Am I Serving?

In blog posts on Luke 9, we have considered three questions so far.  “Am I Radical?” , “Am I Following?”  and “Am I Proclaiming?” We’ve looked at these teachings of Christ as Luke describes the movement of a group of disciples from Samaria to Jerusalem.  We can only imagine what it must have been like to be in this group, and to realize that we have a chance to speak with Christ the Teacher.  Now, let’s finish the journey by studying perhaps the most difficult verses:

61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Why are these two verses so troubling?  I think it is only natural, as we all face the three elements of verse 62.  Do I want to serve?  Have begun to serve?  Have I stopped serving?  Oh boy, I am not fit to serve any more!  Sadness, fear, uncertainty, or disappointment in oneself could follow.

 
Another point of concern is the apparent linkage of following Christ and not being a part of your family from that moment on.  Christ’s response sounds harsh – are disciples not permitted to speak to their family?  Are disciples not permitted to visit their family?  Why is Christ concerned about a person following Him and remaining in the person’s family?

Let’s review the entirety of the passage again, briefly, so we can fully appreciate verse 62.  Jesus has been transfigured.  Christ has healed the sick.  Jesus has predicted His death.  Jesus is moving through a people group normally antagonistic towards Jews, and has experienced some hostility there.  Jesus has prevented his disciples from acting in anger towards that people group.  Now, he is on the way to His crucifixion, and leading a group of men who are declaring their allegiance to Him.  In this context, Christ is speaking with individuals who make a discipleship decision – to follow Christ.  Are we in that group?

Now, in verse 62, it is helpful to check the original Greek text verb tenses to understand the word picture in its entirety.  The verb for “puts a hand” is aorist tense, a past complete action.  The verb for “looks back” is present tense, a current continuous action.  We see a one-time decision to believe in Christ, “puts a hand to the plow,” but a continuing action of “looks back” after that decision has been made.  I wish we didn’t have to “look back” at Greek but sometimes it really helps!

We read in Mark 10:28-31 a heartfelt cry of devotion that mirrors the what we read in Luke 9, the man’s plea to go back to his family.  The disciples lament, in a way, what they have done for Christ:

28Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”  29“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Today our missionaries see what happens to families when individuals make decisions for Christ.  Do their families come to rescue them from a “bad” decision?  Do they leave their families?  Are they shunned by their families?  Can they return to their families, often hostile to our faith?  And, to be more complete in our view of families and the person’s relationship with them after making a decision for Christ, we can look at Mark 5:19 where a man is told by Christ to return to his family to witness to them.  In Acts 10:24 we also read of how a righteous man brings Peter to speak to his entire family, resulting in their salvation.

So, we can see in Christ’s admonition to this man who wanted to return to his family Godly wisdom and direction.  It is not so much that Christ wants the man to leave his family, or to prevent him from witnessing to his family.  But, it is that in following Christ, we are to avoid losing focus as we return to old ways, to old customs, and to old beliefs.  We are to be new creations, to be His disciples!

A friend of mine was on mission in a developing nation, and was given the opportunity to plow a field just like they had done for hundreds of years.  The plow was pulled by oxen, which were led by a young man.  The plow had to be forced downward into the ground to bust the soil.  That’s some hard work!

web_Oxen-hooked-up-to-chisel-plow-an-oxen-powered-ripper-March-5  As my friend plowed, he naturally looked backward to see how he was doing.  Before long, the plow was well off the intended line, and everyone was laughing at the result.  We can laugh with my friend, as we think about what it must have been like to try something new.  But, we can also see why Jesus chose this word picture for people who seek to serve Him.  If we want to serve, if we take on the job for which He calls us, we can never lose focus on Him.  When the plowman looks back, the results of his service are not what Christ intended.  The furrow that is not straight can’t be used.  The seed that Jesus wants to plant in that field can’t be sowed. And the harvest Christ hopes for must wait.

Let us not forget the work for which we are called (Luke 9:60).  We are to plow a straight furrow in proclaiming the kingdom of God!  Remember the meaning of proclaim — we are to make a loud noise about a kingdom that we belong to now, and that is to come in great glory in the future.

As disciples of Christ, let us focus on Christ as we plow, and never look back!  Let us answer the question “Am I serving?” with a simple exclamation —  “Yes!”

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Am I Proclaiming?

In the blog post “Am I Radical” we considered how each of us might be more like a first responder to an emergency, where the emergency is the eternal status of a friend or acquaintance.  In the post  “Am I Following” we wonder how to respond as Jesus challenges us to GO on His behalf to a fallen world.  Going to our world, we read an interesting command found in Luke 9:60:

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

What comes after “go?”—“proclaim the kingdom of God.”  The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in the meaning of the command.  Most likely, we’ve all rushed over these words and thought “yeah yeah, proclaim the kingdom of God.  Got it.”

Let’s take a look at the command in more detail, as is fitting for such an important instruction.   As a church worship band might wrestle with chords, phrasing and timing for a new song, we must take time to learn something new.  God’s Word deserves nothing less.

“Proclaim.”  That brings to mind an immediate movie scene or two, don’t it?  “Hear ye, hear ye, … , “ as the town crier unrolls a parchment scroll and reads some order from the king.  What does the word really mean, though?  At first, I thought it might be from “pro” and “claim.”  You know, pro, like “for” and “claim” like “it’s mine.”  Let me tell you, I am NOT a linguist.  Not even close.  The simple view of the word from its Latin origin is found online:

proclaim c.1400, from L. proclamare  “cry or call out,” from pro-  “forth” + clamare  “to cry out” (see claim). Proclamation  “that which is proclaimed” is recorded from 1415.  Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010

I like it!  “Clamare” sounds a lot like our word “clamor” which is what worship band drums sound like sometimes.  Noisy.  Loud.  Energetic.  Attention-grabbing.

500px-Terry_Bozzio_drums
But of course, the online dictionary of the English language is not a perfect Biblical analytical tool.  Looking at the different translations of the same source text can give us an idea of the meaning of this important word.  Here are a few of the words synonymous with “proclaim:”  Publish, tell, preach, announce, give news of, and spread – all words trying to convey something that in Latin makes the most sense – “to cry out!”

Of course, we are to be noisy about “the kingdom of God.”  So we have to truly seek its meaning.  And, we have to recognize that Christ Jesus gave these words as if the man walking alongside Him would easily grasp the meaning.  It was not a long sermon!  Go, proclaim the Kingdom!  What did He mean?
It is interesting if you do a phrase search for “kingdom of God” using either the old-fashioned concordance or a modern online resource like http://www.biblegateway.org.  If you place quotes around the phrase, seeking an exact match, the first reference is…drum roll, please…in Matthew.  Many topics are found throughout the Bible.  This concept , the kingdom of God, appears to be solely in the New Testament.   We can read Luke 16:16 to be sure:

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”

Now, describing the kingdom of God is difficult.  Scholars do debate and discuss its essence.  Reading the verses about it just in the Gospel of Luke, we can see some of its many attributes:

It belongs to the poor [Luke 6:20]
It is a place of ranking [Luke 7:28]
It is good news [Luke 8:1]
It is near Luke [10:9]
It is like a strong tree [Luke 13:18-19]
It is like a tiny organism that can’t be stopped [Luke 13:20-21]
It is a place where the patriarchs and prophets exist [Luke 13:28]
It is a place of all peoples Luke [13:29]
It is a place of feasting Luke [14:15]
It is not something to be observed [Luke 17:20]
It is now [Luke 17:21]
It is a belonging [Luke 18:16]
It is received by childlike faith [Luke 18:16]
It is difficult for some to enter [Luke 18:24-25]
It is to come [Luke 22:18]
It is worth waiting for [Luke 23:51]

We could continue reading all the references and continue to be amazed!  I can only sit here and wonder “how am I going to proclaim all of this?”  I can’t even understand some of it!

I guess we can take heart in the way Christ spoke of the kingdom of God.  Did He offer all these descriptive words at once?  Did He try to cover the entire subject in one lecture?  Did He drop a few drachmas at the local Fedex Office store to make copies of His latest manuscript to hand out to the followers?

No, of course not.  Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God just as we should—ministering to those in need, as they needed.  He spoke simply.  He spoke clearly.  He spoke in ways that made sense to each person that asked a question.  Let us think deeply about the meaning of the kingdom of God, so that we do understand as much as we are able.  But, may we be ever more like Jesus as we “cry out” about His kingdom!

Am I proclaiming?

Am I Following?

In the blog post “Am I Radical?” we thought about how each of us might be more like a first responder to an emergency, where the emergency is the eternal status of a friend or acquaintance.  We marvel at the willingness of everyday heroes like police, fire, and Coast Guard to risk it all for strangers, while we stay safe at home.  Why are we staying safe at home?  Why aren’t we risking it all for Christ?  Let’s remind ourselves of selected verses in Luke Chapter 9, verse 23 and verses 57 through 62.

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

These verses speak of people who are risking it all, walking towards an uncertain future with Christ.  Today, we might look at people in our church, people who are on fire for the Lord, people who are witnessing to perfect strangers and seeing salvations and think “why not me?”  We might cast a glance at someone with passion, energy, commitment, and  think “boy, I wish I was serving the Lord like he is!”  If we received Christ as a youngster, or if we found Christ as an adult, time passes and our early fervor for Christ may have cooled.  What makes one person a stalwart soldier for Christ and another person a silent sage?

 
I think the answer is found in two words – “follow me.”  It is so simply stated, yet so incredibly described that it merits our attention.  Christ’s clear call to follow Him has at its heart the desire to be Christ’s disciple.  Re-read Luke 9:23…the desire to be a disciple comes first!  It could almost be expressed as a logic statement in a computer program – IF you want to be Christ’s disciple THEN deny yourself AND follow me.  This oft-repeated verse is quoted to emphasize the denial of self.  I think it better if we focus on the desire to be a disciple!  Do we truly want to be Christ’s disciple?

 
Imagine what it must have been like to be in the group of disciples on the way through Samaria to Jerusalem.  Go ahead, put verse 57 in modern terms…wouldn’t it be like running into some incredibly famous pastor like Rick Warren or Tim Keller or David Jeremiah after a visit to their church?  We’d be so tempted to say just what we think the pastor needs to hear.  We’d be likely to stumble and stammer as we try to remember the sermon and say “I agree with you—you made so much sense when you said…”  Here, a disciple must feel some sense of excitement as he finds Christ along the road.  I know I would!  How does Christ respond?  He doesn’t say “Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed my sermon and found it applies to your life.”

Christ says so much more!  In His response, he affirms one fact that we might fail to see if we don’t pause to listen…in following Christ, we are to GO!  The disciple says “wherever You go” and Christ doesn’t say “hey, friend, I’m glad you are planted at a great church where you can hang out and enjoy fellowship with other believers.”  Christ says “I’m going—are you with Me?” simply by describing His journey.  Read verse 58 again.  Is it a pleasant trip?  Is it a night at the Courtyard with WiFi?  Road warrior or occasional traveler, this journey will have us calling the front desk clerk to complain…we are NOT going to get what we reserved!  Our going with Christ, our following Him, is likely to be the toughest journey we’ve experienced.  Will we GO?

In His conversations with the many taking the trip to Jerusalem, Christ challenges someone to follow Him.  To me, this challenge describes most of us clearly.  Let’s look at just the words used by the individual in response to Christ in verse 59:

Lord – a clear indication that the man knows Christ’s position, His authority, His identity
First—a time word, a word that conveys the order of things, and a word that shows the man has not completely subjected himself to Christ’s Lordship
Let me – a plea for permission, perhaps a polite way of addressing Christ as Lord, but in this conversation more evidence that the man has not relinquished control
Bury my father – clearly an important task, one falling to sons, and one that is not dishonorable in the culture, or to the man’s friends.  It is an expected duty, and a duty not to be forgotten.

Do we resemble this man at all?  Do we know who Christ is, but do we have our own vital task for which we cannot immediately follow Christ?  Do we have our own agenda (a sense of timing and order) for which Christ must wait?  Surely we are all like this man in some way, at some time.

 
Two things are clear from Christ’s response in verse 60.  First, the task that is so important to us now must indeed be done.  Second, we are not the ones to accomplish that task!  Christ never says “Look, honoring your father, providing a proper burial, dealing with the legal issues, doesn’t matter.”  Christ instead says “I release you from this task!”  What is so amazing is the task with which He charges us “GO (there’s that word again!) and proclaim the Kingdom of God!”  Will we GO and proclaim His Kingdom?

 

Now, Christ finds yet another disciple who initiates a conversation as one desiring to follow Him, yet expresses some feelings with the same telling words, seen in verse 61:  “But…” “first” “Let me…” “family…” Only natural.  We’d all feel the same way!  Wouldn’t we?  Christ’s response in verse 62 has troubled so many people over the centuries – but should it?  Is Christ linking our faith in Him and our service to Him to an abandonment of our family?

 
I think not.  Christ, in His response sees deep into the nature of man.  It is difficult to say for certain, but I believe Christ is speaking to the challenges of serving Him, and what happens when we look back at the way things were.  I have never attempted to plow a straight line behind a strong-willed mule, but I have tried to aerate my yard with a rented machine that weighed about half-a-ton and had a mind of its own.  Just controlling the general direction of the aerator was hard enough.

Aeration-with-aerator When my wife graciously came out to offer a glass of iced tea, and I looked back…well, you get the idea.  I think Christ is not asking us to abandon our family, but is admonishing us that our focus from this moment on needs to be on serving Him!  Will we GO and never look back?

Am I following?

Am I Radical?

A few years ago I was laid up with one of those odd illnesses that was just strong enough to keep me from work, but thankfully not so aggressive that I couldn’t function.  I stayed home, and drifted in and out of sleep while the TV kept me company.  You’ve seen those shows that highlight the adventures of fishing vessels, I’m sure.  One episode recreated a life-threatening illness of a crew member that needed immediate rescue.  A Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched, and flew 90 miles through hazardous weather to the ship.  It hovered over the ship, in storm-tossed water, and lowered a rescue diver via line to the pitching deck.  A cage-like litter was lowered to the deck, the ill crewman was strapped in, and the rescue diver and the litter were winched up through the driving rain to the helicopter.  There, the ill fisherman vomited blood all over the cabin, creating a biohazard for all the Coast Guard on board.  The chopper turned for home, rushed the shipmate to the waiting ambulance, and we were told that the chance of survival was good.

An aviation survivalman takes hold of the hoist line extended from a U.S. Coast Guard HH-65A Dolphin helicopter during a rescue swimmer training exercise in Kaneohe Bay.

Wow!  Talk about radical action!  Here half-a-dozen men braved the elements, executed a difficult flying operation, performed medical triage, and got a total stranger out of harm’s way.  They didn’t think twice.  They just went.  They are not unlike many first responders I know.  Police go at a moment’s notice to deal with armed robbers.  Firemen go in the blink of an eye to homes ablaze.  EMTs head for accident after accident at crazy speeds in a big truck, then care for their charges on the way to ERs.  What is common to all these acts?  First, they are all dispatched by someone else, and willingly obey a voice on a radio saying “Go!”  Second, they all go without hesitation, and with a great sense of passion.  Third, they all risk their own lives for the sake of others.

I thought about these radical responders in comparison to my own life in Christ.  Am I radical?

Luke Chapter 9 is a challenging passage.  If we look at selected verses, we see:

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There are three questions that arise:

  1. Am I following Christ?
  2. Am I proclaiming the Kingdom of God?
  3. Am I serving the Lord?

First, are we following Christ?  The text describes a difficult journey, one without comforts, one without rest.  It is a journey with Christ, though, (wow!) and allows us to share in His suffering.  Following Christ brings us from that initial joy of salvation to a deeper understanding of His Being, His Love, and His Sacrifice.

Second, having followed Christ, are we proclaiming the Kingdom Of God?  That’s a difficult concept, especially for those in a culture of democracy.  Is the Kingdom Of God now, or in the future?  Scholarly arguments abound, but to me, what is important is the proclamation of the sovereignty of God and His desire for a sustaining relationship with the individual.  Am I proclaiming that Kingdom?  How?  To whom?

Third, after following Christ and proclaiming the Kingdom, am I consistently serving God?  One can imagine the joy of salvation leading to an intense period of discipleship and then a cheerful sharing of the gospel.  But, are the cares of this world, the duties of work, even the joys of family life now keeping us from serving our Lord?  Do our experiences in church, serving diligently, simply wear us down?  As we mature, as we age, as we transition from one life stage to another, are we still focused on doing what Christ asks of us?

For what Christ asks of us is simple to say, and difficult to do.  We are to love one another (the body of Christ, the church) and we are to witness to the lost.  It’s not unlike the first responders we admire.  They truly love one another serving as brothers and sisters, and they go to the lost without question, without regard for their own safety or life.

Am I radical?

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.

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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