Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Old Windmill

 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

A fellow who grew up on a ranch in West Texas tells about a rickety, old windmill that stood alongside their barn and pumped water to their place. It was the only source of water for miles.

Trouble was the windmill was balky; it had a squeaky gearbox and worn–out bearings. In a strong wind it worked well, but in a light breeze it wouldn’t turn into the wind. So, his father would climb up a long ladder on the side of the tower and manually turn the tail of the windmill until the fan faced directly into the wind. Properly positioned, the slightest breeze enabled the windmill to do its work and supply water to the ranch and its stock.

I think of that story when I meet with pastors here in Idaho, most of whom are in small churches in remote communities. Many find themselves increasingly tired and dispirited, not so much because the work is hard or the successes slight, but because they feel isolated, unsupported, and left alone—caregivers for whom no one seems to care. As a consequence they get weary and sad, and find themselves struggling every day to bring life–giving water to their flock.

I like to tell them about the old windmill, and our need to daily re–position ourselves: to intentionally turn toward the Lord and his word, to taste His goodness, to drink deeply from him who is the only source of living water. Then ministry begins to flow from within, outward.

I like the way Evelyn Underhill puts it, “The object of our life toward God…is to make us able to do this work.”


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Other Thoughts on the Good Life

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

—Psalm 73:28

We spend our early years ramping up: building up our bodies and physical skills, molding our minds through years of schooling, gathering a wide circle of friends. We find ourselves falling in love and marrying, growing a family, establishing ourselves in a vocation, accumulating financial resources…Then, one by one all these acquisitions are lost…

And the pace accelerates as we age.

Shakespeare in his play, As You Like It, has a sour, melancholy character, Jacques, who gives a speech in which he compares the world to a stage and life to a play:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant…

Jacques continues through the ages of man to the final stage, to the…

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Indeed, with every passing year we lose one or two or more of the things we’ve spent a lifetime acquiring until finally we have lost everything.. Robert Frost underscores our dilemma: “The question . . . is what to make of a diminishing thing."

What to make of it? Well, first off, we can give our diminishments back to God and leave them there. “In acceptance lieth peace.”

Jesus prayed: “May this cup pass. Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.”
Mary prayed: “Be it unto me according to Thy word.”

We can accept the losses as they come, relinquish the things that have been our life. We can give them back to the God who first gave them.

George MacDonald writes: “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, but the Lord will give back better than ever before…” Better than ever before? To be sure, the thing given back is far better: It is God himself. Our losses dig in us a larger place for Him to fill. The end of the process is to be immeasurably enriched: We possess and are possessed by the one thing we cannot lose: unconditional, unqualified, eternal Love!

Martyred missionary, Jim Elliott, put it this way: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”


Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Good Life

“(God) has shown you, O man, what is good:  To act with justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Philosophers ask, “What is the good life and who has it?” When I ponder those questions I think of my good friend, Roy.

Roy was a gentle, quiet man who refused to assert himself, who sought no recognition for himself, who left the care of his life to his Heavenly Father and occupied himself solely with his Father’s will. His was a heavenly perspective. As he often reminded us: “We are but sojourners here.”

For ten years or more Roy and I met each week to pray for one another. His prayers were my weekly benediction.

Roy died last fall. The church was filled for his memorial service, where his friends reminisced for more than two hours over his influence on their lives. Most spoke of his kindness, his selfless giving, his humility and gentle compassion. He was, for many, a visible expression of God’s unconditional love.

After the service, his son, Dan, drove to the assisted –living facility where his father lived out his final days and gathered up his belongings: two pairs of shoes, a few shirts and pants, some socks and few odds and ends—the sum of Roy’s earthly goods. He loaded them into the back of a mini-van and delivered them to a local charity. Roy never had “the good life,” but he was “rich toward God” in good deeds (Luke 12:21).

George MacDonald asks, “Which one is the possessor of heaven and earth: He who has a thousand houses, or he who, with no house to call his own, has ten at which his knock arouses instant jubilation?”

Roy’s was the good life after all.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fishing Where They Ain’t

“I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9).

I have a friend I fish with now and then. He’s a thoughtful man. After climbing into his waders and boots and gathering his gear around him, he sits on the tailgate of his truck for awhile and scans the river, looking for rising fish. “No use fishing where they ain’t,” he says.

Calls to mind the question: Do I fish for folks where they ain’t?  (And here I define “fishing” as acting and speaking in such a way that others are drawn to the loving-kindness of Jesus.)

Our separation as believers is not horizontal but vertical, not spatial but ethical. We are to be unlike the secular world in our behavior, but squarely in it, as Jesus was. He was “the friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

So I ask myself: Do I, like Jesus, have friends that are outside the pale, or am I content to huddle with my good Christian friends? If the latter, I’m fishing  “where they ain’t.”

But fishing is more than just being around non–Christians; it’s also being attentive—like my friend who discerns feeding trout where I don’t: fish tailing for nymphs, or sipping midges off the surface. His senses are exquisitely trained.

Paul writes accordingly, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in…all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9). Paul’s noun, “discernment,” has to do with sense perception—sensitivity to one’s surroundings. (It’s used in one classic source for catching the subtle fragrance of a flower.)

Discernment, in this sense, is heart–kindness that sees beneath the surface of the off-hand remark; it hears the deeper cry of the soul. It asks, “Can you tell me more?” and follows up with compassion and concern. “There is much preaching,” George Herbert says, “in this friendliness.”

Such love is not a natural instinct. It is solely the product of prayer.

And so I pray: “Lord, may I today become aware of the cheerless voice, the weary affect, the down-cast eyes, and all the other marks of weal and woe that I, in my natural insensitivity and self–preoccupation, may easily overlook. May I have the love that springs from and is rooted in Your love that I may love others with discernment.”


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lambs May Wade

All Scripture…is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16)

C. S. Lewis, in an essay on “Christian Apologetics,” divides religions, as we do soups, into thick and clear: “Now if there is a true religion it must be both thick and clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man…”

There are indeed “thick” concepts in the Bible: mysteries, subtleties, complexities that challenge the most accomplished mind. And yet, in the same volume, there are concepts that are crystal clear: simple, attainable, and easily grasped. (What surpasses the profundity and simplicity of St. John’s clear affirmation: “God is love”?)

John Cameron, a 19th century writer suggests, “In the same meadow, the ox may lick up grass, the hound may find a hare, the bird may pick up seeds, the virgins gather flowers, and a man finds a pearl: so in one and the same Scripture, are varieties to be found, for all sorts of conditions. In there, children may be fed with milk, and meat may be had for stronger men. (There) ‘the lamb may wade and the elephant may swim…’”[1]

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in the Book—ocean depths that can bestir the most sophisticated mind, and shoals that can be negotiated by any simple, honest soul.

That said, why hesitate? “All scripture is profitable.” Jump in!


[1] This last phrase was originally used by Chrysostom, a 5th century Church Father.

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