Monday, December 19, 2011

Baptized By Snow

I’d come to the diner to get something to eat,
then spied the old man from my window seat
he tugged at his collar, beat snow from his chest,
squatted out of the wind, as if trying to rest

The warmth of my table soon brought with it shame.
I yearned for his story, I longed for his name
the wind cut through my coat as I crossed the street
and asked this vagabond in to get something to eat

He confirmed he was hungry and gladly came along
to the warm cozy diner filled with Christmas song
we both then returned to that window seat
and I begged him to order all he wanted to eat

From neighboring tables came looks of alarm,
as if his mere presence should cause any harm
he showed no concern for these looks behind his back
as he ordered eggs over easy, toast and coffee - black

The warm mug of coffee never left his old hands
as he told of his travels across these cold lands
there was light in his eyes and heart in his voice
when he spoke of the reason that all should rejoice

I was baptized by snow on that cold winters day
and I suddenly saw things in a different way
he left me changed in both heart and head
with the things that he shared, the words in red

‘Twas a cold winters day when he came to town
his burden so heavy, he briefly laid it down
a sack full of booklets that shared the good news
spoke a truth too narrow for some people’s views

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A World Full of Misfits

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas television family favorite that first aired on Sunday December 6, 1964. This stop motion animation classic, produced by Rankin and Bass, brings focused attention to the misfit feelings in all of us. The story is narrated by the voice of Burl Ives (as Sam the snowman), singing and telling the tale of a reindeer named Rudolph, born at the North Pole with a glowing red nose. As a yearling, lack of family support and severe peer ridicule leads Rudolph to feel himself an outcast and run away from home.
        Meanwhile, a North Pole elf named Hermey tackles his own problems. Wishing to be a dentist instead of a toymaker, he consistently disappoints the Head Elf. He too feels unwanted and alone and decides to leave in pursuit of his own dreams. Out on their own, Rudolph and Hermey eventually meet up and join forces. The bond of being unique draws them together and they decide to be misfits together. Now "independent together", they set out to seek "Fame and Fortune", singing the song of the same name.
        On their journey, Rudolph and Hermey meet another unique individual, a prospector named Yukon Cornelius who is determined to find silver and gold. Adventuring with Cornelius, the two misfits eventually end up on the shore of The Island of Misfit Toys.

The island is a sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. Among the inhabitants are a misnamed, but otherwise normal Jack-in-the-box named Charlie-in-the-box, A spotted elephant, a toy bird that swims instead of flies, a cowboy that rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels on it’s caboose, a boat that sinks, a plane that cannot fly, a squirt gun that shoots jelly and a dolly for Sue with no apparent defect.
        Most interesting however is King Moonracer, a winged lion, who acts as the island’s ruler and lives in the large castle atop a hill on the island. As sovereign ruler he enforces the rules, deciding who is permitted to stay on the island. However, he has no apparent ability to meet the deepest need of the island inhabitants, their need for unconditional love.
        After leaving in the middle of the night, to spare his new friends from imminent danger and then subsequently coming to their rescue, Rudolph is welcomed back home at the North Pole, just in time to also heroically save Christmas by becoming Santa’s headlights and cutting through the worst of storms. The first stop for Santa on that foggy Christmas Eve became the Island of Misfit Toys to meet the needs of the toys there by providing them to loving boys and girls around the world.
        This is one of my favorite Christmas stories. Perhaps it is because the deep felt needs of misfits around the world really can be and are met by the unconditional love that God so graciously gives. He truly is the only light that can burn through the fog that still blinds some men to the truth.

I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me
 will not remain in darkness. John 12:46

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Something is Wrong

At times my legs feel funny and I struggle to decide which one should support me, as I stand shifting my weight from side to side. Something is wrong.

At other times I question the temperature. “Is it hot in here?” I may say, as sweat crowds my brow, weeps down my sideburns and spills onto my shirt. Something is wrong.

Whether slow or fast in its advance, eventually I feel its weight; it pulls me down and drains my strength and wisdom all too quickly. Something is wrong

Time is slow now. I discover I have downshifted from a participant to observer. I can’t report my findings very well – Energy is spent, even moving is difficult. Something is wrong

In many ways I’m not with you. I am standing beside you – Two steps back. The seat of my chair – Below you on the floor. You are a movie I’m watching, silently from my seat. Your caring words, lines in the script – Heard by me without reaction. Something is wrong.

You narrow your eyes at me, focused now on my struggle. Some might ask if I’ve been drinking, but you know me. You know that something is wrong.

You know me, so you know something. You know what is wrong.
You save me because you know me and know that something is wrong.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Job and The Job

Not too long ago, because of the struggling economy, the company I work for had to make some adjustments. In order keep the ship afloat a variety of changes were made. Reductions in pay, work hours and vacation time were instituted to lessen the payroll load. Proposal efforts, vitally important to gain new work and grow the company back to health were also targeted in these sweeping changes. We were told that hours we spent on these efforts would be held in a special reserve account to hopefully be compensated for later.
        The company was also taking advantage of the State of California Work Share program at the same time however. Hours unpaid by the company were being compensated (at a reduced rate of course) by the State Employment Development Department (EDD). To provide incentives for employees to spend time pursuing proposal work while still enabling them to participate in the state EDD program, it was suggested by management that we turn in two (2) timecards. One that the company would use to generate our weekly paycheck and one to “hold in reserve”, for possible payment in the future, should things turn around.
        I immediately felt my integrity challenged. How could I turn in a form to the state claiming one amount of compensation, when a second timecard existed with at least the potential for more, one they would never know about? I wanted to continue to assist in writing and pursuing work for the company, but knew I could not submit two timecards. I questioned the legality of the policy and was told that the only way the state would ever know about the practice would be if I blew the whistle.
        I’ve been told that I was the only one in the company who decided to only submit one timecard, one true and accurate timecard. Several weeks maybe a month or two went by when it came to light that many of the “secondary or reserve time” timecards submitted displayed some questionable hourly entries. Proposal times were apparently being exaggerated, perhaps believing time itself would hide the real efforts expended in this “shady” practice. In the end the whole “second timecard” idea was scrapped and in my refusal to participate I felt vindicated.
        As the struggle in the economy continues, so too do Satan’s attempts to derail the progress and efforts of believers. He has but one mission, one focus – our ruin. Our focus and time is too often split between competing influences. When I read the words in red, the words of Christ, I read a focused message spoken to a broken and lost world in need of grace and love. When we look at each other what do we see? Are we too – at least acting like – the lost world around us? Should we see things differently than we do?
        Every year I read through the Bible. Reading The Daily Bible compiled in chronological order into 365 daily readings by F. LaGard Smith has been a daily ritual to my morning quiet times for some time now. The presentation of the complete Bible as one story is attractive to the writer inside of me and having it presented in small bites allows me to consistently remain in the word of God.
        The chronological format of the presentation forced Smith to make some hard choices however. The book of Job is a good example. Job is fittingly presented in Smith’s compilation just after the great deportations, at a time of Israel's greatest suffering. Job is understood to be an early patriarch, not a child of Israel. He was just a lone human being who finds himself in terrible suffering for no apparent reason.  Reading the Book of Job is difficult even when our burdens are light. There is great distress and anguish throughout the narrative. How can anyone remain unmoved by an author cursing the day of his own birth for instance?
        Scholars argue that the book is a vindication of the justice and goodness of God. Although these divine characteristics are seen in the story, its purpose may more directly speak to integrity. Job is blameless and upright at the beginning and, although discouraged, nothing is able to move him. He proclaimed, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." (13:15). Satan was allowed to test Job and was unsuccessful.
        As the reader, we know this but isn’t it interesting that Job didn't. So the issue of the integrity of Job demonstrates the greater truth of the integrity of God Himself. As trials came (and still come) to God's children through the ages, Satan's claims would be (and will be) broken, case by case, as they prayed (and we pray) for the power to overcome through the merits of the slain lamb. Let’s live lives of integrity for Him.

Aspiring Writer's Forum - Welcome to Y3

Last Wednesday initiated the third year of the Aspiring Writer’s Forum at Chino Valley Community Church. Our first meeting was well attended, but a number of familiar faces were missing. Some I understand are struggling with the time demands of life to find room in their schedules for the AWF. Prioritizing and finding a God honoring balance can be difficult (see previous posting on this issue). There were a few members that I know are continuing and just could not attend the first night (you were missed Carl and Keala).

As this new year of AWF begins, I just wanted to unofficially (as I am not one of the group leaders) welcome everyone, new and continuing (not old), to our little group. I hope that the insightful perspectives that we always seem to find in each others writing continues this year, as we stretch ourselves to honor God through the written word.

Let me tell you a secret:
When I first joined – one year ago – I hated the idea of journaling at the beginning of each class. First of all, when I write it is usually in my favorite office chair at home on the computer (in the shelter of my cave) not sitting around a table writing by hand (as an engineer I write in block letters, not cursive, so my penmanship is very slow). Secondly, I do NOT journal. I had never enjoyed or found any use for it. I guess I always considered that once I had spent the time, in my head, mulling over an issue, there was little use getting it all down on paper. It was time to move on to the next issue or urgent task. Also, my writing project of over 14 months (at that time) was a crime novel. How could journaling about last week’s sermon help me with that?

Boy was I wrong! Our journaling time each week accomplishes a number of great things:

  • When it’s focused back on last weeks sermon (which it isn’t always), it allows us to reengage a fresh lesson from God’s Word.
  • As we write and then (maybe most importantly) share, we learn about how God himself is speaking to and through our fellow AWF members. This gives us a bigger picture of how God is moving in and through the body of believers here at CVCC and perhaps the world as well.
  • Finally, it's important as writers to flex and stretch our writing muscles, even out of our comfort zone, right there on the spot.

So, if you are feeling like I did when I started, take heart and watch what God will show you through this class. If not, then you are way ahead of me! In any case, welcome to the AWF.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Balancing Life -- While Still in Process

When certain words or thoughts find repetition in my daily walk, when dissimilar facets of my life seem to collide in a single strangely harmonious way regarding a particular topic or challenge, I have come to realize that God is trying to gain my attention, perhaps “Oh My” - He is even trying to teach me something. What a concept right? Currently, the central theme that I am hearing from a variety of contacts within my life is BALANCE. Finding or achieving the balance that can be so critically important to finding peace in life.
        Rachelle Gardener is a literary Agent in Colorado, whose blog posts come each day to me in the form of an e-mail. In a recent post entitled “How to find Balance”, she provides the following useful equation:
Balance = strength + focus

She then breaks this down for us:
Strength – The fitness experts are always telling us we need to strengthen our core. When you’re trying to balance, you need to use the core muscles – literally, tighten them and keep them strong. They can’t be loose and flabby or you won’t have the strength to balance yourself.
Focus – When you’re trying to gain balance, you can’t be looking all over the place. You need to find something upon which to focus your eyes, while inwardly you focus on placing your body where you want it. If your eyes start darting around, or if you quickly lift your head in search of a mirror to see how you are doing, you’ll fall over. You’ve got to maintain that focus.

            Rachelle’s post closes with the all-important question: How do we apply this to life? Easy question – but difficult to answer for both the physical and spiritual worlds. Where do we find strength and what should we focus upon?

        In today’s sermon, given by Jason Andrews, Pastor of Families at CVCC, Jason reminded each of us in attendence of some basic truth’s that often remain hidden away from our much needed attention. Those truth’s are listed in priority as:
  1.         My role as a Believer is to make Christ paramount in my life.
  2.         MY role as a Husband is to follow the example Christ modeled.
  3.         My role as a Parent/Mentor is to raise up the next generation of        believers to follow Christ.

        These truths brought back to my mind the Question of Balance we looked at earlier. Where do we find our strength and on what should we focus as we attempt to fullfill these roles? All three of the roles expressed above (believer, husband and parent/mentor) as stated, require me to focus on but one thing, Christ Jesus, the King of Kings. So, it all falls apart because we lack the strength then? That must be why it seems so hard? But wait, Gods Word has somethings to say about strength too!

Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.
-Isaiah 26:4

The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.
-Psalm 118:14

It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
–Psalm 18:32

For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me – Psalm 18:39

God is my strength and power: And he maketh my way perfect.
–2 Samuel 22:23

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me
-Philippians 4:13

        So…in conclusion if we FOCUS on Him, He will provide the STRENGTH we need to overcome the challenges we face and the glory will belong to Him. Could it be that we are getting in our own way in this process? And is that perhaps because we desire the glory for ourselves? Something to consider next time you’re losing traction under that big rock you’ve been pushing up the hill.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Christ and the Christian Writer

As an aspiring novelist and a member of the “Aspiring Writer’s Forum” at the Chino Valley Community Church where I attend, I am always looking for opportunities to flex my writing muscles and craft a piece of written work that has the potential to be noticed. Yes, I desire to be a published author and hope to one day make it my career, God willing. I believe in the minds of most writers, publication stands as a continual, if not also an allusive, goal. As a Christian author, however, bringing glory and honor to our Lord and Savior should remain first and foremost, my priority.
I have been blessed to discover an assortment of writing critique groups and support networks within my local community. With the strong desire of publication common to all in such groups, you might naturally expect to see a competitive spirit at work. I have found just the opposite to be true. To date my writing experience among other struggling authors has been refreshingly punctuated with both support and encouragement.
True, most of my exposure to this world of writing has been within the body of believers. Still, Christians aren’t perfect and conflict abounds in the world, even among the saved. Never the less, the support I have enjoyed feels common, even if heaven sent. Writing opportunities are shared readily with others, group members meet to assist and offer guidance. Promoting and up lifting each other is the norm, rather than the exception.
Most of the writing opportunities that I have been exposed to have come in the form of contests. Local and on-line writing contests seem to be on the increase, held for a variety of purposes. Sometimes a topical collection is being assembled by a publisher. Quite often contests are held by self-publishing or publish-on-demand houses to market and generate exposure for their editing and publishing services. Occasionally a writing contest has a root cause, such as a political slant or theme. Because of the interest they generate, writing contests are effective marketing strategies for products and ideas.
Opportunities for exposure and publication abound, in and outside of the “Christian marketplace”. Obviously there are many more opportunities for a writer outside “the church”. The narrow way has relatively small shelf space in most of the world’s bookstores. Sorting through writing prospects can be difficult. When should a particular writing topic be considered as inappropriate for the Christian?
That question should be approached wisely with a discerning heart. I believe that Christians should always engage the world as His ambassadors, armed with God’s word. This is true for writing as well. After all many subjects can be equally served by both Christian and secular authors. You might never discern your favorite sports writer’s faith by reading his column each week. Yet again you might.
The issue is two fold. Certainly as Christians, we have an obligation to promote His Kingdom. Care must be taken in our craft to reach the lost with Christ’s redemptive message. If the ugliness of this world is to be explored, it should be portrayed only to boldly display His love and saving grace within that setting. Unlike other writers, we have so much more to offer the reader, for we write from a place of hope.
Recently I was presented with the prospect of writing for a soon to be assembled “Christmas Anthology”. The publisher stipulated that he doesn't want the stories to be too "religious", more inspirational, for a crossover market. This stipulation, gave me pause to think. It is easy to see how the decision tree quickly splits and becomes more difficult. “Too religious” sounds bad, yet “Crossover” brings with it thoughts of outreach and mission fieldwork.
Each Christian writer obviously needs to make a myriad of decisions in addition to topic. The use of colorful language can be argued at length. In the interest of “capturing the authentic language” of a character some Christian writers include less than wholesome dialogue in their work. I am making the conscious decision not to. I believe that God will be honored by this.
It will not be the language I chose to use that provides the relevance of Gods message to my readers. If I do my job right, it will be the work Christ did on the cross that reaches out and touches their hearts. I pray that the topics I chose to write about and the voice that God gives me to share will bring Him all the glory

Friday, June 3, 2011

Freedom, a Shared Core Value

As a citizen of the United States of America, when I think about the values that we as a nation, on our best days display for all the world to see, I cannot help but be reminded of our 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan. He alone stands out in my mind as the brightest presidential beacon of freedom the last 100 years has had to offer. Freedom for him stood prominently as a core value, just like for our nation.
        The liberty we enjoy has been purchased at great cost and tremendous sacrifice. Though the payment has been dear, we have not shown ourselves to be selfish with this treasure. Battlefields around the world have been stained by the blood of Americans who have willingly placed themselves in harm’s way to both defend and provide the great gift of freedom to nations of this world.
        Freedom, as a core value, speaks to the heart of each individual, no matter their birth country. It resonates deep within humankind’s soul. In full bloom it is reminiscent of the free will our creator bestows upon mankind; its absence in turn, the very shackles of slavery itself. At first blush the defense of freedom seems unnecessary; its benefits manifold, simple to see and understand. But to those who seek to selfishly advance their own private quest for individual power, freedom stands as a threat.
        Reagan believed this gift of liberty must be defended and advanced or the passage of time would erode its very foundation. The tenuous nature of freedom was alluded to by many before him, as in the now famous words of Edmund Burke:
“All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
          Like light itself, Reagan believed freedom was a value best understood by its very absence. A favorite Reagan quote comes from a message he delivered to the annual meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce on March 30, 1961:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
        As a concerned American, Reagan felt duty bound to use his public stature as an actor, a union leader, and governor to help ensure that future generations would both embrace and advance these concepts. In both his terms as President, he was exceptionally convincing on the national stage, elevating our nation’s pride in the heritage we share as “the land of the free and home of the brave.”   
        While president, his plainspoken oratory skills and humor earned him the trust of a nation while his movie-star charisma and honesty helped him to win over many of even his strongest detractors. President Reagan had his share of critics, but also possessed the intrepid skills to successfully wade through the mire of partisan politics and the political debris that often bogged down lesser men.
        His courage and conviction to conservative first principles was so strong that his very name is often utilized to define them. The continued use of the terms “Reagan Conservative” and “Reaganomics” is testament to the impact he had on the conservative movement in America. Perhaps some of his success as “The Great Communicator” was due, in part, to his ability to understand the liberal mindset.
        Those watching the 1964 Republican National Convention will remember Reagan’s impassioned speech “A Time for Choosing.” So well written and powerfully delivered it has been nicknamed “The Speech.” A seminal moment for Reagan, it introduced him to a national audience and launched his political career in earnest. In that speech Reagan boldly proclaimed that America was headed in the wrong direction:
“You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
        Reagan understood self-determination to be America’s greatest asset. He soundly rejected the liberal notion that our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the 20th or 21st Century or that our Constitution is an antiquated document. Reagan’s dream for America’s return to first principles was both timely and timeless. His strength and conviction restored our nation’s self-esteem following the weak leadership of President Carter’s administration.
        Reagan’s influence reached across the globe and empowered even Socialist nations to embrace free markets and freedom in general. When Ronald Reagan called on Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," a surge of new generation confidence rose that would ultimately breach the bounds of the evil empire. As a result, many individuals tasted true independence for the first time. That event alone bears proof to the idea that certain values need to be personalized, owned and then acted upon.
        The fragile nature of freedom is painted for us by Reagan to be not unlike the old variety show acts where the juggler keeps an amazing number of multi-colored plates spinning. It is a rare and beautiful thing to see, because it takes skill and constant attention to maintain the delicate balance.
        I am training my own children to lovingly embrace many core values, mostly based upon our faith. Our country’s founding fathers and inspired statesmen like Reagan also offer wise instruction. We stand on the shoulders of these giants. As we celebrate Reagan’s 100th birthday, let’s remain balanced and ready ourselves to train up the next generation.

The essay above was my entry for the Ronald Reagan Centennial Award Sponsored by State Assemblyman Curt Hagman

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Field

The streets were empty as I drove east along the power line road known simply as Edison. Warmed by an ailing truck heater and a travel mug of coffee, I remembered how much I disliked the winter mornings spent in my aunt’s strawberry field. I am not a morning person. My aunt Marie, however, had been like an angel to me and helping her, whenever asked, was the very least I could do. With Mom and Dad gone now, she was all I had. If she needed me, I’d be there.
        The low rumbling of the tires accompanied the music that filled the cab - Come they told me…ba rump a bump bump.  The tall towers feeding power to the east stood high above the fields, arms spread wide, heads hidden in the clouds. I slowed, signaled for no one and turned left, into the small gravel parking lot that served my aunt’s customers. We wouldn’t have any customers today, it was strictly a work day, a cold and wet one.
        The foreman, Juan Manalo, had arrived and was already inspecting the rows. Today, the workers would begin removing the runners that grew from the mother plants and repairing the black plastic sheeting, as needed. Juan worked year round for my aunt and was a tremendous asset to her, though he spoke no English. This fact always presented a challenge, with my attempts to bridge our language gap rewarded with limited success.
        Stepping out of the truck I had my doubts today would be any different. Moisture crackled on the power lines high above and caught my attention. I craned my neck to look, noticing my woolen jacket collar felt good as it rode up my neck. With a slight shiver I pulled it high and zipped my jacket up, as the powerlines calmed to their steady hum.
        Noticing my arrival, Juan was making his way back, through the rows, toward the small red and white sales shed that occupied a corner of the gravel parking lot, where I waited. He grinned wide as he shook my hand, finding some humor in the communication struggle we would both share today. I smiled too.
        “What time are the workers coming?” I asked, louder and slower than I needed to, switching hands with my coffee mug so that I could point at my watch.
        “No sé, espero que pronto” [I don’t know, soon I hope] he responded with a shrug of shoulders. My question was answered, however, when we spotted the bus that carried the workers. The squeal of its brakes announced its arrival and the workers disembarked, assembling before us. All eyes were trained upon Juan, as they awaited direction and made adjustments to acclimate to the cold. The crew of both men and women were dressed in layers of mostly dark cotton, easily adjusted as needed for temperature and comfort. Experience had taught them many simple tricks. One of the men, wearing an Angels baseball cap, was noticably assisting and comforting one of the women.
        Juan led them toward the fields and spoke briefly in low tones and they quickly began their labor. The sight of stooped laborers in the fields always hurt my bad back to watch. I spotted the young couple I had noticed before as they settled into a row to work together. It was hoped the runners removed from the mother plants that day would encouraged the plants to reach deeper into the raised rows, enabling an early spring harvest.
        Once they all settled down to work, it became quiet for some time and the gentle hum of the powerlines returned to my attention. Within the hour a low hanging fog rolled through, alternately obscuring and revealing the workers. The wires crackled to life again with the onslaught of the thick moist air and with it came another noise, a sharp painful cry of alarm, deep in the field, shrouded in fog. As I stepped toward the sound, through the rows, small groups of workers alternately appeared and vanished into the thick moisture.
        Soon I saw a group of three huddled together. The figure of an older woman was caring for someone on the ground while the man with the Angels hat stood by nervously. The woman on the ground had been comforted by the same man earlier. My first thought was that she had run into something in the fog, she seemed to be in great pain. While I was wondering what she had run into, she cried out once more. This second time I could see her face. She was bearing down. She was giving birth!
        “Juan!” I suddenly cried out in surprise, only to find him right there at my elbow. So were the rest of the workers. With cell phone in hand, I was about to dial 911 when Juan stopped me with a calm hand.
        “No ai necesidad de eso jefe” [No need for that boss], Juan said motioning to the women who had gathered to assist the birthing mother while the men, satisfied with her care, retired a respectful  distance away. Clearly this was not the first time a child had been delivered out in the fields.
        Juan quickly ran the flame of a Bic lighter along the sharp blade of the buck knife he always carried and wipped it clean on a hanky before offering it to one of the women. A few nervous long minutes later the sounds of a newborn’s cry released the collective breath of many gathered and cheers broke out.
        “José, tienes un niño” [Jose you have a baby boy] they said as they congratulated the young man in the Angels cap.
        “Boy or girl?” I wanted to know
        “Boy!... José and Gloria hasa big boy” one of the men said in broken English for my benefit.
        Mother and child were soon escorted back towards the bus, while the remaining crew went back to work. Walking back to my truck, I once again heard the hum and crackle of the wires return and gazed up in time to see the colorful display of static that arched in the still misty morning.
        Back at my truck, the keys in the ignition caused my radio to spring to life with… “Angels we have heard on high”. In that moment it was impossible not to think of another humble birth, centuries before to another young couple, far from their home. The birth of their son was also marked with mysterious sights and sounds in the sky. Their son was also received with joy by those who worked in the fields and wise men still seek Him.

The Aspiring Writers Forum - Limerick Fun

The Aspiring Writers were there
To do more than just warm a chair
They honored their Lord
And never got bored
For they wrote of their God with great flair

By attending this Writers Forum
I do more than just quell my boredom
I write for the Lord
So I never get bored
And always observe fine decorum

Whether joining in year 1 or 2
There’s incredible writing we do
Our journals are filled
Our readers are thrilled
I want to read more, don’t you?

Coleene and Linda are swell
They lead our small group so well
With prayerful insight
They focus us right
And keep us from going to …

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Long Road Home

If you are like me, you have some form of commute to your place of work. You likely take the same roadway or combination of roadways to and from work each weekday. When traveling to work, have you ever been so completely on “automatic pilot” that you are unaware whether you stopped at traffic lights, you know your commute must go through? Do you find your self double-checking whether you have accomplished simple tasks, like locking the front door? Have you ever turned your car around, so you could return home because you wonder whether you lowered your garage door? Have you ever tried to start your car, when it was already running? Sure, you can blame it on age, we’re all getting older. But, perhaps it is just the mundane nature of these mindless tasks in life. Lets face it; nothing is very exciting about closing our garage doors.

How much does this “Automatic Pilot” mode affect our spiritual life and walk with the Lord? Has going to church become another such task? Has our worship become as ordinary as shutting our garage? What must we do to make sure our spiritual journey does not fall victim to this “rut routine” and our complacency spread to infect this, our most intimate relationship of our soul? Actively searching out the presence of God is, of course, the most obvious answer. If we are always with Him and our work is accomplished on His behalf, even our most mundane tasks become worship and communion with the creator of the universe. My friends and I refer to this as being ALL IN.

The process is well described in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God. In this work, maintaining a close relationship with God is modeled for us by Brother Lawrence (1614-1691), a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery. Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman in the region of Lorraine, located in modern day eastern France. He entered the priory in Paris as a lay brother, not having the educational background to become a cleric. He spent most of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen and later repairing sandals. His character attracted many to him, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his lowly position, He was know for his profound peace and many sought guidance from him.

The wisdom he shared was assembled for us after his death by one of those he inspired, Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris. For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, was opportunity for praising our Lord. The important issue was not the task at hand, but the motivation behind its accomplishment.

We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for the love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.

He admitted that his path to this level of communion with God was not easy. He spent years disciplining his heart and mind to constantly search for Gods presence.

As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before Him, fixing my mind upon His holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from Him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through the difficulties.

Only after he reconciled himself to the thought that this long struggle was his destiny did he find peace, his soul finally had come home and found a place of rest. He spent the rest of his 80 years in relative obscurity, pain and yet perfect joy. Brother Lawrence paints a picture of the sancification process not unlike that of Paul of Tarsus. Paul too understood that this process was a long difficult one. In his farwell address to the Ephesian Elders (Acts 20:24) Paul had this to say:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

And (likely Paul) in Hebrews (12:1):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Also consider: God has given us clear testimony in His Word concerning the reasons why He humbled Himself and "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philipians 2:7)

Are we being asked too much? Perhaps you feel we are. Too many of us have lost the ability to focus our attention for very long on anything, let a lone anything worthwhile. Consider the words of the song “Always on My mind”, made famous by Willie Nelson:

Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time
You are always on my mind, you are always on my mind

Sadly this attitude is all too common in this day and age. It is unfortunate that such self-absorption has kept most of us from investing ourselves in things we claim to be important. Priorities have been shuffled and far too often we are merely in response mode to the “tyranny of the urgent”. We keep all the plates spinning as best we can without ever even asking whether the plates are worthy of our attention at all. How do we turn this around? How can we begin anew with a sharper focus on what is truly important?

It starts, I believe, with an understanding of what should qualify as important. An understanding of this can always be found in God's word (His specific revelation). Daily reading His word, reveals His character and nature to us each and everyday. Daily communing in prayer, helps in maintaining that all important personal relationship. Our days can fill-up rather fast with the world coming at us full bore. Beginning the day with the proper focus, provides the all important reminder, that we are here for His purpose. We can't expect to finish strong, if we have not started strong.

Next time you find yourself muddled in the mundane or spinning the wrong plates, ask yourself how you got there. Tracing your steps back to the path may help you identify what caused you to leave it. Such an excercise may help clarify future hurdles or landmines to be cautious of next time. The best part of taking an active look at your mistakes and mis-steps is that you can start all over right then and there. God promises His grace to the repentant believer with a contrite heart. You do not have to become a cleric or the next Paul of Tarsus to make a difference for His Kingdom. Find ways to be in His presence in your daily chores, when your day is lived for Him, you are worshiping Him. It is a Long Road Home, take it one step at a time, focused on Him. (Note:This post is an updated version of my 6/10/2008 posting of the same title)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Making Lemonade

“Make lemonade,” That’s what they say. When God gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s certainly a cute phrase, usually accompanied with a knowing grin and a nod of the head. Both motions are designed to convey to you that the speaker is familiar with your pain. On the surface it seems simple enough, just take that hardship or burden and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Get every bit of goodness you can out of it and then sit back and enjoy a nice refreshing cold beverage. Delicious right? 
        We have a dwarf lemon tree in our back yard, heavy and absolutely bursting with fruit. This is true almost every year, but with all the rain we’ve had this year, we’re experiencing a bumper crop of lemons. My wife has been giving bags and bags of lemons away all year and cannot keep up with the tree’s production. Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed the sour taste of a nice tart lemon, that kind that makes you shake your head and make that strangled pucker face, where your lips want to crawl down your throat. As fun as that can be, lemonade is not really satisfying until you doctor it up to your taste with something sweet.
        Pretty simple solution for lemons, but where does one find the sweetness when the topic takes on a more serious tone? How do you sweeten a financial crisis, a job loss or a serious diagnosis of a loved one or a young child? These are the lemons that really make us pucker and look about for answers. These sour moments can be devastating if we are ill prepared. God has gifted us with the sweetest ingredient ever made. He has promised to shelter us beneath His wing and carry us though our sour sorrow-filled journeys, lifting our spirits as He shoulders our burdens. We need to remember that He who makes the lemons also makes the honey and our ultimate satisfaction is more than guaranteed.
        "And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." Exodus 3:17