Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Let it snow...

Got a dusting of the white stuff that actually stuck this morning for a few hours. It looked like the real thing, and my understanding is that south and east of here (including the Cities) is supposed to get more than that. Appears we are well on our way to winter. I remember a year ago we got a nasty, sloppy wet mess of delightful winter preview about this time in November. So we'll see.

The deer have decided it's fall. They're changing their patterns to adjust to the weather. I'm getting out to sit on stand occasionally, loving the quiet and hoping for venison.

I'm writing. Lately I've been working on a commentary on Luke based on the entries shared on this blog. My plan is to self-publish that and have it available for some of our Life Groups that are approaching the one-year mark and will complete their study of Mark. So that's exciting. Once it's up for order, I'll post that info here as well. If all works as planned, it will be available both as an e-book and in print. Choices, choices.

Seems like early November is always a time of restlessness and questions in my mind. That, along with deep, deep joy. I'm a paradox.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What a view!



Just a pic to highlight how amazing fall can be here at Decision Hills. This is last Friday night, enjoying that westward view across the lake. We've been doing Friday Night Fires here and have had a pretty loyal group showing up. For whatever reason, nobody else showed last Friday. It was a gorgeous evening, and I got to sit by the fire for most of the evening soaking in spectacular views like this.

Two in a row

This post from Scott Sauls is very nearly something I could have written. Like Scott, I have two daughters and like him, I would like to give God some pointed advice on how to write their stories. And yet, being a few years ahead of him (at least as far as the age of my daughters) I begin to see the benefits of some of the more challenging turns their stories have taken.

And of course, like Scott, I'm bursting-at-the-seams proud of my daughters.

If you're a parent, this is just such a good reminder of the long-term goodness and wisdom of God. Trust him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Scott Sauls does it again

Scott Sauls frequently hits it out of the park with his blog. This blog post is so incredibly true, and hits very, very close to home for me. And, thank God, I have frequently been confronted by those who love me enough to help me see myself more clearly. As humbling as it is, life without those insights would be... well, hell. In a very precise and theological sense.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Going with the flow

It's a very blustery day outside.

(Here is a bit from one of my favorite Winnie the Pooh moments on days like this.)

The waves on the lake are positively boisterous. I'm fighting a little bit of a cold, so I'm debating about bundling up and taking a walk around Decision Hills to check on things. The deer have stayed deep back in the brush during these windy days.

It's been a comfortable morning to work on manuscripts, to plan tomorrow's Bible Overview teaching, to dig deep into scripture and drink yet another cup of coffee (Caribou Mahogany, as always) while watching the leaves fall, fondly remembering e.e. cummings' briefest of poems on that topic. The soundtrack in the background is a rich variety of Melody Gardot, Sarah Groves, John Mayer, and B.B. King. Good stuff.

Snowflakes have been in the air yesterday and last night. There's a white rime on a few of the trees that is melting now. Seems early, but October is a month when you just have to roll with things a bit.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Luke 24:36-53

Jesus has the last word. He appears to his disciples yet again, and his word is "Peace." It is worth pondering that the most common words God speaks in scripture are "don't be afraid" and "peace." The presence of God is a rock, an anchor, in the face of our daily anxieties. He is solid truth over against our vacillations. The resurrected Jesus, victorious over the grave and every other fear we face, speaks peace.

Imagine them in that room, groping with a new, expanded reality. Jesus continues to speak, reassuring them in the face of what they thought was true. In among his words are some absolute treasures. "Why are you troubled? Why do you doubt?" Well, Jesus, you were dead just a bit ago. We're having trouble catching up. Just to make things clearer–and harder to grasp–Jesus adds, "touch me and see my hands and feet, that it is I myself." At one level Jesus is dealing with their doubts. Yes, it's really me. You can believe your eyes. This is not wishful thinking. The love you've known, the grander vision you've experienced, is real.

At another level Jesus is speaking theologically, speaking about the truth of God. He says, "it is I myself" and in the Greek it is ego eimi which just happens to be (as we have noted before) the exact words God uses to name himself to Moses. Jesus says "See my hands and feet, that I AM." The resurrected Jesus names himself as God, just in case we were starting to get our heads (and hearts) around the fact that he's alive in the first place.

I AM, who met Moses at the burning bush, who rescued the Israelites from Egypt, who placed David on the throne, who dropped fire on Mount Carmel at Elijah's word, who rescued the Jews from death through Esther's beautiful courage, I AM is risen from the grave, and death is no longer a period at the end of the sentence. At most it's a semi-colon. The story goes on for eternity.

Now, Jesus says, get to work. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed to all nations. What God promised when he called Abraham, that from this one new nation he would bring blessing to all the nations, is going to be fulfilled. Everyone is welcome. You've seen it; you've experienced it. Your testimony is important. As Jesus has welcomed you and spoken his love into your heart, go welcome and love the least, lost, broken ones. Live the joy and gratitude that comes from being caught up in Jesus' resurrection. This is not the end of the story, not at all. It is only the beginning.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

A few sabbath hours

How hard it is to take sabbath!

I've been reading lately in both Exodus and Deuteronomy about God's concern for his people to take time for rest. I'm confronted again and again by my warped perception that I am lazy, that I don't work enough or hard enough. I track my hours and make sure, week by week, that I am dedicating full-time work and more than full-time work to my day job, and yet...

And yet, perhaps because growing up on the farm the work was never, never done, I always feel like I have quit before the job is finished. It's a rare day when I lay my head down at night feeling like I have done enough.

Not to give the impression that I am some type-A driven juggernaut. Not at all. But I have a sense that the days are precious, and most of them include some opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, and most evenings I have a picture in my mind of swaths of mown alfalfa lying in the field waiting to be baled.

Today I have a few work duties to attend, but they are important, not urgent. I need to start looking ahead to a course I'll teach this fall. I need to begin thinking in specific depth about a sermon I'll preach in two weeks. These things are immeasurably important, but they are not so urgent that I watch the minutes tick away with a deepening sense of panic.

What to do with the sabbath hours? I am listening to a couple podcasts. I am experimenting with a new recipe. I have been out just a bit soaking up morning sunshine. I have been deep in scripture and musing over the turnings of my life and my heart, lazily contemplating the future. I am in conversation with a friend on the other side of the world about a shared adventure this winter. The day is not empty. Rather it is full in the most peaceful, restful sense.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Luke 24:12-35

This narrative has got to be one of the greatest stories in scripture. It overflows with heartbreak, humor, suspense, depth of character, and surprise. This brief anecdote is a masterful piece of flash non-fiction. Just a few examples of the amazing turns of phrase and poignant moments in this tiny episode:

"While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him." These two disciples (Clopas and another unnamed disciple, quite possibly his wife) are talking things through. Processing their grief. Scrambling for purchase in the destabilizing events that surround them. Jesus comes near in their processing and walks with them, unrecognized. Have you experienced this? I daresay.

"What things?" This is perhaps the funniest moment in the whole story. In Greek it's even more brief, just a single word: "Poia?" What things? They carry in their hearts the things that have happened in Jerusalem in these days concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Think of all that is summed up in that phrase for them, going back to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and being honored with a banquet in his home; Jesus' triumphal entry on Palm Sunday; his teaching in the temple, his overthrowing of the money changers' tables; his furtive movements in and out of the city outwitting the Jewish authorities; the last supper in the upper room; the treason of Judas and Jesus' betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane; a sham of a trial, shuffling back and forth from Annas to Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod and again to Pilate; the unthinkable flogging of the Son of God, the crown of thorns, the Via Dolorosa, the cross; Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and others taking Jesus' lifeless body down and depositing it hastily in a new stone tomb; the disciples' huddling behind locked doors for fear. All this is summed up in their conversation. It is much to process, overwhelmingly so, but Jesus (who has been the heart of every event, every twist) asks, "What things?" as though he was a rube newly arrived from some backwater corner of the countryside. We need to see the humor that is an essential part of the joy that bubbles over here.

"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" Jesus chastises these two for their unbelief, but then he goes on to instruct them. If there was ever a Bible study I wish I could be a part of, this is it. Jesus walks them through the Old Testament and shows how all that has happened is not a discontinuation, not a disappointment, but is in fact the fulfillment of God's plan. How often I am slow of heart to believe all that God has promised! I get too comfortable living in disappointment, too willing to be Eeyore in my thinking: This is all I can expect. Oh, well, I guess it will have to do. Instead, Jesus reminds them that God has a greater future planned, and the trauma they've endured is part of the outworking of God's plan.

"And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." There comes a moment when we see God's work for what it is. This is by grace, and nearly always surprises us. This moment, this new perspective, redefines the past and we see our own history clearly for the first time, reinterpreting the events of our past. This moment reshapes the future in a flash, transforming it from more of the eternal same into a bright pathway of possibility. It is the splash of cold water on the face that wakes the sleeper. If we are too bound to our present perceptions, this will be an uncomfortable realization. If, however, we have learned to live with a God who is willing and eager to surprise his people with hope, we can ride this roller coaster with joy. Are you willing to let God surprise you?

"The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Apparently Jesus, after disappearing from the table at Emmaus, flashes to Jerusalem and has a conversation with Simon, who then has time to inform the eleven and the others while Cleopas and his compatriot run the seven miles back to Jerusalem. This is news, not just information, and Jesus spreads the fact of his resurrection around to various voices that then reinforce each other. Who is in your life with whom you can share resurrection stories? Who shares your hope? Who walks deeper into God's word, into possibility, into hope, with you?


Monday, July 8, 2019

Boundary Waters

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few of the best shots from my recent Boundary Waters trip.


This was my early morning devotions spot on Hanson Lake, just south of the Canadian border. Pretty much all our days looked like this: calm water, beautiful blue skies. Gorgeous weather.


This waterfall is just off the South Arm of Knife Lake, along the portage up to Eddy Lake. That's me out in the midst of it all.


My good friend Nate who coordinated our whole trip likes to get up at sunrise and get out solo for a bit. I caught him on his way out to catch an impressive stringer of smallmouth bass this particular morning.

Luke 24:1-11

The resurrection narrative starts with this glorious word, "But." In Greek it's a tiny, indeterminate connecting word, not the conjunction that implies a clear contrast. That's correct, of course; the crucifixion and resurrection (as well as Jesus' entire ministry) is a continuous outworking of God's necessity and plan. It's not like Satan won the crucifixion, but now Jesus is going to win the resurrection, even though it sometimes gets preached like that.

And yet, in the experience of the disciples, and probably in our experience as well, there is a marked contrast. "But" is not too strong a way to transition into this resurrection story. J.R.R. Tolkien in his remarkable essay "On Fairy Stories" says that every good fantasy story (in the broadest sense of fantasy, of which the gospel story is the most supreme and most true example) includes the "dyscatastrophe" of tragedy but then also includes a turn, a "eucatastrophe" of joy. I want to quote Tolkien here at some length:
The consolation of fairy-stories, of the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist' nor 'fugitive.' In its fairy-tale–or other-world–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the idea of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
If we do not enter into the gospel story enough to experience the depth of grief, of "dyscatastrophe" that the disciples, huddled in fear in an upper room, are experiencing, then we will never receive the fullness of the resurrection. If we cannot bring our own grief and tragedy into the story, the resurrection will remain outside of us. This small conjunction, "But," holds for us the turning of the story. The women come to the tomb and experience something quite different than they had expected. The angels announce to them, just as they announced to the shepherds at Jesus' birth, an amazing truth beyond the expected continuation of tragedy, oppression, and fear.

Our grief seems so permanent to us. Our fears and our frustrations dominate our days. If you have walked through grief, loss, separation, longing, you can feel the weight like gravestones on the hearts of the women as they walk to the tomb. Jesus is dead, and with him their hope has died. The announcement of the angels rings like breaking chains.

A word here about endurance. The greater the surprise in God's word to us, the clearer he will communicate. If God is asking you to do something truly surprising, he will make that direction clear. And like with Moses' objections or Gideon's fleece, he will be patient with your questions and discernment. Jesus is so tenderly patient with those who need a moment to adjust to his resurrection. But once he has made that new direction clear, once he has revealed a new path, his voice will fade. He is still patient, but he will not continue to provide signs and speak in the silence of your heart to confront each doubt. Having revealed himself, he will ask you to wait with him. This is why the remainder of the New Testament speaks so much and so eloquently about endurance. Now that we know the risen Christ, we endure the waiting for the fulfillment of his Kingdom. In the same way, if God has spoken a surprising word to you, once it is clear you may need to endure for a long while before you see movement toward its fulfillment.

Like the women at the tomb, the meantime is often fraught with confusion. Though they go and announce their disorienting experience, the rest of the disciples can't receive it, and in fact reject the idea as an idle tale. Don't let the confusion of others dissuade you from all Jesus has spoken to you. In his own good time, Jesus will reveal himself to the others.