At the Edge. My First Thoughts On My Wife's Fight.

I told my two kids that the emotions they would feel would come and go and be like a roller coaster.  Yes, even in the middle of class, tears might have to be fought back.  A simple thought or moment could stun them.  How did I know?  Because this is not my first rodeo with cancer.  The difference is I’m not the one fighting, my wife is.

I’m on the sideline this time and I’m going to be up front, it sucks.  This is the woman I love.  My best friend, my partner in crime, the one I share my memories with and the mother of my kids.  We’ve been married for 19 years, going on 20 and that means I’ve now spent more of my life in a home I have shared with her than the home I shared with my folks.  It took a few minutes for that to sink in today.

What’s more is that I’m a pastor.  I’m supposed to have answers for this.  Bible verses should just pop right out.  The right one, at the right moment, and said in just the right way.  But they’re not coming, not like that anyway.  

I am really thankful for all the Facebook messages and notes.  The e-mails from fellow clergy really mean a lot, really. 

I think something should be different but I know, from experience, it won’t be, not just yet.  Right now is the calm before the storm.   We’re just on the edge of things, “There Be Monsters” signs are posted but we’re not far enough into the forest to get a sense of the danger.  Not yet anyway. 

I don’t know what I don’t know but what I do know is we have faith.  We have hope.  We have love.  There is no banging gongs here.  This is a place of shadow and even here, God has placed the standard of His reign.  Even in the darkness, the presence of Providence is near. 

Faith.  Hope.  Love.  These three have been enough.

Faith.  Hope.  Love.  Heather, my love, God is here.  God is enough.

Invested: Make Your Life Count

These days I live a bit on the redneck side of life.  I wasn’t always that way but I get it honest as my family has pretty deep roots out in Texas.  Whether it was the oil fields of west Texas or the farm land to the east, I eventually came around.  Back in the high school days when I was trying to get as far away from my parent’s way of doing things, I wondered and struggled with just who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.   God got hold of my life as junior in high school and it was then that I heard God’s call into ministry. 

At the heart of that calling, was a desire to make sure that my life counted.  As I got older I realized that making our life count, may not always mean being counted as the best or the greatest.  One of my favorite songs on the subject comes from a Montgomery Gentry song from few years back.  Take a listen…

(I started the video at 2:20)
I learned quick those GTO's don't run on faith
I ended up broken down in some town north of L.A.
Working maximum hours for minimum wage
Well, I fell in love, next thing I know
The babies came, the car got sold
I sure do miss that old hot rod
But you sure save gas in them foreign jobs
Dad, I wonder if I ever let you down
If you're ashamed how I turned out
Well, he lowered his voice, then he raised his brow
Said, lemme tell ya right now

That's something to be proud of
That's a life you can hang your hat on
You don't need to make a million
Just be thankful to be workin'
If you're doing what you're able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That's something to be proud of
And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man

I suspect you’ve got a song or two like that one that bring you back down to earth.  I suspect that when that song comes on the radio or pops up in your play list, you want to belt it out at the top of your lungs and you hope no one else is in the mini-van.  In those moments, you wonder, how have I made my life count?

I suspect Moses was a lot like we are.  He’d been run out of Egypt for fear of getting caught for murder.  He won the hand of a shepherd’s daughter and was spending his life living the life taking care of a bunch of sheep when he met God in a burning bush

Exodus 4:1-5 ESV  Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.'"  (2)  The LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff."  (3)  And he said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it.  (4)  But the LORD said to Moses, "Put out your hand and catch it by the tail"—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— (5)  "that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."

Bob Hulsman of the Barnabas Foundation brought to my attention what maybe one of the most overlooked questions in the Bible, “What is that in your hand?” Moses saw a staff.  A stick.  A tool.  God saw in it an instrument of grace to free a people who would be God’s chosen ones.  Whatever we have God, God can and will use! 

Stewardship and giving is not and never has been about trying to give all your money to a church.  I can see how you might feel that way though.  But stewardship is exactly like the conversation between Moses and God at the bush, we respond to what God is doing (a bush that is burning but not burning up) and react to what God calls us to do (throw down the staff).

A word from God should lead to action for God.

I was 16 when I was offered the opportunity to give to an organization called Compassion International.  Back then it was the cost of a cup of coffee a day.  For $16, I could adopt a starving child.  At 16, I had a job and I realized, “I can do that!”  I did, and that was how I learned to tithe.  A word from God lead me to an action for God.  God didn’t need me to give.  I needed to give, I needed to understand everything isn’t about me.  Eduard needed me to give too, because he needed to live.

You may not believe that what you have is a gift from God.  I get that but also suspect that along the way in the life, you had some circumstance, some person that helped you out and gave you a step up.  There is word for that, it is called prevenient grace, or the gifts God gives you before you even know God is giving it!

By giving, you are investing.  You are going to be an instrument, a gift of grace to someone else.  Like Moses, you have something in your hand, something in your life, something in your career, you may not think it to be much at all but as Shawn Lovejoy, Pastor at Mountain Lake Church, noted a few years ago to me, “God qualifies the unqualified.”  God takes a Moses and he takes a Jonah, a Noah, an  Elijah, a Peter, a Paul, a Martin Luther, a Martin Luther King, Jr.  But he also takes a Ken, and a Don, and Deborah, and a Logan, and a Donny, and a Josie, a Randy, a Bob, a Patience, and a Ruth.  And God calls us.  And a word from God leads to action for God.

“And if all you ever really do is the best you can, well, you did it man.  That's something to be proud of,  that's a life you can hang your hat on.”

What kind of life are you hanging your hat on?

The Return of Lectio Visual (for Tuesday)

From Iconreader

This coming Sunday I begin a new sermon series and the first sermon comes from this encounter between Moses and God.  Before scrolling farther down, let me invite you to take time to just "soak" in the image.  Then begin considering each of the five parts of Lectio Visual.

Take time and move through each step.  Note the questions in the following paragraph for suggestions as you practice Lectio Visual.

            Look (Read):  Consider deeply the image and what is being “said.”
            Linger (Reflect):  What is the verse or word being given to you?
            Led (Respond): How are you being called to respond?
            Lay (Rest): Be in God's presence.
            Live (Return): Moving back into the world with how we've been changed.

As you look at this image, what words come to your mind?  Look at the people,their body language.  Note the colors chosen.  What speaks to you about the location?    Specifically, what Scripture passage or phrase does the Holy Spirit inspire them to speak to you?   You may think of a recent news article or a quote by a famous person.  So it maybe from another word or phrase that you are  inspired to look up a Scripture.  If you need help, you might try going to to do a search through the Bible using a key word that comes to you.  In this case, the upcoming Sunday is regarding Moses and his conversation with I AM at the burning bush so you may want to spend time with Exodus 3-4

Remember that there are those images, icons or symbols that appeal to us.  We are  now an incredibly visual society and images are important.  Christianity has been using images since the earliest days of the church.  BUT, we need to realize that there are also images that don’t attract us or inspire us with joy or peace that are just as likely to be used by God. 

Whatever that verse or word or phrase, take it as a guide for your prayer through this day.  Read or say that verse or phrase out loud if you have time or space to do so.  If not, silently reflect and pray.  If it is a full story, consider using more of Lectio Divina which I talk about elsewhere on my blog.  

Haikus on a Monday

Awkward and alone.
No longer whole: shattered.
Pot shards and soul shards.

A hidden treasure
in shelter.  Shining.  Gleaming.
Ravaged.  Tried and torn.

I heard my soul speak.

I get stumped at times and I lose track of my own thoughts and feelings.  I misplace parts of my experience.  When I do that, and do it for long enough, I find poetry helps me center.  The haiku form seems best for me.  During my experience with the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation there were many friends who found their voice in poetry.  I rarely did but I do know when my soul cries out, it will, at times, cry out in poetry.

Long before there was Twitter limiting our characters, the haiku developed rules to keep the syllables to a minimum.  5. 7. 5.  I need those rules.  They function much like a rule of life and the simplicity and guidelines those rules offer, well, they push me to dig deeper, not just into vocabulary but into the soul work.  My soul work.

The Psalms are the reminder to us of the raw power of the spiritual work.  The words found there are real, raw, and ripping.  Some of them we do not like at all.  I think that is because they reveal our own base natures, the real needs we experience as human beings when our outer facades fade and fail us.

I heard my soul speak.

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