Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's New?

"I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate."
Romans 7:14-15

Romans 7

One of the most common New Year's resolutions has to be to quit smoking. I smoked a pipe for decades and I can tell you that it is easy to quit - I did it many times! Yet, it does not count if it isn't sustainable. We call it simple "will-power" (brain elbow-grease?), but what we yearn for is "won't-power". I would fight the good fight with mental might, sternly chanting inside: DO NOT SMOKE. DO NOT SMOKE. DO NOT SMOKE. Yet, like a Gary Larson cartoon dog, what I heard was: Blah blah SMOKE. Blah blah SMOKE. Blah blah SMOKE. My most sincere efforts only made it worse by focusing my attention on the very thing that I was trying to put behind me.

Romans 8

The Ten Resolutions (The Thoushallnots) worked moderately well for a log long time, but the world didn't need a resolution, but a revolution. The Easter Revolution freed us from our internal dialogue of fear and negativity: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, BUT those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (verse 5). We expose and ditch our idols, and focus on something other and bigger than our cravings. We are free to choose what we will surrender to; what kind of master we want.

When we huddle in a corner in a fetal position we are closed to grace. We think we are the only ones to have experienced such a trial. We think that we are alone. And yet: "We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words can not express" (verse 26). Such a hope filled sentence! We fear to fail because we fear to be judged, even though we were created both fallible and in God's image. How freeing to let Jesus wash our feet, to let someone else be God for a change. In sports, teams and people choke when they stop trying to win, and instead try not to lose. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us" (verse 37).

What will your New Year's revolution be?

"So it depends not on human will or exertion,
but on God who shows mercy."
Romans 9:16

Any One of Us is Every One of Us

Simon Peter I am, a boisterous fishing man.
Half-baked plans leading to half-cocked fists.
Thrice crowed the cock; the sand became the rock.

I am Judas truth to tell, steward of the twelve.
Tight are the purse strings, hoarding many things.
I shun Mary’s extravagance; seeking worldly relevance.

At His feet I’m Mary. My home is His in Bethany.
Giving gifts of loving friendship to the giver of all gifts.
I anoint Him now with nard; faith in a dark future is hard.

Working behind every scene, I’m Martha the unseen.
Idly my spoiled sister sits while I keep this whole show running.
Raised my brother from the dead? Then make Mary bake some bread!

The DNA of all mankind resides within my genetic code.
Hitler and Mother Theresa; both ill and good-will I bode.
An infinity of alternate realities inside, waiting to be freed.
Alike indeed, opposed in deeds; fertile mysterious seeds.
Some growing in His light; some hiding from His sight.

He’s in all, so you’re in me and I’m in thee.
How then can I judge so self-righteously?


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Stranger’s Birth

Weary child-bride, new mother;
nestling her child in a manger.
Aliens in Egypt once were we;
An alien among us He’s come.

Raising up the son of another;
Joseph leads away from danger.
Strangers back into Egypt flee;
a stranger among us - undone.

Around babies all turn tender;
the still power of their infancy.
Grace to us God daily renders;
the meek power of our frailty.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Barn

Timber-framed bones, stolid
     beams from woodlands long gone.
Foundation rock solid
 slabs of sea-bed long gone.

Silent each empty stall;
murmur of life now gone.
Remnant's a hollow pall;
 seeds of future now gone.


The barn pictured here is like many of us, a survivor. A strong south wind torqued it off of its foundation. Its mighty knee braces,  mortises, tenons and pegs valiantly hold it proudly erect. But, it no longer stands on its limestone foundation. No longer utile, it stands as an artifact in the landscape - a reminder of past industry and vitality. How many of us are like this weather-worn barn? How many of our institutions no longer stand on firm foundations?

(Matthew 7:24-27 and 1 Peter 2:4-5)

Primate Parable

Around the comfortably appointed library of a thoroughly respectable manse, sat the three leading lights of the venerable Philanthropic Organization Of Pleasantopolis. These old P.O.O.P.s were debating worthy projects for their annual charity events.

Richard N. Croesus (Rich): “I think we ought to focus on something close to home where people can see their money in action. How about the Edenvale County Zoological Garden? It needs a lot of help right now, but if managed soundly could become a source of revenue for the community.”

Dawn A. Tore (Dawn): “The children love the zoo, and it certainly brings in visitors.”

Rev. C. Fuller Dollars (Full): “And marketing should be a breeze; cuddly animals, excited kids – great photo ops. What if we highlighted the Petting Farm?”

Rich: ”They already charge a separate admission. If they’re not pulling their own weight by now, we should cut bait and cut our losses!”

Dawn: ”How about the Ape House then? They’re the most like us and people will be more empathetic with their plight.”

Full: ”I like it. I can see the posters around town now – ‘See the baby chimpanzee; he’s as cute as cute can be.’ People love babies.”

Dawn: “Yes, but a lot of our supporters live on a fixed income. They need to help someone they can identify with, like Kong the gorilla.”

Full: “’Save the great grey silverback; success or your money back.’ People want a sure thing you know.”

Rich: “Too passive; we need to put the squeeze on folks.”

Full: “You mean like – ‘Don’t make me harangue you man, help us help the orangutan’?”

Dawn: “Whoa! No one likes to be pressured or made to feel guilty.”

Full: “What if we stressed our connection – ‘Support your fellow gibbons, by showing off yellow ribbons.’ We could save money by selling some of that crime scene tape that was left over, and all those car magnets.” 

Rich: “We’re getting no where fast. Primates just aren’t a ‘sexy’ enough project to capture the imagination. People want slickness and gloss, not gloom and doom. I propose we put all our time and money into fund raising for the visitor’s center and gift shop. People will feel welcomed and then the zoo can support itself. That would be the fiscally sound choice, and good stewardship of our hundred thousand dollar investment.”

And that is just what they and every zoo in the world decided to do. Over time, all the apes silently became extinct, leaving humanity a poorer only child. Years later, a group of new P.O.O.P.s spent over a million dollars in auction to buy the stuffed skin of the last living ape to draw people in to the new Edenvale County Natural History Museum on the grounds of the old zoo.

The Vessel

    Drawing by the author.

                      (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

From loving hands of a Master Potter made.
Fired in the kiln of life; heat-tempered clay.
Mercy I meekly plead; grace so dearly need.
He made me His vessel - worthy of this day.

Adam’s line; jar made from God’s red earth.
Cana’s wash-water into finest wine? Rebirth!
Living-water revenant? Blood of a covenant!
The pot’s content is the measure of its worth.

Alabaster bottling up a life of precious scent;
Only when we’re broken is true purpose lent.
New-freed fragrance; room-filled abundance,
Anointing in boundless love the heaven-sent.

Custom-made unfinished work ever growing.
Not shaped for holding; but for overflowing.
Was worthless dross, ‘til I took up His cross.
Maker-marked; doubting Thomas’ knowing.

My hollow emptiness His Holy Spirit filled.
Mended by His Son; cup that for me spilled.
Pottery is only heard shattering into sherds.
Made for a special use, by the Father willed.


    Ointment jar by Jeremy Good.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mysterious Voice of Winter

1 Kings 19:11-13 (The Message)

Then he was told, "Go, stand on the mountain at attention before GodGod will pass by."

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn't to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn't in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, "So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?"


Snow-cover may be seen as white-wash,
 covering the world's blemishes,
but it can also make us look at old things in new ways.
This is both psychological and spiritual.

Mission Statements

I was first attracted to Tony Morgan's book on church leadership because of his title: "Killing Cockroaches"! In my reading today, he was talking about the need to simplify a church's mission statement to keep the leaders focused on its true mission instead of busy killing cockroaches. He lifted up the Christ Church of the Valley in Arizona's mission: "Win, train and send".  I like its ease for the congregation and leadership to remember, and its alignment with our Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) - but as a placid methodical methodist I find the "winning souls for God" element a little too hubristic; an Essene's epic battle between the sons of lightness and darkness where I'm the hero!

Whether we want sweet corn or feed corn, we first need seed corn.

So to "borrow" a good idea,  I rewrote it as "Grow, harvest and sow" (Matthew 13:3-9 and 18-30). Only God wins souls, but we can work in His fields and help Him grow disciples, who once ripe then need to be enabled to go out as seed.  I like this less militaristic image better because it emphasizes that life is messy and that we need to get down and dirty, and also stresses the circle of life aspect of discipleship.

If you like this mission statement, it's all yours; just go play in the dirt!

First Ice

Death throws down its bone white gauntlet;
Old Man Winter's arthritic grasp.
But crystal rage can't long contain
The warm blooded river of life.