Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creating an Appetite

Jesus knows something about the power of curiosity. In some ways, the miracles he performed drew people in to consider the kind of life that might be possible if what he was saying was really true. What if there really was a kingdom in which the blind were able to see and the lame able to walk? What if there really was a place where sins could be forgiven – really, honest to God, forgiven! – and in which relationships were genuinely restored? What if sooner, rather than later, the poor had equal access to the table with the rich? What if there was hope for the people at the bottom of the pile? What if . . .

Jesus proclaimed the real presence of the Kingdom of what if. He declared that entrance was available now. Now! He lived there himself and invited anyone who would to gain immediate access to that wondrous reality through him. The righteous rule of God, for which humankind had longed for ages but access to which was not anticipated until the end of the age, was currently accepting applications for admittance with all the rights and privileges accorded thereto.

By the time they had walked with him for a few months, his disciples were convinced of the reality of the invitation. They did not get all of the implications, but they somehow recognized that Jesus really could pull it off. He really could enable them to see and know God. In fact, some of them were close enough to have actually heard God’s voice! Think of it!  So successful was Jesus at developing their appetite for the full reality of the Kingdom that, even when it appeared that the whole enterprise might collapse around their ears, they could not bring themselves to walk away from the table.

They had been spoiled by wonder and were unable to find satisfaction in anything else. So much so, that their lives began to take on the shape of his. Long after he was no long physically present, the lives of those who had tasted of the Kingdom vibrated with his life to such an extent that strangers coined the term “Christian” – Christ follower – to ridicule their chosen way of living. Unashamed, they soon wore the name as a badge of honor – attracting others curious to make sense of the way they lived – even in the face of threatened death.

Oh for grace and strength and  courage to live in such a way that my very life creates an appetite for the Kingdom of God. Please, let it be so, Lord Jesus.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Play-Full Attitude

NPR’s report on LPGA phenom, Yani Tseng, caught my attention this morning. Reporter Tom Goldman was incredulous at the lack of attention Taiwan’s favorite daughter has been getting – especially considering that she is the number one player in the world, having won – at the tender age of 22! – five major championships. To put that into perspective, both Tiger Woods and the LPGA’s legendary Patty Berg were 25 by the time they hit that milestone. What makes Yani’s record even more impressive is the fact that most of the five were won during the past year!

In pursuit of a turn-around story, Goldman caught up with Tseng at the Safeway Classic being played in Portland, Oregon. There he watched her hit a bad shot off the seventh tee into the sand followed by tough shot into the thick rough. A year ago, Goldman says, Tseng would have approached the third shot with head hung low, shoulders slumped, and angry dejection written all over her face just waiting for the disappointment she was sure would follow. And which, most often, did.

But this year, she approached the third shot smiling, talking to the gallery, greeting a child she had met earlier. When it was her turn, she hit a beautiful shot out of the deep rough to within five feet of the hole. And proceeded to sink it for par. What a difference a year makes!!

So, Goldman asked, what made the difference? The answer, according to Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s swing coach, is her attitude approaching the ball. Under his tutelage,  she has learned to control her emotions when she hits a bad shot, accept the new lay as a manageable challenge, and move on.

Yani Tseng has developed a “play-full attitude” – and it has won her five championships in just over a year.

Wonder if I could live more effectively in the Kingdom with a “play-full attitude”? An atittude that didn’t bemoan every tough thing that happened, that didn’t approach life set for disappointment, that took life as it came and viewed it, by the grace of God, as a manageable challenge. And then moved on to whatever was next.

For most players, even the pros, golf seems to be about redeeming the shots that are less than perfect. There’s something to be learned about life in there somewhere. I think.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just In Time

A few years ago management guru Tom Peters was lecturing to the business community on the characteristics of the profitable companies in the new economy.  Among his findings was included the idea of “just in time” inventory management. The basic principle was that, because of the advent of almost instant communication, the manufacturing matrix could produce the product a company was going to need just in time to stock the shelves for sale. It was a wondrous vision. A bar code reader in an upscale clothing store would signal the central computer, indicating that the inventory on a popular brand and size of jeans was approaching zero. The computer would automatically calculate projected sales figures for that product in the coming month and place an order with the manufacturer. The manufacturer would deliver the new stock just as the final pair of jeans was sold.

I’m not sure, but I think God may have been taking notes because that seems to be how he runs the universe. Or at least my little observable corner of it. Nothing ever seems to happen to allow for a reserve of trust – things come together at the last minute. Just in time. Apparently He is not into our storing up excess quantities of trust. We use up all we have, every day. We can’t carry trust over from one day to the next. And there is absolutely no use trying to trust today in expectation of tomorrow. The trusted for tomorrow never comes. A much more difficult one comes in its place. So we live, just in time.

What complicates this whole thing is how God tells time. It is not precisely the same as the way I do. I often get the sense that He is aware of my schedule, but chooses to override it whenever it suits Him. So just in time for Him, often feels like “late” or “not at all” to me. I am also learning that inventory management does not have the same priority to Him as it does to me. He has, for example, made far too many varieties and quantities of certain things. Bugs, for example. I am quite certain the world could get along with fewer, and fewer kinds of, bugs. God seems to think the more the merrier. He delights in the gross abundance.

And so it goes. There is often too much of what I don’t think is necessary – and not nearly enough of what I think ought be in abundance. It has gotten me to wondering if I really know what is needed. At all. Ever. Perhaps the most faith-full response is gratitude, worship, and non-anxious use of whatever comes, just in time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cost Counting

There is a growing awareness for those who seek to follow Jesus that He might be leading in ways and to places different than we signed up for. We have to learn to sit gently to our own plans, our own dreams of what life is and should be. Jesus’ suggestion that we count the cost before choosing to follow Him comes to surface. What it will actually cost us to follow Him is seen immediately to be impossible to calculate or know.

It is then that His wisdom and strategy bubbles to the surface. He has called us to “take up our cross”. That can only mean one thing. He is calling us to die – to give up, from the beginning the right to determine our goals and destiny and give it over to Him.  That is the cost we need to calculate. He may not, in every case, call us to do what we say we are willing to do. He may very well let us set our own goals and determine our own destiny. And that is all well and good. But He may also remind us that we are His – we have given over the rights of self-determination to Him. He gets to choose our life for us. And we get to say, “Thank You.”

Most often it shows up in the unexpected things that we did not plan for – the life that happens while we were expecting something else. A sudden catastrophic illness – the death of a loved one – an unexpected promotion to a position of greater responsibility – a chance conversation with a new friend that becomes transformational. When we give Him our life, He takes us seriously. And sets about the work of making us like Christ. For most of us, that is a full day’s work!

How do we respond when things go differently than we had planned? First, we remember that we have given Him the right to do whatever He wants with us. He will not take it unless we give it – but having given it, He takes us seriously. Second, we remember that He is very good at taking what we give Him and bringing new life in new ways out of it. So, third, we give thanks, with joy. It takes some training – but we learn to whistle while He works. To learn to worship in response to the life we are given. To learn that grace happens.

While we’re at it, we should also count the cost of not taking up our cross – of not following Him. Turns out, He is offering us the deal of a lifetime. A graced life does not always go the way we intend - or expect. But it will always be acceptable, satisfactory, and bring us to the real desire of our hearts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Expanding Universe (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Coming to the
     hard edge
     a wall marking

Finding the
     wall is
     moving out
     at a pace
     that is

Flying as
     fast as we
     can we still
     can not
          keep up
     with height
     on the rise

     as far below
     as can be
          touching down

Finding down
     is sinking away
     so fast that
     we can not
          fall fast
     enough to
          keep down

Pursuing east
     ‘til it
     ‘til it

And still . . .
          still . . .
               still . . .

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Shall It Profit?

Rich, fiery skyflame of setting sun
Pink-tinged delicacy of a barely there desert flower
Diamonds sparkling off a crashing wave
Lost to those without eyes to see

Deep, thick, rich stillness of a snowy field
Exploring melodies as birds greet the morning
Leaves gentle dance with a passing breeze
Lost to those without ears to hear

Rough tangled crevices, bark of an ancient oak
One way rasp on the underside of a blade of grass
Comforting warmth, refreshing cool water, textures
Lost to those without capacity to touch

Juicy sweet of fresh ice-cold watermelon
Bitter sweet of velvety dark chocolate
Tangy sweet lemon whipped into creamed delight
Lost to those without capacity to taste

Smokey sharpness of a new fire on cold night
Just there wonder of a new rose
Outrageous audacity of a proud plumeria
Lost to those without capacity to smell

Sudden, startling quickening of new love
Swelling, tearful joy at a child’s accomplishment
Settled, contented rhythm of old love
Lost to those without heart to feel

Wonder at a problem solved, a mystery explored
Satisfaction at a concept grasped, a thought created
Delight in the complex made simple, the simple complex
Lost to those without mind to think

Life requires capacity – expanding, growing, stretching.
Capacity is the gift of soul.

To gain the whole world
     But have no place to put it
     No workshop for wonder
     No place for pondering
What has it profited?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Receiving Your Life

David celebrates the provision of the Lord when he writes that, “the steps of a righteous person are ordered of the Lord.” To be righteous simply means to be in covenant with the Lord – to have decided to order life in line with Him, to follow His ways and, when you get off track, to realign, centered on Him. David has discovered the wonderful reality that God is involved in the daily-ness of our lives – that He is working in real time to accomplish His purposes in us. Earlier in that same psalm (37) we learn the core elements of this kind of life – trust in the Lord, be faithful, commit your way to the Lord, do good. The outcome? He will give you the desires that are built into your heart. You will be well pleased with the life you end up living.

This is reflected in Romans 12:2. There, after Paul has encouraged Christ followers to respond to God’s mercy by wholeheartedly giving their whole selves to Him, he goes on to suggest that the life they end up with in doing this will be proven to be exactly what they wanted all along – it will be perfectly suited to them, very good in every way, and completely satisfactory to them. You can hear the echo of Jesus’ reminder that those who cling to their lives will lose them – but those who release their lives to Him will discover that, after all, they are the only ones who have a life! They will have lost nothing by giving themselves to Christ, but will have gained exactly what they wanted all along – their own lives!

Perhaps the classic text celebrating this providential reality is Proverbs 3. Again the key is living in line with the covenantal realities of kindness and integrity. Following hard on that is the encouragement to trust in the Lord, to live counter-intuitively if necessary, to keep Him central in the way that you live. The person who lives that way will, over time, discover that the Lord has had something to do with the course and outcome of his life. And, that it has worked out rather well!

This does not suggest a life of blissful ease. Sometimes the steps of the righteous lead through the valley of the shadow of death. Some mornings you will wake up to breakfast surrounded by the enemies of your soul. Then it is important to remember that He knows what kind of life is best for you – and He is at work to give it to you.

So, the first response to the gift of your life in Christ – regardless of the specifics of the moment – is to say, “Thank you.” It is a central component to the receiving of your life.