And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name. ~~Jesus
There is a flower that lives above tree line in the Rocky Mountains that has captured my heart for almost forty years. It is a flower that can be difficult to find. I shudder at the thought of how many times I might have trampled this rain-drop sized flower under the lugged sole of my boot and have been none-the-wiser.
I’ve sat at 13,000’, chest heaving, trying to gasp every ounce of oxygen out of the thin air and, while on that tawny carpet of alpine tundra, head between my knees choking back mountain sickness, spied the Lilliputian pinwheel of blue petals and yellow pistils smiling at me in the shadow of my size fourteen Aslo hiking boots. They come from the genus Myosotis, which in Greek means, “mouse ear.” In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.” Because the Alpine forget-me-not flourishes on the tundra where the winter wind and snow blow with a fierce intensity, they never grow larger than the top button on your shirt.
In all my years of trekking at altitude I am filled with wonder when I find this shy flower. And each time I fold my 6’4” frame and kneel down to get a closer look, I whisper something that only God would hear.
What has struck me over the years has been how such delicate beauty could survive in such harsh conditions and I marvel at a Creator-God who would plant it in such inaccessible places. I have no idea how many times I have found the flower and thought God is delighting in his creation. Or to paraphrase Anne Lamott, “God is showing off.”
Showing off to whom? I would be the only person to see it. How many millions of little blue, mouse-eared flowers are never seen by any sentient earth-bound being? He must have made those for His own delight. This is so unlike me. I do virtually nothing for the sake of beauty alone. I never prepare a sermon and want to preach it to an empty church. I never write an essay or a story hoping no one will ever read it. Any beauty I might try to create, I want to share with others. I want someone to say something laudatory about my so called art.
But my ego is fragile and I am trying to be larger than I am.
Each flower is the same. Doesn’t God get weary of the sameness of His creation, no matter how heart-poundingly beautiful it might be? I guess the short answer is, “No.” He keeps on doing it season after season, mountain after mountain, flower after flower.
Monotony is my enemy. Because I have sinned, monotony places me vulnerable to sin. It was monotony that caused King David to look at a bathing beauty. It was monotony that made the Pharisees fail to see the Creator-God walking and recreating in their very midst. I fear monotony. I fill my life with ear pollution, eye noise, and trivial pursuits.
G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Beauty is a reminder of the “appetite of infancy” that is at the heart of our Creator-God. I find myself valuing it, wanting to possess it, and desiring to create it. There is something about beauty that takes us to the place of innocent delight of being a child. And perhaps it is in that wonder of delight we step into, if for but a moment, another garden coming down from heaven at the end of days.
So, you don’t know my art? Perhaps you don’t know my name. No matter. Each time I marvel at the beauty of a bashful flower, I remember that it is but a taste of another garden where I will receive my new name.
Beauty reminds me that I am not forgotten.
And neither are you.
Teaching some management courses on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation for the Little Wound School District a few years ago, I was impressed by their spirituality. Before one of the courses was about to begin, the leader asked one of the elders of the tribe, who happened to be the Athletic Director of the school, to lead in prayer.
They pushed back from the tables and we all stood, the elder Arlo Provost began to pray— in Lakota. It took my breath away; I had no idea what he was saying but I had never heard anything like it. He said, “Amen” then sat down and we all sat down too. I was stunned. Then they all turned their heads to me. I opened my notes and began to teach them about managing multiple priorities. I felt like the foreigner that I was.
It reminded me of a story I read somewhere that I hope is true about one of the “rites of passage” of Lakota boys. A father would take his son out into the wilderness at age 14 and leave him there by himself over night with scant provision to survive the day and night. It is said that the boys would spend most of the night sitting up listening to all the wild sounds of the night, the owls hooting, the rustling in the brush, the snorts in the dark, and the wolves howling. A very restless and frightful night for the young brave.
But in the morning when the dawn broke over the eastern horizon—off about a hundred yards—the boy could see a lone man standing beside a tree. Then the man started walking towards him and the boy would recognize the walk of this warrior-father. He had been there all night watching his son.
God’s kind of like that with us.
Sometimes I cry out to God, “God, where are you? I just don’t see you!”
And in that still small voice God says: “Remember the Sunday School class when the teacher, Mrs. Peggram, made you leave the class because she couldn’t get you to shut up? That was Me. How about that time when your head hurt so badly that you cried yourself to sleep and your mom came to your room to rub your neck? That was me. I was there. Remember when your dad came to give you a ride home when the meanest kid in school wanted to beat you up? I was there. I was caring.
“Remember when you were in high school, and you were gangly and awkward, and nobody wanted to be around you, and you felt all alone? You weren’t. I was there. Remember when you were in college, and you were so empty because you thought I had gone away? And you even doubted that I existed? And you walked around that campus crying out, “If you are here . . . show me”? I was there. I was right beside you. Remember when you were working construction and couldn’t pay your bills, and they came and repossessed your truck? And you cried yourself to sleep that night? I was there.
“Remember in your forties, when you lost your job, your friends, your sense of purpose and you thought you were going to never see light again? I was right there.
“Remember when you stopped and ate lunch at that Burger King in Vernal, Utah and told your oldest son why you lost your job and were leaving Colorado? I was there at the table with you and the next two hundred miles of silence that hung between you and your fourteen year old son. Don’t ask me where I’ve been. I’ve been close the whole time.”
I want to paraphrase and personalize a famous passage of scripture in the Old Testament for my own edification, if not yours.
When Joe was a child, I loved him,
And out of sin I called My son.
But the more I called him,
The more he ran from Me.
He sacrificed to the gods of this world,
And burned incense to carved images.
“I taught little Joe to walk,
Taking him by his spindly arms;
But he did not know that I healed his wounds.
I drew him with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
I stooped and held him.
God is always near, redeeming, guiding, forming, mending, and protecting us.
Today, my oldest son celebrates the seventh anniversary of his marriage to my daughter-in-love, Ashley. And none of that, including the four subsequent grandchildren, could have happened had God not taken an active and sovereign role in the life I was trying to live. I don’t understand how God uses past mistakes to make beautiful art, like a wonderful marriage of seven years for my son and four red-headed angels, but He does.
As we live our lives, fretting about what goes bump in the night, keep your eyes on the eastern sky. One day, maybe not too distant from now, we will see our Warrior-King returning to wipe away every tear from our eyes, heal our wounds, and set things to rights in this sorry dark world. We are not nearly as alone as we think we are.
In a word, it’s called hope.
“Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” I say.
We want to help restore ministers and their families to spiritual wholeness and marital hope.
When my sin of unfaithfulness was discovered back in 1999, my family had no affordable place to live that made sense to us. My brother’s church in Sumner, WA brought us to the Pacific Northwest and enfolded us into their lives. They gave me a job razing a house next door to the parsonage for $10 an hour. They paid for Nette and me to go to counseling for over a year.
As much as the leadership of the church tried to help us (and they did more than I can ever repay), there was a threshold they couldn’t cross due to lack of experience. I remember going to the bookstore looking for hours for specific help on how a pastor and his wife come back from this kind of thing. What I found was either shallow or condemnatory. The counseling we could afford was fine as far as it went; retreat centers were too expensive. What we ached for was a brother and sister who had been down the same path and not only survived, but who were now thriving. I knew of no one like this.
Nette and I were praying one time and felt that if the Lord would have us, we would love to be that couple, to spend our days ministering to ministers who are broken, frayed and in need of a safe place to be spiritually restored. We see an all too prevalent need and feel called to fill it. We offer over a decade of restored marriage and hearts longing to help. We feel strongly that we have the bandwidth and calling to minister in this way.
A few years ago we changed the name of our church to Restoration Church Mukilteo to strongly reflect the tone and tenor of our focus. We both are committed to ministering to minsters. As a model for this ministry, we will be partnering with City of Refuge out of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA (www.fbcw.org/community/city-of-refuge) as part of Restoration Ministries.
Because of our personal restoration and passion, God has put before us an opportunity to minister in ways that I never had the privilege to receive. Next door to our church is an old house (1930s) that is being renovated. It goes on the rental market in a few weeks and we feel it would be a perfect Restoration House. It would provide a place for a minister and family to live rent free, while we love them back to life. The rent and utilities will run in the neighborhood of $1500 per month. We have no money for this in our church budget. Would you and your church to prayerfully consider helping us make this rental payment each month for three years?
The ministry of restoration has been around a long time. Without restoration, Moses would have been a shepherd the rest of his life. Without restoration, Elijah would still be pouting under a broom tree, David would never have written some of his best Psalms, and Jonah would have been fish poop on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Without restoration, Peter would have finished his days fishing and John Mark would have never written one of our Gospels.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor. 1:3-4
Would you and/or your church consider making this Kingdom investment? It doesn’t matter how much or how little you can give. A little becomes much in nailed scared hands. If the hundred and fifty or so that read my blogs and have followed our journey gave 10.00 a month we could do this. If you feel so inclined to give, please click on the following link for instructions. http://www.restoration-ministries.info/
I shudder to think what would have happened to the Chambers family had there not been a safe place to land back in 1999. Today, I have a healthy marriage of 31 years, a son going into the ministry and another one who just returned from a mission trip in Mexico. Life is great—-praise be to God. We want to pay it forward.
Nette and I are going to pray just before I hit “send” and this shoots into cyber space that…
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
Joe and Nette
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 1 Timothy 1:15
Paul is saying, “God is in the business of saving people who are a hot mess—and I am at the front of that line. So, if you are a mess-of-a-person, like me—then you are Jesus’ kind of person.”
But, you say, Paul was a Pharisee and a good guy. Really?
It is the way of things for people to tell their pastors their dark secretes. I learned a long time ago to never say, “You’ve got to be kidding!” when someone reveals a deep dark sin. But can you imagine someone coming to the Apostle Paul and saying, “This all sounds good but God could never love someone one like me after what I’ve done? You, Paul, I get that God would love you. You are a church planter and Scripture writer; you are a good person, but not me. Not after what I have done.”
Paul could have said, “Are you kidding! Have you killed church people? Because I have…Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. “
What has helped me a great deal has been to take a long hard look at my sinful life in the mirror of God’s word and let it drive me to brink of despair and then in that darkness tune my ears to the whisper from the gentle Savior and hear him say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
And what is amazing is that when I see the national debt size of forgiveness I have received, it makes me want to be a forgiver as well. When I am astonished at how much I have been forgiven I desperately want to pay it forward to the hard-to-love-people in my life.
I took a writing course a few years ago down in the Wallingford area. The first night we were there the instructor served us refreshments as we got to know one another—a meal of sorts. He was at the head of the oblong table and I was at the foot. There were probably 15 people in the class.
He asked us to go around the table and tell our name, where we live, what we do for a living and what we want to write about. There was a computer programmers that wanted to write about espionage. There was a scientist that wanted to write a non-fiction book on the environment. There was a real estate agent that wanted to write about food and wine. And, sitting next to me, was a lady who said she was an office manager in downtown Seattle and wanted to write about sex. The group broke out in a chorus of oohs and aahs. Then she went into some detail about the kind of erotica she planned to write about.
“My name is Joe Chambers from Mukilteo and I want to write about my experiences in the wilderness.” I turned my head to the next person indicating I was finished and for us to move along in the round robin.
The group almost in unison asked me what I did for a day job.
“I’m a pastor.” The place erupted in laughter.
The office manager lady who is going to write about sex apologized profusely to me and leaned over to me and said, “I really am sorry, Father. I am not much of religious person please forgive my crassness.”
Want to know what I said?
“Well, my child, — I’m not a very religious person either and neither is my Church or Jesus. In fact our motto is: no perfect people allowed.”
She said, “I think I could go to a Church like that.”
When Johnny Cash died a few years ago director Tony Kaye got a bunch of celebrity singer/song writers and actors to lip sync a Johnny Cash song called God’s going to Cut You Down. It is in that edgy, grainy black and white style. You see people like Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp, Keith Richards, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Rock and Denis Hopper lip sync along with the foot stomp and gravelly voice of Johnny.
Right in the middle the video, Bono, of U2 stands up with a paint brush and scrawls as graffiti on a wall the words,
May the love of Jesus disturb, transform, and re-shape you—even you who are a mess—because in Jesus’ eyes—sinners make the best saints.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:1-5
What an odd exchange between Jesus and his mother. Mary knows that this is a looming social disaster. This is a planning mistake tied to family honor that this young couple will not soon overcome in this small town. Jesus sounds almost rude.
I think when Mary asks Jesus to make wine his mind is somewhere else.
As a pastor, I have performed many weddings over the years. I think minds wonder during the ceremony. Those who are married are remembering their wedding day. Fathers are remembering when their daughter or son was small. Mothers are—I have no idea, really. And those single folk that are present at a wedding are imagining their wedding day—somewhere out in the future. You remember with joy or you imagine with joy, the day when you give yourself fully to your beloved.
I think it is possible that Jesus is imagining his wedding day when he will give himself fully to His beloved. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as a Bridegroom. Laced all through Scripture in the Old Testament there is spousal language used to describe the love relationship between God and his people.
So, when Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom, he is saying that He is the way that God will once and for all take fickle and fallen people and woo us to himself, express his love to us and unite himself to us.
I think Jesus is thinking about his own wedding. But wait a minute—Jesus never married. Yes and No.
“My time has not yet come.” Vs. 4 Or “My hour has not yet come.”
Every time Jesus talks about his “hour” in the gospel of John it always is a reference to his death on the cross. Jesus knows that the only way that these broke, disorganized lovers at this wedding are ever going to know the deep soul-satisfying joy that Jesus demonstrates in those two hundred gallons of fine wine, is if he drinks a cup as well.
The only way that we broke and disorganized people reading these words will drink of the cup of God’s love, life and joy is if Jesus drinks to the dregs the consequences of our rebellion, brokenness, injustices, pride and selfishness—and takes in to Himself the sting of a death that belongs to us.
The night before His death on the cross Jesus went “a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39)
The cross and the empty tomb are God’s wedding vows for His creation.
Marriage vows sound a lot like this: I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
The cross and the resurrection is God saying to you, “I have you, I hold you, I cherish you. I trade my better for your worse, I give my richer for your pooer, I take on your sickness and I give you my health. I will even die so that nothing—not even death itself—will ever part us.”
Jesus makes gratuitous amounts of the best wine the world has ever tasted on the Third Day of this wedding feast in Cana of Galilee to point us to a higher and holier truth that on the THIRD DAY after his death, by raising Jesus from the dead, God would pour out on you and I gratuitous amounts of love, joy, and life.
As a culture we are obsessed with being happy and yet we are some of the unhappiest people on earth. If you are like me you tend to pursue joy externally. (career trajectories, fulfilling relationships, material possessions) But joy never comes from the outside in…joy is an inside job.
It means reminding ourselves when the weather is gray and the bills go unpaid and the phone doesn’t ring and our lives are falling apart that the most important thing about us is that God has said to us, “I love you, I have you and I hold you.” When you remember that and hold it dear to your heart—our life can be a mess and yet you can taste the sweet honey of joy. You must pursue it internally.
In worship, God gives us the bread of His Word offers us the sweet drink of song from the lips of the gifted as we worship and get lost in the fountain of love. Drink deep from that musical fountain amid all the sorrow of living in a broken world with lives that feel as if they are hanging on by single fiber—come worship, bath, and drink in the joy that comes from God.
You may not know this, but I surprised my wife on our wedding day by singing to her. While the preacher had everyone bow their heads in prayer my brother left his place in groom’s party and sat down behind the piano. Someone handed me a microphone and when the preacher said, “Amen” and everyone raised their heads the music began and started singing to the love of my life.
Why I would risk public shame and humiliation? Because there are some things that can’t be said with words alone, only a song will say it.
Want to know what song I sang? It’s a Larry Gatlin song written back in the 1970’s.
You Happened to Me
You happened to me just in time
To save me from me
I have surrendered myself
Saying what will be will be
Then you came like the touch of a raindrop
To a dry withered rose
You happened to me just in time
God only knows
You happened to me
What I needed to make one more stand
I built my life like a fool
My foundation was sand
Then you opened love’s door in my heart
That I thought hate had closed
You happened to me just in time
God only knows
May I remind you of the vows, of the song that God sang to you on a hill far away?
…We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~~The Apostle Paul
So, sip and savor the wine that comes from the Love of your life.
Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1-2
I think God has a wonderful sense of humor. I remember staring at the head of a horse one time for about an hour when I worked on a ranch, and the longer I looked at it, the funnier it looked. I went from horse to cow and it got even funnier. Then I began to think of a giraffe and a duckbill platypus and soon I was giggling like a school girl.
There is something a bit ornery about God. He has Jesus turn 200 gallons of water into wine and then sits back and watches Southern Baptist pastors do double back flips trying to explain it to their teetotalling congregations. Don’t get me started about Pentecostals speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, barking like dogs, Benny Hinn’s world famous comb-over, and Mark Driscoll teaching about sex from the pulpit. Funny stuff.
And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. 1 Kings 16:11
You can’t make this stuff up.
God makes ax heads float in the Old Testament for no apparent reason. He sends a plague of frogs to Egypt to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. After stepping on frogs for a day or two and chasing them out from between bed sheets, Pharaoh finally says, “Let me think about it one more night.” Really? One more night with Kermit on your pillow?
Jokes are about surprising and absurd reversals. Like the joke a friend sent me this week. “How does Moses make tea? Wait for it. Wait…. Hebrews it.”
Or how about this one: A Sunday school teacher asked her children on the way to service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
One time I gave a devotion to a group of men at a denominational meeting and thought it would be cool to close the talk with me leading a short praise song just long enough to get the group to begin to sing along and while they finished singing it, I would go sit down. Simple enough. I taught my devotion about the beauty of Jesus and began to sing the song to the men, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” At this point I assumed they would recognize the tune and join in, but apparently I was so off key they had no idea what song I had invited them to sing. I had to keep singing (if you can call it that) until by sheer word recognition they figured it out and redeemed the song.
“Jesus, there’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus…”
Face, beet-red, I went to sit down beside my friend, Andy, who leaned over to me and said, “I don’t think I have ever heard that song done that way.”
This week as our Life Group finished eating dessert, a stranger walked into my house. Someone shouted, “Howdy, come on in.” He did. I was in the kitchen and didn’t see who it was. I listened to the chatter, but didn’t recognize the voice. I walked into the living room to see a young man with his hands shoved deeply in his pockets and a big smile on his face. The front door was closed behind him.
“Hello,” he said.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?” he said.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’ve come for the chair.”
“The chair on Craig’s List. I’ve come to pick it up for my mom.”
“I haven’t listed anything on Craig’s List.”
“Oh,” he said with a confused look on his face. “Is this 4819?”
“Well, I called and the lady said there would be a bunch of cars out front but to come on in, so….”
Awkward moment number two.
“Would you like a cupcake?” I asked. “And a cup of coffee?”
He came in and sat down, while we all laughed, he laughed…in fact, we laughed so hard the backs of our heads hurt. We found out his name is Connor and he drove up from Gig Harbor, but lives in Des Moines. I took a picture of him and we all laughed and laughed and he laughed.
Frequently throughout the evening someone would think of him and start to laugh and we all would join in. It was a great night.
If we are willing to laugh at ourselves, we will never be in want of good material. And when we begin to take ourselves too seriously as Christians, all we have to do is turn on the TV, watch some TBN, look in the mirror, or go to the zoo.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…everybody now…