Living Seasonally

The crisp crunch of leaves in the early rays of dawn, the rise of a brown trout as it’s dorsal fin crests the water, the infectious laughter of children as they careen down the sledding hill and the explosion of flavor from a cherry tomato popped into the mouth while tending the Summer garden.

Seasons come and go, and return once again in the dance of life.  “For everything there is a season…” as King Solomon once said.

While in the big picture, seasons of life refers to being a child, raising children and finally meeting ones Maker; I would like to speak about living seasonally within the context of a rotation of life throughout a year.  I share this with you as a concept of the good life, not as a template for you to necessarily follow – rather as a principle for you to interpret in the context of your own life.

My rotation starts on April 1st, April Fools Day, as I stand in a near-freezing WNY stream trying to trick a trout or two.  The afternoon is then given over to starting seeds for the coming year’s vegetable garden.  This inauguration of Spring begins the season of Fishing/Gardening, which will then dominate my “leisure time” throughout the coming months until October rolls around.

As September draws to a close, the season of Harvesting/Hunting begins.  The garden is preserved through freezing, dehydrating and root cellaring.  My beard begins to grow from a goatee to a full beard fit for bowhunting.  My leisure time is consumed by walking through the woods and climbing trees.  As the temperature drops below freezing, we slaughter and butcher a steer, a hog and whatever deer I was able to harvest.  By Christmas, our 3 deep freezers, pantry and root cellar is full to bursting (we raise about 30% of our fruits/vegetables and butcher about 90% of our own meat).  There is a wonderful sense of contentment that comes from having plenty from the works of our own hands…and a sense of the sacred act of eating and sharing a meal with friends.

As Winter locks us in, my heated woodshop becomes my place of creativity and respite.  Planes get sharpened, shavings are made and furniture is the by-product.  This past year, cutting boards, tea shelf, a canoe and a cherry homework table were on the list.  As the snow piles up outside, I listen to jazz, drink coffee and pile up sawdust.  Nothing is wasted: off-cuts become kindling for the wood fire, plane shavings become tinder for same and sawdust gets layered with kitchen scraps in 5-gallon buckets in the corner of the shop for next year’s garden.

Each year I cut a better dovetail, grow a better garden and walk more silently through the woods.  The balance of the familiar and constant change, of inside and out of doors, of growing and harvesting and of constant purpose for my “leisure time” brings joy, balance, health and a sense of constant discovery.

Is it easier to live life vicariously?  Where money is the only thing you make, spend and save?  Where your free time is consumed on a couch with a bag of chips?

NO!

Each day would be easier, but life itself would be far more difficult.  The meaninglessness of being bored while being constantly entertained is a much more trying life to live.  The tug of a trout, the thrill of the hunt, the taste of truly fresh food and daily using furniture I have made myself is a far more fulfilling life!Salmon_edit

Freedom vs. Equality

The worst arguments are when both people are right.

As a pastor, I see these kinds of arguments all the time in marriage counseling, board meetings and conflict resolution.  Should we save money or trust in God’s provision?  Should we focus on evangelism or discipleship?  Should we be generous to those in need or should we “teach the man to fish”?  Should we help our kids out or should we let them learn their lesson?

It’s these types of arguments that seem to have no solution because both sides are convinced of their being right and won’t give an inch.  This is the type of argument that we see over and over again in our politics as well.  Two of the values that Americans value highly are freedom and equality; and yet, if you think about them you know that they are inherently opposites.  These two characteristics are oppositional in nature: Should we force desegregation on our country’s neighborhoods or should we allow people the freedom to choose where they want to live?  Should we utilize affirmative action type of legislation into our society or should we be a meritocracy?

It is so easy to castigate the Republicans for being against equality or to condemn the Democrats for being against freedom.  We wonder, as a nation, why we are so divided.  Here is the reason: we are too busy blaming the other side for being against freedom or equality instead of valuing the opposition’s view as being valid also.

Our country believes that “all men are created equal”, and yet we are the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Here is the biggest crux: should a parent be allowed to improve their child’s life?  I know that the answer seems obvious at first blush – but with the obvious answer of “yes”, we have created an inequality.  The next generation will have unequal opportunities based upon their parents’ accomplishments; and after 200 years of this – the gap will be quite wide.

Everyone knows that if you give the exact same scenarios to two different individuals, that their exercise of their own free will (among a whole host of other variables) will create different outcomes…which will then be inherited by their children.

I would love to see a dialogue begin in our country in a wholistic way that asks this question: “Where are the appropriate boundaries for freedom and equality?”  Ultimately, righteousness should be our highest goal.  As Teddy Roosevelt stated in response to those who didn’t want to get involved in World War I in order to have peace:

“The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

“if given the choice between Righteousness and Peace, I choose Righteousness.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Children should learn from their mistakes…and their parents should help them through them.  We should store up our provisions as the ant does and put our confidence in God’s provision as sufficient.  We should be generous to those in need and teach him to improve his situation.  Both/and, not either/or.

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

We begin the story with God walking with Adam in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden.  We end the story with the New Jerusalem descending to the New Earth and God being with us for eternity.

In between we see pictures of God’s ultimate desire of sharing Creation with His Ultimate Creation – Humanity:

1. God speaking to such as Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joshua.

2. God’s pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt and through the Wilderness.

3. The Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant which “tabernacled” among the nation of Israel.

4. God’s naming of His Son as Immanuel – God With Us.

5. Jesus living among us, being tempted as we are tempted.  Knowing our weakness, yet not succumbing to them.

6. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer.

7. In the midst of where two or three are gathered.

8. In the carrying out of ministry to those who are in need of water, clothing or visitation being done “unto Him”.

Righteousness is not God’s desire for humanity.  It is a required means of God’s presence with us.

Living a holy life is not trying to please God.  It is rather our saying to Him, “I want you in my life more than these”.  When we sin we are not only disappointing God, we are saying, “I don’t want you around”.  Sin is the ultimate story of unrequited love, of the willing suitor and the spurning object of His love.  Sin is not ultimately disobedience, but relational distance.

If God is feeling far off, be sure that sin is nearby.  It is only when Christ took upon himself the sins of the world that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”

God desires to walk with you.  What do you desire?

Be sure of this if you choose sin, He will leave.  He finally left the mercy seat and his beloved, Israel after all.  This is Hell – the absence of God.  Choose to be holy, for without holiness “no one will see God.”

Our Great, High Priest

When I was a little boy, the one thing I wanted most in the world was to be a big, strong man.  While there are many reasons one has for such a desire, the premiere one was that I could then do what I wanted to do.

The thing I hated most about school was the constant reminder that I was not a man.  Nothing did this more poignantly than the need to request permission to go to the bathroom.  Oh, the granduer of just being able to rise from one’s seat and go relieve himself without first abasing himself before an adult in two significant ways: 1.  I have to pee.  My body requires of me this obedience, and should I not respond correctly, I will eventually be covered in my own waste.  2.  You can tell me “no”.

Are you serious?!

Weakness is the antithesis of greatness.  There are no grand statues of our leaders throughout history holding themselves while dancing due to their need to pee.  It, in fact, seems disrespectful to even mention it.  Greatness is strength.  Greatness is not asking permission.  Greatness is doing, not submitting.

…and yet, Jesus is our Great, High Priest precisely because of his choosing our weaknesses, limitations and position.  In fact, he didn’t just choose to be a human but to serve to the ultimate extent of the expression of our limitations – he died…naked…in front of everyone…until his own weakness meant he couldn’t breathe anymore, and so he strangled to death due to his own body’s frailty.  Remember the pleading of Jesus for a drink?  Remember those in power telling him “no” in so many ways?  No, you aren’t worthy of the title Son of Man.  No, you are not our long-awaited Messiah.  No, you aren’t in control, and we’ll prove it by killing you after torturing and humiliating you.

And this is what makes Him great.  No, I am not lessening his perpetual divinity, nor his miraculous healing of others, nor any of the other “great” things he said/did.

What makes Him great is that Jesus understands our pain, our suffering, our weakness, our temptations.  He gets it.

He also defeated them.  Not in physical prowess, but in spiritual submission to the Father.  Nothing could make Him deny the Father’s will for His life, nothing!  The Apostle Paul knew this same truth when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

We often pray for God to make our lives easier.  Oh, that the Church would begin again to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”, and in this, show Christ’s victory to the world.  The indomitable will of the submitted servant.  “You can kill me, but you can’t make me deny my LORD!!!!”  May my brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Asia and Africa be strong in the midst of their weakness, and may we be inspired by their example of following Jesus.

Top 10 Rules for Dads

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1. Be a Man.  While this may seem trite to say, there are several ways in which I mean this statement: If you are a single mom, you have a very hard job!  You can be a great Mom, a great parent – but you can’t be a Dad.  You can’t demonstrate how to be a man, and you will only frustrate yourself and your child by trying to be one.  If you have a son, seek other groups/organization of good men that he can get involved in and with (e.g., check out your local church).  I also mean that being a male is not sufficient for the job – you also have to be a man!  We are about to go through a list of nine things that will require dedication, hard work and sacrifice…Man up!  “Put your man-pants on” as I am fond of saying.  Be the type of man that you want your sons to grow up to be and your daughters to grow up and marry.

2. Get Married.  See #1.  For a whole host of reasons, marriage is the best place for a child to be raised.  Remember, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”  God even indicates that one of his primary purposes for intact and healthy marriages is that he desires godly offspring. (Malachi 2:14-16)  If you cannot commit your whole life to a woman, you shouldn’t be interested in having kids with her either.  Marriage provides amongst other things: 1. a sense of permanence 2. a partner in life (including raising of kids e.g., you can get a break when you need one) 3. an example for both genders of children to pattern life after 4. financial benefit 5. someone to balance out our extremes with.

3. Love Your Wife.  The healthiest example for your children to grow up considering to be normal is that they come third in your life: 1. God 2. Your Wife and 3. Your Children.  This keeps them from becoming spoiled rotten brats who not only drive your relationships, but also drive you crazy, and it also models for them the kind of marriage they should seek to replicate.  Your daughters will inherently understand what a loving relationship looks, acts and feels like (and so won’t settle for anything less in their relationships), and your sons will grow up knowing how to appropriately love a woman.  This cannot simply be something that is assumed, it must be demonstrated in front of your children on a regular basis.  Buy her flowers, take her out on dates, hold the chair out for her, get the door for her.  Don’t speak slightintly of her to your children, etc.

4. Raise Adults.  As Stephen R. Covey put it, “Begin with the end in mind”.  We are not raising children, we are raising adults.  What kind of adults do you want them to become?  Once that is answered, do everything in your power to make sure you are that kind of adult, then set out milestones of achievement for them to conquer throughout their childhood. (e.g., They should be able to cook a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners – so start teaching them to cook, and requiring it of them well before they are out of the house)  When the Scriptures tell us fathers that we are to “train up our child in the way they should go” it’s more than just teaching them to read the Bible and pray every day.  Think of them as apprentice adults.  Train them, resource them, encourage them but don’t just yell at them for not being and doing what you want them to be/do; esp. if you haven’t trained them any better.

5. Discipline Consistently.  This is the first half of the two basic rules for discipline no matter your style of parenting.  Wrong is wrong.  Consequences should follow for what they have done.  This teaches them that life rewards good, and punishes evil.  That there is a sanity to their lives because they can count on cause and effect.  If they are punished more severely when you have had a bad day at work, you are teaching them that the world doesn’t make sense, that consequences are out of their control and that their actions have little to do with what they will realize in the future.  The same is true of a lack of discipline.  If you shelter them from all of the natural consequences of their actions they will grow up to be either a horrible miscreant that few people will ever enjoy, or a depressed puddle of a person who has a very low self-esteem.  Please note that I said “all of the natural consequences”.  There should be a gradual increase of natural consequences as they mature, just as their should be a gradual increase of responsibilities.

6. Follow Through.  If you do not have a backbone, you should not procreate!  This is the second half of the two basic rules for discipline.  Your word must be something your children respect.  You must speak the truth.  Your words must come true.  This means that you need to be in control of your words so as to never utter a threat that you are unwilling (or perhaps shouldn’t) follow through on.  If you tell them they will not be allowed to play with their friends for a week if they do X and they then do X, you had better not let them play with their friends for seven days.  This builds trust, respect and keeps you from blowing through 10 on the richter scale in anger.  Your children will not cause you nearly the stomach ulcers or headaches if they know that they know that they know tha you mean what you say, and that you only say what you truly mean.

7. Believe in Them.  If you believe in your kids, then you will set goals for them and anticipate their achievement of them, you will invest your time in their training, you will hold them accountable for failure, you will expect more and more from them as they mature, you will praise them publicly, you will be proud of them.  I love the passage in the Scriptures where Jesus is baptized, and God the Father says, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, NIV)  Note that this was public praise prior to Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.  Low expectations mean little belief.

8. Freedom and Responsibility.  These are two sides of the same exact coin.  You cannot hold someone responsible for something that they were not free in, and you cannot give freedom to someone without them being responsible for their use of said liberties.  As has been mentioned earlier, there should be a gradual increasing of these paralleling their maturation.  As they get older, they should become more responsible for more areas of personal freedom.  This is the age old battle of wills between parents and children.  Child screams, “You treat me like a child!” and Parent retorts, “If you want to be treated like an adult, then act like one!”  Where freedom and responsibilitiy are not increased together, resentment or irresponsibility will result.

9. Bless Them.  The Apostle Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 12:14, “Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”  Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”  Find ways to bless them beyond what they have earned.  Our heavenly Father has certainly done this for us.  Once you decide to have kids, you decide that your life will no longer be about you anymore.  If this means giving up that new four-wheeler you have been dreaming about, or that Lie-Nielsen bronze #4 smoothing plane for them – then do so; but don’t keep it secret!  They need to know that you are blessing them because you love them more than you love yourself.  And they need to know that being a parent means sacrificing for their kids.  This will teach them humility, gratitude and giving.

10. Lead Them to Jesus.  While I do mean that you should make their eternal salvation your top priority, I also mean that you should be the one who leads them to read their Bible, to pray earnestly to give charitably, to live a Christian life.  You should make godliness attractive and synonymous with being an adult.  If the father is active in his faith, 87% of his children will also be active in their faith throughout their adult lives.  There is no other corellary so strong in the entire world for predicting the spiritual life of an individual.  You are the spiritual leader of your house, whether you are leading them toward Jesus or away from him.  Lead well.

Sacred Moment

sacred momentI had the privelege and honor to pray for a woman just before she died yesterday.  It was a beautiful, sacred time!

We often think of sacred moments as birth, salvation, baptism, membership, wedding and births; but our culture chooses to not think about the fact of our imminent demise as something beautiful anymore.  In fact, most of our culture has almost no connection with it at all.  That’s what happens to people in hospitals and nursing homes with “professionals” around them.  No longer is it even considered something that children should witness, let alone have a visceral understanding of.  I am told that children aren’t able to deal with it, but what I have found is that if they don’t have to deal with it as a child, they don’t see it as normal, and are unable (or unwilling) to deal with it in a healthy manner as adults.  100% seems like normal to me.

Death happens.  Life’s breath slips slowly, yet suddenly away.

In the midst of reflecting on this (now normal for me) event, a saleswoman commented how sad that must have been.  My response was that death is never sad – a life lived well leads to a victorious death, a life lived poorly is sad – death is just the statement that you have finished the race.  How we run that race is what is happy or sad.

There is something sacred about a child’s birth.  Awe-inspiring, moving and meaningful.  The breath of life enters their nostrils, and we are introduced to this person that we love already – before we know them.

There is something sacred about a person’s death too.  Awe-inspiring, moving and meaningful.  The breath of life leaves their body, and we love the person that we have known.

Don’t rob yourself of the sacred moment of a loved one’s passing.  Embrace them through the entirety of life; as you have embraced the race, embrace the finish line!

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” – St. Paul  (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NIV)

Brokenness

brokennessA few years ago, my wife stood up to go turn the light in the hallway off.  Instead, her lights went out…she passed out.  In the process of passing out, she fell on her left forearm – and snapped both bones resulting in a hand that was an inch too high and an inch and a half too far to the left.  Needless to say, we went to the hospital.

In the hospital, x-rays were taken, pain medication was administered, and the doctor pulled on my wife’s broken hand – wrenching the bones back into place (not to mention my stomach getting wrenched while watching).  She had to have surgery, pins, plate and cast.  The cast eventually came off – the pins and plate remain.

Her arm will never be the same again.  No one else can tell just looking at her, or how she functions on a daily basis.  In fact, thanks to good medical care, there is very little difference in how she functions on a daily basis – including playing the piano on our worship team.  But every now and then, there’s a catch.  There’s a reminder.

Healing takes time, but it also takes a healer.

Same time, same effort, same person without the healer pulling, setting and pinning – no hand and no forearm.

Sin is brokenness.  Sin causes brokenness.

God wants to heal you…but it’s going to hurt, it’s going to take time and its going to take your cooperation.

Go to church, go to God, grit your teeth and let him set your broken heart in line with Him.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3, NIV)