Friday, March 28, 2014

A Passion for Paint

“But he gives more grace.” A provoking phrase, purposely placed in the midst of a discourse on desire and passions.*

Something I’m passionate about is a smooth, clean, well-painted wall. Crisp lines. Deep color. Vibrant contrast. In such rooms I long to linger. However, my passion is not shared by all in my home.

Some have lesser affinity for the beauty of walls done well. Instead, walls are seen as objects for tactile exploration.

For example, consider the Albatross Glide. Picture a child, arms stretched wide and fingers extended to the tip such that both the left and right sides of a stairwell or hallway can be touched. From this posture the child glides birdlike from floor to floor or room to room, their fingers leaving shadowy entrails on the painted surface. The walls of my home are marked by migratory patterns flown by my nest of ‘birds.’

For teen boys, high-fiving the bulkhead is popular. A good slap, high up the wall, confirms an increasing stature. Those high-fives have left a dirty, and unwelcome, “hey, dad!” greeting on the second floor overhang.

Other versions of painted wall abuse include the pin-balling backpack, the shoe shake-and-launch, and the momentum saving turn-the-corner hand grab. Left behind are divots, dings and rubber streaks – evidence of happy children who have passion for things other than pretty walls.

Such are the skirmishes with desire that weave their way through the warp and woof of today. We are passionate people. Lines will be drawn on many fronts beyond latex paint.

So as I ponder chapter four of his epistle, I observe James arguing toward grace. Grace for what? Our misplaced desires. Desires that result in anti-God allegiances and destructive behaviors. Passions that can metaphorically, or literally, kill. Passions and desires that usurp God’s proper place. In a word, idolatry.

And we are all guilty.

Yes, more grace, please.

Grace for when I can’t get what I want. Grace to drown my discontent. Grace to unwind me when tangled in selfishness. Grace to reveal that my desire for perfectly painted walls is a log in my vision that obstructs my view to all but the spec of fingerprints.

Many times I’ve stumbled or slipped or even rushed into a tyrannical lecture on the value of a fine paint job. My desires aren’t necessarily wrong. Discussion about the walls in my home should include the issues of respect and stewardship and reasonable behavior. But grace must be the ever-fresh principle that leads to a first place love of God, and a care-filled love of others.

Humility. Submission. Gentleness. Forgiveness. Holy antidotes to misplaced passion. The moments of today will be strung between opposing desires.

Will I give more grace?


* “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:1–10, ESV)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Free to not be Free?

As a child, I thought my parents had limitless freedoms. No curfew, plenty of money (at least from my no income other than birthdays perspective) and the ability to have ice cream whenever they wanted. I couldn’t wait to be released from the chains of childhood. I craved freedom to decide when to call it a night, purchase without constraint, and consume half-gallons of ice cream just because.

Well, two decades into my marital journey and more than seventeen on the parenting path, my ice cream dreams have melted. My modest income is redirected to car repairs, home maintenance, vacations for my orthodontist, and allergy medication for the dog. And even with a late evening dose of caffeine, I can’t stay awake past 9:30pm.

Am I the victim of a cruel trick? A bait and switch? The adult freedoms I pined for in my youth seem but a ruse.

But they aren’t. They’re still there. The crucibles of marriage and parenting are recasting my vision of ice cream gluttony. The incessant heat of life’s tensions work to soften self-centered entitlements into realistic expectations. With those new expectations I’ve come to understand this maxim: True freedom is the freedom to not be free.

What does that mean? An example…

To start, a confession. At best, I’m a fair weather fan of table games. Perhaps I was scarred by too many Uno ‘Draw-Fours’ or overly frustrated by random banishment into Candy Land’s Molasses Swamp. The source of my aversion is unclear. The result is the need for self-administered pre-game pep talks so I can to engage family game time with adequate enthusiasm.

Go ahead. Say it. I’m weird. Even so, I do play. But be forewarned – I play to win!

So, when confronted with the opportunity for gaming, what’s my response? I have the freedom to say “no.” Yet, as a father of five, many are the times when the proposition to play is presented. Certainly, there are legitimate times for giving my “no.” But a “no” that is consistently self-serving is wrong. It’s an abuse of my freedom. True freedom isn’t the unbounded pursuit of personal peace. It’s not Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” True freedom is the willful setting aside of personal desires so that others might flourish. It’s sometimes exchanging my wish for a quite evening of coffee and a good book for a rowdy night of Ticket to Ride, Life, Euchre, or Settlers of Catan.  

Such relinquishment is no easy feat. Even in my best moments, self-willed efforts fade quickly. I need the help of our divine Freedom Fighter, Jesus Christ. He’s the perfect example of sacrificing personal freedom. From forever past, He chose to give-up what was rightly His so that we might regain what we lost. When humanity turned its collective back on God in Eden, we were not abandoned. Love never wavered.

Although infinite in His freedom, Jesus choose to let loose of what was His to restore us to our Father in Heaven. He insured that we would complete our predestined good works for God’s glory. Because He was free to not be free, mercy and grace and redemption through love are ours.

What wondrous love this is. Love that draws us to live in God-centered freedom. Love that emboldens us to joyfully prioritize our desires below the needs of others. To hold loosely to what we could do so we can freely do what we should do. To give and serve and love – like our death-conquering Freedom Fighter.

So, anyone up for some Scrabble?


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3–8, ESV)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sweet Mary

In the dark of my desk drawer is a birthday card.


On the cover, in black and white, is the photo of a crinkle-faced, toothless old man. 
Inside is this salutation: “You had better pray that you are as young as you feel and not as old as you look! – Love, Mary :)

Funny Mary.

Mary’s gone. 

At least from here. 

That void aches.

I think of her. And cry.

Separation hurts.

Death’s old cuts are bleeding fresh.



I’m pondering pain and justice.

Coaxing hope from the chaos of grief. 

Cultivating joy in the seedbed of faith.

Still, I long for more of that beautiful life. 

For more of Mary.

More of her laughter and jokes.

Her pranks and her pizza.

Her finely-feathered costume halo and mischievous smile.



I’ll miss her sipping coffee from a Victorian teacup.

Perching tiptoed on a step stool to fetch reams of paper.

Sprinting through the hall to answer a ringing phone.



Hard-working Mary.



I have books on my shelf. 

Books from Mary.
Old books. Wonderful books. 

Her husband’s books. 

Thumbing through their pages, I glean Mary’s love.

I am humbled. Honored. Unworthy. Grateful. 

Wonderful gifts.



Thank you, Mary.



Death is a robber. 

A felonious creep that steals our best treasures. 

He took our Mary – and not very nicely.

Jerk.

But Mary’s just fine.

Better than ever, really.

Rested. Satisfied. Complete.


Alive!  



Her earthly song reverberates.

It is lovely.

And we sing for her, as she renews her precious marital grip.

Basks in faith’s realization.

And meets the gaze of her greatest love.



Well done, Sweet Mary.





Mary’s life verse: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fretting for Faith

The sky glowed muted orange with the rising sun. The August air was seasonally cool. Nestled among hardwoods and sparse growing conifers, our group woke with rejuvenated excitement. Yesterday – our first day – was brutal. We marched twenty jubilant and slightly misdirected miles through the Teton Wilderness. I slept well. I woke terribly.

As the tent I shared with my wife brightened with leaf-filtered sunlight I laid death-still, gaze glued to the gray nylon canopy. My mind spun with scenarios. My stomach spun too. Like a hurricane. Even the thought of tossing a food vessel upon that acidic tempest was met with violent rejection. I rolled to my side…a tsunami of nausea. I tried sitting up. Houston, prepare for launch.

So there I was. Incapacitated in the starting blocks on day two of a life-long dream. If I couldn’t exit my tent without heaving last night’s noodles, how could I complete a full day of hiking? I worried. I fretted. Honestly, I was scared. Far away was the cupboard with saltines and the fridge with ginger ale. I longed for a couch on which to rest. And a TV on which to watch looping re-runs of I Love Lucy to distract me from my roiling gang of digestive cohorts.

I was in a pickle (burp). I couldn’t tough my way out or walk this off. Our group was on a mission, headed into purple mountain majesty. But in that moment, my mission was to stifle a techni-colored yawn.

I felt trapped. Backed into a corner. Pinned. I was emptied of self-generated solutions. There are no sick days on the trail. My intestinal hurricane swirled. What to do?

All I could think to do was submit. Relent. Assume a face-down, flat on the ground, ain’t got nothing to give posture of humility. So I did. I put all my schemes and needs and desires and hopes and fears on the proverbial table through passionate petitions to God. There was no deal making – just begging. Begging for mercy and healing and peace about my serious predicament. I didn’t schmooze with grandiose phrases or offer vapid platitudes. I spoke with respectful honesty to the Creator of my restless stomach. I chose to exchange fretting for faith.

Twenty minutes after “amen” I risked sending a small oatmeal scouting party into my gastronomical fury. The party telegraphed a neurological message: “the water’s great – come on down!” With my digestive sea calming, I spooned more oats. Swallowing cautiously, I wanted to grin at my wife. But that seemed presumptuous. Within the hour, my gut was happily churning a modest breakfast as our group – me included – walked and talked and visually gorged on bountiful vistas.

That’s my story. Nice and tidy with a happy ending. So what's the point?

Well, that nauseating episode is one my go-to experiences. In my mind, miraculous as God granted me near-instant healing. It was a personal epiphany that broke through my self-constructed, egotistical, worrisome barricade to His grace. God flattened my pride with illness so I could listen more clearly. He rocked my gut to strengthen my faith. Taste of His power. And after our conversation, He blessed and released me, freshened with a deeper knowledge of Him – and me.

Yes, I had a mountaintop experience. But I’m choosing not to leave it there. I could retell my story for laughs or to reminisce. Yet those moments of panic and prayer and pleading and fretting grew me. And that growth must influence the ebb and flow of this day, too.

E.M. Bounds said, “Faith gives birth to prayer, and grows stronger, strikes deeper, rises higher, in the struggles and wrestlings of mighty petitioning.”* Helplessness has a way of uncloaking our masks and forcing us into naked vulnerability where we either trust more fully, or call everything a farce. I can testify there’s nothing farcical about the God who saw me through that uncertain day in the mountains. Who walks with me through today’s disappointments and tomorrow’s uncertainties. Who says, “fret not.” (Psalm 37)


*The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer, p.19

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Our Child

His was an epic submission to a radical promise. A cosmic exchange: the pleasures of paradise for life as a humble earth dweller. Glory for Golgotha. Life for lives.

Eternity’s Son, He was divinely conceived and prophetically birthed. 

What child is this who, laid to rest,
on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?*


Announced by angelic flash mob was that Child. The Child. Our Child. Heaven’s merciful endowment, brought into real-time through a scandalous duo. Obedient outcasts, forced to hold quarters with beasts in a stable. 

Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.*


Mary’s lap nestled the infinite, incomparable Word. Salvation in infant form. Our righteous rescue. Our holy advocate. His glad desire was to deliver an explosive, sufficient, ever-fresh but unrepeatable expression of selfless love.  

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
come, peasant, king, to own him;
the King of kings salvation brings,
let loving hearts enthrone him.*

This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the son of Mary.*


Babe. Then boy. Then man. But always King.

What Child is this?

Jesus. 

The God-Man baby of Christmas who humbled himself to be our humiliation. Who experienced humanity’s worst so that we might taste glory. Who set aside everything to make something of our nothing. Our Messiah.

May we never cease to laud His immeasurable worth.


*Lyrics from the hymn, “What Child is This?”