Steadfast x 2 = y(not)

Hebrew poetry and water can be spectacular in the repetition!!

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Of all the debtors in the world, grace probably is the greatest. Most grace periods regarding debt are under threat of exorbitant penalty.

Daily I’m constrained to be

If I could choose my constraint, what would it be? Can I ever get to a point where I understand constraint to be a blessing? It reminds me of some old wedding vows not currently expressed “Freed and bound by your love.”

Let thy goodness like a fetter

In the middle of these lyrics, my word for the day is steadfast.

stead·fast/ˈstedˌfast/ adjective :resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

As can be the case sometimes…

res·o·lute·ly/ˈrezəˌl(y)o͞otlē/adverb : in an admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering manner.

I think to myself, how often do I really live in a determined, resolute, dutifully, unwavering and admirably purposeful moment? And then…

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

If this were Sesame street, I think the word of the day would be more like…

fleet·ing/ˈflēdiNG/ adjective : lasting for a very short time.

On a TV program, every trouble is taken care of in 30 or 60 minutes. If you really want to understand steadfast you go to a movie and it takes a full 120 minutes to find resolve. I wait…

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!

People claim they want teaching with some depth. I say depth comes from living out steadfast when fleeting is the temptation. Depth is found in determined, resolute, dutiful, unwavering and admirably purposeful choice.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 57:7 My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.

The classic Hebrew poetry use of a double statement, “My heart is steadfast O God, my heart is steadfast.” A double portion of determined, resolute, dutiful, unwavering, and admirably purposeful. Does saying it twice get my point across? Does saying it twice get my point across?

Seal it for Thy courts above

Sealed, claimed, settled, anchored, complete, established, tethered, resolved.

My Heart O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music… for your steadfast love is great to the heavens and your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth.” Psalm 57:8,10-11

Did I mention steadfast?

Hurry Up and Wait

One of these trees is ideal, the other one is a thief.

There are those moments when you are offering your children pearls of wisdom and all you can think is…”are you listening to yourself?” Back to the woods for today’s thought, waiting…

I’m writing this on my phone today because I am waiting. The internet so bogged down that typing with one finger on my phone is the appealing option. Today’s thought revolves around these small thumb to baseball diameter Maples hanging out in the shade of my forest. Seed has been cast far and wide from the larger specimen. My forestry friend says these small maples can hang out in the shade indefinitely. In fact they have run tests in areas and found some of these little guys to be 50-80 years old, waiting…

Patiently growing a root system, an underground storage unit waiting. Waiting for the day that one of these popple trees would fall over from the storm of life it’s not equipped to handle. And a flush of light would pour down life and there would be a lifeline of faith becoming sight.

Not all trees are equipped for waiting. Some trees are known as “Pioneer Species”, they need full sun from day one. I have some baby oaks sprouting from some acorns trying to live in the shade. They grow leaves almost twice as big as normal in an attempt to catch some light and feed themselves. Their days are numbered in the shade and like youth, will grow tired and weary unless the circumstance changes.

I love the ability (God ordained ability) of those maples to adapt and wait. There is something right about learning how to grow wherever you are planted, ideal location or not. For us there are moments when growing conditions aren’t ideal, but the thing we learn from these maples is that our root system is what gives us capacity in the future to become.

We find an explanation of that in Psalms 1. Chosen to be the first psalm as it sets the focus of the rest of this book of wisdom.

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the Lord, who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-whatever they do prospers.”

These verses offer us the insight as to the shade free thing we can control, but sometimes we find ourselves in the shade for other reasons. If that is the case, hurry up and wait. Waiting is a great instruction for our children, I’m guessing it’s good for us as well. We are in a moment of waiting, just make sure your roots sink deep into knowing God cares and God provides, oh… and wait. Don’t let your confidence be shaken in the waitin’!

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

Backward To Move Forward

Several years ago we moved out to the country on a couple of acres. Realizing the deer population was too great to combat, I’ve moved from flower gardens to forestry. The lot we bought has a lot of structure(highs and lows) and several ideal and less ideal trees. We have numerous Oaks, Maples and Ironwood. Many of them are very old. Certainly old enough to demonstrate that the fire of 1918 didn’t happen to get to this patch of forest even though points all around us were burned to the ground.

There is a large population of less ideal trees, Popple and Basswood. Many of these great Oaks and Maples have been overrun by these lesser trees stealing light, stealing water, stealing space for roots and canopies. The only way to move forward is to create a void by moving backward. Which leads to a great question in many parts of life, “how far back do I have to go, before I get to move forward?” Each year I come up with a plan for taking down trees that are inhibiting the growth of the ideal. You know the good as enemy of the best. There is nothing wrong with a popple, but it is only good, not the best.

As I have cut down trees shading out the better ones, I notice it takes about two years to really see the fruit of that effort. The first summer those smaller trees bask in the sun, but they are only used to growing so much and that’s where they get stuck. But all of the photosynthesis from this new light is pumping energy into the savings account called a root system. That second summer the new growth goes from 6 inches per year previously to two or three feet. The void that was caused by the cutdown (going backward), is now moving forward with something spectacular, maple syrup and fall color.

Aesthetically we get to see more than just a mass of green. We get to see large powerful trunks rise form the forest floor, open space, and a canopy towering over our heads to feel small in the presence of earthly greatness. We enjoy the shade on a warm summer day and a breeze that can now flow through the new open space created, no longer a stifling stagnance.

These horticultural themes always bring me back to John 15, the vine and the branches. Pruning so that something can be fruitful. Like a forest, a grapevine can become so overrun with branches, it fails at it’s true purpose, produce fruit. Moving backward is a kindness to allow movement forward.

We find ourselves in a moment of pruning, a forced cutback and an opportunity to think about which Popple trees in our life are shading out the fruit of the Spirit, keeping us from being all that God intended for us. Hop out of the shade and into the light, allow yourself to be fed by God, grow larger roots and pray for the God of the harvest to flow through you and bring life and light to our world.

There are 5-8 parables in there, I’ll let the Holy Spirit prompt you to consider one or all.

Puzzled

Under the category of “created unique,” I find myself enjoying puzzles. Something about the mundane task, problem solving, watching a picture get revealed piece by piece, that is pleasant experience for me. I’ll confess I like a challenge, but not too much of a challenge. There are puzzles I have never put together, I’m not interested in “diabolical” level in putting one together.

In college I worked at a home for the physically and mentally handicapped. We had a guy on our unit named…well… Mr. Awesome(HIPPAA laws). Anyway, Mr. Awesome was non-verbal, confined to a wheelchair and had one arm that was able to be used for tasks. Mr. Awesome loved puzzles and would, get this, put his puzzles together upside down, just the cardboard on the back. For him it was all about the shapes.

The picture on the box is an indispensable help in the process of putting the otherwise confusing mess together. Which door goes where? In the chaos of life, we are not always offered a picture, we are just given the pieces. I am pretty sure that the way spiritual growth happens is much like being puzzled? A piece here, a piece there, in the beginning things don’t always make sense.

But when I gaze at the puzzle for awhile, I begin to notice the slightest color difference between black, dark navy and the green that belongs in the darkest part of the forest. Things begin to differentiate themselves and the clarity grows. It’s why I don’t like leaving and coming back to it, it takes time to reorient myself, to make progress.

For those of you trying to put your spiritual puzzle together, there is a picture we cannot see… for

“We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Piece by piece we operate in faith, and trust this picture that God already sees, but we are waiting on. Seeing through a mirror dimly and struggling to piece all of this together, some of the picture can be seen. God has been gracious to give us some of the edge pieces, knowing the boundary of life, he’s filled in the important subject matter, love God, love people, do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, be Holy, love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you, and forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Being puzzled can stir up our anxiety, but it also is the good soil of faith formation as we trust that the picture He is creating with our life is some good handiwork. The best handiwork requires a lot of chisels and a great vision of what could be. the invitation; trust God with both!!

Holy Week: Thursday

The rhythms of life are soothing for us. Jesus and his disciples were living in a moment of rhythm and tradition. It’s been an interesting week, crowds loving Jesus… pretty normal, Pharisees hating Jesus…pretty normal, the Passover… ahhhh tradition.

Much like our family traditions, nothing feels better than that point of gathering. Traditional foods, Grandpa reading the (Christmas story for me) the traditional words, remembering God’s provision, sharing it with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc… It’s Thanksgiving in Israel. No matter what has gone on this week, we’re gathering tonight with our master, the Messiah. It’s going to be a great time to gather. He’s probably going to say something I won’t understand!! But it’s all good!

You can handle a lot of things in life when your home is a safe refuge from the storm around you. That was always my hope, prayer and goal for my kids growing up. A place to be yourself, let your hair down, discuss freely, speak about the Lord when we lie down, rise up, or walk along the road.

But just like raising my children, some instruction was required. Don’t play ball in the house, don’t spoil your dinner, don’t treat you sibling so horribly(or your mother) and most of all wash each others feet. You know it makes sense that this was overlooked. You are having your meal in a space you borrowed, the usual system isn’t in place. Jesus used the opportunity to teach a lesson, one of his very last. I imagine my last things I say and do will be done with intention. Jesus never overlooked a good opportunity to get in a good lesson.

Washing feet, a job reserved for the lowest person in the household, a tradition to bless people walking on dusty roads. I can’t help but think of my hikes in Colorado and the great joy of being finished and finding a cold stream to soak my feet after a long hard climb. But everyone knows this task is for the least, the last, and certainly not me. Jesus steps up and does the unthinkable, assume the position of the low to serve others. Not just orthodoxy(something you should know you should do), but orthopraxy(correct practice of the thing you know you should do).

When he finished washing their feet in John 13 hear his words…

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things(orthodoxy: correct knowing), you will be blessed if you do them(orthopraxy: correct doing).”

Thank you Lord that who you are and what you do, never has a double standard. Thank you for being a role model who served even up to the moment of death watching out for the needs of your mother and the thief on the cross with you. Thank you for serving us and help that selfless love help me see how to walk with my neighbor, family, friends and even my enemies. Thank you for clean feet, but more importantly thanks for a new heart. Amen.

Holy Week Wednesday,Sunday’s Coming

Looking through the things Jesus was recorded as saying on the days leading up to the cross found in Matthew, I’m making no attempt to lay it out what was said on each day, but invite you to be reading Matthew 21-28. Today I am looking at chapters 23-25.

Matthew 23 provides a condemnation of the attitude of the Pharisees who do everything to be seen by people, it’s just a show. Actors in a play with an admonition as is found elsewhere, be humble and serve. Verse 15 always challenges me on a daily basis…

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

You know they say teams take on the characteristics of their coach. As a coach you always look around to see if that’s true and if it is, do you like what you see? I look at my family life, did I do a very good job at passing on the most valuable things (God’s perspective on the world) or did my model for my kids create twice the knucklehead I am?

In chapter 23 Jesus isn’t following the sage advice of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” I’m not going to argue that generally this is good advice, but sometimes when things are so wrong and the whole system is so wrong and those who hold all the power are at the heart of what is wrong… someone needs to speak words of truth that don’t bring peace. Jesus had hard words of correction, if you read all of chapter 23 you will see plainly why Jesus was killed.

23:33 “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Wait, Jesus said that… read Matthew 23, it’s even more interesting than that.

Matthew 24 gives some instruction about the destruction of the Temple and the last days and in the end, the hour of Christ’s return is unknown. People jump on a bandwagon to figure out what is unknown (I believe not knowing is the enssence of unknown), even Jesus said he didn’t know, the more important thought is “if you knew when the thief was coming you’d be prepared.” Since we don’t know, we should always be ready. Good for scouting and the household of God.

Matthew 25 offers three parables with three themes, 1. Be ready 2. Be faithful and fruitful with what you’ve been given 3. How we treat the least, last, and lost among us matters greatly.

These are the important themes Jesus had for his followers before he is taken from them. These words inform us of the great task God has for us in this world.

In many ways these passages leading up to Easter and our current weight of life offer some extra difficulty. We want so bad for their to be good news that we tend repel truth under the current wisdom of “I don’t need that weighing me down, you’re just a wet blanket, lighten up for goodness sake.” When you carry the heavy weight, you get to live in the joy and relief of hope. It’s okay to load up the backpack for this season, But Sunday is coming, just remember Sunday is coming, but don’t let the relief of that keep you from honestly feeling the weight of today. The more honestly we feel the weight, the more glorious it’s lifting!

Holy Week: Monday

My hope this week is to step away from what’s going on around us and stick to themes throughout out our week heading up to Easter. There is much that Jesus has to say between Palm Sunday and the last supper, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. What things would we want to communicate to people around us, if we knew our end was near? Each day I’ll step into one of those passages and prepare our hearts for this journey to Easter.

One of those events is Jesus at the Temple. Jews were obligated to offer sacrifices… perfect sacrifices. The system had become a corrupt version of what that expectation looks like. “Sorry Mr Rivken, your sacrifice isn’t perfect enough, please go see one of our vendors out in the courtyard.” The merchant makes his money, a kickback goes to the priest and most likely the imperfect sacrifice brought in by Mr Rivken is now sold to the next person who makes his way in with his imperfect sacrifice. Round and round it goes. Proverbs 16:11 “A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” Jesus had a few things He wanted to get corrected in the integrity department.

“My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-17 Things are in a constant state of morphing from what they should be, to what they shouldn’t be, especially where a sinful heart is let loose for money, sex or power. Priests and vendors had come up with a plan for their own gain when the priests responsibilities were to serve people. Not to make a buck and ruin a house of prayer, a house to be reconciled to God, a house that was a sanctuary from the outside world; now it’s become anything but that.

Jesus is going to flip a lot of things upside down on this His last week on earth. Depending on the side you fall, it will ruin, embarrass, wreck your economic/power base. For others it will bring life like no other thing ever has. Remember my blog about “Another Perspective Away.” Yeah… that!

But don’t be surprised when one of your tables gets turned over or when Jesus says something that is completely confusing because he knows where this thing is headed and we’re simply stuck in time. Jesus isn’t always who we expect he is or demand he should be, but he always valued what was most valuable, I pray that I can learn to do the same, even if a few tables get turned over in my life!

Entrusted

Around Thanksgiving 2019 I started thinking about where I was headed concerning preaching at church. As I was praying and reading, I felt led to I Peter. Part of the draw was the weight of living more and more in a culture that doesn’t just ignore Christian thought, but has become more and more antagonistic towards it. To be honest, I was only mildly aware of the background to 1 Peter.

I had heard of Nero and knew of his antics. He wanted to rebuild Rome and is famously thought to be the one who set it on fire. The aftermath meant many sacred structures were burned out as well making the population angry with the situation. Being a good politician, Nero blamed Christians for the fire. These incidents happened around 64 AD and the result was Christians being burned at the stake and eaten alive just for fun, Nero’s fun. I had assumed Nero was a little later in Roman history, not just 30+ years from the death of Christ

As we have gone through I Peter there are great inspirational moments, instructional moments, encouragement to face challenging days, a call to remember who you are and proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called you.

In chapter 4 we are back at the instruction about suffering and a word that came up before has come up again. In chapter 2:23 we see Jesus “entrusting” Himself to the One who judges justly. Who do I trust while suffering? In Chapter 4:19 we are invited to “entrust our souls to a Faithful Creator.”

Again to definitions… en·trust/ənˈtrəst/verb :put (something) into someone’s care or protection.

What does it mean to entrust ourselves? What does it mean that God is my fortress, my refuge, a rock, shelter, strong tower, shield, hiding place, shade, dwelling place, salvation, glory and the lifter of my head. And what would it look like if for the rest of my life, I took a great big break from building my owns walls, my own shade, my own sense of protection because I have entrusted myself to the only one capable of doing all the things I want for myself? I hazard to guess that our lives are filled with more of our self built walls than we imagine. And that we spend a lot of our time tripping over the crumbled walls laying on the property. What does it mean to tear down, remove debris and walk freely? What does it mean to entrust myself to God?

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will

entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

I Peter 4:19

The Bible says that without trust, it’s impossible to please God. “Lord I am entrusting myself to you on this and every day. I know your care, shelter, wall has infinitely more strength than anything I could come up with in my own strength. Thanks for being my shield yesterday, today and tomorrow. Free my fearful heart and let me be about your business today, to the one who is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, Amen”

transpiration [ˌtran(t)spəˈrāSH(ə)n]

Ever buy a lush beautiful plant out of a greenhouse, only to take it home and it looks like it’s dying right in front of your eyes? Transpiration changed. Transpiration is a plant process where water moves from the roots through the plant, then out of the leaves, stems, and flowers. Water is a vital necessity for plants but 97-99.5% of water taken up by the roots is cast out into the air through transpiration.

The reason your plants struggles right away after bringing it home from the greenhouse is the changing transpiration rate. While a plant is in a greenhouse, it’s 70 degrees 80% humidity and fairly constant. The plant has settled in to what it needs. Take it home to the possibly cooler air with lower humidity and the plant suddently needs to transpire water faster or the tips dry out. Or you over water the plant faster than it can transpire (because the cool air is hindering growth) and the roots get damaged.

Plants need time to adapt to a new normal even as things change. A hot dry day means more transpiration aka… more watering. A cool damp fall means less transpiration, less water.

So what’s with the biology lesson… You and I enter into life with different demands placed on us. In difficult times when more is demanded of us, we wonder why we feel overwhelmed. Anytime something new is added to our life it demands more from us, good and bad things. Marriage, new child, job, health issue, virus, job loss, new hamster, helping parents… the list goes on and on really. I think we understand the big moments, I know we don’t give much consideration to the numerous small things, the ones that break camel backs.

People talk about burn-out, I think it is nothing more than transpiration issues for people. We are not infinitely resourced people, there is a God given gift of limits for all of us. We are living in a new season where much is being demanded of us OR much that is new is being demanded of us. If our root system is only used to X, it has a difficult time with X+Y.

John 15 gives us some insight into bearing fruit by being attached to the vine. The life of Jesus is seen as a testimony of one needy person after another coming to him, to get something from him. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when more is coming out from us, than is coming in to us. This is the reason Jesus spends time with His Father as part of His day. Branches can’t bear fruit by themselves, they need the vine, need sap, need water to flow through, giving away 97% and keep 3% (Makes 1 John 4:12 seem even more interesting). I’ll let you look it up.

In our rush to “handle” all the issues that surround us, don’t be surprised by issues of transpiration, recognize them for what they are, life is demanding more of you, more of me. But God is equal to such a task and our connection with him is what will carry you and I through. When feeling on that verge of overwhelmed know that we can cast our cares on the Lord and He is the one who sustains us, but also most of the water isn’t for us… back to 1 John 4:12… seriously, you didn’t look it up yet!!??

Shalom

Rimrocked

I’m always on the lookout for new words. New to me or slang, or hobby words that get introduced in new ways into life. This was the case with the above word rimrocked. While watching an episode of Bear Grylls , an adventure seeking wilderness expert, he used this rock climbing term for someone who has climbed up to a certain point, but can’t go up any further. The problem is that you are in such a precarious position that going down is also impossible. You are stuck in a scary position, you are rimrocked on the side of a mountain

Growing up as a junior high adventure seeker with access to the Rocky Mountains, I can relate to this problem. On the way up you can see future footholds and handholds, they’re right by your face. But going down a mountain is more intimidating, you can see where you are going to die!! It’s always smart to cut your losses before you get rimrocked.

On the mountain of life we get rimrocked in all sorts of ways. Relational, professional, spiritual, emotional versions of getting rimrocked exist everywhere. The classic dating relationship where one cuts off support of friends, finds out this dating relationship needs to end, but not having any friend support to fall back on. Staying in a toxic relationship because you got yourself rimrocked. The glass ceiling at a job, discrimination, choices made that keep you stuck, realizing you are where you are and there isn’t much you can do, can leave you feeling professionally rimrocked.

Spiritually I think we get rimrocked as well. I think we get stuck in moments of crisis, moments of inattention, moments when the straw breaks the camels back, and moments when we ask, “what am I doing?” It’s my firm belief that these moments of getting rimrocked spiritually have significant growth potential. The problem is we are a society that proclaims everything is nice and easy and fun and joy-filled from birth to death, we haven’t really taught people how to walk through the inevitable moment of being rimrocked.

Peter tells us to not be surprised as though something strange were happening to us. A great cast of characters from the Bible find themselves here, Moses caught by fellow Israelites over what he did to the Egyptian, Joseph, David, Jonah, EVERY PROPHET with a message falling of deaf ears. These people found themselves in that moment where the way forward or backward has no obvious solution.

So what do I do when spiritually rimrocked?

1. Invite God into the situation. Our strong desire to prove ourselves and be independent might be why we got ourselves into the position in the first place. If you’re in a hole, stop digging, right!! The Bible is clear that you can have fear or a sound mind, you don’t get both. Prayer, bringing God into the circumstance of our life is the best way to make decisions moving forward.

2. Surround yourself with good counsel. I’ve been stuck on the side of a mountain. I’ve had someone physically grab my foot and lower me to a foothold I never would have been able to see myself. Don’t ask your friends to be anxious with you. Sometimes we even make accusations of our friends because they aren’t as “worked up” as we are about the situation. The greatest gift one of your friends can give you is some wisdom from the sidelines, outside of the context of the frenzy. It could be that their lack of anxiety about the issue is what would allow them to give you the advice you really need.

3.Recognize the nature of growth. When I was a child a thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I grew up, I put childish things behind me. Sometimes we’ve worn a foot path down so hard we’ve forgotten how to live by faith. We begin to live by routine, it’s in the upsetting of these routines(highly annoying) that you are forced to walk a new route. It’s in this reordering of life where God can step in and make something new, something better. Embrace the reordering of life, see it as a gift, let it be bathed, measured, recalculated through eyes of faith.

I think this issues scares people, because it can be a pretty dark moment. I know the first time I experienced being rimrocked spiritually I thought about giving up on all of it. Because no one ever talks about it, we feel like we are all alone in these matters, but you aren’t. Maybe the circumstances of our day are stirring up a crisis in your heart. I pray that you’d reach out to me , a Pastor, a dear driend and share what’s going on. Someone to hold your foot and place it on a solid step of Jesus.

St JOhn of the cross coined the phrase “the dark night of the soul.” Matt Redman makes mention of it in his song ‘Your Great Grace.” I pray any rimrocked heart would be washed over by the truth in this song…

Growth can be scary when it’s stimulated by forces around us and we stare straight at a rock face. In that moment we lose the predictable, but when look close we gain a greater awareness of the One who knows it all and puts things together for our good.