Trees come in all shapes and sizes and personalities. Some trees are all needles and look to be on edge all the time. I have an Ash in my backyard that’s putting on a good face but the Emerald Ash Borer has done it’s work and what was once a strapping proud tree is fading fast into firewood. There are other trees that look lush and rich. But only one tree really looks relaxed to me. The Weeping Willow.
I first noticed when I was on vacation twenty years ago and trying to relax myself. We were vacationing near a lake and between our cottage and the lake stood a huge Weeping Willow in perpetual relaxation. It seemed a tree that was always on vacation.
I did some research and found out that a Weeping Willow is always found near a water source. It appears it requires more water than most.
Since I read that I’ve paid attention whenever I see a Weeping Willow and sure enough it’s always next to a lake or a stream.
I recently preached from a passage in Jeremiah.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He will be like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8
A tree that has a water source doesn’t fear the weather and is not anxious. The Willow Tree has no worries. Hakuna Matata is what Puumba sang in the Lion King. No wonder a Weeping Willow looks so relaxed. Deep down it’s singing Hakuna Matata.
Jeremiah says that a human being can have the same feeling. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD”.
My goal is to be a little more like the Weeping Willow this year. I want to plant myself near the source of life so the weather will not be so worrisome.
I invite you to do the same. Let’s put our trust in the LORD and quit worrying about the weather no matter how dry it may seem. I could use a little Hakuna Matata. How about you?
I’ve been traveling more this year than normal and that means I’ve spent quite a bit of time in airports. It seems there’s a proliferation of moving sidewalks. I’m a bit conflicted. Walking on a sidewalk that is moving is pretty exhilarating. It makes me feel fast. I look down my nose at the mere mortals who failed to step on and are pulling their little carry on bags behind them huffing and puffing while I glide by effortlessly. But then I think, with a nation that really is huffing and puffing and losing the battle of the bulge, is a moving sidewalk what we need? Not wanting to walk all the way to get on a airplane is a little ironic when you think about it.
But back to the moving sidewalk. I make the decision regarding getting on the sidewalk but from then on the sidewalk takes me the direction it’s going. I’m being taken further down a particular corridor and I’m going with a particular group of people whether I like it or not. I might see someone on the sidewalk going the opposite direction but then they’re gone. I saw a friend a couple of months ago and scarcely had enough time to recognize his face and blurt out his name and then he was gone.
It struck me that we are getting on sidewalks all the time. Not all of our decisions are moving sidewalk decisions but some definitely are. We may not realize it for a while but eventually we will look around and realize our decision has taken us down a very particular corridor with a particular group of people.
A bunch of graduates have chosen colleges. Every college and university is a moving sidewalk. Once there they will make some other choices and some of those choices will be bigger than they seem at first.
Some sidewalks are well marked and it’s easy to tell you’re getting on one. Jobs, spouses, having children, choosing churches etc. But with other sidewalks it’s harder to tell you’ve gotten on. The first step can be a small one.
My point is that our decisions are moving us places. The responsibility of making the right decision every time can be overwhelming.
The first Bible I ever received was a gift from my dad. He inscribed a verse on the inside cover. It was Psalm 16:11. “You make known to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”.
My dad is a wise man. He knew there were going to be countess decisions facing me. He was inviting me onto the most important sidewalk. All the other decisions i would make would still be moving me in the same direction to the same destination if i would just get this one right. It’s still the best decision I ever made.
Every four years a fever sweeps over most of the world. It’s called simply The World Cup. It’s the soccer tournament for the civilized and uncivilized world. It’s a little like the Olympics but with much more national fervor.
Soccer is much more popular outside of the good ole USA. I have my theories. Part of it is the flopping. Think of a whole team of Dwayne Wade’s falling down every 10 seconds or so, half grimacing, half crying, rolling around trying to get every call even ones that don’t exist. Ok, I may still be having a little trouble with the Miami Heat even though last month the whole world seemed set right again as the Spurs dismantled them like they were a start up AAU team. I digress.
It could be the running clock that continues to run even when the ball is not in play allowing teams that are ahead to milk the clock without a conscience. Or it could very easily be the whole concept of “added time” where the referee gets to add as much time to the game as he sees fit after the aforementioned seared conscience milking has taken place. A simple American solution has been to actually stop the clock. Just a suggestion, you can thank me when the riots stop.
But the main reason is Americans have had trouble appreciating a game that often goes the full 90 minutes and ends up without a single goal being scored. The rest of the world sees that as part of the beauty of the sport and a testament to the difficulty of playing a sport without using your arms or your hands
Actually I have learned to love this part of the game because when they do score the fans come completely unglued. They have watched every minute, knowing if they take their eyes off the game even for a second they could miss the one goal that they had been waiting to see. So they stand and watch without daring to go to the bathroom or turn around to say hi to a friend. And when the goal is scored there is an unleashing of such joy and ecstasy it makes the stadium shake. And that’s what I’ve learned to love.
Last Sunday after the third service I was introduced to a young woman named Alesha. It was the first time in her life she had walked into a church. Later that day she gave her life to Christ. Scripture says that the angels rejoice when a person comes home to the King. It made me wonder if the angels are like the soccer fans I’ve been watching. Are they watching every moment of our mundane lives but daring not to look away for fear of missing the moment? When Alisha bowed her head, did an angel in heaven yell, “GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the way South American announcers do? I say yes. For the rest of the World Cup I will watch with the angels in mind and thanking the King for loving us more than the most rabid fans love their team.
I’ve always thought humans have a strange relationship with water. We need water. Without it we die in a matter of days. Most of us wake up thirsty after going a few hours without water even though we were asleep. If we exert ourselves at all our desire for water increases. So far, there’s nothing weird about us and water.
But there is something inside of us that draws us to huge bodies of water. As summer hits many of us will make our way to the beach or to a lake. We recreate in and around water. We wade into the ocean even though we know it contains creatures both large and small capable of fueling our worst nightmares for years. We water ski on the surface of lakes knowing that if we fall and are rendered unconscious face down we will die within a matter of minutes. Every year scores of people drown in water and yet we continue to stream to the beach and even as I write this I can see a lake outside the window.
Water is both life giving and life threatening.
I was thinking of the similarity of water and money. We have a strange relationship with money too. Human beings need money. Even in the poorest countries in the world people still need money to survive. But there is something inside of us that is drawn to money. We are lured by big piles of money even though we know we can easily drown in it. Lottery winners are plunged into the deep end of a pool of money and many don’t come out alive.
Floods remind us of the destructive power of water. Our thirst is quenched at some point and we eventually put the glass down and quit drinking.
But something has gone wrong with most of us with regard to money. Our thirst is not quenched. The only destructive cues we pick up about money is the drought. We do not notice the destruction of floods because there is never enough money.
Fifteen hundred years ago a man named Agur cried out in a moment of clarity and prayed this prayer.
“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die;
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither
Poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.
Lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God”.
Agur is not in danger of becoming a best selling Christian author today but he may have been onto something. A desire for neither poverty nor riches may be a desire God is just looking to fulfill.
Yesterday I was helping my grandson Liam get in his car seat. Liam is 5 years old now and doesn’t need much help. But getting the buckle snapped that is threaded through a car seat can be a debacle. The person who designs an easy seat belt/car seat connection should get a Nobel Prize. Anyway, I asked Liam if he needed some help getting the buckle fastened. He said no but then added, “Uh Poppa, you could shut the door. I need a little privacy”.
That kid cracks me up. I’m not sure why he needed privacy but I understand the desire.
As a species we like our privacy. I’m all for privacy but I’m not convinced it’s always a good thing. Maybe Liam just wanted to be alone with the belt buckle. Maybe he’s a little like his grandpa and if he was going to struggle or even fail he wanted to be alone in his defeat and not have an audience. I get that. There’s a thin line between privacy and pride for me when I fear failing in front of people.
But there is a deeper and darker desire for privacy within the human soul. I was talking to a friend of mine who is mentoring a gaggle of young men. My friend has teenage daughters. He decided instead of complaining about the quality of eligible young men as possible suitors for his beautiful daughters that he would take a more active approach and invest himself in the young men themselves. He told me the other day he was trying to get one big truth across to them. He said, “If I can get them to see this one truth then the battle is as good as won”. I asked, “What’s the big truth?” He said, “That they are never alone”.
The moment Adam sinned he tried to hide. He jumped under a bush for some privacy. We have been doing that ever since.
The Psalmist cried out, ”Where can I flee from your presence? Even darkness is not dark for you.”
The gospel of John says that “Light has come into the world but men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil”.
Sometimes I like being alone. You probably do too. But here’s the thing. We are never alone. When I sit and no one else is around or even knows where I am, there is One who sits right next to me. It’s a good reminder for all of us. Adam jumped under a bush and it never dawned on him that God was there waiting for him. I can never say, “Uh God, could you shut the door. I need a little privacy”. And for that I’m grateful.
As I have grown older time has sped up. It hasn’t exactly sped up but a year doesn’t take as long to pass as it used to. That’s mathematics. When I was 4 years old, a year was 25% of my life. Now that I’m 55 years old, a year represents less than 2%. My years are now flying by.
Spring is a time of year when many people experience the velocity of time. This is what I mean. One day seems like any other day. It’s hard to feel yourself getting older by the day. But every once in a while there is an event that reminds you how much time has passed. These particular days are when chapters close. This is the time of year for graduations. Graduation day is a chapter day. This is true more of high school than college because high school graduation is the end of the child at home chapter. Dropping that child off at college is the final page of that chapter but it was already over.
I’ve done several weddings this Spring. Weddings are chapter days. I have watched fathers of the bride smile at their daughters as tears stream down their cheeks. The wedding chapter day is full of joy for the bride and groom and bittersweet for the parents.
The end of a chapter is a marker for us that our lives are not static. We are creatures who live in the flowing river of time. At times it flows so slowly it seems like it has stopped altogether. But it has not stopped and the chapter you are in now will one day come to a close and another will open. For some of us the chapter we are in now is really tough. We can’t wait for it to be over. For others this present chapter is really sweet and we are already dreading the day it will end.
And here is the very good news. Whatever chapter you are in, the best chapter is still to come. That’s the hope of the Gospel. The very best chapters in our lives are drops, little tiny tastes of the cascading goodness that is to come. The worst chapters will seem like a single night spent in a lousy hotel when we finally open up the last chapter and step into glory.
Spring is the season of chapters. Whether your chapter is full of laughter or tears, the best is yet to come. Glory!
I’ve missed preaching the last two weeks. Instead I officiated three weddings and went to visit my daughter Becca in Mexico. I’ve been basking in warmth of the Gospel.
I’ve always enjoyed officiating weddings partly because I love being married and always have. But now I love being a part of weddings because I think I understand a little more what they’re about.
Years ago if someone asked me where they should go to hear the gospel I would have pointed them to a Billy Graham Crusade. Today I feel like I could walk them 20 feet from wherever they ask the question and show them the Gospel. The love of God through Jesus is woven into the very fabric of the universe. It shoots out of weddings in every direction.
At each of the weddings I performed this weekend I was able to tell the bride and the groom that God was giving them the amazing opportunity to live out the gospel to each other. A wedding is not just a celebration of love. It’s the witnessing of a covenant. It is the promise of future love in an unknown and unpredictable future. The bride and groom are signing a contract that hasn’t even been written yet. The love they feel at the moment of the wedding is enough fuel to last maybe 18 months. When the bride says, “I take you for better or for worse”, she is saying to her future husband, “when you act in a way that is so incredibly selfish that no one in the world would love you, I will”. And the groom makes the same promise.
They are saying they will live out the gospel to each other. That even as they find out flaws in the other they never knew existed they will still love. What is the fuel for such extravagant love? It’s the love of God. “Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her”. The command is linked to an experience of love so profound that it creates it’s own source of love deep down inside of a person. After each of the 3 weddings this weekend I felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper into the wonder of the love of Jesus and the power of the Gospel.
Karen and I also were able to go visit our daughter Becca in Mexico where she is loving a group of little boys who have been abandoned. They are damaged and hurting. They don’t love back in normal ways. We watched as our daughter poured out love to them, told us each of their stories with tears in her eyes and a catch in her voice. There she was in Monterey, Mexico living out the gospel. Where does one get the energy to love when no love is coming back? The answer is the Gospel. A love so extravagant and pervasive you can see it just about anywhere you look if you have eyes to see. You can see it from a wedding chapel to a barrio. God has invited you to join the fiesta through his son Jesus.
Recently I had the pleasure of being at a resort known for it’s aquarium. I think I read it was a 500,000 gallon aquarium. It was pretty magnificent. It held a lot of fish. And not just the little fish you see in a normal aquarium. This had big fish and whole schools of fish. I sat one morning and watched them for some time. They swam by me in their little fish families. They glided through the water effortlessly which was particularly impressive because whenever I swim any distance at all it seems chock full of effort. I thrash around trying to glide but it’s all flailing arms and legs. The fish I watched cut through the water with the slightest movement. It struck me they were perfectly created for that environment. None of the fish seemed to be concerned with what I thought about them. How solid is a fish self image anyway?
It got me thinking about our species. Something is obviously terribly wrong. We must have been created for a particular environment too. We were made to glide effortlessly through life. But we all thrash around longing for love and approval, worrying about what even strangers think of us, hoping to “succeed” at something before we become fish food ourselves.
This morning I read John 10 where Jesus is surrounded by a bunch of religious leaders. It’s like they are circling him swimming for all their worth. They are all flailing arms and legs trying their best to just keep their heads above water. Jesus says, “I came to give you life and to give it to you fully”. Jesus is claiming he can put them into the environment for which they were created.
Why is it I wake up every day longing to be loved? Why is it that I look for approval even from strangers? Why am I so desperate to prove my worth?
I was created to swim in an ocean of love and so are you.
Jesus claimed not just to know the way back to that ocean but to be the way.
The cross of Jesus is the channel back to the environment for which we were created. Every day I remind myself early in the morning that Jesus has picked me up and put me down in an ocean of love. If I don’t remind myself of that I spend the day flailing around instead of enjoying His love like a fish in the sea.
Yesterday I happened upon a Facebook video of Pastor Rick McKee. Rick is a pretty cool dude and keeps his FB entertaining. In the video he is on the edge of a river as he explains the “Cold Water Challenge”. It’s early May up here in northeastern Ohio. The weather is starting to break but bodies of water are still pretty frigid. The idea of the Cold Water Challenge is to call out three friends to find a body of cold water to immerse themselves into within 24 hours of the challenge. If they don’t then they need to write a check to the charity of their choice for $100. If they rise to the challenge they write a check for $10 and issue the challenge to three more able bodied men. I watched as Rick explained the challenge then walked without hesitation into the icy water and dunked himself under. It made me laugh.
I have always liked it when people challenge others to silly things. It brings out the little boy in me who would do just about anything if you triple dog dared me. Pastor Rick is the pastor of our Stow campus and the Stow campus is full of guys just like him. Watching Rick say, “Giddy up” right before falling backwards into the river made want to be one of his guys just to feel like a kid again.
Within a couple of hours one of the Stow guys called me out as one of his three. I was a kid again. I began making plans to drive up to Lake Erie to meet the challenge in the best way I could think of.
Here’s the thing that struck me. I would never have done it without a push. I came out up out of the water a couple of hours ago and haven’t quit smiling yet. I would have missed it had it not been for a group of men who challenged me to do something I didn’t even know I wanted to do. Scripture says, “Spur one another on to love and good deeds”. I feel like I should want to do love and good deeds all on my own. But God knows there will be times when I don’t know I want to love or when I don’t know I want to do something really good. That’s why he gave me you and that’s why he gave you me. The next time you are feeling a hankering to do something good why not ask for some company. Who knows, it may be just what someone needs and will keep them smiling all day long.
I have two grandsons. Liam is five years old and Connor is two. They spend Mondays at our house. I remember hearing an argument for the existence of a creator called Specified Complexity. The basic idea is the greater the complexity the more energy and intelligence is needed. The example the author used was if you had all the pieces of a lawn mower in your garage scattered all over the floor it would take both intelligence and energy to assemble it. If you put a pack of 3 year olds out in the garage you would have all the energy but not the intelligence. That’s my house on Mondays. A surplus of energy, a little light on intelligence.
This past Monday, Karen was trying to teach the boys the game, “You’re getting hotter”. Actually I don’t know what the game is called but you hide something and then tell the person when they are getting close to it by saying, “You’re getting hotter” and then if they are moving away from it you say, “You’re getting colder”. Seems simple enough. For some reason the boys just couldn’t quite get it. The clues of “hotter” and “colder” just made them run around in circles making noises. As a grandfather it makes me laugh and a little sad at the same time. Just kidding about being sad. They really are smart enough it’s just they seem to pick and choose what they can grasp at this stage.
I read my Bible every morning. There are all kinds of clues in the Bible about how to live my life “hotter” or “colder”. I wonder how many times it seems to God that he tells me, “Oh Joe, you’re getting colder, colder. Oh man you’re freezing…” And I just run around making noises instead and realizing how far I’ve drifted from where God wants me to be.
The interesting thing about the game we try to play with the boys is the thing they are looking for is something they really want. We never hide something they don’t want to find.
The same must be true with God. I wake up every morning and what I really want is right around me. All day long God gives me little hints. Today I want to listen hard. I want to stop running around making noises and listen for his voice. I want to listen until he says,”Hotter, hotter, you’ve got it Joe. Here I am”. Because what I’ve been looking for has always been God Himself. And so have you.