Posts Tagged ‘God

08
Sep
18

The Perfect Day

Weather radar picHere where I live, it has been raining all day today.

It also rained a bit yesterday, but then it rained a LOT the day before.

All this rain helped me remember an innocent, idle thought from Monday… the day before all the rain decided to come calling. It was nothing… just a blip that briefly flitted through my brain.

When the thought came I was out walking. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, and the temperature was a perfect 73 degrees.

In fact, everything about that moment was perfect… including my health and overall disposition. In concert with this amazing symphony of perfection, I thought, “Wow! How cool! I wish I could hang on to this moment FOREVER!”

I am sure everyone has had at least one “golden moment” like that… if not recently, then certainly in the not-too-distant past.

I hardly had time to wipe the smile off my face when that thought balloon popped, only to be replaced by the next one, which said, “Are you sure you mean that?” followed quickly by one that read, “Do you realize what you are actually saying?”

“Well, yes, I thought I did,” I said. “What’s wrong with yearning for a perfect life and perfect world?”

But then I began to visualize the answer to my own question. What if it was ALWAYS 73 degrees? What if it NEVER rained? What if clouds never formed in the sky above me? What if I was always chipper and pain-free and strong?

I suppose residents of San Diego, CA can cope with that kind of horrible nightmare, but the more I thought about it, the less that vision appealed to me. I realized it would be a life of utter monotony. All of the color and texture and variety of life would dry up and blow away… not to mention the grass and trees in my front yard.

And then I wondered; is that really what I mean by the word “perfection”? An endless monotone progression of bland, pleasing sameness? Do I really yearn for a life devoid of change, challenge, or uncertainty?

Taken to its extreme, of course, the concept of “perfection through uniformity” is the vision that gives birth to systems where difference is punished and variation becomes the enemy.

On second thought, no thanks. I’ll opt instead for the world God created. And by that, I mean the world where the weather changes, where seasons are different, where people speak different languages, prefer different foods, love different movies, and vote for different candidates.

Yeah. Give me that kind of perfection. Give me the perfection of change, difference, diversity, novelty, and surprise.

Bring on the rain!

27
Aug
18

That Safe Place

Rosie in The PoseMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our 10-month old, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

To say that Rosie is energetic is to say Kansas is flat or the sun is hot. In other words, it is to VASTLY understate the reality of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges Joan and I face each day is figuring out where to put things in order to keep them safe from Rosie’s eager, inquisitive reach.

There was – for example – the night we went to the baseball game with friends. The idea was to have them come back to our place after the game for some of Joan’s yummy peach cobbler. The cobbler was baked ahead of time and had been shoved all the way to the rear of the kitchen counter… presumably safely out of Rosie’s reach.

Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the kitchen that night and found the pan of cobbler on the kitchen floor, big chunks of it missing in action. Beside it, of course, the innocent, angelic face of sweet Rosie… cobbler crumbs stuck to her beard.

This incident happened over a month ago. Since then, Rosie has grown a few more inches and has an even longer reach. It seems now that only the highest shelves in the closet are now safe from her exploring paws.

Thinking back on that moment (and similar moments with Rosie since then), I was reminded of some of my early adventures in faith. The common link between the two – I realized – is the central question: “Where is the safest place to put it?” Today the “it” is Joan’s peach cobbler. Back then the “it” was my faith.

In my earliest years, I placed my faith in my mom and dad. They were the walking, talking, living, breathing, definition of Ultimate Reality. Their word was Law, their wisdom was unfathomable, and their protection was ironclad.

Right up until, of course, it wasn’t.

Every child at some point experiences a rude awakening to the finite flawedness of mom and dad, and I was no exception. Whether it was that first argument of theirs I happened to overhear, or (in my childlike opinion) an entirely unjustified punishment, or something else, I’m not sure. But I know that at some point the pedestal cracked. I still loved them, of course, but no longer placed 100% of my faith in them.

When I started school, I discovered that my earliest teachers were unlimited fountains of knowledge… book knowledge, life knowledge, cultural knowledge and – in the case of my second-grade teacher Mrs. Forrer – baseball knowledge. And so I changed gears and said, “HERE is where I can put my faith! In my teachers!”

And I did. Right up to the point where I discovered that THEY were limited, too. Mrs. Olds chose to believe Andy when he said that started the fight and then Mr. Garrison could not adequately explain to me why there was such a thing as poverty.

As I grew, I kept trying. I am sure this list is incomplete, but a few of the other places I have put my faith over the years include:

  • My car(s)
  • The government (at every level – local, state, and national)
  • My own intelligence
  • My friends
  • Human nature
  • My race
  • My gender
  • My socio-economic group
  • My religious affiliation

In each case, I was certain my faith had been placed securely. Just as certain, in fact, as we were about where we placed the peach cobbler that night.

And every time that certainty came crashing to the ground… just like that pan of peach cobbler.

Has that happened to you? Are you still searching for that “next safe place” to put your faith after the last one disappointed you? Or have you given up the search entirely, convinced that no place… no person… no group will ever be capable of securely holding the precious gift of your faith?

If that describes you, listen to these words from Psalm 46. They are some of the truest words you will ever hear:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

  • Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7, NRSV

 

Abundant blessings;

21
Aug
18

Game on!

Little League signDo you like to compete?

Some people do… and some people (I understand) don’t.

And it seems as if for those who do like to compete, EVERYTHING is a competition.

Heck, I once knew a guy who was so competitive he used to time himself on how long it took to pass out the daily multi-vitamins to him and his wife. (“New personal best today!” 16.2 seconds!!)

OK… I’ll come clean. That was me.

I will confess to being one of those competition junkies… you know, people who not only love sports but who also tread very close to the line of professing that competition is the essence of life.

(It’s not, by the way.)

Thankfully I am not addicted to competition to the point of wagering or insisting that everything else in life must revolve around me getting my sports fix. It is, however, not out of the question to conclude that I may occasionally have a hard time maintaining eye contact with my wife when there is a game being televised at the place where we are having dinner.

And it is not just sport. It is most of them. No…, not golf. No, not hockey. Not bowling. Not NASCAR. Not professional bass fishing. Not NBA basketball.

But pretty much everything else. Why just last night my son and I were sitting spellbound in front of a professional cricket match between Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago.

Last month, as my siblings and I were in Washington State scattering my dad’s ashes, we spent time reflecting on all the ways – good and bad – that dad influenced us. We agreed that his very advanced case of Sports-o-philia had a decided effect on all five of us.

I guess I’m saying I come by this affliction honestly. Or at least genetically.

Sports are fun, don’t get me wrong. There is the unexpectedness, the “anything can happen” element, the hometown pride they (sometimes) create, the spectacle of human athleticism on display, and the camaraderie that is all part of being a FAN (short for FANATIC).

But as much enjoyment as I receive from sports (both in the watching and the playing), I can’t help but wonder what kind of atmosphere all the attention to sports really creates in this country… economic benefits aside.

Some would argue – and I have heard them – that competition is what makes this country GREAT. Good ideas bumping heads with each other in healthy, open competition inevitably produce GREAT ideas.

Some defend the value of competition by quoting Proverbs 27:17 and reminding us that, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”

But I also know that by its very nature competition creates WINNERS and LOSERS. I know that when we place such a high value on the outcome of our competitions, people come to understand those categories (winner and loser), as something larger than just a fleeting status report.

They come to understand them as statements of personal IDENTITY.

People can get way too caught up in the outcome of an event that is meant to be nothing more than a trifling pastime… witness the fact that Super Bowl Sunday is always the day when record numbers of domestic violence incidents are reported.

When any of us come to see the yardstick of our eternal worth as the WON/LOSS record of our hometown football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or croquet team, it is time to give ourselves a quick “Matthew 6:26” reality check.

And so, as you despondently look up from the sports page, having just seen that your “boys in blue” are 36 games out of first place with 42 games left to play in the season, hear Jesus whispering in your ear and saying,  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Look up and say, “Why yes I am!”

And then go out and have a nice, uncompetitive game of catch with your kid.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Aug
18

Scattered

 

Us on Ranier

Left to right: my son Graham, Alan, Eric, me, Douglas. Not pictured: mother of the bride, Melinda. Sorry, sissy.

A couple of weeks ago, my siblings and I had one of our all-too-rare get-togethers.

 

Rare because hanging out regularly is hard when separated by 2,000 miles of American soil. As providence would have it, the occasion of my niece’s wedding (in the lovely Cascade Mountain town of Roslyn, Washington) offered us a great excuse to do some yakking and catching up.

I’m not sure if I have ever said this here before, but I LOVE my brothers and my sister. They are some of the sharpest, funniest, kindest, looniest human beings you will ever have the joy of meeting. I automatically become a better person simply by spending time in their presence.

ALL visits with them are too short… no matter how long they are.

But besides kibitzing and marrying off Melinda’s youngest daughter, we had another assignment to carry out. We decided this would be a great time to carry out an ash-scattering our dad had requested as part of his final instructions to us.

Not only had dad drawn up a detailed plan for his funeral service prior to his death in January 2017, (including scripture readings, music, and poetry to be read), he also made up a list of five places where his cremated ashes were to be scattered.

As we stood there on the flanks of Mt. Rainer and scattered 1/5 of dad’s earthly remains, we also read a poem… written by one of the pastors dad served with early on in his ministry.

Part of the time included sharing some reflections on all of the ways dad’s influence helped shape us into the people we are today. I hope to offer some of those thoughts in a later posting.

And even though this poem clearly endorses cremation vs. burial of the body, I don’t offer this as a condemnation of those who choose burial.

I simply wanted to share that poem here, both as a way of celebrating the unique and unrepeatable life of George C. Brown, Jr., but also as one way of thinking about what is left behind when the breath of life leaves these mortal bodies of ours.

CREMATION

For me, no sepulcher when I am stilled, no grave to hold

Disintegrating into dust that part of me which loving life

Met each morning, wonder-filled.

Instead, to the winds my elements fling! That they may, perchance,

With lilting song reach high hills at sunset,

And meadows wet with dew where I have longed to go.

No marble shaft, engraved with platitudes when I am gone.

Only some heart, once loved, to realize that my eager mind

And long-suppressed dreams have been lured to greater altitudes.

The winds will search across the universe, find blue waters,

Moon drenched plains, little coves…

A thousand havens I have longed to see.

Deep vales at daybreak where white mists rest… there I will be.

Yet part of me, ever and anon, will hesitate, rise high into the sunlight

Then ride a homing breeze to linger briefly

On a dear one’s breast.

So look not down, when henceforth you think of me,

You, whom I so much love!

But lift your heads, your eyes, your hearts,

And look up, over, above, and beyond… for there I will be!

And now may the sweet benediction of God’s love, peace, and grace

Rest upon this life that has closed in our midst… but has not closed.

In faith and high hope, we commit his body

To the elements from which it came…

And his spirit to the God who gave it.  AMEN!

– Rev. Dr. Floyd Faust

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

27
Jul
18

Daily Lifting

Weight liftingA couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were doing some landscaping.

There were some new bushes to plant, but in order to do so, holes first had to be dug.

Normally I don’t mind digging holes… especially if they are for the purpose of receiving a new, decorative plant.

On this occasion, however, my hole digging encountered an obstacle. There was a big rock buried about six inches below the surface that had to be removed before further digging was possible.

Did I mention the rock was big? It was actually capital B-I-G big!

I would have preferred to just go find another place to dig and leave the rock where it was, but in this case “another place” was not really an option. Symmetry demanded it go right THERE.

And so I dug around it as much as I could, but then had to try and reach under it and just pull it out with my bare hands.

It was danged heavy and required a lot of grunting, tugging, sweating, and praying. In the end, I was finally able to free the rock from its comfortable resting place.

Planting could now commence.

In the process of this effort, I noticed something very interesting. I noticed that the final effort to lift the rock out of the hole required some real strength. And because I am a guy who follows a regular regimen of exercise that includes resistance training (i.e., weight lifting), I had the strength necessary to lift out the rock.

On a day-to-day basis, however, my work doesn’t require me to lift a lot of rocks. (Pastors usually try to give jobs like that to church committees.)HOWEVER… without the routine of working out and steadily building up my strength, I would not have been prepared for that one, extraordinary moment.

I think it is safe to say that we can see the same principle at work in regard to the way we develop our connection with God.

Day in and day out we may not face situations that require an intense, concentrated, super-powerful connection with the Source of All That Is. We may not be faced with decisions that might alter the course of our – or someone else’s – lives… we may not be desperately in search of “the peace that passes understanding” in order to make it to and through the next moment.

But if we are not routinely and consistently engaging in the practices that habituate us to the sound of God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might be just as unprepared for that kind of spiritual “heavy lifting” as I would have been to physically lift that rock in my garden.

To clarify: I am not saying that God’s help and presence are conditional or that God ignores your cry if you aren’t a daily pray-er. I am merely trying to reiterate the insight we find in James 4:8 – “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

I’d like to say more on the subject, but it’s a great day outside and lawn work awaits.

 

Abundant blessings;

19
Jul
18

Unedited You

Writing is hard.

WritingWriting well is harder. (Or should that be “Writing good…”?)

Yet, in spite of all the hurdles and pitfalls involved, I would much rather write than talk.

The problem with talking is that it is so… INSTANT. A situation arises… words are called for… they spill out of your mouth in some kind of order… and then all sorts of conclusions and assumptions begin congealing around them.

There was that time – for example – when I decided to break the ice with a complete stranger over the cold cut tray at a friend’s Christmas party. “So…” my chatty banter began, “Are you one of Fred’s neighbors who are part of the effort to fight that nasty development the ABC Real Estate Company is planning for the neighborhood?”

“Well, no,” the stranger replied… very deliberately. “I am actually on the board of directors of the ABC Real Estate Company.”

Or then there was that other time when a 50ish couple was leaving the worship service with an uber-cute six-or-seven-year-old boy in tow. I had not recalled seeing them before, so to make a little friendly conversation as hands were being shaken I smiled and said, “Oh! Is this your grandson you’ve brought with you to church today!”

Their smiles suddenly faded, replaced by a now frosty façade as the man replied, “No. This is our SON.”

Strangely I don’t think we saw them too many times in church after that.

But when I am here at my keyboard, I enjoy an INFINITE number of chances to start… stop… correct… erase… edit… and perfect my words before they ever cross your radar screen. If something looks even the slightest bit askew, POOF! Away it goes into the electronic ether.

When I write, I can look back and notice that I have used the word AMAZING five times in a row. Then I can simply mouse over at least two “amazings”, right click to pull up the thesaurus function and replace them with “startling” and “remarkable” and end up sounding a little less dull and unimaginative than I really am.

Writing takes a lot more work than talking, to be sure. But I really prefer presenting the world with EDITED Russell vs. UNEDITED, raw Russell.

EDITED Russell is smooth and articulate. He uses the right word at the right time. His conversation is sprinkled with texture, nuance, and wit. Heck, he can even be called borderline witty and wise now and then.

UNEDITED Russell can be downright clumsy. He hesitates… uses the wrong word at the wrong time… offends people – always unintentionally, of course. He often lets emotions rather than cool, thorough thoughtfulness shape his words. In the right situation, he has even been known to let a profanity escape his lips.

People find edited Russell likable… but they admit unedited Russell can often be more than a little annoying.

All of which makes God and God’s assessment system a marvel that most of us will never even come close to wrapping our minds around.

That’s because – as I read the words of scripture – God not only LOVES unedited Russell, and (insert your name here…) – God actually PREFERS the unedited version of each of us. God’s emissary, Paul of Tarsus, tells his church in Rome, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6, NRSV).

King David was a big advocate of coming to God with one’s complete, unvarnished, unedited self and just laying it out there in its most raw form. At the time of one of his deepest funks, he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”(Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

And apparently, God doesn’t want us to edit ourselves OR our prayers. That’s why there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

So I’m sure I will probably continue to edit my writing. I will make every attempt to edit my speaking, thinking, and acting… especially when you and I are together.

But let’s just all take this moment to rejoice at the reminder that God’s nature is to open his arms wide and give a big ol’ godly bear hug to the real, unedited YOU.




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