Monthly Archives: September 2012

Our Wise Purveyor

“When I walk in the woods, I am reminded that a wise purveyor has been there before me; my most delicate experience is typified there.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Enchanting words, especially with the approach of fall and the change it brings to the garments of the trees. I love this quote by Thoreau because I love walking at times in the wild woods. There is something mysterious and yet familiar about the forest. It’s like walking in an ancient world that continues on despite the present age. Indeed, a “wise purveyor” has been there long before us. God is that purveyor, the supplier of everything we need and everything nature needs.

Nature worships God. Psalm 96:11-13 says:
“Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise
before the LORD, for he is coming! . . . ”

Ever been in a forest when a brisk fall wind was blowing? The branches creak and groan. There is movement all around you as boughs toss back and forth, twigs fall, and leaves swirl around your feet. It’s exhilarating when the forest is animated by the wind. The forest feels alive. It is alive. It worships God.

You see, worship is not a duty to satisfy a fickle and egotistical God. It’s a gift. Worship is life itself. Worship is gratefulness for the “wise purveyor.”

Guard Turkey On Duty

There is a flock of turkeys that live near our house. They were feeding beside the highway when I drove to work this morning. They made me think of . . . Thanksgiving. They also made me think of how the Lord watches over us. You see, this particular rafter of turkeys consists of a mother bird and her almost-adult brood. The momma turkey stood with her neck stretched high to scan her surroundings for danger. While she stood guard, her nearby offspring pecked in the dirt for seeds and bugs. (Oddly, she didn’t possess the wherewithal to discern the dangers associated with feeding alongside the highway.) Anyhow, the brood was safe from predators as long as they remained close to their mother. The scene reminded me of what the Bible says Psalm 121: 7-8:

“The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.”

These are comforting words. But when I read this verse I can’t help but notice what seems like a contradiction in the phrase “from all harm.” The ostensible contradiction is this—despite what this verse says, bad things still happen to good people, even those who are close to God. Then it dawned on me: There is no contradiction because the Lord protects from every TYPE of harm or evil. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are protected from every INCIDENT of harm or evil, especially if we intentionally seek out sin and mischief. If we drift away from God, we have a greater risk of getting picked off by dangers in the world. Ultimately, this verse is about the protection of our soul. No matter what, God has our soul’s back.

Anyhow, when I think of all the bad decisions I’ve made and the precarious situations I’ve encountered in life, I’m either very lucky, or someone is watching over me. I’m sure it’s the latter. (Otherwise, I’d have won the lottery by now.)

The Dominion of Doubt

There is news circulating in the world of Christianity that a significant number of young people leave the church because of doubts about their faith. Some experts point the finger of blame at the church for failing to tackle tough philosophical questions about our faith. Their argument goes that the church offers too many trite answers and a simplistic Christianity. Others blame secular culture and academics for tearing down religion by claiming that faith is incompatible with reasoned thought and science.
One common question that incites some people to abandon or reject faith is this: How can a loving God permit such terrible events and suffering in the world? This question is used by many as evidence that God does not exist. For some people this question is an escape mechanism to avoid God because a relationship with God will change who they are and, often, the way they live. Others have sincere doubts.
Christians and would-be Christians can get a better understanding of why terrible things happen in this world of green grass and sunshine by reading Genesis 3:1 through 6:5. In these chapters it is clear something has gone awry with the way God originally designed the world. Even today, just look around and you can see imperfections in everything. Even our DNA has flaws.
The older I get, the more often uncomfortable questions materialize in my noggin. Fortunately, these nagging conundrums seem, somehow, to strengthen my faith. (Yes, I know, it’s a paradox.) Here’s the point: Mystery lends excitement, adventure, and contentment to life. Do you need an example? Here it is—fish. As an amateur ichthyologist (which really means my knowledge of fish is limited to bait and seasoning), I love fishing. All kidding aside, I have acquired some impressive knowledge of certain species of fish. I absolutely love the mystery of fishing. It’s the wonderful anticipation of catching what lurks beneath the surface of the mysterious world of water. An angler could spend a lifetime learning everything that science, lore, and Stan’s Bait Shop staff can teach about fish . . . and it still wouldn’t be everything there is to know about fish. Really, who can know the mind of a fish? The unknown doesn’t diminish my love of fishing. If I figured out how to make a fish bite with every cast, fishing would soon lose its allure.
That’s sort of how it is with God. In this life we will never know the entire mind and purposes of God. Yet it feels right to continue pursuing God. After this life we may know more about God, but even then I doubt we will know everything. I’m okay with that. Much about God is a mystery. A literary mystery is described in the dictionary as: “A novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end.” Well said!
You see, doubt has been with us since the beginning. Eve was enticed to doubt God. Eve wanted more knowledge, to be like God. She wanted answers. She wasn’t content with some mystery about God and her place in God’s designs.
Doubt can be healthy. Doubt can keep us out of cults. It can help us avoid scams. But doubt, to be used effectively, requires a little faith and a good measure of wisdom. I have to be cautious with doubt because it can doom me to the mundane. I might do great things in this world of the mundane, but I would lose something eternal.

The Ill-mannered

A recent article about pregnant women caught my attention, probably because our first grandchild is due in September. The headline was this: “What Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman” by Marlena Graves. Here’s a sample of inappropriate things people say to pregnant women:

So, who’s the father?
Boy, you’re getting fat.
You look like you’re about to pop.
I love seeing the new mother glow and nice round breasts
Was this a planned pregnancy?

Such comments are often delivered as an attempt at humor. However, regardless of the context, some of these comments are crass and insensitive. I get it. Still, a sense of humor is essential when we are on the receiving end of offensive remarks. It’s hard enough to get through this life without turning into a grumpy old wretch. A sense of humor does not excuse bad behavior or inappropriate comments, but it does help as a coping mechanism. Of course, there are times when amusement at poor manners is not appropriate and a more direct approach with the offender is necessary. Just be aware that not all offenders can be politely embarrassed into changing their behavior. They are simply oblivious to their faux pas and unlikely to understand why their comments were not . . . appreciated. Even if we confront them, I doubt we can correct a lifetime of missed lessons about etiquette. Hence, for our own mental health, we need that sense of humor.

I was born and raised in California, though I have family in rural Georgia. When visiting my family in Georgia, I become keenly aware of the difference in manners and customs between folk from my neck of the woods and people raised in the South. Those of us from California are often very laid-back, whereas people from the South have more expectations about proper behavior. Thankfully, people from the South are also very forgiving once they learn I’m from California.

I once heard a comedian assert that our culture has become so comfortable that we now make up reasons to be upset and offended. He used this example: While experiencing the miracle of flight, an airline passenger gets enraged when the flight attendant announced that the aircraft Wi-Fi was not operating. Really? It should be a minor annoyance, not something that raises our blood pressure. Good manners and civility are necessary for a culture to survive and thrive, but I wonder if we have a tendency to overreact these days.

It is possible one reason so many people accuse Christians of being judgmental is this hyper-sensitivity to anything that falls outside our standards of polite behavior and speech. Quite frankly, not everyone was raised by parents who insisted on good manners. When we have dealings with the ill-mannered, it’s an opportunity to express grace instead of going to our default mode of incredulity and offended feelings. If we really want to make an impact, perhaps we should focus our insistence on good manners towards children and young adults.

As a sensitive man (I know, it’s an oxymoron), I realize there are serious aspects to life and faith, but I wonder if we make them more problematic than necessary.