Heart in Irons

Dripping cold off the edge of an iron leaf
It twinges quaking with the agony of past defeat
Should not the past be swallowed up with present victory?
No, the story memories tell is too weighty.

I once was swinging through the trees
The wind racing through my long hair
I once grasped for a vine with my toes
And slipping terror split my chest
Until I hit the ground hard and looked up
The branches were now so far away.

I can’t breathe the way I once did
My shallow coughing is hard and pressed together
Crunching down on my now deflated heart
Leaving no room for anything new.

A backhanded lash of cowardice
Steels my heart in indifferent irons
Crying comes whenever the weight shifts
And people do not know the life they disturb
With their well-meaning questions about the past
And now I stare out the portal of a swamped, sinking ship

Can you hear me?
Can you reach me on the other side?
Will I ever be on top of the waves again
Swinging from the tree branches enjoying new fruits?

But what’s the point?
No victory will last beyond the span of time
Except that which God does in time.
These trees grow and roots descend
At the behest of the one who gives birds their nest
The end of it all: will God defend?

So I do what is needed,
The trees tower, but I do not cower.
The irons are weaker than my heart
But He will be the one to break them.

The Cave and the River

Toes stubbing on uneven wet shale
The weight of rock dampening overhead
The horizon was a distant ribbon of blue and white sky
Here in the cold I trudge comfortless

Each step feels like moving backwards
The flow of time is a stopped train restarting
Futility I breathe in, Hopelessness I breathe out
How do invisible thorns grow where there is no sun?

Above, all is dirty, burdensome black
I remember when the heaven’s used to sing my name
When the life growing with me danced in rhythm
And the others did not fear my face

But here, a gloom has shaded my eyes.
The fire within once lit my way inside
Then I quenched the flame from the giver,
And gave myself over to the tangles of the dark.

O to soothe my tear-smudged face
With the crystals offering pale ghost light
Just some digging in the dirt
And my strength can feel real again for a moment.

No! Like Puddleglum in the Underworld,
I remember to myself reminded
That the sky is not made of ore
Nor is there any thing of life to be found in here.

My Beloved is near. He never leaves me.
He bids me lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

With time, my strength regathers,
And I keep on toward that blue ribbon
Fattening on the assurance of hope undeserved
Until I step over the lip of this dreadful dungeon.

The stiff blades of grass spring beneath my feet
Light and lightness as the open air descends
The dome touches my heart with longing
As the warm sun stings my eyes with tears of joy

I spring off the edge into the river
Sweeping me away as if it never stopped
Fresh grace I breathe in, fresh thanks I breathe out.
How can the cut of cold make me more alive as I shiver?

What fire cannot be quenched by any water?
What Symphony of light knows no drowning out?
I ride the current, yea, I lead it in dance
Unashamed of the strong Truth Creation gently whispers

My eyes are glowing like embers
My heart is melted in his heat
Like a wicked candle consumed with holy flame
I can feel once again that I, though unworthy, am His.

I am new! The day is new!
I am warm from within and without all is glad.
The music sings it’s melody in me again
A glorious noon of Springtide made young.

All stains of the dark are washed away
The Sun has disgraced the moon’s facade
I kneel gratefully in the dirt
Raising my arms to receive their nourishment

Yes! I am returned to Your country, O Lord
The dark memory of the past instructs
This is the place for which my heart was designed
Where life’s eternity cannot fence in the roaming of my soul.

My Beloved is near. He never leaves me.
He bids me lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

With time my strength regathers,
And I face the rolling countryside windswept and free
Faith settles simple within me,
As I lift my foot to run the length of it.

I Got Pulled Over…

Some of my thoughts on the Black Lives Matter controversy are in this story.

I got pulled over.

Around midday, I was driving my ’97 F-150 home from a Mediterranean restaurant down 484. I was in a hurry to get home so I accelerated to make a yellow light that turned red before I went under it. Immediately, I heard the chirp of the siren and saw the lights dancing behind me. I pulled over into a parking lot, and I was not ready for what happened next.

Before the officer came over to the window I had both hands on the wheel and my license in my hand. I am white, and the officer that came up to my window was black.

“Hello.” said the officer.

“Hello, officer.” I said.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

Now, I had been feeling frustrated due to the reason for my visit to the Mediterranean restaurant, and I also have a high respect for law enforcement, so I’ll share with you what I said, and the conversation that followed.

“Yes sir, I do. I know I ran a red light back there, and I am sorry. I can explain the situation if you would be willing to hear it. But even if you’re not willing to listen, I understand what I did was wrong. I broke the law. Would you please be willing to hear me as I share with you what is personally going on?”

“Okay.” The officer said shifting his weight to get comfortable listening to me.

“I love my wife. She wanted some Mediterranean food for lunch, and she only had an hour for us to eat lunch together. I wanted to get her some food she wanted because she’s cooped up doing work training on Zoom because of the Pandemic. I was delayed getting the food because there were other people ahead of me, and when I came back it was 40 minutes into her lunch break. When she opened the black bags she didn’t have any sauce or humus. And the menu online was not set up right, so I offered to go back to the restaurant and get her sauce and humus, and to let them know they needed to update her menu. So I went back just now, got the stuff and by this time, I have driven 15 minutes there, 15 minutes back, 15 minutes there again, and now I’m trying to get back because she’s hungry, even though I won’t be able to enjoy lunch break with her. And when I saw the light turn yellow, I was like, “No!” and I pushed for it. And it turned red. I shouldn’t have, but I was frustrated and acted out of that frustration.

“I am sorry. I recognize what I should have done, and I ask you for a warning. I am not entitled to one, and I don’t deserve one, but I boldly ask you for one. I trust your judgment in this case, and if you give me a ticket, I will receive it.”

The officer paused a moment and took my license and said, “Wait here.”

He went back to his car, and looked through, presumably my traffic record. After about 5 minutes he came back to say this:

“Sir, I see in my records that you are a teacher at a Christian school is that right?

“Yes sir.”

“If any one of those kids saw you run that red light what would you say to them?”

“I would tell them I was wrong to do so and that I have repented.”

“You better have. I see on my records you’ve gotten pulled over one other time for running a red light, and you told the officer that time it was due to ‘frustration’.”

“Yes sir.”

“You need to deal with this frustration issue. I don’t want to catch you doing this again. Red lights aren’t optional. You could get yourself or someone else seriously hurt.”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s your warning.” He said as put his notepad back into his pocket. “Now, I’d like to ask you a personal question, if you’re willing.”

My eyebrows furrowed as I blinked and said, “Okay.”

“Does your wife usually send you back to get things that restaurants miss?”

“No sir. This is something I wanted to do for her.”

“Alright,” the officer said as he pulled out his wallet and handed me 40 dollars! “This should cover it.”

I was shocked as I said, “Officer, this is not necessary.”

“You teach the Bible, right?” asked the officer.

“Yes sir.” I answered

“Then you probably know that in Romans 13, it says the governing authorities are servants of God for good, to punish evil behavior and praise the good. Your willingness to go and make things right for your wife is commendable, so let me help cover the cost.”

Tears filled my eyes and streaked my cheeks as I reached out my hand to shake his hand.

“Thank you, sir. I know things are really hard for the police right now. I just want you to know how glad I am that there are those of you on the force who seek not only punitive justice, but restorative justice.”

The officer shook my hand firmly and said, “I hope I never forget that.”

He bid me “Take care,” and I went home to my wife.

The story is fictional, but should it be?

Application Pathfinder: Nail it to the Cross

“Each soul that would enter into real life. . . must go out through the Gate of the Cross.”
 ~Parables of the Cross by Lilias Trotter

  • First ask the Lord to reveal what is in your heart.
    1. Honestly answer: Who or what in my life that if I lost it, my life would be meaningless?
      • Wait for the Lord to reveal something to you anything or anyone big or small.
      • If you decide you want God to be most important in your life, follow these steps.
    2. How to “Nail it to the cross”
      1. Nail it. (Choose one which feels that can be done most genuinely from the heart.)
        • Verbal processor—Tell God out loud what it is, and verbally give it to Him.
        • Writing processor—Write out to God what it is, committing it to Him.
        • Art processor—draw or paint it on paper, write poetry, craft something.
        • Eidetic processor—Imagine your hand nailing it to the Cross.
        • Kinesthetic processor—Get a hammer and nail and take something representing it and nail it to a block of wood, or just swing your hand.
        • Actors: Take an indefinite break from it.
        • Other: Decide to nail it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and do something to represent that.
      2. Thank God for it, and worship Him (Choose one which makes sense for you)
        • Verbal—Sing a song like, “I Surrender All” or “Take My Life and Let it Be.”
        • Writing—Write a psalm or praise poem for God, or a Love letter to God.
        • Art—Create a work of Art that Arises from Scripture.
        • Eidetic—Elevate God in the loftiest place He can be.
        • Kinesthetic—Dance for/with God.
        • Actors: Do something that is exclusively for God.
        • Other: Do something else to glorify and enjoy God as He leads you.
      3. Bring it before God again and wait for God to lead you in what to do with it. (Yes, He does still speak today, if you believe it and are humble and want Him to.)
        • Voice—God speaks inaudibly inside the heart, or externally outside the body
        • A Word—God can give a “word” in your mind. Give every word back to him to see if it’s from Him.
        • Impressions—A general sense, or an artistic form can come to mind that makes sense in the heart
        • Dreams/Visions—Separate the actual dream/vision from its interpretation, ask God to show you what He wants you to know.
        • Situations/Signs—God works in the world around us, see what He’s doing.
        • Guided Actions—He can give you peace, motivation, or a slight nudge in the direction of a decision.
        • Other: He chooses how He wants to speak.
      4. Check: You will know it is nailed to the cross when your heart feels brighter for God than that thing.
    3. Nurture that bright heart for God by doing this with your whole life regularly.
  • Scriptures on this theme for personal Bible Study
  • Matthew 10:32-39
  • Mark 8:34-38
  • John 12:23-25
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17-31
  • Galatians 6:12-16
  • Ephesians 2:14-16
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Colossians 2:9-19

The Pray-er and the Pastor

Once there was a young man who was a devoted Pray-er. He was not very popular and never got invited to parties. The local Pastor invited him to his party and welcomed him into his home, but when he sat at the table with everyone else, the people clamored to get near the popular Pastor, and the Pray-er was politely acknowledged and forgotten about.

On the Day of the Lord, the Pastor and the Prayer were both welcomed to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Pastor was so excited, and he remembered the time Jesus said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” so he sat in the lowest seat he could find. The Prayer also sat in the lowest seat he found.

Then the Bridegroom came in and greeted his guests with warmth and joy! He walked to the end of the table farthest from the head, and politely acknowledged the Pastor. He said, “Faithful Pastor, you may go higher. Go and sit with my groomsmen.” The Pastor rose and was exalted before all the guests. The people rejoiced to see him move to a place close to the Groom!

Then the Bridegroom turned to the Pray-er and said, “My friend, it is good to see you. Come sit with Me.” And He took his hand, and led him up to the seat on his left side, and sat him down closer even than His own best man! The people were dumbstruck, and the Pastor was deeply insulted!

The meal progressed, and the Pray-er spoke, listened, and laughed with the Bridegroom, and the Pastor stared with longing in his eyes. Finally he couldn’t restrain himself and he walked over to the groom and said, “My Lord, thank you for honoring me to sit at the place for your Groomsmen. Please tell me: what did I lack to sit with You at the table?” And the Lord said, “Friend, you have served Me well, which is why I honored you with My groomsmen, and I am glad you are with Me now. This young man devoted himself to being with Me. We have been intimate friends for years, and we have shared much joy and sorrow of life together. Should he not be close at hand to share in the greatest joy of My life’s new beginning?”

Why should It Use Up the Ground?

The Hook

Some of Jesus’ parables are frightening.

The Book

His parable in Luke 13:6-9 certainly is. The owner of a vineyard was seeking fruit from his fig tree, but when he came to it he found none. He told the Gardener, “Three years I have sought fruit from this tree, and still I find none. Chop it down! Why should it use up the ground? The Gardener says, “Let it remain for a year, and I will dig deep and put in fertilizer. If it grows fruit then it is good; if not, then chop it down.” ~Luke 13:6-9. This parable Jesus told is alarming when you realize the tree is given to mean you.

The Look

The Vineyard owner does not merely like trees for decoration. He wants fruit, sustenance, profit, continuation. He does not want the earth gone to waste. Indeed the word in Greek for “use up the ground” gives the idea of taking all its usefulness so that it is wasted and useless afterwards: like a soiled tissue, or a an empty pizza box. Another important thing about the phrase “use up the ground” is that the ground is the word for Earth. In Hebrew and Greek the word for earth, ground, and dirt art synonymous. A possible rendering of Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew is “In the beginning, God created the [ground] and the [sky].” It is much less a rendering of a material planet here and now and an immaterial place somewhere far away where God’s throne is, as it is talking about the concrete and immaterial reality that makes up life today around the world. In the Old Testament this idea of Heaven and Earth is vital to understanding the whole story, and God’s plan for a new Heaven and Earth in both Testaments.

The Took

Jesus gives a a story about what life is worth and what is worth ending life for the sake of life. The Gardener and the Vineyard owner in this paragraph demonstrate the Justice and the Forbearance of God.

JUSTICE: says “This tree belongs to me and it is not doing what it is meant to do. It must be removed and extinguished because it is using up the good and making it bad!”

FORBEARANCE: says “This tree is worth investing in and waiting a little bit longer to see if it is fruitful, so that this good thing may produce more good. If however, after further investment and patience it does not improve, then we will know for sure that the problem is with the tree itself, not the soil or the owner. So then it will be right for it to be removed.

“Behold the Kindness and Severity of God.” ~Romans 11:22. God is true, and requires a good accounting; He is also loving and gives all he can. In the end, all glory goes to His name, and all creation be filled with the glory of His goodness.

Application:

  1. That being said, I believe this parable is meant to draw our attention to the earth, the tangible concrete reality in which we live. “Why does it use up the ground?” is another way of asking, “Why does this even exist?” God has poured out his blessing on Humanity, and made a good world, and has charged mankind with the task of making making it good extremely! (See Genesis 1:28-31). This is part of what has been called the cultural mandate given to humanity. All humans are called to continue the growth of God’s good world.
  2. Specifically for Christians, God has called us to be the salt of the earth to preserve it. We are to take the good and make more good of it in concrete tangible ways. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He breathes life into all the the dead and dying things and from them creates new things through which His life can nourish others. Believers must learn to be led by the Holy Spirit so they can be a part of this preservation of Life.
  3. Specifically for Christians, God has in mind for us to invest and make good those things which will last unto eternity. This does not negate the need to accomplish physical restoration and healing of our concrete tangible reality. Jesus after all did not only preach about the life to come, nor value purely the souls of humankind, but also their physical needs he met and their infirmities he restored. All this he did with a view to the praise of His Father who expects a good harvest of Earth and Heaven before he makes all things new. So then, believers must not work for temporary ends of the kingdoms of men, but rather for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is filling the whole earth, starting in the hearts of men, and flowing out from them in all that they touch.
  4. For all Humanity, we must learn to fear the God who made us, planted us, owns us, and seeks results from us. He is forbearing and kind, and He is also exact and just. His patience will come to an end, and He will act for the good of His beloved people and creation, and the sake of His name, so that all the world may give praise to the Lord, “for He is good, and his Love endures forever.”

Sacred

I stood in a room of lilac walls with three doors. I opened the golden door on the right and the light inside was glowing red. The walls were red. The man inside the door shouted, “It is horrendous to kill an unborn baby, to rip it apart in the womb!”

I closed the door and walked over to the other golden door. I opened it up and inside it glowed blue. The woman inside cried out, “It is insupportable to deny a woman’s right to get an abortion, because what she does to her own body is her constitutional right!”

I closed the door and walked to the third door. This door was wood and white but smeared with dirt and green vines crept along the wall branching out around it. I moved slowly, silently toward it. I reached out my hand and opened the door.

Inside there was no light, but the vines were very green and thick trailing back into the black within. I crept forward and was instantly struck by how silent the place was– as if 1000 ears were listening and none dared to utter a peep to disturb what was being heard. I entered in further away from the lilac-walled room and my eyes began adjusting to the black. The walls were green, but by no paint, purely made up of the things living in this room. Where do they get their sunlight? I wondered. This room looked long-forgotten.

I stepped on a small, leafy sapling twig, which broke making a tiny keek. The effect rippled through the vines of the room and myself concurrently. Both shuddered, calamity filled my heart with ache, and the vines gently pulsed.

But then it returned to the quiet. Something was different. I knelt down to examine my offense. The little leaf was dangling. There was nothing I could do. I shed a tear from my eye which I dribbled with my finger down the stem. It seemed to accept my contrite offering with an unassuming nod.

I looked around the room again. The vine below me was as thick as a sledgehammer-head and ran along the ground to the far wall. And as I looked I saw that a shoot came off from it and increased in length, though much thinner. As I looked, it was clear where the thick vine stopped and where the thin vine began, and yet both were the same vine.

But the answer to the riddle in my heart was not to be found here. My eyes followed the thick vine back into a dark corner of the room. Then, for the first time since entering the room, I started to see traces of light through the thickly-packed growth of the vines clogging every wall. I stepped carefully, and with gentle hands pried close woven vines apart, until I could see: there was a window! And not merely a window but a corner of two glass walls! It had been growing so long that the inner part of the room was deprived of sunlight, but it was still very much alive!

Then I knew where I was. Here was a room with no floor; it was planted in the earth. And all around there was life and beauty and expansion even into the lilac colored room. Here was a room that needed more sunlight to see its beauty.

Then I understood: this vine is living and filling the whole space with its stalks and off-shoots. And yet, it needed care, cultivation and someone to stay here and make it beautiful. Someone who loved the plant could decide how it was best to be kept. It was rightly owed to the root, to the planter of the seed, and the owner of this multi-directional sunroom, for his plant to succeed in its design: full growth. The root decides what will grow, and the wise caretaker must decide once the sapling has had a chance to grow how it will aid the master plan.

I stayed there and received instruction. And I asked my Friend who was with me:

“What do You think?”

“There is more.”

I worked gingerly, painstakingly, and boldly to make room for more sunlight. The effect was unimaginable. The light peered in an ever-widening beam through that dark jungle like a sudden brass solo out of a silent orchestra pit. The vines all reached their tendrils in the direction of the light. The light peered past me into the lilac room, and the vines followed. I kept directing, braiding, organizing, and feeding the stalks around to allow light to shine through. The doorway to the lilac room soon became so overgrown I did not know if I could enter back the way I came again. This however was indeed where I had come to fight the battle for life, and I could see that life was winning again.

Soon, the vines which had sought to wrap around me many times suddenly started popping with life. I turned and looked and saw the lilac room floor, wall, and ceiling was well-lit and now beautified with jasmine, and the fragrance filled the whole room with the sweetness of new life.

All except for the Red and Blue rooms. Their golden doors did not open to let the plant nor its fragrance enter in.

I stepped carefully back out of the room now swarming with life, and as I wiggled my way back into the lilac-colored, now flower-covered room, I turned to the door and started to clean away the dirt smudges on the front of it. As I did a word became clear, one letter at a time.

“Sacred.”

To a Mature Man: Revisited

3/27//2020 After reading 2 years of VOM articles, and 8 chapters of “Revival God’s Way” by Leonard Ravenhill:

I do desire greatly to see the Church’s glory in my America restored. But it’s only because I’ve seen it in other nations around the world: nations where she is persecuted and treated as the enemy.

In my exploration of the Ten Stages of Christian Maturity entitled “To a Mature Man” I wrote two years ago, I made the case that every believer must be working toward the stage of Persecution. One man quoted by the Voice of the Martyrs said, “If I do not obey, then I don’t get persecuted.”

My question to the church in America is this: We are the body of Christ right? So often, Jesus is most recognizably portrayed as with his body hanging on the cross, right? This is what many people in our nation know. If the glory of Jesus body is portrayed as giving himself up on the cross
How should the glory of His body, the church, be portrayed?
If the Body of Jesus is not portrayed to people as giving himself on the cross,
how on earth, will mankind recognize our Savior in the church at all?

I also said in “To a Mature Man”, I don’t believe the church must be persecuted to come alive again. I believe it must come alive again and then will be persecuted. We lack in obedience, division from the world, the power of God, devotion to Him, and a heart to do righteousness and to follow His mission. Look at how things are going in our own nation right now. It’s not entirely their fault.

I am at Stage 6, but the danger here is getting entangled in the good and bad snares of the world. I have been bogged down by responsibilities, entertainments, and the fear of Man. It is the mercy of God to show me this, and it is my ache to need to share this, somehow.

Also, in sharing these stages with friends, one friend commented that the stages are sometimes in a loop. We go from Justice to Service back to Wilderness often. As I thought more about it, I realized that each stage is built upon the previous one. That means the key to advancing from one stage to the next is in the previous stage.
Example: If a person is in the Community Stage (5), but is not receiving any specific calling or clarity from the Lord about their mission, but they are falling into the pitfall of man’s approval, they will not advance to the Service Stage (6). To fix this, a believer must return to the Wilderness (4) to see if there is any area of compromise that is hindering his wholehearted devotion to the Lord. If a believer comes back to this stage and finds that the Holy Spirit is not even in him or with him, he must go back to his Baptism (3) to see if he has even received the Spirit. Only through humbly growing at the Lord’s pace will full Maturity in Christ be reached, and as T. Austin-Sparks said, “God is not satisfied with anything less than fullness.”

God, please forgive me for my slackness in pursuing this maturity and in calling others to this maturity. It is only in the person of Jesus Christ, His actualization, that all the world will know Your good news is real.

I have seen Enough–Part 3

Suddenly, countless gleaming jewels of all different colors covered the surface of the earth. Each one in turn told the Story in a different way. Their multi-colored glow grows brighter and brighter.

The one who stood to the East said:

-I see the tree a bounty of seeds has born.
-The fruit is sweet yet hemmed about with thorns.
-Broken o’er creation again is the new light of day.
-Brightening more brilliantly, chasing night away.
-The Man also, he is reborn
-With joy he bears suffering and scorn.
-His re-creation has made him play and sing
-To his Creator for all things new making.
I . . .

The one who stood to the South said:

-I see the world still fallen down so steep.
-Injustice’s wounds have run so deep.
-Still there is something which smacks of injustice
-To self, so that others may become rich.
-The Man also, is failing and broken.
-He toils to heal deep wounds unspoken.
-He chooses to make himself nothing
-That through his poverty others might have life abounding.
I have . . .

The one who stood to the West said:

-I see death here still takes its toll.
-Like a great tide it’s waters still roll.
-And yet each death like a crushed leaf.
-Bears the promise of life that spells death’s defeat.
-The Man also, his days are few.
-His death is like to the Man who knew.
-Yet, in his end, he bears witness
-Of the life beyond which he meets with bliss.
I have seen . . .

The one who stood to the North said:

-I see the powers of the world are crumbling
-They thrash and clamber to scramble out from tumbling
-Into the chasm opening beneath to finish him off
-As a new kingdom eternally takes its place built on solid rock.
-The Man also, rejects power as futile.
-He takes his stand while the earth sinks around him.
-He opens his arms to receive the penitent
-And the power and riches of the new Kingdom, he shares
. . . enough!

And The Voice came from the throne above:

“Have you seen enough?”

I Have Seen Enough Part 2.

Then all four looked and recognized something in their midst and each in
turn said:

I see a tree sprung up from the ground.
I see lifeless limbs bear the grief for those standing around.
I see lightning split death’s silent sky at the ninth hour.
I see on display the prize and ends of all wealth and power.
The Man also, is bringing new life by dying.
The Man is weak yet showing enormous strength
The Man is finished, yet eternal in his impact
The Man is powerful, yet makes himself nothing.
This doesn’t make sense.

Then it went deep into the center of it all, and the four saw the transformation:

Can it be? It is as it was from the beginning
Can it be? The poor are clothed in raiment of splendor
Can it be? The dead are raised to life everlasting
Can it be? The wealthy and powerful on earth are defeated
See the Man also! He makes all things new.
The Man in his weakness is made strong
The Man has died once, now lives forever.
The Man is worthy of all honor and power.
We have seen enough.

Then the Man rose up to the One who was above them, and sat at His right hand and said:

“There is still more.”