Dangerous Illusions

“And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 1 Kings 17:12

When I was young, I was fascinated with optical illusions: Escher’s pair of hands that seem to be drawing themselves, climbing up the Penrose staircase that ends at the bottom, or the Impossible Trident…(does it have three prongs or two?)

I remember staring at these illustrations until my eyes ached trying to find a way to resolve the dissonant questions within.

But I never could.

The drawings were mysterious illusions . . . questions without answers.

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Good Questions.

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” Job 38:31-33

God’s questions to the broken man, Job, are deep and daunting.

There is a unique mixture of compassion and correction in their tone as God seeks to update Job’s understanding of who He is by taking him to the end of his knowledge.

But I am grateful for that.

As my three sons near and step into manhood, I have had more and more opportunities to talk with them about those steps and what they mean.

More often than not, these conversations begin with great questions, too. But as time has gone by, the questions have changed and ended, recently, with a Job-like surprise. Here’s what I mean…

When the boys were just little guys, their questions were direct and easy.

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Making and remaking

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” Psalms 40:4

On February 5, 1976, Franz Klammer created an international sensation skiing the men’s Olympic downhill in 1:45.73 seconds. He skied like no one before him. He averaged about 64 miles per hour over silky powder in the crisp air of the Austrian Alps. He earned a gold medal and a top spot in Olympic history.

Whenever I think of the Winter Olympics, I think of Alpine skiing and the men’s downhill. I think of people like Franz Klammer and a unique behavior that sharpens champion skiers. Simply, it is this:

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Against them.

“And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them . . .” Mark 6: 47-48a

I have a deep respect for storms.

Living in the Midwest, I have nurtured a wariness for weather’s fury: the power of sudden, golf-ball sized hail in a summer thunderstorm, the screaming wind that announces the arrival of an F-4 tornado overhead, the smothering white-out of a winter blizzard rolling over the the frozen prairie land of Illinois . . . mountains of powdery, dry snow . . . and the deafening silence after.

Storms have a way of commanding our attention. Sometimes, too much.

Read the story of Jesus walking on water in the middle of a huge storm, and see this picture: the night’s blackness, the pitching waves in the Sea of Galilee, the growing unease with what may be coming, the small group of men in an open fishing boat terrified of it all.

But focus too much on the storm, and we can miss one of those, ” wait a minute. . . ” moments that signal something . . . astonishing.

Continue reading “Against them.”

Gift exchange

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

This Christmas, how will you be involved in the giving and getting of gifts? From ancient times, gift-giving has been associated with many holidays at the turn of the year, and the wise men who visited Jesus at his birth were leaders for us in the practice.

For the most part, gift-giving is a happy and joyful experience. But, have you ever had a less-than-joyful experience with gifts?

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True ways

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, . . .  put off your old self. . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “Ephesians 4:17-24

When I was a young student, every class day would begin with our reciting the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance. We said it every day, and then we’d sing a patriotic hymn of our teacher’s choosing.

The words we spoke or sung fell easily from our lips, because we had said or sung them over and over again . . . for years.

We were learning what it meant to be an American.

But it wasn’t always that way. Continue reading “True ways”

23 and Me

The Lord is the one who takes care of me. I shall lack nothing.
In his care, I am fully satisfied and content.
He leads me into restful stillness.
He restores my soul.
He leads me on paths that are true and good, because he is true and good.
Even when I walk in a darkness like death, I will not be afraid of being hurt,
For you are ever with me.
Your presence guiding me there, comforts me.
You provide a feast before me out of nothing,
And full of joy, I invite my enemies to join me.
You salve my soul with honor,
And your well-supply in my life overwhelms me with abundance.
Surely goodness and mercy shall always be mine,
And we will live together in your care, now, always, and in your home,
forever.

(Psalm 23, a paraphrase)

 

Driftwood

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  Hebrews 2:1

When I was a young boy, my dad took me fishing on the lake near our home. Gathering all of our tackle and poles, we boarded a small boat one Saturday afternoon,  pushed off from the wooden, creaking dock and rowed toward a series of small inlets near the western shore on the opposite side. (It was a 30-minute trip when the wind was with us.) In the gray/green of hidden, shadowed coves, “the big ones” lay gently moving in the cool stillness of the deep.

That was our goal. We knew where to go. We knew the way to get there, but there was just one challenge, a familiar challenge:  Continue reading “Driftwood”

Good Gifts

O, Child of Peace, across this night,
Within our hearts is all made right.
The pow’r of sin is crumbling fast,
As we are freed from prisons past.
In darkness, cold, our hearts knew pain,
Forever deep, the crimson stain.
But kingdoms fall, our fears release.
For, You have come, O Child of Peace.

O, Newborn Gift, the Father’s Son,
Your presence here enfolds us, one.
Together, bound, we share the joy
You bring to earth as one, small boy.
For, since in love you’ll grow to be
Your Father’s Lamb because of me,
Your mercy rich will make me new:
A son of God because of You.

From star to star in heaven’s space
A song rings out: a song of grace.
Your music starts where sin begins.
It wakes the dead and never ends.
Our silent lives have never heard
Until tonight this healing Word.
O, may this music never cease!
Sing on, O Son, my Prince of Peace.