Saturday, January 29, 2011

Only the Clean and Unbroken

I drove past the local flower shop, and cringed when I read the sign.

“Only the Clean and Unbroken.”

I knew the store owner was recycling floral vases and encouraging people to bring them in rather than throw them away. I knew the sign referred to the inexpensive glass containers used to deliver bouquets and rosebuds.

But somehow the words felt like a personal indictment: I was anything but clean and unbroken.

“Oh, God,” I thought. “What if you required me to be unsoiled and whole before coming to you? What would I do with the stained and broken pieces of my life?

Israel’s great shepherd-king wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17 NIV).

The Message version puts it this way: “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”

King David cried out in Psalm 51 as a broken and sin-stained man. He had not only stolen another man’s wife, but also had that man killed. As a result, an innocent child died. Not exactly a pristine situation.

Yet David knew he could run to his God in spite of the blood on his hands and the blackness of his heart. He knew the Lord would look on his brokenness and repentance and forgive him, wash him, and make him whole again.

Centuries later when Jesus was accused by religious leaders of hanging out with the riff-raff, he replied, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.” (Mark 2:17 The Message).

God is in the recycling business, but unlike the local florist, he restores and recycles human wreckage.

Yes, he wants to use us again, but first he will do what we cannot: put us back together and wash us with the sin-cleansing blood of Jesus.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

There is a spot between a rock and a hard place
called a cleft: a crack, crevice or fissure.

I’ve been there. Have you?
It’s not so bad. In fact, it’s rather secure and protective.
Nothing can reach me there.
Nothing but the hand of God.

That’s where Moses was when desperation backed him up against the mountain.

He was arguing with God because everything he had worked for so long and hard had shattered around his feet.

He was arguing with God because things weren’t going the way he planned. People had disappointed him. He had disappointed himself. Life was not good.

“You said you’d go with me -- where are you?” he shouted.

Had he forgotten the Red Sea?

“I am with you,” God said.

“Prove it. Show yourself.”

A death wish? No one sees the face of God and lives to tell about it.

Have you been that desperate? So desperate that death seems better than what you’re going through?

I have.

But God said,

“There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.”

And he hid Moses in the hard place - the cleft - and covered him with his hand.
The hand that held a man of clay,
and held back the sea,
and would one day hold the nails.

And as he passed by, Moses peeked out and saw the back of God.

Have you been that close to God?
In the hard place?
Where fear and fatalism die?

It is the sweetest place I know.

So why do I wait for pain to push me into his presence?
When I can choose to be in that place

near God.
On a rock.

“And I will … cover you with my hand.”

O God, cover me.

Exodus 33:21,22


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ever feel like you’re missing the performance because you’re stuck under the bleachers?

When Mike was rodeoing, our first Fourth of July run into Montana took us to Red Lodge - an Old West type of town tucked up against the mighty Bear Tooth Mountains. As was our custom, we parked our rig back of the holding pens and unloaded our menagerie: Mike’s clown mule Ike, our border collie Bobbie, four guinea hens, two chickens, and a little pound-found mop of a dog we called Fifi.

Busy with our routine of making camp, we failed to notice the meandering mule work itself underneath the aluminum bleachers bordering the backside of the arena. We didn’t see how Ike had gotten in there, but when we noticed his predicament, we knew it wouldn’t be easy getting him out.

Ike’s hankering for the tender mountain grass lured his muzzle and the rest of him over and under the aluminum crossbeam supports. Leading a horse to water is one thing, but leading a mule through a maze of metal proved to be something else altogether.

It took most of the afternoon, a bucket full of grain and a strong lead rope to drag that mule back out from under those bleachers. Mike and couple of cowboys would coax it down on its knees and pull it under one beam, then it would jump to its feet and they’d have to start all over again. It was a lot harder on Ike coming out than it had been going in.

I can relate to Ike.

It’s a lot more fun getting into trouble than getting out.

Most of us don’t notice where temptation is leading, especially when we’re just taking one little curious step at a time. But when we finally stop and look around, we see we’re trapped, just like that mule, with no way of getting out of our predicament on our own.

Our good Lord never leads us in the wrong way. But when we wander off, if we ask for his help, he’ll sure get us back on the right path - even if the going might be a little rough.

James 1:13

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Follow through on that good idea

“I’m drawing a blank,” said the caption beneath the girl’s empty cartoon frame. She smiled up at me. “Funny, huh?”

I had to admit it was funny, but a cop-out, too.

“The assignment is to draw a cartoon: single frame with caption below, or four-frame strip with bubbled dialogue inside.”

What a great class, I thought as I strolled through the seventh-graders, reading over their shoulders, encouraging their creativity. As a substitute teacher I’ve seen just about everything, including an eighth grader launching a calculator across the room at her ex-boyfriend. He ducked and it shattered on the linoleum. It was the teacher’s calculator.

So comics were cake, as far as I was concerned. And a viable means of communication as well. Did I, myself, not turn first to the political cartoon in the daily newspaper? And what about my collection of B.C. comic strips? A lot can be said with stick figures and a witty remark.

A group of boys at one table came up with the idea of cereal killers and they snickered over murderous spoons and poisonous milk. They loved the play on words, or homophones as those in pedagogical circles call them, but one bemoaned the pun as too obvious.

“Someone else has probably already thought of it,” he said.

Yes, I told him. There are very few truly unique ideas. Most of what we cook up has already been contemplated by someone else.

“There are a lot of ideas, but not everyone acts on them,” I said. “Do something about it. Be different.”

I once heard a literary agent tell a group of aspiring writers that ideas were a dime a dozen. (The worn cliché surprised and disappointed me, but then again, we are all susceptible on the spur of the moment.)

“Write the book,” she said. “Don’t just send me a paragraph with a great idea; write the book.”

In other words, act on it. Follow through. Be different. And so I continue to pound away at my keyboard when I’m not teaching, wrapping bone and sinew and muscle around my ideas to make them into some thing, some thing that is more than just some idea.

What ideas do you have yet to act upon? Move on them. Take action! Follow through and create as others before you have done - those to whom we owe buckets of gratitude.

Consider the zipper. Microwave. Sticky notes. Toilet paper. All ideas that someone - probably many someones - had, that some one acted upon.

In the words of one of those seventh-grade, commercial-savvy cartoonists, “What’s in your head?”

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The trees are raining

Diamonds wink
from every branch
and at the touch of sunlight,
in liquid crystal.

I hear it
beneath blue morning sky
where moments before all
in silent frost.

Sun breath
melts the glaze
into a dripping,

Just like my
and hardened heart
beneath the breath
of God.