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Archive for August, 2013

I checked into the Job (as in Old Testament) Motel again. I used my GPS to find the place. It’s down this dark alley in a safe neighborhood.

It’s packed, but there are always vacancies. Those in line at the front desk, including me, were there because we have questions.

As Job found out, these inquiries are a series of admissions that we just can’t quite catch up with God on the path of life; that what is brewing in our souls is either something as innocuous as a pondering question or the more sublime and subtle statement, “I don’t think I can trust God on this one.”

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’” declares the Lord. “’As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” Isaiah 55:8,9

Which brings us to another question: “Why would a loving God put us in or allow us to put ourselves in situations that only He understands?” To boot, these circumstances have that nasty quality of being annoying, irritating, frustrating, painful and downright perplexing with seemingly no way out?”

Before the motel’s friendly wake-up call, we will find ourselves in the dream-like state where God begins asking us questions like…

“‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence. Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there?'” Job 38:2-20

This dream has all the shock of a machine gun that never runs out of bullets and, worse yet, the fear that a four-year-old’s questions are just beginning.

Sometimes we don’t need to know exactly how GPS works. But it does work, I assure you. And if it brings you down a dark alley, there’s a place at the end of it where you can get a good night’s sleep.

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Serve Up Some Courage

I never really noticed that the qualities of encouragement and discouragement are a little like the dynamics of a tennis rally.

I always thought some people just served up encouragement by nature all of the time. You take a personality-profile test and it says, “You’re an ‘Encourager'” or it says “‘You’re A Melancholy'” (A.K.A. “probably not an encourager”).

Now, I realize it is not that simple. Circumstances have a lot to do with the role we play in this critical area of supporting one another.

I came to this epiphany through two means: 1) an old friend who needed some cheering up, and, 2) an old preacher at church who  was reviewing the story of Elijah and the widow.

Regarding the former, this particular buddy played the role of encourager all of the time when I was trying to get my spiritual sea legs as a younger Christian and as a newbie in a faith community three hours away from my home state. Today, sitting across from him over lunch, it seems as if the tennis ball needs to be returned. I’m happy to be his encourager.

As far as the pastor’s sermon, a little background on our hero’s circumstances should help set this up. 

“Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him:  “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.” 1 Kings 17:7-16

This situation is tricky: both become encouragers and both become the encouraged. Sounds like a win-win.

My little epiphany got me out of the box of thinking, “Oh, that guy is such an encourager” or “That lady is always in need of encouragement.” Both of these statements may be true, but they don’t have to be. We can choose to be the “up” that some “down” person needs. And, conversely, we may have need of some encouragement right this second.

If you were to take the amazingly complex scenarios that life throws at us, it’s easy to imagine that this game of encourager vs. encouraged could be the longest tennis match in history. It’s nice to be on the receiving side and it’s encouraging to be encouraging. The conclusion is that the ball is always in motion and split second and/or more contemplative decisions must be made.

I guess the ball is in our court. 

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The following is part in a series of tributes to the late Dr. Royal A. Cutler, Jr., my spiritual father for three decades.

Judging by the growth of private and chain caffeine cafes, it’s obvious that there is an almost sacrilegious search for a Holy Grail filled to the brim with just the right favorite concoction of coffee and so our story begins…

I don’t know whether I ever became fully aware of the many ways I’d observe my adopted dad, Royal A. Cutler. It was as if he was sneaking out of the most inviting luau in Hawaii because there was something even better to be discovered on some secret trail just off to the side of the tiki lanterns. I just happened to be one of the guys who was blessed enough to notice him as he snuck off into the bush. Following Royal into the unknown was one of my greatest experiences.

Even to the point of noticing how he took his coffee. Yes, we have transitioned from Honolulu to the way Royal stirred his coffee because that innocuous stirring of java was a mystery to be revealed.

We’d inevitably end up at the dessert table at the same time because we both had sweet tooths (that’s tooths, not teeth).

[See former piece on “Royal Sweet Tooth.”]

Once one of these curious habits of Royal was revealed, I’d still get a kick out of asking him the “Why?” of whatever idiosyncrasy at that particular moment was on the table, no pun intended.

And so it was that Royal would repeat the method-to-his-madness about the sugar in his coffee. He’d put several heaping teaspoons in that he would not stir. Considering that he was a research-not-mad scientist, I knew I was in for an explanation.

He’d look at me and in the most impish way imaginable, he’d reveal one of the greatest formulas of his fifty-plus patents.

“By not stirring it,” he said as he let out the most delightful half-smile, “I save most of the sweetness for the end of the cup of coffee.”

Wow! I had followed him into the deepest jungles of science.

Flash forward and Royal and I are at the Dessert Table of his life as he lay in his hospice bed with the ventilator covering all but those beautiful, brilliant blue eyes. With the most realism that He could serve, God was brewing a pot of a poetic device that even I couldn’t miss: He had saved a lot of Royal’s sweetness to the end and, ironically, it “stirred” my soul as it does to this day.

 

THE ROYAL CUP OF COFFEE ALONG WITH 3, COUNT ‘EM 3, DIFFERENT DESSERTS:

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Many of us have this nagging feeling that we are wrestling with God.

However, if we were to look back over our lives and kept a log of how many times we got our way and how many times we didn’t and how many times it was truly a victory, we’d probably discover that there is one thing in common that every listing in our “win column” would contain. They were in His will.

“Oh!” We cry, “Foul.” That’s so easy to say in retrospect…to cherry pick when we did something right. Why did He let us get our own miserable way some of those times? They really hurt. Some of us still have the mat burns to remind us.

I have come to the same conclusion. Whether I can discern God’s perfect will in the “now” and “then,” I am fixated on the truth that He is a loving God. I know He has let me win when I wish He hadn’t. Yet, I was so positive that I wanted that imperfect desire that He relented. I can relate to Adam and Eve.

We all call that “free will.” Unfortunately, “free” is a misnomer. We actually pay handsomely for that other column.

Better late than never, I am now amazed that one single combination has unlocked some of the mystery of God’s will. It is the mixture of hearing, waiting and stepping out in faith. It’s as if He is teasing me with a passion. Like when I used to wrestle with my daughter and let her pin me as I yelled out in my best announcer voice, “Oh, what a reverse!”

Yeah, I really do think He lets me try out muscles and moves and is exhilarated in my pinning Him into His perfect will. My friend often put it like this: “I’ve got God right where He wants me.”

I’m not a theologian. But ultimately, even when I put on my best World-Federation-of -Wrestling-face and purposely lengthened the time it took for my little girl to pin me, even coming within a hair of pinning her, my daughter never lost a match.

“HULK ANGIE”: to the victor go the spoils. 

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I am a Mets fan. Let me repeat that. I am a Mets fan. I feel like I’m at an AA meeting. But there, I said it. I am a Mets fan.

I’ve racked my brains trying to figure out why a nine year-old was attracted to this fledgling comedy show. My best guess is that their uniforms had the coolest colors. I remember going to bed crying because the Amazin’s had figured out another way to lose a game in the ninth. My parents could only imagine what this weeping child would grow up to become.

Mets (and former Yankee) Manager Casey Stengel summed it up best: “We’ve got to learn how to stay out of those triple plays.” I would add that was an exaggeration because I can’t remember too many times that The Mets had two runners on base.

So, here’s the set up. It’s been almost 50 years since an All-Star Game was played at the Mets stadium. Finally, the day arrives.

The National League All-Star captain is a Met. David Wright has earned that spot. After all, he, like me, is a Mets fan. We earn our keep. I think we wrote the book, “Great Martyrs of the Faith.” You can find David listed there.

The National League starting pitcher is Matt Harvey, the Mets’ twenty-four year-old phenom. Bookend that with Tom Seaver tossing the first pitch. Mets eroticism. What an honor! This is the day that the Lord has made… for the Mets.

Between Wright and Harvey, Mets fans finally have our day in the sun. Since I’ve been alive, the Mets have had few national moments quite like the 2013 All Star Game played at their home in Citi Field.

Please understand, since Matt Harvey has been alive, the Yankees have been in seven World Series, winning four of them. Since I came out of the womb, the Yankees played in 19 World Series and have taken home the rings twelve times, not to mention winning it in the year of my birth. And we won’t mention the 2000 series.

So, to have all eyes on the Mets AND NOT THE YANKEES ranks in rarity with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls.

BUT… you guessed it. The Yankees stole the show. The media spin was all about Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest and most valuable Yankee to ever put on the uniform. There are few living legends walking the planet. On and off the field, Mo is one of them. He’s really other-worldly.

Consider his most famous pitch: the cutter. It is considered the most lethal in baseball. All of Mo’s stats put him the category of extraterrestrial. Most saves ever, outrageous post-season ERA and MVP honors, yadda-yadda.

He walks kinda’ tall when he’s not playing and the man he is and the things he does…well, no statistic will ever be enlightening enough.  He gives money and time to church work. But that’s not the take-away in the Mo story. Mo gave his heart away to God and it changed his life and the history of baseball.

For a few weeks after the discovery of his other-worldly cutter, he and his pitching coach thought the pitch was his fastball gone awry and they tried to get the fastball back under control. But he gave in to the unpredictable pitch, just as he gave into an unpredictable God who evidentally wanted to give the cutter as a gift to a man whose humility could handle that gift. Perhaps it’s was a way that God would reach fans in the only way they could be spiritually titillated – through success in baseball.

Mo is now leaving our national pastime in much the same way he left his fastball behind. He gave in to the guiding hand of a God that ‘cuts’ at the heart and leads us to the big leagues of faith.

There’s no doubt that God has a sense of humor when you consider that Jesus is the only one in history who saves more than Mariano Rivera.

And we Mets fans always thought we had the corner on miracles.

CLOCKWISE: SCENES FROM THE ALL-STAR GAME: Choked-up but rarely chokes, the National League comes out of dugout to salute Mo, Mets ace applauds opposition, Mo alone on the field tipping his cap, The Sandman runs out onto the field to take his place in history… oh yeah, my boyhood idol Tom Seaver was ALSO there to throw out first pitch…the entire night was “terrific.”

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