaught.

 

Off Balance

I was in mid-stride when the wind hit my back. It was so strong I actually lost my balance.

wind_2016.jpg

Yeah, it’s hard to take a picture of wind! 

It was awesome! I was being physically pushed by a force I could not see. As the gust passed by with its swirl of leaves continuing to flee in advance of the windy wave, debris from the tree-tops started literally raining down on the ground. There were pine needles and pine cones, sticks and twigs of various sizes, and just random bits of other stuff like moss, lichen, and discarded gum wrappers.

I recognize that wind has scientific origins related to atmospheric pressure, gradient temperatures, and other stuff; but I still marvel because the origin of all this scientific stuff is God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. And wind never ceases to remind me of the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus in John chapter 3. The quote from above ends with Jesus saying

“…so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 

Wind and the Holy Spirit

That’s a fantastic statement when I stop to consider all the many manifestations of wind. Granted, earthly wind brings destruction, but metaphorically, could it be that Jesus is wanting to impress upon Nicodemus (and us) that a person filled with and being led by the Holy Spirit brings impact?  Wind cleans the air by blowing away pollutants from pollens to smog. A person filled with the Holy Spirit can also bring cleansing by being that “breath of fresh air” in a person’s life. Wind also powers many types of equipment from sail boats to wind turbines. God works his power in us by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And perhaps the wind’s destructive forces are a picture of the eventual triumph over evil found in Christ in the not-so-distant future.

I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor, because most metaphors taken too far become unbiblical and untheological. But suffice it to say that as the wind was blowing me around, I quickly became mindful of my desire for not quenching the Holy Spirit in my life (see Ephesians 5:18b and 1 Thessalonians 5:19). What sort of impact does God want to work in my life? What barriers are in my soul inhibiting the Spirit’s work in my life? What about your life and your barriers?

Next time the wind blows your hair back or rains leaves on your yard, may it be a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the world around us, and even in our own lives.

A Bit Somber, but Blessed

It’s been a tough week. Work stuff has some mounting pressures, I need to make a big decision in the very near future and I’m preparing to officiate my first wedding and launch a new small group on the west side of town. Then Janey and I went to a memorial service yesterday. Yes, it was a celebration of a vibrant and godly man that is now with the Lord, but it still has sadness. As one of the speakers said, no matter how hard my week was; which, frankly, it wasn’t that big of a deal—I still come home to my bride and I’m not fighting a life-draining illness. Chronic pain takes a toll, but I’m not fighting for my life.

 

So…

…I don’t have much to say today without getting choked up. I don’t have permission to share names, but the brief time I knew this man I felt such positive electricity, like the Holy Spirit vibrating through every fiber of his being. I don’t care who you are, that moves a person’s soul.

So I don’t have much to say. Still, I am continually amazed, and a bit disappointed, how quickly I move through my days with check lists, task boxes, to-dos, and stuff to accomplish. But how much does all of this really matter? Sure, these things have importance to a degree, but they don’t breathe life into me. And I don’t breathe life into them; they’re inanimate expressions of someone else’s urgency. But what was urgent to Jesus? People.

Relationships were, and still are, what Jesus cares about. And the way Jesus shows His care cross_sunsetin another person’s life is through us (John 13:31-35). No, I don’t plan to abandon my responsibilities, I don’t want to lose the job God’s blessing me with; but perhaps I can approach each check box, task and to-do item with a view of the other lives around me. Maybe I can strive to love and serve my bride, my boys, my church, my employer with just a little more effort to intentionally exude light and life rather than check marks and packed calendars.

 

Like I said…

…I don’t have much to say. My soul is stirred.

A Vacation Learned

Sunset_2016

Sunset from the Inn at Spanish Head

Like most people, I love the idea of a vacation. It’s a time to get away, do some out-of-the-ordinary things and to…relax. Just the thought of relaxing spurred the following thought:

 

We’re on vacation,

still safe away from home…so…

lower those shoulders!

 

Most of my life I’ve heard that I’m either wound a bit tight or just too intense. I honestly don’t see it, but even my doc told me I need to learn to relax. So this vacation I wanted to relax a bit. But how do you relax when there’s so much packing, unpacking, packing again; traveling; food stuff; and all those activities? Plus I wanted to have some stellar alone-times with God; just me, God and prayer. Then I could really hear his voice.

But I’ve learned a few things along the way and finally applied that learning this last two weeks.

 

Applied Learning

If I am so focused on the next task, then the current moment slips away. How many “slipped-away moments” need to occur before the vacation itself actually comes to an end? Also, if I’m expecting to hear from God only in special, contrived moments; it’s most likely that I’ll miss His voice altogether. How is this overcome?

Francis Schaffer states that “growth…like all things in our life, [is] a moment-by-moment process” (True Spirituality, 2001, p. 157). Overcoming the inability to relax boils down to the intentionality of living in the moment. Where’s God? In the moment. What matters most now? That which is in the moment.

For instance, hiking is more enjoyable when I am taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the moment. Plus I can better enjoy the physical effort of my body working hard to carry me to the next step, then the next, then the next. Rather than being solely focused on getting enough steps on my pedometer, or reaching a specific mile marker; the hike is more enjoyable when I stop to watch a honey bee working on a purple lupine. Or when I ask the fly fisher if he’s caught anything or simply feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays radiating on my chest. Before I know it my mind is relaxed, work worries have dissipated as the morning mist on the river and suddenly I sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m in the moment and God is with me…in the moment. Jesus even lived in the moment and taught His followers not to worry but to trust God instead (see Matthew 6:25-34).

Then there’s the time around the campfire with Grandpa and Caleb. We’re all in the moment just chatting about whatever strikes our fancy. Or the moment right before we mash through a Class 4 rapid at Box Springs on the Deschutes River; we’re all looking at each other with smiles mixed with thrill and fear. We’re all thinking the same thing, “I’m not falling out!” Then there’s flying a kite on the sands of Lincoln City. The family is together, each taking turns flying our multi-colored kite.

What do these moments have in common? They are shared moments. We’re not all sitting

BB_Simmit

The Three Sisters seen from the summit of Black Butte

around fretting about packing or about what’s for dinner; we are instead enjoying a campfire, or a white-water raft trip or family time at the beach. These are the moments that make a vacation. And these are the vacations that build memories, happy memories. Like climbing the summit of Black Butte with my ten-year-old and drinking in the spectacular view together. Or watching the humpback whales feeding just off the coast line while we’re having dinner. Or watching the sun setting in the Pacific Ocean, hoping to see the green flash. Or listening to Grandpa telling us stories from his past.

 

I’m Just Starting to Get It!

I’m still learning of course, but at least I’m finally beginning to understand how to “do” vacation. It all rests in the moment. And it’s funny, when I live more and more in the moment, I fret less over the future, I actually feel relaxed…and, yes…my shoulders do finally lower!

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).