A Builder’s Parable -Messy Foundations

12250927_mIt was one of those nights you never forget.

Lightning streaked across the sky, first wordlessly and then booming with bolts of thunder which rocked me to the core of my foundations. The rain was driving harder now, the wind whipping it into a sideways frenzy which whirled the torrent of droplets around me like a dizzy merry-go-round. Faster, faster, faster…

The pounding was unrelenting. Wind, rain, lighting, thunder…all seemingly at war with each other whirling around in a mad cosmic chase which ripped at my very core. It was all I could do to stay anchored to my footings.

I remembered when the builder had laid them down. He was an honest man who took real pride in the five homes that he built every year.

Not one to cut corners, he had personally inspected every step of the job, forcing workman to complete the job to his high standards even when they complained that the delays would cost him dearly. It was his reputation on the line and he cut off their protestations with a fierce look.

The foundations for the house across the street had been dug shortly after my builder got started. Yet amazingly, it had been completed ahead of mine. Causing just a little grumpiness for my homeowners. I couldn’t see everything the crew was doing, but they worked fast…mighty fast to get that house ready. Perhaps too fast.

It was hard to see clearly through the inky darkness, but several shingles whipping by my roof line indicated that all was not well. I heard several large crashes and then there was silence. It was as though the wind and rain had simply spent themselves into a muted, angry truce a they ran out of steam.

I couldn’t examine the damage until the sun came up the next morning. I’d lost a few shingles, but overall I was fine albeit a little creaky. A few large branches littered the otherwise pristine lawn which now gleamed with the brilliant green that accompanies a thunderstorm.

Across the street however, a scene of intense devastation was unfolding. Large portions of the roof had been whipped off and an entire corner of the home had simply crumpled into the ground. The foundation wall had shifted and the home looked as though it might topple over at any time. A crowd of concerned onlookers was gathering to survey the damage.

My thoughts drifted back to the wise builder who had had taken such detailed care in laying my foundations. I used to hear him telling his workers that they needed to build as though they were building their own home. In fact, he often refused to build on certain lots when he felt the underlying terra ferma would not be rock solid. Unstable, shifting soil was a guaranteed non starter when it came to undertaking a building job.

I was thankful for the attention had had paid to making sure I had a stable foundation today. I had survived the storm because of it. I had been buffetted by wind, trounced by the rain and beaten silly by the storm, but I had not failed because of a formidable foundation.

Foundations are what anchor us to the earth in a solid fashion. They’re not glamorous. It’s about the basic building blocks of life..and business. The follow-up and follow-through. The simple doing of what you say and delivering beyond expectations. It’s about the phone call, note and thank you card.

Foundations are what ensure that you don’t forget who you work for. They remind you that every part of the process in life, relationships and business is another nail which holds together the priceless treasure of a good reputation.

Yes, this story can be found in a truncated fashion in Matthew 7:24-28. It’s actually commonly refered to as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builder. Because you see, we’re all architects of our own lives. What we build reveals who we really are. It’s a matter of choice…

 

Trapdoor Grace: Overcoming A Spiritual Siege

One of the most heart breaking news stories this year has been the on-going siege of the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Watching the daily distress of people trapped within the ruins of war without access to basic and vital necessities is a reminder of how despicable war is.

64481341_sTrapdoor grace is the kind of grace that happens when all avenues of relief are blocked.  The support systems which we have carefully cultivated spring leaks, the bank account is drained, the Doctor’s and experts don’t have solutions, the job has left the country.  When we are under siege literally or spiritually, it is important to know that God has avenues of rescue which open when windows and doors of escape are unavailable.

The weapon of a siege mounted against a community or city is an ancient one.  A siege can be mounted in a variety of ways, but always has one common characteristic – the enemy surrounds you. When a place is under a siege, every means of escape appears to be blocked in some fashion.  A siege not only blocks the path of escape, but also prevents anything from entering.  So, essentially, the community slowly starves to death without food, water, medical supplies and sometimes even means of communication with the external world.

A siege is effective because it eventually causes such despair, that in their desperation, people will even cannibalize themselves. We read about a situation like this in 2 Kings 7.  The siege against the King of Israel was ironically mounted by the King of Syria (some translations refer to him as the King of Aram).

As the two sides eyed each other, 2 Kings 6:24-33 tells the story of the King of Israel walking on top of the city wall and a woman calling out to him to tell him the dreadful tale of how she and another woman had agreed to eat their infant sons.  Her heart wrenching complaint is that the other woman reneged on her word and hid her son.  The King was overcome with horror. He vows to hunt down the Prophet Elisha who somehow becomes the scapegoat for the King’s frustration.

The meeting between the two nemesis is rife with mutual dislike and name calling.  But, the Prophet Elisha prophecies to the King that the impossible is about to take place.

Within 24 hours, there will be a turn-around that is so extraordinary that basic foodstuffs will sell at bargain prices!

The prediction is so bizarre that an officer who supports the King physically scoffs and in effect says, ‘that’s madness!’

And it did appear that there was no way out of this certain destruction.  But, that night God does something incredible.  Because mad situations need to be handled with equivalent or greater levels of mad power.

The Bible indicates that the well equipped Syrian army heard a sound and became convinced that the bankrupt Kingdom of Israel had somehow managed to hire an army and the tables were turned.  In their fear, the entire Syrian army fled at night to escape what they were convinced was certain annihilation.  The discovery of the situation was discovered by a most improbable lot – some Lepers who were considered untouchable and thereby consigned to the outskirts of the city.

The Lepers had decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian King and approached the camp, only to find the entire encampment vacated of people!  But thoroughly stocked with provisions, clothes and unimaginable wealth in silver and gold.  Wow!  Of course the good news is shared and the entire city rushed the city gates, trampling on the officer who scoffed at the idea that this kind of deliverance was even possible.

Trapdoor Blessings:

A trapdoor blessing reveals the God who makes impossible situations possible.  It also reveals a mercy which is super abundant and awe inspiring.  And often utilizes the most improbable persons or situations.  It’s never an avenue that you would previously seriously consider.  A trapdoor blessing has the ability to turn what appears to be a curse into an uncommon blessing.

Here are some elements of encouragement hidden within trapdoor blessings:

  1. God can handle our sorrow, despair and anger.  Be real.  Desperate situations call for a desperate response.  Pray and don’t stop. Seek counsel.  The Bible says that when waging war, we should have many counselors
  2. Be open to unexpected solutions.  Hidden within those who have been written off and marginalized may be some of the best talent available and hitherto unused due to our prejudices and preconceived ideas.
  3. Know this – God may not come within our time frame, but He is never late.  Examples of deliverance at the mid-night hour abound in the Bible.  Think – Daniel in the lions den, Moses saved from the water and certain death by an Egyptian princess, Paul and Silas escaping from prison while singing praises at mid-night, Peter being rescued from prison by an angel…
  4. Trapdoor blessings are generous!  And perhaps we appreciate them more because the contrast is starkly evident when you’ve experienced deep bondage.  This type of blessing can be so overwhelming that in receiving it, you must find a way to share it and give it away.  Similar to how the Lepers had to let the city know that deliverance was just a few steps outside the gates.

As we leave 2016 and approach 2017, there is a palatable sense of apprehension for many in our world.  It has been a strange year in many ways.  One filled with loss, unpredictability and dis-ease in various ways.  But it is in this type of darkness that light shines most brilliantly.  And it is here that Trapdoor grace reveals itself most readily.

 

 

 

The Syndrome of Unfriendly Friends

6974974_sThe term ‘friend’ has been redefined.  So has the word ‘follower’.  Words which used to resonate with richness and endearment have been neutered to a very shallow depth.  How can one have thousands of ‘friends’?  It is not possible, nor healthy.

Yet competitive instincts and desire for perceived popularity drive us to seek, accept and in some cases even buy friends and followers.  While social media is by definition a world which is not real, the issue of friendship is one which cuts deeply into the psyche of what it means to live in relationship with other human beings.

Wounds in the house of a friend...

Zechariah 13:6 says, “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”

The above passage speaks to the deception of the false prophets and the judgement of God against deception and hypocrisy.  The prophet was supposed to be someone who spoke God’s truth, a trustworthy representative of the Almighty.  But the office and responsibility had become so watered down that prophets were lying and deceiving people in idol worship to such a degree that the term ‘prophet’ was in reality a misnomer.

Unfriendly friends are friends who are not true supporters.  They may appear to encourage and like you, but the real goal is far more insidious.  Unfriendly friends are users, not givers.  They are also thieves who will steal your resources, time, money, influence and even reputation if provided with the opportunity.  In short, they are not friends at all, but rather the opposite.

Because we live in an increasingly confused world in which orange is the new black and right and wrong are increasingly in doubt – for many, it can be difficult to discern who an unfriendly friend is.

True friends support each other in integrity.  A true friend is not malicious or secretly envious of another’s possessions, popularity or progress.  A real friend is there when things go south and rejoices with you in victory.  Friendship requires a willingness to fiercely protect even when that requires the tough truth.

Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from someone who loves are trustworthy, but kisses from an enemy speak volumes

The Bible says that wounds from a true friend can be trusted.   When we meander off the road into the wasteland of pretense and hypocrisy, the pain of broken relationships may be God’s way of helping us to take stock of who we engage with – causing us to ask deliberate, necessary and sometimes painful questions.

On Wheat and Weeds…

44371121_sThere’s a somewhat convoluted tale related in the Scriptures about a farmer who plants good seed in a large field.  However, as the seedlings begin to mature and ripen for harvest, it becomes apparent that the field has been contaminated.  Weeds (tares) are everywhere! With dismay, the workers who have labored diligently face the prospect of ruining the harvest.  The weeds are competing with the plants for nutrients, but if they are removed, the harvest will be ruined because the crops are not yet fully matured. (Matthew 13:24-30 KJV)

This crisis becomes an issue for the Master whose advise is sought regarding what to do.  As the Householder (as he is referenced in some versions) surveys the damage, he gives an interesting assessment.  First of all, he zeros in on the one responsible for the corruption.  ‘An enemy has done this’.  This damage is not a result of a lack of diligence or laziness on the part of the workers.  Rather, it is deliberate, mean-spirited and intended to cause harm.

This story came to mind recently as I contemplated the difficulty of setting things right, especially when these issues have become habits or patterns of thought and behavior that have been in place for a long time.  Not every issue that we face can be solved instantly.  Sometimes, the chaos is so deeply embedded within the psyche that healing requires more than simply applying standard or seemingly straightforward solutions.

There are issues in life which involve different parties, some which may be unwilling or unable to make wise choices.  Going in with the sledge hammer of human judgement can do more harm than good because discrimination is required when sorting out the solution.  Evil is not always obvious.  Nor is the task of determining who is the perpetrator versus the victim always clearly defined.

The fact is that we have all sinned.  We are all to some degree a mixed bag of tares and wheat.  When Jesus confronts a woman who has been caught in adultery and brought to him to pronounce judgement, he turns the table and asks the expectant crowd to cast the stones, but with the caveat that the first stone must be thrown by one who has never sinned.  Beginning with the oldest, the crowd begins to disperse. (John 8: 1-11)

Which brings me back to the wheat and tares.  The work of the Spirit of God here on earth is to gather the tares in our lives.  It is through grace, that we are even brought to an awareness of how deeply the soil of our souls has been contaminated.  As God matures us into his likeness, he uses various agents to identify and bundle together that which is not fit for healthy consumption.

I used to think that this parable only related to the end of time, but I see that the work of the Kingdom of God is ongoing, starting here and earth and on to eternity.  God loves us too much to simply let us be.  Just as spring time and harvest will continue, in the same way this process is ongoing in our lives and as we cooperate in listening and yielding to God’s inspired instruction will enable a true harvest of righteousness in our lives.  So within the despair of a life which seems to be so imperfect, there is really good news.  God is able, God is willing to perfect that which concerns me and you if we will let him.

No worries…

One of my son’s has a seemingly favorite saying, it’s ‘No Worries’.  It is a reminder to me that worry is something that we can choose to say ‘No’ to.  Worry revolves around the past and the future, both of which are phantoms in the sense that they have already ceased to exist or are yet to manifest.  Spending time in worry and agitating is a grandiose waste of time.

There are always invitations to enter into these types of activities and conversations.  In fact, one such opportunity dropped in on me today via a phone call.  I could sense the irritation and angst, all over realities which had not yet manifested.  A potentially nasty argument in formation and rapidly escalating into a sure depletion of energy…

Somehow, something inside me said, ‘Stop! – No Worries’.  It takes an intentional effort to clear the mind and choose to be in the one and only place we can ever really be, which is the present.  Blessings to you today for the gift of presence during this time of remembrance and gratitude for the sacrifice for those who have given their life, time and treasure in service to our nation.
Presence

Minced meat matters…

They say that one should avoid watching the making of a sausage.  Because the likelihood of eating one after watching the process may be affected.  First of all, sausage meat is rarely culled from the best cuts and is usually comprised of a variety of cuts, and/or different types of meats.

The end process has a way of completely obscuring the origins of the meat and in a sense transforms it into something other than what any single component would have revealed it capable of becoming. It’s the grinding process and then the  mixed seasoning which makes sausage meat what it is.

Life sometimes feel a little akin to sausage making.  There are days which are so grueling, that feeling like one has been processed through a meat grinder might be a kind descriptive.  There are many examples in the Bible which depict challenging periods in poignant ways.  A story which frankly I have always found difficult to read is the book of Job which chronicles the misfortunes of a man that are so painful that his wife urges him to curse God and die.

Job’s journey, a mixture of good & bad, light and awful darkeness are detailed through the loss of property, family, health, influence, community, stature amidst serious questions about the nature of God.  Thrown into the mix are friends who are well meaning but lack true understanding, thus inadvertently inflaming the rawness of an open wound.

It’s difficult to really understand or imagine what must have been going on in Job’s mind.  But, even problems on a much lower scale can drain the reservoirs of strength and vitality.  Sausage making in real life or spiritually is not pretty or easy.  I don’t know how the Creator and Sustainer of Life, our Father God is able to make something out of life’s messy bits & pieces.  And, during the dark night of the soul it’s not certain that anything of value can be created.  There is usually not a neat and orderly timeline, but somehow He who IS…does.

Ephesians 3:20-21  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

 

The Cure for Donkey Kong Foolishness…

29671794_sI am thankful for the growing realisation that much of what causes angst and grief in our lives is not personal.  It may feel personal because we experience it within our personal space. Yet if we are able to step back out of the heat within the moment, we may find that the perceived assault, attack or insult may indeed have little to do with us. Or we may discover that we have set out on a very foolish or unwise path which guarantees chaotic grief to anyone who insists on continuing in that particular direction.

Becoming thankful as a verb means choosing to actively engage tense and difficult moments as an opportunity to gain wisdom.  I’ve found that some of life’s most teachable moments are draped within the unconventional garb of emotionally charged exchanges.  When examined in clearer context, these situation often have a larger context which may not be initially visible.  And then… Sometimes life just is simply what it is.

When the fault is mine, becoming thankful for the course correction makes regaining equilibrium easier and minimizes the loss of vested emotional, spiritual and mental energy.  On this note, I am reminded of the experience of one hapless prophet and his improbable tutor – one very stubborn talking donkey as the story  is told in the book of Numbers 22:1-39.

Balam’s reckless journey to curse the Israelites as commissioned by Balak is interrupted by an angel threatening to end his life. Unfortunately, Balam is blind to the danger right in front of him.  Fortunately his donkey is not!  After beating the hapless beast repeatedly, the donkey finds a voice and has a conversation with Balam about his angry response.

It is only then that Balam’s yes are opened to his foolishness. He also sees the angel with a sword who is about to chop him into minced meat to punish him for messing with the wrong people!  The stunned prophet ends up having a conversation with both a donkey and an angel about the dubious course he seems hell-bent on taking. Suddenly the resistance of that donkey became something to be very grateful for!

Sometimes, it takes the bizarre elements of life to awaken us to the fact that we have much to become thankful for.  Becoming thankful as a way of responding to obstacles may actually awaken the power of grace and God’s protection in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.