Letters

Mise en Place: Everything in its Place

Fathers, if they’re good fathers, often enjoy playing games with their kids, don’t they? It makes for time together, and it often strengthens the kids, physically, mentally and other ways, and it helps them grow and mature appropriately.
 
For the past several days, I’ve been waking up haunted by a strange phrase, a foreign phrase, in my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve woken up with words from another language in my mind; that’s one of the games that Father plays with me, kind of like hide and seek.
 
This time it was the term “mise en place.” I don’t recall ever hearing the term before, but suddenly, I’ve caught myself muttering “mise en place” under my breath a hundred times a day. I had to look it up.
 
It turns out that this is a French culinary phrase (pronounced “mi zɑ̃ ˈplas.”) which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place,” and it describes getting all the ingredients ready for what you’re going to cook (apparently assuming that you’re cooking in the kitchen of a French restaurant).

It often appears as a cart or a counter, completely covered with bowls or containers full of chopped, sliced or julienned ingredients for the chef in their cooking, and another set for the team making the plates look pretty before serving the guests. Even the bartender has their own “mise en place.”
 
It turns out that a high end restaurant will have a “mise en place” for their “front of house” as well: All the tables set “just so,” with the right plates, right glasses and silverware, even the flowers, lighting and decorations exactly as they want them, before the doors ever open to receive their guests for the service. Interesting thought.
 
In all these cases, the preparation of the “mise en place” is a team effort. Several cooks are cutting and chopping ingredients, several members of the service staff are setting out tablecloths and laying out the silver and the china. Bartenders are preparing syrups, setting out bottles, making sure the various glassware is within reach.
 
Since the phrase continues to rattle around in my mind, I’ve been meditating on it for some days: What is God hinting about here? I’ve been pressing into his heart to hear more: What is this treasure that he’s hiding for me to discover in this?
 
As I reflect on the phrase, I sense God’s Spirit resting on a couple of differing thoughts. I wonder if he’s whispering similar things to you?
 
• I sense Father encouraging me to get my ducks in the row, to get the details of what we’ve discussed into place in my life. There are some preparations that yet need to be made before I’m actually ready for what he’s bringing to me. If he begins cooking the meal he has in mind for me before the mise en place is ready, he’ll need to stop and prepare ingredients, or worse, serve the meal without some key ingredients.
 
• I also sense him whispering that, even with all the drama in the news, he does have his own ducks lined up: his mise en place is set up and ready to go. His house is ready for guests, and his place in his “front of house” – on the Earth in this case – is similarly ready. Everything is in its place for the next big event. (Side note: a goodly number of people have been involved in this chopping and slicing, in placing the forks and cups “just so” in preparation to receive his guests.)
 
• I’m reminded that “everything” is a big word. In other recent Easter-egg hunts, he’s been emphasizing “mille,” “thousands” to me: there are a LOT of details that he’s got ready for his plans. “Don’t under-estimate me, Son.

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Letters

Don’t Look At The Waves

Matthew 14 tells this story.

As soon as the meal was finished, [Jesus] insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

----
That’s kind of the season we’re in, isn’t it? An awful lot of wind coming against us, battering us with waves of nasty stuff in the news. And us, trying to walk on the water to Jesus.

When we look at him, we’re in good shape. But when we look at the nasty stuff that the world is throwing at us, that the media is shouting at us, it’s easy to lose our nerve and to sink. We end up crying out for help.

But while that’s embarrassing (and we get incredibly soaked by the waves and scared) and uncomfortable, it’s not such a bad thing to get rescued by Jesus from sinking, I don’t suppose.

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Letters

A Very Messy Narrow Way


I’ve been reflecting on something interesting recently.

I have some children, and now they have children. And of course, once upon a time, I was a young child myself.

All of these children have the experience of birth in common. A few children take the short cut: someone opens things up and brings them from a world of comfortable, constricted darkness into bright lights and loud noises and then spanks them on the butt. Terribly confusing.

But all the rest take the longer route: their world of comfortable, constricted darkness gets more and more crowded. Then the real pressure comes, and their world gets terribly tight, insane amounts of pressure.

And then suddenly all the pressure is gone, and we’re in this wide open space. This guy smacks us and somebody else scrubs us up, and then there’s all that cuddling.

But it’s never that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills.

This is where these curious thoughts have been taking me:

My life in Christ is sort of like that. Somebody who knows what he’s talking about said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

For some reason, this reminds me of the birth process. Narrow is that gate, and difficult is that way which leads to life. And messy. It’s really messy.

But after the mess of birth, oooooh how much freedom. My world is never again that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills to get around and to be less messy.

Yes, the gate into the Kingdom is narrow. And let’s be honest: it can be pretty messy, too. But once I’ve passed the gate, things in our life in the Kingdom are a whole lot less about “Thou Shalt Not,” than it is about “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

A lot of us have grown up with parents and preachers and other folks who have regularly slapped our hand and said, “Don’t touch!” or warned us not to try this thing or believe that thing. And there are some things that we should maybe not touch yet. Apparently I tried to drive my dad’s car when I was two, and had just crawled out of making mud pies. For some reason, that didn’t go over so well.

Yes, there are some things that we’re not ready for (don’t try to drive when you’re two). Yes, there are some things that would distract us from what’s best (don’t stuff yourself full of cookies just before dinner).

But all in all, there’s WAY more “yes and amen” than “do not touch” in the Kingdom of God.

Go forth. Explore. Discover your freedom.


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Letters

New Respect for the Word of God


I used to proudly and unquestioningly hold to a particular standard of belief that I now find myself questioning.  Some will likely call me a heretic for this. Heck, back then, I would have called these questions heretical!

The reason for questioning is simple: I live in the 21stcentury, among a highly industrialized, aggressively secular global community. I don’t live among a first century community of farmers in a religiously-dominated culture, or among a bronze-age nomadic society. I marvel that I didn’t catch this sooner.  

And with this in mind, I’ve found myself concluding that “the most literal translation” of the Bible won’t actually be helpful to me. So I’ve abandoned my search for the most literal translation of the Scriptures for several reasons:

• The original texts of the Bible are full of stories, parables and metaphors: it wasn’t actually written for literal interpretation. Looking for “the most literal” translation strikes me as fundamentally contrary to the writing styles and methods of the Biblical authors.

• In order to have an effective, “literal”, word-for-word translation of the Bible, we need to have an equivalent English word – and ONLY one English word – for every Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic word of the original texts. And we aren’t even close to that. These languages are completely different from their roots up.

• Literal communication of agrarian metaphors and religious allusion don’t translate well (if at all) into the Information Age. The ideas are valuable, but we need to translate the metaphors, either during the translation to English, or during my reading of the English translation. Knowledge of grafting grapevines, for example, is not prevalent in my world.

• There really is at least a measure of truth behind the principle that as years go by, both the skills and the resources for Bible translation advance. Therefore, all else being equal, there is real reason to expect that more modern translations will ultimately capture the heart of the Scriptures better than earlier versions.

• I don’t actually need divine wisdom for dealing with slavery, temple prostitution, arranged marriages, leprosy, and other topics that the Bible did deal with literally. But there are principles that, if I consider them metaphorically, have application to my Facebook interactions and my driving habits.

• My other challenge is that I no longer am as interested in the (admittedly priceless) words of famous first-century (or much earlier!) followers of God. I’m actually more interested in hearing the Word of God Himself speaking to me through their words. [see John 1:1-2, Hebrews 4:12-13]

I still respect (and study and read) the NASB and NRSV and other word-for-word translations of the Bible. I value those translations, and I seriously respect their goals!

For the last 50 years or so, I’ve used my paper-and-ink Bibles very heavily, and worn them out regularly. So I’ve replaced my “primary” Bible pretty frequently. And curiously, I chose to get a different translation for my primary study & ministry Bible every few years. (My thinking back then was that I wanted to get past the mindset of the translators, and hear the heart of the authors behind the translation.) So I’ve avoided growing up loyal to any particular translation.

In recent years, there have appeared some fresh translations that are aspiring to translate the heart of the content, rather than to shoehorn an English word into being an equivalent for a Greek or Hebrew word that isn’t even part of our thinking in this century. As a result, these are fresher to my understanding and more accessible to my emotions than the shoehorned vocabulary of earlier versions (consider “adjure” or “husbandman” or “prick against the goads”).

I’ve been listeningto the Bible rather a lot recently, more than reading it (“Faith comes by hearing….”), and while I own audio versions of four different translations, I find myself most inspired, most provoked, most comforted by The Message Version. Not even a little bit of a “word-for-word” version, their goal was to communicate Scripture into the actual, everyday vernacular that we speak today. I think it succeeds wonderfully!

I chose it primarily to get out of the normal “religious” thinking that I’d grown up with listening to KJV and NIV preachers, and it’s worked for that purpose.

When I’m digging into the Greek & Hebrew, I still use the older, more traditional translations, particularly the NIV.

So you’re welcome to write me off as a heretic if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that “heretic” was a word invented during the Inquisition specifically to accuse those who [gasp!] thought independently of what the religious government told them to think. Yeah, I aspire to do that.

But you’re also welcome to join me in exploring the riches of the Word of God as He expresses Himself through the word of God.




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Letters

New Respect for the Word of God


I used to proudly and unquestioningly hold to a particular standard of belief that I now find myself questioning.  Some will likely call me a heretic for this. Heck, back then, I would have called these questions heretical!

The reason for questioning is simple: I live in the 21stcentury, among a highly industrialized, aggressively secular global community. I don’t live among a first century community of farmers in a religiously-dominated culture, or among a bronze-age nomadic society. I marvel that I didn’t catch this sooner.  

And with this in mind, I’ve found myself concluding that “the most literal translation” of the Bible won’t actually be helpful to me. So I’ve abandoned my search for the most literal translation of the Scriptures for several reasons:

• The original texts of the Bible are full of stories, parables and metaphors: it wasn’t actually written for literal interpretation. Looking for “the most literal” translation strikes me as fundamentally contrary to the writing styles and methods of the Biblical authors.

• In order to have an effective, “literal”, word-for-word translation of the Bible, we need to have an equivalent English word – and ONLY one English word – for every Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic word of the original texts. And we aren’t even close to that. These languages are completely different from their roots up.

• Literal communication of agrarian metaphors and religious allusion don’t translate well (if at all) into the Information Age. The ideas are valuable, but we need to translate the metaphors, either during the translation to English, or during my reading of the English translation. Knowledge of grafting grapevines, for example, is not prevalent in my world.

• There really is at least a measure of truth behind the principle that as years go by, both the skills and the resources for Bible translation advance. Therefore, all else being equal, there is real reason to expect that more modern translations will ultimately capture the heart of the Scriptures better than earlier versions.

• I don’t actually need divine wisdom for dealing with slavery, temple prostitution, arranged marriages, leprosy, and other topics that the Bible did deal with literally. But there are principles that, if I consider them metaphorically, have application to my Facebook interactions and my driving habits.

• My other challenge is that I no longer am as interested in the (admittedly priceless) words of famous first-century (or much earlier!) followers of God. I’m actually more interested in hearing the Word of God Himself speaking to me through their words. [see John 1:1-2, Hebrews 4:12-13]

I still respect (and study and read) the NASB and NRSV and other word-for-word translations of the Bible. I value those translations, and I seriously respect their goals!

For the last 50 years or so, I’ve used my paper-and-ink Bibles very heavily, and worn them out regularly. So I’ve replaced my “primary” Bible pretty frequently. And curiously, I chose to get a different translation for my primary study & ministry Bible every few years. (My thinking back then was that I wanted to get past the mindset of the translators, and hear the heart of the authors behind the translation.) So I’ve avoided growing up loyal to any particular translation.

In recent years, there have appeared some fresh translations that are aspiring to translate the heart of the content, rather than to shoehorn an English word into being an equivalent for a Greek or Hebrew word that isn’t even part of our thinking in this century. As a result, these are fresher to my understanding and more accessible to my emotions than the shoehorned vocabulary of earlier versions (consider “adjure” or “husbandman” or “prick against the goads”).

I’ve been listeningto the Bible rather a lot recently, more than reading it (“Faith comes by hearing….”), and while I own audio versions of four different translations, I find myself most inspired, most provoked, most comforted by The Message Version. Not even a little bit of a “word-for-word” version, their goal was to communicate Scripture into the actual, everyday vernacular that we speak today. I think it succeeds wonderfully!

I chose it primarily to get out of the normal “religious” thinking that I’d grown up with listening to KJV and NIV preachers, and it’s worked for that purpose.

When I’m digging into the Greek & Hebrew, I still use the older, more traditional translations, particularly the NIV.

So you’re welcome to write me off as a heretic if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that “heretic” was a word invented during the Inquisition specifically to accuse those who [gasp!] thought independently of what the religious government told them to think. Yeah, I aspire to do that.

But you’re also welcome to join me in exploring the riches of the Word of God as He expresses Himself through the word of God.




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Letters

Running Ahead of the Pack

Forerunners move out from the crowd they've been running with, to a place ahead of the crowd, where they are an example for others. As a result, it is not uncommon for forerunners to feel isolated, alone.

You need to know that that’s not isolation: that’s forerunning: it’s part of the job description of a forerunner – running ahead of the crowd, not with it – and that solitude is part of God’s provision for you. (Remember how Jesus sought it out? eg. Mark 6:45-46)

Others among the crowd see your example and move forward to join the forerunner or to even move beyond you. So the forerunner will have an empty spot, a vacuum, behind you, where others used to be, where others used to be. The more effective a forerunner is at bringing others forward, the greater the vacuum. Anyone trying to pull away from that vacuum will feel the vacuum pulling back.

Forerunners, that’s one of the things you’re fighting: you need to stay out of that vacuum; you may feel forces pulling you back. Resist the influences trying to pull you back to where you used to be. You need to keep pressing forward, keep reaching for the high calling in Christ Jesus. That’s who you are; that’s how you’re made.

There are others who need to move forward to fill that space behind you, who need to draft behind you, who will be encouraged to keep the pace you set.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…. (Hebrews 12:1)



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Letters

Running Ahead of the Pack

Forerunners move out from the crowd they've been running with, to a place ahead of the crowd, where they are an example for others. As a result, it is not uncommon for forerunners to feel isolated, alone.

You need to know that that’s not isolation: that’s forerunning: it’s part of the job description of a forerunner – running ahead of the crowd, not with it – and that solitude is part of God’s provision for you. (Remember how Jesus sought it out? eg. Mark 6:45-46)

Others among the crowd see your example and move forward to join the forerunner or to even move beyond you. So the forerunner will have an empty spot, a vacuum, behind you, where others used to be, where others used to be. The more effective a forerunner is at bringing others forward, the greater the vacuum. Anyone trying to pull away from that vacuum will feel the vacuum pulling back.

Forerunners, that’s one of the things you’re fighting: you need to stay out of that vacuum; you may feel forces pulling you back. Resist the influences trying to pull you back to where you used to be. You need to keep pressing forward, keep reaching for the high calling in Christ Jesus. That’s who you are; that’s how you’re made.

There are others who need to move forward to fill that space behind you, who need to draft behind you, who will be encouraged to keep the pace you set.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…. (Hebrews 12:1)



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Letters

Lukewarm Laodicea?


I’m tired of people looking at Jesus’ letter to the Church in Laodicea and misinterpreting it.

“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

So many preachers preaching from this passage, saying it’s better to be hot or cold. That’s fine, but then they drive right into the ditch. “Hot,” they say, is a person who’s “on fire” for God. And “Cold,” they say, is the opposite, someone who’s turned off on God. But people that are just “meh,” people who aren’t really passionate one way or the other are said to be “lukewarm,” and, they proclaim boldly, “God hates lukewarm!”

The encouragement to be passionate for God is wonderful. The thought that God likes atheists or passionately anti-Christian activity more than half-hearted Christianity? Yeah, that’s balderdash. You can argue that a half-hearted lover of God is better than a hater of God, or you can argue that God loves ‘em all the same, but you CAN’T argue that God loves haters better than folks that are tired of trying.

The root of this whole metaphor comes from Laodicea’s city water supply. This isn’t about half-hearted people. This is about water.

Laodicea, you see, had no reliable springs, no reliable city water of their own, so they imported their water.

They imported water from two other cities: Hierapolis(about 6 miles south) and Colossae, about 10 miles east.

Hierapolis was famous for hot springs, and the water they got from there was still hot if it was fresh. They were (and still are) famous for hot springs, for healing waters, where people can sit and soak their wounded or aging bodies.

Colossaewas in the mountains and the water they got from there was cold if it was fresh. Since Laodiceaspent summers consistently above 100ºF (38ºC), cold, refreshing mountain water was wonderful and refreshing and invigorating!

Both sources of water had a fair bit of minerals in them: they actually invented something like manhole covers to get into the pipes and clean them out regularly, because the minerals would build up and keep the water from running freely. When the pipes were clogged, the water sat in the pipes, rather than flowed through the pipes.

If the water had been sitting, stagnating, in pipes or in a pond or cistern somewhere, it was neither hot nor cold: it was lukewarm. It was also probably unsafe, so spitting it out is a really good thing to do.

But the statement here isn’t that God vomits out people who aren't passionate enough, though the call to passionate following is appropriate. The statement here is “Be who you’re called to be.”

If you’re going to be a healing person, where broken people can come and soak away their pains, great. Be that!

If you’re going to be a bracing drink of cold, mountain water, that’ll wake folks up and get them motivated, great. Be that!

Don’t sit in the pipes so long that you just gum up the works and nobody gets good ministry. And don’t sit and stagnate. That’s not good for anybody.


Whatever you’re called to do: do it. Be passionate about it! Don’t just sit and stagnate. 
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Letters

Lukewarm Laodicea?


I’m tired of people looking at Jesus’ letter to the Church in Laodicea and misinterpreting it.

“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

So many preachers preaching from this passage, saying it’s better to be hot or cold. That’s fine, but then they drive right into the ditch. “Hot,” they say, is a person who’s “on fire” for God. And “Cold,” they say, is the opposite, someone who’s turned off on God. But people that are just “meh,” people who aren’t really passionate one way or the other are said to be “lukewarm,” and, they proclaim boldly, “God hates lukewarm!”

The encouragement to be passionate for God is wonderful. The thought that God likes atheists or passionately anti-Christian activity more than half-hearted Christianity? Yeah, that’s balderdash. You can argue that a half-hearted lover of God is better than a hater of God, or you can argue that God loves ‘em all the same, but you CAN’T argue that God loves haters better than folks that are tired of trying.

The root of this whole metaphor comes from Laodicea’s city water supply. This isn’t about half-hearted people. This is about water.

Laodicea, you see, had no reliable springs, no reliable city water of their own, so they imported their water.

They imported water from two other cities: Hierapolis(about 6 miles south) and Colossae, about 10 miles east.

Hierapolis was famous for hot springs, and the water they got from there was still hot if it was fresh. They were (and still are) famous for hot springs, for healing waters, where people can sit and soak their wounded or aging bodies.

Colossaewas in the mountains and the water they got from there was cold if it was fresh. Since Laodiceaspent summers consistently above 100ºF (38ºC), cold, refreshing mountain water was wonderful and refreshing and invigorating!

Both sources of water had a fair bit of minerals in them: they actually invented something like manhole covers to get into the pipes and clean them out regularly, because the minerals would build up and keep the water from running freely. When the pipes were clogged, the water sat in the pipes, rather than flowed through the pipes.

If the water had been sitting, stagnating, in pipes or in a pond or cistern somewhere, it was neither hot nor cold: it was lukewarm. It was also probably unsafe, so spitting it out is a really good thing to do.

But the statement here isn’t that God vomits out people who aren't passionate enough, though the call to passionate following is appropriate. The statement here is “Be who you’re called to be.”

If you’re going to be a healing person, where broken people can come and soak away their pains, great. Be that!

If you’re going to be a bracing drink of cold, mountain water, that’ll wake folks up and get them motivated, great. Be that!

Don’t sit in the pipes so long that you just gum up the works and nobody gets good ministry. And don’t sit and stagnate. That’s not good for anybody.


Whatever you’re called to do: do it. Be passionate about it! Don’t just sit and stagnate. 
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Letters

Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

I have some chickens. They make good eggs and good soup.

But chickens are dumb. Stupid. Completely unintelligent. Goldfish are smarter than chickens. And so I learn a lot about myself from them.

These chickens are domesticated. Really domesticated. They know me as their provider, almost as if I were their god. Any time I open the back door, which they can see from their chicken yard, they cluster around the near side of their pen, eyes on me.

Any time I come near the chicken yard, they cluster around near me, knowing that I am their provider, knowing that very often, when I show up, I bring good things for them to eat. 

They’re constantly looking to me for their provision: what will I bring them today? They remind me of the apostle’s promise, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights,” only in this case, every good and perfect gift comes from me.

The other day, I brought a large handful of their favorite vegetable, kale, and I tossed it into their pen. They ignored the kale. They didn’t even notice that I’d tossed their favorite veggie into their pen. They just kept their eyes on me, knowing that I might give them something good to eat.

I explained to the brilliant birds: “I already brought you something good to eat. I have already provided for you. Go enjoy what I’ve already given you!”

And they clustered even tighter around that side of their fence, watching to see what I’d give them.

They were so intently focused on the fact that I am their provider, focused on what I might provide for them, that they completely missed the fact that I had already provided for them.

And as I watched them, I heard Father clearing his throat, drawing my attention to their actions. And I knew I was guilty.

There have been times that I’ve been so focused on God, who is my good provider, focused on what God is going to provide for me, that I completely miss what he’s already provided for me.

I’m learning to give thanks more, and to solicit provision less.


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Letters

Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

I have some chickens. They make good eggs and good soup.

But chickens are dumb. Stupid. Completely unintelligent. Goldfish are smarter than chickens. And so I learn a lot about myself from them.

These chickens are domesticated. Really domesticated. They know me as their provider, almost as if I were their god. Any time I open the back door, which they can see from their chicken yard, they cluster around the near side of their pen, eyes on me.

Any time I come near the chicken yard, they cluster around near me, knowing that I am their provider, knowing that very often, when I show up, I bring good things for them to eat. 

They’re constantly looking to me for their provision: what will I bring them today? They remind me of the apostle’s promise, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights,” only in this case, every good and perfect gift comes from me.

The other day, I brought a large handful of their favorite vegetable, kale, and I tossed it into their pen. They ignored the kale. They didn’t even notice that I’d tossed their favorite veggie into their pen. They just kept their eyes on me, knowing that I might give them something good to eat.

I explained to the brilliant birds: “I already brought you something good to eat. I have already provided for you. Go enjoy what I’ve already given you!”

And they clustered even tighter around that side of their fence, watching to see what I’d give them.

They were so intently focused on the fact that I am their provider, focused on what I might provide for them, that they completely missed the fact that I had already provided for them.

And as I watched them, I heard Father clearing his throat, drawing my attention to their actions. And I knew I was guilty.

There have been times that I’ve been so focused on God, who is my good provider, focused on what God is going to provide for me, that I completely miss what he’s already provided for me.

I’m learning to give thanks more, and to solicit provision less.


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Devotionals, Letters

Explosions All Around Us

Some folks among us have had violent, “earth shaking” events in their lives recently. Some have been asking, “Why Lord? Why me?”

A good gardener (or “husbandman”) has many tools at his disposal, some which are not intuitive.

Our gardener has been preparing some of us for growth by detonating charges around us, even underneath us. Sometimes, all we see is the explosions going off around us, showering us and those around us with detritus.  

Occasionally, we may see our bearded Gardener, twinkle in his eye, as he stands back from a freshly lit fuse. It’s easy to suspect that he’s bringing harm from the detonation, and this is undoubtedly where we get the idea that God works to harm us.
It’s true that God allows in his wisdom many things that he could, by his power, prevent from happening to us. And it’s likely that he does set off some of the blasts that startle us and discombobulate us.

But it is always for our good. The blasts that throw dirt all over our carefully planned lives loosen the dirt around our roots, making room for fresh growth, fresh nourishment, and from there, fresh fruit.

And those explosions that disturb our peace and frustrate our own plans often kill off the grubs that chew on our roots, the little foxes that spoil the vines, the demons that contentedly prey on our hopes and our fruitfulness.

The reality is that if we’ve been praying for “more of God,” for “more fruit,” or for “expanded tentpegs,” then these jolting and disheveling explosions may be the answer to our prayers. They’re making room for growth, easier growth, in our lives.

Maybe it’s time to give thanks for the earth shaking events in our lives, or at least for the results of them. 
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Devotionals, Letters

Explosions All Around Us

Some folks among us have had violent, “earth shaking” events in their lives recently. Some have been asking, “Why Lord? Why me?”

A good gardener (or “husbandman”) has many tools at his disposal, some which are not intuitive.

Our gardener has been preparing some of us for growth by detonating charges around us, even underneath us. Sometimes, all we see is the explosions going off around us, showering us and those around us with detritus.  

Occasionally, we may see our bearded Gardener, twinkle in his eye, as he stands back from a freshly lit fuse. It’s easy to suspect that he’s bringing harm from the detonation, and this is undoubtedly where we get the idea that God works to harm us.
It’s true that God allows in his wisdom many things that he could, by his power, prevent from happening to us. And it’s likely that he does set off some of the blasts that startle us and discombobulate us.

But it is always for our good. The blasts that throw dirt all over our carefully planned lives loosen the dirt around our roots, making room for fresh growth, fresh nourishment, and from there, fresh fruit.

And those explosions that disturb our peace and frustrate our own plans often kill off the grubs that chew on our roots, the little foxes that spoil the vines, the demons that contentedly prey on our hopes and our fruitfulness.

The reality is that if we’ve been praying for “more of God,” for “more fruit,” or for “expanded tentpegs,” then these jolting and disheveling explosions may be the answer to our prayers. They’re making room for growth, easier growth, in our lives.

Maybe it’s time to give thanks for the earth shaking events in our lives, or at least for the results of them. 
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Devotionals, Letters

The Fighter’s Regrets

Have you ever woken up with a song floating through the fog in your mind? Sometimes I think that’s just an echo of a dream or a memory, particularly if it’s a song I’ve heard or sung recently.

How about a song from your ancient history in your mind as you woke? I actually pay more attention to these; there’s less chance that it’s just my subconscious expressing itself.

I’d like to share one of these with you. You may find the process interesting, but I believe the lesson might apply to several of us.

Recently, I woke up with a song from my youth playing in my mind, and trust me, that’s from a long time ago. The song had nothing to do with the dream as far as I could tell, and I could only remember snippets of it – really only one phrase.

But that phrase kept replaying in my mind: that caught my attention. And as it replayed, my memory of the lyrics grew. This also suggested to me that this might be from God. So I spoke with Father about it, acknowledging that I thought he might be up to something; I asked for insight, and I paid attention as the memory of the song replayed and expanded in my mind.


Some themes began to stand out in the lyrics that kept playing in my memory. One of them definitely seemed to have the fragrance of my Father about it, so I meditated on that one. That is, I thought about it; I let it roll around in my mind to see what might come from it.

When my mind began to warm up (you know, I really appreciate the fact that God invented coffee!), I fired up Google and looked into it a bit more. And I realized that even after my memory had been playing it back for an hour or two, I had remembered only one verse out of five; the rest hadn’t come back to me, though those verses had actually been more important to me when the song was new.

Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/MYPJOCxSUFc. It’s called The Boxer, by Simon & Garfunkel. It was the last verse alone that spoke to me through the morning fog:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains*

This verse had literally never made sense to me, but suddenly, there was a message in it for me.

It speaks to me, but I’d like to share it with you, because I suspect it might speak to other, too, and maybe that includes you.

I confess: I’m a man of fairly strong conviction. I stand up for those convictions, and it’s not inappropriate to say that I fight to maintain them. If I believe something to be true, I’ll fight to defend it.

Father gently pointed out that I, too, carry reminders of those fights, reminders, I suppose, every glove that laid me down or cut me till I cried out. I’ve paid a price to defend my convictions. Like the fighter in the song, the price has been paid in several areas of my life: in my memories, in my body carrying the stress, in the solitude that comes from having lost relationships.

Then he drew my attention to the fighter’s vow, and that I’ve made vows like that as well: “I am leaving, I am leaving” but I don’t leave. I remain. I still defend my beliefs, my convictions, and I’m still laid down and cut up sometimes. I’m still wounded from the fights that I am convinced are right and good. And they still bring the fruits of “anger and shame” into my life, just like they did in his.

(Didn’t someone say “You shall know them by their fruit”?  Hmmm....)

This is something that’s come partly from my character (I believe that standing up for “what is true” is important), partly from my youth (I was taught that truth is important and should be stood up for).

But this fight may have been fanned into the biggest flame from my years in Bible-believing churches. “This is what I believe to be true, so I must defend it at all costs.” We teach that, we believe that, in many evangelical churches, and while we defend different truths in denominational churches, we still defend them vigorously.

Think about how Christians respond when a movie comes that we don’t like out (remember Russell Crowe’s Noah?). Consider how Christians respond to “The Homosexual Agenda” or to political candidates, or to the abortion issue.

We’re taught to fight. And we do fight. Vigorously.

And let’s be honest. We don’t win these fights. Hollywood’s marketing now counts on “Christian outrage” as a publicity tool for their controversial movies, and they’re always right. Christians have not affected “The Homosexual Agenda” that we’ve stood against, abortion is still a very big business, and we’ve never once had an Evangelical believer in the Whitehouse, despite our fights on those issues.

The world knows: Christians are fighters. They don’t win, but they sure will fight. Behold how much they fight.

Father hasn’t been talking to me at this time about the issues in themselves. He’s only been using them to illustrate the fight, to illustrate the blows and the cuts that so many of us have taken in the fights.

Then he drew my attention to the refrain:

“Lie-la-lie. Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, Lie-la-lie
Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie.”*

Oh my. It’s right there. I’ve sung this haunting refrain with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and I never saw it: there’s a lie here, and the refrain rubs my nose in it. That’s a lie, lie lie!

There’s perhaps some room for discussing what the lie is. The song itself identifies one:

“He cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.”*

And I’ve done that. I’ve declared that I’m quitting this fight. But I haven’t really done it. I’ve lied. I’ve gotten tired of being beaten up, tired of the anger, tired of the shame, and I’ve tried to quit the fight. And I’ve failed.

As Father comforted me in this, I realized that for a fighter, the fight is a choice. It’s an option, but only one of several options. I don’t actually need to fight.

As he held me and murmured his love for me, I realized that these are not fights that have helped me, or have helped the Kingdom, not even a little bit.

I occasionally have “won” a fight, but what was the result? Maybe I could say I won, that I defeated someone who believed differently. So what? Now they’ve been defeated, now they’re wounded, too. And now they resent me, and worse they resent my message, and they resent the truth that I fought for.

You know, I don’t think anybody’s ever been bullied into receiving the truth, have they? Oh, sure, we’ve bullied people into actinglike they know the truth, but that’s just equipping them for hypocrisy. That’s not a win, not really, not for anybody.

For myself, I’m going to reflect on this for a while. I’m wondering if I might actually defend my beliefs better by walking them out than I would by fighting for them. I don’t know. I’ll think about it.

I may not need to be a fighter, alone in the clearing. I may not need to be laid down, cut open. I may not need to subject myself to the anger and shame.

The Kingdom is not about any of this, is it?

Lie la lie….

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* From "The Boxer," by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fifth studio albumBridge over Troubled Water (1970) ©1969
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