30 September 2017

Poem: Pick the Flowers

In a world of LOLs and LMAOs
of baes and YOLOs,
we have not lost our vocabulary,
we have bastardized it.
Each of us
has rolling fields from which
we choose our words.
Though some fields
may be larger than others,
all contain verbal blossoms
ready to unfold in beauty
and bless.
Yet we choose weeds--
thorns and thistles--
who not only inhibit goodness
but actively corrupt it.
In a world
of so many weeds
pick the flowers.

26 September 2017

Kindness, Not Controversy

Cease to do evil
learn to do good
seek justice
correct oppression.
Isaiah 1:16-17

The world is filled with so much hate,
     anger is not what makes us great.
We rant and rave, we disagree,
     forgetting God who sets us free.
We look for ways to criticize,
     echo chambers providing lies.
The New York Times or news from Fox,
     we all live in a slanted box.
Closing our mouths, opening ears,
     a great idea unrealized here.
But there is too much damnable pride,
     hubris abounds, humility's died.
God hides His eyes from those who oppress,
     religious words fail to impress.
Cease to do evil, learn to do right,
     seek after justice, for people denied.
Here's an idea: get off your phone,
     battling strangers in angry tones
will never amount to culture's improvement
     it only divides with negative movement.
Look to your neighbor, say "tell me your story,"
     seek understanding, all for God's glory.
You may disagree, you might even be right;
     but harming another, is not worth the fight.
Also consider, you could be wrong;
     your skewed perspective, false all along.
God honors those who live with mercy,
     pursue kindness and love, not controversy.

21 September 2017

Do you listen to the rain?

I awake with the rain.
Still dark, the rain is at play
I hear the drops landing gently
     upon the leaves.

There is a crispness to the sound
     like wind-rustled paper
and I immediately think, autumn.

Briefly, thunder grumbled
admonishing the rainfall to keep silent.
     "People are sleeping!"

I am grateful they persisted.

19 September 2017

Frosty September

Pale canvas sky
I wonder why
     I then remember.
Morning’s greeting
Colors meeting
     Frosty September.

Spirit prepared
With holy care
     To show masterpiece.
God paints the sun
I’m left undone
     Will beauty ever cease?

No. It will shine
Glory divine
     The radiance of Christ.
Creation’s poem
Life of shalom
     Not decay, but life.

18 September 2017

Empowering Grace

I try so hard
To follow God
     Hoping He’ll approve;
I fail and fail
Day after day
     Condemned by this proof.

“You are welcome.
You are my child.”
     Jesus says to me.
“You belong
No matter what.
     I’m your identity.

I choose to live
For God above
     Not to gain His praise,
I serve Him well
As oft I can
     Because He’s given me grace.

14 September 2017

Making Sense of the Syrophoenician Woman

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 7, tells the story of the Syrophoenician woman. I don't know about you, but every time I have read this story, it's almost like hitting an unexpected dip in the road. The kind that makes your car bottom out and you think to yourself, I hope I didn't break anything. Up until this point, Jesus is loving, serving, teaching, and healing. He's comforting the afflicted and confronting the Pharisees. Even a few chapters earlier, a conflict arises between Jesus and the religious leaders over the washing of hands and Jesus confronts them for putting tradition ahead of love. That makes sense. This is the Jesus we know and love.

But then comes the passage beginning at verse 24. He and the disciples go to a house, hoping not to be found. Too many people around all the time gets to be exhausting. But in verse 25, we learn that a woman finds Jesus and falls at his feet. It seems her daughter has an unclean spirit. She came to Jesus to beg him to cast the demon out. Perfect. This is just what Jesus came for! But then there's this little detail. "Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth" (v. 26). We think to ourselves, no big deal, Jesus can heal anyone he wishes.

So after she pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter, we come to verse 27 "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."


Wait what? Did Jesus just refuse a desperate woman because she was of the wrong birth? Did he just call her a dog, a mongrel?  What are we supposed with that?

Here's what I think. Jesus was always teaching his disciples; this time was no different. Taken at face value, Jesus' response was remarkably harsh. It doesn't fit his character. So how are we to take this? We could assume that he was being harsh, Pharisaical, and clinging to tradition...or he was using this woman as a living parable. I think it was the second.

Trying to put myself in the scene, I envision Jesus and his disciples heading to Tyre and Sidon, trying to find rest. The small band of brothers no doubt talking about the recent interactions with the Pharisees. Along comes this woman, full of faith, but of the wrong tradition. She asks Jesus to free her daughter from a demon.

Jesus looks first at the woman and then at his disciples. They've all be raised in this tradition. It flows through their bloodstreams. I suspect that for some of them at least, they looked upon this woman with disgust. Some probably physically distanced themselves from her. They were simply responding to their upbringing. So Jesus, seeing them, offers the response they're all thinking but not saying. "You're no Jew. Go away you dog." He kept watching the disciples. Judas subtly nods. Peter too.

But she persists; she is desperate but faithful. She will take whatever he may offer her. Now, he looks at her, tears welling in her eyes, and in his. "For saying this, you may go. I have healed your daughter." Faith, not tradition; heart, not behavior.

I wonder what shifted in the disciples. Jesus was using misdirection. He was leading them down one path, but then doubles back to his
main message. Faith, not tradition; heart, not behavior. Jesus not only told them parables, in this case, he showed them.

Jesus still surprises me. I read stories like this one that for years don't make any sense and then one day...clunk...the pieces fall into place. When you are reading and something is puzzling or doesn't seem to fit the narrative of the story or the character of God, it probably doesn't. Slow down and pay attention. Notice what is happening in the surrounding verses. This passage makes much more sense when set against the earlier story line in Mark 7.

God is good. All the time.

09 September 2017

A Virtuous Trio

We look for beauty
     on a five inch screen,
surfing the web
     for the next cool scene.

But if we open our eyes
     and look all around,
in creational beauty
     God's glory abounds.

We search for truth
     on Wikipedia's pages,
trusting what's current
     not the wisdom of ages. 

But if we open our Bibles
     and read God's holy word,
we'll find indelible ink
     where *true Truth's conferred. 

We seek after goodness
     in the public square,
pinning our hopes
     to politicians with flair.

But goodness resides
     in God's perfect law,
love one another
     and God above all. 

Ancient philosophers
     said these three transcend,
all time and space
     they will not end.

A virtuous trio
     truth, goodness, and beauty,
seen most fully 
     in blessed Trinity. 

*True truth was a concept put forward by Francis Schaeffer that what the Bible teaches is not just one among many truths, but truth that corresponds to reality.

08 September 2017

Band of Brothers

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.--Proverbs 17:17

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.--Proverbs 18:24

True friendship is a rare gift, especially among men. In a culture that promotes rugged individualism on the one hand, and allows people to have thousands of "friends" through social media on the other, we have lost our way regarding what friendship means. We read stories in the Bible about friendships between men and the closeness they have may seem surreal to us because they are so different from our everyday experience.

We may have buddies, but often we don't have brothers.

We may have men that we like doing stuff with, but often we don't have men whom we love deeply.

I am grateful that for me, at least, results have not been typical. I want to tell you about two of my friends.

Several years ago, our church held a men's ministry event where "accountability groups" were encouraged. If you've never heard of an accountability group, it is essentially when a group of men get together and confess their sins to one another and pray for one another, usually guided by a list of questions (e.g., did you look at porn this week? Have you managed your money well?). My friend Brad was moved and reached out to a bunch of guys about starting a group. Eric and I, even though we didn't attend the men's ministry event, were the only two that responded. We didn't even really have relationship beforehand, other than a time when I offended Brad. The three of us began meeting at 6:00 on Thursday mornings at Randy's Family restaurant.

We are an unlikely trio. Let me tell you why. Brad runs an office--several actually--that sells bearings and transmissions. He is a whiz at math, has great spatial skills, has administrative capabilities that most only long for, and is a neat freak (perhaps even obsessively so).  Eric is a locksmith by profession, but also has an eye for beauty that many people lack in today's culture. Whether from resin or wood, he is able to craft things that amaze. Eric is also driven and visionary. I am a neuropsychologist and pastor. I love words more than anything requiring spatial skills, something both Eric and Brad would be quick to tell you. I am also decidedly not a neat freak.

Brad likes bikes. Eric likes Dungeons and Dragons. I like books.

As I said, we are an unlikely trio, yet these two men are my brothers. The love I have for them runs deep.

When we began meeting, we used " the list." Each week we would walk through the questions. Some weeks, I would hope that we wouldn't get around to me because I didn't want to tell these guys what a mess I was am.  Week after week we persisted, bonds of friendship forming. Eventually, we put away the list. We didn't need it to guide our conversations any longer because we had developed enough trust in one another to discuss whatever was pressing. We began to understand what it meant to encourage, admonish, help, and love one another. We were willing to dig down with one another and to allow the others to dig beneath our false veneer we put up.

But don't get the wrong impression that deep friendship is always easy. It's not. Every one of us have said something stupid for which we have needed to apologize. Every one of us has been confronted and wounded by the others. We have repeatedly had to apologize and forgive. Every one of us has sinned against the others, often unknowingly.

It would be so easy to live on the surface, to talk about the weather, but never get down to what is beneath. It would be so easy to walk away when conflict arises. It would be so easy to live behind our masks and never let one another see our true selves, but then we would never be truly known and honestly, then we would never grow. My friend Larry says "true growth happens when you look bad in the presence of love." I have that with these men and I regularly thank God for them. In a society that says when things get tough you are totally within your rights to walk away, a brother who sticks close by when things get messy is an unbelievable blessing.

In John 17, perhaps my favorite chapter in the whole Bible, Jesus prays for his brothers. At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells the Father that his desire is that these men would love one another the way that He and the Father love one another and that we would be one in the way that the Trinity is one (verses 21-22). This is not love like the world defines love; it is a radical other-centeredness and commitment to one another's good. Jesus wasn't just praying that this might happen in heaven, but that we might manifest this in our relationships now. I am grateful for two brothers with whom I am able to strive for that goal.

Perhaps as you read this, you are thinking to yourself "yeah, that's unrealistic," but what if it's not? How do you stretch toward this end? First, pray. Ask God to help this type of relationship develop. Second, persist. As I said above, when things get hard, our sinful predisposition is to cut and run rather than persevere in love for one another. Third, patience. Change happens slowly. In our instant society, we need to become people who take the long view, who trust the process of growth and relational sanctification.

Brad, Eric, and I are far from perfect, but we are committed to loving one another over the long haul.