From my Journal, 6/21/18
Last day of summer. This week has been an odd mixture of joy and sorrow. I feel joyful about my marriage, about opportunities to connect and engage with friends and family. But sorrow, too, at the passing of a friend with brain cancer and the apparent soon departure of another friend from the same malady. [I learned this second friend had slipped into eternity as I was preparing this post]. Also from listening to the pain of another friend who appears to be losing his marriage and family to an addiction he’s been unable to conquer thus far. All of this got me thinking about Randy Stonehill’s Hymn:
In this land of the walking wounded
In this desert of countless sorrows
I will cling to his hand today and fear not for tomorrow
In my heart I have made this promise
With this song I declare my choice
I will walk where the shepherd leads and heed no other voice
In the chill of my darkest hour
I am saved from my deep despair
For the father who loves his children hears my trusting prayer
In my soul there is one light shining
From the flame of my true belief
And its embers cannot be quenched or robbed by any thief
In the end we are not forgotten
And our journey is not in vain
For the master who bought us here
Will lead us home lead us home again
You can listen here if you like:
I learned to sing Hymn from Rod Eubank, a worship leader of the church we attended back in the 80’s.
The image of Rod I’ll never forget is him with a pick in his mouth on Sunday morning, changing a busted string on his guitar and being back, ready to rock and roll and worship before the next song started. How did he DO that? I miss him. One day in 1991 he got up from watching TV, went to the bedroom and lay face down with what he probably thought was heartburn. He never got up-massive heart attack. He wasn’t there when our son and his stood as best men at each other’s wedding.
I’m thinking again of the theme of aliens and strangers, servant-leaders in exile, and Jeremiah’s charge to the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29. What do you do in the Land of the Walking Wounded, in the desert where broken bodies, broken marriages, broken families and broken dreams litter the sand? Where cancer and heart disease bring their ugliness to shatter bodies and families and cut life short?
You wage peace. You seek shalom. You serve people, love on your loved ones, seek to meet needs. You forgive. You ask God to search your heart and you repent as best you can when he shows you the junk. You intercede for the lonely, the broken, the angry, the addict, the poor and the lost.
You follow Mother Theresa’s axiom: you light your little candle instead of cursing the darkness.
You pray St. Francis’ prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
You follow King David’s advice- if you want to love life and see good days you seek peace and pursue it.
You follow St. Paul’s counsel: present your body to God as a living sacrifice, then think carefully about how you can use the spiritual capacities He’s deposited in you to serve, bless and lift up others.
You take Pope John Paul’s charge seriously: if you want peace, work for justice.
Here’s the one thing you DON’T do: You don’t quit. You don’t give in to despair. You never let go of hope. There’s a new world coming. The Lion WILL lie with the lamb. Death WILL die. And love will reign supreme. Hold onto that, and light your little candle.
Proverbs 13:7-8 New International Version (NIV)
7 One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
8 A person’s riches may ransom their life,
but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.
I never noticed before how these two couplets relate to each other. If I could paraphrase, I’d write something like this:
Thrift, savings and frugal living lead to wealth, but extravagant living leads to poverty- no financial margin. And the problem with no financial margin is that an unexpected expense quickly becomes a crisis.
I keep seeing these articles in Marketwatch about how few American families could come up with even a modest sum-say $400- to meet an unexpected car repair or medical bill. The financial meltdown of ’07-08 left a lot of families in a really tight place from which they’ve yet to recover. Why? Because they had no reserves, no margin, no savings. I don’t want to sound arrogant or judgemental, but I can’t help but wonder: is that problem primarily a result of our economy or of our culture?
The suburban shopping malls are in trouble lately because of pressure from e-commerce, but for a couple of generations they were a primary source of entertainment. Young people hung out at the mall with their friends and after school and got used to the seductive buzz of “retail therapy”. Shopping became our go-to remedy for boredom, stress, loneliness-even depression. The ubiquity of the credit card compounded the problem by creating the illusion of financial resources that we really didn’t have. So-called “balloon” mortgages gave a similar illusion that we could afford McMansions that we really couldn’t.
So again I ask, is this primarily an economic problem or a cultural one? Or perhaps more to the point, a spiritual one. I doubt that the data’s out there, but I wonder how many of the folks who would be thrown into a crisis by an unexpected $400 expense give the tithe?
Proverbs 13:7-8 are one of the many illustrations of what I call “the funnel principle”. Imagine a big funnel lying on its side. This is your life. You get to choose which end you will enter. The narrow end involves self-control, self-sacrifice, self-discipline, voluntary restraint on your freedom. The advantage of entering on this end is that it widens into increasing freedom, abundance, available choices and satisfaction as you proceed.
The other option is to enter into the wide end of the funnel. This is “fun end of the funnel”-initially. Life without limits. Life for today. If it feels good, do it. If it tastes good, eat it. If it looks hard, avoid it. But then the funnel starts to constrict: debt, health issues, addictions, relationship issues, anger, fear, depression and regret.
Most of our readers are probably aware that I just paraphrased Jesus in Matthew 7:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
We’re in a small fishing village, maybe in New England. It’s just before sunup, and mist fills the streets and the dock are. Lights are on in a couple of coffee shops.
At the docks, the fishermen are already getting ready for the day, checking nets and lines and winches. warming up the diesel engines. The air smells of salt, fish, diesel fumes and pipe smoke. We walk silently along the harborside, You and I and Chuck, my Guardian. I just learned recently that I can look into the spirit realm and see him as well as You. He looks relaxed. He’s wearing jeans and a black turtleneck and sneakers. He has salt-and-pepper hair and wire rimmed glasses, like mine. He’s lean but muscular. An interesting combination of qualities blazes from his eyes: intelligence, joy, peace, an ancient wisdom mixed with a holy fierceness. He doesn’t look to be armed but I have no doubt whatsoever of what he’s capable of.
We observe the fishermen. Nobody’s spoken yet, but You appear to be deep in thought. What’s on Your mind?
Commercial fishing is a pretty complex operation, when you think of it. It involves physical prowess combined with an array of types of knowledge- of wind, currents, tides, weather, the feeding habits of the particular species you’re after. Plus you have to know your boat, your equipment and crew. A good commercial captain is a combination sailor, coach, mechanic, marine biologist, meteorologist and applied oceanographer.
Fishing for men is similarly complex. It’s not just the activity of giving someone an outline of the gospel, important as that is. A good evangelist is a good communicator, sure, but he’s first of all a good friend. He’s full of love. He (or she) is a great listener. He’s full of humility. She’s developing a deep understanding of the needs of the human heart. He offers respect, understanding, a curiosity about the lives of others that’s engaging without being invasive.
He actually does more listening than speaking.; she’s skilled at asking questions that draw people out. He doesn’t rush things, but operates under the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3: a season for everything, a time for every purpose.
Like commercial fishing, evangelism at its best is a team effort. The whole Body of Christ, with its diversity of gifts and ministries and personalities is designed and equipped to advance the kingdom. Outreach is important, but so is prayer, teaching, fellowship, counseling, communion- every means of grace available to build up the Body.
A good fisherman is aware of his own strengths (and weaknesses) and skillset so he knows how to most effectively contribute to the overall success of the team.
And don’t forget love! Love’s the bait! Remember, I said that love, flowing and demonstrated and on display in the church would be a neon sign letting the world know that the Father really sent Me and I have sent you to them.
So make the most of every opportunity to use your spiritual gifts, to develop them. Get outside your comfort zone and take some risks. As you develop and use your gifts, love flows, the Body grows and the goal of evangelizing your community becomes more in focus. When I gave the Apostles the Great Commission, they felt overwhelmed. But after the Spirit came, they quickly started figuring it out. The Body-life of the church developed as described by Luke:
Acts 2:42-46 New International Version (NIV)
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
If you just focus on the magnitude of the task you can get overwhelmed. Just look to Me for each day as significant and, together with your fellow fishermen, you’ll get it done.
Proverbs 8:17-21 New International Version (NIV)
17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.
Wisdom is wealth. The capacity to make good, healthy life choices and decisions is worth more than all the silver in the world, all the gold in Fort Knox. Honor, life, blessing, prosperity, happiness- these flow from the holy Fear of the Lord, which is the beginning, the bedrock foundation of wisdom (Hebrew chokmah– skill in living)-Proverbs 9:10.
What can compare to the enduring wealth of a healthy, happy, vibrant marriage? But those riches are only truly available to those who listen to God’s wisdom about forgiveness, true love, control of our sexuality, gentleness of speech, humility, patience and self-sacrifice. The wise spouse builds his or her marital house on the bedrock of God’s truth, not on the shifting sands of emotion, passion, self-centered desire and romantic fantasy.
What can be more bitter than financial bondage? Poverty is bad enough, but greed, envy, materialism, the endless craving for a little bit more, debt, worry, stress, anxiety about finances are immeasurably worse.
We used to travel to the Central American nation of Honduras to visit family (in recent years it’s become very dangerous because of the drug trade). Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere; we met many people who lived in poverty by USA standards, yet they were largely cheerful, friendly, hospitable and seemed genuinely happy. I suspect that in many cases it’s because they have discovered the riches of walking in the Fear of the Lord.
I think God gets a lot of bad press. Too many have a false image of Him as a grumpy potentate who continually gives the stinkeye to any fun, fulfillment, joy, pleasure, freedom or life. Baloney! Who created our tastebuds? Who paints sunsets and perfumes the rose? Who put the nerve endings on our genitals, for crying out loud?? Or created the mathematical precision of melody, harmony and rhythm such that a Mozart symphony can comfort, inspire and lift our souls to the heights?
The psalmist said the blessed guy had learned to delight in the Law of the Lord. I believe that’s because the blessed guy knew that the Law of the Lord was given to protect, fulfill, bless and liberate us, not to put the kabosh on happy, joyful living. One of the clearest expressions of this concept was articulated by Paul in Galatians 5 when he contrasted the lawless works of the flesh with the ordered life of the Spirit:
Galatians 5:16-25 New International Version (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
What a contrast-dysfunction, addiction and broken relationships vs. fulfillment, flourishing and peace! I often suspect Paul thought carefully and strategically about placing love and self-control as opposing bookends to the fruit of the Spirit. Those who live the life of true abundance and joy have learned to love well, and we can’t love well without self-control: voluntary submission to and delighting in the Law of the Lord written on our hearts.
Jesus Laughing-Yongsun Kim
Lord, You are my shalom. I confess my ongoing vulnerability to angry, self-righteous judgement when I see what’s going on in the political arena. I’m grieved when I see what’s going on in Judge Kavenaugh’s hearings, but I know my anger doesn’t work your righteousness.
Grant me the wisdom to know when to speak and when to stay silent. Show me what it truly means to be salt and light in this culture, in this era. Let love be the hallmark of all my communication, all my actions.
OK, this is different…. I’m sitting opposite You in a hot tub. You just dunked your head under the water and then came up wiping the excess water off Your face, out of Your hair and beard. I notice your chest. It looks broad and powerful and – well – hairy. You grin at me. You are obviously enjoying yourself.
I can feel myself relax as the heat penetrates my muscles and the effervescence from the jets tingles on my skin.
Refreshing, isn’t it? David visualized green pastures and still waters when he wanted his soul restored. Why not a hot tub? Just as it does the body good to enter a state of rest and relaxation, so for the soul. This is more than emotional and spiritual goofing off. Don’t let the enemy of your soul harass you with guilt. You need this. Everybody does.
Seems like I do more resting and relaxing than anything else these days.
Well, as your body ages, you need more and more. Besides, it’s not without purpose. We’re here together. That should count for something! In fact, it should count for a lot. Jesus grins and splashes water at me.
Look, labor is more than physical. You were just writing earlier about how you have to fight these internal enemies of anger and judgement because of your current national political climate. That stuff takes its toll on the soul, and there’s much to intercede for. Prayer is a high and holy endeavor, but it’s also very much work. The more you pray, the more you need to let the warm water of My grace penetrate your spiritual muscles.
You’ve been spending a lot of time with people. That’s good. And in a sense healthy relationships and communication can energize you, but they can also take something out of you. Kind of like a good run or workout in the physical realm.
You’ve had (and taken) more opportunities this last couple of weeks to pray for and with people. That’s good-keep at it. The more you do it, the better you get at it. It’s a skill. And it’s more critical to the mission of discipling the nations than a lot of people realize.
But again, prayer is energy. Prayer is a resource. That means your need for these times with Me, in the hot tub, if you will, become more and more important. To give to others, you must receive from Me.
Faith is a muscle. Love is a muscle. Service is a muscle. They grow as you exercise them. But they can also get sore. When we spend time together like this, you can get the kinks out.
Resurrection lilies-Sheryl Smith 2018
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deut. 30:19)
Lord, the hate speech and desire to continue the war against You, Your principles, and Your people is a worry I’d like to hand to You. It seems ever present around me in every news source. I know all I can do is try not to spew any back, but live in peace and speak peace and Your love to all. But it still bothers me a lot. Would You help me to deal with the worry or anxiety which I know is not of You? Let me have the mind which is in Christ Jesus. Jesus even knew what was coming for Him. It wasn’t a “what if” yet He lived in the moment loving and teaching. Even when the evil came He maintained peace and forgave. Will You direct my heart and mind in this way?
“Peace daughter. I said there would be tribulation in the world, but that I had overcome it. I left peace as a gift to My people. Your time on earth is brief and people have made it hard because the enemy was loosed to roam the earth. My cross overcomes him for My people. You can be free, triumphant and at peace even in tribulation if you walk with Me and know this is but a moment in My eternal plan for you. Look past what seems to loom in your now or near future to the glory set before you seated with Christ. You have a choice to be swamped in the now of what may be real or may only be ‘what ifs,’ or you can choose life and joy and peace. I have urged My people from the beginning to choose life.”