Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Tiger of Ancient Anger

Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

I am a blessed man. I have a home that is safe, blessed.

I have children. We wanted them for so long that the longing grew very large, becoming a huge void, swallowing our lives. The Lord filled that void.

I have a most satisfying career. I'm a teacher, my product is lives. Hundreds of students come though my classroom door, who I push, and prod, and cajole, and bribe, and discipline, working to make them into thinkers, lovers of learning. I couldn’t possibly have a better job.

I have a church family that loves me greatly. Though my child has wronged them, they seek to care for us, to support us.

And I have a relationship with the creator of the universe. I draw closer to Him with each passing season. I long to serve Him better. As I grow to know Him more, I realize how much joy there is in being His, in serving. I am a blessed man.

Blessed be your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Sometimes life sucks.

Sometimes I feel I am spinning away into darkness, like some astronaut flung toward the stars. The lights in the sky circle around, sharp reminders of difficult times. Burning bright is the death of Willy, which makes me ache in ways I think may never heal. I sometimes feel cut off from all that is real. Prayer slows the spinning.

My frustration yesterday was so tangible, so real, I felt I couldn’t stand who I am.

My wife struggles with the events of this past summer. She loves our son, but it is hard for her to forget what he did. She lashes out at the world, at me, and yesterday I jumped in the van and took off before it became a verbal fight. When I called her later she said that when I got back she was leaving. I hurried home, bracing myself.

Oh dear Lord... forgive me... but when she came to me an hour later and said she wasn’t leaving I felt a touch of disappointment. I hope you can understand. I really love my wife. I was that hurt, that weary.

I prayed. I posted a comment or two on my blog and others started praying (thank you). Soon Brenda and I felt we were being lifted. We were being lifted.

And the Lord worked to support us. The church service was unusual, but the disparate elements there came together for us, bringing us to our knees and then lifting us onto our feet. We needed the loving arms of our church because I believe we were being attacked.

I dislike discussing things of the occult. I don’t like to think about them. I regret the years in my youth when I found them interesting. That is why I hesitate now in discussing what is going on in my life. (But I set myself up for this when I created this blog, didn’t I?)

You see, I love science. I love things that are measurable, tangible, predictable. I love to read Scientific American. (I’ve read every issue, cover to cover, since April 1980.)

But just because I like things a certain way does not mean that is how they are. That includes the darkness that prowls the Earth.

Satan is a tiger of ancient anger.

And I’m pissing him off.

Or his minions. I don’t believe I am important enough to attract his personal attention. But still, I stand up for what I believe is right and that makes me a target.

This past week I made a short video for today’s church service.

I started with this passage:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. --Philippians 2:1-2

I turned that into two questions I posed in the video:

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ?

Is there any comfort from His love?

Yesterday my wife was despairing. And I was tired, very tired. Physically exhausted, emotionally drained, spiritually fatigued. She asked me that if being a Christian meant getting hurt all the time, what was the point?

I told her the point had nothing to do with us. The point is in being obedient, in being a servant to our Lord. There aren’t any guarantees that the events of life will be better in following Jesus. It just isn’t about us.

This was my first screw up. Instead of hearing her statement as a cry for help, I dragged out my spiritual bullet points and gave her a dose of theology instead of love.

Later in the day, reviewing the video before burning it onto a DVD, I saw those questions afresh and realized Brenda was saying she didn't feel any encouragement, any comfort. I understand. Her frustration was a cry for help. The experiences of the past year do not seem to come from a loving God. Life is hard.

It looks like we may be sued for the $2 million+ damage from the fire Jeremiah caused. That is hard for Brenda to take. I think it will all work out, but none-the-less, I understand her frustration.

There are other passages in Philippians that are important to note.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 4:4-7


I can do everything through him who gives me strength. --Philippians 4:13

So back to the initial topic of this post: Satan.

I have wondered why he is the way he is. It is only speculation, but I think he is angered by us. Imagine what it must have been like for angels before the world was created. Angels are immortal. They experience linear time, (perhaps more, I’m unsure), but they were inhabitants of a realm where spirituality was all there was. The universe was the presence of God Almighty. There was a purity to their existence we cannot understand.

And then God created us.

And then God loved us.

Imagine a being, immortal, sharing eternity in the presence of the triune God. Existence is a stream of love, and logic, and knowledge, and sharing. Nothing of the flesh. Imagine
coming to understand that the Lord has created a new being to share eternity.

Not another type of immortal either, but something part animal. Flesh. It has desires, and needs. It grunts and sweats. It recreates in procreation.

Again, I am a foolish man with faulty knowledge and I lack wisdom, but I speculate this pissed him off.

He told the Lord God: “No! Not them! They are not worthy.”

Maybe Satan’s role in the universe is something akin to his role in the book of Job. He is an accuser, holding up our sins, our imperfections as proof we are not worthy of eternity.

I suppose he is right. We aren’t worthy. But worth isn’t the issue. The Lord God wanted creatures who could choose. Creatures who fail because they are weak, who hold up thin hands, hands that haven’t the grip of angels, and beg to be picked up and placed in the Father’s lap. (Like the fragile starvation-thinned hands Jeremiah held up to me the day I first picked him up.)

And it pisses him off.

So here I am. A creature something between an animal and an angel. One of a race that delights in sin, that drinks, and blasphemes, and envies, and is born “to grunt and sweat under a weary life.” Yet... I love my Lord.

And that gives me authority:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."

He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. --Luke 10:17-19

The Lord has ultimate authority, limiting the Deceiver, which is the only reason I can bless, sanctify, my home.

When I sat down to type this post I thought I would share with you examples of how Satan is attacking my family. I thought I would be explicit with the problems of my skin, and how it affects our lives. I thought I would show you the burdens that Brenda carries, and the weirdness, the spookiness, the beyond the realm of science things that has made me cling tightly to my faith.

But, this post is long enough already.

I just want to share that I think our adversary is a being of ancient anger, a creature who believed that humanity is so inherently flawed that God Himself would succumb to temptation once He took on the form of a man.

I want to tell you that this being, more ancient than the earth, is prowling, sliding along the shadows, guiding and commanding a formidable army.

I want to say that though I sometimes feel I have tried to sprint across a no-man’s land to rescue a couple of terrified children, and that I am pinned down between enemy fire and rolling clouds of poisonous gas, it is worth it.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. --Philippians 4:13

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hands Off!

"Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."Job 2:4-6

That letter from the attorney, the one hired by our church’s insurance company, is unsettling. I can’t give them what they want.

I don’t blame them. They want to recoup as much of their money as they can. But I cannot help them. I haven’t any assets. Do they want my ‘84 Honda? Do they want my ‘78 Ford van? Those won’t go far in recovering over 2 million dollars.

Jeremiah has a good heart. He has been through a lot. He has been beaten and starved and abused. He has been through war and death and shoved from one home to the next. And like all of us, he sometimes listens to the Whisperer who seeks to keep us in the dark, as far from the Lord as possible. Those are the real reasons our church burned.

I’m his dad. I will do what is right. I will take responsibility for my failures, my lack of supervision of this young man with the 46 IQ. But I cannot pay the money they seek.

We had a solemn assembly at our church last Sunday night. It was a time for us to corporately examine our failures to each other, to our community, to our Lord. I told our congregation I repent of the harm I may have caused any of them by not closely watching what my son was doing that night, when he found himself alone with a candle and a lighter.

And they forgave me.

The elders and our pastors already gave me their forgiveness. They even helped us pay for the counseling and the fire safety steps we had to take (and continue to take).

Sunday night was a step in making things right with those who were affected by the displacement of classes and programs in our church. It was an act of repentance for any hurts we had caused the body.

He doesn’t like that sort of thing.

A couple of months ago I tossed him out of my home. He landed in the street, cursing (of course), and has been prowling around the edges of my life ever since. He is a tiger of ancient anger. He doesn’t like what I’ve been up to.

I walked throughout my home, praying over every corner of every room, every door, every window, inside and out. I claimed freedom from all darkness in His name around the foundation of the house and along the peaks of every roof. I prayed over every corner of the property, sprinkling oil over it all.

In Jeremiah’s room there was a moment when I got the heebie jeebies. There was a knocking in the wall. As if someone was inside the wall, knocking slowly. I prayed. It faltered, stopped.

A few weeks later Jeremiah said he saw something dark looking in his window. Isaac complained of bad dreams. I bought another large bottle of olive oil. My sons and I prayed around the house again, along the property lines.

But he doesn’t give up.

The sores on my skin have never been worse. The itching is constant. The rashes are turning to scars. The splits come every few weeks, opening up the fingers of my hands. I leave small spots of blood here and there, little patches of the swirls and whorls of fingerprints marked with tiny slices where I have sprung small leaks. My hair is starting to come out again.

He doesn’t give up.

My wife is tense. She is getting better. I started praying over her each night, but the letter from our church's insurance company’s attorney set her back.

He doesn’t quit.

My sons are better, I anoint them with oil each night. But strange stresses are hitting them from odd directions. Yesterday was a bad day for Jeremiah.

He doesn’t stop.

I started painting images of spiritual import, praying more, writing words encouraging others to follow my Lord. And doubts creep into my heart about my health, my mortality.

He just doesn’t stop.

And neither does He.

I have a powerful ally. I have a big brother who loves me so much He came into the world to rescue me from him. I have a friend who loves me more than I love myself. I have a master who is gentle and asks no more than I fulfill what I was created to be. I have a Lord who is ancient, and wise, and the embodiment of love. And in His name I have something to say to him:

You can’t have us! We belong not only to our maker, the Lord God Almighty, we belong to your maker.

My son is covered! He is mine. He is His! He is dedicated to Jesus and you can’t have him!

My home is sanctified. I have taken what was not glorifying my Lord and tossed it out, jettisoned it! Go with it!

Prowl around as much as you like, but you are not getting in!

I don’t like the idea that you are powerful, and ancient, and knowledgeable. But you are not all powerful. You are a made thing, just as I am. And you may be knowledgeable, but you are not wise. You have cursed what cannot be cursed, and it cost you everything.

You may be the prince of this world. You may whisper and taunt and afflict, but for me and my family, we will follow the Lord.

Father, Lord, Holy spirit... I lay all I have, all I desire, all of who I am, at Your feet. I know it is safe in Your keeping. Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I throw myself out of the water, flopping on the sand, gasping at burning air... too hot, too dry.

The wave comes, pulls me back to the sea.

I am a man. A sinful man who loves to love himself. I want to be more. I pray to be more. The world keeps pulling me back.

O great fisherman, come, take me up with your net!

I gaze at the sky with eyes not designed for air; I watch the bright yellow orb glide slowly across the night. I gulp the air, tasting it, wondering what it would be like to breathe. I turn, slipping back into cool, familiar depths.

I want to stride through the heavens. I want to watch the spinning galaxies, sparkling with the births and deaths of stars, dancing through time and space. I want to contemplate the love that rescued me from being a man, a creature who sensed more than he could feel. I want a mind that takes eternity in stride, free from forgetfulness, from mortal needs, mortal desires. I want to glide across the floors of the third heaven and bask in the glory of the trinity as holiness itself carries all things into eternity.

I am a great fish. I want to be more. I want to crawl out of the sea and grow legs, grow lungs, grow a heart and a mind and a soul to help me understand the rain and the stars and the moon. I am a fish that longs to be more.

And the net comes.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why He did it

My son Isaac asked me last night: “Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t He have just found another way to make things work out?”

He was implying that since Jesus is God, He could do anything He wants. Why did He have to suffer?

Good question.

First, it is inaccurate to say that God can do anything. He can’t.

When we say that God can do anything, there is a hidden assumption. What we mean is God can do anything that is intrinsically part of who He is. He cannot do anything that is self-contradictory.

God cannot sin.

God cannot deceive.

God cannot do anything that is not within His character.

A silly comedian posed this silly question: “Can God create a rock so big He can’t move it?” First, rocks can only get so large before they can no longer be called rocks. At some point they become worlds, or stars, or black holes.
(A world has mass enough to pull itself into a sphere. A sun has enough mass for a fusion reaction. A black hole is massive enough that light cannot escape its gravity.) The rational answer to the silly question is “Yes, no, and haven't you something better to do?"

He can create anything, and "movement" is only movement in relation to other objects, and everything is in motion. God can move the universe. Is that big enough for you?”

God has qualities that are constant, true, and reliable. He cannot be other than who He is. He can love. He can forgive. He can create anything that fits within the laws that He maintains.

A man once asked God who He is. The amazingingly poetic, unbelievably intense, incredibly powerful answer was “I am.”

So... could He have rescued us from ourselves without suffering?


And no.

I told Isaac that God is love. He is a being of purity and community. He has always existed in ways we cannot understand. He was real, He was here, He was loving and thinking and creating, before anything of this universe existed. He was a community of three. He was/is/will-always-be the tangible, conscious expression of love so pure that the entire universe, all of of the particles of creation, are a mere exhalation of His living Word, His breath, His love.

And in that trinity of purity, of completeness more complete than humans can experience, He felt such love and joy and holiness, He could not help but create other beings to share that love, that joy, that holiness. He created us.

I told Isaac He created us to experience His love. And to keep everything fair, He gave us the choice of loving Him back or loving ourselves. We have the choice in opening up ourselves to momentary fragments of that purity of the triune God, or do what we want. Without the opportunity for choice we would be automatons. Love means that we consider the other first. So God had to give us a choice, and that means He had to find a way to connect with us that kept that choice intact.

And the first man, the first woman, thought it over, and chose selfishness. They decided it may be interesting, or good, or whatever, to focus on something besides God

At that moment we, humanity, pulled away from God. And since that moment, since that instant of selfishness and self-centeredness, God has been looking for ways to open our hearts to the joy, and love, and holiness for which He created us.

Not an easy thing, for we are born beings of ultimate selfishness. We are born as creatures which demand the universe recognize us as the center of all things. We demand to be loved, and fed, and changed, and played with. We gradually learn to share, and to play beside, and to play together, and to love. It is a long process of maturity that is never quite complete.

I told Isaac that since that first act of selfishness human beings have known an intense sadness. It wells up from deep within us, a void, an emptiness that cannot be filled by the selfishness we lavish on ourselves.

I told Isaac that from that moment we have all felt sorrow for ourselves, and sorrow for what we have done, a sorrow for who we are. Our consciences, the part of us that tells us when we do things that are wrong, tells us we are not good, we are misshapen, tells us that something is missing. And so, a long time ago, men started to say they are sorry to God by giving him things that are special.

We began giving the best of our possessions, gold, the first offspring of our animals, the first of our crops. We began killing things that were important, even each other. Every place where people began to build a civilization on this little world, they tried to appease their consciences, and their gods, with human sacrifices.

So God worked to fix what was broken.

He guided a people, a special group of people, a family actually, onto a path where we could work our way to a point where He could do something to show us the way back to Him.

He protected, and guided, and taught, and punished a people, the Israelites, until they had a set of ideas that helped them to see their sins in a clear way. They needed to see how they can not help but fail in their rules and laws. And when they had gotten the rituals and rules and laws down to a science that proved their inability to follow even ten simple rules, He stepped into the world.

He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." --Mark 7:6-8

I told Isaac that God, Jesus, came into the world to show us how to live a perfect life. Then He let us do to Him what we had been doing all along to animals, and crops, and even people. He let us sacrifice Him. He went quietly, like one of the meek lambs that had been laid on altars for centuries, and we slaughtered Him. We practiced deicide. We killed God.

He let us hurt Him. He let us spit on Him, and call Him names, and torture Him, and put nails through his body, and kill Him.

I told Isaac Jesus could have stopped it at any time. He is the Living Word, He holds the universe together; He could have made it stop at any time. And He was a real man. He really hurt. He really suffered. And even without the power of being God incarnnate He could have stopped them. He could have told the authorities what they wanted to hear and they would have stopped hurting Him.

I told Isaac that we have to remember that Jesus had to do this. We must remember that He is God. That He is, at the deepest core of who He is, love. He had to show us that He loved us with a love that moves beyond what we can understand.

I told my son that it is an amazing story, this sacrifice that Jesus gave to the world. But if it had ended there it would not have been enough for us to follow Him. There was one final thing He did.

I told Isaac that three days after the creatures He created and loved had nailed him to a piece of wood and buried Him behind a big rock, He proved who He was by stepping out of that tomb. He walked among His friends and followers. He ate food. He showed us He was a real, physical person who could touch things, and people. He showed He had could do anything, including coming back from the dead.

Then I told Isaac the most important part of the story. I told him that we can never truly love God the way He deserves. I told him that we are by nature selfish creatures who can’t stop thinking about ourselves and what we want. But God is willing to make a small concession to our nature. He is willing to accept us into His family, to love us forever, if we will just accept what Jesus did. He knows we will continue to make mistakes. But He also knows that if we will just take that act of sacrifice as our own, and try to draw as close as we can to that heart that loves us so much, He is willing to let us into His kingdom and be close to Him forever, in a place where we will be freed from the weaknesses that we have in this world.

God cannot take us back to a relationship with Him as long as we have desires that pull us away. To take away the desires would be to take away our freedom to choose to love. To force us to love would be unloving. We have to choose.

Jesus had to come and suffer and die. It was the only way He could lead us home.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


“...Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so...”

It is a wonderful thing to be so loved. For those who know Him it is... well... wonderful.

I’m a bit of a softy, I guess. And foolish.

I have other faults. I am self-centered, self-important, a know-it-all, an attention-seeking man who doesn’t see the beauty in others that I am commanded to see. And I am far too casual about my Lord.


“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why don’t you know? He’s the King... he’ll settle the White Queen all right...”

“She won’t turn him into stone too?” said Edmund.

“Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!” answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh. “Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her...”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver... "Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


There is a weakness to my faith. Our faith. We make God safe. He isn't.

The Jews understood that. When one lives under The Law it is a terrifying thing to know you will be judged against a supernatural code of conduct.

Christians have the luxury of being less worried. You see, we are not being held accountable for all we do. We are adopted into a relationship with our creator under the covering, the cloak of Jesus. Regardless of our sins He will welcome us home, as long as we claim that covering. The thing I should remember is that to cling to His cloak with filthy unrepentant hands and not try to honor His sacrifice with changes in my life is an embarrassment to my big brother. He is placed in the position of presenting me to the Father and saying, "Yes Father, this one too."

You see, God, the triune God encompassing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, welcomes us into a relationship under the grace of Jesus' sacrifice, His love.

I don't think He has a choice. He is by nature love. He may be displeased with us, He may be disappointed, saddened, and hurt (even physically hurt, 2,000 years ago), but He loves us because that is who He is.

We are adopted into His family. In Roman times a man could disown his child, unless that child was adopted. It was reasoned that adoption was an intentional act. An adopted child was a member of the family, forever.

Jesus understood adoption. He was adopted.

Joseph showed his adopted son how to hold a saw, how to swing a hammer. Mary's husband showed his adopted son how to hold a piece of wood so it wouldn't slip, so the blade wouldn't jump onto an unprotected thumb. He showed Him what it meant for a man of integrity to take a child that wasn't of his blood, his flesh, and love him, raise him.

That is what Jesus has done for all of us, and that love makes us all feel very warm. So warm and comfortable that we might sometimes forget that to love God is also to fear Him.

There are types of fear. I'm not talking about the fear of earthquakes or lions (and neither was Mr. Beaver). I'm talking about the numinous feeling of recognizing that the Lord God almighty is a being of infinite power and glory and that I am a mortal.

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"
And Moses said, "Here I am."
"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
--Genesis 3:4-6

Do you ever feel like you should hide your face? I do. Sometimes, when I worship. Sometimes when I worship I do hide my face.

When I really turn my thoughts to who the Lord God is, I tremble. At this moment, as I type, my heart is starting to beat faster.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
--Genesis 3:7,8

I don't think they were hiding just out of a sense of modesty. I think Adam knew he had become something different. He knew he was no longer a creature who could walk with the Lord, who could talk to the Lord God Almighty. He knew that to look upon God in his fallen state was to be destroyed.

Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
--Exodus 33:17-20

But because we know that Jesus loves us, we feel we can walk right up to God and have a casual conversation. And it is true, we can. Because the Lord God Almighty, the Living Word, ...Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phillipians 2:5-8)

And so I swagger where I should fall on my face, I strut when I should kneel. Because I have been adopted into a sacred family and I can claim entry through the name of my big brother, Jesus Christ, messiah, savior, friend, I sometimes forget that the universe is held together by a being of infinite love, and power, and grace.

I am an intensely curious person and I love to learn things (I am a resource of vast amounts of useless information). And the weakness that brings out in me is the foolish view that I know more than I do. But the fact that I am constantly learning new details about things I already know proves my knowledge is, and always will be, incomplete.

And that is just in the arena of information. What do I know about things that matter? What do I know about the heart? Even my own heart is a fickle thing that cannot love as steadily as my Lord's. What do I know of compassion? Even my own giving does not include all that I know that I can do, for I know that even on the nearby isle of my children's birth, there are children starving, children going blind for lack of nutrition (I confess Lord, I sometimes love a Starbuck's mocha more than a suffering child). What do I know of grace? Even when I forgive someone a wrong they have done me, even though I keep that forgiveness a secret, in my own heart I puff myself up, thinking that I am noble, good.

Have you seen a styrofoam cup that has been put in a net outside a submarine and taken to 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface? Under pressure it shrinks as much as 1/20th its usual size. My heart, as big and puffed up as I pretend it to be, is little more than a shriveled organ faintly echoing the heart my Lord wants me to have.

Where is my fear, my numinous awe? What would I do if I were transported back to ancient Israel and dared to enter the Holy of Holies? What would I do if I laid my eyes on the Ark of the Covenant, the spot upon which God's presence rested?

God is not safe. He loves me, and He is not safe. I know it for a truth.

Walk somewhere grand, where the work of God's creation is evident, and open your heart to it. Stand on the moss-carpeted floor of the Redwood Forest, gaze across the dizzying void of the Grand Canyon, find a quiet place in Yosemite to watch a rainbow dance above a waterfall as you look through the mist at the half dome and tremble at what your heart is whispering.

The Lord God Almighty isn't safe. But He is good.

I look into my heart, and I can feel Him.

Lord, I repent; I remove my sandals.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


This weekend I have a team of six students going to a robotics tournament. It’s pretty cool. I am a novice robotics coach, meaning this is my first year. I was told it was nuts to try to manage four teams (and it is) but I did it and all four teams did very well at the local tournament (each earned a trophy, and one is going to the state tournament!).

It was thrilling to watch the kids. They had to do a six minute presentation on an aspect of real world aquatic robots to a group of judges, as well as explain their engineering and programming decisions to another panel. They needed to demonstrate their problem solving abilities, and think on the fly to solve the problems that crept up. The most exciting part was the competitions. They went up against other teams in a two minute thirty second race to earn as many points as possible, performing various missions on the challenge field.

It is good for the kids. They are saying things about how they learned to work as a team, how they learned about researching, and engineering, and programming. And they had such a good time. Picture me gripping four trophies while my students dance around me shouting, high fiving, cheering.

We have a challenge table (this year’s theme is ocean-related) and the kids decide which of the nine missions they wish to attempt. Then they design, build, and program a versatile robot to do them.

What I like about it besides the educational values and the team building, is the concrete sequential thinking it forces the kids to do. Thinking through the sequence of logic and programming commands is good for them. Middle schoolers are pretty random. Random does not work with robots.

If a robot fails to do as they expect, they go back, look at the programming, and see exactly what they told the robot to do, step by step. The robot hasn’t any preferences, it doesn’t think, or want. It is doing precisely as it was programmed to do.

Unlike people. We are unpredictable. I think God wanted it that way.

It is true we often fail. Nearly continuously. But we have choices, and that is as it should be. God gave us choices from the start.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:15-17


We usually choose wrong.

The point is to be willing to set ourselves aside and be obedient to the Lord. This isn’t to say we are to be puppets. We aren’t to pray over every detail and anguish whether or not it is God‘s will. Usually it is clear enough. If we are to love the Lord with all we’ve got, and love each other the same way, it is usually easy to see what we are to do. It flows from who we are, what our skills are, what we can do for others.

I know how to put together little videos, and if I am asked to do something like that for our church, or for someone who really needs it, I am happy to do it. But being a servant does not mean always trying to do everything that comes along.

For example, I was asked if I would be a “greeter” at our church. Somehow it felt awkward. There was an immediate sense that I had to find a way to kindly say “no." Why? Another time I was asked if I would be willing to be placed on the usher schedule, assisting every other month or so with those duties. Again I felt a slight hesitation in my heart. My first impulse is to say “yes," why was I hesitating? I believe that each time it was the Holy Spirit guiding me. It turns out that I have been rather busy at the times those duties would have been performed, doing something for Him. Even though it is a small task, it fills my heart. That is the Holy Spirit telling me that I am doing what I should be doing.

There are times when there isn’t any sort of real feeling, one way or another. The last few months I have been leading a Sunday School class that discusses the sermon we had just heard (those sermons are posted on a blog linked on the left). I never felt a lot of passion one way or the other about that class. It was not an unpleasant task, it was not an enrapturing one either. There are times when I am simply working for my Lord, doing His will, even though He has not specifically pulled my strings in the process. Perhaps He knew I would do it, that the discussions there would be pleasing to Him, He didn’t need to tug me anywhere.

I might be teaching a different class, starting next month. Now this is something I feel a hearty excitement over. I know I am supposed to say “yes” to this. You may notice I didn’t say the Lord wants me to teach it. It may be that something will come up, the plans may change. But I believe that for now, the saying “yes” is what I am supposed to do.

That may sound a little confusing. Let me give another example of a “yes” that didn’t make sense.

When I was going to a junior college, getting a transfer degree on the long road toward my teaching credentials, I was carpooling with someone from my small town.

One day she asked me if I wanted to adopt a child, a pregnant teenager's. I instantly said “yes.” I quickly added that I would have to talk to my wife, but the prompting to say “yes” was very strong.

There were confirmations for that decision. There were miracles in that story. Again and again things fell into place. Again and again financing became available for things we couldn’t afford. Again and again I found things guiding me, teaching me, preparing me for the bringing home of that child born on my wife's birthday. I had a dream that clearly told me to go ahead when it got close to the actual adoption.

Now it would seem that the decision to adopt a child who would die three months later was a mistake. It wasn’t. That adoption was a great "first run" for us. It taught us the ins and outs of adoption, so we were ready for a later adoption that was interstate as well as international. It prepared us for the processes of home studies and state agencies and attorneys and background checks. And it prepared our hearts for fully loving children who entered our homes with luggage.

It prepared my heart for many other tasks as well (including this blog), such as helping those who grieve, or those who yearn for children, or simply loving more deeply. I found a broken heart can heal larger.

It was a good choice, adopting Willy.

I usually choose wrong.

My tendency is to do things that make me feel good, or make me look good, or make me comfortable. I am a selfish person. I am sinful. Anytime I think about anything before God or others I am sinning.

It is typical. People think first about themselves all of the time. I think the whole point in getting older is to grow out of that tendency. I don’t think we need to pray that the Lord gives us a parking spot by the mall entrance. We needn’t think about ourselves to that extent. We should be concerned over what He wants to do in us, not that we get every little perk that comes in life. I think we should pray the parking spot opens up for someone who recently hurt her ankle.

We are born into the world thinking we are the center of the universe. “Feed me! Change me! Play with me!” An infant’s desires are a demand that the universe recognize how important he is.

Then we learn to play along side each other, permitting others to share our toys. Gradually we learn to play with each other, then as a team. Sooner or later we learn that to woo a mate we need to place another person’s wishes before our own (at least temporarily). If we don’t stop our maturing there we begin to learn how to do it earnestly, consistently. If we keep going we can become one of those gifted people who mature to the point where they are always searching for ways to become more obedient to the Lord’s will (Lord do that in me!), which is to love Him with all we’ve got and share that love with each other.

Now the Lord didn’t have to make us that way. He could have created beings that were strictly obedient (and perhaps he did), but the opportunity to fail in our choices must make our right choices even more pleasing to Him.

He designed us to love. He wired that in... to love our children, our spouses, and perhaps to let that grow to include loving many other people and things, such a beauty, and grace, and sacrifice, and servanthood.

We weren’t programmed to follow a strict concrete sequential code of instructions. We aren’t robots on a challenge board scurrying about, blindly seeking to complete our missions.

I think in our bumbling attempts to follow Him, to follow the right instructions through all of our choices, we can please Him greatly. That is when we love one another, just as we were designed to do.

Monday, January 02, 2006


He was funny. He had the giggles all afternoon and while we listened he told a string of jokes. He’d start a joke and giggle a little, tell a little more and chuckle, tell a little more and start to laugh. We were all smiling and laughing long before he got to the point where he could gasp out a punch line.

I was on a journey, inspired by other journeys, and I had found a treasure that afternoon. Encircled by hippies and locals, Red Skelton sat on the side of the hot spring pool, dangling his feet in the warm water and cracking jokes. His wife kept bringing him drinks from the rv.

The guy could tell a joke. I can’t help but have a big grin on my face as I sit here typing, remembering the funniest man I ever met.

I was hiking and hitch hiking. The Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, highway 101, highway 99, I-5... from Canada to Mexico, Yosemite to Crater Lake... I was a-roamin’. It was late in the summer of 1974 (or was it ‘75?) and I had a copy of Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, and Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons in my backpack, atop the box of Bisquick and under a pair of Levi’s. I was on a Kerouac-inspired adventure discovering who I was and being as non-conformist as possible. You see, I’m from the near side of the baby boom bell curve and I missed out on most of the real hippie stuff and I was trying to catch up. It was a good time to be eighteen.

There was fifteen or so fellow travelers watching the live and in color version of the man from the golden age of television, and we laughed so hard for so long that afternoon our cheeks hurt, our sides ached.

Red had this great big grin that told you that life is good, that laughter is good, that being human was about breathing joy. He was an icon of Americana, as much a part of American culture as Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain. I felt like I had found a big piece of America, a laughing national treasure. I laughed until I hurt.

There is something about laughter that makes us feel wonderful. There is something about that giddy joy we feel that tells us that the world is wonderful and that life is good, and perhaps there is a God despite the sorrows we often feel. Because anything that makes us feel that good feels like some sort of a gift, some sort of magic that the universe has given us. I believe that to be entirely accurate. Because the universe is held together by a being of love who has a wonderful sense of humor.

The Bible has a lot of humor in it. One of my favorite parts is when Jonah is sulking and the Lord starts poking fun at him:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"

"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" --Jonah 4

Here is this cantankerous guy sulking before God. “I’m so ticked off! I knew You would do this, that You would go ahead and forgive these turkeys. I just wanna die!!!”

What does God do? He starts poking fun at him! He creates shade, and then brings up a hot wind, removes the shade, and practically starts poking him in the ribs... “Oh, poor little Jonah... doesn’t have his shade any more... What about all those poor confused people who don’t know nuthin’ and all their widdle animals?! Think about the baby animals!!!”

I get the impression that when Sarah laughs (overhearing she will have a child in her old age) and the Lord hears her, there is a sense of playfulness in His reply. She denies laughing (now rightfully fearful of the Lord) and He chides: “Yes you did!” They named the child Isaac, it means “laughter.”

Later, when the Lord talks about the evil of Sodom and Gomorra and Abraham begins to barter, there is a sense of tolerance and playfulness as the Lord “deals” with His servant. The Lord knows exactly what will happen, and the depth of the sin of those cities. But He spends a few moments playing with Abraham, almost as if He is at some sort of auction, letting Abraham get his way, to a point.

And that makes a lot of sense. I know the Lord is playful. I know that sometimes when I feel close to Him I feel joyful, happy, I want to laugh, I want to dance. I often feel that way when I worship.

The events of this past summer were difficult. But there was a point that while I felt dark forces astir the Lord was with me and a dangerous situation turned comical.

Even in the Book of Job, a very serious sort of tale, there are hints that joy and laughter are a part of what is good and right about living. Job’s children gathered frequently to enjoy each other’s company. Even the Lord speaks of laughter, about joy, in the book of Job, how the living things He created enjoy what they are.

Some may think that being a follower of Christ means being very serious all of the time. I admit many Christians never seem to smile. I think they are missing out on something. I think that they are missing a playfulness and enjoyment of life that the Lord wants us all to have.

My friend Tom Sawyer (yes that was really his name, he used to joke about it and sometimes introduce himself as Huck Finn) had a joy of living that was contagious. He passed away this past year, a spry retired missionary who was quick witted, kind, and full of laughter. That is the way the Lord wants us to live. Serious when needful, and dancing our lives toward Him with joy in our hearts.

My concordance indicates that the word “joy” appears 168 times in the Bible. “Joyful”, "joyfully”, "joyfulness”, and “joyous” 35 times. It would seem that joy is a part of what it is to be human.

As I grow in the Lord I find that joy growing as well. There is a part of me that feels younger than I have in a very long time. I believe that is a part of who and what God is, the emotions we call happiness and joy. I believe that many of the things that make us special: creativity, love, forgiveness, kindness, tenderness, and joy, are there because we are created in His image and as we draw closer to Him, we reflect those qualities all the more. They make us feel good because they are good.

I have sometimes felt those things to be distant. They are closer now because He is closer, or more accurately, I am closer to Him.

This summer I found myself laughing harder and more frequently than ever before. It is a very good thing.