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Archive for July, 2012

I could probably stump a lot or all the riddle-meisters out there with this one: What do blackberries, pigs and pizza have in common?

OK, I’ll give it away. The answer is three-year-old Grant, our grandson, and his recent sleepover.

It started out with a trip down our driveway to pick some blackberries, which lushishly line our driveway. We had done that when he was still in a baby carriage and he insists that he remembers that. The berries skipped last year somehow, but they were back in plenty now. We came back empty-handed, but he with a full belly.

Then, it was over to see my neighbor’s piglets where Grant finally met his match with regard to energy. They ran, played and chased down their mom to suck.

Dinner time arrived and it was an outing to Paul’s Pizza in Coxsackie, New York, home of some great pizza and possibly the noisiest restaurant in America. But, that means they are doing something right, right? While the pizza was cooking, we scooted out to keep him busy by visiting one of the little rides outside a store. It was a VW Beetle that went back and forth. He never stopped smiling. Next, he noticed that his shadow was really long as the sun continued to set. 

“Look at how big I am!” he exclaimed.

That stopped me in my tracks. He didn’t know what a truism he had just spoken. The shadow made him look six feet tall and made me feel like time goes too fast. I know someday all too soon I’ll be looking up to him. 

He is WAY bigger than he was, but I suppose I still have a long time to enjoy him as a child. Based on raising my own kids, I know how fast it goes.

But for now, I’ll just enjoy blackberries, pigs and pizza…oh, and the late-night watermelon seeds that turned into little men that slid down his plate like school children on a sliding board or the video game that we got to the 28th level (he’s really good) or the time when Pops’ hand slipped out of his as we were falling asleep and he asked, “Pops, where did your hand go?”… or the request to turn the stars on that shine on the ceiling or the sudden, and I mean sudden wake-up at 6 a.m. the next morning at eye level, “Pops, can we go downstairs and have some breakfast?” Uh, yawn, sure we can. But do you realize how late you kept me up with that video game? No, of course you don’t, you little piglet.

There’s no real riddle here. It’s just a day in the life of a three-year-old and his tagalong, Pops.

 

BELOW: GRANT DIGGING INTO BLACKBERRIES WHILE MULTI-TASKING WITH PIGS AND PIZZA AT PAUL’S.

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“Shabbat Shalom!”

This is a great Hebrew greeting which simply means, “Peaceful Sabbath” [to you].

Unless one is a hermit, it’s hard not to notice that we live in a volatile and troubled world. As greetings go, to wish someone “peace” is probably one of the most benevolent audible blessings to dispense.

But the Sabbath has gone out of fashion. Years ago, I was involved with a New Jersey lobbyist who thought, after receiving his retainer from retail clients, that it was the height of progressive thought to get rid of the “blue laws” which prohibited commercial enterprise on a Sunday. These laws had been in effect since the colonial period. He was successful and the blue law turned into a “green law.”Now, there is hardly a thought given to going to those shopping malls on a Sunday. In fact, it’s part of weekend tradition. As their slipping into that new dress in the changing room on a Sunday afternoon, most young people would now be oblivious to how recent this change occurred.

The same thing goes with all of those sporting events on Sunday. I see as many cars surrounding the local Pop Warner football fields and soccer fields as I do in the church parking lot.

But people will pay big bucks to counselors and psychologists in an effort to buy some peace. They will wonder why they can’t seem to rest. Michael Jackson and Elvis might be here today. I wonder how many others are searching for a piece of peace for their restless and tortured souls.

Most people equate sabbaths with Jews who walk to the synagogue. Many Christians blow off the sabbath because the Book of Hebrews states that Jesus is our real sabbath rest; that is, we can strive from trying to save our own souls because of His finished work on the cross. As a Christian, I believe this is true. This was written to warn early believers who wanted to go back to trying to keep ALL the laws on their own power and out of love of God, which is admirable but impossible. Indeed, Jesus is our sabbath when it comes to our sins as it is aptly stated in the bible: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…” Hebrews 4:9,10, 11a

But I can’t let Christians off the hook when it comes to keeping the sabbath because most of them don’t. Through  conviction by the Holy Spirit and some very hard lessons, I am now convinced the sabbath is not out of date and God didn’t hit the delete button on the 10 Commandments. They are literally chiseled in stone.

On two separate occasions, I was convicted not to go shopping on the sabbath and I disobeyed. One time, it was to pick up a bed. I pulled my back out and I never forgot it. Another time, I was going through a toll booth and I could tell the collector had a horrible cold and as she handed me back my change, I knew she was handing me her germs. I got deathly sick. I thought I had learned my lesson, but just yesterday, I had a check in my spirit about going to a Batman movie at the theatre and it was anything but peaceful and messed up our whole day up, setting up a chain of events that ruined my wife’s peace.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut keeps the sabbath. He recounts in his book, “The Gift of Rest,” that he had to slosh home in the pouring rain (with a Capitol Police car for security following him) because the U.S. Senate got out late on Friday evening, the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. He doesn’t drive on the sabbath. I don’t know about the driving part, but it is a wonderful book about deliberately secluding oneself from the turmoil of life and concentrating on God – like safely getting back to the bunker in war time.

If you’re still not convinced, look God in the eye and tell Him that He doesn’t know how to dress His bride. “Shabbat Shalom” on that one. She’s still a knockout in His Book.

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Storms do funny things to us. Yesterday, a great thunderstorm was accompanied by strong winds. In that moment, all of life seems to be owned by the storm. Our whole outlook can be defined by the weather.

I wanted to walk 30 yards to the garage, but I wouldn’t dare venture into this storm’s domain.

I remember driving through a whiteout in Syracuse and couldn’t see an inch in front of me. It makes you feel powerless.

There’s an eery story about the disciples, many whom were seasoned fisherman and used to the sea, being scared to death by the invisible: wind. It was a windstorm that swept the waves into the boat. You can’t even see wind, but it certainly “owned” their emotions. Safely on land and 2,000 years later, we think of them as scaredy-cats. They panicked so badly over an invisible foe. “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) We historians are just so brave!

Life has its storms. Some are invisible monsters like finance and the future. Others can be horrifyingly read on an MRI and still others are loud-mouthed actual people. Whatever size or shape the storm comes in, it can easily own us and many cry out to the seemingly sleeping God in the sky, “Don’t You give a rip?”

I guess You’d think He’d be used to 7 billion people waking Him up in the middle of some good snoozes. For all of you who might be like me and have a little fearful disciple in you, it might be comforting to know about The Trinity’s sleeping habits: “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:4

Notice, it doesn’t say that He doesn’t allow an invisible fear factor in now and then. Now, why did I have to get to that garage?

P.S. I would have included a picture of that crazy storm, but, alas, it was invisible and camera shy.

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VOICEMAIL AGAIN!!!!!

I never thought God would succumb to using voicemail. I seemed to be getting that a lot lately. I hope He doesn’t get into outsourcing.

There’s an old rhetorical saying, “If God seems far away, guess who moved?”

Now, if God’s mouth seems silent, isn’t it possible that my ears are actually plugged? The only way to find that out is if I get close enough to get a good look at Him. Perhaps it would be comical and look like a silent film – The Almighty’s mouth is moving but we need subtitles because our ears are so danged stopped up.

Lately, I seemed to be drifting into some sort of spiritual deafness that led to feeling like I had lost my bearings. You ever feel like knocking that GPS lady on the side of her head? I couldn’t hear and couldn’t find my way.

My wise pastor suggested, that when passion languishes, it’s because something/someone may be getting in the way. It’s classic. It could be a desire, worry, problems, career, loneliness or whatever that begins to mask God. When I was a soccer goalie, we used to call it getting ‘screened.’ The opposing team puts someone in your way so you can’t see the shot…hmmm, definitely a spiritual analogy there. At any rate, something gets in the way of you seeing what’s really going on.

“God, who at various times and in VARIOUS WAYS spoke in time past…” Hebrews 1:1a Taking this a bit out of context (but we’ll get to the real context later), mankind has always been able to understand that God is and He is close by through various means. For me, as long as I’m near nature or at least near a window, it’s hard not to see God. For example, I’m sitting here on the back porch and this crazy hummingbird is making these huge U flight patterns and singing at the same time. I don’t know if it’s mating season or if God is literally “speaking” through this tiny bird for dramatic effect.

Another of the “various ways” God speaks to me is through relationships. If my relationships get off kilter, I can get lost real easily. It’s almost as if He forces me to keep my relationships healthy.

And, what of my life’s desires and goals? I love to press into them and feel God’s pleasure when I am hitting on all eight cylinders.

So, the dynamic is this: the very things that God uses in my life to “see” and “hear” Him are the exact same things that can lead me away from Him. As a goalie, I found that the guilty screener could be my own fullback! There will always be a time-tested tension between desires and closeness to God. Sometimes those desires lead us straight to His bosom and other times they can cause us to walk into His shadow.

This dynamic that I speak of can be circuitous and can happen to even the most mature and intuitive spiritual person. Just look at King David on his roof: he was up high and still had lost perspective. John the Baptist was low and in prison and had lost some vision. The very things that help balance our lives and seem to hold it together (i.e. family, jobs, relationships, interests, etc.) begin edging their way toward idolatry. It’s insidious.

If you’ve ever been lost in the woods or on a trail, there’s only one solution: yell with all your might and go back to where you last knew where you were. Getting back to the context of Hebrews 1, we ought to finish the verse: “…in these last days [He has] spoken to us by His Son.” For Christians to take their eyes off Jesus even for a second sets them up for the Peter-stepping-out-of-the boat syndrome. You start looking at waves and the wind and slip into some sinking stinkin’ thinkin’.

Personally, I had to return to worship. I went out to my back porch, picked up my guitar and sang my heart out and found myself found.  God had finally returned my call. He just sent the hummingbird to make sure I got the message.

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Beautiful Rough

I’m not sure I understand the thrill of rock climbing, bungee jumping and race car speeds.

But I do like the Jersey shore and yesterday’s ocean had a tint of danger in its eyes. 

When I was a teenager, my friend Jeff and I would stand right where the waves broke and dare them to knock us over. We would dig our heels into the sand like a couple of clammers. The rougher, the better. 

Come to think of it, I think I did some dumb things on my motorcycle as well.

The attraction to some danger smote me yesterday. I ventured out into the beautiful rough. I was not disappointed. Within minutes, the undercurrent had reduced the watchful lifeguard stand to a postage-stamp size.

These are the same waves that would just as likely slide your chest along the sandpaper beach and broken shells as it would to give you the bodysurf-ride of your life right in front of those lifeguards.

The waves were rolling higher and higher. I cut underneath most of them, concerned that my older bod wouldn’t hold up like the glory of my adolescent frame. I finally missed and got twisted every which way. It would be more dramatic to tell you I caught one just right. I didn’t. But I did swim on and over them just to let them know I still know their game.

It’s not terrible to come into contact with Someone or a representative of that Someone who is greater than ourselves.

You never know Who you’re going to meet in the beautiful rough.Image

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In a beautiful moment on a beautiful summer morning, still-sleepy Grant (3) and London (19 months) walk slowly up to Pops (that would be me) and sit in my lap one at a time on my sister’s deck.

In London’s case, she is stiller than the Hudson on a calm day. I simply hold her and she is content with only that. I get to rub her shoulders. But what really gets me are her blond ringlets and I mean ringlets. She is still enough for me to distinguish the nuances of the shades of blonds and red highlights and I’m amazed at the details.

When kids are tired, they don’t ask you, “Can we play?” or “Can I have a drink?” or “I’m hungry.”

They just sit in Pops’ lap. That’s enough.

Before they had come out to the deck, I had been talking to God about just learning to appreciate Him for who He is because I had just been reading my journal from yesterday where I had asked God a lot of questions about some heavy things in my life and today that list had actually grown to include some regrets. On this morning, God got me while I was tired…tired of myself. Tired enough of trying on my own to just come to Him. Tired enough to really receive His forgiveness and, the cherry on the top, His hug.

It took a couple of toddlers to remind me how my Heavenly Pop sees me. I don’t see them as the kids who stole each others’ tippy cups from each other yesterday or how they whined or hit one anotherImage. I really don’t think He’s thinking about the actions that caused my regrets. I think He’s glad I showed up on the deck this morning just to be with Him.

Like I said, it’s a beautiful morning.

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