Friday, January 28, 2011

Spring is Coming!

I know, I know…we’ve just experienced two snowfalls in three days.

Culpeper Schools have been closed since Tuesday.

And the forecast is for MORE nasty weather next week.

But let me backtrack a few days earlier this week…

My Monday at the Culpeper County Library Circulation Desk officially ends at 5:30pm when I hang up my magnetic name badge on my mailbox and toss a day’s worth of accumulated rubber bands onto a clip, preparing the way for the next time I don the identity of Joe the Circulation Desk Guy.

I quickly slip on my coat, gloves, and assorted books I’ve picked out throughout the day and shuffle over to the main doors. A few hurried goodbyes and I’m out of the building and into the winter darkness.

It’s always strange, leaving work while it is still dark, but it’s just one aspect of the winter season. Mind you, I’m from Miami, so the first time I experienced darkness during what was supposed to be “daylight hours” was on a winter trip to New York City. I was astounded that though my watch told me it was still afternoon, the gloomy darkness told a different tale. The northern latitudes naturally receive less hours of daylight than the southern ones due to the tilt of our planet’s axis.

So picture my surprise when my friend Robert (who I was taking home) practically shouted with delight “It’s still light!”

Huh? I looked up and realized he was correct. For the first time in months, I had walked out into a parking lot that was still bathed in (a fading but still there) twilight.

With a shock I realized that the robe of winter was beginning its gradual thaw towards spring.

Spring. Sunlight and flowers. Warmth and new life. If winter is a metaphor for the sleep of death, spring must be about resurrection.

I could hardly believe that spring was indeed on its way.

Now of course, as I write this there is snow on the ground. But you know what? I don’t care. I know that winter is slowly giving way to spring.

Cold winds and weather are just the last gasps of winter; regardless whether it lasts through February or goes on past March.

Spring is on its way, sooner or later IT IS GOING TO COME!

And that’s refreshing.

Our lives are full of seasons. We have seasons spent in the sun where all seems to go well. Everything we touch seems to turn to gold.

We also experience seasons of change where life is beautiful yet a little melancholy.

The winter seasons in our lives are the tough ones.

These are seasons of illness and pain, loss and regret. These are seasons where the sun hides behind the clouds of our worries and fears. These are seasons where everywhere we turn, we are assailed by bone-chilling gusts of wind.

We don’t think we can make it. There doesn’t seem to be much (if any) hope.

But there is. Oh yes, there is.

Spring is coming!

What season are you in right now? What are some winters that you have seen come and gone? How did God bring about the spring that you waited for?


Psalm 147
Praise the LORD! How good to sing praises to our God! How delightful and how fitting! The LORD is rebuilding Jerusalem and bringing the exiles back to Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and calls them all by name. How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension! The LORD supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.

Sing out your thanks to the LORD; sing praises to our God with a harp. He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures. He gives food to the wild animals and feeds the young ravens when they cry. He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might. No, the LORD’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he has strengthened the bars of your gates and blessed your children within your walls. He sends peace across your nation and satisfies your hunger with the finest wheat. He sends his orders to the world— how swiftly his word flies! He sends the snow like white wool; he scatters frost upon the ground like ashes. He hurls the hail like stones. Who can stand against his freezing cold?

Then, at his command, it all melts. He sends his winds, and the ice thaws. He has revealed his words to Jacob, his decrees and regulations to Israel. He has not done this for any other nation; they do not know his regulations. Praise the LORD!

Isaiah 55
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. See how I used him to display my power among the peoples. I made him a leader among the nations. You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey, because I, the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the LORD’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”


Friday, January 21, 2011

Up Up and Away!

I just finished reading William Boniface’s third installment of “The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy”. To those who do not know me well, let me share that I love juvenile fiction. Stories meant for middle schoolers have always held sway in my heart. Sure, I read the occasional John Grisham novel, but I mainly read books for younger readers.

This series is about a community named Superopolis where EVERYBODY has some sort of superpower. Some have tremendous strength or speed; others have less amazing powers such as the ability to grow hair on others or obnoxious body odor on command. Everyone has a unique power; everyone that is, except for one young citizen named Ordinary Boy (or OB for short). He’s, well, ordinary.

What would it be like to live in a community where everyone is known by their unique ability?

To some degree, we do. We often wrap ourselves up in the mantle of our vocation.

Those in the healing profession? Doctors. Those who create soundtracks for our lives? Musicians. Those who bring out the colors of the world? Artists. To serve and protect? Lawmen. To connect the sacred to the secular? Ministers. Guardians of knowledge? Librarians. Molder of young minds? Teachers. Caretakers of our buildings? Custodians.

However, in this book, the citizens of Superopolis all lose their powers. They must try to come to grips with who they are apart from their special abilities.

To those who have lost jobs recently, this may sound familiar.

But take heart, who you are is NOT wrapped up in a job description or skill set. Who we are goes much deeper than what we receive a paycheck for. We are sons and daughters, parents and spouses, friends and neighbors.

We exist in community with others.

What if you were the only person on this planet? Take a moment to consider the possibilities. What would you do for food and shelter? Entertainment? What if you got sick or injured? Would you live out in the country or in the cities?

Would you lose your identity?

I believe our identities are wrapped up in how we relate to others.

Are we stingy or generous? Fair or take favorites? Obnoxious or kind? Do we attract or repel?

What is it in how we deal with others that brands who we are?

Does how we treat other people show our connection with Jesus?


Matthew 7:15-20
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Galatians 5:16-26
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Drill That Wouldn't

The task seemed simple: I was to install curtains in our bedroom. I have installed many a curtain over the years and knew that this would be a breeze.

There was just one thing … I couldn’t get my cordless drill to go past the drywall.

You see, in order to install the curtains, I had to drill into my wall to install a plastic anchor. Anchors look similar to corkscrews; they “screw into” drywall. After you drill a hole, you screw in the plastic anchor. Then, it’s a simple matter of screwing in a metal screw, which is what attaches the curtain rod to the wall. If you tried to insert a metal screw without an anchor, it would easily pull away from the drywall (which isn’t a good thing).

No matter how much I tried to force it in, it wouldn’t work. I checked the drill bit and realized I was using one of my old 3/16” bits. “I guess it’s dull,” I thought to myself and proceeded to walk down from the 3rd floor to the garage in order to get a newer bit.

Once I began to rummage in the garage, I realized with a groan that my new bits were at the office.


I DID however, found a newer drill bit set that my dad had given to me just a few weeks back.
“GREAT!” I thought … until I realized that my dad (as was his prerogative) had given me some of his EXTRA bits in the set.

The 3/16” bit was missing.

“I’ll just use the next larger bit,” I mused as I trudged up the stairs and proceeded to drill again.

Same result. The bit would only go through the drywall.

It felt like I was trying to drill into a steel plate.

On a whim, I got out a masonry bit, which is designed to bore through concrete and bricks.

Same result.

It was somewhere around this point that I glanced at the drive setting on the drill.

It was set on “Reverse”.

Have you ever tried to leave a building by PULLING on a door that’s clearly labeled “PUSH”?

Rather frustrating, eh?


Everything went a lot smoother (more or less) after that epiphany. I wished I had checked the drive setting FIRST.

Many difficult situations are easily solved in hindsight.

But what about when you’re in the middle of something, and it’s a lot more serious than attempting to install a curtain rod?

When faced with the trials of life, the question we often turn to is “How am I going to get through this?”

Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is “Who do I think God is?”

Our understanding of who God is shapes how we deal with life. If we see God as an entity that created everything, set things in motion, and then took a step back to watch (while occasionally getting involved in our affairs) then we are forced to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. Our lives become ruled by the sweat of our brow and the roll of the dice.

We may take another extreme viewpoint in believing that God is so involved in everything that we are mere puppets and He pulls all the strings. In that case, why bother doing ANYTHING, because you have no responsibility for your actions.

My beliefs can be found somewhere in the middle. You see, I believe God is a person. He is personally involved in our lives. He knows our names, our fears and our dreams. He cares for us so much that He offered His only Son, Jesus, to take away the penalty for our mistakes. I believe He gives us choices.

God is not interested in mindless robots. He wants to connect with us, YES US!

The result of believing in God as All-powerful Creator, Redeemer and Friend is a life spent walking with Him. When life goes well, we know He guides our steps. When trials come, we know that He’ll hold us close. When we screw up, we know we can find forgiveness.

So often, we keep doing the same things and achieving the same results. Sometimes we just need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Why do we continue to insist on carrying burdens that we were never meant to shoulder?

Is there a “Reverse” button that you need to pay attention to?


Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Psalm 55:22
Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

1 Peter 5:7-11
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Delight of Paper Airplanes

Kathy and I drove down to South Florida a few weeks ago to spend Christmas with our families. We were fortunate enough to attend two large family get-togethers within the space of a few hours (it helps to have both of our families within a few miles of each other). We arrived in Miami on Christmas Eve and had just enough time to unpack, shower, and dress before making our way to her grandparents’ house for a Noche Buena (Holy Night) feast. Roast pork and arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice) is good for the soul (but not for my cholesterol level). After much laughter and many songs, we hightailed to my sister’s house to open presents.

Traditionally, we would open presents on Christmas morning as a family, but since one of my nephews was leaving early the next day on a ski trip, we decided to forgo tradition and open presents on Christmas Eve around 11:30pm. It is a little known fact that Santa Claus hits South Florida very early as he makes his rounds. Apparently, he already visited my sister’s house while we were all away at our Noche Buena parties, so we each had our full share of loot. I personally don’t believe Santa got upset that we didn’t wait for morning, but we’ll know next year if this ends up putting us on the “naughty” list.

As the piles of wrapping paper grew ever higher, I saw Kathy unwrap a gift that made my jaw drop and lips tremble with emotion.

It was a tiny remote control helicopter.

“What?!” I felt like shrieking (but didn’t).

Kathy, being the sweet and supportive wife that she is, allowed me to drool all over the package before letting me know that I could play with it. She graciously transferred full ownership to me on Christmas morning (which was just as well as my other present hadn’t arrived on time. Santa must’ve taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque).

Brimming with excitement, I read the instructions, perused the repair kit (yes, this thing came with a repair kit), charged the batteries and proceeded to crash it repeatedly.

You see, the instructions clearly stated that this helicopter was for INDOOR USE ONLY, and I had decided to learn to fly it outside...

The tiniest breeze would blow it way off course, leading it into bushes, palm trees, a screen door and our automobile (to name a few hair-raising destinations). The morning sunshine also interfered with the remote control, which relied on InfraRed light (like your tv remote) to send the control signals. At one point, I watched helplessly as the copter soared skyward, higher and higher, oblivious to my control.


Is control what this is all about?

When we feel we are in control, life seems to go smoothly. But when a wrench gets tossed into our plans, all too often we freak out.

I remember as a child that one of my favorite pastimes was designing and flying paper airplanes. I’d take some notebook paper and meticulously fold it so that everything was symmetrical and the creases were sharp. I’d take it outdoors and walk into the middle of our large backyard.

It was a grassy backyard with most of the trees along the perimeter forming a sort of “second fence” which obscured the old chain link one that kept our neighbors at bay.

It was an EXCELLENT backyard for flying paper airplanes.

I would stand and wait to get a sense for where the wind was coming from. As soon as a breeze picked up, I would face the wind and cast my paper plane directly into it.

It was delightful.

The warm Miami breeze would catch the tiny plane and caress it as it lifted higher and higher. I would stand by, transfixed by the sight of my tiny plane swirling in the invisible flow of air. Sometimes, it would even loop the loop before gently floating down and tumbling upon landing in the prickly blades of grass that would catch hold of it as it returned from the heavens.

I would run over to it, make any needed adjustments, and wait for the next breath of wind to watch it take flight again.

But deep down, I wanted something more.

Despite the amazing and spontaneous aerial ballet, I wished for control.


The funny thing is, that despite the fact that I now have a device I can direct, I have come to understand that the wind is still in control.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 19:21 is a bit more blunt, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.”

Does this mean we throw out our New Year’s resolutions and do nothing? Of course not! Our eyes must be opened to what the wind is doing, then we must act if we wish to catch a current and soar.

The wind is often used to describe God. It is invisible and mysterious. We cannot see it, however we can see the effects of it.

We CAN see what it's up to.

Tossing a paper airplane into its embrace will result in a graceful flight. Trying to force a tiny helicopter to batter its own way through the currents will result in a spectacular crash.

Have you seen God at work but haven’t yet decided to throw yourself into His embrace?

It will cost us.

The price is control.

What exhilarating flights await us this year?


Related Verses
John 3:1-21
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”