Monday, January 28, 2013

First Lines

As are many of you know, I am a book reader.  I love reading.  For me, if heaven is to be heaven, my “mansion” will include a den with bookshelves on four walls, a fireplace, good lighting, a comfortable chair, at least one big window that opens onto a beautiful lawn and lets in the sound of waves washing against the shore, and an eternity to read.  When I’m shopping for a book, I turn to the first page and read the opening lines.  I’m intrigued to see just how the author will entice me to read her book.

There is a book to which I keep returning, reading again its opening lines. They captured me the first time I heard them read and again the first time I read them for myself.  This book is the first one I recall reading that I could call my own.  Before I could write, Dad wrote my name in the front of it.  Those opening lines still capture my attention: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Fifty-eight years after receiving that book, those words still capture my attention and invite me to read on.  I want to know this God who can call into being both heaven and earth.  I want to know the places God created and creates.  I want to observe all that God has created.  In observing the created, I learn of the Creator.  I am not widely traveled; but I’ve seen a lot of God’s creation.  I’ve watch little green shoots push from the ground behind my house and burst alive with beautiful yellow and orange flowers.  I’ve watched the squirrels run and climb through the trees.  I’ve seen the fire-red sunset and the dawning of a new day.  I’ve stood atop a mountain and stared out across a sea whose end I could only imagine.  And, in it all, I saw God. 

“In the beginning . . . the Spirit of God moved . . . .”  The Spirit of God moves in nature.  The Spirit of God also moves on and through the printed page.  I’m as awed by the existence of the Bible as I am by nature.  Over a span of thousands of years, the Bible came to be.  From accounts and stories first passed along from mouth to ear and ear to mouth and mouth to ear, the printed Bible finally emerged.  Sixty-six books (for our Protestant Bible) all touched by myriad hands before they were finally bound together as the Word of God.  Those opening words invite me to read on.

I don’t claim to know God.  I claim to know of him. I see God’s handiwork all around me—in nature; in small room where five guys gather to study the Bible, to share, and to pray; in the lives of young people transformed by a week in Haiti.  All of these things and more move me to believe in God and to want to know more of God, but they are not enough.

It is in the pages of the Bible that I learn the most important lessons about this God who creates.  From the Bible I learn that I’m part of that Creation, and that God, like a good gardener, never stops loving me and caring for me.

We can learn of God from nature; but without the written Word, we will not know God.  Look around you at the work of the Creator and be awed.  Read those opening lines of The Book and begin the discovery of what it means for God to be the Creator.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rejoicing Over Children--How Like God

I’m thinking this morning of the times I’ve watched parents embrace their newborn children.  For parents, it is a unique and holy moment.  For an outsider looking on, it is a unique and holy moment.  As parents embrace their newborns, you see a depth of joy and love that is a joy to behold.  Even macho papas take on a softer glow in those moments. 

One can observe something similar in parents as they watch their children move through various mileposts of life—the first birthday, the first day of school, graduation, leaving for college, bringing home that “special someone” to meet the folks, marrying, and then the baby and the cycle repeats itself.

Of course the cycle from birthing to seeing those birthed begin to birth their own is not without obstacles and struggles.  The bundle of joy can become a handful, and often does.  Most parents will spend some anguished moments rearing and loving their children, and most parents will encounter some point at which their children’s actions and choices will sadden them.

Yet through it all, good parents keep on.  They keep on loving the children they birthed.  They keep on giving direction and guidance.  They reprimand.  They give their children limits and freedom; and when freedom leads to the breaking of limits, they seek out the children who ran past the appropriate boundaries, forever calling them back.

And through it all, good parents rejoice over their children.

It’s a God-thing; for it is how God rejoices, loves, frees, seeks, and rejoices over those into whom the Divine Breath has been breathed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I believe in grace.  I would not be who I am and where I am apart from grace.  I’ve experienced grace in a variety of ways and circumstances.  I believe in grace, but I do not understand it.

In its purest form, as received from God, grace comes unmerited.  Yet it seems that some people who receive grace are motivated to a higher level of living and become the recipients of more grace.  Is that a backhanded way of earning grace?  There also seem to be some people on whom grace just doesn’t fall.  Did they do something to warrant the withholding of grace?

Perhaps I struggle because I do as do so many others.  I too often equate the receiving of God’s grace with success and joy.  I know better.  I’ve experienced grace in times of failure and in times of deep sorrow.  I’ve known the wonder of grace in times when I’ve been afraid.  Yet when things are tough, for me or others, I want to ask God, “Where is your grace?” 

I don’t understand grace, but I give thanks for it.  I long for it, and I sometimes beg for it.  More often than not, I see grace in the rearview mirror of my life.  I can look back at four and a half hard and lean years in one pastorate and now see that those years led to the thirty-three plus years I’ve spent in Eminence.  Looking back to 1998 when my dad was the victim of shooting and spent 90 days in the hospital, I can now see that through that experience I became a more sensitive pastor than I might otherwise have been.  Dad, too, experienced grace in the experience and emerged as a better man.  Please understand . . . I don’t think God caused my dad to be shot so that he and I might be graced.  There are numerous things that caused the shooting.  Grace came because God doesn’t run and hide when stuff, including the stuff of our sin, occurs.

Perhaps grace is almost always baptismal grace.  It is what comes to us as we see ourselves as inside the circle of God’s love.  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” the voice from heaven declared at Jesus’ baptism.  Is that not the message at every son’s and daughter’s baptism?   Sure, baptism is a sign of our profession of faith, of our dying and rising with Jesus; but it is more.  It is also a sign of God’s welcoming us, declaring what we should have known from the beginning: that we come from God, belong to God, and ultimately return to God.

That’s grace enough!  To be in God’s family is grace.  To be in God’s family is not to be free of all that comes with being human. We struggle; we grow ill; we hurt; we misunderstand; and eventually we die.  Yet in all of it, we discover grace, the grace of being and the grace of not being forgotten or left alone.

I don’t understand grace; but I have experienced it; and living in grace leaves me convinced that it comes to all.  What distinguishes us is not the outpouring of grace but our recognition of its presence. 

To know that we belong to the Creator of all that is grace.  Such grace leads me to cling to the promise of Isaiah 43:1-3 even when the waters run fast and deep and the fire burns toward me.  I cling to that grace because the Creator of all that is has redeemed me and called me his own.

May you know the wonder of discovering the grace at work in your life.