Tuesday, December 26, 2006

running, abraham, and johnny cash

This morning I got up early to run, since yesterday I ate the entire Christmas turkey, and I was running through my wife's hometown listening to Johnny Cash and thinking about Abraham. (I know, odd combination)

So as I was running I came to this decision, I am like Abraham in some ways. Not in the "Great Man of Faith" ways, but in other ways. Not in the "Faith Hall of Fame" ways, (Hebrews 11) but in the "not quite there" ways. Here's what I was thinking. God calls Abraham and asks him to move away from his family and go where He wants him to go. God also promises that He will bless Abraham and make him prosperous. He says He will make Abraham's family grow, give him land and God tells him that through his family the entire world would be blessed. So Abraham does what God wants him to do and lives by God's commands and he becomes very rich. (in sheep and goats and things like that) And after many years Abraham and his wife Sarah still don't have any children. So Abraham starts to question God. Not an overt, defiant, inquisition, but just wanting to know how God is going to keep His promise in this, situation.

This is me. I question God when things don't go the way I think they should go. I am a classic over-thinker. Let me try to explain the depths of my neurosis. If I go somewhere and it is not like I thought it should be or not the way I have pictured in my head, then I am disappointed. If I get up to speak and for some reason the room is set up differently than I imagined it to be it throws me off a little. I don't think I am psychotic, but maybe a little neurotic. There are things about God that I believe with all of me, yet I still question how God decides to work those things out. Why would anyone in their right mind question an all-powerful God? Abraham did.

Not only did Abraham question God, but he tried to take things into his own hands. Sarah is not getting pregnant so Abraham decides that the thing to do is take Sarah's maidservant, Hagar, as his wife and see if she could give him a son and thus fulfill the promise that God had made to him. Now in that day and time people took many wives and it seems like God was alright with that early on, but the heir to a family was always the firstborn son of the original union of husband and wife. So by taking another wife Abraham was saying to God, "I'll take things into my own hands." Here's my question, isn't this God's promise? Why does Abraham think he must figure out how to make God's promise come true?

This is me. I have this insatiable desire to work things out. I will think about and plan and try to execute all sorts of ideas that seem to me to be the way to go, but I have a hard time allowing God to just show me His way. Isaiah 40:31 says,

"Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."

God says, "Just wait." I push ahead. God says, "Put your hope in me." I run my own way and become tired. God says, "Trust me." And I walk by my own direction and get weak. Why can't I just trust God and wait?

So I'm out running and listening to Johnny Cash and thinking about Abraham and how I am like him. Abraham finally waits for God and is given the son of promise, Issac. Later Abraham demonstrates extreme amounts of faith, and I wonder what was the turning point for him? When did he decide to let God take care of God's promises? What turned Abraham into a man with such great faith? And if there is this something that changed Abraham, can I have some? Maybe there is still time for me to become who God wants me to be.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

uprising, by erwin mcmannus

Excerpt from Uprising, by Erwin McMannus:

"Several years ago I was mesmerized by the amazing talent of a classical pianist named Chris Crossan. After playing a wide spectrum of music, spanning from Beethoven to Bach to the Beatles, he invited an admiring student to come up and play. The student seemed a bit off balance by the invitation. It wasn't that he was timid before audiences; it was that he didn't know how to play the piano. But Chris insisted, almost as if missing the most important part of the information. Chris kept emphasizing he was free to play anything he wanted. Again the student, in somewhat embarrassed manner, explained that he didn't know how to play the piano. And then Chris pressed his point."

"Although the student had the opportunity, he really didn't have the freedom. Opportunity and freedom are not the same thing. Chris's freedom to play the full spectrum of music, to passionately express the music within his soul, was only available to him as a result of years and years of disipline. Discipline can be confused with conformity. Many times we run from discipline or at least resist it because we feel we are being forced to conform in the most negative sense of the word. No one wants to be a clone. No one's life ambition is to be a carbon copy of someone else (except, of course, all those Elvis impersonators). Yet the irony is that when we forsake discipline in our attempt to avoid conformity, we lose our potential to be truely free. The course set before us offers the freedom hat comes from a discipline of the soul. There is a gauntlet you must be willing to pass through. At first the pursuit of character has the feel of learning scales, but soon what is formed becomes music to your ears. Without character all you're doing is playing the radio. When the character of Christ is formed within, you are no longer simply an echo but a voice."

Friday, December 22, 2006

who's there?

I have started reading through the Bible with the help of a "Daily Bible" that I have had for a number of years. It's the kind of thing where it breaks down the entire Bible into 365 readings. I have tried this before and have gotten bogged down in Leviticus or Numbers or something so I thought I would try to get ahead a little by starting in December. Maybe if I never get behind I won't get as discouraged.

Anyway, a few days ago I was reading through the fourth chapter of Genesis and came across an interesting verse. It wasn't long ago that I taught a series of lessons based on the first eleven chapters of Genesis and this verse was one of the key verses. I think this might even be one of the key verses for understanding the entire Bible. In chapter four Adam and Eve have been banished from the Garden of Eden and have given birth to two sons. It seems for whatever reason (scholars can't agree) that God accepts Able's offerings and rejects Cain's. Because of this Cain is angry. It is in this context that God says the following to Cain;

"Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

Cain had a choice. To do or not do what is right before God.

One of my fears in life is that one night after we have all gone to bed, someone might break into our house to try to harm us. You know the feeling when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and in the darkness and through sleepy eyes you see someone (who is really just a shadow or a door that was left open or whatever), but for a split second you think there is someone in your house. I hate that feeling. That someone might be there waiting, ready to hurt me or my family. Sometimes I even lay in bed thinking about what I would do if that really happened. I hope I never have to test my plan to deal with such a situation. But isn't that what God lays out before Cain? "Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it.

I think that too often sin desires to have me and I let it. The fact that God expects us to master it should be empowering. It should mean that we can face that which desires to have us. It will always be there waiting, ready to hurt me, but I must master it.

Lord, that I would have the strength to protect my soul from that which desires to have me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

moving trees

near where we live there is a university that is always under construction. in the last few years they have spent millions of dollars (probably out of our pocket) on new classroom buildings, new student housing, a convocation center, a new fine arts center and many other projects. they have crossed one of the main roads of our city and added more student housing and even a few businesses including a panera bread co. (which is now our new breakfast spot) with so much change and construction the landscape has changed dramatically. for instance shoe lane at one time crossed through the campus to the neighborhood behind the school, but not anymore. they have completely eliminated one end of the street so that students can get to that end of the campus without having to cross a street. you can't even tell there once was a street there. they have completely covered the road and planted grass.

as you can imagine the roads around this area are also under major construction. not only did one street disappear completely, but they are now in the middle of a widening project that has displaced many local businesses, and an old church building. i guess the old adage "you can't fight city hall" is still appropriate. during all this upheaval some local environmentalist petitioned the city to save some old oak trees that would need to be removed for another portion of the road project. i don't know the details, but it was in the local paper for a few months until they came upon this compromise, the city would raise money to transplant those trees about fifty feet back from the road and out of the way of the new turning lane. (the irony of it all is that real living people with businesses and church buildings in the way got the shaft, but the trees get transplanted at the city's expense) so over the last year or so they have been working on moving these trees. it's silly to me, but whatever. i'm not insensitive to our environment, but it's silly. they first trimmed back a couple of the trees and then dug a big trench down into the root system. after several months a couple of the trees were moved away from the road. the only problem is at least one of those trees died after the move. i guess it's costly and not so easy to move trees.

in the bible, in the book of genesis, God created man and woman (adam and eve) and placed them in the garden of eden. from the description in genesis chapter two this must have been a great place. the bible says that God "planted a garden." it must have been magnificent, a place full of wonder and awe and it was all for adam and eve's enjoyment. there was a river that flowed from eden and it watered the garden and right in the middle there were a couple trees. actually there were probably many trees all over the garden, but in particular God placed two trees there in the middle. one was the tree of life the other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. the bible says that both of these trees produced fruit that was good to eat, except God asked adam and eve not to eat from the second tree. well, adam and eve after being tempted by satan did eat from that forbidden tree and they became very aware of themselves. they now were aware of good and evil. they even tried to hide from God. because they did not listen to God they were punished in several ways, but the most dreadful thing that happened was they were cast out of the garden of eden. more importantly they were "not allowed to reach out their hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

on the other end of the bible in the book of revelation there is another reference to the tree of life:

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be an curse." (Revelation 22:1-3)

the language here seems to indicate that this is the same tree that was in the garden. so my hope is that one day i can walk that street and eat from the fruit of that tree and there i can have live forever. galatians 3 says:

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."

i guess it's costly and not so easy to move trees.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

i don't want to

i have been trying to do things lately that i don't want to do. for instance, i have taken up running. i hate it. i know it is good for me, that my lungs and heart will be stronger because of the exercise, but i still hate it. for me putting one foot in front of the other in a rythmic manner, inhaling and exhaling, winding through the streets of our neighborhood is all drudgery. and our neighborhood is a great place to run. there are beautiful trees, some great houses to pass, a quaint little village with shops to look at, there is a view of the james river and at just the right time of day the sun sets across the water. i mean it is probably one of the best places in the commonwealth to run. not far from our house there is even a city walking/running trail that goes through a wooded area next to a local musem with wooden bridges that cross a couple lakes. but i hate running there too. my lungs feel like they will explode, my legs feel like heavy soup and my breathing sounds like i am in the middle of some type of medical emergency. the entire time i am out i am thinking how much i don't want to be doing this. and that's what i like most about it. i do it anyway. don't ask me in a month whether i am still running because i may not be, but for now i hate it and i am doing it anyway.

i also hate getting up early. unless i have an early tee time i really don't want to get up before 7:30 or 8:00am. the last couple years at our house has been busy. our twin daughters will be three in a few weeks so we have been happy to get any rest. the first year was a bear and i was't the one who bore the biggest part of getting up with them, my wife was. even so i still slept less those first two years than ever before. so when our girls began sleeping until 7:00am or so about a year ago, i was not complaining. but i have been convicted lately that i need some solitude. a few minutes to spend with my thoughts, my bible and in prayer. let me assure you that there is no solitude after 7:00am at our house. once the girls are awake its on. and by on i mean on with volume. so if i am going to have any time it must be before they are awake. i remember my mother saying that she got up at 5:30am while we were growing up. that's about 30 years of getting up at 5:30am. so i hate it, but i'm trying.

i am also not much on journaling. so that's why i have started this blog. i know that when i have taken the time to write down my thoughts about things it has been helpful, but i never liked the idea of "keeping a journal." seems hokey. so this won't be a journal, it's a blog. i don't want to, but that's what i like about it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

swimming hole

i'm not exactly sure what this will be. maybe this is just a place to record my own thoughts, maybe i can write something worthwhile, maybe it will make sense, and maybe not. for now i expect that i will ramble a bit and then see where it goes.

i feel like i'm standing on a rock at the swimming hole, scared to jump off into the unknown. a little apprehensive to just jump in not knowing exactly how far up i am and not knowing how deep the water is. if it's too shallow i could break something, and if it is too deep i might drown, but the thought of not being able to conjure up enough courage to jump at all is what scares me the most.

so ...