Monday, June 21, 2010

A Cry From the Gulf

What Do The Tall Trees Say? What do the tall trees say To the havoc in the sky. They sigh. The air moves, and they sway When the breeze on the hill Is still, then they stand still. They wait. They have no fear. Their fate Is faith. Birdsong Is all they've wanted , all along. Wendell Berry I find myself writing about events for which I have no adequate words. Last week, wildflowers, this week folly. The gulf oil spill could be described with every negative adjective in the dictionary and none of them would be strong enough to convey the loss, betrayal, pain, and suffering inflicted from the ocean depths to the kitchen tables of ordinary folks who happened to make their living from the gulf waters. A new "verb" is even emerging from the disaster, "BPed." This is used when the negligence and irresponsibility of others cost you dearly. Those eleven workers who lost their lives after the blowout and subsequent fire on the oil rig were really "BPed." Humans tend to look to lay blame when disasters fall and trouble rings our doorbell. There is plenty to go around in this one as well. There were supervisors who ignored engineers warnings. There were managers who preached safety but kept pushing to keep drilling and moving forward. There were executives who said all the right things publicly but fostered an industry culture of turning a blind eye if delays would translate into costly overruns on projects. There was arrogance from top to bottom in thinking that when all was said and done, everything would turn out okay and no one would know a few corners were cut. Now everyone knows and everyone will pay, but not as much as the eleven and their families, followed by the lives lost in the marine and animal kingdoms and the humans who live and work in the gulf. We will all pay for this one. Does the gulf not cry out to us begging us to listen? Does the spewing well vomiting its dark poison not paint a metaphor of the natural consequences and the human heart's condition when arrogance and greed are the driving forces of our lives? So what are we to hear? What does the gulf say to us in her fear, in her frustration, in her death struggle? She reminds what God has already taught us: We live in a broken world. Sin has broken this world. We discount this truth to our own peril. Romans 8:20-22 informs us the "the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." Look at the words, frustration, bondage, decay. We see this in every earthquake, every flood, tornado or hurricane. From the introduction of sin by man into this good earth that God created there has been pain, frustration, bondage, and decay that leads to death. Our world is broken. But there is another cry from the gulf of a related brokenness. The gulf and every other clod of dirt, breath of air or drop of water that has been touched by man knows also that it is inhabited by broken people. We too are fallen and if we can't see it in the world around us maybe we can sense it in our hearts. Made in the image of God we can imagine, conquer, dream, and create many new and wonderful things. But even the best advances are, or can be tainted with the stain of sin. God told Adam in Genesis 2 to take care of the Garden, rule over the earth and subdue it. Yet, despite all the good wrought in our rule and subjugation there is the pain it causes. Electricity yields light, heat, cool, progress and the occasional electrocution. Automobiles opened the country, joined sections, opened markets, provided jobs and united families. And yes, they kill thousands in accidents every year. Medicine saves lives by the millions but occasionally a mistake is made or a bad reaction is introduced. Oil production in the gulf has been safe, produced thousands of jobs and elevated a way of life. Yet, when broken people ignore protocols, circumvent safety procedures and dismiss chunks of rubber coming up from the blowout preventor on the wellhead, then unparalleled disaster follows. And it has been the history of mankind that there are always people ignoring God's calls, circumventing His will, and dismissing His Son as Savior that leads to personal and corporate disaster. In arrogance men try to rule other men, enslaving not only the body the ideas and ideals of those more noble. War then breaks out, pestilence, famine, and disease follow. We often have received more than we needed but developed a thirst for even more: more cars, more clothes, more entertainment, more food. This lust for more produced a greater dependence on oil, that fetches a grand price that other men are willing to do anything to produce and we all with sin-broken hearts and minds, now have oil on our hands and the gulf of Mexico on our conscience. Then we start the whole blame game anew and "they" and "them" become the culprit as we try to hide again our own brokenness. If I could cry back to the gulf with words she could understand I'd somehow convey that I'm sorry. I'm sorry my appetites fed others appetites that fed greed and produced more arrogance. I'd tell her that there is hope. There is hope because God remains. He remains faithful and sovereign. He lets us face our consequences but is ever near to help if we but repent and are willing to listen and follow. I'd tell her also that God redeems. He redeems the repentant heart that turns to His Son for salvation and will one day even redeem His creation that we broke. The picture of the new heaven and new earth is a picture of redemption. In Revelation 22: 1-6 there is the word picture of joy-filled streams and healing trees. Those streams that make glad the city of God surely are filled with His whole and healthy sea creatures. And those trees that produce the healing for all nations in their monthly bearing of fruit must surely be nourished by the wholeness of the earth made new and right again. God help us to hear the cry of the gulf and hear Your cry to our hearts to seek Your healing for both. Cos

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Living Word

Jim called us to come out to the ranch one evening. The calendar said mid-to-late spring but anyone who's lived in Texas very long knew it was almost summer. Usually when Jim calls its because he needs my help with some economic theory he is teaching to future presidents and senators. Sometimes he calls for help with a speech he has to give before the governor or ex-presidents and other power brokers. Well, okay, Jim doesn't need help with any of that, especially from me. I guess he calls because he's nice. But this evening he had something he wanted to show us so we went.
The wildflowers of Texas had put on a great show in the pastures and alongside the roads this spring. It may not have been the absolute best year but it was nonetheless an outstanding year for flowers. Jim had some on his place he wanted to show us. Pam's back was out of whack and she couldn't make the trip in the ATV Mule to the pasture but I went along for the ride. We drove along about five or six minutes from the house with Jim twisting and turning the Mule on- road, then off-road then no road until there it was: Acres and acres of wildflowers stretching out before us. I hesitate to even begin to attempt to describe the scene. Words will do little good and no justice to the wild beauty before us. The sun was low on the horizon casting its evening glow to the hues it illuminated. There were enough shadows from scrubby mesquite and oaks to break up the palette of the colors waving before us. The colors were intense to delicate, dark to light- browns, blues, purples, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, whites, and combinations the old 64 pack of crayons couldn't match.
It was impossible to drink it all in. Jim would move the atv and face it in another direction and the flowers would reveal more of their beauty. As the sun sank lower they seemed to flirt with us, raising their skirts to reveal even more. And if the myriad shapes and colors weren't enough, when we were downwind the smell was all but overpowering. I've seen more intense and profuse thickets of wildflowers but never this many different kinds, this many colors, with this much fragrance in one field.
Then Jim asked, "What's that scripture Jesus said about King Solomon in all his glory...? Yeah, what is that scripture?" We nailed it to Matthew 6 but we couldn't recall the verses. Turns out that it is verses 28-30. "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
It hit me that Jim hadn't driven me out into one of his pastures, he had driven me back 2,000 years into the scriptures. Matthew 6:28-30 was alive before us. Jesus had observed the same things two millennia ago and taught the faithlessness of worry and pointed out the care, concern, and provision of God to those around him. He used Jim, a mule, a sunset and a field of flowers to teach the same lesson. At that moment I believe I got it. For that moment, the Bible passage was alive or at least I was living it.
I knew I shouldn't have tried it when I started. There's no way a person of my limited ability could capture in words what I saw that evening. I took pictures but my cell phone camera didn't do it justice. You had to see it and even with your imagination I guarantee you will miss something. It did make me wonder, can other scriptures also come alive? Maybe that's how they are meant to be when we walk into a store, a room, a business, a stadium, a heart or even a field of wildflowers, the Spirit of God takes the word of God and it is suddenly alive and real like never before.
I'll work on a few. You work on a few. Let's compare notes.......

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Puppy in the Corner

Ron Lee Davis in his book A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World tells this story: Walking by a pet shop on his way to school, a young boy stopped and stared through the window. Inside were four black puppies playing together. After school, he ran home and pleaded with his mother to let him have one of the puppies. "I'll take care of it, Mom, I will. If you can just give me an advance on my allowance, I'll have enough money to buy one with my own money. Please, Mom, please!?" The mother, knowing full well the complications of having a new puppy in the busy household, nevertheless, could not resist her son. "Okay, you can get the puppy, but I will expect you to take care of it." "Yes, Mom, I will." Filled with excitement, the little boy ran to the pet shop to buy his new puppy. After determining that he indeed had enough money, the pet shop owner brought him to the window to choose his puppy. After a few minutes, the young boy said, "Umm... I'll take the little one in the corner." "Oh no," said the shop owner,"not that one, he's crippled. Notice how he just sits there; something is wrong with one of his legs, so he can't run and play like the rest of the puppies. Choose another one." Without saying a word, the boy reached down, pulled up his pant leg to expose a chrome brace to the owner. "No," he said firmly, "I'll take the puppy in the corner." When we read that story, we all tend to identify with the puppy in the corner. It doesn't matter how good looking we are, are healthy we are, how successful we've been or how many achievements we accomplished, we know about being that puppy in the corner. Here's the good news of grace: God knows what it is like to be the little boy doing the choosing. I'm not implying that God isn't perfect as the little boy's leg wasn't but listen to scripture from Isaiah 53:4, "Surely, He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." And again from Hebrews 4:15, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..." Like the little boy in Davis' story, God knows and God still chose---you. God likes underdogs. Wandering Semitics (Abraham), loser shepherds (Moses), lying prostitutes(Rahab), skinny rock-throwing little brothers (David), weepy prophet(Jeremiah), impetuous fishermen (Peter, John, James) and a religious terrorist (Paul) all found their place in the grace of God despite brokenness of heart or mind or soul. More good news, we in the church get to go out look for crippled puppies and pick them in the name of Jesus. Who's in the corner of your life who needs someone to look over and say, "I choose this one." All we with bent legs or bent hearts know what it is like to be left out so let's stick together and get picking. For what causes the world with its love affair with glitz and glamour and success to not pick some is the very reason that Jesus does. You gotta love puppy-pickin' grace. Cos