Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bread of Life

I am the Bread of Life

I am the bread of life; He who comes to Me shall not hunger.
He who believes in Me shall not thirst; No one can come to Me unless the Father draw him.

And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up on the last day

The bread that I will give Is My flesh for the life of the world.
And he who eats of this bread -- he shall live for ever; he shall live for ever!

And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up on the last day

Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man
And drink of His blood, and drink of His blood, you shall not have life within you.

And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up on the last day

I am the resurrection. I am the life!
He who believes in Me, even if he die he shall live for ever!

And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up on the last day

Yes, Lord, we believe that You are the Christ:
The Son of God who has come into the world.

And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up, And I will raise him up on the last day

(C) Suzanne Toolan, 1971

The song above is such a powerful hymn of praise. Next week in the Episcopal and other churches, we take a look at the scripture whence comes this hymn from John's gospel, Chapter 6. In the bible, the story immediately follows the story of the Feeding of the 5000... In fact, it has all the same characters played by all the same people. And the folks who had just watched Jesus turn a basket full of food into a feast for 1000X more people than it should have fed followed him across the sea to put him to the test.

They wanted him to recreate the miracle that their forefathers had witnessed in the wilderness so many years before, when God rained down manna upon them from heaven (Exodus 16). Can YOU imagine having sat on the hillside that day, when Jesus blessed and broke bread for 5000 people? They should have gotten a crumb each, by rights, for none of them brought their lunchables or thermoses of soup in their transformer lunchboxes that day. Rightfully, they would have skipped lunch, but Jesus performed a sign for them... Can you put yourself in their thong sandals?

Realistically, no, because none of us have lived through what those people had lived through. They weren't too sure about this Jesus yet, honestly -- he hadn't died for their sins yet.... so they had a bit of an excuse, but for crying out loud -- he fed thousands of people with a basket full of bread and fish -- enough food for one or two families to enjoy a meager lunch, at best. Isn't it bizarre...isn't it WILD... isn't it even a little insulting that these people wanted to test Jesus further after witnessing such a powerful event?

I mean, those people around today who insist on having PROOF of God's existence and God's power -- they wouldn't have had much to say on that hillside that day, would they? Not much questioning the power of Jesus on this, yet the people gathered DID. The unmitigated temerity! This is no magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat -- this is a magician pulling 5000 rabbits out of a hat! SERIOUSLY, people! What more evidence should a person really need to believe in God -- to believe in Jesus' power to provide abundantly for His people?

So yeah, it's easy for me to look at those people through the words of the text and judge them. How simplistic does this really need to be, you blind baboons?!


Then, I stop for a second. 'Cause I get the lesson too. We all know this story -- we've been hearing it for years. Perhaps there is no better example of a time when Jesus proved His Godly power than this one... I think it's fair to say that in other stories, He didn't prove it in so obvious a way to so many people as he did here. What more evidence, indeed, then, should I need to believe in God -- and to live my life for Him?

"I trust in God's wisdom." Then why don't I answer the way God would answer every time?
"I trust in God's power." Then why do I hesitate to take a risk and trust in God's strength to pick me up if I fall?
"I trust in God's authority." Then why do I continuously push back against God's will and God's commandments?
"I trust in God's reconciliation." Then why do I pray daily, "Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who have trespassed against me," yet consistently sin against my neighbor and consistently fail to forgive them? And fail to forgive myself?

While Jesus weeps for me because I just don't get it.

Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is all our souls need to survive. To progress. To thrive. They who come to Him shall not hunger for forgiveness, for worth. They who believe in Him will never thirst for companionship, for love, for wisdom.
And all those who come to Christ with yearning hearts and minds and souls and will be raised up on their last day, just like my dad was. We sang this song at his funeral, and it was absolutely the highest form of praise people can muster, that day. There were plenty of musicians present but you could not hear them because the people were singing this song of worship with all their might. For a moment, we all GOT IT.

I don't want to wait and be reminded of this lesson again next time a funeral comes along and this is played. Will you pray for me? Will you pray that I (and you) might JUST GET IT? Oh, it's not going to happen overnight... but if we could just GET IT, a little more often in situations when we should TRUST instead of judging, we'd become better people... We'd become better servants for God. We'd help other people start to GET IT.

I've referred before to a simple, intangible quality that some people have that gives us quiet confidence in them. It gives us a KNOWLEDGE that the person is right with God, that God shines through the person, that God can say, daily, "Well done, good and faithful servant." There's just something about Mary. Well, I believe this is the simple intangible. This is the something. Folks who have had enough evidence or proof -- whether that is none or a ton for them -- to walk that path without questioning any more are THOSE people.

God, please give me the willingness to allow the feeding of the 5000 to be enough. To allow the manna raining from heaven, the parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush, Daniel's experience in the Lion's Den, Jonah's experience in the whale, the healing of the blind, the cleansing of lepers, the turning of water into wine, the resurrection of Lazarus to be enough. To allow my survival of the fall from that second story window, my meeting my soulmate and partner for life in 7th grade, the home-births of my three kids, and the resurrection of MY father to be enough.

Please give me the willingness to allow the death and resurrection of your Son to be enough.

Soften my resolve, Lord, that I may allow your love to be enough. Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Get out of the box.

"Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye"

Mike and the Mechanics -- "The Living Years"

The song is a ballad of regret expressed by a son about having never told his father how he really felt about his father's expectations of him and his "failure" to live up to what his father felt he should be. I am so fortunate not to have had this kind of relationship with my dad -- or either of my parents for that matter. I have not ever once felt disappointment from my parents about my performance in life, even during times that I look back now and can clearly see what a disappointment I must have been in the moment.

So I can't really connect with this song very much -- I never have been able to. But on a different, broader front, if you don't pay attention to ALL of the lyrics, the song seems to be passing on a message that each of us could stand to listen to. I've written about it before, but not with this spin on it. I've said before that I believe we are all very much guilty of not taking advantage of hundreds of chances we are confronted with each day to speak a kind word, make contact, pay attention, be sincere, make a phone call, say hello, serve. It's not something to beat yourself up about -- it's something to seek improvement with. And in the last two weeks I've realized a little bit more clearly how important it is to seek that improvement.

See, I can't seek improvement now when it comes to communication with my dad. I know he's with me and in me and I believe I can talk to him and he'll listen and I believe I can still learn from him. And don't get me wrong -- my relationship with dad was good. Heck, it was great. Thank GOODNESS he had surgery a couple months ago, because I've spoken with him at least weekly, I think, since then. I've spoken with him more times in the last 8 weeks than in the 8 months prior to that. I'm so thankful for that. We didn't get neck-deep in any father-son philosophical conversations or anything -- there haven't been any major dilemmas he guided me through in that time... But we've talked. We've talked about soccer! We've talked about pain and recovery from surgery. We've talked about God. And we laughed together! Man, my dad could laugh. I bet his laugh echoes even more in heaven than it did here. What a joy it must be to the ears of those who dwell in that mansion.

So what's my point? Well, my point is, my communication with my dad wasn't the best. It got better recently, but I wonder where we would have been, with each other, if we hadn't each had a surgery within the last couple months. I think he would have probably died without feeling particularly connected with me in life recently. I KNOW I would have felt that way. I'm so glad I don't feel that way.... the feeling would absolutely devastate me. Maybe it would you, too.

Slapping me in the face today is the fact that every person has the opportunity to do what dad and I did in recent weeks, but so many people don't see it or don't see the need for it or don't care about it or don't realize the possible consequences if they pass it up. So I'm calling you out now ....

Call your dad.
Call your mom.
Call your brothers, sisters, sons, daughters.
Speak to your coworkers.
Acknowledge a stranger.
Don't FAIL to appreciate the relationships you have with God's children. With God's hands and feet. And don't FAIL to communicate your appreciation.

There is some improvement that can be made in your relationships with the people in your life. And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow you won't have a chance with someone.

The Shack teaches that God can use any situation, no matter how devastating or ugly or hideous or evil-seeming it may be, to God's purpose and God's glory.

My dad, at his best -- in his essence -- was a great healer, a great reconciler, a great mediator, a great forgiver. Since his death I have seen healing happen as a result of his death or people's feelings about it...

Maybe you have the opportunity to continue dad's legacy within the relationships in your life.
Maybe there's something broken about one or more of your relationships that you can take a step toward repairing.

But maybe not. Maybe you feel like your relationships are pretty healthy, thank you very much. In that case, I promise you that you can do nothing but good for calling some of those people or emailing them or changing your Facebook status or tweeting...
Thanks for being my friend, my parent, my pastor, my child.
Serve the people around you -- It's Not About You.
Give someone an encouraging word and then be intentional about taking advantage of the opportunities you have throughout your days to let folks know you appreciate them.

Because if you miss the chance today, you may not see them tomorrow.

I know it is cliché, but I'm just telling you, friends... never before has cliché been so blasted real and so blasted final.
And so blasted painful.

I love y'all.
THANK YOU, anyone who's thought of us or prayed for us or offered a kind word in the last two weeks.
THANK YOU to anyone who will continue to pray for us in the days and weeks to come.
THANK YOU to anyone who made it to the visitation or the funeral and witness a celebration of my dad's life.
THANK YOU to those at Honey Creek camp this week who have patiently loved my family through their grief.
THANK YOU to anyone who reads this and honors my dad by making a decision to be intentional and proactive about tending your relationships with loved ones and strangers.

(I am going to take this opportunity to (again) recommend a book to you. It's called Leadership and Self Deception and is by The Arbinger Institute. A coworker recommended it to me and I am so thankful she did. There is no soul alive whose body should not get its hands on this book and read it. It can be a life-changing experience.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let Go and Let God

I would often get very sleepy listening to dad's sermons when I was a kid. I guess all kids can sometimes get lost when it's time for the sermon... The guy up there is using big words, talking about things you don't know and don't care about. It's easy to space out a little, even as an adult, but especially as a kid.

Now, though, I hardly hear a sermon I'm not intent upon listening to with every part of me -- looking to glean some knowledge or revelation that will help me better understand who I am; who I'm supposed to be. I haven't heard my dad preach a sermon in a long, long time. I regret that so much. It may have been 5 years since I attended a service where he preached. Can that be? Maybe it is... Anyway, I miss them, because when my dad was at his worst, he was a rambling, aimless preacher who hit on multiple topics within the same sermon.....and STILL FOUND HOME for most people. And at his best, he could captivate 100 people for a half hour and bring them to sorrowful or angry tears, and joyous laughter, within a single sentence, then help them struggle to the foot of the cross and introduce them once more to Jesus. Those sermons were one of the thousands of reasons why there were 200+ people at his funeral in a church that only seats 150.

I fancy myself a pretty decent speaker, too, when I'm speaking about something I'm passionate about. I love teaching people about service and leadership, and have been told it's obvious I have passion for that when I do teach it -- which I take as an extreme compliment. I imagine my dad was the same way. I imagine most people are the same way. When we have the opportunity to share with people who are interested information about something we love, we turn it up a notch. There is a different tone in our voice. Our eyes light up. We stage-whisper at the dramatic bits. We gesture widely. There is passion in the delivery when there is passion about the message.

I was lamenting the fact that I hadn't heard my dad preach in a while when I learned that my mom still has dozens of cassette tapes which hold more than a hundred of dad's sermons. There probably aren't many of his more recent sermons, but that's ok, because my dad's passions were the same recently as they were 20 years ago. My dad was a forgiver, and a healer, and he believed in a God that could change anyone -- even a pagan -- until that person became a disciple Jesus would be proud of.

I hijacked a few of those tapes when I left Sunday, and listened to them on the way home. Mom said I should be careful about hearing his voice, but aside from a little initial shock, I did fine with that. In fact, these tapes were old enough that his voice seemed somehow different to me than I remember it being. Except for the pervading theme that we cannot put God in a box. Dad loved a God who loves to surprise us, and one of the sermons I listened to was about that. I've actually listened to it multiple times now, and I'll likely end up putting the text of that one on here, but in a nutshell, dad illustrated that Jesus, time and time again taught people that God is a God of surprises.

The Jews expected Jesus to be born into a royal family, but , He was born in a stable into a carpenter's family. They believed in the idea of "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth," but , Jesus taught to turn the other cheek. They believed that the sinner was to be treated like the enemy, but He said he came to benefit the sinner. They thought the leper deserved to be treated as an unclean outcast, but He taught that they were the children of God -- and He touched them, and healed them. They believed they were unworthy of God's love, but He said 'Zacheus, come down -- I wish to dine with you.' They believed Jesus was dead and buried forever; and that His followers would disappear... but SURPRISE! They found the tomb empty...and His followers became the largest religious group anywhere, any time.

Dad then challenges his listeners by asking them each... If your favorite part of the Sunday experience -- music, sermon, prayer book, terminology, communion -- were going to disappear for a year, would you still show up to worship Jesus? See, here I am, almost 20 years later, learning from my dad the week after his death that I have been selfish in my attitudes about worship. That I should turn my face completely toward God and yearn to worship Him...and quit worrying about what part of the service or the fellowship or the experience exactly meets or fails to meet my perception of How Things Should Be.

Later, Dad asks the congregations some questions and challenges them to ask themselves these questions going forward...saying that if the answers to these questions are "no," they probably haven't been listening to God as closely as they should be....
Has God done anything lately which shocked or surprised you?
Has your understanding of what God is like and what He wants and what He wants from the Church changed in the last few years?
Has your worship become more an expression of love for God? (Or is it dependent more on some other less significant and worldly thing like the preacher's words, or the book's terminology, or the church's position on some issue?)

Dad closes by teaching that if we really want to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, and if we really want to know Him, then we have to let go of our personal prejudices and preferences...and let God change OUR thinking and our understanding, adopting a BIBLICAL wisdom and understanding... HIS wisdom and understanding. We can't be SO SURE of ourselves, but be willing to entertain the possibility that the Lord has more in store for us now than we can possibly know or understand.

I CANNOT WAIT to listen to the rest of dad's sermons. I left all but about 5 cassettes at my mom's house. I wish I had them all now. I'll probably get sleepy on some of them, but I have to tell you -- I am VERY EXCITED about the idea that God's waiting to SURPRISE me through my dad's 20 year old words! Dad has always been wise, even in the times when I would have been the last to admit it...but now, his wisdom will pervade even death, for I have a resource invaluable to learn from and use, and I am overwhelmed that my parents have such a gift for me during this time when I need it most. I'll close with the few but powerful words dad prayed at the end of that sermon, asking on behalf of his congregation....

Come, Holy Spirit, and surprise us now with the abundance of your grace. AMEN.

Take a Shot!

When I was young -- elementary school aged -- I played soccer. I played well, actually. My parents had multiple clippings and video tapes from games in which I was the winning scorer, or in which I scored multiple goals in a game. That's a little ridiculous, even in the clumsy, slow-paced style with which People Who Are Small play the game. It wasn't that I was a supreme physical specimen, or that I had been coached or trained better than any others. I don't know WHAT it was, actually. Considering how my game went from middle school on, it appears to have been dumb luck.

But one thing I know didn't HURT my game back then was the encouragement I got from the sidelines. See, when you go to little league or peewee games, there are basically three kinds of parents. One is quiet, and studious. They support their child or children by showing up and watching... and they probably tell them after the game how well they did or give them pointers about various ways they might improve. The other two kinds are loud. One of those is angry-loud. They shout at the refs. They should at their angel's team mates to pass the ball. They shout at parents behind the other bench. They shout at parents behind their own bench. they shout at their own kid. And they are discouraging to all involved in their manner.

The third kind is how my parents -- and many others -- were. They cheered. They were encouragers. If you ever have had or do have the privilege of seeing one of those home videos, God Bless You, you'll hear my mom's voice throughout, encouraging not only me but my team mates, and possibly even the other team (well, no). But my dad was intense. He didn't cheer as much as Mom, I don't think, but when it really got good, when the superstar was in front of the goal ready to let loose a shot to the upper-right corner, you might catch a glimpse of him in the corner of the screen kicking at his own imaginary ball and you might definitely hear him lavishing praise on the players and especially on his son. He was a soccer player too (and a darn good one, I might add), and he couldn't help but get wrapped up in the game...but more than that he just wanted to help me do my best. "Come on, LEE!" he would yell. "Get in there! Take a shot!"

That was a long time ago. My dad changed a lot over the years. I did too. I played soccer throughout school, til my senior year, when I was too out of shape and not willing enough to work hard enough to do well enough to play. Dad never beat me up about that, though I know it must have disappointed him and my mom both that I hadn't given my best effort. Dad had quieted a lot by that time, and I was the typical teenager, begging not to be parented too much. My parents were wonderful in those years about continuously teaching and being there to support me but also letting me take my own path and learn my own lessons. I can only hope to be as good as they were at balancing parenting and independence.

I went to college and didn't make it at college either. And I was broken when I talked to my dad and mom from my dorm room and told them I needed to come home. And they took me back home, and loved me more than ever before during the next months when I struggled with my own failures. I couldn't quote a single word from any conversation I had with either of them during that time, but I know that at the time of my life when I needed it most, my mom and dad loved me unconditionally. And my dad until the day he died continued to bear some of the burden of the sacrifice they laid out for me during that time. My mom still bears some of it now, though not for much longer. And it's been a long, LONG time since I heard my dad yell and encourage me from a sideline, but the sound is so clear in my head. They have so consistently loved and encouraged me during the last 15 years, through several employment and school situations... and they still love and encourage me today. Even my dad still encourages me today.

See, I have some things to do. There are some jobs I need to finish. I need some closure on a few things. And there are paths I have to tread which I don't even see yet. I have an incredible, winding, long road to travel. I have no idea where it goes, but I know where it starts, and I know that my dad, now in his perfect state -- in his perfect, whole, holy, energetic, happy, joyful, athletic, and final state -- is standing on the sideline, and will never leave it again...and I can hear his voice in my head -- and maybe in my ears. "Come on, LEE! Get in there! Take a shot!" I'm gonna hit the goal this time. And if I don't, dad will still be there, cheering me on, and I'll keep shooting til I get it.

My Dream

Last night, I dreamed Beth and I were in the car.

I was driving.

We both fell asleep.

I woke up and Beth was leaned over sideways in front of me, still asleep.

And her hair/head was in my face.

So I was slowing down and at the same time screaming at her to wake up.

(In the dream, her hair was in my face and my voice was muffled, almost like it would be if her hair was IN my mouth)

but she wouldn't wake up (she was fine, just really asleep).

I hit the brakes as hard as I could while trying to keep the wheel straight.

and we got stopped.


no problems.

So... get this... Beth woke me up (in real life, not in the dream).

She says I was sleeptalking and my voice was really strange. She could tell that I was probably yelling in my dream.

She said I was pressing against her feet with mine (braking).

She said I was shaking -- especially my arms (steering & turbulence).

And when I woke up, I was fine -- it wasn't like waking up in horror or anything.

It was just an adventure.

But I had been horrified in my dream.

It wouldn't have surprised me in the least if I'd waked up screaming and shaking and sweating.

And it's the first time in forever that I woke up with a vivid, detailed memory of a dream.

I am particularly fond of this note.

An excerpt from The Shack:
“…the door flew open, and he was looking into the face of a large beaming African-American woman.
“Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name – “Mackenzie Allen Phillips” – with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply-loved relative. She finally put him back on earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“’Mack, look at you!’ she fairly exploded. ‘Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my how I do love you!’ And with that she wrapped herself around him again.”

“My, my, my how I do love you!” Indeed. We learn in the pages of this book that God is “particularly fond of” all God’s children. No, of each single one of God’s children. Particularly fond of each of us, is God, because each of us is a particular person.

Back to my previous note, which promises that God keeps each one of each of our bones. That’s a lot of bones! And there are a lot of people for God to be particularly fond of, eh? Are we really that different, that God can have a particular fondness for each of us? I know we’re each unique, but I’m fairly similar to a lot of the people I’m with day in and day out. It is astounding to me that God can be particularly fond of me. It is overwhelmingly warming, actually.

We know how God demonstrated God’s love for us, don’t we? God sent Jesus – God’s son – to DIE for us as a demonstration of God’s love for us. When we think about this in context of God having a particular love for each one of us, isn’t it more obvious than ever that Jesus died for you? Not for us, or y’all, but for you? For me? God’s particular fondness of me means Jesus sacrificed His life for me.
None of that is why I decided to type today, though. For those of you who haven’t read The Shack, the African American lady in the quote above is God “the Father.” Now, no matter how you feel about God being portrayed as a woman (the author has darn good reasons for it in the story), just go with it for a second and think about how GOD greets God’s child. God’s been watching Mack the whole time. God’s seen Mack every step of the way. God’s even received some communication from Mack here and there. It’s not like they’ve never met, or that God hasn’t actually seen Mack in a long time. But God is so particularly fond of Mack that God is literally exuberantly welcoming to Mack, God’s friend and God’s child.

And isn’t it appropriate? After all, isn’t God perfect? God holds no ill-will for Mack’s ignorance or ignoring of God’s will in Mack’s life. It is perfectly natural – literally – for God to greet God’s child this way. … There’s no way we should be expected to do the same! We’re NOT perfect – far from it. We don’t necessarily have a particular fondness of many of the people we encounter each day. It’s not natural at all for us to greet people this way unless they are near and dear. BUT! We always greet those who are near and dear this way, right? Those people who are truly valuable to us? Those people who we know share our love for God and Christ? We always greet our loving brothers and sisters with exuberance and joy, right?

Verily I say unto you, we are TERRIBLE at letting our brothers and sisters know through our welcoming of them into our lives (and our businesses and our homes and our conversations) that we are even so much as enthused, much less exuberant, about their appearance.

Speaker Andy Andrews addresses this in a presentation. Andrews is the author of The Traveler’s Gift, which is a book on my to-read list but I haven’t read it yet. He says that for the vast majority of the people we encounter day in and day out, it has been years since the people in their lives – coworkers, clients, customers, vendors, even family – were outwardly enthusiastic that they were in the room. Now, I am an exception to that rule (I’d bet that many working parents of young children are exceptions to that rule, but not all). Because when I get home from work, as often as not, I am greeted with absolute exuberance by my three kids.

And it feels really, really good.

I can’t yell “Daddy! Daddy!” and run to each person I meet throughout the day and jump into their arms and laugh and say how glad am they’re home. But I can be enthusiastic and exuberant when I see people of whom I am particularly fond. I can let them know they’re valuable to me by my greeting or welcome of them. I can be genuine, and not skip this step, and not take it for granted that they know I know they know I know they know.

And you can too.

Think about it. If you’ve ever been greeted in this way, go back to it in your mind. Think about how great it feels. How affirming it is. How much value it adds to you. How much esteem it gives you for yourself. And ask yourself, “Isn’t it worth it for me to make others feel great? To affirm others? To give value to others? To offer them a touch of self-esteem?

Let’s all try to do that for others every day. I’d be willing to bet my life that if we each did it 5 times a day for people who don’t expect it, eventually they’d start doing it too, and the people they do it for would do it too, and eventually someone the person I greeted knows will know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone….
Whose life right then, in that moment, on that day, because of all the crap they’re going through, is dependent on someone greeting them warmly and offering a touch of encouragement.

That’s powerful, and that’s God’s will for you and for me. Let’s get out there and do it.

Dem bones dem bones.. dem DRY BONES!

Psalm 34
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your* faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

As always, I post this with the disclaimer that I have no theological training or education and I’m probably wrong about some most things.


If the Lord is with me, who can be against me!?

My very spirit rests in PRIDE and BOASTING, for I am His chosen and I will rest eternally with God in heaven. Let those who are humble – those who do not have the very knowledge and undoubting faith that they are saved and blessed by the Lord above – let them hear the pride and comfort and confidence of a soul loved, and let them be glad – let their own faith blossom and bloom. For the Lord loves us all – the Lord will bless your spirit with the boasting of one loved, too… if you ask. If you’re willing to die to yourself. If you’re willing to set all earthly pride and boasting aside… and serve your fellow man and your God, you’ll gain a pride so much more. Your soul will make its BOAST in the Lord.

Not exactly the way I’m used to talking about my faith, I’ll tell you. I know full well I can have confidence in my God, for there is none more powerful, more gracious, more loving, more wise than God. At the same time, pride and boasting just aren’t part of my vernacular when thinking or speaking about my spirituality. So, a little uncomfortable, I looked up the word boast.

Did you know that the word boast is used in masonry and sculpting? It’s a verb, just as the way we normally use it is a verb. It means, “To shape roughly as a preparation for the finer work to follow; to cut to the general form required.”

Ah… OK, I know this isn’t where the psalm was headed, but it’s something I can really get my head around.

The general form required? That’s about as good as I can get, for myself, isn’t it? That, for the artists around, is I guess something like the roughest first sketch you can come up with. It’s an oval on top with the basic shape of a body in thick, rough graphite lines on the paper… with no detail.

To shape roughly as a preparation….
How about this – I can only reach my finest form when I go to be with God. As long as I am human and I walk this world, the best I can do – the best I can do – is a rough shape – a preview of the fine work which is to be.

Can you imagine?! Think about the coolest people you know. Think about those people who EXUDE Jesus’ spirit! Think about those I’ve mentioned before in notes who you can just tell are at peace in their lives, who provide peace to others by just being there. Can you imagine that even those people are only a rough sketch!?

I’m on a journey to be healthy and strong. Remember this one? But no matter how much I work at that and how blessed I am in God while I am living – no matter how generously I am given to and how generously I give in this life, the best I can do is to become a rough sketch – a general form. What fun it will be when I am with God in heaven and God starts really perfecting me. I wonder if it will be instantaneous or if it will be a process. Whichever it is, I think it’s just awesome that it’s going to be perfect. Anyway, what’s time, in heaven???

Okay, anyway. I ramble (as I am so good at doing).
Another part of the psalm which is intriguing to me is verses 19-20. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. That’s right, isn’t it? The righteous are not without temptation, without sorrow, without pain. But the Lord rescues them from all! The Lord is like Superman without the Kryptonite thing. Don’t you just love how Clark Kent always just knew when something needed him?

The next verse is kind of cool too: He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
Beth likens this to Luke 12:7, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.” It’s kind of in the same boat as Isaiah 40:26, which Chris Tomlin’s sings about in “Indescribable:” You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name.” I don’t know how many stars there are. I don’t know how many people there are. But I know there are 206 or so bones in the adult human body (Did you know most infants have 300-350 bones?) Can you imagine that God keeps all of our bones? Every person’s?

Can you imagine that there are probably better than 2 billion Christians in the world? And more than 14 million Jews? And depending on what you believe, you might throw in 3.2 billion Islam, Buddhist, and Hindhu? Well, let’s go for broke! 7 billion total people in the world have 206ish bones each. That’s 1,442,000,000,000 bones! But even at our most exclusive possible estimate of who all God’s looking out for, Christians and Jews alone have 463,500,000,000 bones. And God’s keeping them all for us! What a job.

Makes you wonder how God has time to answer all the email prayers God must receive! What a mighty God we serve!


God is Love

So yeah, it's been a while. Which is actually what this was GOING to be about. Like, how can I spew forth 9 notes in the month of March, then NOTHING in April. You think YOU'RE frustrated (I can imagine you all, for the first week of April, checking in on Facebook hourly looking for a Leebo note)? I've been mega-frustrated cause the thoughts were rolling off like water at Niagara for a while there, then BLAM. Nothing. How can that happen? Anyway, that's what the note was GOING to be about, but just when I was about to write a note complaining about having nothing to write about, boom. I mean, BLAM.

Also, this note feels very not-finished to me, too. But nothing else is coming, so I'm publishing it.

I've been doing some straightening, cleaning, and organizing today in the house. I came across a birthday card I received from Joan, a wonderfully thoughtful and spiritual person with whom I work. Joan always manages to keep things simple when folks are having trouble -- her faith is like a Mustard Seed and it's a big bright yellow (that's probably not actually possible) French’s Yellow Mustard-colored seed that anyone who is in her presence can see. Actually, perhaps that means her faith is like a mustard tree.


Joan gave me the card. Here's what it says:

Just wanted to share what the Shepherd has promised you for your birthday and every other day of the life he’s given you!
You are My child.
Your times are in my hands.
My thoughts toward you are precious.
I will love you with an everlasting love.
I will bless you.
I have placed my hand upon you.
I hold you with My hand.
I do everything for you in love.
I am for you.
I will not fail you.
I am your provider.
With me, all things are possible!

***Warning. If you haven't read The Shack and intend to read it in the near future, you should probably stop reading and come back when you're done reading.***

I hadn’t read The Shack when I received this card on my birthday. I have now, and I immediately was reminded of it when I reread this card. I love that so many lined in the card are present tense. Not that that’s THAT different, but so many times, we’re told, “God’s going to bless you,” or “God will take care of it.” No, God IS taking care of it. Right now. And it doesn’t look like what I thought it would. It might not look like what I think it should, but The Shack gives such a wonderful reminder that even when stuff goes in a direction opposite of what we want or think we need … and more importantly even when stuff goes in a direction opposite of what God wants, God remains in control at all times, and God can use any – ANY – situation for God’s purposes.

I am actually reading The Shack a second time now. As many of you know, it’s a book in which it is very easy to get wrapped up emotionally… That happened repeatedly with me as I read, so I’m reading it again to make sure I get what’s being said. Or at least that I know what I think is being said. There’s a lot of criticism for the book – A LOT of criticism for the book. There’s some criticism for the book which is based on theological principles I don’t even know. There is also a great deal of criticism of the criticism. The whole deal looks like this, sort-of.

The author is suggesting that God _____.
No, the author wrote a work of fiction.
The author also says ___________.
Which works for him, as a way to relate to such and such tragedy that happened in his life.
Also, the author seems to directly contradict scripture here, here, and here.
Well, that depends on if you’re referring to our current, mega-filtered scripture, or the Gnostic gospels.
Man cannot present literature which teaches “Truth” about God (esp when that “truth” seems to contradict what we’ve already been taught.
Man wrote the bible. In fact, God told man to write the bible.
It simply goes against too much of what we consider doctrine to be healthy.
Actually, it simply helps people who may not feel comfortable at church actually feel like a relationship with God is possible in spite of their disconnect with systemized religion.

Like I said, I’m not nearly smart enough to know exactly what the author meant to communicate when he wrote the book. I’ve never met him nor asked him about that. I also don’t know nearly enough about the bible and about the FACTS we know about God to have a lot of confidence that God would have written this story God’s self.

BUT. I do know that the main character in The Shack got to know a God of love and absolute grace – A God that I believe DOES EXIST. I know that the main character was able to work through a lot of blinding pain and hate and despair as a result of the weekend of relationship building with God in Three Persons. I know that the character was able to take what he learned and bring good into others’ lives afterward. I know that I have not felt threatened by the book in any way. And I know that if the side of the argument characterized by the last line in the dialogue I wrote above is true, the book can’t be all bad. In fact, maybe, it can’t be AT ALL bad.

A few quotes I enjoyed:
God speaking to Mack about Jesus: “Mackenzie, the Truth shall set you free, and the Truth has a name; he’s over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you feel churnin’ around inside will start to work its way out.”

Jesus speaking to Mack about authority: “As the crowning glory of Creation, you were made in our image, unencumbered by structure and free to simply ‘be’ in relationship with me and one another. If you had truly learned to regard each other’s concerns as significant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy.”

God speaking to Mack about free will: “…your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome.”

Jesus speaking to Mack about worrying: “It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try and make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear.”

Jesus speaking to Mack about choice: “Have you noticed that even though you call me Lord and King, I have never really acted in that capacity with you? I’ve never really taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything… To force my will on you is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy.”

“…my life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to “be like Jesus,” it means for your independence to be killed.”

Jesus speaking to Mack about loving others: “All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It’s not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda.”

God speaking to Mack about guilt: “But that is in the past now, where it belongs. I don’t even want your sorrow for it, Mack. I just want us to grow on together without it.”

God speaking to Mack about grace: “Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”

God teaching Mack about unconditional love: “Let’s say, for example, I am trying to teach you how to not hide inside of lies… And let’s say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me – that is, before you will hear clearly enough o agree with me and change. So when you don’t hear me the first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed. I’m thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go. And that first time will be a building block to build a bridge of healing that one day – that today – you will walk across.”

There are some things said in some of those criticisms that make me kind of uncomfortable with this book and this author. There are a LOT of things in the book that make me uncomfortable. I just don't necessarily believe discomfort has to be bad. But at the end, when everything is said and done, I believe that many healthy, "right" relationships with God and Jesus will happen as a result of this book which might not have without it. And I believe a bunch of folks will find their faith and/or their relationship with God energized some by reading it. Those things might also happen if those people just picked up their bible, but Paul Young would teach us that God can and does use every choice we make for "the ultimate good and the most loving outcome." :)

Individual Jesus

I referred recently in a note to "individual Jesus." Those words came off my fingertips on the keyboard without my really thinking about it, but they sounded good and meant what I wanted them to mean as I typed, so I kept them and decided to revisit them in another note. Here we go.

I've thought a lot lately about my personal interactions with others. Mostly because of a personal movement I've been undergoing to improve my people skills and my leadership skills, I have examined my own comings and goings with people I encounter. I encounter a lot of the same people day in and day out, and so I have the opportunity for repeated interaction with people day in and day out. Examining that has lent some light to some habits I have with people, and I recently had the chance to really explore one of those habits that bothers me to no end. I hate it actually. I believe that its something every person does; because I believe that to be true, I also believe that if you read this and it doesn't resonate with you, you aren't telling yourself the truth. :) You're probably a lot better about it than I am, but please don't be in denial that it ever happens.

You may have eaten in a restaurant before. In that restaurant you might have noticed a manager or Person in Charge walking around the dining area, visiting visitors. This probably strikes you as a good thing for the manager to do. But let's take a closer look at what MIGHT really be going on, if that manager's name is Lee Davidson.

Lee is walking from table to table, greeting people, asking how they are doing, smiling as they reply that everything's great, then doing the same thing at the next table. And the next. Except the people he's talking to realize he's talking to them but not listening to them. He's got a foot headed to the next table before they finish speaking. And his eyes are looking for the next greetee before they've said their piece. And his actions are entirely self-centered and shallow; and what's worse, they make it obvious that they are.

Or, maybe you were at church that Sunday, and you were engaged with Lee in a conversation, and Lee had a meeting to get too after church. You were headed home. And as you realized it was time to wrap up the chat, you shook Lee's hand and wished him a good meeting. "Have a good meeting!" you said. And after eye contact was broken and Lee was headed to his meeting, you heard floating back from him, "You, too." "What?" you thought? I'm not going to a meeting. You probably laughed. Most likely it occurred to you that this kind of thing happens regularly. You might thank someone because it's one of the phrases in your "polite things to say" bin when there's no real reason to thank them. You might say, "Y'all take care," when there's only one person on the other side of the conversation. You might offer, "You too," like Lee did, when someone wishes you the best of something that they aren't going to be a part of.

Those moments are awkward, silly, perhaps funny... When I do it, I feel bad though. In fact, I feel GUILTY AS SIN. I realized that today. I didn't start feeling it today -- I realized that's my emotion when I do that to someone. Too harsh? Maybe.

I also realized this very day that I have been writing off the part of the Episcopal liturgy in which we confess our sins. Honestly. I'm a pretty innocent person, by worldly standards. I have been moving through life knowing that I don't hold hatred in my heart for anyone. Knowing I haven't been holding a grudge against anyone. Knowing that I'm pretty safe with the ten commandments. I hardly ever just think really nasty thoughts about people. I think I've come a long way toward honoring mom and dad. I don't think I can remember the last time time I stole anything. Etc, etc, etc. That's such a comfortable place to be, you know? You say the confession... you even mean it... Heck, you even try to remember things that make you feel guilty so you can confess them. But you just... don't... think.... it.... really.... applies... that... much.

But I realize today that in the same way that I commit murder when I hold a hateful feeling or thought against someone, I commit every sin against my brothers and sister hundreds of times a day.

Let me tell you how I got here. Thank you, Jessica Defee, for sharing a book with me. People of God, if you haven't read this book, I urge you mightily to go check it out or buy it. It is entitled Leadership and Self-Deception and it is authored by The Arbinger Institute. It is mis-titled though. It should be called You fake, slimy, ingenuine rat. You don't really know most people you claim to. You are fooling yourself if you think you are treating people well. You need to wake up and smell the coffee because you are committing murder hundreds of times a day by turning your back on the people you interact with. It could be a coffee table book.

The book teaches the reader -- who, in his defense, hasn't necessarily done anything wrong intentionally and may be, like me, a generally good kind of person -- that through subtle, oh-so-subtle, seemingly inconsequential choices we make hundreds of times a day, we have a tremendous effect -- and again perhaps surprisingly a tremendous effect that the people we're having it on don't even realize we're having -- on people. And most of the time we are likely failing to make the right choices. I'll leave you to get the book with that teaser. I seriously couldn't recommend it more highly. Even if you don't consider yourself a leader and/or have no desire to. It's really about people, not leaders. Even if my description doesn't make the book strike you as interesting. It is, trust me. You deserve it.

One of the sorts of choices which falls under the topic of the book is that decision about what kind of conversation I'm going to have with you at church before my meeting. I mean, it's getting ready to start, we're done talking about what we're done talking about... there's no good reason why we shouldn't be wrapping up and taking the first step in opposite directions.

Except that I murder you when I say, "You too." Too harsh? I don't think so.

See, this is where the Individual Jesus comes in. Matthew 25:31-46 says that we ought to treat the "least" as if he were Jesus. Whatever the "least" is in our eyes, we should honor, dignify, and respect him as if he were Jesus himself. That's the Individual Jesus I think I was reaching for when I used that phrase. You have an Individual Jesus, I have an Individual Jesus, and so does everyone else. And if we fail to recognize that Individual Jesus in each person, we fail to recognize that each person deserves our honor, our dignity, and our respect.

So the question becomes this...
If I'd walked out of church that Sunday and bumped into Jesus, and I knew it was Him, and we chatted... And our conversation was wrapping up, and it was time for me to head to my meeting, would I have said "You too" to Him? No heck no. Jesus would have had my full attention. Until He was done with me. Jesus would have had my eye contact, my body language, my ears, my eyes, my head, and my heart. Even in a casual conversation, I would have been literally immersed in Jesus' every word. I would have honored Him with my listening. And Jesus would have said, "Have a good meeting." And my eyes would remain with His, and I would have smiled, and I would have felt so thankful that this person thought to wish me good will. And I would have said, "Thank you, Jesus. We will, now."

If I'd seen Mark Jeffares' individual Jesus that day, I would have given HIM my full attention too. I would have lent my full self to our conversation. I would have been intentional and focused about my connection with him in that time and place. There is no chance in this world Mark remembers that interaction. But I do. I'd done it countless times before that, I'm sure. But that conversation was the beginning of my awakening to this habit of mine. Saturday, my awakening hit full stride as we talked about valuing results and relationships in our Leadership Development 101 forum. What does it mean to TRULY value relationship? It's more than we might think. VALUE is a big word. It doesn't JUST mean we pay attention to something. To value something is to hold it dearly, to "regard or esteem highly" according to

So if I VALUE our relationship, or the potential for a relationship, can't I just take the time to listen to your words before I respond to them? If I truly valued our interaction... my potential for serving you, your potential for serving me, our potential for serving others... if I VALUED that, wouldn't I say to Mark Jeffares, "Thank you, Mark. We will, now." Wow.

We're too late for New Year's Resolutions, and we're too late for Lenten Disciplines. So I've just decided to change some. I'm going to try my hardest to be genuinely attentive to people I interact with. I'm going to try to find your personal Jesus whenever we talk. I'm going to try to stay connected through eye contact. And I'm going to try to listen with both of my ears. You deserve it. Honestly, you deserve it. In fact, it is the absolute LEAST I can do, to just listen to you while you talk to me. Isn't it?

March 22

Check out some art: The Brazen Serpent

Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

The people lost focus on the big picture and failed to see God's purpose. Some physical discomfort or perhaps even agony blinded them and they became angry. They directed their anger at their leader and at their God. Instead of stopping and praying for God to support them -- at which point they would have likely realized that he WAS -- they cursed Moses and renounced God's authority. God punished them by sending serpents to them. He responded to their cries for help -- which were being issued because they were at death's door, failing to eat because the food provided was not up to snuff -- by going ahead and easing some of them of their pain with snakebites! I find it strange and ironic and telling that God commanded little mini-satans to go bite the people of Egypt. It's like a kid forcing his Action Figure Darth Vader to go give flowers to his action figure Princess Leia and offer her a dance. Ha ha, Darth! You're not so tough after all! Then, action figure Luke Skywalker comes and slices off Darth's head with a light saber.

Ahem... sorry. Anyway, got a little off track. So the Egyptians realize God's in control again because some of them died and they knew God had sent the snakes. Crazy how the doldrums remind us who's running the show. They begged Moses, who they'd just finished lambasting, to pray on their behalf and get the snakes out of here. He did, but I think God knew the people would immediately forget the lesson they should have learned, so he didn't remove the serpents, but God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent on the top of a staff. Moses did as instructed, of course. Then whenever one of the serpents God sent bit someone... if they wished to live, they had to go and look at the bronze serpent, a reminder that only God can preserve their lives against the snake which is Satan. And according to a lot of art based on this passage, a lot of the people pretty much spent their time begging this staff and Moses and God for mercy because there were A LOT OF SNAKES!
(May the Force be with you {and also with you}. I am pretty sure they later used that staff in some of the Indiana Jones films, BTW.)

Psalm 107
Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Many Troubles
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;
20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

It's striking how much of the time we live these verses. Over and over and over again, #17-20 are "just life." We're unhappy, we're sick, we don't appreciate what we have, we forget that God is the source of life and light... And we fall. And we fail. And we get snakebit. And we cry out to God.

This is the anthem choir sang today in church. It's Pergolesi's "O, My God, Bestow Thy Tender Mercy:"
"Oh, my God, bestow Thy tender mercy. Blot out my transgressions; cleanse my sin. Bestow Thy love. Hear me, restore me from all my sins... hide Thy face from my sin. Oh, my God, bestow Thy tender mercy; cleanse my sin. Restore me, forgive me, uphold me, O God, hear me! I cry to Thee! Hear Thou my prayer! Hear me, Lord. Take not Thy Holy Spirit. Open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."

The biggest challenge is that I think far too often we get through verse 20 and we forget to do verses 21-22. It's almost an afterthought in the Pergolesi piece I quoted above. Is it an afterthought for me in my life? Is it a even an afterthought? Sometimes, sadly, it is not.

Ephesians 2:1-10
From Death to Life
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Rev. Nancy this morning reminded us that the perception the people in the desert had of "just life" is often the perception we as people have of our lives... It's easy to look at humanity and see war and hatred and impatience and destruction and failing, failing, failing to see God; to be God. But we ARE God. And God created us to be like Him. And when God looks upon His creation, he sees what he created and what he intended; He wants us to be what He intended. Perhaps if we focused more on the individual Jesus in everyone around us we would be more likely to SEE God in the world; to BE God in the world.

John 3:14-21
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

I have this picture in my mind of the crucifer in church this morning. He's a kid, maybe 12 years old. His family has attended church since way before we started there. He's grown from preschool to 6th grade since the first time we attended church at St. George's. And he led our procession today. And he led the Gospel procession. And I picture him, holding the pole in his hands as he walks up the aisle and settles, for the moment, among the people so that we can be instructed by John's Gospel that Jesus' resurrection is akin to that same snake on a stick. And we are faced with the question, "What do you see when you look at the cross?" And in my mind's eye, I follow the pole up from his hands and at the top, I see a bronze snake. Whoa. It's hard to make Jesus' broken, bleeding body akin to a serpent. But scripture today suggests that those two images, opposite as they may seem, can and do serve the same purpose.

The cross is for many people a spiritual center -- a home base, a foundation. It brings focus in life to where we really should seek guidance. Where we should turn for succor. Where our salvation lies. It allows us to center our thoughts and minds and hearts and spirits where they belong -- in God and in God's Son.

Put yourself in the place of the Egyptians. Friends and family and foe and foe-turned-ally have died. They've DIED, right in front of you, because God dropped snakes from the sky that bit them and poisoned them. And the wages of their sin is death. And the snakes are looking for their next victim. And snakes are all around you, and one slithers over your toes, which are deadened by the poison from the snakebite you've already endured. And it occurs to you that there are so many others, like you, who didn't put a lot of stock in the power of the brazen serpent (Moses has always seemed a little off). But now, you're clinging to the last drop of hope and you claw your way toward the foot of the staff upon which sits the snake-of-bronze that God promises will save you if you just can connect with it.

In my mind's eye, the live snakes seeking your death won't go near that staff or the serpent atop it because they know God's power is there. And you are clawing your way toward that symbol of a snake. And Moses is holding it up for any who would seek its shelter. And as people get near and make contact, they find shelter there. And the foot of the staff gets bigger, and more people can get to it.. and you get closer and closer, and a snake slithers up your ankle. And you cry out to God and your hand reaches out for the smooth wood of the staff with the bronze snake. And you look back at the poisoned legs you're dragging on the ground, and your hand finally gets there... but your hand is bitten! No, not bitten, it has a huge splinter. The smooth round wooden staff isn't smooth. And it isn't round. And your eyes turn from the snake because the snake has SCREAMED in agony and slithered away to find someone more safe to kill. And your eyes lift, and the staff is a rough, splintered wooden post. And your eyes lift, and there is a man's feet. And your eyes lift, and Jesus is on the cross. And your eyes lift, and Jesus's arms are outstretched toward you. And your eyes lift, and Jesus is smiling at you. And your eyes lift, and Jesus is weeping for you. And you are safe, and you are enveloped, and you are home.

And wouldn't it be best just to stay there? Wouldn't it feel great just to stay there? How long can you be convinced just to stay there, and enjoy the feel of the rough wooden post on your hands, and enjoy the embrace of your Lord, and enjoy the connection with the cross -- with your salvation -- with your God? And ENJOY JOY. But eventually, you'll forget again, and you'll get back up on your healed legs and you'll walk away from that cross. And Jesus will weep more than before as he watches the snakes creeping up on you again. And He'll reach out for you, begging you to stay home. And His heart will agonize in pain when you get bitten. And his love will pour out as he begs for your return. And you may even wonder -- wonder of wonders! -- if you can actually survive this one little bite without going back home. And your toes will numb. And your legs will deaden. And your eyes will cry. And Jesus' eyes will cry. And he'll reach for you even more. And you'll decide to claw your way back, hopefully. And Jesus will be weeping, again, in joy.. and smiling.. and holding you, because you made it back home.

And how many times will you claw your way back before you figure out that Jesus is the only safe place? How much venom will your body endure before you figure out that you too can OWN that cross, if you'll only claim it? How many trips home will you make before you fail to make it back once? Or you realize it isn't worth it to ever leave again? From the third-person point of view, it's a pretty darned easy choice. It's stupid simple, in fact. And we're so blind to it.

Dear saving God, help my hands be comfortable on the rough splintered wood of your cross. Help me develop the will to just stay home in your embrace. Help me remember the pain of those stupid, aimless steps away from your love. I don't want to forget your love, God.

But when I do, God, please call out to me loudly as you always do, and bless my ears with focus and clarity. And reach out for me, and bless my mind with the intense desire to look back at you, if only once. And weep for my return, and bless my heart with tears of its own longing for home. And smile at me, and bless my arms with the need to hold you. And hold me, God. Hold me and keep me safe, and work some more on my will to stay home. I'll get there eventually.

Blessings - Eli

"Dear God, help this food bless us and nourish us so that we can have a good life and be healthy and strong. Amen."

S & L usually get pretty thoughtful and creative when they have the opportunity to ask God's blessings on our evening meal. But the youngest -- E -- always... ALWAYS says the same prayer. That's it above. He literally can be quoted every meal with the exact same prayer.

So it's occurred to me more than once that I kind of get left out of this prayer. E is praying for himself and his sisters, no doubt. And I'm grown up. Healthy and strong, no doubt. When I've thought this before, I've been cool with it, cause I'm just glad the little guy's cool with praying.

I was thinking about it the other day though... Of course, if you're reading this, you're all, 'Oh, Leebo, how blind you are! Of course E is praying for you, too!' Well, thanks, but I was a little slow on the uptake.


Of course, God doesn't help the food bless us. He just blesses us with the food. Other than that, though, what an outstanding prayer! Because I have so much growing up to do! And hopefully, when God is finished with me, I will be healthy and strong.

When I grow up, I want to be HEALTHY!
+I want my body to be fit. I want my mind to be sharp. I want to be witty and quick, sensitive and intuitive. I want to be spiritually vibrant! I want to have the Word in my heart and on my lips and in my mind. I want the Temple that I am to be a Temple God is proud of. I want to be so healthy that people are drawn to me.
+I want to be a healthy husband! I want my wife to know at all times and in all places that she is my one true love and my life's anointed partner. I want her to know exactly that because I want to never say or do things which betray that.
+I want to be a healthy dad! I want my kids to know what it is to be healthy Christians because I model it for them. I want my kids to know that I'm going to be there for them for a long time. I want my kids to have in me a role model of courtesy and grace and generosity ... and I want to be healthy enough to make it look so good that they don't consider any other path than following that.

When I grow up, I want to be STRONG!
+I want to have strong character! I want to be rock solid when it comes to values and morals. I try to be a model of integrity, of genuine appreciation for God's creation, of generosity, of faithfulness, of stewardship. I want my values to be so strong that they resonate in my every action and word.
+I want to have strong faith! So close, yet so far away. It seems that when I make great strides in faith, I then one day catch myself failing miserably to live my faith. I pass an opportunity to share it, or fail to be generous with someone more needy than I, or fail to love my brother or my sister as Jesus would have me love. I know that my faith has so much room to grow; I want my faith to be so strong one day that my decision-making is easy and clear. I want a faith so strong that discernment becomes easier and stresses are minimal because I let go and let God.
+I want to be a strong leader! I want to be GREAT in my interpersonal relationships. I want people to be so engaged with me that it becomes SO EASY to get things done. I want to be strong enough in my leadership that it becomes natural for leaders to develop under my leadership. I want people I work with and live with and lead to be rock-solid-sure that I have their back. I want them to have absolute confidence that I'm going to be trustworthy and consistent from day to day.
+I want to be a strong friend. I want those who accept or ask for my friendship to just feel great about our relationship. I want to be supportive, honest, and uplifting as a friend.

Thank you, God, for E, whose wisdom far surpasses his years, and thank you for this food -- help it bless me and nourish me so that I can have a good life and be healthy and strong. Amen.

Believing what we teach.

Ever teach or coach someone a principle that you hope is true or want to be true or believe should be true...or just have a really strong conviction that it's true... but not be entirely sure of it yourself just yet?

It hard to do that well, I think. Because if you don't really GET something, won't that come out in the coaching/teaching you're giving? I think probably so.

But I did just that today actually.... See, I've been learning a LOT about people lately; leading them, following them, interacting with them, communicating with them, respecting them, coaching them, etc........ and I've also been reading a LOT and studying a LOT and listening a LOT and there are a LOT of concepts I've studied that I FEEL are true ...they SEEM right... but I guess in practical terms, they haven't applied to me yet or I haven't applied them yet and so it's hard to grasp how they work or that they work just like the experts say they do. :)

But I believe in them, so I'm okay backing those concepts up even if I don't get them completely myself. I guess it comes from the fact that I trust the leadership that I work for, and if they say it works, I am willing to go with that. Which completely backs up for me a fundamental concept of leadership: the concept that leadership is based on trust. I believe it even though I don't KNOW it... I guess that's faith?

WHICH, by the way, brings me to the point of the note. I had the opportunity to coach someone today through a situation, and I found myself coaching advice I'd not followed very much in my experience. But I coached it because I believe it is good advice... and without going into too many details, over the course of the conversation, the very thing I was coaching this person and telling this person would happen.... HAPPENED.

We were discussing how to be hard-line and how to persuade in a situation in which we know we're standing for the right thing... without disrespecting the other person or discounting their point of view. The tone brought to me was first-person, hard-line, demonstrative, and (hoping I don't set the person I was speaking with off here) self-serving. By way of talking through the hypothetical situation we were discussing and asking questions, I was able to get this person to convince herself of the exact correct way to handle it without ever telling her what that was. And the correct way to handle it was to dignify the other person's point of view, remain true to standards, remind the other person of standards, and then allow that person to come to the conclusion on their own that I would have brought them to if I were dictating to them.

The cool part was, I didn't realize until afterward that I had demonstrated what I was coaching while I was coaching it. After the conversation, the light bulb went on above my head and I was pretty pumped up that it worked and that I'd managed to teach myself and help the other person learn in the same conversation.

A humble, modest conclusion, huh? Definitely something to brag about on Facebook notes. Well, it is. :) Because what I realized, in the long run of the conversation and my debrief of myself later, is that if I'm absolutely sure of something IN MY HEART, it's okay for my mind not to get it yet. That's faith, again, I realize...I've just never seen it that close and personal in a work situation, I don't think.

So...when we lead like we SHOULD, it's because we're allowing God to lead us. Which is why FAITH must play such a huge part in our leadership. The opening to Obadiah discusses what happens when leaders lead of their own accord and forget their FAITH in God:

2"Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised. 3The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' 4Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and Though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," says the Lord.

Maxwell adds in the Leadership Bible, "We humans tend toward self-centeredness, self-promotion, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-righteousness. When leaders succumb to this tendency, they adversely affect their followers. While leaders may determine the course of their success, God remains the source of their success. God is the source of any gains we make."

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts! Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen!

Seashells, Dolphins, and Roses, Oh My!

A friend was recently walking down the beach. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement in the water. Repeatedly. Finally, he caught a glimpse of a dolphin that was swimming along in the water at the exact same pace he was walking along the beach. He walked and walked, and (rightfully so) found it quite striking that the dolphin was staying right with him. Finally, he came to a stopping point and another beach walker had noticed, and the two of them looked out and noticed that there were several dolphins out there instead of just one. The two stood for a moment, marveling at God's creation as the dolphins played and swam with each other.

Then, my friend noticed that there were people nearby who were combing the beach for seashells. It struck him that a seashell is most often a former home for a (possible former) living thing. It's a relic, once we get it in our baskets or bags, and while sometimes beautiful, and sometimes sentimental or associated with a good memory, is basically a skeleton. The seashell searchers continued to search for seashells, oblivious to the mammals frolicking in the water nearby. My friend realized that in life, we spend far too much of our time concentrating on unmoving, formerly-important skeletons and not nearly as much of our time marveling in the beauty of God's work.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss burnout with a few friends. I think burnout is something almost everyone (see the section below about never being burnt out) goes through in various parts of our lives. We probably all have some part of our life in which we do NOT experience burnout, but I think most everyone has experienced burnout at some time or other in various parts of our life. In times of burnout, I think we are heads-down, focusing on bones and not eyes-up, marveling at life.

What am I like when I'm experiencing burnout?
I guess that's an important question because if I cannot define burnout in my own life, I probably cannot take any steps toward fixing it...or more importantly, avoiding it. For ME, burnout is marked by a very BLAH feeling in general or more often a very BLAH feeling specifically about a certain part of my routine. Complacency, lack of passion, lack of energy, negativity... just blah. When I consistently have those kinds of emotions or take those kinds of perspectives toward some part of me, it's usually a sign of burnout. And I THINK I've determined what, in my life, causes me to become burnt out. A lot of people assume when I've been burnt out on work that it's because of my long hours or the extremely high expectations of my work... and while that's a factor that probably multiplies the feelings of burnout, it's not the main factor....

Why do I get burnout to begin with?
When I'm burnt out on something, I think it's because I temporarily forget what I'm passionate about. I lose touch with my passion in general or my passion about something I habitually do or participate in. Because I fail to keep touching my passion, I start just going through the motions. I fail to stop and smell the roses. I can't see the forest for the trees. I get stuck in the box. I forget to Seize the Day, or the Moment... My joy diminishes and I communicate that clearly to those I spend time with. In those times in my life I've really been burnt out with work, my wife knew well before I did. That tells me I wear it on my sleeve when I'm blah. Catching this early is important, because it's so easy to get back on track, if you realize that you're off. And I think SOMETIMES it may not be RIGHT (with a capital R) to get back on that same track, but that's a different note, different day.

How do I fix it when this happens?
The only answer to this question which works FOR ME is to force myself to get back in touch with my passion. If I decide to tough it out, I stay in the box and I continue to ignore the forest and complain about all the trees. I have to hit the great pause button of life temporarily, go back to the TIVOd version of what was working, and then unpause in a new direction or new speed or with new eyes. Lately I have been made aware of my ability to have a great effect on my own level of engagement (one way I define burnout is "lack of engagement") simply by the attitude I have and by my willingness to attend to the things in life I'm passionate about. I have found something related to work which I LOVE (training), and being empowered and enabled to remain in focus with that might create a situation in which my level of engagement at work -- which is astronomically high a lot of the time anyway -- can remain at a consistently higher level than it would be without that.

What's it mean to never be burnt out?
You know those people? The ones who are always so happy, who everyone gravitates toward, who live a seemingly carefree life, who exude Godly JOY? Not people who are condescendingly easy-going. The ones who literally just seem to let everything roll off their shoulders. Who honor you with their presence. Who are people-magnets. They're around, if rare. I believe with everything in me that I have the ability to BECOME one of those people, and that it comes a result of 1> My willingness to make sure I am in a situation in which I can remain in touch with my passions; and 2> My willingness to keep my Difference Maker (attitude) in check when those times come when I stray from that; and 3> My commitment to the generosity factor. Sharing my knowledge, resources, and passions with others increases the likelihood that I will be exposed to a lot less "stinkin' thinkin'" as Dan Cathy says it. It also just feels good.

Maxwell, in my Leadership Bible, says that leaders feel burnout when they pay out huge emotional expenses without replenishing their inner person. Same difference. He lifts up as an example Elijah the prophet (1 Kings). He says Elijah spent so much of his time and energy as a prophet without replenishing, and the consequences for Elijah were astounding. Isolation, paranoia, exhaustion, hiding, self-pity, depression, a messiah complex, and emptiness were Elijah's reward for ignoring his need for self-replenishment. Elijah, Maxwell says, because he was emotionally spent, was a fabulous servant, but a poor leader.

I've mentioned in several notes about how much smarter and more in-touch my kids are then I was at their age and at times than I am now. I'll give you a fine example. After I started composing this note, and before I finished it, it became lunchtime. My middle child nominated my oldest child to say the blessing. Usually the middle child claims that right for herself and does a darned fine job of it. But the oldest, we'll call her "S," is a very thoughtful pray-er who surprises me consistently with the things she asks from God during her prayers at night and during mealtime blessings. S's prayer at lunch set in concrete for me the need we all have in our lives to avoid burnout. In her own childlike way, S asked God to help us all remain in touch with our blessings. I'll close this note with part of her prayer.

"God, please help us remember to have fun while we do the things you command us to do."