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Journeys along the Way

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Trust

I have two memories of swimming with my dad:

The first: My dad took my brother and I to a friend’s in-ground pool for his scuba lesson.  My dad was in the deep end learning how to use the equipment.  I was jumping up and down seeing how deep I could get.  The pool sloped quickly and suddenly I was over my head.  I panicked.  I was flailing my arms, screaming, and going down.  My dad, underwater and involved in his lesson was oblivious to my situation.  It was my brother who jumped in and saved me.  My dad was good, kind and able but he was unaware of my need.

Unknowingly we can develop a similar view of God.  Because God does not change the circumstances that are overwhelming us, we can begin to think He is involved elsewhere and unaware of how deeply we need help.  “God is good, caring, and able” we proclaim to others but it is harder to hold on to this for ourself when our own life is on the edge.  Trust is difficult when it feels like God is helping everybody but you.

The second swimming memory was at a lake.  I was fearful of swimming in the lake because of the steep drop off.  My hero brother who saved me before now mercilessly chided me to come on out and learn to swim.  Fear overwhelmed me.  Aware of the situation, my dad swam to me, turned around and told me to put my arms around his neck.  Off we went into the deep water, the weeds licking our toes.  On my father’s back, even though I was in imminent danger,  trust came easy.  What a difference it made that my dad was not just good, caring and able to help but that he was also present and aware of my need.

Moses once prayed “Lord, if your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Ex 33:15    Learning to trust is not meant to be a futile mental exercise but rather it is seeing a deeper reality that no matter what happens, our God is good, He is caring, He is able AND He is aware and present with us.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God…. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Lk 12:6-7

Learning to ride on my Father’s back…

 

Solitude and Surprise

I don’t remember the first time I went fishing.  My dad was not a fisherman.  But sometime in my early years I got “hooked”.  We lived in a small rural town an hour from Detroit.  Three miles down dirt roads from our house was Nichwagh Lake.  Nichwagh was surrounded by woods except for the dirt road that ran along one side.  Under this seldom traveled road ran a culvert.  This culvert was “my” spot.  I owned it, or at least I felt like I did.

My goal each day was to find someone to go fishing with me.  However, neither my brother nor my friends were as excited about fishing as I was so I often fished alone.  I learned through hours of discovery that often on hot days the big ones lay inside the culvert.  Finding the bass that would bite upon my worm was a challenge that I loved.  I  often fished that spot and I think I was often fishing for, catching, and throwing back the same fish.

There are two things I love about fishing- Solitude and Surprise.  The solitude is found in the quiet moments of waiting,  waiting for the gentle tug of a bite, focusing on the slightest movement of the bobber,  maybe it would be better called “listening in the silence” or “waiting in expectation”.   It belongs to fishing and I love this part of it.  The second side of fishing is surprise.  I don’t fish just for the solitude, but rather I wait for the solitude to be broken.  It could happen at any time and you have to always be ready for the surprise of the sudden strike on a lure or a worm.  I have sat on cold breakwaters of lake Michigan, casting lures for hours upon hours, waiting for the surprise of the strike.  As a boy I spent hours on my culvert, waiting with hope for the surprise of a fish.

Solitude and surprise have become a metaphor for what I love about life with God- solitude in my chair in the morning, solitude while walking in the woods, solitude while driving – suddenly the solitude is broken and I am surprised by His presence.  “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from Him comes my salvation.”  Ps 62:1

The King makes the Rules

The whole thought of us “gentiles” being saved into the Kingdom of God is very interesting.  The biblical picture of God in all His Holiness is frightening.  In me it stirs respect but it doesn’t make Him feel approachable.  How do we really live in the Kingdom of a Holy God?

One thing that is clear is that Jesus as King of the Kingdom gets to set the rules.  He could rightfully set down a very strict set of requirements.  So, the rules  He does choose are beyond our comprehension.  He chooses the rule of Grace!

What is within the character of a Holy God that He would set down the rule of grace as the means of our relationship?

In Romans chapter 5, Paul draws a strong contrast- on one side is the reign of sin through death and on the other is the reign of grace through righteousness that leads to eternal life.

Paul, who had killed Christians because of his dedication to the law must have been totally stunned by this reality of reigning grace.  It was such an extraordinary concept that it created arguments – well if grace is that abundant doesn’t that mean we can just go out and sin?   No is the answer, that thinking shows you have missed the beauty and glory of what God’s grace is.

The King has set the rules – He has chosen the rule of grace.  Jesus is and has done everything– in Him we live and move and have our being!!

I believe our part in sanctification, at its most basic core, is simply to learn to live in the grace of God.

Righteous is not the way I would choose to describe myself BUT under the reign of grace – I am righteous.  Approaching the throne of a Holy God does not seem appropriate for someone like me BUT under the reign of grace I am to enter boldly. I had done so well making God my enemy BUT He has done everything to make me His friend.

The high calling of every believer – to learn to live in the true grace of God.

David’s Psalm of Affliction

I have been drawn repeatedly the past week to Psalm 38.  I am not sure why.  It is not really a happy Psalm.  David is in a difficult place and says some difficult things.  I get the picture of a guy at the bottom of a well with no visible way out.  He is in pain both physically and emotionally.  These kinds of places often raise questions about God as we try to fit the pain into our picture of how life is supposed to go and how God is supposed to make our lives more pleasant.  It is a very lonely place.

In the middle of his Psalm of affliction, David writes “all my longings lie open before You, O Lord, my sighing is not hidden from You”  vs 9.

Does David mean that God looks into his heart and already knows all of his longings or does David mean that he has shared all his longings with God?  I’m not sure.

David knows that God is aware of his heaviness, and in light of what we know about David, I am guessing that David has shared his deepest longings with God.   If this were David’s only Psalm we would question his concept of God, but in the context of all of his writings we instead sit impressed with David’s honesty.

David, a Jew, who for fear of blasphemy could not even speak the great name of God “Yahweh -YHVH”,   seems very comfortable crying out to God, sharing his pain and trouble with God and in his darkest hour cleaving and waiting for his God- “I wait for You, O Lord”  v 15.

In David we see a man in deep relationship with his God.  A David prayer “Lord, today I am a mess.  Who I am right now is all I have to offer to You.  Beneath all of my pain, struggle, longing and trouble, You O God are with me.  You are my God and I wait for You.” … and God said of David  “here is a man after my own heart”  1 Sam. 13:14.

The Talking Heads and the Bleeding Hearts

It seems to me that in the American Evangelical landscape,  there is a growing chasm between two camps – on one side is what I will call “The Talking Heads” and on the other side are “The Bleeding Hearts” (I believe this is how each camp would tend to see the other).

First I will describe “the talking heads”.  These are the (mostly men) who discuss and argue Theology and keep it mainly in the cerebral and abstract.  They have opinions that are often rooted in “shoulds” and are often perceived as uncaring, unloving and a bit angry.  One author referred to them as “bobble heads”:  they have exercised the cognitive side of their brains in their approach to scripture so much that their heads have become oversized.

These are the ones who have all the answers to the questions no one is asking. They are highly skeptical of change and often give off an “us versus them” persona.  The Talking Heads have a great hermeneutic but are not so polished when it comes to relating to the pain and struggle of the human condition.  Truth is, it seems that their cognitive approach may be a defense mechanism from getting to their own interior world.  Why?  The interior world is messy with emotions and needs and deep rooted areas of sin – it does not look good and it is not a place that is easily controlled.

On the other side are “the bleeding hearts”.  For them, the Bible is a source of comfort but it easily is taken from context and shared solely on “what it means for me”.  In this camp God is a bit of a Teddy Bear and He makes us all feel better about ourselves. The side of God they prefer is a God who is too loving to ever judge. Their God is all inclusive and bends to our desires.

Here is the odd twist – At times I find myself drawn to both camps but once there I find myself restless and even appalled by them. I really don’t want a Teddy Bear God but I also don’t want abstract Theological arguments when I am hurting most.  What is wrong here?  Have I become a Spiritual Vagabond without a home?  Do I belong on the island with all the other mis-fit toys?

The way out of this dilemma appears simple, but it really isn’t.  We all unknowingly promote our own box.  What is the Spiritual Life God is calling me to?  What does it really mean that I am known by God?  Does that knowledge mean He is disappointed?  What does it really mean that I am loved by the God of all creation? Is it really personal.  These are the existential questions that I am learning to embrace and live with.  I don’t think I am alone.

Psalm 63 – A Vagabond Psalm
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
 my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
 as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
 beholding your power and glory.  

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
 my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live;
 in your name I will lift up my hands. 

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
 and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
 and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
 and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me…

A Google view of God?

I recently took a personal retreat to what is now one of my favorite places in Michigan- Pigeon River Country State Forest.  Being that it is a State Forest, camping is permitted anywhere.  I found a beautiful spot near a lake and set up my tent.  The next morning was frigid but as the sun rose so did the temps. The trees reflected their reds and yellows on the water and the sky was a dark bold blue.

I carried my camp chair to the edge of the lake and with bible and journal in hand, sat down to enjoy the solitude with a warm cup of coffee.  Across the lake a doe and her fawn walked together.  The playful fawn lured her mother out into the water to run and splash together.  The distant sounds reached me just after the graceful movements took place.  

I felt very alive in those moments.  I sat for a long time, occasionally breaking my stillness to write in my journal.  I sensed the Lord’s presence with me and I responded with words of praise intermixed with long quiet times just resting and enjoying my Father and His creation.  It was hard to leave but the time came to head for home.

Later, back home I searched on google maps and sure enough, there was my lake.  I clicked closer- finding the exact spot my chair had been.  Truly amazing.  I love to show the google view to others and tell stories of the various places I hiked and the place I sat.  But, obviously it is not the same as being there.  Even though I can find the very spot I sat, it does not translate into the same awe and awareness of God’s presence.

It is far too easy to live with a google view of God- all the right descriptive words but not the presence, theologically correct but relationally distant.  May we hear the invitation today to put down the books, stop the discussion, turn off the music, cease all the effort and come sit for awhile and enjoy our God.

I’m thinking God really meant it when He said “Be still and know that I am God”.

 

Alma’s Story

While we were in Podebrady in June we saw Alma who came to see us at church.  A good friend Kelly Prudek recently had coffee with Alma and listened as Alma shared her spiritual journey.

Many years ago Alma was vacationing in Switzerland.  As she looked out over the mountains she was struck with a deep sense that there must be some kind of higher power.  Growing up in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime, she knew nothing about what this Higher Power might be like.

As time passed, back in her town in the Czech Republic she read an advertisement in the local newspaper about English classes sponsored by Christians in Podebrady.  She decided to attend.  This is where we met Alma.  Alma faithfully took the train to classes as much as she was able and joined in the discussions about the Bible afterwords.

Alma, then in her seventies, lived alone in the town of Lysa nad Labem.  Her children had immigrated to Germany and Australia.  We did not see Alma for a number of years until she showed up to the Grand Canyon Cafe outreach in Podebrady.  She sat at a table with Kelly Prudek and the two of them had a long discussion about faith in God.  It was not long after that we began the work in Milovice, only a mile from Alma’s town.  It gave us great joy to see Alma attend the worship services.

Alma, now a believer, was recently honored on a Sunday morning on her 80th birthday.  Her children struggle with her faith in Christ but she continues undeterred.  For Alma, the church is not just a place of worship but family.

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