Friday, October 31, 2008


I went to a local coffee shop today. It seemed like a good place to work awhile, so I checked the hours on the door as I entered:
Monday - Thursday 5:30am to 8:00pm
Friday - Saturday 5:30am to 8:00pm'ish
Sunday 7:00am to 6:00pm

The "ish" concept makes me smile. It looks to me like "we'll stay open until 8pm those evenings, awaiting your arrival. If you don't come by that time, we plan to go home. But if you're here, perhaps we'll adjust to stay awhile longer."

There are some boundaries we need to enforce, and time is sometimes one of those, but there are also times when we could use a bit more of this kind of ish-ness in our relationships.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Choices, Motives, Character

I was excited as a child to hear that Psalms are poems. I thought of Shel Silverstein, and was fascinated that the Bible might have something like that. It wasn’t until years later that I began to appreciate the patterns of ideas – rather than of sound – which characterize Hebrew poetry. I do still admire and enjoy the poetry of Shel Silverstein, but it can not hold a candle to the Psalms!

I love the imagery of Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
Like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
And makes its circuit to the other;
Nothing is hidden from its heat…

The chapter goes on to rejoice in God revealing his character through the order he appoints for us individually and socially. Far from being overbearing or angry commands, guidance from God brings light and joy. Then, about God’s direction…

By them is your servant warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
May they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
Innocent of great transgression.

Pastor Fred talked some about this today – willful sin compared to simple human failings. He spoke of “sins of intent” as wrong choices made with unholy motives, compared to wrong choices made with holy motives, which are mistakes. In Psalm 19, David acknowledges both. I am thankful for a God who sees when there is a good heart even behind wrong choices, and who forgives and purifies a wrong heart when we ask him.

(Lectionary passages here.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Choosing to Celebrate

Today holds the first snow. Not a big storm, just enough to warrant a bit more care in driving, and to pull more of the leaves off the trees. I'm not really excited about winter. That's why I choose to celebrate today.

I am thankful for seasons, the phases of the moon, day and night, that mark the passage of time and give a sense of moving forward lest we forget that our time on earth is indeed limited. I am thankful for the water cycle. As I drove in this morning, I was thankful all over again that I do not drive a truck for a living, particularly in bad weather, and I am thankful also for those who do. I am thankful for a home with heat. In fact, not only are we able to stay sufficiently warm, but it heats up automatically without requiring us to gather firewood or make a fire. I am thankful for snowboarding, which takes a hazard and makes a fun sport of it. I am thankful for hot tea on cold mornings and cold tea on hot mornings.

As we move through this mildly snowy day, I choose to celebrate the day it is.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

But I'm Thirrrrsty!

When I was a kid, we often drove to Idaho for a week or so in the summer. Five of us in one car for nine or ten hours, with a couple of brief stops for fuel or food. I don't think we had air conditioning, and the latter half of the journey was through hot desert. The journey seemed to take forever.

I remember during one of those trips feeling so very thirsty as we drove through one of those long middle-of-nowhere stretches. I told my mom, but we didn't have any water in the car, so I waited. And waited. And waited. I imagine it was about six forever-minutes later when I told Mom again how thirsty I was. I wanted her to fix it. She was sympathetic, but didn't give me any water. So I told her again. "Mom, I'm thirrrrsty!" She turned around and said something like, "Honey, I know you're thirsty, and if you'll tell me where to find water, I'll get it for you." Hmmm. I apparently hadn't thought about that little barrier.

Exodus 17:1-7 reminds me of this encounter. The Israelites were traveling through the desert on a very long journey from slavery to the land God had promised to them:
"They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water to drink.' Moses replied, 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?' But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses."

"They grumbled against Moses." How typical -- of them, of us, of all humanity! What precisely did they expect Moses to do about their situation? Their quarrel was not with Moses, but with God, who was not giving them what they needed on the schedule they wanted. Like me in that hot car on a summer afternoon, they became cranky and started to spread their misery.

And yet, God provided. When Moses "cried out to the Lord," God graciously gave the water Moses requested for the Israelites. "And he called the place Massah [which means 'testing'] and Meribah [which means 'quarreling'] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'"

God may have been waiting for them to ask, but I do not believe at all that He required the people to start whining and threatening before he would provide for their needs. I wonder what that place would have been named if the Israelites had approached God with trust instead of complaint.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Telling Stories

Children sometimes have a favorite story which they request again and again, often to the dismay of their weary parents. Why do they do that? Is it because they’re entranced by the subtle nuances of the plot? No! The story, wonderful though it may be, is not what draws them. They are drawn by the act of telling the story and by the storyteller. Through repetition, stories can take root in our minds and in our souls. Stories become an important part of who we are.

Exodus 16 tells more of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, when they grumbled about the food situation and romanticized the “good old days” of being slaves in Egypt. God provided through manna (great name – “what is it?”) and quail. It’s narrative. Through the story, we have an account of what happened. Psalm 105 also tells of the Exodus and the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, and tells briefly of God meeting their needs for food and water there. Same event, different account. It has fewer details, and is written more poetically. Both are important to our heritage.

When I was a full-time teacher, I took a class one summer on integrating science and writing. Not just the very objective third-person passive voice science writing, but also creative writing. While I’m pretty good at the first one, the creative type takes a lot more effort, and doesn’t usually come out as well. And I loved it! It was difficult, but the process of writing caused me to look more deeply at the people and situations around me as I sought to express what I saw.

That’s kind of what the Psalms are like – creative expression of important experiences in life with God, passed down through generations through worship.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Simplicity of Purpose

Looking through a catalog this evening, I found a book. It's called Simplify. The summary states it is "about making choices to restore balance, to build a life schedule founded on the sane realization that we cannot accomplish everything, and to learn to live within our limits." There is definitely a need for to simplify in our culture -- to focus our time, energy and other resources on those few things which really are important.

Then, looking more closely at the book, I saw that it has a subtitle. The full title/subtitle of the book is Simplify: 106 Ways to Uncomplicate Your Life. Does anyone else think this is funny, or am I the only one?

On a topic of simplicity...

Here's a quote I've been thinking about for months: "Simplicity, from a biblical perspective, is not about making our lives more manageable. Did Moses' life become less complex after the burning bush? Did Esther's decision to follow God make her life easier? Consider Joseph and Mary. Did submitting to God make their young lives more manageable? Hardly. And we shouldn't forget the apostle Paul. Few would argue the persecution he endured was a manageable lifestyle. These examples, and many others, reveal that for God's people the opposite of simplicity is not complexity. It's duplicity." (Mndy Caliguire, a great article called "Two of Me" in Leadership Journal)

On a similar note, John Ortberg suggests that, while it should never be our goal to live an unbalanced life, a quest for mere balance will never encourage us to devote our lives to something bigger than ourselves. He challenges us to a life beyond balance, in pursuit of that which is worthy of our devotion. This is what he terms "a well-ordered heart" rather than only a balanced one. And he calls wisely on Augustine: to have a well-ordered heart is to "love the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Time Factor

Life is a series of moments, and each is significant. Some, though, stand out. These are times that are truly transformational experiences, impacting absolutely everything from that point forward. It is true on a community level, too: in friendships, households, congregations, nations. The Israelites fleeing Egypt is one of those times. Exodus 12-14 describes one of the most influential events in all Israelite history.

Raised in Christian churches, I heard this story many times. There were the pictures, too, particularly of Moses standing at the edge of a large riverbed with his staff raised, and the people walking between walls of water. As I listened, I imagined what it may have been like. A few years ago, though, I read this account (Exodus 14) and saw it with new eyes.

In my imagination throughout my growing-up years, I saw the people walking in a big line toward a river. They saw their enemies coming and prayed. Moses raised his staff, the waters parted, the Israelites walked across, Moses put his staff down, the waters closed, the Egyptians drowned, and the Israelites cheered. Then they walked again. It seemed like a fast-moving story.

I read it more carefully now, and I imagine it differently. The “plot line” moves pretty much the same, but the timing reveals part of the reason this event is so significant. Imagine it:

After four hundred years as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites see God work through ten plagues. Finally, after the deaths of the firstborn throughout Egypt, Pharaoh sends them away and they quickly head into the desert. It was not simply a few people, or even a few thousand; the Exodus included over a half million men, plus women, children, and livestock. The noise and dust must have been incredible. And there would be no way to hide a crowd that large. They walked, following Moses’ direction. And then they saw the Egyptians coming after them. The Egyptians, with horses and chariots, horsemen and troops. They began to panic; Moses reassured them. Moses expressed his own anxiety to God; God told them to keep moving. The pillar of cloud they had been following now moved behind them; they knew the Egyptians were nearby, but could not see them. Following God’s instructions, Moses raised his staff over the sea. They waited, and waited, and waited some more. All night long they waited, with the unseen presence of the Egyptians behind them, the sea ahead of them, and such a strong wind that it drove the sea back.

Sometimes we find ourselves in places like this – calling out to God, desperate for Him to answer, surrounded by serious problems and concerned that maybe God won’t respond, or perhaps just won’t respond soon enough. It is all the more difficult when that which terrorizes us is unseen. Night, too, causes the imagination to be less easily checked by the distractions or hope of daylight.

Yet we see in this story that God’s timing and God’s plan were indeed perfect, for “when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Exodus 14:31). They had a long ways to go yet. The journey would not be an easy one. But God had prepared them for it even – and especially – in these difficult times.