Don’t Yell At Your Mom!

As some of you know, I serve our local police as a motorist assistance volunteer. Last night we were called to a disabled vehicle. We used to call these 10-46, but nowadays we just say disabled vehicle and everyone seems to understand. We were told the car was somewhere near Pouncey Tract and the entrance to the major shopping and entertainment complex at Short Pump Downtown. After driving through the intersection, we found a young man waving us down.

We circled through the parking lot, and rolled up on a typical econobox sedan from Japan. The good samaritan had stopped before we arrived and tried to help the driver. He shared a bit of her story, and told us the battery was dead. We pulled our jump box out in hopes of starting the car to move it out of that major exit street of the local shopping venue where it was blocking straight across traffic and left turns. We thanked the young man, who politely returned to the disabled motorist to wish her well, and to say that she was in good hands. There was something about him that told me his spirit was at peace, and he knew his place in this world.

A newly-graduated college-educated driver was in the car. We worked with her to attempt to start the car. In opening the hood I saw battery terminal corrosion. I loosened and moved the cable end, but that didn’t help. The jump box started the car but once removed the car died. Clearly something major was amiss. I looked over at the alternator and saw the pulley. No belt, just the pulley with a few bits of rubber shredded nearby. Wow. The belt had disintegrated and the young lady had driven on the battery. Until it died. I explained the situation to the driver, that a tow was necessary, and she needed someone to come to her location to take her home.

The young lady punched a few numbers on the iPhone and began yelling into it, speakerphone style. Her vocal inflections were dismissive, disruptive, and disjointed. At a point of extreme communication, she simply mashed the big red button to hang up on her resource.

We jumped the car again and kept the jump box connected so she could reverse the car in the travel lane towards our cruiser. This was to move it far enough away for a wrecker to grab it from the front without blocking the major road. She didn’t know how to call a wrecker so we suggested that she ask a friend to come get her at the nearby Arby’s and we would call a wrecker. Again, we saw her yelling at someone, then hanging up abruptly. In a few minutes she came to our unit and said her mom had called a wrecker. Didn’t we just say that we would call the wrecker?

So, we cancelled our wrecker and let her mom’s wrecker come. Turns out that she has no money, her mom has no money, but that this wrecker driver will tow the car all the way across town and wait until mom is paid this week to receive his money. That’s wonderful. Mom is creative and compassionate. The street will be cleared, and no one is out the tow fee plus daily storage fees until you come up with the tow fee.

Your mom? She is still caring for you, a college grad, while you wander around town with no money, and no awareness of the idiot light on your dash that showed a battery discharging. You yell at your mom “Y’all have to come pick me up!” And, I kid you not, she hung up on her mom at least four times.

The Bible has something to say about parents. We can find it in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verse 16. It’s the first commandment that has a stated benefit. It reads “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” I’m grateful that this young person’s mom looked beyond her daughter’s emotional abuse, and cared for her regardless. Our Heavenly Father promises to do the same for us. No matter what. You can read this in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, verses 5 and 6. It’s everywhere in the Bible, God’s love for us. I especially like Romans 5:8…”But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Wow.

Let me know if you’d like to know Christ personally. I would be happy to share the Easter story with you.

The Journey Of A Daughter And A Father

A few more hours, God.  Then she takes off.  On a low and slow journey in an ancient Camry with 170,000 miles.  Thanks for arranging the new engine mount repairs!  We couldn’t have done it without You.  Hopefully the freshly changed Mobil 1 5W30 will last as long as they say it will.

Where she is going, only You know.  I’m glad that in the Bible You show us that You prepare us to go, and You will show us the way.  It seems my ship has docked here, while her speedboat is heading out into the ocean.  I know You’ll give her all the stars to guide her, the charts that outline the possibilities, and navigational buoys to speed between.

What’s so awesome about this day, Lord, is that she is doing what she knows is best.  She’s all grown up.  Really.  She knows what she wants in life, and she is confident that now is the time to seek her fame and fortune.  Clearly that is not here, and I’m glad she is going where there are so many possibilities.

I thank you, Lord, for providing a starting point there.  A place to live.  Connections.  Most importantly, for providing a drive to succeed.  You can see it, can’t You?  She’s been thinking through this for some time.  All this time here, You’ve given her more and more.  She’s been promoted at her former job, making more money.  She’s been saving.  She’s paid off debt.  She has a small stake.  And it’s just enough.

I thank You, Father, that this journey will teach her.  That You will be the source of her strength.  That You will be her strong tower.  That You will watch over her day and night.  That you will bring to her a pillar of fire by night and a column of smoke by day, to guide her path.  I know, Father, that you will in time bring her to her first real job.  And, to her first real home away from home.

I trust you, Lord, to bring Your daughter to a land flowing with milk and honey.  A land where she can work.  A land where she can rest.  To a city with a wall around it, guarded day and night by your angels.  To a place where she can worship You in spirit and in truth.

I can see the future, Lord.  Your Word shows me that in time, she will be just like her mother.  “A wife of noble character who can find?…Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”  [Proverbs 31:10-31] I love reading that passage, Lord.  It gives me comfort.  Seeing her future, and knowing You are bringing her to this new place so she can become, in time, for someone, a wife of noble character, helps me.

I’ll always be her father.  I know that.  But, I know my role now is changing.  I probably will have to change the oil in the Camry still.  You know no one can do it better than me.  Maybe I’ll get to offer guidance from afar.  Facetime?  Wait, I could take a motorcycle trip to see her!  It’s hard to write, Lord, because I can’t see the screen.

I’m happy, Lord, for her.  I really am.  I know this is the right path.  I know this is the right time.  I just want You to know, Lord, she is Yours.  I can rest in that.  In Your Holy Name, I pray…Amen.

Knocking The Rust Off

Today was a special day. It was made special by my wife, who suggested that we play golf today. We never play golf. All day yesterday I could think only of today. And, today couldn’t come fast enough.

My wife has golf clubs.  I bought the set for a daughter who showed much promise, but later decided to focus on acting.  It’s a nice set, specially made for women, and about one inch longer than standard.  It’s called a “Square Two” set, and has a number of shorter irons, a few hybrids, and a few metal woods.  The shafts are creamy yellow, and the accent color is a deep red.  The bag has matching colors, of course.

I have a set of clubs also.  I bought them some years ago, when I was playing more with the guys at work.  Like many golfers, I discovered that my clubs were just not right for me, so I sold them to a US Navy pilot passing through my town, and put the money towards a new set.  Ping, of course.  Model S59.  According to the Ping static fitting model, these are perfect for me.  Later, a Ping expert watched me swing with them, and checked the impact tape he place on the sole.  Perfect.  No question about it.

Since my set was only the 5 iron through the pitching wedge, I needed a few more clubs.  I found most pros were firing at the flag using a series of wedges.  Since I rarely land on the green, I decided to buy more wedges, but to purposely find wedges that were not Ping, and not even the same brand.  I found a 52 degree Mizuno, a 56 degree Nike SV Tour, and even a special Callaway X grind 60 degree wedge.  That’s a nice wedge.  It’s perfect for lofting shots from near the green onto the green.  Short shots.  Supposedly you need lots of feel to do that.  I think you just need practice.  Boy, do I get a lot of practice.  But, they made the wedge out of “carbon steel” instead of stainless steel.  For feel.

I don’t know if the carbon steel feels that different than stainless steel, but the wedge does work.  It pitches the ball way up in the air, and lands it softly on the green.  Once on the green, of course, I get to putt the ball.  A lot.  Usually three strokes or more.  The wedge?  It works fine.

But today, when I pulled the wedge out of the completely cool Callaway stand bag, with high-tech swingarms for standing the bag up, pockets for everything, and space to hide at least six cans of beer, I was chagrined.  The special wedge was, well, rusted.  Completely rusty.  Face, back,sole, and hosel.  Dark rust.  Like a deep red stain.  I played with it.  It worked.  But, I was disappointed.

s-l300

I was unhappy that something so unusually nice was now damaged.  I was sad that something so perfect when I purchased it was now and forevermore would be imperfect.  I was disappointed in my lack of care for it.  For my neglect.

The clubs have been idle for some time.  They have been “in the way” more times than I can remember as I putter about the garage.  I’ve moved them back and forth to make room for bicycles, car repairs, and the annual Christmas equipment boxes that have to come down from the shelves.  I could never sell them.  But, I wasn’t using them.  And so, the wedge sat.  And rusted.  And rusted some more.

So today, I played with a rusty wedge.  And, I played golf with my wife.  Nine holes.  Par 3.  I found something else was rusty.  My relationship with my wife.  I see her every day.  I talk to her every day.  I eat with her every day.  But, today, I saw the rust.  We hadn’t been out doing something together in a long time.  I knew today would be hard for her, since she rarely plays golf.  But, I knew she was doing this for me.  To show her care for me.  And, to look towards a future with me.  We’re getting older.  We see a future where we won’t be working.  And, we need something to do together.

We were together today.  We were out on a nice Sunday morning, and spent two hours together.  We fought the course, each in our own way.  But we were united.  It was truly a fun morning.  We pulled our bags on our thrift-store $10 bag carts up and down the hills.  We cheered each other on, and encouraged each other.  We guided each other.  We listened to each other.  We were a couple today.  It was a good day.

This evening, I took out that rusty wedge.  I found some metal polish, and some 0000 steel wool.  I worked on that wedge for a long time.  It’s not stained as much now.  In some ways, it looks okay.  But I can see the rust.  I don’t guess it will ever go away.  Even so, I can still use it.  I can still make those lob shots and pretend to be Phil Mickelson.

I wonder how to polish away the rust in the marriage with my wife.  It won’t be easy.  I don’t think they make a chemical to restore the glimmer in the eyes of a bride looking at her groom 24 years ago.  I can’t ever remove the rust damage on this club, me, the only club in the bag, completely.  Each moment I failed to be the husband God asks me to be, another scintilla of rust corroded me, somewhere.  It might not be visible, but the rust changes me and my marriage forever.

I think the only way forward is to play the course, with my rusty wedge.  Playing means with each stroke, a bit more rust comes off the club, as I strive to be like a champion holding the cup aloft.  Playing together means we will find a path to the green, even if we get off the course a bit.  Playing together means we will find joy in each other’s trials and triumphs. And, playing with my rusty wedge means it will soon have the fine polished patina of an heirloom, ready to celebrate 25 years together.  Here’s to 25 more!

Mission Or Meditation?

Before my Sunday afternoon ride, I mapped out a new route. Having ridden to the northwest so many times before, I looked southwest on the map. I picked a road that went to a familiar highway, that looked sufficiently challenging. It was one road, by name, but four different road numbers. Having never been on the roads, it was both technically challenging and mentally stimulating as I found my way. But, until I made it to Highway 15, a familiar north-south route, all I could do was focus on the ride. Deeply shadowed lanes carved through the woods, with sunlight blinking through to illuminate me as if I were at a 1970s disco. Curves over hills, where cars might approach unawares, challenged my line. Big rocks, little rocks, and tiny gravels from country driveways washed onto the road, requiring slight adjustments to that line. Every so often, a vista worth a photograph came into view. Silos standing proud, with the afternoon sun casting their shadow on the nearby barn. Green fields for acres around, bounded by classic white fences. And, as only a motorcyclist knows, the noteworthy aroma of, well, a farm, that lasts for a few seconds. My mind was cleared of distractions. My concerns were pushed to the corners of my mind, where from time to time they tried in vain to return. The mission I had created, to get to Highway 15, dominated my thinking and my actions.

On the way home, eastward on Highway 6, my familiarity with that road allowed my mind to wander. No longer was I focused on the mission. I began to think, about life, about friends, about the past, and about the future. I took a road well-traveled, this time, and realized it was a road of meditation.

Mission or meditation–which is best? Of course, one can’t choose. To experience both in a short 100 mile ride gave me what I needed. I hope you will spend time this week having the joy of accomplishing a mission, but the peace that comes from meditating on life.

When Bad Happens, Do We Break?

When bad happens, we ask questions.  The questions are always difficult.  The questions often begin with the word “Why…” and end with a question mark of unbelief.  This can’t be happening.  To me.  Now.  Please.  God.  Please.  Why?  Sometimes the questions are shouted in anger.  Sometimes the questions are barely audible through the sobs of grief.

“Bad” happens to everyone.  “Bad” makes no sense.  “Bad” can’t be explained, with human reason.  But, “bad” can be explained, if we look to God’s Word.  When we ask questions beginning with “Why…” it seems that we are actually asking two very fundamental questions.

Who is God?

Who am I?

As we think about the situation, and ask why, all of our questions can be distilled to these two inquiries.  “Who is God?”  can be restated as questions about God.   “Is God real?”  “Is God rational?”  “Is God in charge?”  “Is God fair?”  “Is God in control?”  Bad situations make us question our understanding about God, indeed, our very definition of God.  Similarly, “Who am I?” is a question that we try to answer, in favorable ways.  Often these are statements like “I’m OK” or “I’m not a bad person.” Sometimes we compare ourselves to others, and say “I am more moral than so-and-so.”  As we consider our personal journey with God, we might even answer “I am religious” or “I go to church” or “I’m a believer.”  Implicit in these statements is a belief that because of our self-assessment of personal worth, we don’t see “why” bad occurs.

 
These questions matter the most to us, and as we face the trials of our lives, we seek these answers.  We try to answer, but sometimes the answers don’t make sense.   In our answers, we might change who God is, in our mind, and we reinforce who we are, at least in our own eyes.  These answers can be frightening.  Without certain clarity, our lives spiral in ever widening paths of worry.  Is God not actually in control?  If not, what’s next?  Where am I going?  How will I get there?  Do I have to try even harder?   The “bad” darkens our path, and we begin to stumble, catching ourselves as best we can.

In the darkness, we have but one light.  The Bible.  God’s Word is truly a lamp for our path.  As we read the Bible, we see many examples of difficulty and utter despair.  But, as we read of these situations, we see that the Bible shares two desired outcomes for “bad.”  These are God’s restoration and His renewal.  If we but open the Bible, and read any of the stories of “bad,” we see God’s desires clearly.

Restoration is when “bad” situations bring back God’s people to a state of sanctified holiness.  Restoration answers the question “Who is God?” in a word.  God is the restorer! God wants to restore us, from our fallen state to a state of grace.  God wants to restore us, from a place of anguish to a position of acceptance.  God wants to restore us, from a place apart from God to a place of tender love and care.  There, and only there, can we rest.

Renewal is when “bad” circumstances give new life to our existing relationship with God, nurturing it with stronger faith.  Renewal answers the question “Who am I?”  I am the renewed. God, in His mercy, renews us in ways we cannot understand, for reasons often hidden in His all-knowing love.  God truly makes all things new, in His time, and ultimately, we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth.  Here, we are certain, that “bad” will never be.

The question “Why…?” could also be the wrong question for difficult situations.  Instead of “Why…?” we should ask “How…?”

How am I growing closer to God in this circumstance?

How is God glorified by my telling of His actions in this situation?

When we focus on the reason, asking “why..,” we blind ourselves to the desired result, which comes only from answering “how…”

How am I growing closer to God?  In “bad,” we call on God, frequently, and beg “Help me.”  “Be with me.”  “Be my rock.”  “Be my redeemer.”  By concentrating on the relationship, we move from uncertainty to unwavering.  In our conversations with God, we move from formality to friend.

How is God glorified?  As we share with others, openly, we highlight our concerns and our fears.  But, as we share our faith, regardless of the situation, others marvel.  They don’t marvel at us.  They marvel at our God.  They wonder how in the world, in the midst of such a trial, we trust.  In whom do we trust?  We trust in the magnificent and majestic, yet we trust Him as a Father.  In our trust, we give God glory for who He is, and for His love for us.

Of course, “bad” is not welcome in our lives.  The specific meaning of any bad situation may never be understood.  Truly, terrible trials are faced by people, often beyond what we think we can bear.  But, in faith, we rise from our knees, wiping away tears, certain of a new outcome.  In faith, we shout, not in anger, but in joyful power.  “God, my God, restores me and renews me.”  In that moment, we are able to share with others “Let me tell the story, the story of God in my life.  Now.  In the “bad.”  He lives in me.  He overcomes, giving me strength far beyond my own.  He restores me.  He renews me.”

Let Him restore and renew you.  Even now.  And give Him the glory.  For in His glory, He will draw all to Himself, with perfect love.

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

Dear Daughter,

It’s 1:03 am.  I’m awake.  I wasn’t awake.  I was dreaming.  It was a good dream. But the dog was dreaming too.  He began to “run” in his sleep and his feet brushed the wall loudly enough to awaken me.  As a vibrant college student, you may just now be settling down to what I hope is a good night’s sleep.

I don’t know about dreams, and their meaning.  Sometimes people try to make too much about dreams.   I think we all recognize dreams are the mind wrestling with something, often our own feelings or fears.  This dream, though, was about you and me.

There you were, in a car, with your hair pulled back in a pony tail.  You had a nice shirt on, but you had rolled up the sleeves.  You reminded me of the tough girl in Grease. What was her name?  Anyway, out of your rolled up sleeve, you pulled out a pack of Marlboro’s.  You drew one out, lit it, and looked so very cool as you drew in the smoke.  I burst into tears.

rizzosmoking.

In a little while, I entered the car, in the back.  I pulled the cigarette out of your mouth, grabbed the pack and threw them down, and stomped on them with some anger.  Tears were streaming down my face.  You looked at me with some shock, and said “But you let me do this…you never said anything.”  My voice trembling, I shouted “I didn’t say anything because I love you.  You’re a big girl, and make your own decisions.  But now, I’m telling you, don’t ever do this again.  Ever!  If you do, your school is over.  No more college.  You’re coming home, and you’re going to beauty school!”  My tears continued to stream, and yours began as well.

Then, as we looked at each other, I related “This is not about smoking.  It’s about temptation.  You’re being tempted to do something, and something wrong.” I went on, “You are doing something to fill a void in your life, and you can’t fill it except with love.”  We hugged, and cried and realized how deeply we loved each other as father and daughter.

At this point, my dream ended as the dog’s dream woke me up.  But the thoughts about the dream continued.  I began to see how the dream recounts in some way our own journey through life, and how our choices and actions are addressed in God’s Word.  In a way, my dream about you was also a dream about me.

In Ephesians 4:30, the Bible says “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”  In the dream, my tears over your choice of smoking are like the grief God feels when we sin. We may not know God cries over our sin.  We may think that because nothing is said that our sin must not really matter.  In reality, God grieves when we sin, and His tears make it harder for Him to enjoy watching His children grow.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, the Bible says “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  In the dream, your choice to smoke is acting on a temptation to sin, a temptation that we all face.  Avoiding the temptation is impossible.  It could literally seize you in a strong grip.  But God will provide both a way to stop acting on that temptation, as well as the strength to endure continued temptation, as our faithful Father.

In 1 John 4:16, the Bible says “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” In the dream, our hug with deep tears represents that moment when we realize God’s love in our every day life. As believers, we have the incredible richness of life in which we see God’s love for us every day.  Instead of filling our lives with bad choices, we can recognize that God loves us and lives in us, completely fulfilling all our needs.

So here it is, the middle of the night, and my dream remains strongly in my memory. I wanted to write you, not knowing if you face some life choice at school.  I know you’re not like Betty Rizzo from Grease, and are no doubt doing your best to be Sandy.  But even Sandy tried to be a bad girl to meet her needs, donning the leather and joining the gang.

grease 1978 rŽal : Randal Kleiser Olivia Newton Jones Collection Christophel Collection Christophel

We can laugh, seeing you as the bad girl, but I hope you’ll also remember God’s Word and His incredible love for you at this wonderful time of life in college. Live in His love.

With as much love as I have,

Your earthly Father

Seeing Life With 20/20

Sunday I felt some dismay at how things were going.  A great weekend was marred by a work e-mail I read, which left me disappointed at best.

Yesterday, a colleague stopped by.  He related an emotional struggle with a child, living at home at 19 years old, still in college.  His pain was real, and so much deeper than my own.  I recalled the last time I felt this same sense of dread after reading an e-mail from work, only a few weeks ago.  That day, I stopped by a local business and the proprietor related how he was now working his real job AND three nights a week at a fast food restaurant AND on weekends cleaning offices just to put his kids through college.

My vision was corrected to 20/20 rather quickly.  I realized that each time I went to work feeling discouraged, God gave me a glimpse of real hardship, real pain, real … life.  God, in His mercy and love, carries me through my challenges.  In bringing me to new understanding, I am reminded to consider others before myself.  A self-centered viewpoint leads only to self-induced despair, when in reality I am blessed by both trials and triumphs.

God’s Word sharpens our focus, and in Philippians 2:3-4, it is written

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

May I look outward rather than inward!

Are We In Left Field?

In the oft-repeated Abbott & Costello comedy sketch “Who’s On First?” most people can recite the beginning of the routine.  We all know “who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know is on third.”  As the routine progresses, more and more names are given to the rest of the players.  By the time we reach the outfield, we might have lost track of the players.  But, as you can see in this 1953 clip, the left fielder’s name is quite memorable.  If you haven’t seen the bit, feel free to watch at this link!

Why, the left fielder’s name, is a perfect name for a player in this comedy sketch.  In our lives, though, we don’t want to play left field. Why? Because!  Just as in the routine, we often don’t know how to answer that question.

In the Bible, we read of many incredible events for which we might ask “why?”  A widow in a drought prepared to die, desparate to find any sustenance for her only child.  A man was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  A king lost his firstborn son, a newborn, when the newborn had done nothing wrong.  Women lost their sons to a horrific slaughter by the decree of a crazed regional governor.  The Bible also speaks of a man who experienced what many would consider ultimate suffering, in a progression of one horrible experience after another.  Not only did he lose possessions and wealth, he lost his children and his health.  Nothing went right.  Nothing.  Why?  Because?

Like those people, we have difficult experiences. In asking the single question “why?” we naturally ask with deep feeling, borne of our experiences and our understanding.   This feeling may help uncover our answers to two hidden questions, questions we unknowingly ask.  Who am I?  Who is God?

Sometimes we ask the question “why?” in anger.  This emotion is often our first response.  Who am I?  We might answer “I’m just a regular guy.”  Knowing we are just like everyone else, the word “Why?” comes out of our mouths with fire, with that sense of “it ought not to be.” I am like everyone else.  I should not have to deal with this. Who is God?  Who knows?  If God is God, none of this should have happened.  If God is God, this can’t be happening.  It shouldn’t happen.  God should have prevented it.

Sometimes, we ask in despair.  Sometimes so much sadness, we just can’t make sense of it.  Who am I?  We might answer “I am worthless.”  We might think we don’t merit anyone’s concern.  Who is God?  In this frame of mind, God exists, but does not care about us.  Here, we can’t see a way that God can fix this situation.  In sorrow, we imagine that God is so far far away, and incapable or unwilling to help us.

Sometimes, we ask “why?” with a sense of pain.  Who am I?  We might say “I’m just like everyone else,” but recognize that everyone is pretty awful.  We might believe that our acts, like everyone’s, are not immune from some kind of judgment.  Who is God?  We could consider God to be an all-powerful judge, jury, and executioner.  We can’t blame God for punishing us.  We screwed up.  God is God.  We deserve this penalty.

But what if, in a state of grace, we can answer these two questions more truthfully?  Who am I?  I am created by God, in His image.  I am the pinnacle of His creative work.  But, I’m not perfect.  I don’t measure up.  But I am His child. Who is God?  God is amazing.  Beyond compare.  The creator of all.  The sustainer of all.  In all things, perfect.  Demanding our moral perfection, God even provided a substitution for our sin in His Son, Christ Jesus, who died in our stead.

And so, with as much grace as we can muster, the feelings inside can change.  Our anger subsides, as we realize that we are not morally free from suffering.  Our despair brightens, knowing that God is both in control and capable of restoring us.  Our pain lessens, knowing that God offers restoration through faith in Christ.  What do I feel?  I feel His love.

The question?  It’s not “why?”  We are not in left field, as Abbott and Costello might put us in their imaginary baseball team.  The questions are simple, and the answers are profound.  Who is God?  God is love.  Who am I?  I am his beloved.  Let us live in that love.  And let us love one another.

Climb Every Mountain

We’ve all been there.  The DMV.  Maybe you’re like me, and would rather do stuff online.  But, sometimes, you just have to go there.  A little while ago I bought a used car, and had to get a license plate.  In the old days, there was just one license plate.  Today, there are hundreds from which to choose.  Really.  You can get just a license plate, white background with blue numbers and letters.  Or, you can get a license plate with your college logo, your professional affiliation, your favorite local sports team or a political theme.  Most of these cost a bit of extra money, but I just don’t want that generic plate on my car.  I like a plate that says something.  Thankfully, there is a free plate background that says “Virginia.”  It’s called the scenic plate, and it shows Virginia for what it is…a beautiful state with the waves washing up on the eastern shore, and the peaceful mountains all the way at the western border.

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Not many states have seashores and mountains.  I live about two hours away from either.  This is a real blessing for my marriage, as my lovely wife enjoys spending time at the beach, soaking in the sun’s rays, while I like to wander through the high mountain woods.  I’m not sure why I like the mountains better.  Maybe it is because I grew up near the mountains.  Maybe it is because I love to drive through the winding roads as fast as my courage will allow.  I’m not sure.

When I go to the mountains, I go to experience something.  I’m sure you have enjoyed a day hike before, maybe even an overnight campout somewhere.  Driving to the mountains, you can enjoy that brief glimpse of the mountain from afar, as you approach it on the highway.  The closer you get, though, the less you can see.  Finally, you meander to a parking area at the trail head.  You feel that sense of anticipation…I’m here…I’m about to head out…I’m going hiking.  You check your belongings, put your water bottle in those special pouches on the backpack, find the food bars you bought just for this occasion, and maybe even pull out a walking stick with a compass on top.  Where’s your camera?  Oh yeah, it’s in the backpack.

And then, the hike.  In your initial rush, to get out of that car, to get going, there’s just happiness.  You’re on the mountain.  The trail is wide and smooth.  Soon enough, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself walking a bit slower.  The roots begin to get larger and more challenging to step over.  The rocky path becomes a path of rocks, no boulders.  Your legs begin to protest a bit.  You did want to get in better shape, didn’t you?  Soon enough, the path becomes all you can see.  You focus on the next few steps, and maybe even take time out to try out that tree that fell over and looks as comfortable as your family room couch.  The beautiful day is strangely dimmer and darker, as the trees growing block out the warm sunrays.  You can do it.  You can do it.

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Blue.  Blue sky again!  You’re almost there.

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Then, the moment.  The trees step back.  The bushes bow down.  The sky meets you.  The breeze cools you.  You’re at the top!  Your eyes take in a view unlike any other.  There are other views, of course.  Just not like this view.  Miles and miles of beauty surround you.  There’s nothing like it.

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The Bible tells us of a man who hiked a mountain.  It was after a particularly difficult time.  He was leading a large group of refugees, who had recently been rescued from years of oppression.  He had experienced many unusual, if not unbelievable things as he and the group left their enslavers.  In the difficult terrain, he had dealt with the lack of food, the lack of water, military battles against other groups, and even the continual disagreements and disputes within his community.  God rescued them, giving food, giving water, giving victory over the enemy, and giving him wisdom to judge.  But now, it was time.  It was time to hike up that mountain.

This hike unlike any we could take.  The mountain was not quiet and peaceful.  It was covered with a thick and dark smoke.  At one point, the entire mountain trembled, as God came to the mountain top.  Of course, everyone wanted to rush up the mountain to see, but he was the only one allowed to take the hike.  There, he heard from God.  Can you imagine?  He reached the top, and heard from God!

Over the next few weeks, the mountain hike became more familiar to him.  He went up and down the mountain, sometimes staying for a short while, and sometimes staying a long long time.  Each journey brought new insight, new revelation, and new understanding.  On a few occasions, his leadership team was permitted to join him as he approached the mountain, to see a glimpse of God’s incredible nature.  But alone, he reached the summit and heard directly from God.

One day, after hearing from God many times, he asked God to reveal Himself, to show Himself.  It would only be natural, to want to see God.  What he asked, though, was not as you and I might ask.  He didn’t say “Let me see you.”  He pleaded “Show me Your glory.”  Glory.  It’s something we don’t really understand.  It’s a word that tries to convey something that can’t easily be understood.  Glory.  Show me your Glory.

God was pleased to show him, with care, His Glory.  God allowed the man to rest carefully protected in a rocky fold in the mountain, as He passed by.  In answering the man’s plea, God replied that he would show the man “all my goodness.”  His Glory was seen in His goodness.  God is good!

When we read of these journeys, as the man hiked up and down the mountain, we might focus on a single important event.  Here, from that mountain, God gave His people ten rules for living.  But, He gave so much more!  If we look at the entire experience, which covers many many chapters, we can be overwhelmed with the breadth and depth of God’s revelation.  Let’s look instead at what we see across these passages.

We recognize God’s desire for purity.  God, in His purity, demanded that man approach Him only in that purity.  God gave instructions to His people to be pure.  To be pure in our relationship with Him.  To be pure as we relate to one another.  The ten rules for living cover in just a few words how these relationships are created and how they are continued.  The other directives speak distinctly about many different aspects of life, but in all, they speak of purity.

We see God’s purpose for His people.  God desired that His people represented God in all His goodness to everyone.  His instructions to create a tabernacle, a dwelling place for His glory, gave His people a special way to let others know of God, through their worship.  The nature of offerings, the sacrifices for sin, and the centrality of worship for this community let everyone know of God’s glory.

We tremble at God’s protection of His people, in a hostile land.  He offered His strength and His power to keep His people free from harm. He promised to drive out those who would oppose His people, those who were living in opposition to God himself.  God protected His people not only by strengthening the people, but by actively fighting for them, through His angel.

We wonder at God’s provision for His people.  He gave a place, defined by natural borders, to them.  He slowly moved His people to that land, through a series of acts that prevented the land from becoming barren and unfruitful.  He shared with His people that this would occur over many years, to ensure that the people did not lose heart that the land was not yet theirs.

We marvel at God’s passion for His people.  On the mountain, the man asked God to show him His Glory.  Now, in this special time, God’s Glory was made known to everyone, as it resided in the tabernacle within the large community tent of meeting.  God’s Glory was evident day and night, and as it moved from place to place, the people followed.  Clearly, God desired to be with His people, to dwell with them, and to enjoy a fellowship with them.

Today, life is so so different.  Thankfully we are not in a time of transition, between a land of slavery and a land of peace.  The lessons of times past are still meaningful, though.  Do we relate both to God and our community in purity?  Do we live out God’s purpose for us, showing God in His glory to everyone?  Do we trust in God’s protection in times of trial?  Do we recognize God’s provision in every aspect of our lives?  Do we share in God’s passion for His relationship with His people?

Like the man who hiked up that special mountain long ago, time and time again, we can hike our mountains.  Our mountains are those times when we journey to meet God.  Each time we walk the path, our way becomes more certain.  Our tired legs become stronger.  The drudgery of stepping over rocks and roots changes to strong leaps over any obstacle.  As we move toward the top, we stop looking at the path, and begin searching for the sky.  Each time we hike, the path becomes more familiar.  Each time we hike, we reach the summit sooner.  There, at the top, we see God. We see His Glory, and we see His Goodness.

Climb every mountain!

Coats Of Many Colors

There is a familiar story in the Bible, about a coat of many colors.  It is familiar not only as a Bible story, but as a successful Broadway musical — Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  It is a story that one can read over and over, or enjoy at a theatre time and time again.  I remember seeing it while in college many years ago, and watching it again recently on DVD with Donny Osmond as the star.  While there is some curiosity about exactly what the coat was, way back then, we can be certain of the intent of the gift.  The father wanted to give special favor to a son, and in the gift, to let others know of the son’s special status in the family.  When people saw Joseph, in this multi-colored coat, they knew.

Today we might not think of coats being all that important.  Back then, coats were.  Coats were so important that they were taken from their owner when the owner made a pledge to another person, as collateral.  But, as collateral, the coat was not allowed to remain with the other person overnight, as the owner would literally freeze without it.  The coat was functional, as a warm covering, but also, of value, sufficient to ensure a promise was kept.

Thinking about the story, I realized that I don’t have a coat of many colors, but I do have coats of many colors.  My coat closet is jammed with coats, from one side to the other.  Some are used often, while some seem to gather dust.  Three of my coats are worn quite a bit.

One coat is brown.  Just brown.  Not coffee brown, more like a warm tan.  I’ve had it for a long long time.  So long that the brown is fading from the cotton threads.  If you look closely at the coat, you’ll find a few dark spots.  Those spots are dirt, mud, and even one or two from dried blood.  It’s my hunting coat, you see, and sometimes the spots from hunting won’t come out.  When I wear this coat, those who see me recognize me as an outdoorsman.  It’s a coat that quietly says “I’m rugged, not afraid to work, and enjoy the woods.”

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One coat is grey.  It’s a nice grey, with a bit of sheen to it. It’s my motorcycling jacket.  I wear it as I swoosh through the country on my Honda Interceptor.  The silvery grey jacket blends well with the aluminum features of this motorcycle.  It’s a neutral color, to be sure, but it’s a bit unusual.  Best of all, it adds to my protection, as it has armor in the shoulders, elbows, and back.  It fits closely, with adjusting straps at the waist to get it out of the wind.  When I wear this coat, everyone knows one thing–I’m dangerous.  I’m one of those guys that ride motorcycles.  Fast.  I’m not like everyone else.

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One coat is black.  Just black.  It’s wool, it’s long, and it’s just heavy enough.  It is the coat I wear over my business suits when I’m on those trips to see customers.  Usually those trips take me to places with millions of people.  Big cities, big airports, and often bad weather.  A long black wool coat helps me avoid the chills of the biting winds.  And, it does something different than the motorcycle jacket.  It makes me look like everyone else.  There are literally hundreds of business travelers wearing this coat.  I am like them.  I am one of them.

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So, my coats of many colors, like Joseph’s coat of many colors, highlight to others who I am.  I am an outdoorsman.  I am a motorcyclist.  I am a businessman.  These coats give me an identity, that anyone can see.  These coats also remind me of who I am.

In the Bible, we read about another coat.  It is described as a “robe of righteouness.”  It is, in Hebrew parallel prose, a “garment of salvation.”  This coat is not one you can find in an outdoors emporium, the motorcycle shop, or that downtown big name department store.  It is a gift, from God.  It is an act by a loving Father to give us something we need, most desperately.  I can’t reach into my closet to grab this coat!

This “robe of righteousness” is a gift I receive from God when I accept Christ.  It’s a “garment of salvation” that comes only when I recognize my shortcomings and sin, and realize the penalty for them is death.  As I look to Christ as taking my place, as I see Christ on the cross bearing the punishment I deserve, I fall to my knees in a moment of surrender, and a moment of joy.  At that time, when I accept the gift, God places on my shoulders this most colorful of coats.

For in giving me a coat that covers me, God gives me a coat that identifies me.  It’s a coat that I wear in His presence, without which I could not enjoy His fellowship.  I am, just as Joseph was, His son.  I am, just as Joseph was, favored.  I am, just as Joseph was, set apart for His use.

What’s even more amazing is that God has coats for everyone!  In the perfect size, no matter how short or how tall, how big or how small.  Not everyone wears one.  I think I know why.  I think it is because we cover our “robe of righteousness” with other coats. I think we hide our garment of salvation under another–maybe a hunting coat, maybe a motorcycle jacket, or maybe a black wool coat just like everyone else wears.  Our friends can identify us in these ways, but can’t see the cloak God placed on our shoulders.

For if they could see God’s gift, they would know.  They would know the peace we feel of our certain future.  They would know the joy we have in being a child of God.    They would know the love of God.  You see, the only way our coat can be seen is in love.  Love that is selfless.  Love that is kind.  Love that is faithful.  Love that is forgiving.  At first, we must accept God’s Love in Christ, to accept His garment of salvation.  Once we don that cloak, our calling is to make Him known, in that same love.  Our robe of righteousness can cover any of our coats of many colors, but only if we love.  Only if we love.  Today, you may need to wear that warm wool coat against that bitter northerly wind.  But today, remember that over everything, to put on love.  Love one another, as God has loved you!  As you love, allow God’s Love to draw others to Him.  May our love for others bring them to God, so that they too may wear His coat of many colors.