Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bad Days

 “Some days you tame the tiger; and some days the tiger has you for lunch.”
 —Tug McGraw

My father was a stoic man who had little patience with complaint, thus I learned to play down the intensity of my feelings and hide behind a facade of dead calm. I became a strong proponent of the stiff upper lip.

But as I’ve grown older I’ve become a complainer.  I’m learning to grumble and pour out my grievances to God. Complaint, I’ve come to see, is better than stoicism, for at least it draws me toward my Lord.

But grumbling is not the last resort. My agitation sometimes leads me to look deeper inside to see the realm from which my frustration and anger come. Feelings lay bare my inmost desires, like the lights on our automobile dashboards that indicate what’s going on under the hood. The way I respond emotionally when God and circumstances don’t match my expectations reveals the condition of my heart.

The reason for so much of my anguish, it seems to me, is that I’ve set my heart on the here and now and have completely lost sight of the realm that is timeless. Deprived in the present I decide there’s nothing left for which to live. But that’s a serious error. There’s more to life than this.

The purpose of life is not to be happy, I’ve finally discovered, though there are plenty of serendipities and blissful occasions along the way. No, everything in life works together to move us toward intimacy with God and to make us more like him. That’s what this life is for.

But that lesson can only learned by those who are “trained” by affliction and difficulty.[1]  We must let adversity do its work. We must know that we’re greatly loved by God even when circumstances suggest otherwise. We must know we’re in these straits, not by accident but by God’s appointment, and humble ourselves under his mighty hand. We must seek to manifest the specific grace for which this trial calls. And we must accept our sorrow as the means by which we are drawn into the heart of God.

We may not have the good life —struggle, pain, disappointment, vexation, opposition, loss may be our lot —but we have God forever and he is our good. As the psalmist concluded: “The nearness of God is my good” (73:28). God himself is our joy. “Happiness is neither outside nor inside us,” Pascal said, “it is in God, both outside and inside us…. Our only true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him.”

Life’s disappointments—and they seem to come in waves—strip us of our earnestness with everything but God. When we begin to see how empty life is, when it ceases to have it’s attraction on us, then we begin to move toward God as our good. As we come to him again and again—listening to his word, meditating on his thoughts, following him in the path of obedience, tasting of his goodness—he makes himself increasingly known. We enter into intimacy with him and come to love him for himself.

“The most fundamental need, duty, honor, and happiness of men is…. adoration,” Fredrich von Hügel said. In adoration we enjoy God for himself. We long for the Giver rather than his gifts. We ask nothing more than to be near him and to be like him. We want nothing but the hunger to give ourselves to him. In adoration we learn why every other chase has left us breathless and restless, worn out and wanting for more.

And so, though it’s hard to accept, we need nothing more than God. Our “toys and lesser joys” can never satisfy; they are a small delight. God alone is the answer to our deepest longings.

So, the only thing left for us to do is to turn our energies toward him, giving him our full attention and our heart’s devotion, asking him every day to bring us to the place that we find him more interesting than anyone we know, anything we do, any place we go, or anything we possess.

Then we will have all we can ever expect to have in this world, but it's enough. As a beleaguered friend of mine once said, “You never know how much you have until all you have left is God.”


[1] Hebrews 12:11

Sunday, November 18, 2012


"Life is mighty chancy at any kind of trade..."
Rudyard Kipling

I don't wade swift streams any more, if I can help it, even when the best fishing is on the other side. The rocks are too slippery, the currents are too strong, my balance is too uncertain, and my old legs aren't what they used to be.

I see it as a parable: so many challenges I once took on readily are now too challenging for me. Like the psalmist, I lose sleep at night wondering how I can negotiate them (77:1-4).

But then I remember the "deeds of the LORD." I read that his "path led through the sea, his way through the mighty waters." He surged through the Red Sea as I would wade a tiny brook.

Furthermore, he "lead his people like a flock." Like a good shepherd he brought all Israel safely through the Red Sea to the other side. No one was left behind, no one was abandoned, no one was swept away.

All of us face difficult and dangerous crossings in our life-time-a transition to a new place or position, a decision to abandon a sinful practice and make a new beginning, a choice to walk a way we would rather not go, a call to venture ourselves in untried service, a retirement that takes us from prominence to a lower profile, or our final crossing through the river "bitter and cold." Yet we need not fear the dark currents for God does not fear them. His strength and courage are infinite. He will see us through.

Yet, the psalmist observes with some wonderment, he "leaves no footprints" as he accompanies us. Just as the sand in the bottom of a stream hides our footprints as soon as they are imprinted, so God's presence, as real as our own, is hidden from us. He is with us, "walking incognito," as C. S. Lewis said, and thus we may not realize he is present. But, Lewis continues, "the incognito is not hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend," to make ourselves think about his presence; to acknowledge that he is at our side.

Furthermore, though we cannot see God's footprints in our crossings, he is incarnate in human agents that we can see. At the Red Sea he led Israel "through the hand of Moses and Aaron." Now, he leads us in the wise counsel of a mother, in the strong grip of a father, in the urgings of godly brother or sister, in the quiet encouragement of a caring spouse, in the gentle touch of a child.

How many hands have reached out to us-guiding us, encouraging us, strengthening us. In them we perceive the hand of our Lord leading us through deep and dangerous waters to the other side.

Hard crossings are inevitable, but our Lord has promised: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you" (Isaiah 43:2).

I came to the swift, raging river,
And the roar held the echo of fear; 
"Oh, Lord, give me wings to fly over,
If You are, as You promised, quite near."

But He said, "Trust the grace I am giving,
All-pervasive, sufficient for you.
Take My hand-we'll face this together;
But My plan is not over, but through."

-Lee Webber


Friday, November 16, 2012


Corinth was a sick city, corrupt even by Roman standards, so sex–saturated that Aristaphanes the Greek poet made up a verb to describe it, “to corinthianize,” was to engage in lewd, licentious conduct. 

It’s against that setting that Paul writes:

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Paul starts where the Corinthians were by quoting two of their stock clichés. First, they were saying, “Everything is permissible for me (1 Corinthians 6:12),” by which they meant that sex is good and anything goes.

Not exactly, Paul responds. Sex is good! God created sex and sexuality, not Madonna, Lady Gaga or Scarlett Johansson. (Would that we could get that one back from the world!)  But it doesn’t follow that all sex is good. Sex is like fire: it must be contained or it becomes a terribly destructive force.) Our sexuality must be contained or it will master and eventually destroy us. As for me, Paul says, “I will not be overpowered by anything.”

The Corinthians had another motto: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food (6:13),” by which they meant that nature demands satisfaction. The implied comparison is that a man’s sexual appetite is like any hunger. Feel a Mac–attack? Binge. Feel a sexual urge? Merge.

Once again Paul agrees with the basic premise: food is made for the stomach and the stomach is made for food, but it’s faulty reasoning to argue that the body is made for fornication. That’s what a logic professor would call a “categorical error”—comparing apples and oranges. The stomach is one thing; bodies are another. God designed the stomach for food and satisfaction. A man can satisfy that hunger with impunity. But our bodies are more than their hungers, an idea that Paul elaborates by insisting that our bodies have a unique purpose which we may forfeit through sexual immorality.

The Lord is for the body

First of all, Paul writes, the Lord is for our bodies. That would have been a staggering thought in Paul’s day. Back then, most people believed that only the mind mattered, or more precisely, the things on which you put your mind. The body was base and either you got it in line (Stoicism) or you gave up and went for all the gusto (Epicureanism).  Monk or a drunk; it was all the same: the body was bad. Paul disagreed: bodies are good. God is for our bodies.

That thought appeals to me as I get older and fewer of my body parts work and those that do work don’t work very well. I once thought I’d never grow old.  Perpetual youth, like hope, sprang eternal in my breast.  I jogged, lifted weights, tried to eat right and stayed more or less in shape, but time caught up with me. Saint Francis was right:  “Brother Ass” is exactly the right name for my body—often stubborn and always absurd. Yet, Paul insists, no matter what shape it’s in, God loves my old body! That’s something to write home about!

The body is for the Lord

Paul then inverts the argument and insists that the body is for the Lord.  God not only loves our bodies, but he has a purpose for them: the members of our bodies are the actual members of Christ! (6:15)—the means by which we make visible our invisible Lord!  We are “little Christs,” made to manifest to the world around us the grace and beauty of our Lord’s character.

Furthermore, our bodies are designed to manifest God forever: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (6:14). When our bodies are redeemed and perfected, they’ll display his character to all the universe and throughout all eternity. God has determined to invest our bodies with endless significance.

That’s why Paul calls on the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality—All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (vs. 18).

Interpreters struggle with this verse because it clearly states that sexual indulgence is unique in its effect upon us. Yet other sins do affect our bodies. Drunkenness, drug abuse and even gluttony can turn it into an ugly caricature of what God intended it to be. So what does Paul mean when he states flatly that other sins are “outside the body,” but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body?

The answer is given in verse 19: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you… (1 Corinthians 6:19). Human beings are different from other created beings in that our bodies are designed to be containers for God. Our members are his members by which he manifests himself in the world. That is our greatness.

So what should we do? Don’t take chances! If you happen to be in a woman’s apartment and you find yourself becoming aroused, take a hike. If you’re in your automobile and desire awakens start the engine and drive away. If you’re reading a magazine and come across something sexually stimulating toss it away. If you’re watching a movie and it begins to arouse you, get up and walk out. If you’re watching television and it turns toward the prurient, change the channel. If you’re in a hotel room and you’re drawn to the porno flicks ask the desk to block them or as a godly friend of mine did, leave your room and sleep in your truck. It’s better to lose a night’s sleep than lose something far more valuable.
Sex is nothing to play with. It is a subtle, powerful force, and the havoc it wreaks is ample reason to fear it and run from it —like Joseph who gave the empty sleeve to Pharaoh’s attractive, seductive wife.

A piece of work

Paul closes with this remarkable conclusion: “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).”

Our bodies don’t belong to us; they belong to God. They are his by right of creation and the cross. The only reasonable response we can make is to give them to him so he can do make something worthwhile out of them.

God’s work is always good. He makes us what we’re intended to be. He imparts beauty of character and strength of will. There is about that person a subtle fragrance of grace and truth, a gentle wisdom that is pure and peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and goodness. He has integrity: what you see is what you get. There is no hypocrisy. Wherever that man goes others sense that they have been in the presence of a rugged righteousness, hard to put into words, but one that leaves them longing for something more. That is our greatness.

Paul writes, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” for all tiume. (Romans 6:12,13). Why sell out for anything less when vast and eternal glory awaits us.


Friday, November 9, 2012

A Wandering One

                               They felt good eyes upon them
                               and shrank within—undone;
                               good parents had good children
                               and they—a wandering one.

—Ruth Bell Graham

Manoah prayed: “Teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born” (Judges 13:8). This is the earnest and often anxious prayer of every good parent.

“The boy” was Samson, Israel’s prankish Hercules, who “pillowed his great head upon the lap of sin” and squandered his God–given strength away. One wonders how often Manoah and his wife awakened in the dark, sleepless hours of the night and asked themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”

When our children make bad choices—when they abuse alcohol, do drugs, get pregnant, drop out of school, turn their backs on God and their family, we ask ourselves the same question. We blame ourselves and see our children as the tragic victims of our ineptitude.

There is, however, no absolute correlation between the way people parent and the way their children turn out. Good parenting makes a difference, but it does not guarantee that the product will be good.

We’re all are acquainted with families where neglect, violence and substance abuse are the norm, yet the children turn out remarkably well. They have good friends; they do well in school; they hold good jobs; they end up in stable marriages and handle their parental responsibilities with wisdom and love.

On the other hand there are families where the parents are warm, nurturing, kind, firm, wise and giving and yet there’s at least one prodigal in the family and sometimes more than one.

It’s certainly better to be one kind of parent than the other, but the fact remains that despite our best efforts our children sometimes go wrong.

But, you say, what of the proverb: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? It sounds like a guarantee.

Not exactly. Proverbs are not promises, but premises—general rules or axioms­—statements of broad truths much like the saying: “As the twig is bent so the tree is inclined.” A proverb sets forth a truth applicable in most cases, but not necessarily so. There are exceptions to the rule.

The reason there are exceptions is that children are not mindless matter that can be shaped at will, but autonomous individuals who may, with the best of parenting, choose to go their own way. Even God, the perfect parent, has had trouble with his children—Adam and Eve to name two, and me, to name one more.

We cannot produce good children and if we believe that by the simple application of a few techniques and rules we can secure good behavior we may be in for bitter disillusionment and heartache. No one can determine nor can they predict what their offspring will do. (It was Joaquin Andujar, poet and pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who said you can sum up baseball in one word: “You never know.” His word count was off, but he captured the essence of life as well as baseball.)

Given that uncertainty the question is not “How can I produce good children?” but rather, “How can I be a good parent?” The two questions appear to be the same, but they’re not. The first has to do with the product, over which we have no control, the second with process, over which we do, by God’s grace, have some measure of control.

If our focus is on process, then the questions are about me: “How can I deal with my impatience, temper and rage, my selfishness, my resentment, my stubbornness, my defensiveness, my pride, my laziness, my unwillingness to listen? How can I deal with my addictions? How can I strengthen my marriage? How can I develop my parenting skills? How can I build bridges of grace, forgiveness and acceptance that will make it possible for my prodigal to come home. These are the matters that must occupy me, and then I must leave the outcome to God.

Ruth Bell Graham has written again,

Lord, I will straighten all I can and You
take over what we mothers cannot do.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Home Before Dark

Most of my boyhood in Texas was spent in the cedar breaks south of Dallas. The countryside is built up now, but back then it was mostly ranchland—rolling chalk hills redolent with cedar trees and junipers. The woods were a small boy’s paradise with wonderful places to explore and pretend. At night, when I was in bed on our screened-in-porch, I’d listen to the coyotes howl and other noises in the woods and exult in the fact that I was home rather than out in the dark where the wild things were.

One of my favorite daytime pastimes was walking the creek. It was a special stream, an oasis in a dry land. The brook ran clear most of the year and supported lush stands of cottonwoods and willows. When I think about that creek today, I think of deep shade, solitude and friendly dogs. I have memories of leaving home early in the morning with my yellow hound, my single-shot .410, a bag lunch that my mother made, and walking to the springhead or downstream to where the creek emptied into the lake.

Those hikes were high adventure for me—at least I made it adventure. There were rocks to skip, birds to watch, dams to build, tracks to follow, squirrels to flush along the way. And then if I made it to the mouth of the creek, my dog and I would sit and share our lunch while we watched the biplanes land across the lake.

We’d linger as long as we could, but only so long, for my father wanted me home before the sun went down. The shadows grew long and the hollows got dark fast in the cedar breaks. I’d be wishing along the way that I was already home. Though weary, I’d hurry on. It was the hope of going home that kept me going.

Our house sat on a hill behind some trees, but I could always see the light on the porch as I made my way through the woods in the gathering dusk. The light was always on until all the family was in. Often my father would be sitting on the back porch, reading the newspaper, waiting for me. “How did it go?” he’d ask. “Pretty good,” I’d say. “But it sure is good to be home.”

It’s been a long time since I walked that creek, but the memories live on and they fill me with what Mole in called “divine discontent and longing” (The Wind and the Willows ).They make me think of another long and sometimes difficult journey, the one I’m making now. But I know that at the end there’s a caring Father and my eternal home. It’s the thought of going home that keeps me going. It sure will be good to get there.

As I look back on my life I must say that it’s been a good journey, though it’s had its ups and downs. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, I’ve gone on “sometimes comfortably, sometimes sighingly,” but taken as a whole my journey has been a pretty good trip. One of these days, though, it’ll start to get dark and then I’ll head for home. I’m expected there. The light is on and the Father is waiting for me. I suppose He’ll ask, just like my father used to, “How did it go?” “Pretty good,” I’ll say. “But it sure is good to be home.”


From Strength of a Man

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Inquiry

“I have been like a little child, uneasy, feeling about in the dark after something, but not knowing what...”—Nez Perce Chief

“(God) has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him...” —Acts 17:26,27

 In 1833, four Nez Perce Native Americans journeyed from what today is Northern Idaho to St. Louis. Missouri—over 3000 miles—and petitioned General William Clarke (of Lewis and Clark fame) to send someone to their people teach them about God. They reminded Clarke that their fathers had heard of God’s book through him many years before when he and the Corps of Discovery wintered with them (1805).

Tradition has it that as early as 1820 Iroquois Indians, educated in Catholic schools in the East, had visited these tribes. Other Christians—voyageurs, trappers and explorers—had contact with the Nez Perce. Benjamin Bonneville, Peter Steen Ogden, David Thompson, Simon Fraser and others that passed through the region in the early 1800s, though rough–cut, were God–fearing men who prayed, read the Bible and conducted worship services for their men while the Nez Perce looked on. These “brushes” with faith only heightened their desire and eventually drew them to send the deputation to St. Louis to Clarke, who was then Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

One of the best sources for this meeting is William Walker, an interpreter for the Wyandott Indian Nation, who wrote the following letter to a friend, G. P. Dishoway of New York. It was later published in The Christian Advocate and Journal of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in January 19, 1833.

Immediately after we landed in St. Louis on our way to the west I preceded to Gen. Clarke’s, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to present our letters of introduction from the Secretary of War, and to receive the same from him to the different Indian agents in the upper country.

While in his office and transacting business with him, he informed me that three chiefs from the Flathead Nation were in his house and were quite sick, and the one (the fourth) had died a few days ago. They were from the west of the Rocky Mountains…The distance they had traveled on foot was nearly three thousand miles to see Gen. Clarke, their great father, as they called him, he being the first American officer they ever became acquainted with, and having such confidence in him, they had come to consult him as they said, upon very important matter…

Gen. C. related to me the object of their mission and, my dear friend, it is impossible for me to describe to you my feelings while listening to his narrative. I will here relate it as briefly us I can. It appeared that some white man had penetrated into their country, and happened to be a spectator at one of their religious ceremonies that they scrupulously perform at stated periods... He informed them that men toward the rising of the sun had been put in possession of the true mode of worshipping the Great Spirit.

(He informed them that) they had a book containing directions how to conduct themselves in order to hold converse with him; and with this guide no one need go astray, but everyone that would follow the directions laid down there would enjoy, in this life, his favor, and after death would be received into the country where the Great Spirit resides and live with him forever.

Upon receiving this information they called a national council to take this subject into consideration. Some said, “If this be true, it is certainly time we were put in possession of this mode and if our mode of worshipping be wrong and displeasing to the Great Spirit, it is time we had laid it aside. We must know something more about this, it is a matter that cannot be put off.”

They arrived at St. Louis, and presented themselves to Gen. C. The latter was somewhat puzzled being sensible of the responsibility that rested upon him; he however proceeded by informing them that what they had been told by the white man in their own country was true. Then went into a succinct history of man, from his creation down to the advent of the Savior; explained to them all the moral precepts contained in the Bible... (and) informed them of the advent of the Savior, his life, precepts, his death, resurrection, ascension, and the relation he now stands to man as a mediator, that he will judge the world, etc.

Poor fellows, they were not all permitted to return home to their people with this intelligence. Two died in St. Louis,[1] and the remaining two, though somewhat indisposed, set out for their native land. Whether they reached home or not is not known… If they died on their way home, peace be to their manes. They died inquirers after the truth.

Yours in haste,

Wm. Walker

In the spring of 1832, the two survivors took passage for home on the steamboat, The Yellowstone, and George Catlin, the celebrated explorer and artist, who was a passenger on this boat, painted portraits of the two men, the originals of which now hang in the Smithsonian.

One of these pilgrims, the man known as "No Horns on His Head," died en route. Only the young man, "The Rabbit Skin Leggings," lived to reach his home on the Clearwater.

Catlin remarked on the occasion:

“Hee-oh'ks-te-kin (Rabbit Skin Leggings) and H'co-a-h'co ah'cotes-min (No Horns On his Head) are young men of (the Nez Perce) tribe. These two young men…were part of a delegation that came across the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis, a few years since, to enquire for the truth…

Two old and venerable men of this party died in St. Louis, and I traveled two thousand miles, companion with these two young fellows, towards their own country, and became much pleased with their manners and dispositions. The last mentioned of the two (No Horns on His Head), died near the mouth of the Yellow Stone River on his way home, with disease which he had contracted in the civilized district; and the other one I have since learned, arrived safely amongst his friends, conveying to them the melancholy intelligence of the deaths of all the rest of his party; but assurances at the same time, from General Clark, and many Reverend gentlemen, that the report which they had heard was well founded; and that missionaries, good and religious men, would soon come amongst them to teach this religion, so that they could all understand and have the benefits of it.”

To be continued...


[1] The two men who died were buried in St. Louis. Their burial records read:

The 31st of October, 1831, I, undersigned, did bury in the Cemetery of this Parish the body of Keepellele, or Pipe Bard of Nez Perce of the tribe of the Chopoweck Nation called Flat Heads, age around 44 years, administered Holy Baptism, coming from the Columbia river beyond the Rocky Mountains. Edm. Saulinier. Priest

The seventeenth of November, 1831, I, undersigned, did bury in the Cemetery of this Parish the body of Paul, savage of the Nation of the Flat Heads, coming from the Columbia River beyond the Rocky Mountains. Roux. Priest.

Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...