Wiser Than the Birds

“People cry out under a load of oppression;
they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful.
But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,who teaches us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth
and makes us wiser that the birds in the sky?’ Job 35:9-11

There’s nothing more fun than finding a bird nest with some level of visibility. You try to not disturb it too much and mama bird offers a reminder. But watching the process has been an opportunity a few times over the years.

The nest is so perfect, those beautiful blue robin eggs, you wonder how they got so good at their craft, I mean they only have God almighty as their teacher. The migration, worm searching, bringing along the next generation. All of this knowledge is rooted in instincts, I mean there is no classroom or YouTube videos for birds to watch and get it right.

A group of instincts woven into any one of a large number of birds whose instincts are all a little unique to them. When you zoom into the micro world and the level of detail that each living being possesses just to live their life, it’s really a mind blower.

I’m thankful that God teaches me too, he seems to have done a pretty excellent job teaching the robin in my ‘hood!! I pray I’ll learn my lessons as well, that over time I’ll have the instincts of my Father and just do it the right way without much thought. To love God and love others as well as the robin makes that nest.

Instructions and Shortcuts

Here it is, evidence that someone knows what they are talking about and others, well… not so much. You know when you’re using a snowblower and one shear pin after another bites the dust(snow in this case!!).

After repeated annoyances, I was talked into upgrading the sturdiness of said pin. Well, when you do that, something worse happens, the gear looks like the one above. The shortcut eventually becomes the long cut and eliminates the brevity of the proper instruction.

Not only did the gear strip, but the auger jumped out of its housing and required a weld to resume its usefulness in the world.

Instructions are intended as a blessing to us, a guideline for which our lives will operate much better. The snowblower did have a long run of no shear pin pit stops, but in the end more time, more money, more everything piled on.

God offers us instructions about the how and whys of life. For whatever ways they seem unimportant, there is a time when they will save untold heartache and expense. It’s in those times you feel like I did, what was I thinking? How did the writer of the manual come to know more about this than me??

Why are instructions so difficult? Why is trusting the manual so foreign? Why is the law of gravity so incessant?! The problem often lies in the moment where people know enough about a subject to believe they are right but not know enough about a subject to know they are wrong.

Been there, instructions could be the gift they were intended to be, I’ll give that a try.

One of Many

It’s becoming church tradition to take a “Team Photo” on Super Bowl Sunday. Here’s our winning team at New Life 2020!!

In the early days of marriage, I had something wrong. Can you believe it?? Leah, print this out!! It’s the same illusion that many of us have to one degree or another. It seems to make sense in light of taking vows, getting serious about this one relationship, two becoming one, etc, etc, etc… As a pastor passing out marital advice to a young couple it’s one of many things to bring up.

When Leah and I were first married I suffered under the delusion that this really meant that the relationship between us was to be what we both needed most and every other relationship was just nice, but not really rising to the level of priority. We had a child in the first 11 months, we moved to a new place, our home life demanded a lot of attention and other relationships felt like work outside of the easy fun of a smiling baby!!

As time marched on Leah wanted to go visit family. While that was all well and good, in my mind I thought her family was too enmeshed( as opposed to my family that lives more on the opposite side of the spectrum). I also began to realize a stay at home mom has less opportunity for adult conversation than me being at church and coaching at school. Leah wanted some friend time… but wasn’t I enough??!!! Mostly I thought that because Leah being out meant me with a crying child!! Truthfully the correct answer to that question has moved from being a burden to being a freedom.

All of this for me was a combination of selfishness, not realizing the adult time I got verses the little time Leah got. But in the end after great thought about all of it, I realized that there isn’t just one relationship priority in each of our lives, there are many. Seniors with experience, peers to share life, crazy person just to keep things light, parents to finally ask questions of after we found out we didn’t know so much, siblings that care for us beyond our recognition, bosses that inspire, neighbors from whom we borrow a post hole digger. We need a strategic thinking relationship to solve a problem, a spiritual friend to lead us to God from whom all things flow and a person just to sit and watch the sunset. We need an accountant, mechanic, artist and someone to tell us the blunt truth. We need people who know the song of our life, who are kind enough to remind us of the words when time and events cause us to forget.

Now often times, several of these might be wrapped up into one. My spouse is the most important of all, but as the yearly birthday count stacks up, I realize more and more these other relationships are exceptionally important in our development as people.

In our recent trouble with social distancing, we discover how much many people really mean to us, what it’s like to be cut off from so many who add so much to our life. You don’t know what you have until it is no more. You become more aware that the strength of fabric is that each strand is woven together to hold fast in a multiplied might that each individual could never know individually. There is a curious balance between being strong on your own, being strong in Christ and being strong collectively as a body.

The Bible tells us to live in the “One Anothers” Love one another, honor, serve, be devoted to, cherish, live in harmony with, build up, be patient with, forgive, teach, comfort, encourage, speak the truth to, pray for, confess to, be humble with, show hospitality to, should I go on?????

We’re all in need of many facets in our world of relationships. Invest in as wide a variety as you can, be blessed as you are a blessing! And I can’t wait to be back collectively!

Signs of Life

The forsythia on the right is an early bloomer. The more you clip it and give it away, the more you get to clip next year and give it away!!

Spring is trying to happen here in Northern Minnesota on May 6th 2020. It had a strong start, but cool temps with freezing nights have slowed things down to a crawl. No leaves yet, but some of those early bloomers are starting to take off… signs of life.

I truly enjoy living in a part of the world that is blessed by four seasons and the signaling of each is part of a journey of travel from this to that. The flowers starting to bloom in their preplanned order, the longer days, to the coolness and colors rearranged in fall to first snowfalls, Christmas… there is a season, a cycle, something predictable and yet always unique.

But that journey from this to that is the stuff of life and it has the capacity to regenerate or degenerate. By God’s grace it brings us to better places. One of those journeys for people is the journey from fear to love. the Bible says “perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4. But we are such fearful people, and the more I get to know people, the more I witness the incredible power of fear, how it manifests itself in life.

From superstitions, to parents afraid to let their 2 year old fall on a 10 inch foam mat, fear of life, fear of risk, fear of death, untold phobias, but most deadly, the fear of love. ” Better to have never loved and never lose than to ever have loved at all.” Or something like that…

Fearful questions never lead to love-filled answers, under every fear based question, lies ten other fear-based questions and it’s always a mystery how deep this fear goes inside of us. Fear begets fear because the only answer it will accept is another fear based premise resulting in another fear based question. Another ride on the fear ferris wheel, back to where we started.

Looking at Jesus in the gospels we see fear based question after fear based question posed to Him. Fear of power, fear of status, fear of health, fear of Empires, fear of Jesus. Jesus refused to answer fear based questions, he transformed their thoughts, he made the question new and worthy of a response. We long to shelter people from their fear, only to find out it stimulates 5 new ones.

Is it possible to live in a house of love when our world loves to promote fear and hysteria? Isaiah 41:10,13

“So do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Every sign of life this spring, is an invitation to me to live in love, live in God’s promise, to live in his provision. The world makes it difficult to discover motivation in love, but it’s our journey down a new life-giving path, a broad, level path, where our ankles aren’t turned. Psalm 18

Vast

Growing up in the mountain west gives me a grand enjoyment of the vast. Vast expanses of sky, terrain, and the ability to see hundreds of miles away always causes a pause in my heart. Taking pictures of these moments seems to always leave you wanting. Often there is no scale for you to truly understand the immensity of what you are looking at, a 4X6, 8X10 version seems lame.

The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado was a favorite vacation spot for a few years as the kids were growing up. Hiking the sand dunes, rolling down them, getting sand everywhere. Hiking the river that ran around the outside edge of the dunes, finding where it finally sinks into the sand and has it’s track no more. Hiking the tops of the Dunes looking for fulgurites(lightning strikes on the dunes that leaves a black clump of melted sand). Just be careful of the small black clumps you are excited to pick up!! The Sand Dunes were immense. When you see pictures of this area, the tallest sand dune is 800 feet, just as a reference!!

I loved climbing fourteeners, seeing the panorama for miles and miles. I loved living in the plains and the realization that the middle of nowhere stretches from Mexico to Canada, from the Rocky Mountain to Kansas City. The North Americans plains are immense. I’ve had the privilege of living next to Lake Superior, another marvel of water and cold air masses, nature’s air conditioning and the pleasure of a hot day being disrupted by the change of wind bringing that lake air around me! Turning 80 degrees into 65. The vast can bring the profound.

When it comes to God, we speak about His Immanence and His Transcendence. God’s immanence speaks about Him being close, familiar with our weakness, wanting to be reconciled to us, to be close. God’s transcendence is the big view of God, an old-fashioned extremely large cathedral version of God. If you’ve ever stepped into one of those old cathedrals, you feel small, overwhelmed, sense that whispering is the order of the day rather than shouting. When I think of a verse that is a reminder of Gods transcendence I think of Isaiah 66:1…

“Thus says the Lord; “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me.?””

Does that make the earth the Ottoman Empire, Dad joke aside… It’s a viewing the Milkway Galaxy at night kind of a moment. It’s immense, vast and overwhelming, too big for me to comprehend, just sit back, look, and be in awe. No need to explain it, shrink it or find a tightly bound overgrown forest to feel surrounded. These vast things are about being laid bare, recognizing how small we are might be a step toward a freedom that you haven’t considered, culture tells us to be the big dog, maybe there’s a better way.

There is a view of God that knocks at the door of our heart and there is also a galaxy of stars put in place by the same God who rules the Galaxy and puts his feet up…on the earth!! Be amazed by the vast, comforted by the close, aware of both sides of the same coin.

Beauty Eh!!

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Gen 2:9

The food part I get, trees that make great food, fruits and nuts of all types, but also lumber to build beautiful works of art. But it seems that God could have been more pragmatic, I mean the issue of these trees being pleasing to the eyes seems less important. (unless it is).

This beauty seems mostly like a gift to us, to be able to stand back and say…. wow. It’s not part of the basics of providing food, water, and shelter. I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Dead Poets Society…

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Tree made for food;noble, useful. Tree made for beauty; awe inspiring moments, a little different than whole grain cereal for breakfast.

God created in His image, therefore His creation is a reflection of who He is. The age of reason has allowed intellectualism regarding God to be the highest value to the disregard of to the beauty. While no one says it out loud, I think there is a complete disregard for these matters because we worry that this issue of beauty, romance, love and poetry will lead people astray… and they will… and so does rationalism. Anyone ever heard of balance!!

There is a book I’ve never read, but the title is priceless so many times; “Adventures in Missing the Point.” It’s a book where a conservative and liberal offer their point/counterpoint to various issues. I don’t know if I recommend it, but the title explains so much about our thoughts about many issues. We seem to miss the point more often than we make it. The tree is functional and beautiful.

Here’s what I know, God is practical. God made things for us that are part of sustaining us. God is also more than practical. He made vanilla and taste buds and mangos, cherries, cashews(not practical at all), he made these things as a function of caloric intake and expulsion, but he made their flavors so spectacular and our taste buds and sense of smell to distinguish all of these, dare I say, pleasurable opportunities, because our God is exceptional beyond the pragmatic.

Do issues rise when we chase the pleasurable instead of thanking the one, kind enough to give us a food choice beyond just oatmeal and scrubby looking ugly trees? Yes, absolutely. Thank you Lord for beauty, we recognize it was an added blessing to us, but also a simple representation of who you already are. Thank you for the beauty that surrounds me with every sunrise, and every flower waiting to burst forth and proclaim the glory of God. Thank you for every person and the beauty you’ve created in them. Help me recognize the beauty in each of your works of art, say thanks and pass the almonds please!!

One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. ” Psalm 27:4

RLRLRR LRLRLL

My drum set here at church.

For some this will require an explanation, for others it’s painfully obvious, we’ll get back to that.

In life there are elemental rudimentary things you can’t get beyond. But the temptation is to get beyond them and get beyond them as fast as possible. In basketball everyone wants to…make a basket. So youth basketball is filled with little kids developing horrible shots because they lack the strength to make it happen. While all along their ball handling skills are as important but less interesting. No body asks how many times did you dribble tonight, they ask how many points did you score. In my opinion 3rd grade basketball should be about dribbling challenges, setting them up for things more interesting.

If your an artist, you start off with the basics of drawing shapes, in math you recognize numbers, then add, then subtract then multiply and divide. Then fractions, you know 7/5ths of people don’t understand fractions. We start off with the simple and move forward to the more complex things like double paradiddles so we can switch dominate hands.

Double paradiddles?? Yeah RLRLRR LRLRLL. Every drummer knows about double paradiddles. Right Left Right Left Right Right etc. They are part of a system of rudiments for learning to control your sticks. There used to be 13, then 26, now I see lists of 40. Rudiments are to drumming what scales are to the rest of the instruments in the band. Learn how to do the basics well, you now have the muscle memory to accomplish about anything (as long as you have rhythm).

You watch a craftsman who seems to be at ease in the use of their tools, it’s impressive. When you try to do the same thing, you realize, you’re just a noob!Like me and technology in the last month!!

We start with basics but there is no doubt that our society longs to complicate things. Bigger, better, faster, more is the common wisdom. Learning simplicity is in conflict with our humanity. Martha needed to be busy, she was the hostess, Mary just wanted to be with Jesus, leave some chores undone, serve a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and use paper plates. Jesus rewarded the simple, profound choice. Martha’s desire to complicate the situation left her frustrated.

What are the basic rudiments of Christianity? Is it a list of tasks to get done, a list of theological doctrines to wrap my mind around, is it lighting candles and listening to favorite worship music? If I dare write out an exceptionally simple answer, I know the back lash of “you forgot to mention, you failed to say, blah, blah, blah…” But I’m all too familiar with our longing to complicate it.

If I was to sum up with a simple idea of Christian basics it would be awe that a sinner like me (someone far away), could be loved and reconciled in to be called His son. And to be overwhelmed by a love that compels ( way different than coerces) me to see, act, think the way God does.

Jesus gave us two rudiments ( the Jews in Jesus day thought there were several hundred), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor the same way you love yourself.”

The thing about basics is they are so basic, they might get dismissed, not deep enough, give me something deep here Terry. But everything comes off of the basics, so know them and do them and don’t forget them. Be overwhelmed with the love of God and live in the joy of honoring Him, you know RLRLRR, LRLRLL. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Survey Says??

This past week I had the honor of leading a family through the funeral of a husband, father, and grandfather. The great news is that he was a man of faith and now is living in the moment where faith becomes sight… and what a great view… I can only imagine.

My direction this morning lies in his chosen profession. It’s foundational work for all of the other work that will take place after. A job where you get to be in the outdoors, a job of precision, a black and white job where interpretation is minimal and objective truth is the fruit of your labor. A job that creates relief for some, irritation for a few possibly, but clarity for all parties involved. This gentleman was a surveyor.

It’s a job I can really appreciate because it is about blind justice. He had no stake in the outcome, just went to great effort to discover points on a map and determine where the boundary line is. I think of the stakes in the ground on my property pictured above and know that someone took the time to map it out, be precise, offer a report.

It reminds me of old maps of the world. Maps where Europe, the Middle East and Africa look much like they do today. But America, South America and such are totally off. The frame of reference and familiarity with the actual were too low to get it right. It sometimes makes me wonder if my picture of God is more accurate or less so.

The Bible speaks about boundaries, mostly condemnations about moving the boundary stones; you know, cheating, lying, and stealing. Committing an injustice for purely selfish reasons is the only reason to move a stone so… “put that thing back where it came from, orrr, so help me, so help me!!” A few verses about the survey we live in…

Proverbs 15:25
The LORD tears down the house of the proud, but he sets the widow’s boundary
stones in place.

Psalm 16:5-6 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

Two things, God steps in and is our surveyor. God sets the boundary stones for the widow. The one who could be taken advantage of is under the protection of God. Good place to be. Second, wherever our boundary stones lie, they have fallen in pleasant places. Years of being a Youth Pastor meant years of kids saying things like, “As soon as I graduate, I’m outta here, I hate this place.” Having lived in enough places I know kids in the city are as bored as kids in the country, where you live determines little about what you make of it. Also it always seemed unfortunate for so many to live in a world where another world is better.

Today, as small as they are (stay at home order), God has deemed that my boundary stones have fallen in a good place (read that again if you need a little time to let it sink in!!). To be unaware or unwilling for that to be true is to somehow miss out on something God has ordained for me. Be in God’s pleasant place for you this and every day.

To surveyors out there, I appreciate what you do for us. The random markers I have found all throughout my wilderness adventures is a reminder of how far you’ve gone to map out the world. But to the Surveyor, God above, thanks for your work in my life and the blessing filled boundaries you have offered. Lead me to worship you in them, surely I am in a pleasant place.

Dominion

In our closing text for sermons flowing through 1 Peter, we find the word dominion. In the context of the times this was written, it’s a pretty awesome reminder and a great way to close out a letter to people, plus the P.S. of 3 more verses.

11 “To Him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Instead of the usual definition of dominion, I’ll give you the synonyms; supremacy, dominance, and superiority. To Him be the supremacy, to Him be the dominance, to Him be the superiority; why is that so important in this moment of writing?

Again, trying to remember the time frame of this writing, remembering that this is Peter writing to a church that finds itself in fear of Caesar Nero. Nero who has made Christians public enemy number one after burning Rome and needing to find someone to blame. Nero who finds Christians and burns them at the stake at his backyard parties, binds them and allows them to be eaten alive for sport. In a moment such as this, Christians huddle quietly in their homes praying they don’t get found out.

In a moment like that, the idea of supremacy, superiority and dominion feels a whole lot like it’s owned by a crazed Emperor. It’s a moment where our theology(belief system) crosses our experience of life and we begin to ask questions. 1. Is God good? 2. Does God care? 3. Will God protect/provide? Those questions swirl about in our head and our answer comes out in the swirl of my life. A faith based answer to the questions above differs from a fear based answer to the questions above.

Sunday school is an easy place to answer questions about life. Sunday School offers the chance for mental acknowledgment without any real change in living it out. Life is a very different classroom. In short we answer the question one way in our head and we answer the question another way in our heart. The way we answer it in our heart is the way we live it out. See post https://truthgracetime.com/2020/03/26/shalom-u2-rembrandt/

Peter is reminding people that although it seems there is a person, regime, era where supremacy seems to be in the hand of my enemy, it’s not. This is God’s dominion for all ages, his supremacy is second to none. It’s doesn’t mean the harm won’t touch us physically, but it doesn’t have to touch my soul.

I pray that you are experiencing the life giving fruit of God’s dominion in our hearts, lives, relationships, emotions, choices, and our souls.

To Him be the supremacy in all things, Amen

The Psalm You Never Hear

This isn’t the Psalm you ever use at church to start a service, it’s certainly doesn’t have a Pro-Life ending. On the violence scale we are going to offer an “R” rating and if I haven’t sold it to you yet, it starts off bad and the ending is worse.

1. By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

2. On the willows there we hung our harps,

3. for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing for us one of the songs of Zion!”

4. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? Psalm 137:1-4

We were mourning our losses and the ones responsible demanded songs of joy, to be honest, I cannot sing. Typically the Psalms bail out from the weight of all of this, but not this Psalm. I’m really not in the mood for a cheerleader pick-me-up today.

There is a time for every matter under the sun. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Not everything is solved through the power of positive thinking. Honest mourning over our losses, choosing to not sing for a moment in time, hanging up our harps, these are viable options in the moment. We can get to a different Psalm on a different day, and I strongly encourage us to make that choice, but it’s today and my harp is on the tree.

In the mean time Job’s three friends came for a visit to support their friend after his unfathomable loss. They tore their robes, wept and they sat with Job for seven days and seven nights, no one spoke a word. I’m guessing no one sang either. Seven days, not fixing it, not offering a cliché, not asking someone to get over it, just being with your friend. Culturally its called “Sitting Shiva,” much different than demanded songs of joy.

“How can we sing songs of the Lord…