Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ah, the Beauty of Fresh Falling Snow

What a sight! Within minutes of beginning the very landscape is transformed and the eyesores of the land around us suddenly looks pristine and clean. Such is the "miracle" of snow. The piles of things that needed to be sorted and scrapped are now covered in a clean, white blanket of pure snow. The ugly burn piles, smoldering amongst the ashes and black scarred ground, have been silenced, contained and covered leaving very little trace of what lie there before other than the small depression of the first few inches of snow that absorbed the residual heat and cooled the coals. So it is with most folks in the church today; the solution to the scars of wrong and the disease of sin, is just to cover it up. Meanwhile beneath this blanket of "love", the original wound festers and will soon enough erupt into full blown disaster soon. Just as the snow will melt away in the changing of the seasons and leave all that was before, most likely in worse shape than it was before. So much for the idea of covering up! Far better I think, the investment of clearing before the snow hits; putting away what should be put away, discarding what should be discarded and burying what is dead. Then when the season changes, all will be ready for progress, not just more work doing what was necessary months before. As much as I appreciate the wonderful beauty of the snow and the resultant "rest" it brings with it, I also realize that soon the season will change and the work is still all there, and probably more. Let's deal with today's problems today and leave the progress of tomorrow to tomorrow. Planning for the progress of tomorrow with covered items of today, will necessitate much more energy setting aside the planned progress and bringing all up to snuff to get started again. The covering that Jesus spoke of, in that "love covers a multitude of sins", refers not to a simple band aid of covering, but the love He paid for with His life that allows forgiveness and full restoration by dealing with the source of the sin, the effect of the sin and the consequences of the sin. Then the covering will not just hide the expanding infection from view, but rather remove any potential growth and allow for proper healing. Oh, if only we were so bold to allow Him to work this way, rather than just wish for the snowy covering of "love", as we define it!
For now, as far as the snow goes, I'll enjoy each moment with a cup of hot cocoa and the time to share with the family...but also with the reminder of what lies beneath the blanket of beauty and the reality that it too must be dealt with soon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

a Forrest Gump Philosophy....

Now we've all heard the famous line from Forrest, "life is like a box of chocolates" and whether we agree with him or not, we'd probably still love to get a box of chocolates (for real). However that may be,  in recent years I've observed another parallelism of life in this same vein. The thought is this, People are like a Carton of eggs. If you don't look first, you'll get home and find some are already cracked and glued into the carton..couldn't do anything with them even if you tried; they go with the carton in the can. Others, passing the first test of visibility look good, fit right in with the rest of the eggs and seem like perfect candidates for whatever recipe requiring eggs may lie ahead. But then, upon immersion into a bucket of water turns out they are excessively gassy and beginning to rot. Without even cracking the exterior, these need discarding. Then there are those who pass both the visual inspection, the immersion test and are poised at the edge of the bowl for use in the recipe of life. One whack and low and behold they are hard boiled and completely unsuitable for anything but a salt shaker and immediate consumption. They won't blend with the other ingredients, although they do love topping salads or being the centerpiece of the h'orderves as DEVILED eggs (possessed perhaps). They are only happy when in front or on top! And then there are the, "oh, my goodness what is that" eggs. Here something else is at work; a rooster to be exact and the egg is accompanied by its own alien appearing partially developed chick. What might have been, is now not and never will be...unless you like balut (another whole dilemma in life). They get discarded too. Then there are the good eggs; passing all the tests...even though as directed by mom, we crack them one at a time into the bowl to double check (required after having your own chickens and learning the hard way that not every egg will be what you expect). These eggs are fully usable in the recipe, blending with the other ingredients to produce a finished product. Lending their nutrients, protein and yes, a little cholesterol to the mix, but becoming part of the whole with awesome results.  These are the down to earth, salt of the earth kind of folks. Takes a while to find, but worth every effort to find when you sit down to enjoy the final product produced by the Master Chef.
Oh yes, there is one more kind of egg; this is not a nice picture and once you've met one of these you are probably scarred for life. This egg appears fine, but upon touching it to perform any of the said activities (above) or explodes. It dispenses the most rotten, foul smelling liquid and gaseous substance most of us will ever be cursed with. Chemically, enough of some of the released substances would kill you in a higher concentration. Add to that the agony of cleanup and the reality that for the next few weeks you'll smell or think of nothing else (or longer in some extreme cases). May your path never cross one of these!! If you do, you will understand those of whom Jesus spoke and called whited sepulchers.  Outside white and shiny, inside dead...REALLY dead stuff. Outside a pretense of righteousness, inside pure, unrestrained evil waiting to explode. Laid right alongside the rest, but able to bring others to their same state if they can get close enough. Yes, Forrest had it right. In everything God created, there is a story and a picture of life. It's just up to us to look and learn to understand. Happy egging!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Roots and Other Attachments Not so Easily Removed

Cut down several trees the other day...One was a gnarly oak of multiple limbs, broken tops and hazardous widow-makers; the other a previously topped and limbed, 30" +/- Ponderosa Pine tree. Both of these trees had a similar issue, despite their varied appearance and clear differences. The issue at hand was that both posed a clear and present danger to the buildings they were near, the people who were around them and the power lines they were over. Add to that the not as dangerous loss of phone service due to dropping branches from the normal life cycle of an oak tree and the fact that the Ponderosa was already dead and soon to start tossing branches in the coming storms. Both of these trees also had another similarity and also a stark marked difference NOT apparent to someone above ground. The similarity is that both trees were rooted in the same soil; the difference is that one tree was dead and detached from the source of life in the soil, the other still growing and with a long potential life ahead BECAUSE of its roots and their successful attachment. However for the purpose of eliminating a hazard, both had to go. A unique result may yet be experienced with the oak tree that was alive and well rooted...even though cut off, it may send up new growth from the stump of the tree. Though all it had accomplished in the past 25+ years was removed and cut up for someone else's comfort, but under the ground the roots are still successfully connected and new growth will appear. In fact, unless I grind the roots up, in another 25 years this hazard will be back. The Ponderosa, for all its height (over 100' tall) and its grandeur and volume (over 30" in diameter), is dead...will be dead and there will never be growth back. That is because the root is dead. Same soil, different result....why? Because the Pine did not have the armor to defend itself from attack and the root connection was insufficient to provide defenses against an enemy smaller than a dime. As good as the root was in producing a voluminous tree, it was not capable in standing against the enemy. A facade built with soaring heights and impressive branches standing high above the poor confused looking, beat up oak tree has fallen prey to a pest which attacked in the armorless areas and inflicted damage that lead to permanent and irreversible death.  The poor oak, though now on the ground in the attack of my chainsaw, is preserved with its DNA intact by the very root connection that helped whatever growth was evident to that point of removal. It will be back, like a bad dream or indigestion, returning to reclaim the lowly place it occupied. 
Such is life in Christ. Though sometimes the growth seems broken in areas, or confused, when the root is solid in Him...we will be back. Even if the enemy takes a chainsaw to the growth at hand...we will be back. Even if the pest attacks, the DNA of the oak is impervious to the little pest that did so much damage to the Pine. The Pine, for sake of this example, rooted in the same soil of God's Word and the fellowship of the church appeared to be growing well. Too well, perhaps...beginning to tower over all it stood among. But unarmored against attack, it fell prey to the incessant repetitive attack of a little pest of envy, dissension or jealousy and the root connection proved to be inferior. It was not the DNA of the King preserved in the Person of Jesus Christ, lived out in the believer, but rather the DNA of an imposter carried out ultimately in the death and separation of the one from the good soil of God's Word and Grace.  Perhaps even deeper, the chainsaw may well have been the work of God, putting the lives to the test. To one: correction and change allowing new growth to spring forth and be manicured into the desired result. Removing dead wood from the broken branches of life, but allowing the root to reproduce a new, vigorous tree in the pattern of its Maker. To the other: judgment and removal altogether. No future, no hope, just a collection of memories and a few days worth of heat produced in burning. Now that is as far as the example goes, because the chainsaw wielder was me in the physical example, but in the life reality it is only God that has the saw and the judgment power. We may mold and form the growth of the tree in a role of pastor, mentor, discipler or elder, but only as God directs according to His master plan!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just Another Sleight of Hand...

So a mere 15 days ago it appeared that there may have been some hope of resolution in the drama that has occupied the last 525 days. But this turns out to be a mere mirage by the arch enemy himself played out in the hands of the unknowing at best, or the collaborators at worst. It seemed, 15 days ago,  that the walls of obstacle and division may have been crumbling slightly at the edges, just at the time when we were becoming used to the view of these and in some ways accepting of the reality that they would remain as they appeared. Now that mirage has been clarified, the image sharpens into clear focus and what was in play was just another attempt to divide further. The form of division comes with a price and the party involved was apparently just soothing their own conscience prior to moving forward in the lasted attempt to undermine the ministries in place. It is kind of like the classic move of throwing up the hands while declaring, "Okay, I give up" and then swinging with the hidden sap when the other's guard is dropped. As classic as that feint and attack maneuver is, it unfortunately still works against the trusting victim who is looking for an end to the hostilities. The role of vulture or hyena was well played and effective however, capturing the wounded, while the protector's eyes were adverted by the feigned attempt at reconciliation. They merely needed an opportunity, provided by the short absence of my family and the two week cancellation of the youth group. In the face of this "need" for a place for these poor youth who had been "abandoned", they found opportunity to move ahead their agenda of division and conquering. Without regard to the spiritual problem that they began with, or the continued denial of the validity and application of God's Word, they plod on...methodically striving to keep the appearance of "love" while committing the most treacherous and vile undermining and assassination of all that stand in their way. Like the proverbial foolish dog who bites the hand that feeds it, they have moved to the place of not only biting the hand, but also of developing an appetite for only hands, rather than the food the hand used to provide. And so, standing back and gazing at the still standing, reinforced wall of division and strife, perhaps still the only option available is to just accept the walls and continue work on the building the trenches of battle that seems destined to continue. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Walls Falling Down....Just When We Got Used to the View!

Okay, sometimes you just have to wonder... Its been one year, four months and twenty three days since the beginning of what seemed certainly to be an end. That is 510 days of gut wrenching, mind wracking, revolving movie playing over and over again kind of days. Not the kind of days when you wake up and say, "Hey, isn't this wonderful...what shall I think about today" kind of days, but the kind of days where you are already awake thinking about what you've already been awake thinking about for the last, er....509 days. And into this arena, just as  I might have been getting used to the idea of how things are is how things are going to stay, God up and sends a glimmer of hope that THIS may not be the future after all. In fact, perhaps He even waits until I formally note to the other party that this is how it is and that is that, (which I pretty much did in a note thanking that party) and then He begins to open up a future that was, well pretty much impossible on human terms.
Let me put into a word picture, drawing upon a Biblical event; the fall of Jericho. Pretend with me for a moment that God had NOT (even though we all know He Did) told Joshua about how long they were to keep up the circuitous route around Jericho. Somewhere along the line they might have begun to think that the walls of Jericho were just part of the scenery and not an obstacle soon to be removed. Faith was evident in that they still had to walk, whether is was 7 days or 510 days, but the perspective tends to change with the added time. You know God can, but you begin to doubt He will and then slowly get used to the idea that this is how it will be. Of course in the said example, it only took 7 days to see the fulfillment of a plan already laid out with a final goal in site. In the 510 day example of my own, there is no such stated final goal visible as the situation deals with humans and human relations in a world where the track record of the same is not so good. In fact, we are told to love, pray for, bless and not curse, etc but never told that this will always produce a good result other than developing the character in us that Christ desires to see. 
It has been a total of 398 days since the real separation began, although the days between the commencing of the 510 and the 398 were not really congenial days, in retrospect. For that matter nothing is guaranteed in this current sliver of hope visible, but what is visible is the vision that God can and MAY CHOOSE to do something grand! My heart is ready for that. I've tried and tried, to get "used to the view" of how it is and accept that it will remain the same or worse for the future in terms of relationship with these ones, but never with success. I've gone back and forth and forth and back trying to play out a reasonable scenario that restores and repairs the damages done, without success. I've tried ignoring, discarding, avoiding and for whatever reason, God just keeps putting them back in view and in my mind. We've considered really abrupt changes to life and radical changes in our work to remove us from their view....hasn't worked either. So however God chooses, whether opening this sliver of hope into fullness or closing it completely, the moment has served a purpose. I am reminded of the Words of God Himself in Isaiah 55:6-11: 

Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.

Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

And the Words He spoke to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

So, God having the seen the hearts of the matter can make something beautiful out of something very, very broken. This I affirm and believe...the problem that I often have, as a human, is that what I see and what I try to get used to in the view of life, is often the very thing that God is trying to bring down. The walls I see are perhaps not walls, but opportunities. That is up to HIM!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Beware the Greedy Dogs

"Yes, they are greedy dogs Which never have enough.And they are shepherds
Who cannot understand;They all look to their own way,Every one for his own gain,From his own territory."

In Isaiah 56:10-12, God identifies those of Israel who, though in a place of leadership, have chosen to compromise God's Word for their own gain. In the context of what they are looking to gain, it is apparent that not only would it include financial gains, but also gains in power, prestige, influence and position. They will, for the sake of their own congregation, take what they can how they can, when they can to enlarge their position and increase their pleasure. This is always accomplished with a compromise of God's Word first. For these "shepherds" to accomplish their end, they must allow sin to be unchallenged and even encouraged overtly for the sake of not offending any. To swell their ranks they must give a pretense of religiousness, but keep the meat of the Word well hidden in the refrigerator and instead feed the flock fluffy, feel-good food. It is, of course, non-nutritional food, so what will be evident is what is later described in Ezekiel 34: "And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, butyou do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.
‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LordAs I live,” says the Lord God, “surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock”— therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord10 Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them."

Proof of this dangerous shepherd's presence is found in the fruit of the works produced by the flock. Instead of the fruit of the Spirit of God, the works are fruit of the flesh...loosely draped in a garment of self righteousness, poorly concealed by the make up of religious piety and false humility. Not only can this be seen it also can be heard. Perhaps not as often during the courses of religious gatherings, but most prevalent during the rest of life's moments. In their homes, in the workplace, in the stores. These are the places where the challenges of life's realities will manifest the heart of the matter. The words that flow from these sheep of the false and worthless shepherd will be words of coarse language, filth and echos of the world around them. Gone will be the grace of the meeting house or the loving speech of the Bible studies, instead the mouth will accurately and intimately reflect the heart. Woe, I say, Whoa there false shepherd! You think that you can just ignore the Word of God and the correction the sheep needed because you want to increase your flock? You may indeed increase your flock, but not in the manner of the Gospel, for the one who like all else, going astray..turning every one to his own way has chosen to ignore the Savior who bore all our iniquity and is instead choosing to remain astray. You've just provided shelter for wolves, or at the least encouraged rebellious sheep. Cry not when the flock you were entrusted with is torn open from within; cry not when the ease you desired becomes the thorns of your eternity; cry not when the fatness you consumed rises up in bile to choke your very breath and the God who allowed you to shepherd stands against you, as you have stood against His Son, the Great Shepherd.