One Leaf

falltreeOne leaf fell to the ground today – one among many. It had been feeling the chill in the air for some weeks and the last few nights of frost were just too much to bear. The life of this little leaf had been short, but wonderful. When the first few rays of warm spring sunlight hit its tiny shell, life sprang forth as it burst into the wide and wonderful world and unfurled for all to see. All through the summer it flipped and flopped in the breeze along with all of its friends as it used the sun’s rays to bring life to the tree it was attached to. It was an amazing, statuesque, perfectly formed maple tree standing tall and wide just over the crest of a hill and looking over the windswept valley below. This little leaf had the best seat in the house out on the edge of the tree reaching out toward the open field.

As in every summer, there were some storms that came through. One in particular came up from behind with such force that the mighty maple bent and swayed violently in the wind and was pelted with raindrops like tiny arrows. Many leaves were lost that day but this one, now fully grown, had held on with all its might and made it through. There were other storms that summer but none quite so fierce and ferocious. There were also some sweltering days where the sun seemed to dry up what little life was available right out of the ground leaving little for the tree to soak up. It was hard to stand tall on these days and this leaf did wilt a bit but did not let go.

There came a time, late in the summer, when the sap became a little less sweet and less available. All of the new growth that had begun in the spring was now complete and the ends of the new branches were becoming sinewy and woody. Some of the leaves had taken on a faint red hue around their edges and this one leaf wasn’t far behind. The days were shorter and the nights were cooler and the other trees that could be seen in the valley below were dressed in shades of orange and yellow and copper. It was an amazing view! Last night’s frost had used up what little strength the little leaf had and the first cool breeze in the crisp morning air was enough to tug the bright red leaf off of its branch and send it fluttering down to the valley floor. There, blown along through the field till it rested against an old fallen log from a once majestic tree, the leaf with some of its comrades would stay, knowing they had done their part.

So it is with life – you are born, you grow, you live and die. You spread your wings and giggle in the breeze as it tickles your toes, and then lock arms with those around you when times get tough. You brave the heat of the moment and then flutter gently in the cool of the evening. Everyone has a part to play, a song to sing, a story to write, a word to share…and the Good Lord knows who you are and where you are – yes, even you in that sea of leaves hanging on for dear life on that mighty maple.

And It Came To Pass

acornThe last few leaves are clinging to the trees here in Michigan. The days are cool and the nights even cooler as the cold of winter creeps ever nearer. This cycle of seasons that we experience here in the Midwest is one of the main reasons I stay. The vigor of summer fades in the varied hues of autumn before the white blanked of winter is pulled up tight under the landscape’s chin. Then as the breezes warm, new life sprouts and throws off the quilt of winter, bursting from its slumber in freshness and newness of life. I love how the seasons change.

This changing is not only found in nature around us but also in our lives – in the very fiber of who are. There are seasons of life just as there are seasons of the year. There are times when we are strong and vigorous, stretching out our branches and growing to new heights. Then there are times when we feel slow and run down, withered and weary from work. At times we are snug as a bug in a rug and fast asleep as the world just passes us by…as if we’re just along for the ride. When we finally begin to stir from our slumber and find new hope beginning to flow, we jump up out of our beds having found new life and new dreams and new strength. This cycle repeats for each and all, over and over. Some seasons are longer and some are shorter and sometimes they may seem piled up on one another and you’re not quite sure what you should do or who you should be.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is repeated many, many times and these five words have brought me considerable encouragement in all of the seasons of my life: “And it came to pass”. All of the events and circumstances that we face in life are not here to stay; they all come and then go. Both the good and the bad begin then end. This thought should give us rest when things are good and hope when times are tough. A time to catch our breath and a time to hold it. A reason to believe and a reason to keep believing. I am reminded of an old Imperials song:

“He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown.
He didn’t build his home in us to move away.
He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

So be encouraged! It isn’t over…time moves on and seasons change and this too shall pass.

Isaiah’s Warning

darknessmemeI found this pic I took a few years ago and thought how fitting for this Halloween season, but I believe there is a better message to send with it from Isaiah. So much of what we see around us today looks nice and cute and attractive on the outside, but within is a deep darkness that only the light of truth can penetrate. Share if you like and send a message of truth this Halloween…

I Have Never Understood Halloween – pt 2

happypumpkins.jpgI have never understood Halloween; from either a secular point of view or a religious one. I wrote yesterday about the secular part, but really can’t understand why Halloween has become accepted by many in the Christian community as well. I’m not saying that everyone in the Christian community buys into all the goblins and goons and gore that are so celebrated, but should there not be a line drawn somewhere? Should not we as Christians stand up for what we know to be true? Christ came to bring life – not promote death. He came to bring peace – not instill fear. He came with the offer of salvation from the consequences of sin – not to revel in them.

Now I know some will say that Halloween is all in good fun as long as you don’t get into all of the evil stuff. The princess or super hero costume is fine and the jack-o-lantern as well as long as he has a happy face. I understand that and do believe that most people are only interested in the fun of it all. Some churches even promote their own version of Halloween and call their celebration a ‘harvest party’ or an ‘autumn festival’. Of course the requirement is that costumes must be of Biblical characters and you won’t find any spiders or webs or bats or skeletons in closets. There will be candy and bobbing for apples and maybe even a pumpkin pie eating contest. We present a version of Halloween that is close enough to the world’s version so they feel welcome but not so close that we feel uncomfortable. I have seen some pretty big productions!

All of that is well and good but again, what is the point? Instead of providing an ‘alternative’ to the world’s Halloween, why can’t we just present the truth of a savior who came to conquer sin and death and provide a way out of hell and damnation? The answer to that question, as I’ve seen and heard many times, is numbers – no one would show up. All you end up doing is preaching to the choir while the lost are still lost. So in order to reach a few, we become like them and before too long the only difference is our celebration is cleaner, kinder, and safer. It is not just Halloween – think about it the next time you see Santa and his eight reindeer on the roof of a nativity scene or an Easter egg hunt in the church yard.

Have we become too like the world? Is not our truth better than their fantasy? Is it not our job just to present that truth and let the Holy Spirit draw the people in? How about we chuck all the syncretism and stand up for the Gospel. It is this truth that will set them free…not the harvest party in the fellowship hall.

I Have Never Understood Halloween – pt 1

legofear.jpgI have never understood Halloween. I just don’t get it. Let me set aside my religious beliefs for a moment and just ask, from a purely secular point of view, what’s the point? Where is the fun in seeing who can out-scare their neighbors with blood and guts, ghouls and goblins? Since when did pretend rotting corpses and moss covered grave stones become things that people willingly pay to see? I can’t remember any time when anyone I know or have heard about thought it would be exciting to visit the morgue and perform an autopsy. We watch the news and are horrified at shootings in our city streets and images of unspeakable horrors from those who embrace violence, yet go to the store to pick out the most vile and scary costumes and decorations meant to instill the very same fear we cringe at. From gory, blood strewn lawn ‘decorations’ to haunted houses to walking dead costumes, what are we thinking? With so much violence and brutality in the world these days, how is it that we have come to revel in it all? It all seems to be accepted simply because it is ‘pretend’ and ‘all in good fun’…I can tell you from experience that real fear is not fun.

This culture of gore has invaded our society in the guise of cuteness and fun. You can’t drive down the street without seeing spiders and bats hanging in trees and webs stretched across branches and porches. Windows house displays of smiling skeletons and open coffins with fanged monsters sitting upright with a twinkle in their eye. From the beginning of September through the end of October, you cannot walk into a store without a barrage of wares lining the shelves – candles, costumes, candy, spiders, bats, snakes, skeletons, fake webs, and the like, all vying for your attention and consumption. These are the things you will find in your local WalMart or Target or similar stores, but while some of the items may be pleasing to the eye, it is only a façade. I can guarantee you that if you walk into any costume shop you will not find the cute things you find elsewhere. Here you will find the true face of Halloween in the costumes meant to appear as real as any drive-by shooting or demon from hell. Along with all of the paraphernalia that goes along with it; Ouija boards, tarot cards, crystals, incense, crystal balls, creepy crawlies, and the like.

I just don’t understand how we as a society willingly glory in the gore and equate fear with fun. Good Lord, how have we let it come to this? Is it any wonder that violence is rampant and peace has become boring? I wish this season was just a bad dream and I could wake up on Thanksgiving morning with family and friends around to share a meal with, play some cards, watch some football and remember all that we have been given. Now that would be some great, good fun!

Leaders Should Be Followers

footprintsThere comes a time when we all choose. I’m not talking about the choice of what we will wear today or what we want to be when we grow up, (some of us are not fortunate enough to have discovered that yet). These everyday choices are quite inconsequential when compared with the choice I am talking about. In fact, the choice I’m referring to has the power to shape each and every other choice we will ever make. This choice provides the backdrop or framework that determines the ‘why’ of every other option – it is the reason you do one thing or another; say this or that; go here or there. The implications of this choice have the potential to not only change your life but the lives of countless others whom you come in contact with each and every day.

The choice is in the form of a simple question: “Will I follow Jesus?”

I was raised in the Lutheran church which gave me a very solid understanding that there was one who was bigger, greater, and more powerful than I was. It gave me the foundational belief system of a loving God who sacrificed his only son for my sins through the cross and his resurrection. When I was thirteen I accepted Jesus as my savior in a very simple prayer in a very simple place that to my spirit was an experience that I will never forget. For many years I tried to hide because it did not fit within the orthodoxy of my traditional heritage. I did not make the experience my own till I was twenty. That was when I chose to be a follower.

That was when I chose to let Jesus be the standard bearer for all that I do. For the first few years after that I had all the symbols of a Christian: the worn out Bible, the t-shirts, the bumper stickers and music. Some of them rang true and some were a façade worn by someone who desperately wanted to be accepted by other followers. I thought that all I needed to do was look the part and play the role. It took quite a while for me to realize that the choice to follow was not a one-time event when I was twenty years old, but a daily decision to keep following. A daily, sometimes moment-by-moment, succession of choices to be like Jesus and let him be seen through me. I have not always been successful at this.

A few years back there was a common phrase, WWJD or, “What Would Jesus Do?” (Yes, I had the bracelet), and while it describes what I’m writing about here, it really doesn’t go far enough. It is not enough to ask that question and find the answer; you must then choose to do it, and that is the tough part. You have to choose to follow and not assume you know better, or decide you want something else, or need to be heard. I wish I were a better follower – perhaps then I could lead more people to Christ.

Seeing the Sights

roadthroughvalleyI’ve done a lot of driving for two very simple reasons: I hate boats and I hate planes. They both occupy that place in my psyche ruled by fear and fueled by a lack of control. Who really knows what lurks in the deep dark depths and we all know what happens when a flying chunk of metal stops flying! I know the statistics say that it is far safer to fly or take a boat than it is to brave the asphalt and concrete encased in a metal, plastic, and glass bullet…but at least I have some control over this projectile! (I don’t make a very comfortable passenger, either!)

Whatever the case, I love to drive. It is not just that I like to be in control, (I’m really not a control freak), I just love to go to and get to places that planes or boats can’t get. There is so much to be seen as you drive across the land and, if you have the right vehicle, so many places you can get to. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it is a 10 lane expressway slithering through a city jungle or a single lane two-track through some backwoods holler…both bring their own kind of excitement.

I remember driving through the Ozarks in southern Missouri into Arkansas where this Michigan boy saw his first armadillo. I remember the Great Smokey Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee with the mist in the morning gently rising and sinking into the valleys. I remember driving home from The House on the Rock through the middle of Wisconsin and finding a most amazing church called Holy Hill that could be seen for miles – its spire touching the sky and beckoning travelers to stop and stare, (which we did and were amazed!). I remember the ‘covered drive’ along the spine of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula opening to a quaint small tourist town called Copper Harbor. I remember South Carolina with its moss covered live oak and salty air and Oklahoma’s hot, dry, and dusty landscape. I’ve seen storms in the distance and marveled at their beauty and driven through torrents that no windshield wiper was made for. I’ve seen the view from mountaintops and felt the clingy air of a valley floor. I have been there! I was a partaker of the environment and a breather of the air. I touched the soil and felt the rain.

You just can’t get that feeling from a boat or plane. You never know what is just around the corner or over the next hill and those rural surprises can turn any road trip into an adventure!

The Scars We Share

shoesondeckIt was not a particularly unique day…just an ordinary autumn morning – crisp but not cold, damp but not soggy. The kind of morning when you can feel winter’s chill just around the corner but summer is still holding on for every last warm ray of light. I was puttering around in the yard getting ready for the winter that would set in all too soon. I wasn’t alone in my yard, or in my thoughts – prayer can be like that – since my early teens I had been able to feel the Good Lord around me; sense his mood, hear his voice, feel his gentle nudge. Our conversations seem to never end and this particular one had come up many times before. It was about scars and what they mean, but it seemed he wanted me to dig a little deeper than I had before.

I sat down on the edge of the deck with the distinct feeling that something important was about to be revealed. Since we were talking about scars, I showed him the one on my right heel that is now callused over. I had stepped on some broken glass when I was 5 and it shattered inside and infected the bone marrow in my heel. I showed him how my right thumb nail is kind of split from the time that I smashed it in the car door. I showed him the thin line from just behind my right ear down under my jaw. This is where some glands were removed for testing. I then showed him the 12 inch scar stretching from the left side of my spine to just about the middle of my left side. This was the most difficult story to tell…I had half of my left lung removed about 9 years ago due to a rare form of lung cancer. I told him that I believed these are signs to me of healing…after all, scars do show were we’ve been healed, right? We talked a bit about the other scars that people cannot see…the words or actions that hurt our hearts. Though these are not as visible, they can be just as painful – if not more. I shared how I don’t look at scars as blemishes or ugly things, though, but as markers and testimonies of what I’ve been healed from. He nodded his agreement but with a glint in his eye that hinted at something more…something I wasn’t seeing.

He began to share some of his stories and show some of his scars. Oh, great! I though…if we’re comparing scars, he’ll win for sure! I don’t have anything compared to the scars he bears! As I sat there listening, he began to show me some things that I had not expected. There was one scar behind his left ear where a bully on the school bus had hit. There was another on the back of his head, a small round bare patch where hair had been pulled a little too hard and some of it came out. He also had a severely deformed left bicep muscle – all twisted and pock marked and thick skinned. Learning how to back up a tractor isn’t always easy and slipping and falling off and having the wheel roll over your arm can be pretty painful.

These were not the any scars I had heard of before. Something wasn’t making sense here. As he was going through his list I could not help but be amazed at how I had similar stories. Many of the things that he was sharing I had experienced as well – but I didn’t have any scars to prove that I had been hurt in these events. At one point I interrupted him and commented on how I didn’t remember any of those stories about him and how strange it was that we went through so many similar things. He looked at me with a kind of questioning glance out of the corner of his eye and then looked me straight in the eye and said, “Just as your scars show where you’ve been healed….my scars show where you’ve been healed too. There are hurts that I have experienced so you wouldn’t have to.”

As I sat there in wonder He lifted his shirt and showed me his side…and then showed me his hands…and also pulled back some of his hair revealing a ring of scars encircling is head. These were the scars I knew about…the ones I was expecting to see…the ones he bore for all of us. I had no idea there could be others just for me! All through this conversation as he was showing me his scars, I noticed there were some band aids and bandages still covering parts of his skin. I pointed at a couple and asked him why they were there…why would he, of all people, need a band aid? and He looked at me with a piercing yet patient gaze and said, “Those?” he said, “Those haven’t quite healed yet; but they will…I’m just waiting for you to let go.”