Saturday, April 07, 2007

As I was saying before I interruped myself ...

So, as I was saying before I interrupted myself and went in a TOTALLY different direction yesterday than the direction I intended to go in ...

I write (blog) because it sorts out my thoughts and helps me to see meaning in my life. I mean, come on. You've noticed that life today is lived at supersonic speeds. You barely finish one task before beginning the next one. And when you get some of that coveted free time you use it by "resting" in front of television or going to the mall. That is not rest. That is diversion. It is a simple switching of activities from one you do not want to do to one you do want to do. Diversion is fine as long as it does not replace rest, reflection or turning inward to give careful scrutiny to your own soul. Sometimes my soul is a very serious place to hang out. Sometimes my soul is laughing and watching the parade of life go by while I sit on the curb of time and decide not to chase after it. That, by the way, is a learned skill. It does not come naturally. Not in our country and not in this season of time.

When I write I look at what is going on around me and I try to sort it out. And it surely does need sorting. Taken bit-by-bit life seldom makes sense. And sometimes it does not make sense even when you kick back for a minute and take in the big picture. It is not my job ... not your job ... to force life into a form that is pleasing and understandable to our/your mind. Life reminds me of taking a flight on a jet at high altitudes. You know you are gobbling up ground at an unbelievable rate of speed but when you look out the window, casting your gaze on the ground below, it seems totally benign. You lose all concept of speed. You find yourself thinking, "If this jet were to go down it wouldn't hurt anything ... we would simply bounce off one of those buildings down there." You may be going 550 mph but all of your senses say you are doing maybe 10 mph. Can you say, "Skewed?" Your vision is tricked by altitude. You do not feel the wind in your face (thank you for that, God) and feel the terror you would if strapped to one of the jets wings. Speed and altitude makes the "what you perceive" far different from the "what is real."

Another word for "altitude" in our parable is "distance." Not distance from the ground below. Distance from our homeland. As a believer in Jesus Christ I recognize my homeland to be anywhere He is. Jesus is my homeland. If I am by His side, listening to His Words, experiencing His pleasure, life suddenly takes on a new form. That new form makes sense. It makes sense in a way that nothing else in life does or can. I come to understand that this life is "the mission." It is "the training ground." It is "the test." Reality? Jesus is reality. Everything else is the boot camp I go through to make me into the man He wants me to be. And I am the last person capable of making decisions about what I should go through to become Christ-like. Being with Jesus makes me "in the world but not of the world." Away from Jesus and my vision of reality is skewed. With Jesus everything comes into pinpoint sharp focus. When I write I slow down, look inward to the presence of Jesus within (the Holy Spirit) and get my vision renewed.

So what does that mean? It means that all of the hits life delivers are for His divine purposes and I not only don't understand them ... I don't have to understand them. Actually I can't understand them. Not perfectly. It also means that the joys life delivers are gifts from the One who loves me so much that He died in my place. But stupid me ... I assume that the hits are punishment for times I've screwed up and the joys are gifts for having done well. This reduces me to the status of Bailey the Killer Beagle and God to the status of me. I do well and I get the coveted milky bone. I pee on the rug and I not only can I kiss the milky bones goodbye but I just might get a boot in the butt.

Do you really think God acts that way? I assure you that He does not.

Here is the truth. We live for God's pleasure. He directs our paths and our days. If you want to wander off of the paths you do so at your own peril. (Yes, he can "restore the day the locust has eaten" so it's not necessarily a total loss. We'll have to wait and see.) But the meat of life ... the joy of realizing the purpose for which you have been created ... is revealed when you slow down (stop!) on His path, place your heart and your thoughts in His Hands, accept whatever He shows you as "truth", and then walk on in pursuit of the truth as it has been revealed in Him. I mean, stop worrying about tomorrow and just live your life. Live it with His purposes and His pleasure in mind. All of that is a very God-like concept. It's even in the bible. Sermon on the mount. Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Read it for yourself.

So maybe I have explained myself and maybe I have not. But for me writing is all a part of the slowing down. The stopping. The reflecting. I do not mean to be rude but I do not write for you. I write for me. It is in writing that I tear the shrink-wrapped packaging off of my "just add water life" and examine the nitty gritty. I feel the individual parts one at a time. I see how they make up me. I laugh at myself. I wonder about my sanity. I get angry at my failures and myself. But I also pray and ask God to tip His Hand through my thoughts and the way they transpose themselves onto this pixilated page. He often does. And in those sacred moments I feel as though I have touched Him with my own fingers. I feel like I have connected with His purposes for me. I think I understand a little better who I am and why I am that way. And I like feeling that.

Orrrrr. I could be wrong. I could be just scratching out words onto a page. Electronic fodder for like-minded fools. But I really do not think so. Because when I walk away from Tess and her keyboard I feel as though I have given birth to a living, breathing entity. It transcends who I am and what I can understand.

And only He can do that.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A blog about nothing and everything

What is it about writing that flips switches in me that nothing else flips? That is the question of my hour. Like you, I have multiple conversations throughout any given day. It's all normal and good. Usually it is even enjoyable. (OK, there are those of you who are not enjoyable to talk to. You know who you are. And on the exceptionally slim chance that you are reading this ... leave me alone!) Still, there is something about sitting down with Tess on my lap and doing the sacred dance with her keyboard that triggers something within me. Writing takes me to an altered state. Internal walls come down. I am talking to thousand and thousands of pixels on my screen and they never talk back, pass judgment on my opinions or otherwise make me feel less than human. Of course I am not so stupid as to think that there are no people on the other end of the networks and modems that ARE talking back, ARE passing judgment, ARE thinking I am less than human. The little google analytics tool I've hooked to this web site tells me that, on average, between twenty and forty people read what I write on any given day. I get an average of 212 "hits" every seven days. So while this is not exactly Readers Digest it makes me happy. Few people leave comments. That is fine with me though it is the silent ones I worry about.

Sometimes people ask me how I come up with things to write about. I just tell them the truth. I do not know. Throughout the course of any given day things happen. Ordinary things. Yet when you look closely the ordinary often becomes exceptional. It is all about point of view. If you want your day to be ordinary ... if you are satisfied with that ... it will probably cooperate. But it does not have to be that way. When I look at the day that I just spent (the passage of time is, after all, a transaction. An expenditure.) there really is not much that stands out. I cleaned a little bit of the house. I put some finishing touches on the bedroom that Scott and I repainted while Debbie is out of town. I watched the Cubs play baseball. I did not leave my immediate surroundings until I got hungry around 5PM. Then I went to Bob Evans (down on the farm) and ate my fill of biscuits, gravy and hash browns. Washed it down with water. I'm still bloated four hours later. (Side note: My dear friend Bob Dude taught me about Bob Evans biscuits and gravy. If they kill me ... torture him.) I returned home to a full house, which emptied out in a few minutes. That's when Bailey the Killer Beagle and I sat down and watched the ball game. And now here we are.

Pretty ordinary day, huh?

Not on your life. I woke up at 8:30AM and didn't know where I was because the walls were the wrong color and I was totally discombobulated on the bed. (It's empty except for me and so I feel obligated to use all of it. I don't wake up where I went to sleep. Weird but true.) I had to clear the cobwebs just to figure out that I was not in a hotel somewhere. Christopher was going to work and instructed me concerning what parts of his left over garbage from last night I could throw out and what needed to stay. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. There is an entire book there, not just a blog. A friend called me and told me he had just lost his government job. He wants to do lunch. I agreed on a day next week but all I really want to tell him is to avoid "church work." I saw a former teenager that was in my youth group about ten years ago. Until yesterday I had not seen him in probably five years and now I've seen him two days in a row. Last New Years Eve he was on foot cutting through a neighbor's back yard and the guy shot him three times. He's still alive and he sticks to the sidewalks now. I drove about fifteen miles each way for supper. That comes out to ten miles per biscuit. The gravy was a perk. It was worth it.

So really, when you think about it, when you take the time to break the day down into little pieces it was anything but ordinary.

I even talked to God today. You know the one. The BIG ONE. The Bible guy. He listened to me trash talk some situations and people for a few minutes while I was driving. Then I started thinking about how boring it is to eat alone and I slid my hand onto the back seat of my car and pulled out a book. Score. I love to read. I was on chapter two but had not read any of it in about a month. You know what chapter two was about? In a nutshell it said, "Chill. God loves you. Unconditionally. Why would you bother yourself with other peoples opinions or offensive actions when He's there waiting for you every minute of every day. Those other people? Leave them to God. Oh, and while you are at it ... forget the rules. You know ... the ones you try to live life by. Yeah, those. You can't get them straight so give it up and just spend your time loving The Big Him."

Pretty good advice I'd say.

So there you go. This blog was about nothing. This blog was about everything. It is up to you. You can read a lot into it. You can chalk it up as a waste of time. Your call. Me? I have enjoyed every minute of the blog ... and of the day. I like reading. I like writing. I like living.

And I do love me some God.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Put Me In Coach!

Am I too picky or is God just taking His good sweet time? I have thoughts about that.

A) God can take all of the time He wants to. After all, time belongs to Him. He made it. He owns it. He controls it. So who am I to tell Him what to do with it?

B) If I am too picky it is for a reason. I've said it before but allow me to remind you just in case you missed it. It is not enough (in my humble opinion) to be in God's will. It is not enough to be in the center of God's will. I want to be in the center of the center of His will. If God's will is a dart board it will not suffice to simply hit the cork. It is not enough to land inside the little steel ring at the center known as the "bulls-eye." No, I will not stop until I hit DEAD CENTER in the middle of the bulls eye. Just eeking inside of that steel ring won't do it.

Tomorrow morning I have a phone call to make. You see, last Thursday night I met with the pastor search committee of another church. I say "another" because this is not exactly the first pastor search committee I have met with over the past three years. I really have not counted. The committee was staffed with very nice people and I am quite certain that they are from a very nice church in a very nice town. They asked good questions and they gave sufficient answers to the questions that I asked. That all sounds good. And it is. There is just one problem. Tonight they called me and asked if I was willing to continue on to the next step toward becoming their pastor. I rather thought that question was coming. And so I have been praying about how to respond to it when it did come. Debbie has been praying too. So they called and asked the question and I promised them a phone call in the morning giving them my answer. I first needed to call Debbie (she is at Mayo Clinic with our sister-in-law, Alisha, this week. Pray for Alisha!) I did call Debbie. We quickly agreed upon our response.

There is absolutely no sense within either of us that God is calling us to that church.

Do you know how much I hate making a phone call like that? It is a high and holy privilege to be asked to pastor a church. I believe (though I have not really been counting) that I have been asked to pastor four churches and become a staff member at another church since early 2005. I have given each one the same answer. "No, but thank you for asking." I have such a great deal of respect for these committees. Their job is terribly diffficult and I do not want to make it any more so. But I cannot lie to them. To say yes and to go to their church would be to miss the center of the center of the bullseye of God's will for my life.

Not good enough.

So I will tell them no. But thank you so much for asking.

The last time I was "in the game" I got injured. It happens to most everybody sooner or later. I pulled something or broke something or got hit upside the head by a fastball. Honestly, it happened in such a rapid fire fashion that I am not even certain how it all came down. I was running with all I had and suddenly my feet were up and my head was down and when the play was over all I tasted was dirt. Everything hurt, was bruised, busted up, exhausted. As I limped off of the field I really had no idea how bad it was. And it was bad. It took weeks in God's ICU ... months in a "step down" room, and another month or so in rehabilitation. I cannot get over the fact that I did not know how badly I needed it. And now I look back and I ask myself, "How was I even walking? What was keeping me going?" The only answer I can find is singular ... grace.

And here's the thing. After just over four months of resting, praying, resting, seeking God, resting, healing, worshiping and resting ... I feel a little like many baseball players must have felt over the past few days. Everything inside of me is screaming ... "PUT ME IN COACH!" Everywhere I turn I see a sermon waiting to be written. Every scripture I read literally bursts open with truth begging to be told. And for the first time in a long time ... a very long time ... longer than I can even begin to tell you ... I am feeling God smile. And that is making me smile. And I am rediscovering this deep, deep well of inner peace and joy that I had totally forgotten about. Well, I actually had not forgotten about it. But I thought it was just a dream I had once upon a time and that it probably was not true. But it was true! And God has taken me back to it! I feel like that lucky woman who was at the well when Jesus showed up. He asked her just the right questions and when she got real with Him her life was forever changed.

It took me at least six weeks just to realize that I was at the well and Jesus was asking question. It took several more weeks to walk out of the fog far enough to formulate the answer to His questions. And now I am busy soaking in the wonder of HIS response to MY response.

And it's all good news. Every bit of it is better than I ever had a right to expect. And it is from HIm. And it is free. Free. Free is a very good word.

You know what I am looking for? I am looking for a church that wants to be happy. I am looking for a church that wants to be as free as Jesus died to make us. I am looking for a church that is as tired of the worn out old ways of doing things as I am and is willing to walk with me on a journey of finding Jesus and follow Him in His new ways. He is singing a "new song" and I won't be happy doing anything other than singing along.

Father, this part of the blog is to You. Other's may read it but it is directed to You. Put me in, Coach! I'm ready to play. Today. I do not know what city I am to play in or what league, but I want to play. I've got my glove (my bible) my bat (Your Spirit) and my spikes (all you have taught me and the fire you have built within.) Please, Sir. When you are ready. Put me in ...

Until then, Father, I'll sit on the steps of the dugout and wait. I'll listen. I'll watch. And when you call my number ... I'll do all I can to make you proud. Because I love you for loving me. And I love you for seeing how messed up I was. And I love you for taking me out of the game, giving me time and place to rest, and putting the right people and a gazillion other things in my path just when I needed them. That last play I ran, Father? You called it. And as John Wesley said, it took me about a yard from the gates of hell. Thank you for trusting me that much. I will never forget it. And I'll never forget that you pulled me back from danger when I went down.

Father ... you are the best. And I love you.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gollywoggles Vs. Grandpa ... it wasn't even close

How can you not be afraid? I was afraid. Sometimes I still am. When the lights are turned off. When it is very quiet. When no one else is at home. And I am trying to sleep. And I cannot. Because I just do not know.

What really IS under the bed?

Oh, in the day time it is safe to look. They do not come out until night time. They? Yes, they.


They exist. You know it. I know it. You probably are afraid to admit it. I am too. But I force myself.

Worst of all ... she knows it. She cannot talk yet. She cannot protect herself. Still, she knows she needs protecting. It is an innate knowledge. I am not certain if we are born with it or if we learn it the hard way when we are very, very small. Like ten months old. Elle knows they are under her crib and that is why she cries when her mom and dad put her to bed every night. The gollywoggles do not come out until they close the door. And they quickly leave the moment before the door opens. Nobody sees them but her.

I remember them. They played in my closet after my parents tucked me in and gave me that final drink of water. I could hear the coat hangers jingling against each other. I actually convinced my mother to come and look once. But of course they were back under my bed by then. Maybe I am a strange man. Maybe I am the only one with this recall. I remember them. I remember what they looked like, sounded like, and how they smelled. Once you encounter a gollywoggle you tend to block it from your mind and convince yourself they really do not exist. By the time you are a teenager you have hidden the truth from your own soul. I was never able to block them. And so I remember.

Now you know why. Why when she comes to my house little baby Elle does not have to sleep alone. I put her between me and the wall. She cries for a minute and then she realizes that I am staying with her. She is safe. Gollywoggles do not come out when adults are present. And so I protect her.

Me and baby Elle. We've got a thing going on. We are pal's. We are buddies. We share her pacifier. Yesterday she fed me one of her coveted raisins right off of her high chair tray. She's my granddaughter. I am one of her grandfather's. And she is very safe sleeping at my house.