100 Things I'm Thankful For

For my first post in the Gratitude Journal, I am going to focus on the people who are special to me.

1.     MY WIFE
I'm thankful for my wife, The Incredible Songstress.  The loves me so patiently and gently.  She believes in me and makes me feel 'at home' wherever we are together.  She not only loves me, but she likes me.  That God chose her for me, is the grandest blessing in my life, filling my empty gaps with her endless talent and graces.  To love her is more than easy... it's fun!

I'm thankful for my children, all three.  Elder Son who cares deeply for people and enjoys them.  He is brilliant and his intellect blows me away.  He accepted Christ at the age of five and longs to please Him every day.  Middle M, whose quirky smile and gregarious sense of humor lightens every room.  He is agile and savvy, loves God with a desire to know Him, and chases life with gusto.  Princess is strong and joyful, creative and a natural achiever with a passion for beauty.  She has eyes to see Jesus in people.  It would be nice to take credit for their strength, but the truth is that I done more enjoying of them than forming of them.

My mother has immigrated to her true home in the next life, but her marks are everywhere in the people around me.  A creative soul with a wide circle of influence, she encouraged without effort and gave her best to everything she committed to.  I am thankful to have been raised by committed, caring, dependable Christians who pointed my life in the right direction.  My dad showed me faithfulness and dependability.  He expanded my view of Christian faith by challenging the box that defined (or maybe confined) my view and experience of God's grace.

Brothers don't compliment each other much, but my brothers have proven to be more of a team for me than I could have dreamt they ever would be.  Balanced, dependable, productive.  More conservative than me - evidently that's because I'm the youngest and I was coddled.  We couldn't be more different OR more the same.

Freddie, Kris, Chuck & Lizz, Chris, JeerMe, Chris, Paul, Kevin, Kerry, John, Jason, Rob & Lisa... and the list goes on.  My life has been enriched by special people and shaped by the wonderful fact that they like me and enjoy my company.   My life is savory for having shared it with incredible people.  I wish that life had afforded me the pleasure of spending every season of it surrounded by the cloud of great friends I have enjoyed, but alas, the shifting current of earthly life moves friends in and out of proximity. However, with this kind of friend, the joy they bring echoes into the farthest valleys and through every season of life.  A hone call connects us as if there had never been a gap.

Lord God of Heaven and Earth, you are almighty and personal.  I love you and I thank you for loving me with your everlasting love and I thank you for showing your love to me through these people who prove unmistakably that you do love me.  I have been so happy to share this "one another" Christian journey with these incredible people.  Thank you for the joy we have shared, the struggles we have carried together, the differences that made us stronger as we learned to continue with them instead of in spite of them, the deep thinking that we worked out...  Lord, my life is truly RICH with the blessing of the people you have put in my life.  I want to be a person who blesses you and blesses these people in return.  Grant it I pray.  Amen
"I will bless the Lord at all times.  His praise will continually be in my mouth."  Psalm 34:1


Judging in the Church - A Memory

"Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”  [Jesus]  John 7:24
When Jesus made this statement he was responding to religious people who were very perturbed with Him for not acting very religiously on the day of their weekly worshipping rituals.  In my scripture meditation this week, I came to this passage and the Lord lead me to remember fondly an experience from my past ministry in San Bernardino.  (I think my heart was already pondering my pastoral history fondly because I have been enjoying the memoirs of pastor, professor, Bible translator - Eugene Peterson.)

Each Sunday morning as we gathered to sing vibrant songs of praise, and to study the Bible together, our congregation would be full of energy and there was a buzz of friendship before and after each service.  During each service, the crowd was very generous with their expression, both in worship to God and in response to the unfolding of the Bible's truths.  Heads nodded, eyes smiled, cried, and questioned.  Fingers turned the onion skin pages of treasured Bibles.  Lips sometimes laughed aloud and sometimes whispered "amen."  Except for one spot in the sanctuary.

1/4 of the way back on the north side of the sanctuary sat a man we'll call "Ted" (not his real name).  Each week, as the music subsided, Ted would sink into the pew next to the pole right there in the same spot, 1/4 of the way back on the north side of the sanctuary.  And after the offering receptacles had been passed, Ted will sink into a silent slumber, with his head propped against that faithful pole.  Ted's wife sitting next to him and family in tow.

Oh, my wife and I would smile about Ted sleeping through my preaching and joke about my apparent lack of skill.  Little did I know that there were some others in the crowd who did not smile, but had some unkind words of judgement about Ted's weekly penchant for napping in church.  At one point, it came to my attention that Ted's wife had been approached by someone and within a week I was approached by someone else who was up in arms about what they called disrespect for God, the Bible, and for me.  They complained that Ted was unfaithful, and a bad example for the teens in the church.  They said that 'church' (by which they meant the Sunday morning service not the community of believers as the New Testament uses the term) should have been taken more seriously as a responsibility than Ted was taking it.

Well, long before I was approached by the person who was so concerned about Ted's example, I had spent a few evening with Ted's family for dinner.  It was during one of those dinners that I found out that Ted would regularly work all day on Saturday as a local policeman and then pick up a shift as a private security guard on Saturday nights to earn enough money to support his growing family.  My knowledge of Ted's real life situation inspired me to take this complaint very seriously.

After listening to the person express the entirety of their concern, I asked if they were aware of any others who had similar concerns about Ted.  They confirmed that they indeed did know such persons, and assured me that they had not gossiped about the topic.  I asked if we could get everyone together so that we could all talk together about this very important concern.  They agreed to arrange the gathering and I agreed attend.

At the gathering there was only one other couple in attendance.  This was a great relief to me, as I had prepared myself for a much more ominous scenario.  After they listed the other persons who could not be present for very important reasons, I very briefly confirmed that both couples we concerned with Ted's sleeping during the Sunday morning worship.  I then took the opportunity to ask the first couple if they had enjoyed their recent water skiing trip, the beach trip they took before that, the Super Bowl Party they had stayed home from church to prepare for earlier in the year and a few other events that had kept them away from church participation.  The first couple talked about their busy life quite freely, while the other couple squirmed in their seats.  After some time I explained that Ted's faithfulness to attend church so regularly came at a very significant personal cost.  I also explained that his family had been an example of putting church participation above many other potential activities.  I then asked them to recall any times they were aware of Ted's absence from church for optional activities that could have been planned around church participation.  (This was a gamble because I was aware of at least 1.)  Our conversation went on for some time and at the end, we all agreed that Ted was indeed a very good example of one kind of faithfulness.  In fact, in some ways he was a better example than we were.  One of those couples never attended another service at our church in San Bernardino.  But Ted... he was always there.  And that seemed to work out just fine for all of us.

I served as pastor in San Bernardino for a total of 12 years; 7 of them as the lead pastor in an incredibly loving and generous congregation.  It was my first opportunity to serve in the capacity of lead pastor and I needed their love and their grace.  Even in the most gracious of congregations, there can be individuals who find some kind of personal satisfaction in looking at the apparent short-comings of others with a sense of condemnation or judgement.  I have discovered that most of the time people tend to judge in others the very things that they are trying to disguise in themselves.  We, religious people, tend to look for those who share our weaknesses, but perhaps in a more obvious way, or a less socially acceptable way, or maybe in a way that is just different enough from our own struggle to seem somehow more lowly.  It is just such people to whom Jesus said, "Do not judge others or you to will be judged.  And you will be judged by the same measure that you use to judge." (Matthew 7:1)  Elsewhere, Jesus said to this same kind of person, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)  Condemning others does no good for the one condemned and even less for the one condemning.

A church is a communion of persons from various life circumstances, joining spirits in honor of God.  It's the joining of spirits that seems so very hard for us to do.  Yet, the joining of spirits is at the core of what makes 'church' so very important.  Let us hear and obey the angel who calls "Come let us gather together for the great supper of God." (Revelation 19:17)


Random Dissonance - One Thursday in October

It was Thursday... That's about all I remember about the date.  I do remember that it was foggy outside and that I was expecting to dread my commitment to teach a high school English class that day.

The fog on the floor of California's Great San Joaquin Valley was damp, cold, and dense.  Its the worst kind of weather we get here in the nation's salad bowl.  I have vivid childhood memories of fog so thick that my dad would have my older brother put his head out of the passenger side window to look straight down at the white line on the side of the road to protect us from crashing our car in the white blindness.  I also remember my own response to southern California meteorologists, who during my first year away at seminary warned, "The fog is dense today.  Leave for work early and drive slowly."  Then when I got out there to drive there was little more than a vague haze with a generous 75 ft. of visibility.  I said out loud in my car (as if to the drivers around me), "Pick up the pace people.  As long as you can see your hood ornament you have no reason to slow down."  It seems the world outside of my own Mayberry, USA has it's own very frail idea of what dangerous fog is.  No, to me fog is not a danger.  To me fog is an annoyance that tenaciously keeps a strangle hold on the locals who, with equal tenacity, press toward normal productivity as if sheer will can overcome the very forces of nature.

But fog does kill.  When I was a child I remember a friend was in a car wreck caused by fog on the way to school.  His mom died in that wreck...

On this Thursday in October I did not hear of anyone dying.  But I came back to life.

It was a strange event.  It didn't so much happen as much as I realized that it had happened.  For months upon months I had prayed that God would life the weight of the dissonance I was feeling.  I had sought every corner of my life confessing unknown sin.  I had presented by sadness to God and asked for beauty in place of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).  I had tried to live in the joy I knew I should have, but instead of a walk in faith it was a charade parade.  I had prayed that the darkness would lift and that oppression would be defeated.  I had spoken out against evil spirits that I thought may have been around me and prayed that God would cause any of them present to be dispelled.  All for nought.  The pain of my loss friendships kept me covered in heaviness and grief.

But not this day!  Sometime during 2nd period I realized that I felt "normal."  I felt laughter at one point and it was such a foreign feeling that I took notice that it had happened without effort.  I passed out the exam to the students, gave them their instructions to work in silence and then sat at the teacher's desk to recount my day.  I looked back at my morning and realized that I woke up with out any sense of despair.   I realized that at no point in the morning thus far, had I felt anything negative or heavy.  I was not depressed.

There I sat and I prayed a prayer of gratitude and I asked God, "why today?"  I listened for an answer that never came and I recognized deep in my soul that I would not receive any answer.  God had healed me.  He had done so in His perfect timing and the best thing I could do would be to accept it thankfully.  So I did.  I accepted it thankfully and trusted that the long darkness was finally over.

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.  His love endures forever." (Psalm 136)
And so it was.  I have often remembered my sadness and felt pangs of sorrow for the losses, not yet restored.  But the sadness no longer has a life of its own and it no longer rules my experiences with its oppressive heaviness.  Depression has not returned and I remember that "he whom the Lord sets free is free indeed." (John 8:36)

This is the conclusion of the story of my random dissonance.  Random because it was born in in events that were not unfamiliar to me.  Dissonant because I had been locked in a living countermelody that was seemingly played in a musical key that was offensive to the song that the rest of the world was singing.  This was my story.  A story of God's miraculous healing.  And I know that others had stories that are similar, yet different.  I know that in some people's story, God uses medication to break the clouds and free the captive.  This was my story.  Don't fear yours.  God is in the story and He will redeem you and your storm for good.


Responding to Grace - An Easter Sunday Follow-up

Oh to have had more time on Sunday to discuss the truth of God's grace, but the truth IS that grace is a mystery of God so deep and wide that it will take a lifetime to plumb its depths and span its width.  God's grace comes to us in moments of divine revelation that sometimes knock us off of our feet and onto our knees. And sometimes it gently nudges us as lightly as a kiss blown from fingertips.

God's grace so brightly portrayed on the cross is His saving grace.  This is the grace that He gave to lift the burden of our rebellion by forgiveness: forgiveness so generous that God not only forgives us of our wrong-doing, He takes away the eternal cost of that wrong doing.  Like receiving a pardon, God's grace restores our record and our reputation to it's pre-rebellion state.

But God's grace comes in so many other forms.  Sunshine.  I know, that sounds somewhat childlike to consider.  But wait a moment.  Think about sunshine and all the ways we benefit from it.  In hundreds of ways, everyday, we experience God's grace through the sun that shines on us and provides vitamin D for our health, photosynthesis for our fruits and vegetables, conduction to warm our planet, light to illuminate our way, and even energy to power this computer.  Sunshine = God's grace.  Thank you God for the warm sunshine that makes my light weight T-shirt so comfortable today. 

Grace is God's goodness provided on our behalf.  His saving grace.  His common grace.  His loving, compassionate grace.

God's grace restores us and our situation.  This is what we talked about this past Sunday in the experience of Peter at the Sea of Galilee after Christ's resurrection.  It takes our biggest failures and offers us transformation.  Grace takes our deepest regrets and shame and promises us a future with hope and prospect.  Grace takes our damage relationship with God and offers us a restoration which takes us ALL the way back to God's original plan for us.  That's good!

How then should we respond to grace?
1.  Be transformed.  We can't stop at being forgiven, we have to delve into the very situation that we have marked a failure and be transformed.  Use it for good.  Learn from it.  Grow from it.  Help others from it.  Put down a stake in our spirit that will anchor us for future living in God's grace.
2.  Be productive.  If God is giving us a future and purpose in that future, we need to pursue that prospective occupation.  Get educated.  Get experience under a mentor.  Get equipped by the Holy Spirit.  Get going (to the very ends of the earth to make disciples).
3.  Be close to God.  God has moved close to us.  We need to stop moving away from Him and into our own ego-feeding, pleasure pursuing, treasure hoarding activities; and start devoting time to God seeking, God honoring, God sharing life (in all of its true fullness).

God is offering...

I like this hymn.
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee. 
(Frances R. Havergal, February1874)
Click here to hear the Easter message, "A Guy Named Peter"


Random Dissonance - Color

"Depression is something that makes you lose your sight."   Michael Schenker
Spring is one of my favorite times of year.  Since one of the things that helps me feel centered and balanced is gardening, it makes sense that I should enjoy the blooming season.  This Spring, for the first time ever, I have successfully produced a crocus bloom in my garden.  (I really live in the wrong region for crocus to flourish.)  But the elements worked together in perfect harmony with the dna of the crocus bulb to produce a flurry of early Spring purple near the front walk of our home. 

As I sit typing today, Spring is nearly in full swing.  My Mayberry, USA is an agricultural town surrounded by fruit and nut trees.  And for a couple of weeks each year we are swathed with the pink and white blooms of almond, peach, nectarine, and cherry trees.  I have often wondered if from above, it might appear that our town is floating in a pond of blossoms. 

With a deep sense of admiration for blooming trees, I have planted 2 in my front yard, and planned the timing of their bloom to last into the early mid Summer.  Even our larger shade tree, which does not bloom, begins it's leaf season in a blaze of bright red infant foliage.  Spring color is in one sense the reward for a yard carefully planned, consistently cared for, and attentively nurtured.  Looking out the window into our yard, my vision is today bathed in blue, purple, pink, white, red, yellow, and coral.  Happy Spring to me.

Last Spring, deeply entrenched in the barrage of my emotional tempest, this visage of color had no affect on me.  Every bloom felt grey or brown.  Just as nearly every experience of my very blessed life had seemingly been reduced to it fundamental operation, Spring had been reduced to the change of temperature, which would mean little more than changing the household thermostat and needing to mow the lawn with more regularity in order to prevent my suburban castle from being "that house" on the block.

Realizing then that my life had become a colorless landscape of brownish greys and greyish browns, I considered a serious breech of my previous commitment to hide my malaise at all cost.  I began to think that the convergence of causes for my depression had surrendered to physiology.  There is a saying in psychology that I have not forgotten since my college days.  "Neurons that fire together, wire together."  A purposely obvious play on the axiom about family prayer, the saying points out that in the human brain, stimulus that is repeated over time creates a well-worn pathway in the brain, which will replace the previous "normal" pathway for brain functions.  In other words, if you do (or feel) something repeatedly for a long enough period of time, it becomes your new normal.  This is how we form habits.  (It is the key to breaking habits too!)  But it has a more insidious meaning for those who experience depression.  If you stay depressed long enough, those emotional pathways in the brain will become your new normal.  Your brain will travel those neuron highways regularly and you will suffer what is called "clinical depression."  I was taught that a person who has a normal depression that lasts for 6 months is in the risk zone for becoming medically depressed and needs the help of pharmaceutical therapy.  It had been nearly 15 months for me and I was ready to call the Dr.  It seemed that a life on prozac, lithium, or celebrex couldn't be any worse than the colorless post-storm life that I had settled into. And truthfully, it would have been better (should it have come to that).

This for me was a deeply humbling moment.  I had lost.  I had reached the end of me and had found myself wanting.  In a world where I had always had a way out and a vision of the vibrantly colorful "good" that hovers just below the surface of every dark and colorless challenge or struggle, I had become color blind.  My stiff upper lip, my determination to muscle my way through it alone, my rehearsed prayers, my desperate prayers, my self-diagnosis:  all the best of my efforts came to nothing.  They came to nothing, and I admitted defeat.

This experience is not new to me (reaching the end of myself...).  I had a similar experience when I met my wife.  My beautifully crafted plan for finding God's ideal woman for me seemed perfectly logical and attainable given the right amount of effort, accompanied by doses of prayer and wise counsel on my part.  At 25 I was at the end my efforts again and gave up.  THEN, THEN, God brought the beautiful wife of my youth into my life.  Though I had been a close friend of her  brother for nearly a year, been in her home on many occasions, met every other member of her family, it was not until I had admitted defeat that God opened the door of His will to me.

And so it was with the storm that turned my technicolor life into sepia.  No matter how well I prayed, no matter what effort I put into the healing process, no matter how strong my self-will, I would not receive God's healing until I had come to the end of myself.  And so it was one Thursday in October.  When I had reached the end of myself, God was there!  And like Dorothy landing in Oz, color!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-9)
(Take some time and read all of Proverbs 3 - There's a lot of incredible wisdom and spiritual insight recorded there.)


Apparent Pilgrim - A Divine Center

I’m thinking through the concept of Christian simplicity. And before I dig into my old text books or read contemporary, idealistic articles about it I am reflecting on the gospel and moments when, in the Bible’s record, Christian simplicity was displayed for us in an exemplary way. While I can think of many things that Jesus said which will assist us in the pursuit of simplicity, discovering an example is a bit more elusive. I have unearthed at least 2. And it seems to me that one relies upon the other. So, I begin with the one relied upon.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”   Luke 10:38-42
It’s those last two sentences that clinch this for me. Martha is only doing what is expected. Mary is doing what is right. Martha is worried and upset. Mary has chosen what is better. This to me is a dynamic picture of simplicity. Martha and Mary have innumerable things to worry about.  But, there is only one thing that is essential: inner clarity resulting in outward singularity. At least for this moment, Mary was living in ultimate simplicity. The world had preset expectations for her. (See John 12 for another look at Mary’s inner clarity. In that case one of the disciples speaks against Mary’s focused act of worship.) Women were expected to act like Martha. Society had a list for Martha and Mary. But Mary had sharp personal focus that cut through the confusion of worldly expectations and lead her to the feet of Jesus.

Christian simplicity should exemplify that kind of clarity. Christian simplicity should clearly separate the things of the kingdom of God from the things that move us away from God.  Then, simplicity should move us in kingdom cadence toward God, free from distraction.

Listen to what Richard Foster says about the inward reality of simplicity.

"The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. Both the inward and outward aspects of simplicity are essential. We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without its having a profound effect on how we live. To attempt to arrange an outward life-style of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism.
Simplicity begins in inward focus and unity. It means to live out of what Thomas Kelly called 'The Divine Center.' Kierkegaard captured the nucleus of Christian simplicity in the profound title of his book, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.
Experiencing the inward reality liberates us outwardly. Speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone, because we no longer need status and position. We cease from showy extravagance, not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle. Our goods become available to others. We join the experience that Richard E. Byrd recorded in his journal after months alone in the barren Arctic: 'I am learning ... that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.’”
(OK, so that was a quote from one of my old text books.  You got me.)

This is what Jesus taught us in that early sermon on the side of a easily sloping mount, “seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” The “all these things” that Jesus referred to were clothing, food, and livelihood. (Matthew 6) I find myself quite caught up in providing food, clothing, and things for life. I find myself quite up tight about the things that are expected of me by other people. I find myself short on singularity, clarity, and inward simplicity, and long on worry.   

Simplicity must begin: inside. My outer life can be pared down as an act of symbolic poverty designed to impress others or accomplish some noble earth-friendly, budget driven objective. But if I am to be delivered from the viciously ego-driven, profit obsessed tyranny of fallen living, I must have a simple soul, centered on Christ. This divine center is the only escape from my own insane attachment to things and my oppressive lust for affluence which, together, deceive me into thinking that security is found in property, power, and prestige. Then I am free to live, simply fulfilled to sit with Jesus, full of Him and filled with His grace.

I like the way that the Message paraphrases Romans 12:2.
Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God is good, acceptable to him and perfect.
di-vine:  adj.  - addressed, appropriated, or devoted to God
cen-ter: n. - the core or middle of anything


Random Dissonance 5 - Help for the Hurting

"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly.  Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively.  But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."    C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
It's been raining again.  It's the second day of Spring and the skies are covered with clouds.  The rain came in the dark hours of night when sleep had already captured me in its tantalizing spell.  From then on, without a break, the tender drops have fallen relentlessly.  Here in California, a gentle rain may as well be hurricane force winds.  We just cancel everything except work and stay home in such formidable conditions.  While we, beneficiaries of Father Serra's mission exploration, can keep walking and working through a 6.2 earthquake without missing a step, rain seems to disable us.  I don't know how we might handle such conditions as freezing rain or white-out snow.  I suspect we might just surrender to the elements.  I guess that's why we don't live in Minnesota.  No surrender for me.  Today was Sunday.

While mild rain seems delicate as it falls, its collective effect can be quite destructive.  Experts tell us that it is the collective effect of long-sustained rainfall that causes mud slides with the strength to carry million-dollar homes down beach-side cliffs.  It's also this seemingly amiable precipitation that causes midwestern rivers to swell over their banks, crushing levies, and obliterating historic communities.

It's hard to know how to respond to someone who is hurting with depression.  And it's hard to know what's really going on.  Are they "just down?"  Maybe they are having a "mid-life crisis?"  Perhaps it's a "spiritual issue?"  Another part of the problem with responding to someone who is going through a season of depression, is that the depression causes an internal desire to retreat from people.  I guess it's obvious that it's an arduous undertaking to love and help someone who wants nothing more than to be left alone, drenched in the bone soaking sorrow that sometimes pours inside them and other times drizzles with relentless persistence.

In my experience, I discovered another troublesome aspect of trying to help someone who is bound up in the throws of that beastly storm called depression.  I think we underestimate the power of depression.  And I think we, for convenience sake, under diagnose depression.  I don't mean that we don't recognize it as depression often enough.  While that is possibly true.  I mean that we see depression as a relatively simple thing: singular, one-faceted, shallow, and easily fixed.

Some of us think of depression as an emotional problem rooted in the troublesome experiences of our past.  If this is our mindset, our approach to encouraging  a depressed person is to go back into the recesses of their memories, dig up some painful memories, relive them, and talk them out.  Perhaps we see the darkened, cloudy storm as a build up of mental problems like stress, worry, failure, fear, anxiety or the like.  In this case our approach is to suggest that the depressed person consider asking their physician for prescriptive psychotropic medications to relieve the physiological causes of the storm.  Often in the Christian world we diagnose all such storms as a spiritual issue.  (Let me say that in my worldview, everything is spiritual and thus every issue is a spiritual one.)  Our tendency is to assume that unaddressed sin is the cause of the darkness that shrouds depression's victim in the shadows of the soul.  Or perhaps that there is a kind of demonic oppression that needs to be addressed through a deliverance ministry.  We then pressure someone who is already a victim to "confess" to something so that they can receive God's forgiveness and restoration, or we endeavor to pray out an evil spirit that we presume to be present.  And then a few of us see depression as a relational issue and counsel its victim to pursue reconciliation.

Looking through the rain-drizzled window pane, past the breaking clouds and now resting under blue skies, I can see that depression finds is power in the collaborative effort of multiple forces working in concert.  And I want to add that I believe in my case that the collaboration was neither accidental nor disorganized.  I believe that Satan, the great opportunist, found just the right season in which to manipulate my mind, heart, and soul through deceptive circumstances and overwhelm me with a torrent that could have drown me.  But the flood did not come in a single downpour.  Instead, in slow constant rain, happenings and hurts, situations and stress, demons and discouragements came at me with relentless determination.  My mind was attacked, as was my spirit, as was my heart, as was my body.  Those who loved me enough to speak up and try to get in to help, missed the mark because of misunderstanding.  In their attempts to address only one area of my struggle, blind to the others, they missed the diagnosis and became part of the rain: stepping on one wound while trying to bandage another.

Ultimately, I would have to read the story of another Christian pilgrim struggling through a much shorter lived depression, before I could identify the multi-faceted weather pattern that had embroiled me in a battle for my survival.  See Shaun Groves' complete story here.  In coming upon this awareness, I had been given the battle armor and spiritual weapons to stand up in the deluge and press against the current.  I stood.  I prayed again.  I addressed spiritual forces in my mind, my heart, my spirit, and my body.  And the clouds cracked.  They only cracked.  But beyond that crack was a golden light that bid me, "come."

It's raining outside again today.  It's raining and I want to put on some bright yellow galoshes and run around kicking up the puddles.  It's raining.  It's pouring.  I love the rain!
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.    Isaiah 55:9-11


Random Dissonance 4: Cruel Skies - the heart of the depression

Who knew that at London's latitude the sunlight would shine well past 9PM in the Summertime?  I went back to my hotel room to unwind.  It was a sweet little room in a reasonably priced boutique hotel just off of Hyde Park and close to Kensington Palace.  But regardless of the agreeable accommodations, I could not be comforted.  So at just before 9 o'clock, under a brlightly lit sky, I set out on a walk.  I headed to the park at a aggressive pace. Entering the park two blocks away and determined to maintain my gait, I walked on the first found path heading for what appeared to be the center of the park.  I don't know if I was looking for some kind of distraction to relieve my mind, if I was trying to produce enough endorphins to combat the tension that seized my every muscle, or if I just wanted to escape into the land of fairy tales and 'happily ever after.'  I must admit that London is a wonder-filled place in which to dream of disappearing. 
I walked and walked until I ran into the Serpentine (it's a lake), which forced me to exit the park onto the public sidewalk on the opposite side of the park.  I glanced at my watch at a quarter before 10.  Dusk was finally swallowing the daylight into shadow, and never letting up on my determined pace, I decided I might be safer in that metropolitan area to walk along the busy roadways that surrounded the park than I would be walking through a lightless public woodland that once served as private royal hunting grounds.  And I was soon to discover that Hyde Park is ENORMOUS.  Walking the circumference of the park I made it back to my hotel sometime near 11:00 and went to my moderately appointed room, through narrow halls and around obtuse turns that clumsily joined 3 former row houses, built for the fashionably wealthy English aristocrats of a bygone century.  I laid down without a shower and went rapidly to sleep.   I had not found peace for my tortured mind and broken heart, but had physically worn my nearly rehabilitated body plumb out.  (I had caught a vicious stomach virus in Africa and spent devastating hours the previous day nauseous and achy on an airplane.)
While the long-lit skies of London shone with lustrous indigo on a cloudless evening, the skies of my spirit, which had been churning with scattered showers for some time, turned cruel.  The once scattered showers found the glue to bond them together into the perfect storm.  That glue was sorrow.  A pattern of lost friendships that taunted my mind and choked my heart, blackened the light in my soul with deep mourning.  Alone, the loss of any  friendship is painful and regrettable, and should cause anyone to reflect deeply.  Friendship loss is part of life: survivable, healable, and painful in a way that reminds me of a deep tissue injection - potentially helpful but never enjoyable.  Pastors however, are supposed to take this loss with grace, resonance, and sage-like repose.  When someone we love, no matter how deeply, decides to leave a church we love no less deeply, we are expected to show adequate sadness, strewn with heart-felt compassion, restrained with gothic hero like faith.
The newest broken friendship spun indigo skies into a tempest that, if in the sea, could suck a hearty vessel into its vortex without a ripple in the stormy waves.  Soaked to the bone from a few years of somewhat self-imposed pressure to be successful in planting a church, the fatigue resultant from a malaligned self-perception, fear - cold and disabling - which had been born in a perception of friendships losing momentum and depth, and from a waning spiritual life, spawned a gale-force wind.  A blast that thrust together a weakness of mind, soul, and body, creating the perfect conditions for a devastating emotional typhoon.
I am primarily a relational person.  Others may be known as athletic, musical, political, mechanical, technological, artistic, charismatic, industrious, smart, crafty, jocular (that’s one of my favorite words...), or an array of other descriptions which come from a skill set based on personal values.  However, I have always been a relationship person.  Though I have dallied with attempts to distinguish myself through other ventures, I have always considered my core personality type to be relational.  I even took a bit of pride in being a “good” friend.  That self-definition created in me a kind of magnetic compass point which usually gives me clarity in the midst of rain showers and storms.
Some people have the ability to separate church and friendship. While I have friends with whom I share church and friends with whom I do not, experience has taught me that friendship is rarely (and by rarely I mean only once) ever maintained after someone departs from a congregation in which I pastor.  Oh, I have tried - sent out correspondence, called to have coffee, and the like.  But it turns out that it makes people uncomfortable to talk to the pastor of a church they once attended.  So, someone leaving the congregation that I pastor is a lightning strike at the core of my self - every time.  I love both friend and church.  And, I link both.  
I have heard that someone is leaving the church that I pastor on the heels of a proclamation of commitment.  In a recent case, over months and months I had been reassured through many situations that my friends were deeply committed to our church and to me and that they weren’t going to forsake either.  (Notice how even friends who are not pastors link the church to their firendship with the pastor,)  Then a call out of the blue. [lightning peel]   In another case just 9 days before the call, a determined statement “we are not leaving because God put us here.”  Or more typically, “I’m just so glad that I’m at this church, I don’t know what I would do without you all...” Phone call.  [lightning peel] During the dreadfully dark storm of depression, any and all compliments took on the fearful characteristic of a threat.  It seemed that any kind words were a preamble to a departure and loss of friendship.  And No matter how good my pastor face, I’m sure my cool, protected response pushed people away and added turmoil to the tempest.
Inside the cruel sky screamed at me in thunder rolls, “you don’t really have friends,”  “you’re a bad friend,”  “your only a pastor to them - and you better produce,”  “you’re not a good friend and you’re not a good pastor,”  “whatever you do is destined to fail because you are aren’t good at either thing.”  The deafening sound of thunderous self-critique struck new blows like a 1 - 2 punch to the gut followed with an upper-cut.  Round after round, month after month the fight drug on.  The losing fight drug on, punctuated with hopeful days of clear-skied fighting back, until God’s miraculous intervention brought skies of cobalt again to rule the days.
News of lost friendship in the form of church transition struck me hard in the heart of Britain.  And while daylight holds off the dark of night long in Her Majesty’s realm, darkness swept in swiftly for me that un-foggy day in London towne - just past 1 year after the deadly blog post.


The Apparent Pilgrim - 1 Simplicity Defined

Like the word "love", everyone seems to have a personalized definition of the word, "simplicity."  Since we talked about it on Sunday as part of our discussion of LIVING THE BLESSED LIFE, I thought it might serve well to plumb a little more deeply into the subject here.

Answers.com gives us the following definitions of the word simplicity:

  • The property, condition, or quality of being simple or uncombined.
  • Absence of luxury or showiness; plainness. 
  • Absence of affectation or pretense.
  • Lack of sophistication or subtlety; naiveté.
  • Lack of good sense or intelligence; foolishness.
  • Clarity of expression.
  • Austerity in embellishment.
Wikipedia Gives us this description of the ideal of simplicity as a lifestyle:
Simplicity is a theme in the Christian religion. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God is infinitely simple. The Roman Catholic and Anglican religious orders of Franciscans also strive after simplicity. Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) practice the Testimony of Simplicity, which is the simplifying of one's life in order to focus on things that are most important and disregard or avoid things that are least important.
Current culture has made simplicity very popular (in some circles) as an effort to rescue the planet.  There are many movements to this affect.  However, Christian simplicity is never an end.  It is a means.  Christians simplicity is a means to aid us in the renewal of the closeness with God that is best represented in the life described to us in the Garden of Eden.  When, before the fall, mankind experienced the ideal relationship with God.  As Genesis puts it, "they felt no shame."  God was creator, source, and judge in the garden. Adam and Eve had clear roles and unencumbered relationship with one another and with God.  The garden life was a simple life (not easy, necessarily).  Not because it was boring and they had nothing to do.  Not because it was empty and they had nothing to possess.  It was simple because it was clear.  Everyone knew their role, their reason, their relationship.  All parties involved had clarity and closeness with one another.  The Christian habit of simplicity is a means to aid us in regaining that clarity and closeness.

Since the fall from garden living, mankind has had an ever-growing propensity toward complexity.  We plan, scheme, prepare, implement all kinds of activity for ourselves, looking to "gain" blessing (soul-deep happy fulfillment).  And all of our schemes and plans fail to provide a sustaining joy.  So, we move on to plan and scheme for more acquisitions and accomplishment to provide that sense of blessing that we are missing.  All the while, adding layer and layer of complexity to our lives.  New responsibilities, new goals, new debts and obligations, new contracts, new activities on the agenda... And our minds are so cluttered with ideals of blessing that clutter and complicate life through the acquisition of things, money, and accolades, that many of us never experience soul-deep happy fulfillment.  Because we are less clear about who we are, who God is, and how to relate to one another and to God in shameless relationship.

But, Jesus entered the realm of His creation to bring the Kingdom of God.  And on a hillside in Palestine he delivered a sermon describing a lifestyle of decluttered objectivity.  One in which principles long accepted by humans as wise and right are turned upside down and backwards in order to uncover simplicity and truth beneath the surface of things.  (See Matthew 5, 6, & 7 - an easy read for a simple evening at home.)  It is clear that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom that has been redeemed from the human philosophies that rule the fall from garden living.  It is clear that redemption is a re-establishment of garden relationships.  It is clear that simple living is the best environment for kingdom living.  Christian simplicity is a means to aid us in our pursuit of the communion presence of God which was best experienced in garden living.  Blessed living in its truest definition.

In an unfolding experience of inspiration from God's Spirit I have been given a fresh vision.  I see in front of me a road to travel.  It is a road that seems a bit rocky at first, but a few feet ahead of where I stand the road both becomes level and straight.  However, just as it does it fades from my view.  I do not know where exactly this road will take me or what the journey will look like, but I know it is my road.  I know I will know what I need to know as I travel.  I know it is the kingdom road for me.  I know that I will not journey alone, but in closeness with God and with my fellow travelers.  I know that this journey will take me into clarity and closeness and that it begins with simplicity.  And so, I am inviting you travel with me on this road.  I will begin a new blog series on the idea of Christian simplicity.  I hope that it will be a discussion with your input as you travel along side me.  I hope that together we can take hold of a life a clarity and closeness, "seeking first the kingdom of God."  Look for installments at the end of each week.


Random Dissonance 3 - Scattered Showers

Depression is not sobbing and crying and giving vent.  It is plain and simple reduction of feeling...  People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's d#*n hard to smile.
Judith Guest

To have passed through the storm of deep and lasting depression and come out on the other side brings a great deal of circumspect to one's life.  Today I stood in the middle of a grassy field, bathed in uninterrupted sunlight, basking in the warmth of restoration, and allowing the sun drenched heat to sink into my bones - far beyond my skin, down to the deepest parts of me.  I am well.  I am well and I refuse to take it for granted.  I am well and I will not waste this wellness on pointless busy-ness.  I am well and well-pleased to thank God for my wellness.  I thank God that He spoke into my storm and said once and for all, "peace."  And the storm became still.  The storm became still and the clouds - once maverick and malicious - began to drift away, out of my sight and beyond my horizon.

Before my storm I stood in the bath of wellness and did not know (with any particular awareness) that what I had was a gift.  So I took that gift and I used it.  I used it up and I abused it.  I treated it much as early American land owners treated their slaves.  I owned it without regard for it's significance or grandeur.  I took advantage of my wellness and never felt any regard for the damage I did to it.  I felt myself generous when I invested wee hours in prayer, reflection, meditation, or any other such method of care.  Like a slave owner considered himself exceedingly generous to give a large family of African slaves a single chicken with which to celebrate Christmas, I thought my investments - meager and emaciated - to be something magnanimous and noteworthy.  I took pride in my paltry investment.  I was a fool.

While I was ignoring the gift that nurtured me, fed me, made me rich - there were clouds gathering on the horizon.  Instead of seeing those clouds for the impending storm that they were, I ignored the clouds and scattered showers as if they were so insignificant that I could not be affected by them.  My wellness in tact, I did not know the threat that these rain-sprays represented.  I did not know that they could join together like the allied forces of an enemy attacker. But, like terrorists they would indeed sneak into my midst under the radar and infiltrate my heart, mind, spirit, and my physical body.  And these clouds would deliver a devastating blow...  These scattered showers, with well-coordinated cunning were soon to crash into my life like a fuel laden airliner into a steel scraper.  And they would nearly melt my frame from the inside.

"That one looks like Thomas the Tank Engine," said elder child with all the sugar that one can only possess at the age of 2.  In the tender days of childhood, cotton like clouds take on the form of our favorite things.  My life filled with childhood whimsy, this time as the parent and not the child, I have often found myself looking for favorite forms in the white billows of precipitation that bound across the big skies of Central California farmland.  And with uninfected innocence I watched clouds laced with nuclear rain drift into my emotional and spiritual environment.  Instead of recognizing them for the threat they presented, I childishly stared at the sky with unconcerned naivete.

I cannot now look back and clearly identify which cloud bore which name as they drifted into my life.  I cannot say that I first felt the rain of overwork, or overconfidence, or sadness.  And I am not sure that I can even yet identify each cloudy rain burst by its true name.  But some, I can see clearly.  Some I recognize as the ingredients of a terrorist storm.

Falling gently, like a drizzle in my soul, these are the things that floated into my life and, unattended, joined forces to imprison me in depression.  What seemed like determination and dedication turned into overwork without warning.  A little less sun.  What appeared to be visionary resolution morphed into blinded overconfidence.  A little less sun.  There began a small shift in spiritual disciplines, from a fluid daily conversation with Almighty, finding moments in scripture, prayer, reflections, and meditation.  My spiritual life became a stilted regimented responsibility, motivated by 'keeping up appearances' instead of empowered by closeness with Everlasting.  The rain drops graze my skin.  People once deeply connected to our congregation and to me leave.  Showers become storms.  Friendships silently wane, weaken, and teeter on the edge of ruination.  I make mistakes, owning all of the fault.  An infectious dissatisfaction invades the congregation I am devoted to.  Wailing winds blow torrential streams in horizontal rainfall while the bleak, black clouds surround.  And at first it doesn't seem that I am being smothered.  Instead I am embraced.  And I embrace the clouds.

This storm eventually becomes poisonous when the whisper of the gale tells me I'm no good, nothing will work, there's no hope.  And I believe it.  Then every effort and every attempt is infected with depression: infected and doomed.

I am well, sun-bathed, and hearty.  I can now share the story of my storm.  Some of you have sent me messages expressing parts of your own story of depression.  Some of you, like me, are in roles of Christian leadership and have felt 'required' to suffer your storm in silent solitude.  I hope that in some small measure my story breaks the bondage of that loneliness, frees you to feel God's generous love, and connects you to the smile He smiles over you.  Love rejoices in the truth and these small installments are the unfolding truth of my experience.  Rejoice!  The truth sets us free.  Free from shame and loneliness.  If you have never been through depression, be patient.  The story may seem to unfold too slowly for you, but it would be unfair to those of us who have lived through stories like this one to tell this one as if it were a 20-minute sitcom, with all of its plot complications settled in a single episode.  Smile.  Smile because God is in the valley of the shadow of death with His rod and staff to comfort.  He is following us with goodness and mercy.  And on the other side of that valley, the sun shines brightly in fields of grass, soaking us through with warmth and peace, hope and freedom.


Random Dissonance 2 - The Storm I Should Have Seen Coming

[Jesus] said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is... You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?  Luke 12:54ff

"Planting a church isn't for wimps!"  That is what I would always say.  I still say it.  Only now, when I do I kind of feel like one of those wimps to whom I once gave such flippant reference.  Honestly, it stings to say it now.  It stings like a venomous puncture from the tail of one of those wasps that used to nest in the junipers that lined the street in front of my childhood home.  It stings because I sometimes wonder if I am talking about myself.  So I say it less.  But it's still true, so I do say it.

At the end of the second year of our church plant and more than a year before I would surrender to the imprisoning clouds of depression, we had a fantastic idea for a Good Friday worship gathering.  It seemed that is was not just our idea, but it seemed to be inspired by God Himself.  I was thrilled to see it coming.  If darkness describes my emotions those painful mornings in bed, then brilliant specter had to define my mood that Friday afternoon.  Albeit splendor punctuated with the panic of meeting our deadline and the anxiety of wondering if anyone would show up to the worship gathering to experience all that we were laboring to provide, our creative team was excited to both produce the event and participate.  The sense that God would meet people there and gift them liberally with His ample love and grace both compelled us forward like a tractor beam in a science fiction movie, and inspired our hopes like beams of light that extend from a single candle's flame, slowly and gently revealing unexpected treasures of increasing brilliance and value.  That titillating anticipation was a bloom sown in the soil of a lot of physical and mental effort. 

Physical and mental effort are definitely not uncommon to anyone who is part of a newly planted church.  Our church plant, like so many others, still does not have it's own facilities.  We meet in a school.  This situation is one that I love and one that I sometimes dread.  There are a few moments in the life of this small town boy, turned big city scholar, turned home town pastor that bring incredible joy.  Being with someone at the moment they are able to verbalize their faith in Christ, performing the marriage of two Christ-followers who have done all of the hard work to know and follow God's will in their relationship, offering up a child in prayerful dedication to God's purpose just to name a few.  But there are a couple of other moments that bring another kind of delight.  The kind of delight that my mother described to me once when she told me that she didn't experience any feeling better than the feeling of having all of her children sleeping under her roof: safe, close, together.  There is an unparalleled delight to seeing God's people together.  There are some moments when a gathering of Christ-followers seems to erupt into noisy and blissful friendship.  I love those moments when everyone truly enjoys one another.  And that same deep satisfaction comes when a group of Christ-followers join their efforts together in shared service and good ol' fashioned hard work; and they love the task for the blessing of sharing it.  There are times on Sunday mornings, when we set up church from a trailer, that those last two moments of pastoral glee converge.  And then, I LOVE being a church planter, meeting in a school.

As the Good Friday gathering began and people arrived, all appeared to be on track for a stunning fulfillment of all that we had anticipated.  Then, as if I was looking through a tunnel-like void, similar to Hollywood's rendition of a black hole in space, I saw something that I did not expect.  I saw a couple, new to our congregation.  This was not part of the portrait that I had meticulously painted for the event.  I had not overseen any strategy to make sure that new people were either welcomed properly or integrated into the collective experience.  And sure enough, as I kept my eye on them through the evening to track their engagement in the event, the moments when our congregation reached out to welcome them escaped my scrutiny.   I talked myself into calm for the sake of making it through the evening.  And that's about as far as I made it... through the evening.  By the time the event concluded and the gymnatorium was cleaned & reorganized for Sunday's Easter gathering, thoughts of failure attacked my brain like an infestation.  Dread put it's strangle hold on my heart.  And fear took my soul captive.  I was in so much agony, because I was convinced that my observation was an indication of looming failure for this mission to which I had sold my self.  After two years of life-hijacking focus on ministry, physical fatigue, mental strain, emotional exhaustion, and diminishing spiritual stamina had drained me of my defenses like a leach sucks blood.  I didn't see it happening, but the vision that once brought me vitality and focus had become strain, drain, and pain.  Clouds were engulfing me.  And like cataracts steal vision from a healthy eye beneath, this perfect storm of emotion was robbing me of the joy I had always had in ministry.  I should have seen the storm coming!

When the deepest part of night fell and I went to bed, sleep eluded me.  The darkness of night covered the sky but the the full moon's brilliant glow seemed to have the lumens of a WWII air strike search light with all of its beams focused on me.  My eyes wide-peeled, I succumbed to the multi-layered attack on my senses.  I got up out of bed and went to the computer to try to organize my thoughts...  OK, that's the white-washed version.  I got up and went to the computer to get it out, to unload.  And I dropped that load like a manifestation of the Manhattan Project.  What had begun as fatigue from believing that the success of our church plant relied on my leadership ability, my organization, my pastoral skill, my spiritual prowess, my personal charisma, and endless hours of dedication to prove my worth, was swirling inside my soul like a vat of nuclear activity, churned by a cartoon super-villain and nearing the point of critical mass. An explosion was on the very cusp of the horizon.  I sat down at the computer and typed out all my fears of failure and my anxiety.  And, I was not careful enough to protect the innocent.  Then, I did the most regrettable thing of my ministry life.  I posted that rant on a now-deleted blog.  The nuclear waste expelled, night came like a cozy comforter and wrapped me in wanton sleep.  But morning was coming, and the explosion of that blog post was about to reap destruction in more places than just my inner-life.

While I had never bothered to notice the dark dread-filled clouds of fatigue mounting in my sky, there was no missing the radiation cloud that followed that blog post.  It was the fallout that inevitably follows all such eruptions of nuclear poison.  It was harm, dropping like nuclear rain in the lives of so many of the people who surrounded me as faithful friends.  And it opened up the skies to an even greater storm that would eventually plunge me into depths of dark feelings I have never before known.


Garden of Eden: Not So Perfect?

I mentioned this topic in passing on Sunday morning, as we began our study of the blessed life.  I do intend to delve into it more on future Sundays, but may not be able to give it full attention in any case.  Here is, not necessarily a full treatise but a good starting essay.

Was the Garden of Eden perfect?  I don't think so.
1.  I'm not thinking that perfection is possible outside of Heaven.
2.  The serpent was present in the garden.  And with him must have come his killer, destructive instinct.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, He taught us to ask the Father that His will should be done... NOT "as it once was in the Garden of Eden."  Instead Jesus pointed to Heaven as the permanent residence of both God and the enactment of His unblemished will. 

Before we were introduced to the serpent in that undeniably splendid garden, Genesis portrays to us a very important fact about life in the garden.

  Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.  Genesis 2:19-20
I hope that you have noticed that the imperfect will of man has been allowed to affect the outcome of things in the garden of God's making.  Yes, even though the garden was a haven where God could apparently physically experience friendship with His creation, His willingness to give humanity a role, any role, in it's dominion doomed the sanctum to a state of less-than-perfection.  It certainly cannot be argued that Adam was in any form a perfect man.  Romans paints Adam as a literary and literal foil for the one truly perfect man - Jesus.  Adam's imperfection and the allowance of his will in the dominion of the garden therefore preclude perfection from defining the state of being in the original sanctuary of God with man.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned... if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ...  Romans 5:12 & 15
Additionally, the serpent's presence in the garden again calls into dispute any idea that the garden was perfect.  Let's point out that in our account of Eve's encounter with the serpent, Eve conversed with the creature quite confidently.  Perhaps talking snakes were commonplace then and there, but how many had the spiritual constitution to discuss the commands of God with the humans?  No, I don't think we can really assume that this conversation was the first interaction that the original humans had with the crafty beast.  Nor does it seem contextually fair to assume that the legged snake navigated one of the surrounding rivers moments before that conversation and slinked directly to the center of the garden for a 1-time interaction that would result in cataclysmic fall.

You see, I don't believe that Eden was designed to be perfect.  Or that it was the original "Heaven on Earth."  No, with just these two blows, the chance for perfection was beaten out of Eden with crushing strength.  I believe Eden was designed to be ideal.  And that is a far different goal than perfection.

Eden was the ideal location and environment for God to commune with the creation He so desperately loved.  Ideal for walking, talking, leading, correcting, affirming, teaching, loving.  Eden was created to embrace God's purpose for His creation: communing in close relationship and grace-filled love.  That does not, never has, and never will, require perfection.  The Garden of Eden was ideal: ideal for communing experience of friendship between God and humans.

Oh, let's not confuse righteousness with perfection... or the perfection of faith with human perfection.  Adam and Eve's righteousness was imparted to them in the covenant they had with God in the confines of the garden, like the righteousness of Israel was imparted to them by the covenant they had with God in the tabernacle & temple practices, and like our righteousness is imparted to us in the sacrifice of Christ.

Back to Eden.  Back to Ideal.  Back to practicing the communing presence of God, imperfect as we are.  Imperfect as our now-fallen world is.


Random Dissonance - Through the Clouds

"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

As I sit typing at my computer in the waning moments of this winter morning, I am enjoying brilliant sunlight and the shocking warmth of a 48 degree day.  It has been 3 weeks since the persistent clouds first cloistered the sun in their prison.  The light of the sun seems too bright for my fair eyes to withstand.  The warmth, shocking for my bare arms.  The revelations of daylight both painful and pleasurable at once.

I'm writing today from the light of day.  On the other side of dark clouds that once enshrouded my mind, my spirit, and my body.  For 18 months I was blanketed in depression, covered in shame, wrapped in fear, and lost in a fog that seemed to kidnap me from the truth that I know.  Depression stole from me the ability to connect truth and reality to spirit and mind.

It was Spring.  It was about 10AM.  The kids were already at school and I had not kissed their tender forehead or spoken words of love and affirmation to them to nourish their day.   I was cocooned in the blankets, blinds closed, pillow over my head when my bride came in to say her goodbyes as she set off on some errands for that day.  I heard the frustration in her voice as she unfolded her plans to me and ultimately asked me how long I was going to let this last.  (This was not the first morning which I had wasted, languishing in the darkness of a bedroom-turned-catacomb.) "People are asking me what's wrong with you and I don't know what to say."  She encouraged me to get some time with God while she was gone and to find someone I wanted to talk to about it.  But I followed neither of her suggestions.  Instead I embraced the fog, settled under the blankets and the clouds, and I allowed the numbness to engulf me.

There in the dark, numb fog of my soul, I thought about my despair.  I thought about it and wondered why I felt such despair.  I was angry that I was feeling it.  I was mad at myself, mad at the world, and perplexed by God.  I thought about my situation and I reasoned with myself that none of my reasons for such dark feelings were either reasonable or legitimate.  But there they were.  Then I tried to think of something else, but hidden under the camouflage of every other thought were thoughts of anxiety, darkness, dread, and despair.  They were becoming friends...  Perhaps that is not the word I wish to use of them.  Companions.  Fellows.  Always with me, they tainted every thought and activity.  They brought poison to my heart, mind, and soul.  Definitely not my friends, they remained ever with me none the less.  So I thought of how I felt, and I felt no better because of doing so.

When I finally showered and dressed that day, I made a critical decision.  I decided to not let anyone suffer with me.  I would keep my depression and anxiety to myself.  "After all, I'm a husband, father, and pastor.  People need me and I owe it to them to keep up a brave front while I work this out," I reasoned with myself under the drenching flood of the warm shower that could warm my skin but couldn't sooth my mind or my heart.  So, that was the last day I stayed in bed.  The last day I wore my dark emotions on my face.  I learned to put on my smile.  I created a new laugh.  One that was almost convincing.  I dug down deep for the words of truth that used to resonate with my mind and spirit, but that now only rung out of my memory and were spoken by shear will to do no more harm.  But of course I did do more harm...  Harm is the poisonous blossom that buds on the many branches of depression.

I am not a medical expert and have not undertaken to study all of the physiological ramifications of depression on the human mind.  I am not sure that I will even be able to illuminate any deep-reaching spiritual realities as related to depression.  But I do have a story to tell.  It is my story.  And I pray that by telling it I am able to walk more fully in the light of day, beyond the foggy veil of depression's dark clouds.  I pray that by reading it others may come closer to the break of day in their own struggle.  I pray that God will smile on us from His unbridled pleasure with the truth.  I pray that we will feel His smile and be warmed and renewed by His delight.


Window on a conversation with God

I was driving on Wednesday and fretting as I did...  This seemed a perfect time to unload my anxiety on God.  If you were looking through my windshield, here is the conversation you would have spied, with your spiritual eyes and ears, as you did.

I said:  "God, please God, please deliver me.  Take care of me.  Protect me.  I'm so worried that things will not work out and that we will fall flat."


Me:  "Should I pursue the financial help that epic needs from ____________________?"


Me:  "I know that if I asked him, he would agree.  Should I ask him?"


Me:  "Are you telling me not to do it, or are you telling me that I have the right idea and I don't need your further instructions?


Friday, I was driving again.  And again I was fretting.  And again it was about finances.  Here's how that conversation went.

Me:  God, I know that if I talk to him, the need will be fully met.

God:  Do you want to do that?

Me:  I don't know.  I mean, I don't mind doing it.  But I don't fell right about it yet.  I want you to make me feel right about it.

God:  If you want to do it... do it.

Me:  That doesn't make me feel right.

God:  If you want for feel right, let me do what I am already doing.

Me:  Why do I still feel worried then?

God:  You don't trust me.

Me:  How long do I have to wait to see the need met?


Me:  How long?


Me: So, should I call him?

God:  If you want what I can do... wait for what I do.  If you want what you can do... don't wait.


God:  You don't trust me.

Me:  God, thank you for this sun that is shining, this road that is paved, this car that starts and runs and stops, this comfortable pair of shoes.  Thank you for dimples on daughter, smiles on sons, warmth in my home...  I trust you.

God:  You trust me with you, but you need to trust me with the congregation.


God:  Will you?

Me:  God, thank you for faithful friends who pray when I am down, for servants who serve even when it's not fun, for lights and speakers, for bulletins and Bibles.  Thank you for cooks and servers.  Thank you for chairs and those who stack them.  Thank you for prayer warriors who make it all possible.  Thank you for partners who love their neighbors.  Thank you for life groups.  Thank you for givers...  Thank you for givers...

God:  You're welcome.


Me:   OK, so I shouldn't call him?



Making Good - SOAR 3

I read this quote in my quiet time recently.  It bears sharing.

"While we are busy trying to make sense out of God,
God is busy making good out of us."

Reflections on Romans 8:28.
I hope this little thought gives you peace and helps you soar.

(Thanks to Dark Blade Studio for the image.)


SOAR 2 - Prayer

   Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:4-9)
If you are serious about stopping the frantic pace and getting free from the bondage of "measuring up;"  if you want to soar on the wind of the Spirit instead of flapping your wings on your own limited strength, then prayer is necessary.

Look at this entire passage.  Peace, rejoicing, positive mind-set, gentleness: all of these things come from prayer.  However many of us who follow Christ still do not experience these things because our prayer life is either not consistent or not faith-filled.  In my estimation, this  particular passage provides solutions for most Christ followers when it comes to a prayer life that seems ineffective.  

Verse 6 begins with a primary flight lesson for people who wish to soar.  "Do not be anxious about anything."  Worry is a choice.  When we have troubling or difficult information, we can choose our response.  This is not to say that we will not have emotions connected to situations.  But when we have bad feelings, or even experience fear, worry does not have to be a result or that.  Worry is one of our choices.

Many of us worry generally happens because we feel responsible for something AND somewhat powerless in regard to that something.  In the conflict between those two realities, we experience worry/anxiety.  Only when we trust God instead of taking responsibility and when we invite God to act in His power on our behalf can we divert our inclination toward worry.  This is a process we have to learn, practice and commit to memory.  When we make this a habit, worry loses its power.

Once we have chosen not to worry, our prayer becomes clear.  One of my friends was recently told by a spiritual mentor to "stop prayer her anxieties."  The point was that praying from anxiety/worry is a negative prayer that cannot gain positive momentum.  In fact that kind of prayer encourages either backward spiritual movement or no spiritual movement at all.  A worry-free prayer become clear and gains 'loft' or forward momentum to help us soar.

An eagle soaring on the wind has to worry about how it will arrive from here to there.  It experiences peace because of its intrinsic reliance on the power of the wind.  Prayer equips us to have the same kind of intrinsic trust.  Faith-filled prayer equips us with supernatural peace to soar.

Stop now and pray.  But first choose to put your situation in God's hands and to see it from His perspective.  See it a smaller than Him and less powerful than Him.  Then pray from confidence in God's plan to do good to you, for you, and through you.  Then, let your confident prayer reside in the front of your awareness as you go through your day.  Keep that prayer in front of your mind and keep it lifted before God in everything that you do.  Feel His peace and power.  Soar.

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