Who Brings You Rain?

N.B.: I wanted to share with you this timely post from my friend, Ty Hoad. May it be as meaningful to you as it was to me.

Like some of you, my family has been praying for rain here in Southern California for a while now.

For those of you unaware, California is in the midst of the worst drought we’ve faced in 100 years.

After months of praying, it rained Saturday night.

Twice.

And then again on Sunday morning.

Did I ever rejoice in the rain!

Anyone who can remember the last time we had measurable precipitation in August in Southern California can attest:

It doesn’t just happen.

It truly was a miraculous answer to prayer!

Standing at the end of my driveway on Saturday night in bare feet and head back letting the warm drops spill on my face, it was hard to tell my tears from the rain.

The rain was a promise from my Heavenly Father, you see.

No, I do not think this weeks’ rain will, nor was meant to, end our drought.

I believe it was meant to encourage us in the midst of it.

God’s presence is like that sometimes.

He allows us to go through the hard, cracked, challenging, dry spiritual seasons — not to be cruel, or to cause suffering and loss (though sometimes an amount of loss is necessary) — to bring us to a place to get our attention.

To bring into focus the things He wants us to see in the way He sees them.

Drought is an interesting metaphor for the human heart.

Some I see around me have yet to change their patterns of consumption of water at all even though they are aware there is very little usable water available. In similar fashion, so many friends of mine refuse to accept the Truth about God because it might mean they’d have to be honest about the quality and quantity of real living resources in their own lives…

Without God, my heart and own resources look so much like the reservoirs I see on TV with no water left in them: Dry, cracked and caked with yesterday’s residuals and nothing much to expect tomorrow.

Supposing the rains did come, I’d live with the knowledge that at the depth of my own reservoir, it does eventually come to an end having no spring or “source” to replenish it.

I’ve tried to live life on my own terms and while materially I did “okay,” without a natural spring, there wasn’t much to depend on in times of drought.

There wasn’t much to hope for past the pool I could draw from.

So, like my friends who have yet to change their water usage in the midst of this season, I would pretend not to care or trouble myself with the actual condition of my heart… And just keep on keeping on… Spraying down the walk and watering my lawn…making sure everything looked good to the passers by… and “Hoping” there would always be rain — even when it wasn’t “supposed” to fall… I find it interesting that a life without God produces the same need as a life with God: reliance upon Him to deliver what is necessary even though we don’t deserve it.

So what’s the difference?

Posture and attitude.

We can choose to believe everything is well and good, and we’re doing it in our own strength and power…

or we can choose to acknowledge Who it is that really sends the rain.

I, for one, have turned my eyes and hopes to Heaven.

Not just for the hope of ending the drought in California, but for the drought in the hearts of all humanity as well.

You?

Glory Rises

gloryrisesFor years, their fathers had only been able to dream of such a thing.

And now, the Israelites had been released from their Babylonian captors.  Exile was over and the opportunity before them to rebuild the Kingdom had arrived.  What would it look like for this motley crew to rebuild the Israelite kingdom after their 70-year absence?  What obstacles would come their way?

Rebuilding would take time, for sure.  It would require leadership.  Courage.  Trust.  And not just any trust, but a trust in God’s sovereignty differently than what was required during exile.  It would take a different ethos than they had ever before understood or attempted.

This is what faced the prophet Isaiah as he led this reforged community in Jerusalem.  You can imagine the hope provided in the words of the Lord at this time:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:1-3).

Hadn’t this been the hope and dream of the Israelites for generations?  Would God allow this to finally come into being?  That His glory would rise and appear over them?  That nations would seek out the Jewish people and want to know who God was, as the Queen of Sheba had before?

And yet, imagining myself in this situation for a moment, how utterly unbelievable.  In the words of King David, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139:6).  No, had I been alive in those days, it would be far easier to start living in such a way that would protect me from ever breaking God’s law and keep another exile from happening again.  This mindset kept those with it from seeing God moving in each day, and it can easily creep in for us some 2,500 years later.

Instead, what Isaiah called the Israelites to, and us by extension, is a radically different way of viewing the world.  It isn’t about survival or simply an awakening to one’s own inability to heed God’s call.  Rather, it is from a place of trust that the Lord calls His people—including us today—to look to Him for what He calls us.

Daily.

Moment by moment.

Theologian Dallas Willard said that “Jesus is available to trust and what you need to do is to trust Jesus.”  As I live in this truth more and more, then I will “begin to realize how great Jesus is and that He is actually running the World and that the Cosmos is under His charge. So then, the invitation is to become involved as a disciple.”  Our salvation is “is participating in the life that Jesus is now living on Earth,” or as Isaiah put it, to see the “glory of the Lord [that] rises over you” and to anticipate it in each waking moment.

Our role is to find where God is at work.  Willard continues, “a picture of a life lived in the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God is God in action. It’s God reigning. I often say it’s where what God wants done is done. Now all that comes together and you get a coherent picture of what it means to trust Jesus, enter the Kingdom, be saved and live by Grace.   Our most critical need of this hour may well be that the Church should be brought back from her long Babylonian captivity, and the name of God be Glorified in her again, as of old.”  And we do this through seeking His glory.

I’m renaming this blog with this idea in mind, that we’re not only enjoying the surface—as this blog has been previously been called—but we’re also seeking, and seeing, His glory rise. It is a call to not only hear God’s words but to live them out them also (James 1:22).

It is a call to pause and reflect on the way you have seen God’s glory at work.  Where did He reveal Himself to be bigger than us today?  Where is He calling you to rely on Him more fully?  And to what is He calling you that requires a more radical measure of relinquishing your perceived control over your piece of the world?

For me, in this present moment, these questions once again involve places of security—places of home and of vocation—for my family.  We’re moving again with another job transition.  This mirror of my soul reflects back my own insecurity, anxiety and fears.  It requires me to confront my own lack of control, as well as desire to control things.  But I’m grateful for the countless believers before me who have gone through situations far worse than this.

So, wherever you are on life’s journey, would each of us take up this call to see God’s glory rise, and to honor Him in your response.

I’m glad to be on this road with you.

The Third Half

stormy-sea-waveLove does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  And now abide faith, hope love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  (I Corinthians 13: 6-7, 13)

When I was a child, my family went to Mexico.  Puerto Vallarta.  Tropical breezes and sand.  Pacific waves and warm sun.  I went swimming in the ocean, careful of the larger than normal waves from a tropical storm some many miles offshore.  Truth be told, the waves were colossal.  And as a first-grader, this meant they were even bigger.  I went into the water and soon ended under it.  Head over heels, not knowing which way was up.  I caught myself on the sandy bottom, quick to pop my head up for a quick breath and only to be bowled over by the next wall of water….

I eventually got out of that water, but it took some time.  As I’ve thought over my past couple of months, I keep coming back to that trip to Mexico.  Life recently has been a topsy-turvy mess.  Soon after flying home from Kenya for a conference I spoke at in April, I found myself rushing my father-in-law to the hospital for what we thought was a heart attack.  Instead, it was cancer.  And right after that, a friend lost her daughter tragically.

Fear.  Pain.  Anxiety.  Grief.  Shock.  Malaise.  Sadness.  I’ve lived in all of these feelings during these past several weeks.  In my own life, I’ve had my shares of ups and downs in my life, but nothing like this.  I’ve not been impacted by the realities of brokenness as deeply as this before.  So, it’s lead to a bit of writer’s block.  A bit of questioning.  A bit of “Lord, what in the world is going on?”.

Counterreformer Ignatius of Loyola called believers to a view of life that would find God in all things, to see where He is working.  These months have required working deeply for this in this place of darkness.  Where is God working?  How can he be in the midst of all the pain, fear, anxiety and grief?

Some years ago in college, I was part of a choral group that put on a yearly show called The Third Half.  This third performance of the year was started many years previous because students wanted an official opportunity to perform musical pieces they themselves had chosen.   This “third half” is much like Paul’s words above about love.

Love, anchored beside her sisters of hope and faith, is that third component of the stuff of Christian living that will remain in the end, and it is the most important.  Love will be the principle that anchors me in the weeks ahead, of processing the shock of tragedy, and of chemotherapy appointments.  Rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, love is what can provide me with the ability to be patient and kind, when I don’t want to be—and can’t.  Singer-songwriter, and part-time theologian, Rich Mullins sings about letting “love be the strength in your legs” because only then in “every footprint, will there be a drop of grace”.

I still don’t have all the answers on some of the events of these past few months.  Nor do I expect that I will any time soon, if ever.  But what I do know is that in the midst of the swirling tide of the ocean of my life, I am only, and have only, been sustained by a love that is much deeper than I recognize, more close than I can sense, and more ready to care than I can imagine.

Thanks be to God.

Free from Worry

If you’ve followed Enjoying the Surface for any amount of time, you’ve read enough of the posts here to see that there are strong themes on worry, anxiety, fear and the like.  These are struggles familiar to me, as well as those that I find are familiar to my fellow man.  To be human requires struggling with issues of control, or the lack of it, and that is sure to bring upon a healthy dose of worry.  To be human also requires recognizing that our worries can only be met in Jesus as we abide in Him (John 15).

Leave it to Pastor Jon at Restoration Church to pack a 1-2 punch on worry from this Sunday’s sermon, where He urges us to push into Jesus as worries come our way.

Good Odds Going On?

citycouncilIt’s warm today.  And dry.  In February.  And the next week of weather forecast appears to bring more of the same.  So it came as no big surprise—a little, for sure—to find seagulls flying overhead this morning, even though I live about an hour from the Pacific Ocean.

Yes, friends, the drought that has hit me and my southern California neighbors is taking its toll.  For once, we’re thinking of ways to not use as much water as we usually do.  Do we mellow if it’s yellow (yes, I said it)?  Perhaps not wash down our driveways everyday?  A whole new sense of responsibility is hitting us (do sense my sarcasm here).

Seriously, though, the oddness of the weather is just one factor in my own life of the oddities of life.  And as I look at these places within me, I notice that there is a strong drive to make things easy.  To make them right.  To make them…controllable.  The activities of my life must have some aspect of control, lest I get jumpy, anxious, grumpy, out of sorts.

You’ll remember in the movie Horton Hears a Who that Mr. Mayor’s city council was quite determined to the same thing.  When the mayor announced that he had noticed tremors, clouds swirling in the sky, and that sort of thing—“odd goings on”—the council was determined to make sure that they were indeed good odd goings on, all for the sake of maintaining a face of calm and control even when the evidences showed otherwise.

So, whether seagulls fly over your Omaha skies or clouds swirling in the skies show up outside your window, may each of us be willing not to hide ourselves from the truth that is at the end of our noses.

The Polar Vortex

Few of us made it through this past week without hearing of the “polar vortex” that brought a drop in thermometers to the northern part of the United States and Canada.  For some, it froze soap bubbles.  Others reported never seeing their town in such a blanket of white before.  Still, others were glad that school wasn’t cancelled, a testimony to the hardy stock of their neighbors. 

What impressed me the most with this year’s first big icy storm were some Niagara Falls photos, where our mild winters of recent years haven’t allowed something so stark and frozen for a long time.  And the photos of a white wonderland where the Falls appear nearly frozen are a reminder of our journey of faith, where rarely does the Christian walk go in a linear fashion.  Instead, like the polar vortices of the soul, the process of following Jesus requires a continual submitting to the unknown and uncontrolled.

As we journey forward in 2014 with hopes renewed—maybe this year I will lose those extra pounds, or go on this trip, or have that conversation with that certain someone…you know where you fit—may we remember that our journeys at times look like the Falls this past week.  Having visited there in a balmy August some years back, I never would have imagined the area to look as desolate—and scary—as it did this past week.  But it is still the same Niagara Falls.  The same place where people have descended in a bucket, the same place where tightrope walker Nik Wallenda recently crossed on a highwire like many others before him, the same place where our jaws drop to the floor in awe.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).  Like the frozen falls of this past week, may we remember that the hiccups of life that come our way and cause us to question what is going on are not places for doubt.  Instead, they are places for faith.  It’s this faith that C.S. Lewis described as “the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted in spite of your changing moods.”  Neither mood nor Polar Vortex can change who Jesus is, and that is a great outlook at the beginning of any year.

Wishbones, Wisdom and Words on the Thanksgiving Holiday


woodstock-thanksgiving-pumpkins-pilgrimN.B: It’s not often that I have written about my passion for food, but in “chewing” on this amazing holiday and in recently studying Proverbs 9, I could not resist such a mouth-watering post (ok, I’ll stop).

Over the last few days, it’s has begun.

Turkeys have begun their yearly thaw.  Brined.  Prepped for the big oven.  The fryer.  The Weber grill.  You name it, it’s happening. 

Yellowed copies of recipes from yesteryear for Aunt Sue’s stuffing, Grandma Margarett’s cranberry relish, and Mama Jennifer’s apple pie have made their annual trek from the file to the kitchen counter, preparing those in possession of them to cook. 

Countless ingredients have been purchased, pantry items restocked, all shouting… 

It’s here. 

Yes, that’s right.  The time when all of America dons on the apron and becomes a master chef.  Thanksgiving is that time of year when our inner gourmet, whether galloping or frugal, awakens and we prepare a rich feast for a holiday that echoes the proverbial call of Solomon, where Lady Wisdom personified calls:

Confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
   Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines
(Proverbs 9:4-6).

This is no Taco Bell holiday.

This is a holiday that rings of rich preparation.  Of rich understanding.  And as we sup tomorrow on turkeys—brined, fried or smoked—and mashed potatoes—with blue cheese, cheddar cheese or no cheese, Wisdom still calls:  

Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.

This wisdom, that is more precious than rubies, better than the finest gold, is available to all who seek.  As we celebrate the Thanksgiving feast this weekend, may each of us remember the wisdom with which God so limitlessly gives to those who ask of it.     

Happy Thanksgiving!