Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Bike Race Brings the Difference Down

A poem I write in honor of Hayward's Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival

Amid cheers of loved ones, out-of-towners, and smatterings of locals
congregated on Main Street's crowded side, 

The vast Bicycle Armada glides.

Two thousand five hundred, did I hear?
Sailing furiously down Main Street
Into wooded wilderness.

Two thousand five hundred look-alikes
On fat tired bikes.
But they, themselves seem neither fat nor tired (yet!)

Hunched over handlebars, determined
The helmeted hopefuls fly
In wild-eyed animation.

Wave after wave, the countless waves go by
inspiring awe, and even tears from sidewalk sentimentalists
who with wave and cheer, race on with them -- vicariously.

Two thousand five hundred souls hodgepodged,
Cobbled together from different ilk.
Following the clarion call. . .

From Minnesota and Montana
Texas and Kentucky.
From urban sprawl and hamlet

Together, they ride.

Farmer and Banker
Undertaker and Mechanic
Minister and Bartender

Together, they ride.

Republican and Democrat
Believer and Skeptic
Liberal and Conservative

Together, they ride

Management and Labor
Judge and Lawbreaker
Teenager and Elder

Together, they ride

Male and Female
Minority and Majority
Builder and Boomer and Buster

Together, they ride -- side by side.

So very different, but on this September day
So very much alike.

On Main Street, in a small Wisconsin town
A Bike Race brings the difference down.
Sailing, they cast it all aside -- and together, they ride!

All hearts united.
All minds directed
To the common end
A common friend -- the finish line.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Build a Little Fence of Trust Around Today

I referred to the following experience in my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.  It holds deep meaning for me.

One day, after making a hospital visit in Duluth, Minnesota, I was drawn by the spire of the old First Presbyterian Church. A kind secretary opened up the sanctuary for me to sit and pray for a while.

Gazing around, my eyes fell upon a beautiful stained glass window. It was the picture of a gravestone with dark purple and black hues overshadowing it. But at the top of the window, squarely in the center of a black night, shone a bright golden star -- which seemed to exude hope and light. The star was the focal point of the window.

At the bottom, the following words were inscribed:
In memory of Sarah Agnes Graff
Build a little fence of trust around today.
Fill the space with loving work and therein stay.
Look not through the sheltering bars upon tomorrow.
God will help thee bear whatever comes, if joy or sorrow.

I wondered what the story was behind Sarah Agnes Graff -- who passed into eternity at the tender age of 36. What was it about her that inspired such a beautiful work of art?

Upon some further investigation, I found that she and her family had moved from central Pennsylvania a few years before, and that her husband, Phillip, owned and operated a very successful lumber and interior furnishings company. The Graff's seemed blessed, indeed, with a lovely home, a thriving business, a good reputation in the community, and five beautiful, healthy children.

Tragedy, however, does not discriminate. It knocks at every door. Sarah fell ill with a high fever and severe abdominal pain. Before the doctors could find the cause or cure, she slipped into unconsciousness and died. She drew her last breath on November 20, the day before Thanksgiving.

I imagined Phillip, the heartbroken father, and his precious children: little Herbert, only five; and Agnes, age six, along with twelve year old Carroll, and the two teenage daughters, Anna and Margaret,, standing beside an open grave at Forest Hill Cemetery, on that cold, bleak November afternoon.

Rev. Ringland, their beloved minister, bowed his head and said:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the soul of our sister, Sarah, here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And then, the grieving family walked away together, with deep sorrow and a glimmer of hope to face uncertain days.
I've heard it said that there are two things that pierce the human soul: beauty and anguish.
The Sarah Graff window at First Presbyterian Church captures both.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned."
(Isaiah 9:2)

. . . God will help thee bear whatever comes -- of joy or sorrow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the Demise of an Angry Minister

poison in his brain
a volcanic couldron
boiling beneath pastoral toil.

one cannot force bitterness down.
it erupts sooner or later, violently
to the pity and slight suprise of those around,

who shake their heads in dark dismay.
cluck their tongues and sadly say,
he saved others, but himself, he cannot save.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Worry Sinks the Boat

Anxiety pokes a hole in the bottom of the boat.  If you don't plug the hole, your spirit will sink.

I have faced many problems and difficult situations in life, and have never found one that improved with worry.  Worry only multiplies negative energy.

Think about it for a moment.  If you worry about something bad that doesn't happen, you expend emotional energy needlessly.  If you worry about something bad that DOES happen, you expend emotional energy twice -- on both ends of the problem.

Why not just let things unfold -- and conserve your emotional energy until you actually have to deal with the bad situation?

We cannot control most of what we worry about.  This is our feeble attempt to manage the uncontrollable.  If you can't do something about it, then the issue is not a problem -- it is a fact of life.  No use fretting and stewing over something you cannot control.

Worry is contagious.  Verbalizing anxieties is like sneezing in the car -- you pass the virus on to everyone around you.  Pretty soon, everybody's negative.  Before spewing negative thoughts ask yourself if these are the kind of words you want to hear.  If not, change the channel.  You will receive whatever you dish out to others.

Like dandelions, it's best to nip worries at the first rising so they do not germinate and spread.  Where worries multiply, joy decreases.  It is impossible to be anxious-ridden and joyful at the same time.  One always expels the other.

There's a good reason why Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow."  Every day has enough challenge without adding concerns about things that haven't reached us yet.  

This doesn't mean we shouldn't plan ahead.  Thoughtful foresight increases the odds of a good outcome.  The difference between planning ahead and worrying is the negative emotional energy.  Are you stewing your way forward -- or figuring it out positively?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

When Earth Born Clouds Arise

I ran across the phrase, "earth born clouds" in John Keble's classic book of poetry, The Christian Year, based on The Book of Common Prayer.

Keble, a 19th Century Anglican, was trying to connect his church liturgy with common language of the heart.

Here's the phrase I read that captured me:

Sun of my soul, Thou Savior, dear.
It is not night if Thou be near.
Oh! May no earth born clouds arise
to hide thee from thy servant's eyes.

I've been pondering -- what are the earth born clouds that keep us from seeing Jesus? What is the hazy mist that obscures our vision?

Here are six --

1. compartmentalization (segregating the sacred from the common)
2. inordinate affection (loving the things of earth too much)
3. discouragement (a spirit of heaviness)
4. negativity (unbelief disguised as wisdom)
5. anxiety (F.E.A.R. -- False Evidence Appearing Real)
6. turmoil (relational snags)

I have experienced all of the above as earth born clouds at one time or another.

The good news -- beyond the clouds, the sun is shining!
Encore! Another of Keble's bits:

The trivial round, the common task
would furnish all we need to ask;
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us, daily, nearer God.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Cross,The Switchblade and the Man who Believed

David Wilkerson's recent biography, The Cross, The Switchblade and the Man who Believed is an excellent read.  I found tremendous insight for my own spiritual journey in these pages.

Written by Wilkerson's son, Gary, this book presents the unvarnished story of a man who was completely sold out for Jesus, willing to sacrifice -- but who also experienced significant emotional/relational struggles along the way.  Gary is respectful and honest as he interprets the life of his father, and reflects on what it was like "living with David Wilkerson."

Exploring Wilkerson's harsh ultra-conservative Pentecostal roots helps me understand the shrill tone I often picked up from his books, newsletters and messages.  For much of his life and ministry, Wilkerson was high on holiness and low on grace.

However, he remained humble and open for personal growth.  Surprisingly, it was Leonard Ravenhill who supplied Wilkerson with a fresh understanding of what it really means to live in God's love -- through loaning books by Puritan authors.  (I never realized the hyper-Calvinistic Puritans had much to say about grace and love.  I'm going to dig in a bit more and give my Calvinist friends more respect.)

Here are a few key truths I gleaned from reading this beautiful story:

1.  If we have faith and are completely obedient to God's calling,  He will use us in ways far beyond our wildest imagination.

2.  Our children need our blessing far more than we realize.

3.  God provides for His vision.  We just need to follow and step out with faith.

4.  When we fail to embrace grace for ourselves, we are hard on other people.

5.  It is possible to press into a truth so fully that it becomes partially untrue.

6.  God can change lives instantly.

I highly recommend this book -- a great read and helpful resource.

 (A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review on this blog.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Road to Success is Uphill

How do you know you are on the path to success? It’s uphill all the way!

Nobody coasts to their desired destination. Anything worthwhile requires overcoming significant difficulties and obstacles. It’s simply a part of the territory.

When you’ve given your best and failed, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and give up. Sadly, many people would have achieved the goal if they would have hung on just a little longer. Don’t quit too soon. You may be inches away from the breakthrough!

Refuse to cave into discouragement. Looking back, I’ve regretted almost every decision I’ve made from discouragement. Humans were made to hope, and that means believing in a better tomorrow.

I have always been inspired by this poem by an unknown author. May it bring encouragement to your heart:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out-- 
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt, 
And you never can tell how close you are, 
It may be near when it seems so far, 
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit-- 
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.