Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gnarly....





This tree has character. It stands at the corner of a blueberry field near a busy, rural thoroughfare in West Olive. Its stoic presence greets us each Sunday morning as we drive to church.







The features of this tree are not beautiful. It is misshapen and crooked. Its branches are gnarly and a fair share are dead. This evergreen has had a hard life. It has been the victim of not one, but two, lightning strikes.











 Its trunk is scarred. Its bark is shredding. Compared to neighboring trees, its color is dull and boring. In spite of its odd characteristics, this tree is special. This particular tree's beauty is in its character.


Webster's definition of character is, "the group of qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from others."

Different.

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but being "different" in today's society isn't about character, it's about separation. In today's world, being different isn't tolerated. Differences in skin color, political party affiliation and sexual identities aren't celebrated, they are slammed. Differences in opinion are not discussed or debated, but protested and boycotted. Written comments are hateful. Spoken words are spiteful.  And it seems the more we highlight the need for equality, the more we point out our differences and separate ourselves with polarized divisiveness.

Quite frankly, I've had enough. Enough of the bickering. Enough of the hate. Enough of judgmental jargon.

So today, I'm going to take Paul's words from Romans 12:18 and live it out, and I'll definitely need God's help to do it.  The NIV translation states it this way: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

I'm going to start by cutting out an expanded section of Romans 12 and placing it where I spend time each day. Maybe my bathroom mirror. Maybe my desk at work. My laptop. My dashboard. And maybe, just maybe, as far as it depends on me, I may make a difference.

Here's the passage. From Romans 12:14-21. From the Message:
14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Today I'm going to praise God that I'm different. I'm scarred, gnarly, struck by the lightning circumstances of life. And tomorrow, I'm going to celebrate that we are all different. Misshapen but beautiful. Black. White. Hispanic, Republican. Democrat. Presbyterian. Baptist. God created each of us with character. God created each of us as his children, with care.

As far as it depends on me, I'm not going to highlight our differences. I'm not going to give anyone special treatment because they are different from me. I just want to love on everyone. I'm asking God to help me love others the way he loves me and see his special creations through the lens of his love.

Special. Loved. Made with character.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

A "little" boogie...

Church. It's the place you'll find my family on most Sunday mornings. Today was no exception. We attend church to be filled, to participate in worship and to fellowship. But our service today warmed my heart, not because of the sermon or the fellowship or the Scripture. Nope. Today's worship was special for one reason.

Kids.

Today, children reminded me of true, pure worship.

Today is Palm Sunday. We have a tradition in our church of giving kids, young and old alike, palm branches on this special morning. And during the singing of traditional Hosanna hymns, the kids excitedly participated with exuberant waving, flailing even, of these leafy greens. These kids didn't hold back and raised their palms in simple, joyful praise.

Earlier in the service, as is typical on Sunday mornings, our praise team led us in worship. Today's songs included a toe-tapping, hand-clapping spiritual. Two pews ahead of us, a young family worshiped with Daniel, their toddler.  Daniel bounced, slid and danced to the beat of the music. He was the picture of pure happiness, complete with twinkling eyes and wide smile.

Daniel's dancing reminded me of a Facebook post I had seen earlier this week. Amy, another young mom from our church, posted a video of her sweet daughter.






It's obvious that God created the jubilant joy of music in our very souls. Kids unabashedly celebrate this gift. I wonder why, as adults, we squelch this precious gift. Maybe it's fear or worry of humiliation, but whatever reason, we seem to have lost the innocence of pure worship.

After watching kids worship, I need to try to refresh my bones and get back to the pure joy of worship. I can learn from kids, but I can also learn from David.  He wrote about dancing in Psalm 51, here from The Message:

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!
Let's dance like no one's watching!


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Road Goop...

Having an extended break between Christmas and New Year's has been such a blessing! Life seems far less hectic when work is not part of the daily agenda. Time moves at a slower pace.

Sleeping in. Homemade breakfasts. Daily devotions. Family game time.

The weather during Christmas break is usually cold, overcast and snowy, but a few days ago, God blessed us with a day which was sunny and unseasonably warm. From my perch on the couch, I pondered a bit of exercise. A walk seemed a perfect way to enjoy the weather without exerting too much energy. My son, Barry, was home early from work and after very little arm-twisting, he agreed to be my walking partner. We decided Kouw Park, our local township park on the shores of Lake Michigan, should be our destination and turnaround point. giving us a four mile round trip walk.

Living in a rural area, our relatively quiet, county road was our walking surface.  During other times of the year, this trip is made while driving, and we barely notice the surface of the roadway, except to see the haphazard squiggly black marks of the county's crack-seal treatment.  But since our walking pace was slow and relaxed, we were able to enjoy a great deal more of both the scenery and the roadway.


It was on our return trip that Barry noticed a set of initials in the rubber seal coat.  D.G. Ha. We laughed about the fact that those are the initials that represent our last name. De Graaf.

And a few feet further, another set of initials:


And then, best of all, we spotted a fish. And I'm gonna call it a Jesus fish.

 

In all the months I've driven down this road, I've never noticed these "signs" in the pavement. It wasn't until I slowed down the pace of life and walked that I was able to see these markings which are plainly visible.

The same is true of my Christian walk. Most days, my world is speeding along, my to-do list so long I don't notice the markings God has placed in my path. The people I encounter, the creation around me and the Holy Spirit inside me go unnoticed because of my hurried existence. And then the gift of an extended break helped me reflect on God's blessing and presence. He hasn't changed in this time, but he's given me the gift of quiet and I've noticed him.

Thanks God. Help me to see you with my God eyes. Help me to look for you every day.

God’s wisdom is so deep, God’s power so immense,
    who could take him on and come out in one piece?
He moves mountains before they know what’s happened,
    flips them on their heads on a whim.
He gives the earth a good shaking up,
    rocks it down to its very foundations.
He tells the sun, ‘Don’t shine,’ and it doesn’t;
    he pulls the blinds on the stars.
All by himself he stretches out the heavens
    and strides on the waves of the sea.
He designed the Big Dipper and Orion,
    the Pleiades and Alpha Centauri.
We’ll never comprehend all the great things he does;
    his miracle-surprises can’t be counted.
Somehow, though he moves right in front of me, I don’t see him;
    quietly but surely he’s active, and;: I miss it.

Job 9:4-11 (The Message)







Sunday, December 18, 2016

20/800

I have myopia. In fact, I have severe myopia. It's nothing to be alarmed about because, simply stated, I am nearsighted. Apparently, I'm in good company.  Studies show that approximately 33% of all Americans suffer from myopia. An eyeglass prescription of -9.00 means that, without my contacts, I'm unable to discern facial features in the mirror when standing as close as two feet away. Unaided, I'm not able to see the big "E" on the vision chart at the ophthalmologist's office. In numerical terms, my uncorrected vision is roughly 20/800.  Yikes!

At the other end of the spectrum is hyperopia. Someone with hyperopia sees things in the distance perfectly, but has trouble focusing on nearby objects. Both myopia and hyperopia are medical conditions affecting vision.

While being as nearsighted as I am can be challenging, it isn't without its benefits. One advantage of my nearsightedness is the precision with which I can see extremely close objects. With my uncorrected vision, I can see the smallest pore, print or tiniest object perfectly.

Vision. According to Merriam-Webster, vision is, "the act or power of seeing:  SIGHT."

As we enter into the final week leading up to Christmas, I want to avoid a sight condition which affects the vision of our lives. It comes under the guise of busyness, distraction and holiday spending. This condition becomes the focal point of December and blurs the real reason for the season. I'd like to issue this challenge:  Let's avoid Christmas hyperopia. Let's not allow the farsighted pageantry, food, presents or family gatherings to blur our vision to what's right in front of us.

I want to have Christmas myopia. I want to see Jesus' birth with precision. With perfection. Near me. And then know that close within my heart is the present of his presence. For me. For you.

See it clearly. Simplify Christmas. Celebrate Christ.

"This is what you're to look for:  a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."   Matthew 2:12 (The Message)

Merry Christmas, dear ones!  Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Shine Your Light...

On Tuesday, citizens of our great country exercised their tremendous freedom and cast votes to elect our next president. I took a vacation day to work the polls at my township hall and for the thirteen hours the polls were open, I watched the privilege of our democracy in progress. It was fun and exciting to see brand-new voters, both teens and senior citizens alike, cast their first vote along with the throngs of veteran voters. With eager anticipation, I arrived at home to watch the returns and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning hoping to witness the announcement of the victor. Unfortunately, sleep arrived before either candidate reached the 270 magic number.

On Wednesday, I woke to the news of a truly historical upset and a country seemingly on edge.

Huh?

What happened to us?  We have become a country of angry, divided, Facebook-spouting wackos. Protesting. Rioting even.

Growing up, I was taught to be a humble winner and a gracious loser. I was taught that adversity brings learning and growth. I was taught to shine the light of Jesus in the darkest times.

Tonight, a simple trip to the bathroom helped me remember a few things. Actually, it was our bathroom's night light that caused me pause.  The soft glow of the night light lit the darkness well enough for me to see my way.


Yet when I flipped the wall switch, the bright light of the overhead bulb's energy completely illuminated the room.


Ah yes. I'm commanded to shine the light of Jesus to others.  My light is bright enough for others to see, and yet when we switch over to him, it's Jesus' light that illuminates the world.




And so today, I'd like to offer a challenge:  In the darkness of our world, shine your light. Respect others. Shine the light of Jesus so others might be attracted to the warmth and glow of His true and beautiful love

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:16 (The Message)



Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tornado...

I am blessed.

While I coast on easy street, I sometimes forget just how blessed I am. I'm not saying that life is always a bowl of cherries. Of course not. Occasionally there's a bump in the road, a blip on the radar or an overcast day in an otherwise sunny stretch of weather. I've dealt with health issues, heartache, job loss and even death.

But I am blessed.

Sometimes I just seem to forget it. Interestingly enough, the fact is that at just the moment when life is as good as it gets, at just that time when I forget my true focus, the tornado strikes, wreaking havoc to my settled, comfortable world. It seems to strike without notice, replacing peace and calm with worry and upheaval.

I am blessed.

Why?

Because when worry threatens to crush me under its load and when upheaval thrashes against peace, God whispers to me.  "I won't give up on you. I won't leave you. Strength! Courage!" (Joshua 1:5, The Message).

This morning as we worshiped on the Pigeon River, God confirmed his whisper with a visual reminder. On a calm river, under partly cloudy skies, God gave me this "tornado in the clouds" visual:



Within a half hour, the "cloud tornado" dissipated and God provided the visual of his promise:

When trials come, God is there. He won't give up on me. He won't leave me. Loving Jesus doesn't guarantee me a life on Easy Street. On the contrary, I get to share in the suffering. Whatever hardship I deal with is small potatoes compared to Jesus' suffering. And more astonishing is the fact that His suffering was for me! A sweet passage is Romans 8:15-17 which comforts my soul (here from The Message):

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!



Sunday, May 22, 2016

All knowing...

It's a huge mystery to children everywhere. It's a phenomenon known around the world. It occurs in my house. It happens at your house. Kids have come to expect it.

"It" is the inexplicable ability to achieve what seems to be extrasensory perception:  Mom's gift of knowing where any object is, at any given time and in any given place. Honestly. ESP.

When I was a kid, I was astounded by the fact that my mom knew the exact location of every "lost" item. The laundry room corner was where I dumped over my swim gear, including the goggles for which I had "looked EVERYWHERE."  She told me I'd find my toothbrush in the backseat of the car. Mom was totally aware of the fact that one tennis shoe resided in the garage, while its match lay upside down behind our family room sofa. I would have sworn that mom intentionally placed items in the most improbable locations for the sheer pleasure of messing with my mind!

Moms and their knack of keeping a home seems effortless. Think about it. Take the last roll of toilet paper out of the closet and next time you look, Wa-lah! there's a full supply of toilet paper in there. An extra bottle of ketchup is always on hand. Use the last squirt of body wash and the following day, the empty bottle is gone and a full bottle has magically appeared in the shower caddy.

On top of all this, add mom's wisdom! Mom knows exactly what to say for a broken heart. For loneliness. Hurt. Sadness.

While moms seem to be wise superheroes with all-knowing and all-seeing powers, now and again, we mess up. Moms are human after all.

This month, I've been writing out verses of Scripture from the book of Job. Near the end of the book, God talks to Job and pointedly asks Job about God's greatness. God's words struck a chord with me and helped me reflect on his utter sovereignty, yet precise care and love.

While I might mess up caring for my family, God never errs. His care is constant and perfect.

From Psalm 34, here from The Message:

15 God keeps an eye on his friends,
his ears pick up every moan and groan.
16 God won’t put up with rebels;
he’ll cull them from the pack.
17 Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you.
18 If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
19 Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, God is there every time.
20 He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.
21 The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.
22 God pays for each slave’s freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.