Fires

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I started writing this poem as the celebration of Pentecost was getting closer. I was thinking of some of the ways that fire is used in the Scriptures. As I was processing, the launch of the SpaceX rocket was also getting closer and so I began to think of the role that fire plays in that. Then the riots broke out after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Fire plays a much different role in protest. This is a first run, a rough draft.

Fires

Fires of protest

Rise in the streets

Centuries of anger

Through smoke and ash

Consuming flames

Devour symbols of false prosperity

Some call it wrath

Others judgement

Frustration of oppression

Burden of accusation falsely

Leveled with suspicion and

Fear arrogance and empty superiority

Explodes with destructive power

Clashing with the destructive powers

Fires of protest

Rise against the powers that

Would extinguish them with

Ignorance patronizing and pity

Even if they are extinguished today

They will burn tomorrow

Fires purifying

Blaze through forest and wood

Removing vestiges of vegetation

Long overdue

Soil enriched fertilized by the

Ashes of the deceased ready to live again

Furnace glows with intensity

Strength to melt the stubborn

Metal separating impure

From pure clean and true

A wound laid open

Infected oozing putrid

Cauterized by fire

Arrests the spread of disease

Leaves a scar, a story

An echo of what was and

What might have been

Fire purifies, cauterize

Counters impurities leaving

The good with a reminder

Alive.

Fires of proclamation

Ablaze

Divided tongues, languages, glossolalia

Cacophony to some

Symphony to others

Shouting from rooftops

Bursting from catacombs

Ceilings vaulted coated with soot

Centuries of flames burning

Proclaiming and calling

Fire on the holy ground

Signifies spaces of sacredness

Barrels, dumpsters, pillars, and bushes

Fire proclaiming the presence of the precious

The mighty works done and those left yet to do.

Fires of propulsion

Blasting off blasting out

Pushing against the immovable

Launching skyward starward

Explosions in stages well orchestrated

From the earth below to the orbit above

Always outward

Fires of propulsion

Launch the church to proclaim

Pentecost propulsion

Pentecost proclamation

Flames spread when the wind blows

Where the wind blows

Follow the flame

Follow the fire

It will continue to burn

Breakfast at the Feeders

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The sparrows come early

to find bits of breakfast

on the ground

The jay isn’t interested

in the crumbs he’s found

he wants the bigger bites of seeds

Not to be left out of the buffet

the squirrel pushes his way in

and gobbles up the largest share

the juncos wait their turn

to hunt and peck

for a mid-morning snack

Temptation

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Temptation comes as it typically does

Shrouded in good sense, good ideas, and wisdom

Wrapped in delightful packaging

Gilded with righteousness and piety

Bathed in desire and hope

Temptation smiles and winks

He purrs and speaks softly

She tenderly invites

She greets you as a friend or confidant

He tells you everything is going to be just fine

Temptation agrees with you

Convinces you and encourages you

Sounds just like you and puts you on your own pedestal

He tells you he is only looking out for you

She says that she loves you if…

Temptation comes robed in velvety smoothness

Concealing the truth until it is too late

 

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Every Day

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Every day there is a quiz

Physically

Emotionally

Spiritually

These daily quizzes prepare you

For the test

Exam

Comprehensive

All that you know will be challenged

How strong are you?

How prepared are you?

If you’ve paid attention during the quizzes

You’ll be ready

Even when you don’t think you are…

14 Things I’ve Learned @ Crossfit

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I know some of you aren’t fans of Crossfit, and that’s ok. I wasn’t for a long time. Most Crossfit folks I knew were a little or a lot over the top and much too “stoked” for me. But I found an incredible group of people who just love to have fun, get fit, get sweaty, and support one another.

Here are 14 things I’ve learned after 14 months of Crossfit:

  1. Eat more and eat right. I haven’t gotten this down yet. I’ve had a couple of experiences in workouts that maxed out what my body was able to do and I had to cut them short. I simply ran out of fuel for my muscles and they wouldn’t perform.
  2. Drink more water. This should be a given, but we all know it’s not. Whatever you are currently consuming in water, up it.
  3. Sometimes a block is mental. Sometimes a block is physical. The physical blocks are usually easier to overcome than the mental. The hard part is knowing the difference.
  4. Humility will find you. Expect to be humbled.
  5. Sometimes, pain is good. Sometimes, pain is bad. If I’m experiencing pain in the midst of a workout it usually means that I’m doing something wrong and I need to stop and change tactics or I will get injured. If I’m experiencing pain a couple of days after a workout, usually that means I did something right and I should go back for more.
  6. You can turn anything into a competition, but that doesn’t mean you should turn everything into a competition.
  7. If you want it to be just about you, go do something else. We need each other for support, encouragement, and help in general.
  8. You may end up hearing old recordings of the voices from your past. Sometimes this can be upsetting. You might need to deal with them in a way that is different than working out. Don’t be afraid to seek extra help.
  9. If you always take the easy way out, you won’t benefit as much from the work.
  10. Know your limits and when to push past them and when to heed them.
  11. You can always do one more, usually. One more push up, burpee, lift, lap, or drink of water.
  12. Rest is vital, though most of us will have to fight the “I should be” monster.
  13. Scalin’ ain’t failin’. Just because the fittest in the room is maxing out on everything all the time doesn’t mean you should. When you scale back on reps or weight, it doesn’t make your fitness less important or less meaningful.
  14. There is always more to learn.

Trust Your Feelings?

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So often in this life, we are told to listen to our feelings. Trust your feelings. Trust your instincts. Other ways that this sentiment is expressed is to trust your heart or intuition. But I think that system is a bit broken. Obi-Wan Kenobi told young Luke Skywalker, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Sorry, old Ben, I trust my eyes before I trust my feelings.

To be quite open and honest, if I had listened to my feelings at certain points of my life, I would not be here to type this short story. My feelings have ranged from bliss to rage and from ecstasy to despair. Which of those feelings should I trust? How am I supposed to know when my feelings are lying to me or when they might lead me to do something I regret?

Some of you may know that I have struggled with depression for the majority of my life. I never really knew it when I was younger, but looking back that’s what it was. It’s not that I wasn’t a happy child. My parents provided everything we needed and most of what we wanted even when the circumstances were bleak. I didn’t realize it and that’s a good thing. But depression isn’t dependent on circumstance. For me, it was and is a chemical thing. And that’s why I can’t trust my feelings or heart or whatever you may call it.

Even for those who may not deal with depression or anxiety, feelings can’t be trusted. They are so fleeting and change with the shifting breeze. One moment you are on top of the world and the next you might come crashing to the valley floor. Feelings are not trustworthy or stable creatures.

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Trust is better placed in someone who is trustworthy.

“I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus” by Frances Havergal- I am trusting thee to guide me; thou alone shalt lead, every day and hour supplying all my need.

Trust is better placed in someone who can be trusted.

 

A Metaphor Might Help

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I have just returned from my first Oregon Pastors Conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon. After 11 years of such retreats in Alaska, where the number of pastors was far fewer, I really didn’t know what to expect. It was good to catch up with friends, some from Seminary, some from ministry. I also met a number of people who were new to me and that was wonderful. The guest speaker offered some good insight into the text of St. John and the early work of the Church Fathers. In these things, the conference was beneficial but not challenging.

What was challenging to me was the state of so many of our churches in the Oregon conference. To say they are on the decline in numbers and effectiveness would be an understatement. If I had to venture a guess, in the next 10 years, a significant percentage of these churches will be extinct. I realize this isn’t news to anyone who has been following Jesus for any length of time. But to have it visibly displayed and openly discussed and admitted was eye-opening.

We are in that boat here in the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon. There are six churches within 20 minutes of one another and five of those six are either vacant or being served only part time by men who ought to be enjoying true retirement. Only one of those churches is able to sustain a full-time pastor and only by the grace of God, that’s where I am. In the next 10 years, my estimate is that at least three of those six churches will be gone.

The question on everyone’s minds is “What can be done to stop that from happening?” The only real and honest answer is “God only knows.” For certain, there are things that churches around the country have been trying to do with varying degrees of success. Appealing to and bringing in younger families is one such answer. Another would be to change the worship style to better fit a “contemporary” mindset. Perhaps diversifying into the digital realm and using all of the social media platforms to promote the mission of the church would be helpful. Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know.

I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations since moving here from the Far North. In one such encounter, a woman was walking her dog around our property which I always find fun. I try to introduce myself to the people as often as possible. In this particular exchange, the woman asked what sort of building this was. I asked her what she meant by that. She said responded by asking what is this place and what do we do here. I said that it was a church and we worship God and teach about the Bible. Her comment was, “I don’t know what that is, but it’s a nice building.” I invited her to come and find out more and to stop in next time she was walking her dog around. I haven’t seen her yet.

I found myself in a very strange place. I’m sure she isn’t the only one who walks or drives by our building and has no idea what it is. There are now generations of people in this area who are not hostile to church, but who simply have no idea what it is. I’ll be honest. It’s kind of exciting. But I’m not sure how to proceed with this knowledge. Maybe a word picture would help. Let’s use a sea-going metaphor seeing as how I just returned from the beautiful coast.

Picture a fishing boat out at sea. It’s a nice boat, fresh paint, friendly people fishing on the deep blue sea. As they are fishing, a person on a pool float drifts into view. They are a long way from any pool and the captain of the boat isn’t sure how this person got there. The pool floater looks up at the boat and says, “What are you all standing on? I’ve never seen such a thing.” Confused, the fishers look at one another and shout out to the person on the float, “This is a boat. It’s a vehicle used to bring us out to the fishing grounds. It has a motor and steering. Have you never heard of a boat before?” The pool person responds, “Nope. But yours is real nice.” With that, the person on the pool float drifts away as the current and tides move.

I realize metaphors are limited and sometimes absurd. But consider this one. Let it generate questions. Let it generate discussion. Let it move or not move you. It’s a metaphor.

 

Questions in the Garden

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Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

The invasion of sin into the perfection of paradise is such a controversial topic. The timing of the events, the purpose and consequences, the why’s and how’s all serve to blast apart the serene vision of the beginning of all things. I can’t begin to answer all the questions, nor would I try, but there is some healthy discussion to be had here.

Why did God put the tree there in the first place? Because He’s God and that’s how he created things. I know that’s a snappy answer, but it’s true. He wanted to have the trees there and so he put them there. That’s really the only answer that we can give.

Shouldn’t He have known that when He told them not to eat it, they would want to eat it? When we’re told not to do something, a lot of the time we want to do exactly what we’re told not to do. You know what that’s called? Sin. You know what wasn’t in the Garden when God told them not to eat the fruit? Sin. So there was no reason for Him to worry about that.

Why did God allow the serpent to talk to Adam and Eve? Because He’s God and that’s what He allowed to happen. Look, anytime we ask a “why” question of God, our only real answer is “because He’s God.” We can’t venture into the mind of the Almighty and hope to come up with palatable answers for us puny humans. I know we don’t like it that way, but that’s the way it is.

When did sin get in? Martin Luther would say that the sin of Eve wasn’t disobedience in eating the fruit. The sin was the seed of disbelief and distrust of God that entered in as soon as the serpent spoke. The fruit wasn’t a magic apple like every Disney movie or fairy tale. The eating of the fruit was a consequence of the sin of disbelief and distrust and the opening of the eyes was a result of the eating. Sin, then, came in before the disobedience. The word of the serpent became, in Eve’s ears and Adam’s heart, more trustworthy than the Word of God.

God gave Adam and Eve free will. Didn’t He know they would choose to eat the fruit? I can’t find any where in the Genesis account where it says that God gave Adam and Eve free will. He created them, one from another, and placed them in the Garden to work it and tend it. He gave them the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. They had no need of free will because everything they needed was given to them. If free will enters into the world at all, it’s after sin, so then free will is connected to sin. Doesn’t sound like a good thing at all to me.

There’s much more to be said about all of this and I’m sure there are myriad questions that follow. But we’ll save that for another time and installment. For now, let’s chew on these for a bit and always keep in mind that hindsight is 20/20 and we can’t place our modern/post modern understandings of human behavior and God’s intentions against the Scriptures and people’s interactions back then.

It’s No Wonder

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I recently attended a church fair at a local Christian college. It was a typical fair set up with tables and each church presenting themselves as opportunities for the students to connect. As was expected, most of the students didn’t pay much attention to the tables as they were getting their lunch and getting ready for class. Each table had swag and stuff to entice the students to check them out. There were give-aways for coffee and stickers and the usual stuff. There was even a table with a cotton candy machine.

Several of the tables were occupied by places that didn’t have “churchy” sounding names. I’m sure, like many of the non-denominational attempts to lure in the pre-churched, they were avoiding anything that might sound like church. In this town, it would be easy to confuse those places with the marijuana distributers because they all try to avoid saying what they really are. And it’s no wonder that students, even at a Christian college, are confused about church. If you are named “Salt” or “the Rock” you could be selling drugs or praising God. We don’t know.

Now, I’m not saying that every church should have a heavy handed name. Not every place can be the Orthodox Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Resurrection. Imagine the size of the sign you would need. But at least that name tells you something. A name like “Summit” doesn’t say much.

I found the same confusion in chapel at the college as well. The worship was right out of the textbook of non-denominational, mega-church worship in 2002. Three songs sung with lilting loveliness and closed eyes followed by a prayer to “Father God, we just…” The pastor was a 50 something guy with a goatee and a tropical print polo, using words like “dude” and “whack” and other words that no one uses anymore. I thought to myself, if this is what we’re passing off as church or as Christianity to these students, it’s no wonder that the faith community is shrinking here in the Northwest.

It’s trite. It’s cute. There’s no need to invest. There’s nothing expected. It’s emotionally pandering and cotton candy.

I don’t have the answer to all the questions about student and campus ministry. I haven’t done much in that arena. Maybe I’m an armchair critic then and you can disregard what I’m saying as someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m fine with that.

What I’m not fine with is selling our students short. Following Jesus comes with a lot of expectations. Being the church has a hard-fought legacy, a violent history, and incredible power. Cotton candy doesn’t cut it. If we want them to be part of what makes the church the church, we have to show them what that means.

Ok, I’ll step down off my soapbox now. Thanks.

What Can Be Said?

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What can be said when you run out of things to say? When an illness once beaten returns with a vengeance and days on this earth grow short, what can you say? When unspeakable tragedy occurs in a split second changing the course of someone’s life forever, what can you say? When devastating disaster wreaks havoc in the lives of innocent people, what can you say?

I’m sure you could find a lot of words to say, but would any of them be right? The right words are elusive but wrong or patronizing words are easy to find. There are things that we could say that wouldn’t help anyone. They might make those who are saying them feel a little better for having at least said something, anything. They would be of no use to the one sitting in the midst of their pain.

The human experience called life is profound in its complexity just as the language of man is complex in its attempt to give words to the experience. Metaphor and analogy take the place of direct description when the human language simply cannot capture the experience. Simile tries to re-frame the ethereal into palatable or tangible bits, easier to digest. But words and language have limitations. What happens when the limits of language have been reached?

Perhaps this becomes a time when the adage “actions speak louder than words” comes into focus. The actions, the deeds, the works display what words cannot convey. These don’t have to be deeds of grand achievement or profound meaning. In fact, simple works speak volumes. A kind gesture of support and presence is a powerful thing. Sitting with someone and holding their hand can have an effect that a thousand words wouldn’t. Paying attention and listening to someone tell their story is infinitely more helpful than spouting platitudes of pithy sayings, even from the most well-meaning of hearts.

What can be said when you run out of things to say? Nothing can be said. It’s then when something needs to be done.