Posts Tagged ‘new life

24
Aug
20

Clearing the Underbrush

WildfireIt hit me as soon as I walked out the door.

Patrick the dog and I were headed out for our long Saturday morning walk. But after five steps and two breaths, it became abundantly clear that our walk on this particular Saturday would just be to the end of the cul-de-sac and back.

You see, we have wildfires burning about 60 miles to the west of our house here in Fort Collins, Colorado. They aren’t as big as those currently burning in California (these only cover a mere 17,000 acres), but they are big enough.

At times, when the wind is just right, the city of Fort Collins is blanketed with thick smoke. It stings your eyes and burns your lungs. The air quality is listed as, “Hazardous for all individuals” by the county health authorities.

Not ideal dog-walking conditions.

As we listen to news reports on the status of the fire-fighting efforts, Joan and I were surprised to hear that very little is currently being done to fight this fire. There are teams on the ground monitoring the situation, yes. But there are no air tankers dropping flame retardants, no big buckets scooping water out of the lake to dump on it, no fire hoses being aimed at the flames.

It is just being watched as it burns.

When I expressed my frustration about this perplexing nonchalance to a neighbor, he smiled a knowing smile and explained, “These things happen every couple of years and are a part of the natural cycle of things. Right now, they are just making sure it doesn’t get out of control and threaten any houses.”

I nodded and thanked him for his insight, but inside I was saying, WHAT? You can’t be serious! Do you really think it is OK to let fire destroy all those trees and choke us with the smoke and ash? What kind of looney tunes philosophy is THAT?”

As it turns out, it is a very sound philosophy indeed.

You see, in the forest, trees die. Leaves fall to the ground. Underbrush accumulates. Dead vegetation threatens to choke out the living. And so periodically, it all needs to be cleaned out. And as it turns out, the cleaning tool that works best for Mother Nature is FIRE.

Every now and then a fire is needed to sweep through and destroy all the dead stuff… to clear the way for something new and fresh and green to be born.

And when I heard that explanation, I began wondering: does God ever take the same approach with us?

What I mean is; do you think we (the human population of Planet Earth) ever get to the point where too much “dead underbrush” has built up in our hearts or in the world? [Metaphorically speaking, of course.]

  • Do you think it’s possible that this “dead underbrush” ever becomes so vast that it threatens to choke out the possibility of anything new popping up and growing?
  • Do you think it is possible that God has identified a periodic need to do a massive “clearing out” of this spiritual and emotional underbrush?
  • Is it conceivable that something that looks like devastation and destruction (something like a global pandemic, for example) might actually be something more like a cosmic press of the “RESET” button?

And finally;

  • Do you think it is possible that the way is being cleared for something new and fresh and vibrant to emerge on the other side of the current devastation?

Please understand, I have grave hesitations about asking these questions. They could sound like I’m saying that God brought about the death and destruction of COVID-19 in order to bring about something new. These questions might make it sound as if I’m saying that God is indifferent to human suffering as long as there is a “greater good” to be accomplished on the other side.

That is not what I am saying at all.

Rather I am trying to point to God’s unlimited capacity to REDEEM. That is, to take a dire and disastrous situation and use it as the fodder for something wondrous, new, and remarkable.

You know… sort of like he did with his son who died on a Roman cross?

In the short run, that thought doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to put up with the coughing, stinging, fear, and wheezing.

But it does offer us the hope that – in the long run – all of this misery just might not be wasted after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

21
Jan
20

Soul Winter

Dead leaves 2Yep.

Just poked my head out the window and confirmed something I’ve suspected for about a month now.

IT’S WINTER! (Unless, of course, you happen to live in the southern hemisphere).

And by the looks of things, it plans to continue being winter for quite a bit longer.

And so far here in my part of the country, it’s not that cute, cuddly, Currier-and-Ives kind of winter that looks like a beautiful snow globe someone has shaken up.

No. It is more that kind of slice-through-your-bones, punch-you-in-the-face, steal-all-your-joy-and-your-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-too kind of winter.

Winter is that time of year when you would swear that a massive crop-dusting plane flew over the whole country and dumped a load of DDT on everything.

In the winter, all plant life is dead. And brown. And gross. Take a look at these… I shot these pictures in our neighborhood while I was out walking the dog this morning. Note the remarkable lack of life in evidence here. Dead leaves 1

As winter trudges slowly by, it is sometimes tempting to look around at the deadness of the world and conclude that this condition will never, ever end. I have to admit… from the vantage point of January 21, 2020, warm weather and green grass seem like an impossible pipe dream somewhere out there on the eternal horizon.

Experience, however, tells us a different story. Experience keeps us from looking at the dead leaves and plunging into deep despair. Today we look at all this brown grass and detritus around but we don’t abandon hope. Even though our spirits might flag at this depressing sight, we grab ourselves by the lapels (or collar. Or bootstraps) and remind ourselves that this dreary, weary season will surely pass.

We have seen it happen before. And because we have seen it before, we are confident we will see it again.

This confidence goes by another name. It is also called FAITH.

In the case of the seasons, our faith has its roots firmly in our experience.

But what happens if we don’t have an experience like the certainty of spring to base our hope on?  What if we look around and see gloom and doom and have strong reasons to wonder if things will EVER be different?

That is precisely when a different kind of faith is called for. That is when we each need to reach a little deeper into our knapsack and search around a bit.

As a Christ-follower, I have the story of Easter to latch onto… the story that provides a graphic illustration of the truth that says, “Even when things look their bleakest, there is still hope. With God, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

As one who strives (and struggles) to live by his guidance, I can also consider myself an inheritor of the promise that Jesus gave the members of his inner circle on the night he was arrested. He told them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

In the valleys we each face from time to time, we may lack the kind of hopeful certainty that we get when we watch winter inevitably give way to spring. But God is here to remind us that God’s promise of new life on the other side of something that looks like death is just as sure… just as reliable… just as much of a “lock” as the green crocus buds that will be showing up here in a couple of months.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with your own version of a “winter of the soul,” take heart…

God’s spring is just around the corner.

10
Sep
19

An MVP Mistake

Patrick MahomesPat made a mistake.

Yes, hard to believe as it is, the All-Star phenom, Most Valuable Player quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, Patrick Mahomes, made a mistake Sunday.

He tried to throw a pass to his tight end Travis Kelce without looking in his direction at all. Kelce was wide open. The pass – accurately thrown – would have resulted in a touchdown. But instead, the ball fluttered over Kelce’s head and fell to the ground like another piece of debris on the field.

(Note to the reader: in case you are not a fan, this isn’t entirely a blog post about football. I am using football as a handy metaphor to illustrate a larger, hopefully, more important, point. Hang in with me for a minute, OK?)

Never mind that Patrick threw three other, really great touchdown passes that day. Never mind that he had more passing yards in the first quarter of the game than any NFL quarterback since Peyton Manning in 2004. Never mind that he threw no interceptions at all in the game.

He made that silly mistake in the first quarter.

Patrick, how COULD you?

I speak to you today as a man well acquainted with mistakes. I recognize them easily because in my life I have made many more than my share.

Some of my mistakes have been big. Many have been small. Some have resulted in physical or emotional injury to another person. Some have gone unnoticed by everyone except me.

Many have been caused – just like my man Patrick’s goofy, no-look pass attempt Sunday – by failing to fully or accurately assess the situation I was in… failing to adequately anticipate the consequences of an erroneous word or decision.

I suspect I am not the only one here who can list more than a few mistakes on my life resume. (Although this is probably a great moment to slip in a mention of the one thing I did really, really well some 20 years agoproposing marriage to the lovely Miss Joan Bare.)

And I will be honest; some of those mistakes still haunt my quiet moments now and then.

The question I would like to pose to us mistake makers in the crowd is: How will your mistakes from the past influence your actions in the future?

We can’t just wipe all of our mistakes from our mental/emotional hard drive as if they never happened. In each one of those miscues or mis-steps there was no doubt the seed of a valuable lesson. If we could somehow forget the mistake, we might also forget the lesson that mistake brought with it.

By the same token, we can’t blow our errors up all out of proportion and let them take over the entire narrative of our lives.

You might not be surprised to learn that Jesus has a couple of insightful thoughts on this subject that might help us figure this out. We see regular examples of this throughout his ministry, but one of the most vivid can be found in the story of his encounter with the “woman caught in adultery” in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel.

The woman clearly messed up. Badly. The Mosaic Law was unequivocal about what should happen to adulterers. A small knot of righteous religious men stood ready to inflict deadly consequences on the woman when Jesus stepped in.

After challenging the would-be judges to examine their own track records and mistakes, Jesus sends the woman on her way with these words: “’Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”(John 8:10b-11, NRSV).

I think we are meant to hear a word for our own lives in this story. Personally, I hear Jesus saying to me, “Russell, your mistakes do not tell the whole story of your life. Learn from them so that you don’t repeat them. And then go and live the new life of a forgiven, redeemed man.”

Thanks, Jesus. I really needed to hear that today.

And the same goes for you, Mahomie!

13
Mar
18

Viriditas

Tulips in springIt’s happening.

Can you feel it?

If you stand REEEEEEALLLY still and cock your head a little to the left you can almost hear the new blades of grass shoving against the soil.

In a few places around my yard, a foolhardy daffodil or two has even broached the surface, looked around and hollered, “HEY! Where is everybody?? It’s springtime, Y’all!! Let’s get this party STARTED!!”

Right here where we sit on the calendar… right after the arrival of Daylight Saving Time… is positively pregnant with promise.

It’s a time of becoming.

It’s a time of eager anticipation.

It’s a time that teases us with visions of endless possibility.

It is also a time when I inevitably miss the message God has hidden inside the buds of the lilac bush.

I glance around my yard and my neighborhood, noting the dynamic costume change going on and mistakenly believe THAT is the main attraction.

You’ve seen it too; trees start pulling on their pale green sweaters … flowerbeds begin spreading their multi-hued quilts… dead, brown straw wakes up and breaks out the vibrant spring wardrobe.

I take it all in and say to myself, “THAT’S what I need! I need to SPIFF IT UP a bit! I need to break out some new threads! I need to do the same kind of extreme make-over I see happening all around me in the natural world. That is what will breathe new life into my weary soul!”

And so that’s what I do.

I start a new project.

I plan a new adventure.

I buy a new pair of shoes.

And in the process, I totally miss the real message hidden in the buds of spring.

As it turns out, the Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), observed the coming of spring nearly a millennium ago and accurately captured its true meaning.

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation, quoted Hildegard and observed, “[She] often used the word viriditas, the greening of things from within…. She recognized a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She also saw an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to ‘Become who you are; become all that you are.’” 

When the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking answers to life’s persistent mysteries, Jesus told him rather directly to attain the new life he was seeking meant that he would have to be, “… born of water and spirit.” (John 3:5).

In other words, Nicodemus needed to “green from within.”

There is no doubt that the time of greening up and sprucing up is upon us. Heck, it might even be time for a new tie, pair of shoes or dress… whichever suits you best.

But as we take one more admiring glance in the mirror, let’s try to remember that the real transformation needs to start from WITHIN.

Abundant blessings…

16
Feb
18

R is for Redemption

(This post will be the first in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I love the table in our breakfast room. In fact, it is the table where I now sit and write these words you are reading.

Besides being a great writing surface and just the right size and shape for Sunday dinners with the family, I discovered a whole new trick this table can perform – it can serve as an illustration of a theological principle that resides deep in the core of my identity.

Here’s what I mean: while the legs and frame of this table are new, the tabletop is made out of reclaimed barn wood. Here is a picture of the table… complete with the Table top picinappropriately colored table runner I bought one day from a street vendor in Guatemala.

If you look hard at the surface of this table you can see nail marks, cracks, scratches and a wide range of other kinds of imperfections.

The barn that gave birth to our tabletop (located, we were told, somewhere in central Missouri) had been abandoned long ago. The wood was exposed to the blistering sun, pouring rain, and dramatic temperature swings as the barn just sat there, ignored… unappreciated… unused.

No one knew what its original color was as all of its paint had long since peeled and fallen off.

One day the owners decided it was time to tear that old barn down to make way for something else. Fortunately, a furniture builder came by just then and offered to buy all of the wood planking from the barn.

And VOILA! We have REDEMPTION.

That which had been cast aside and labeled as useless was suddenly given a new purpose. Yes, it did take a little work to transform those weathered planks into a serviceable table, but here they are: living a new life as a vital element of our breakfast room… making vital, daily contributions to our family’s well-being.

Most of the time we see redemption as only about being saved. As Psalm 34:22 saysThe Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 72:14 makes a similar appeal when it says, “From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

The barn wood variety of redemption, however, has two components: salvation and rebirth. That barn wood did not simply avoid being turned into kindling. While retaining its essential identity, that wood was transformed into something else completely!

I see Jesus as an agent of “barn wood redemption.” He not only set people free from lives that were seen as discarded, useless, and unproductive. He set them on new paths, gave them new identities, and – most importantly – RECLAIMED their original identities as beloved children of God.

I know that God has begun a huge redemption project in my life. I can’t wait to see where it is headed!




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