Dripping Wet

rain-raindrops-rainy-110874When I was little, I remember thinking that I could run out in the rain and not get wet. I thought I could look up, track each raindrop as it fell, and dodge out of the way of each of them. I really thought that. I thought I could zig-zag: left, right, left, left, right–like a soldier through enemy fire–and not get hit.

The problem is I still think like that in some ways. I think I can pick up whatever book, watch whatever movie, play whatever video game, and nothing bad about them will rub off on me. In other words, here I am in my sixties and I find myself still thinking that I can run out into a rainstorm and not get wet.

I believe the Apostle Paul is talking about this kind of thing when he says, “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). The “bad company” part is clear enough, even though we may not really believe it in practice. But why does Paul first say, “Do not be deceived?”

I think because we are deceived, constantly. We’re deceived into thinking that we’re grown-up and bullet-proof and nothing bad is going to rub off on us no matter what kind of company we keep. No matter what TV shows we watch, no matter what novels we read (my failing), no matter what video games we play. In our ignorance we assume that we can easily maintain our own, better, higher, individual point-of-view regardless of the electronic, literary, imaginary, and/or physical company we keep.

Did you ever have a friend in school who drifted away from you and started hanging out with a new group of people? Did you notice how your friend started picking up the way that group talked? Started using their slang? Started using their gestures?  I think the reason why is that human beings are half sponge. We absorb what’s around us without trying, without even being aware of it, and it changes us. We become like the company we keep. No matter the medium in which we hang out with our new friends. No matter how old we are.

I don’t think there’s any way around this. It’s human nature. So what do we do? I think we need to admit that we’re still little kids in some ways and submit ourselves to the same kinds of safeguards that little kids need, like older-brother Paul said. Make sure we play where it’s safe: on the playground prepared for us, instead of out in the street. Listen to Daddy’s warnings about who to play with. Let Him introduce us to good friends in every medium. Don’t sneak behind His back to watch that scary, nasty stuff on TV. Don’t play electronically at doing things He’s forbidden us to do in reality. That kind of thing.

Sounds boring and ridiculous for adults, doesn’t it? But really, when it comes to this kind of thing, I don’t know many adults. I know for sure that I’m not one. I’m dripping wet.

John 15: Around This Table

reclining last supperJesus and His apostles are reclining around a common table. This is the last time they’ll share a meal like this, and Jesus knows it. He knows that Judas is going to sell him out. In fact, at the moment I’m thinking of, Judas has already left to do that.

Jesus knows what’s coming for Him later tonight. When He looks around the table, He knows what’s coming for His friends, too. He knows what they’re going to suffer for His sake in the next few hours, in the next few days, in all their years to come. Knowing all that, what will He say to them in the little time that’s left around this table?

In professional sports, team nutricionists carefully calculate the specific nutrients that will give each individual athlete his or her maximum strength and endurance for the upcoming game. They take into account the athlete’s current condition. Is she recovering from an injury? Is he exhausted? They also take into account the conditions expected for the game. Will the weather be especially cold? Especially hot? All of that goes into prescribing the exact food and drink that will give the athlete the best nutritional base possible for the physical challenges of game day.

I suspect Jesus has thought along those lines as He looks around this table. What are the most important things His friends need to know in order to face their coming challenge? What do they need to hear in this moment, and what can wait? Jesus knows. There’s no question that He knows. What does Peter need to understand right now in order to sustain him? Thomas? John?  This is their Creator and their Good Shepherd. He knows them in and out and loves them through and through. He knows exactly what spiritual food to serve them here and now. It will be exactly what they need to sustain them through the challenges to come. It will have all the spiritual nutrients that they need to keep fighting the good fight.

Furthermore, Jesus knows that He’s not just talking to those present at this moment, but to every one who will gather around His table in the centuries to come. He knows He’s not just talking to His apostles. He knows He’s talking to us today, too. He knows how many generations of His lambs will sustain their life in Him with what He is about to say around this table. And I sincerely believe He knows something more. He knows not just how many lambs will feed on these words, but who. I mean He sat at that table and looked down the corridors of time and saw exactly who would dine with Him in their time, and knew each of His future followers by name, all the way down to you reading John 15 at breakfast this morning.

So Jesus looks around this table. What do all of us most need to hear from Him right now? Right now, as His hour approaches? He knows. So it’s out of His deep love and infinite understanding that He speaks:

“I am the vine, you are the branches….”

Straight Lines

urbanrainIt’s really hard to draw straight lines freehand. I can’t do it. I start out ok, but then, pretty soon, my pencil starts to rise or fall, or both. All my freehand lines wind up being curves. That’s why I need a ruler. Rulers are for making your lines truly straight.

The only thing is, it’s not that easy to learn how to follow a ruler. It can take a child quite a while to get the hang of it. It’s more than just simple drawing now. You can’t just put pencil to paper and take off. Now it’s a matter of drawing and leaning at the same time. You’ve got to lean your pencil back against the ruler AND draw it forward across the page all at once. The point of the pencil’s got to stay in constant contact with the ruler–constant contact all the way across the page.

It’s not easy. It’s not what comes naturally. Curves are what come naturally. If you want a straight line, though, there’s just no other choice. Rulers are the source of straightness. Only a ruler can make your lines truly straight.

Conclusion? The only way to draw a straight line is to use a ruler. It will take awhile to get the hang of it. Later, even after you learn how, you may suddenly find your lines wobbling again. You may suddenly find them suffering from too much rushing forward and not enough leaning. You may have to go back to square one, but it’s worth it. Keep learning to lean on the ruler. The results are beautiful, perfect, a wonder of good teamwork.

Clearly, I’m the pencil and You’re the ruler, Jesus. My lines are a disaster without You.

The Invitation Stands

John 15: 15–“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

The Lord has brought up the theme of friendship with Him at two turning points in my life. The first time was when my grandmother died in 1976. The second time was in Belgium last year. I was still reeling from the cancer diagnosis and from whirlwind surgery when the worship leaders at the Antwerp Vineyard decided to sing John Mark McMillan’s “Future/Past” every Sunday for a month.

Every Sunday for a month, which is to say, I couldn’t get away from it, even though I wanted to. I really couldn’t tell you why I wanted to get away from it, only that I felt so overwhelmed, like please don’t ask me to one more thing. Didn’t matter how I felt. They just kept on singing the song. The pre-chorus goes like this:
“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend.”

Jesus chased me for a month with this: “In the midst of everything that’s happening to you, be My friend.” I finally went so far as to at least start thinking about it. Ok. What would it mean to be His friend? I started thinking about how often Jesus encourages those listening to Him to talk to Him:
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7: 7).
“Pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…’” (Matthew 6: 9).
“If you ask the Father for anything in My name He will give it to you…(John 16: 23).
And I thought about how Peter and Paul echo that:
“Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you…” (1 Peter 5:7).
“Be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known…” (Philippians 4:6)

Clearly, talking to Him was one of the keys to being His friend. Pretty obvious. Friends are people we confide in. We don’t keep anything important from them because we trust them. We tell them everything. It struck me that during the last supper Jesus told the twelve that He had done that with them. He had told them everything. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” He said. He had told them everything, like friends do.

That phrase started sticking in my mind: “Tell Him everything.” I went to my go-to guide to prayer, Richard J. Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, and read the first chapter, called “Simple Prayer.” Here’s Foster’s definition of simple prayer:

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health. In a very real sense we are the focus of Simple Prayer. Our needs, our wants, our concerns dominate our prayer experience…. Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. (Foster, Richard J., 2009-10-13. Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart’s True Home, pp. 9-10. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

The Holy Spirit kept insisting, and somewhere in the middle of chemo, I finally broke down and put Foster’s advice into practice. I started sitting down, Kleenex and a notebook at hand, and started pouring my heart out to my Father. It didn’t matter if I was often barely coherent. (Incoherence is to no barrier to God’s understanding. There aren’t any barriers at all for Him, actually.) And the wonderful news is that it worked. Telling Him everything does result in friendship, because He responds. Because it leads to dialog. Dialog with God.

It’s still the hardest thing in the entire world for me to do on any given day, because it’s the key, and all kinds of enemies, including my own pride, don’t want me to turn that key. Nevertheless, I do. And on any given day, telling the Father everything is also the most wonderful, most blessed, most fruitful activity in the whole world. “Pour out your heart before Him,” David says (Psalm 62). It leads to friendship.

“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in the fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend”

Can’t Sleep

Can’t sleep. You could be anywhere in the world, and it’s all the same. Can’t sleep is can’t sleep. You could be sitting staring at a bamboo screen in China or a lace curtain in Belgium. Doesn’t matter. You’re not seeing anything anyway. You’re staring at nothing and nothing is the same everywhere.

Did You bring me half way around the world to be wheezing so hard I can’t sleep? Thoughts like that. Not worth the neurons they’re printed on. I know it. I know I can’t pay any attention to what I think after about 10pm, even on a normal night. On a night like this? Fa’ gedda ‘bout it.

Still, You seem so little offended by the question that an answer appears. It comes to mind how deeply my friend and I talked about You this afternoon and how refreshed she was, here in the European desert. Was is worth this whole trip and these sleepless nights?

Yes.

Now I’m thinking about recording this wheezing on my iPhone. It’s symphonic. It’s not just the regular whistles and squeaks. There’s a sub-bass rumble, high creaks, crackles, and a gurgling, backed-up-sink sound effect. It’s the stupidest thing in the world to lie awake listening to.

It’s definitely better than yesterday, though. It was so hard to breathe last night, I couldn’t lie down without gagging. That scared me. You had to reassure me–and I swear I heard a patient, fatherly smile in it–that I wasn’t going to die of bronchitis in Belgium. But I was scared and I asked You over and over again to heal me. In the last hours of the night, I sat hunched on the edge of the bed whispering, from the depths of my heart, “Son of David, don’t pass me by. Son of David, don’t pass me by.”

And You didn’t. “Wait for the dawn,” is what I heard. I knew You meant, “Healing is coming. Wait for it. I’m coming. Wait for Me.” And I did. And the dawn came and I watched it grow and, sure enough, I lay back down and fell asleep to it. And when I woke up, I knew You’d been there. I could feel the difference. Recovery had set in. It hasn’t reached all the wheezes yet, but it will. You’ve been here. I’ll sleep again.

Obediencia “Heuristico”–Español (English below)

El mensaje de ayer de Adam Russell, el pastor del Vineyard Campbellsville, fue un mensaje “heuristico.” Fue el tipo de mensage que hace que un serie de focos se prende en el cerebro para traer luz a la mente.

“Heuristico” es una palabra que aprendí en mis estudios posgraduados. El diccionario lo define así: “Técnica de la averiguación y del descubrimiento.” Por lo común escuche esta palabra en referencia a los articulos o libros que lo más inspiraron commentarios extendidos y generaron nuevas ideas y nuevas direcciones.

Eso es lo que el sermón de Adam hizo para mí ayer. Fue heuristico, especialmente su perspicacia sobre la obediencia. Adam citó el dicho de Jesús: “Si guardas mis mandamientos permanezcarás en mi amor.” Este dicho es algo dificíl para nosotros, dijo Adam. ¿Que tiene que ver obedencia con amor? La respuesta de Adam fue lo que hizo que los focos de mi mente se prendieron. Obediencia es la puerta de entrada para acercarse a Dios, dijo Adam. Es la puerta de entrada lo cual nos lleva al amor del Padre.

Adam utilizó el ejemplo del hijo prodigo. Mientras que moraba el hijo en el cochinero ¿estaba experimentando el amor de su padre? ¿Lo sintió allá? Claro que no. El hijo tenía que regresar a la casa de su padre y allá encontró su amor de nuevo. Regresar significa arrepentirse en esta parabola y arrepentirse significa obedecer a Dios. ¿Porque? Porque regresar a Dios Padre es la voluntad de Dios Padre para todos sus hijos que se alejan. Regresar es obedecer.

Este acto de obediencia del hijo prodigo fue la puerta de entrada a experimentar el amor de su padre otra vez. Eso no es decir que el padre no le amó a su hijo mientras él moraba en el cochinero. Por cierto le amó. Es que el hijo no podía experimentar este amor ni podía sentirlo ni permanecer en este amor hasta que volvió a la presencia de su padre.

Cuando yo escuché este ayer entendí algo nuevo de un tema en que he estado pensando mucho recién. Esto es el tema de someterse. Someterse a Dios es lo que nigún ser humano ha querido hacer desde los tiempos del huerto de Edén hasta hoy. Queremos ser Dios no someterse a Dios. De todas maneras someterse es un requisito absoluto para toda creatura que quiere experimentar communión con su Creadór. Personalmente yo he tenido que rendirme y volver a Dios muchas veces. He visto que cuando me someto así siempre encuentro los brazos abiertos del Padre. Siempre me abraza y me perdona y me restaura exactamente como Jesús nos prometió. Los brazos amantes del Padre siempre esperan a todos que regresan a Él.

Gracias a Dios por su misericordia y gracia y amor. Gracias a Dios que nos espera con sus brazos extendidos, no para agarrar y castigar sino para abrazar y consolar y restorar. Wow! No hay nadie como Tu! Te alabo Padre. Eres tan bueno!

Gracias, Adam.

PD: Les invito a todos mis amigos Castellano hablantes. Por favor indícame los errores que he hecho en cualquier “post” que pongo en mi blog. Quiero mejorar en mi escribir. Muchisimas gracias.

Heuristic Obedience

Adam Russell’s message yesterday at the Campbellsville Vineyard was heuristic. It was one of those that make a series of light bulbs light up one after another in your head. Click! Click! Click!

“Heuristic” is a word I learned in graduate school. Webster’s definition is “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving.” It’s a word I most often heard used to describe articles or books that inspired extended discussions, that generated new ideas and new directions.

That’s what Adam’s preaching did for me yesterday. It was heuristic. Especially the insight about obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” Jesus said. Tough to swallow, Adam said.  What does obedience have to do with love? His answer is one that set off a lot of light bulbs for me. It’s a gateway. It’s the door leading into the Father’s love.

Adam used the example of the prodigal son. Did he know, experience his father’s love when he was languishing in the pig pen? No. He had to go back to his father’s house, and that’s where he found it. To go back means to repent. To repent is to obey God. The prodigal’s obedience was the gateway to experiencing his father’s love again. Not that his father didn’t love him while he was in the pig pen. Of course he did. But the boy was cut off from feeling it, knowing it, abiding in it, until he obeyed his dad and went back home.

The lightbulb that went off for me was this: obedience is submission. It’s what human beings haven’t wanted to so since Eden and still don’t, but it’s an absolute requirement for creatures who want to fellowship with their Creator. And as I know from giving up and going back time after time (He’s not counting, but I am), submission is walking into the Father’s waiting arms. His loving, waiting arms. It’s something I need to do every day.

Praise God for His mercy and grace and love. For waiting with His arms extended, not to grab and punish, but to embrace and comfort and restore. Wow! There is none like You! Praise God.

Thank you, Adam.

Dripping Wet

When I was little, I remember thinking that I could run out in the rain and not get wet. I thought I could track each raindrop as it fell and dodge out of the way. I really did. I thought I could zig-zag: left, right, left, left, right–like a soldier under fire–and not get hit.

The problem is I still think like that in some ways. I think a lot of us do. I think I can pick up whatever book, watch whatever movie, play whatever video game and nothing bad about it will rub off on me.  In other words, I’m sixty-two years old and find myself still thinking that I can run out in the rain and not get wet.

I believe the Apostle Paul is talking about this kind of thing when he says, “Do not be deceived.  Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).  We immediately understand the “bad company” part, even though we don’t believe it in practice. But why does he first say, “Do not be deceived?”  I think because we are deceived, constantly, into thinking that we’re grown-up and bullet-proof and nothing bad is going to rub off on us no matter what kind of company we keep. No matter what TV shows we watch, no matter what novels we read (my failing), no matter what video games we play.  We convince ourselves that we can easily maintain our own, better, higher, individual point-of-view regardless of the electronic, literary, imaginary, and physical company we keep.

But have you ever watched as a friend starts hanging out with a new group of people? How your friend starts picking up the way that group talks?  Their gestures? I think the simple fact is that human beings are sponges..  We absorb what’s around us and start becoming like the company we keep. No matter the medium in which we hang out with our new friends. No matter how old we are.

There’s no way around this.  It’s human nature.  So what do we do?  I think we need to admit that we’re still little kids in some ways and submit ourselves to the same kinds of safeguards that little kids need, like older-brother Paul said. Make sure we play where it’s safe: on the playground prepared for us, instead of out in the street. Listen to Daddy’s warnings about who to play with. Let Him introduce us to good friends in every medium. Don’t sneak behind His back to watch that scary, nasty stuff on TV.  Don’t play electronically at doing things He’s forbidden us to do really. That kind of thing.

Sounds boring and ridiculous for adults, doesn’t it?  But really, when it comes to this kind of thing, some adults are not very adult at all.  I know for sure that I’m not. I’m dripping wet.