Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fried like a worm on a summer sidewalk.

You just can’t convince me that all of these worms were suicidal. What could make a worm so miserable, so disenchanted with their existence, so despairing of all hope? Bad soil? Lawn mowers? Post-sprinkler bird attacks?

No. I refuse to believe that any worm wakes up (assuming worms sleep) plotting his own demise. So there’s another reason for this large number of barbecued annelids. My guess is that they didn’t know what hit them: they slowly crawled in the wrong direction, disregarding the buddy rule and heedless to the heat and exposure of their path. Theirs is not a pretty death. They’re permanently mashed into the sidewalk, flattened beyond a relative’s recognition by a post-mortem shoe or tire.

Perhaps these fried worms aspired to be the first in their community to make it across the sidewalk alive. Or perhaps they were blissfully ignorant, or curious, or distracted, or negligent. Whatever their reason for being so reckless, they caught fire before they could turn and save themselves.

On a hot afternoon walk this past week, I took mercy on a worm writhing in the throes of near-death on the sidewalk—I kicked him back into the grassy lawn from which he came. I guess in a weird way I saw myself in him. Bear with me as I use these fried worms allegorically, but I see a lesson to be learned here. How many times have I made a series of small but bad choices, or even just lost track of where I was and what I was supposed to be doing, only to find myself in sin’s sizzling path?

Our heart naturally leads us off course: it is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). Kris Lundgaard writes in The Enemy Within, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, the law of sin is with you step for step—in the best you do, in the worst you do. How often do you think about the fact that you carry around in you a deadly companion?”

The author of Hebrews warns us: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened [or fried or smashed] by sin’s deceitfulness.”

I wonder if the sidewalk worm would ever say with the apostle Paul, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I hate this sidewalk (sin), but here I am, sizzling in its heat!

Oh, but “God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything” (1 John 3:20)! He has given us His Spirit, His Word, and His Church so that we keep from frying on that sidewalk. “He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). He has provided us a lush, lavish, beautiful, grassy lawn in Himself—and the more we know and love Him, the more we hate the sidewalk of sin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swallow my pride. Grow an apple tree.

Sometimes my pride is so thick, a steak knife couldn’t cut it. It’s all fatty and beefy and saucy and tough. I can’t swallow it, that’s for sure.

It would be fitting and humorous and effective in this blog to share some examples of my pride with you, but… I’m too proud. So I’ll leave you thinking I’m amazing. Likeable. Fun. Godly. Faithful. Successful. Loving. Talented. Worthy of being imitated. Better than you.

Are you still reading?

If there’s even a hint of true humility in me, it’s a work of God Himself. Nothing in me naturally wants to look out for your needs before mine. Not one iota of my flesh desires to reveal how inherently, disgustingly sinful I really am. And it is not easy for me to bow to God’s will above my own. I was born thinking that my way is best, I know what’s best, and I am the best.

Oh, but there is a cure for pride like mine. And it ain’t a bigger knife.

The ultimate remedy for our sinful condition is Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. But God didn’t stop at the empty tomb. That would have been more than enough, more than we deserve (since we deserve hell); but He is so good to us that He promises to finish the work He began—conforming us to be like Him. (And that sounds so “Christianeez,” but becoming more like Him means wholeness and purpose and passion and fullness of joy and true freedom and peace and unbelievable glory and on and on....!!)

I think that one of the greatest of God’s conforming tools is much more painful than that steak knife. It’s the dreaded scalpel of…


John Bunyan put it this way in his Advice to Sufferers: “We also, before the temptation comes, think we can walk upon the sea, but when the winds blow, we feel ourselves begin to sink….And yet doth it yield no good unto us? We could not live without such turnings of the hand of God upon us. We should be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winters. It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there.”

My Lord faithfully sends the winds and winters to keep me from thinking that I can walk on water or grow apples on my own tree. I’m not better than anyone else. I’m not impressive or worthy of imitating. I’m not talented or successful. But I am deeply, unconditionally, infinitely loved by the One whose way is best, the One who knows what is best, and the One who IS the Best.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Corner on the Market

I’m happy with my bran muffin and cup of black coffee this morning only because I don’t have a choice. Euro Café looked abysmal, but it was the only breakfast option inside the BWI security checkpoint near Gate C6.

After taking my first bite of said bran muffin (and I use the term “bran” loosely, as it definitely tastes more like a flour-butter-sugar cake with brown food coloring), I realized that Euro Café could serve five-day-old bread crusts with cheap icing and it would still stay in business, with a long line of malnourished travelers—asked to content themselves on miniscule bags of snack mix once en route. Euro Café is just lucky to have a corner on the market, or the competition would surely sink it within a week. (No—make that a day. I just took my first sip of coffee.)

And it strikes me that Jesus, being the Only Option we have for eternal life, could get away with a lot if He so chose. He could slack off or be mean or moody, or just decide to withhold His best and offer a cheap substitute. And He wouldn’t have to give an account to us or justify Himself or answer for the lack thereof because we don’t have any alternative. Want eternal life? You’ve got just one choice.

But instead of cutting corners and leaving us starving, He has given us everything, His very life, so that we could live abundantly. He makes Himself really, really, exceedingly good to us. He says He’s the Only Way and then gives us more in Himself than we can ever imagine or comprehend or fully enjoy. And He’s not good just for that first taste, but He’s also continually, increasingly good, ever surprising us with how great He truly is. I love how Psalm 63:5 puts it: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.”

Our enemy and our flesh quickly deceive us with the classic lie: “God’s trying to cheat you out of something good.” Eve’s not the only one to fall for such a ridiculous lie. If we were completely honest, most of us would admit that we have at times believed God to be chintzy, cheap, withholding what would make us most happy or what seems best for us.

How little we understand about eternal realities. Oh, my soul, you have been given all you need in Christ—and more! “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Date at dawn

It's 6:01 on Friday morning, and I'm at my neighborhood Panera Bread in the heights of Redlands. These days I get up between 4:30 and 5:00 to make it here by the time the doors open. My Bible and C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain" sit beside my cup of coffee.

There's a group of old men that beats me to the door every morning. (One of them drives a red PT Cruiser and dresses as if he'll be attending the Santa Anita horse races this afternoon. I wonder what he looks like without that hat on.) The men take up the two tables by the door and talk for hours on end.

Another old man sits by himself a few tables away and reads through his Coke-bottle glasses. He carries a manila folder with a big superman-like S drawn on the front. I'd like to know what's in that folder.

Then there's a quiet Asian woman whose hair is always pulled back into a ponytail and who reads her Bible and journals--and then slips out quietly around 6:45. Once or twice a week, six medical doctors convene at the big conference table in the middle of the restaurant. They eat bagels and talk about important stuff.

The classical music doesn't start playing until about 6:15, just about the time one of the Panera employees pulls the cafe umbrellas outside. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone sitting outside this early in the morning. It's too cold. Too dark.

Of all the Panera regulars, my two favorites are about to walk through the door: two Redlands High girls whom I became friends with in this corner of the restaurant last Monday morning. I wonder if any of the students at our school would, of their own volition, get up and go sit at a coffee shop at 6:30 in the morning?

The periwinkle sky has just caught my eye, and it looks like the midnight's lighthearted storm left behind some billowy remains. It's beautiful. Everything is wet and cloudy and peaceful. Just what my heart needs before my day full of responsibilities that far exceed my capabilities.

Which is why my favorite part of Panera is the part that's unseen and indescribable. Unbeknownst to everyone around me, there's someone else at my table with me. I walk in here every morning in desperate need of more than just coffee. (Although that's pretty important, too.) I need Him. His words. His truth. His hope. His wisdom. I need to lay my day before Him and ask Him for His strength and joy.

And He gives it in abundance. He's not stingy or aloof or grumpy. He's eager to accomplish His purposes in and through me--if I'll only let Him, ask Him, wait for Him to do just that.

I want to be a regular with Jesus. I want to know what He's like and what He's up to each day. I want to sit and observe and listen and learn. And then do. I want to go from here and obey what He's spoken to my heart.

Thank You, Lord, for this little corner. This healing place. This daily cup of joy...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twelve Beans and the Shining Man (Part IV)

And then four things happened all at once. Colette suddenly felt exhausted; the sky grew ominously black; the weeping willow tree withered; and a beautiful woman dressed in white and carrying a small black box stood before her.

The woman was stunning. More beautiful than any woman Colette had ever seen, even among princesses and queens. And yet she was old. Old and wrinkled, with white hair and sparkling eyes and skin that seemed to be ablaze. Which made her beauty almost terrifying to Colette.

The sky was so low and dark that Colette felt she could reach up and touch the storm clouds with her hands. And she would have done just that, had she not been so very, very exhausted.

The beautiful woman took a step closer to Colette and looked at her with those eyes that sparkled. Like the diamond bean sparkled, thought Colette.

“You ate the beans?”

It wasn’t really a question. The woman was both accusatory and compassionate, disappointed and hopeful. Either because of her fatigue or fear, Colette could not answer.

“You ate them?” she pressed.

A long silence. The sparkling eyes would not let go of Colette’s heavy ones. Finally, Colette mumbled, “I heard a voice.”

The black clouds seemed eager to swallow Colette.

“A voice?”

“Yes. No, no—a hiss,” Colette stammered. “It told me to eat the beans.”

The beauty leaned close, cupped Colette’s face in her aged hands, and whispered with diamond tears in her eyes, “And for that, you will lose everything.”

Then in one graceful movement, she beckoned the weeping willow come back to life, removed from her neck a silver chain that held a small silver spade, and placed the black box and spade necklace into Colette’s right hand.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Twelve Beans and the Shining Man (Parts I, II, III)

It was once believed that deep, deep in the wooded hills of Camberly, grew twelve magical beans—beans that would instantly grant ultimate happiness to the one who discovered them.

Many a man, woman, and child had searched tirelessly for the coveted beans, but to no avail. After hundreds of years of futile searching, the beans finally became legend and the hills in turn became lonely and forgotten, overgrown with vegetation and populated by a handful of strange folk.

Once upon a time, the Lord and Lady Locklear of Camberly gave birth to a baby girl, bestowing upon her the name Colette. She was a headstrong and willful child, given to passionate bouts and tantrums, creative deceptions, and strong desires. Nothing could satisfy her, no one could please her, and she grew into a spoiled young woman of sixteen. In their utter exasperation, the Lord and Lady sent Colette away to live in the hills of Camberly with an old aunt who cared nothing at all for the child but who promised to cure her of all vain and selfish ambition.

Colette hated the aunt, her humble home and simple lifestyle, and the wooded hills—which seemed to her the worst of prisons. Gone were the days of galas and gallantry, suitors and society. Here in the hills were hard work and tedious hours of listening to the strange aunt talk and sing—mostly about beans. Twelve stupid beans, thought Colette. Beans that would grant happiness to lonely, quirky, old deluded ladies who had nothing else to dream about.

It was only on her long walks after supper each day that Colette felt free from the aunt’s strangeness and chores and suffocating little house and—beans. Her daily walks took her deeper and deeper into the wooded hills, and Colette hoped with all her might to find an opening in the dense brush—an opening that would lead her back home, or perhaps to another lovely place full of princes and pampering, leaving this prison far behind her.

One day, on one of these walks, Colette stumbled upon a little clearing and a perfectly stone-paved path that ran up the side of a very steep hill. The path was as treacherous as it was steep, but it was beautiful—over-canopied with white trees and lined with ivy and daffodils, honeysuckles and tulips. Beside it ran a clear stream that tinkled like a million tiny bells. Colette had never seen anything so lovely. Surely she had stepped into the pages of a storybook.

She decided to make the climb, but as she took her first step, a sparkling object at her feet caught her attention. There before her grew a plant with heart-shaped leaves and—Colette sucked in her breath as she counted—one… four… seven… yes, twelve beans dangling in webby pods of silver.

(Now at this point in most fairytales, Colette’s character would undoubtedly have experienced great joy over finding the legendary magical beans and immediately reached out to retrieve them. But in Colette’s case, as she had never known anything outside of the realm of the explainable, the reasonable, the material, the spoiled, she was really quite terrified at her first introduction to magic.)

Colette’s heart beat fast as she knelt down beside the plant, and her hands trembled as she reached a finger out to touch the silvery, webby pod. It would have felt slightly sticky to the touch, but it dissolved too quickly for Colette to notice. The pod disappeared and the first bean fell to the ground.

Colette blinked at its brilliant color. Then she looked around, half-expecting the color to have awakened the beans’ long-lost treasure-seekers. Nothing happened, and no one appeared; yet Colette was keenly aware of another presence; she had sensed it immediately upon her discovery of the bean plant. A chill ran up her spine. But the beans beckoned, and she reached again to grasp a second. The pod again dissolved, but this time Colette was ready—and she caught a radiantly white bean in her still-trembling hand. The third bean was black; the fourth and fifth candescently orange; the sixth was as a mirror; the seventh, eighth and ninth constantly changed colors; the tenth was deep purple; the eleventh was a red so red it hurt her eyes; and the twelfth was as a diamond.

Perhaps this was the first time Colette had ever found herself at a loss for words. And it was certainly the first time she had ever felt terrified, fearful for her very life. She knew she had stumbled upon the aunt’s twelve magic beans—and the greatest hidden treasure of all time. But being the vain and self-absorbed girl she was, Colette found comfort in her fear by the conviction that she, of all people, was the only rightful, worthy finder of such a treasure.

Again she looked around, and then tiptoeing—as if to elude an unseen predator—Colette took refuge under a white weeping willow tree that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The branches hung large and low, and Colette felt a small sense of security in its cover. Now what? she pondered as she stared unflinchingly at her coveted beans.

And then a small tune, a tune she had considered irritating and ridiculous only hours before, began to play in her head. It was the voice of the aunt singing…

Indescribable and white,
These beans will grant you fullest life.
Black protects you from all harm,
Orange brings wealth; purple charm.
Mirror, mirror in a bean:
Beauty rarely to be seen.
Multicolored boldest beans
Fulfill your deepest lifelong dreams.
Red brings honor, value, worth.
Diamonds are true love on earth.

Colette had forgotten all fears now, and in uncontained excitement, she jumped to her feet and began to dance and sing the song of the beans.

And then, just as suddenly, she stopped to hear another tune play in her head—a tune the aunt had sung in a low, foreboding tone.

Twelve beans, once found
Bury deeply in the ground.
Climb the path, watch and wait.
A guide, a guard, a gift of fate.
Go in haste; don’t hesitate!

Colette’s countenance clouded over as a storm, and she proudly declared aloud to willow and stream that she would never dream of burying such beans. What a waste! The writer of that song was bitter and jealous because she couldn’t find the beans herself! Bury the beans! What utter nonsense! However, despite her confident rejection of the song’s directive, Colette felt unsure of what to do. How should she enact the beans’ magical powers?

As she sat staring and contemplating, a small voice hissed at her from deep within the willow tree: “Eat the beans.”

“Eat the beans?” she asked in trepidation.

There was no answer to her question. Colette looked from willowy branch to weeping limb, but no voice nor body was to be found.

Eat the beans… It was true that eating them made much more sense than burying them. But how could she be sure? She held a bean to her nose and smelled it.

It smelled better than the best palatial meal she had ever been served as a child. Why, of course she should eat them! Impulsively she stuffed all twelve beans in her mouth, chewed and swallowed in great pleasure and anticipation, and then waited…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I've been thinking about...

...Colette's fate.

...the importance and beauty of being involved in a local church, and being accountable and under authority.

...God's love and purpose for our brokenness and humility. very patient the Lord is with me, as I still wrestle constantly with sin. to find more hours in my day so I can write about what I'm thinking about.

...tomorrow morning's cup of coffee. (Yes, I know I have a problem.)

...the $900 tab to fix my car today.

And so this blog is scanty, but it breaks a two-month hiatus and motivates me to write about my musings in the very near future.