Archive for May, 2022

18
May
22

People are Not Pavers

No. This is not me.

In yet another one of those “stop the presses” moments I am becoming known for, today’s breaking news headline is: I RESTAINED THE DECK!

This announcement ranks right up there in terms of earth-shatteringness with my last post where you heard me tell you that I MADE THE BED!

Ah, the small victories of retirement.

Our deck was chipped and tacky when we moved here to Fort Collins 2.5 years ago. And it has not miraculously healed itself in the interim. In fact, it has only gotten tackier and chippier.

So Joan and I decided that today was the day. After power-washing, sanding, cleaning, and sweeping, it was ALL HANDS ON DECK for the transformational re-staining.

(See what I did there?)

It all went well. In fact, it was done and dry before a freak afternoon rain shower doused everything with refreshment from on high. 

But wouldn’t you know it; right in the middle of taking a brush to the deck’s exposed edges, a Valuable Life Illustration popped up right in front of me. 

There I was, down on my hands and knees. I had a paintbrush in my hand and was trying to be extra cautious about where the stain ended up, when my hand slipped. A drop and a 1.5-inch stroke of stain ended up on one of the paver stones that form the perimeter of the deck.

Not a big stain, certainly. Noticeable by only a super-meticulous inspector. But a stain, nevertheless. There was now deck stain where there wasn’t supposed to be deck stain. And because the surface on which the stain landed was porous cement, that stain was there to STAY! 

No amount of scrubbing, turpentine, soap, or water will ever change that fact. 

And so, as I knelt there and beheld my boo-boo, I wondered; “Are there people who look at mistakes in their lives the way I am looking at the stain on this paver? Do they look at the pain they’ve caused, the boundaries they’ve violated, the lives they’ve tarnished with a sense of HOPELESSNESS and DESPAIR? Do they gnash their teeth, look to heaven and wail, ‘It’s RUINED! I can never UNDO this damage I’ve done!’”

In one sense, of course, they’re exactly right. A burnt batch of muffins cannot be unburned. A trust betrayed cannot be unbetrayed. And despite what we see in Superman and science fiction movies, mere humans cannot turn the clock backwards to the moment BEFORE our royal screw-up. 

The damage is done. The toothpaste is out of the tube. The stain is on the paver.

And yet, in another, much more important sense, “they” are wrong.

Dead wrong.

King David – one of the Bible’s biggest screwups – believed in God’s power to remove even the stubbornest stain of sin. As he lamented his crimes of lust, adultery, murder, and deceit in Psalm 51 he wailed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7, NRSVU). He knew that God – and ONLY God – could do what no earthly turpentine ever could.

In the divine act of forgiveness, God doesn’t change our past. Instead, God’s forgiveness changes our FUTURE. God knows that without forgiveness, we’d be trapped. There would be no choice for us but to see the die as irreversibly cast… the future as a dead-end alleyway… the paver stone as forever stained.

Jesus understood the life transforming nature of forgiveness and declared it often. One time, in fact, Peter – trying to pose as some kind of super-generous, super-compassionate follower, came up to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  

He was hoping to hear Jesus say, “WOW! Forgive somebody seven times? That’s amazing! That’s incredible! Unheard of! Peter, you ROCK!”

But instead, Jesus set him straight. He sat Peter down and said, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NRSVU). Some translations have Jesus answering, “Seventy times seven.”Which, incidentally, equals 490.


Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus ENACTED forgiveness. But he also COMMANDED forgiveness from his followers. The disciple John put it perfectly when he wrote, “… but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NRSVU).

I guess what I am trying to say is: people are not pavers. 

They CAN be un-stained.

Abundant blessings; 

12
May
22

A Little Corner of Order

We made the bed this morning.

A well-made bed

Yipppeee!! Skippy!!

And when I say, “…we made the bed,” of course I mean JOAN – on her own – made the bed. 

Sometimes I help with the bedmaking. When I am around, that is. But many times, I am up and out the door before the bedmaking time happens.

And so, Joan cheerfully tucks and straightens the sheets, fluffs the pillows, folds the comforter, and carefully puts those little, purely decorative pillows in their places.

Hold on nowWhy does this silly stuff even matter?” you are no doubt asking me right now. “Who cares about you and your absurd housekeeping practices? Let’s spend this time talking about some REAL stuff… stuff like Ukraine… or COVID… or abortion. You are really testing my patience here, clown boy.”

First of all, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? And second of all, hang in there, bub. You just might discover there is more here than meets the eye. 

Let me start my defense by asking you a question; when you open your front door and peer outside, what do you see? What kind of world lurks out there? 

Here is what I see: I see a world of pain. And chaos. And brokenness. I see a world desperately seeking redemption. I see a world largely without answers. I see a world that – for the most part – I really don’t have even a microscopic amount of influence over. 

I’m convinced it is also a world that God – because of God’s infinite, unconditional love for this world – spends a LOT of time weeping over. 

Beyond what I see, I also hear something. I hear God’s gentle, urging voice. It is whispering to me, “Russell, GO. Do what you can. Be MY hands and feet and heart. Create a corner – even if it is just a tiny corner – in that broken, pain-filled world that reminds people of what MY kingdom looks like.”

And for me, one of the key characteristics of God’s kingdom (i.e., a kingdom that works according to the blueprint God had BEFORE Adam and Eve messed everything up) is ORDER

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Harmony.

Cohesion.

Connection.

Interrelationship.

And so, I choose to start my day with a regular, tangible picture of what order looks like. 

I choose to make my bed.  

(Rather, as you saw above, JOAN chooses to make my bed. But you know what I mean.)

By my count (rather, by the count of the special feature on my Bible app), Jesus talks about the kingdom of God at least 117 times. It is clearly a topic that matters to him… a LOT! 

And yet we remember that Jesus also lived in the middle of a broken, pain-filled, unjust, chaotic world. He lived in a world that was DESPERATE for redemption, healing, and wholeness. 

And so, when he talked to people, he tried to paint vivid word pictures of what a healed, whole, restored world might look like. He talked about mustard seeds, and grains of wheat, and pearls of great price, and treasures hidden in a field. He tried to help them understand the reality of the Hope Beyond Hope at the center of his earthly ministry. 

In other words, he tried to help people visualize what The World According to God will look like when it comes to be. 

And although I can’t provide you any actual, scriptural warrants for it, I am pretty sure Jesus made his bed every morning.

Don’t worry. In case you are not inclined that way, I am pretty sure God loves non-bedmakers just as much as He loves bedmakers. Be that as it may, He is saying the same thing to you that He says to me every morning. He is saying, “GO. Do what you can. Be MY hands and feet and heart. Create a corner – even if it is just a tiny corner – in that broken, pain-filled world that reminds people of what MY kingdom looks like.”

And then, when you get home at night, sink restfully into that beautiful, orderly, well-made bed and REST!

Abundant blessings;

03
May
22

Holy Unsettledness!

I love to travel.

In fact, Joan and I just returned from a great, nine-day trip to the state of New Mexico. In fact, if you’d like some tips on things to see and do in Taos, or White Sands National Park (Sand. The attraction there is SAND), or Cloudcroft, or at Carlsbad Caverns, drop me a line. (revruss1220@gmail.com).

There are delights and surprises around every corner in New Mexico. We discovered that it is a very EMPTY place, too. Small wonder our government chose it as the perfect place to blow up atomic bombs, test missiles, and hide aliens.

Enchanting, indeed.

Along with the adventure of travel, though, comes no small degree of unsettledness. What I mean is, you spend the whole time driving on strange roads, sleeping in strange beds, seeing strange sights, eating strange food, and meeting all manner of strange people. 

Yes… you are correct to remind me that breaking out of the daily, predictable pattern of life is the whole point of travel. But it is also no surprise that I usually return home from a trip carrying a peculiar mixture of sadness and relief in my heart.

“WHEW!” I said out loud as we finally pulled into our driveway. “Home again AT LAST! Back to predictability. Back to my OWN bed and back to our ‘normal’ lives. Back to settledness.”

Later that day… after the car had been unpacked and the first load of laundry started… I began thinking. As I listened to the gentle “ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump” of the clothes dryer, I wondered, “As good as it is to be back to the predictable places and patterns of HOME, is it possible to fall too much in love with this kind of ‘settledness’? Could I – or could anyone for that matter – ever make an idol out of ROUTINE and PREDICTABILITY?”

I think we all know the answer to that question, don’t we?

As much as we gasp in horror when our apple carts are unceremoniously upset, we each know the truth. And the truth is this: sometimes apple carts need to be upset. Sometimes routines need to be disrupted. Sometimes sacred cows need to be turned into delicious hamburgers. 

We see plenty of stories of that very thing happening in the Bible. God plucked a very settled, successful man named Abram from the middle of the comfortable life he was living there in Haran and told him to go to “a land which I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NRSV).

Later, God set a bush on fire in the middle of the Sinai wilderness, interrupting the quiet afternoon reverie of a shy, stuttering young shepherd, and told him to, “… bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NRSV). 

Over and over and over again in the Bible, we see God snatching the TV remote out of people’s hands, tossing them off the couch, and yelling, “Get up! I’ve got a TASK for you… a task that will UPEND the comfortable, SETTLED life you are living right now!”

You might even say that this kind of thing happens SO often we might conclude that it happens ON PURPOSE! God seems to keep pulling people – ordinary people like you and me – OUT of our routines to accomplish God’s purposes. 

Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

It MAY BE that God is calling you RIGHT NOW to step out of your comfort zone and do something extraordinary to accomplish those purposes.

Then again, it may not be. I think back to the 13th century monk, Brother Lawrence, who spent his life cooking in the monastery kitchen as his act of devotion. He found ways to infuse holiness into every pot he washed, every potato he peeled, and every brick of every floor he scrubbed. 

Whether settled or not. Whether routine or not. Whether predictable or not. I think the point is to be READY to respond completely and unequivocally to God’s call. 

Happy travels!

Abundant blessings;




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