Thinking by the Lake

Nothing makes me as reflective as being near a freshwater lake. Watching the motion of the water. Listening to the gentle lapping of waves against the shore.

“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” William Wordsworth

sunlight on water

A lake has moods to match my own. The quiet stillness of an early morning as the sun rises on a mirror-like surface. Calm, relaxed, almost like it’s drawing strength to meet the day. Later, activities ruffle its surface, creating waves that make it interesting and fun.  Sometimes, a sunny windy day will whip it into whitecaps. Other times, those same whitecaps signal the angry, riled tension of a storm. And the beauty of the sun setting across a lake after a storm is unparalleled.

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” Henry David Thoreau

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” Wallace Stevens

Whether we take a walk around it or simply sit close by, a lake helps us put things into perspective.

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Father’s Day

Thirty-five years ago, I observed my first father-less Father’s Day. Just a few weeks earlier, on the day after I returned home from my junior year of college, my dad passed away. That morning, I’d heard him and my brothers talking as they ate breakfast before heading off to school and work. Regrettably, I decided not to get up and join them, preferring the luxury of sleeping in. That was my last chance to give Dad a hug, tell him I loved him and kiss him good-bye. And I missed it.

Dad was a pastor at a time when ministry was considered an all-consuming, 24-7 calling. A pastor who gave himself wholly to the Lord’s work could trust God to make up for whatever neglect his family suffered. I didn’t understand until years later how difficult that was for my mom, but Dad’s devotion to the Lord had a profound effect on each of us kids.

Shortly after I was born, Dad accepted a position as full-time camp director at Lutherdale Bible Camp in Elkhorn, WI. School holidays and vacations meant camp was in session, and since Dad had no full-time assistant for the first 12 years, our family vacations consisted of visiting grandparents whenever a trip could be squeezed in. Summers especially kept Dad busy. He’d be up to ring the wake-up bell at 7 a.m., come home for a short nap in the afternoon, and then stay up until midnight to make sure all campers were in their cabins and asleep. We’d rarely see him at home during the summer, but I knew if I needed him, all I had to do was look in his camp office or somewhere on the grounds.

I never felt neglected because I knew without any doubt he’d be there if I needed him. He drove me to the hospital late one night when my appendix ruptured, staying through the emergency surgery until I was awake and back in my room. He was in the audience for my first band concert when everyone else in the family had other commitments.

Still, in many ways, Dad was a stranger to me until the summer I worked in the camp kitchen. There, in his work environment, I learned to know my dad. I saw his compassion for people who were hurting, his patience with those who sometimes appeared incompetent, his willingness to help anyone who needed a break. When the water pump broke one summer, I saw him carry pails of water from the lake to keep the toilets running, and I wondered that the camp director was willing to perform such a menial task.

Many times, the staff taught me who Dad was. One counselor, engaged to be married, told me how she went to him for advice on building a successful marriage. When she asked how to keep her husband interested in her year after year, he told her she’d need to ask my mom. Another staff member confessed to me how several of the counselors, wanting to work out some differences, had gone off campus late one night–a serious breach of rules. When Dad learned of it, he asked for verification. Embarrassed by the intentional disobedience, the counselor admitted it was true.

“I trust everything got worked out?” Dad asked.

“It did.”

“Good.” That was all Dad said about the matter, but the counselor never again broke the rules, never again wanted to betray Dad’s trust and feel his disappointment.

I was 21 when Dad died, still just a kid in many ways. I’ve missed knowing him as an adult. Missed his wisdom, his love, his humor. Now and then, at the supper table on a winter night, he’d tell us of an event he or someone he knew had experienced. Not until he spoke the punchline did we realize it was a joke. I suppose my family’s penchant for puns and jokes is a legacy from Dad.

My dad gave nearly 20 years of his life to the camp, but in the end, a rift in the governing board forced him out of his job. I never heard him express any anger or bitterness over the unjust end to his career. Never a word against any of those who forced him out. To this day, we don’t know all the factors that led to his dismissal. He never spoke of it, desiring above all that the camp continue in its ministry of teaching kids and adults of the love of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

A year and a half after leaving the camp, he was gone. Following his funeral, a woman who knew him from many years of attending family camp whispered in my ear, “Your dad didn’t die of a heart attack. He died of a broken heart.” I suspect she was right. But his heart was healed the moment he stepped into eternity. And ever since then, he’s been celebrating Father’s Day with his Heavenly Father.

Dad, if you can see this, thanks for your tender and unfailing love. Thanks for setting an example of integrity for us kids and for all who knew you. Thanks for modeling devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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The Cost of Freedom

In the last decade since September 11th, we’ve waged war in two different countries. Our nation has lost many of its young men and women to death, not to mention the cost in physical and mental health terms. When my son joined the Marines, it irked me to hear people say they’d never let their sons serve in the military. It implied I loved my son less because I allowed him to put himself in harm’s way. It told me they were willing to enjoy the benefits of freedom without assuming any of the cost. Now I understand how easily that happens.

The 29th chapter of Exodus details the sacrifices required of Israel. Verses 38-43 describe the required daily sacrifice of one lamb in the morning and one in the evening every day as a continual burnt offering throughout the generations. That’s an astounding number of animals! Over 600 lambs every year, not counting the feasts and other special occasions that required additional sacrifices. Imagine the cost of providing 600 lambs every year. Israel, an agrarian society, would have understand the enormous cost associated with God‘s continual provision and protection, the cost of God’s forgiveness.

It’s easy for us to cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Because we are no longer required to offer blood sacrifices morning and evening, we often take his death for granted. Dropping money in the offering plate doesn’t require us to listen to the cries of innocent lambs led to the slaughter, to see their blood draining from the altar and experience its sickly sweet odor. We’re removed from the sacrifice; it costs us nothing emotionally.

But it cost Jesus everything. My forgiveness, my freedom from sin’s clutches cost Jesus his life in an ugly, brutal way. I need to remember that, meditate on it, bring it to mind when I’m tempted to sin. I need to remember the cost of freedom–taken from me and applied to Him.

Thank you Lord!

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Seeking God’s Face

One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus calls Peter out of the boat and Peter walks on the water (Matthew 14: 23-36). They’ve just finished feeding the 5,000 and Jesus sends the disciples out in the boat while he stays behind to pray.

The disciples start out across the Sea of Galilee, apparently expecting to meet up with Jesus on the other side. But a wind kicks up. A strong wind, strong enough to keep them making any headway. They keep pushing against the wind long into the night.

Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, they look up to see a figure coming towards them, walking on top of the water. This would’ve been a sight even in daylight. But it’s dark, and they’re likely fatigued from serving the crowd and then battling the wind and waves. What else would a normal person think if they saw someone walking on the water?

“It’s a ghost!”

Jesus’ voice speaks to them out of the darkness, telling them not be afraid. Still, there must have been some doubt in their minds. They’d seen Jesus perform miracles but to walk on top of a choppy lake against a battering wind?

Peter puts him to the test. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (I like that. It’s not a simple invitation but a command.) Jesus gives the command and Peter steps out of the boat.

Until now, Peter’s gaze has focused on Jesus, trying to ascertain whether this apparition is truly the rabbi he’s left everything to follow. But now as Peter walks toward Jesus, the waves slap at his legs. The wind knocks him off balance. Maybe it blows his hair into his eyes, making it difficult to see Jesus. He looks away from his Command-er and notices the weather-war going on around him. Peter begins to sink and cries out to the Lord to save him.

“And immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him…” In the Greek, to stretch out one’s hand means ‘to exercise power.’ And “took hold” means to rescue from danger. Very likely, Peter wasn’t just starting to sink, but rather was underwater, in danger of drowning.

Jesus says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I’ve always read this as a rebuke, a put-down. But I wonder if Jesus’ voice carried more pity and disappointment. Did his words convey the message, “You started well with the little trust you possessed. How could you doubt me?”

As soon as they got back into the boat, the other disciples worshiped him. They fell on their knees, face to the deck. Or maybe even prostrate. They worshiped because of the demonstration they’d witnessed of His power and authority over creation.

But when they finally reached the other side, a crowd quickly gathered. The people had heard of His miracles and His ability to heal all kinds of illness and disease. The Bible says “they sent into all the surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick, and they began to entreat Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.”

How many times do we seek God for what He can do for us, rather than for who He is? Is that the way we treat our friends, always asking favors but never just enjoying their company? We’d have few friends if we did. Yet that’s how we treat God, our Creator, our Savior, the Lover of our souls. To develop a friendship with God that gets us through the nights when the wind is against us, we must seek the Lord’s company without ulterior motives. Seek His face, not his hand. When we do, we’ll find His hand is always there to rescue us.

 

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Dealing with Rebellion

I’ve gained a new appreciation for Moses. Reading through the book of Numbers, he is faced with rebellion and discontent over and over and over. There’s no water. There’s no food. There’s no meat. There’s no water again. Didn’t they remember the Lord‘s provision from before? Even his own sister and brother criticized his choice of a wife.

“Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?” Miriam asked.  “Has He not spoken through us as well?” Sounds like a little jealousy going on. Big Sister remembers watching out for baby Moses among the reeds of the river. If it wasn’t for her, he might not even be alive today.

But God showed her who was boss. He caused her skin to become white with leprosy, and sentenced her to a time out. Seven days outside the camp. Seven days to think about her pride and envy, her challenge to God’s authority as displayed through Moses, not mention her little brother’s willingness to pray for her healing.

The next challenge to Moses’ personally is recorded in chapter 16. One of the Levites, a man named Korah, leads another rebellion, accusing Moses and Aaron of putting themselves above the people. “You have gone far enough,” he said, “for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly?”

Moses’ response sticks in my mind. “When Moses heard this, he fell on his face…” (Numbers 12:4)

My reaction would have been to wilt under the criticism or to argue back, defend myself, my motives and actions. But Moses fell on his face before God, assuming the submissive position of a servant before his Master. He saw the criticism for what it really was–a rebellion against God–and fell down in worship and repentance for a nation that couldn’t seem to grasp this concept of a holy, omnipotent and just God.

Oh, to have such an attitude! To be able to see sin for what it is rather than try to rationalize or explain it away. And then to fall on  my face, in total submission and repentance to the Lord of my life.

Dear God, Make me like Moses, unaffected by what people say of me, whether good or bad, but ever and always mindful of your holiness and authority. Amen.

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Fragrance or Stench?

Have you ever walked through your neighborhood on a summer’s evening and smelled the aroma of meat cooking on a grill? You might have lifted your nose and inhaled the mouthwatering scent. What about stepping into a bakery, or a grocery store when bread is coming out of the oven? One whiff and you’re certain supper will be so much more delicious if you have some of that fresh bread to go with it.

The offerings and sacrifices of the Old Testament probably smelled something like the neighborhood barbecue and the bakery. The burnt offering required the whole animal to be burned on the altar. Other sacrifices used only the fat and certain parts of the animal. A morning and evening sacrifice ensured that God would be pleased with the “soothing aroma.” Whenever someone brought a grain offering, some of the grain was thrown onto the fire. It may have smelled something like our bread and was considered a soothing aroma to please God.

Since Christ‘s death, we are no longer required to offer sacrifices. But imagine the smells that day when our Lord was nailed to the cross. Blood. Dust. Sweat. Fear. Hatred. Death. What a stench there must have been. The stench of sin. No wonder God turned away.

But now, we who believe in Jesus Christ are a sweet aroma.In The Message version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way to salvation–an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.”

Do you carry the exquisite fragrance of Jesus with you to work? While you’re sitting in traffic, do you give off a sweet scent or a stench to others?

When I worked at a hospital, one doctor was known for the fragrance he left behind. When he’d finished his rounds and was heading back to his office in another building, he’d often light his pipe. The fragrance of his vanilla-scented tobacco lingered in the halls after he’d passed through. It was not uncommon to see someone lift their nose in the air, inhale the sweet aroma and exhale with a smile.

What a fitting image of the way we should live as Christians, carrying the exquisite fragrance of Jesus so that anyone following us will also desire to inhale the sweet aroma of the Saviour.

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Amazing God

If you’ve never read the Bible through from cover to cover, I highly recommend it. Several schedules are available from different organizations that tell you what to read for each day of the year. Until recently, I haven’t used them because I wanted to be able to progress at my own pace. Some books I wanted to breeze right through while others prompted me to slow down, savor them, meditate on them. Either way, it’s an incredible journey to see God at work from beginning to end.

Funny thing about the Bible–we think nothing of popping in for a few lines here and there, wherever we choose. Do we treat other books like that? Never reading them all the way through but simply picking out portions that suit our mood or our problem? I can’t think of any. And yet, we treat the very words of God the same way we treat Wikipedia.

So this year, I decided to try the Bible-in-a-year schedule. Recently, I was wading through a part of Exodus that I normally tend to speed through. The directions for the tabernacle, the priests’ clothing, and the precise manner of performing sacrifices don’t hold much interest for me. The measurements are foreign, as are many of the materials, and aside from the historical value, I never saw much application to modern life.

God spelled out the precise measurements for each of the tabernacle walls, the tables, the altars, the lamp stands and basins. He specified the materials to use for the walls, the coverings, the poles, the altars and utensils. Every detail mattered. And fulfilling each direction was an act of obedience, an honoring of the God who would inhabit the tabernacle.

Contrast that with today, when God chooses to inhabit the bodies of believers. All different sizes and shapes. A few look to be in perfect form but most are afflicted with defects. All are in various stages of decay. I’m ashamed to admit that too often, I’m less concerned with obedience to God’s commands than obeying my own whims. Rather than offering up the best I have, I often give Him the leftovers and prefer to honoring the society around me than the holy God who gave me life in the first place.

What a contrast! The God who instructed such precision, detail and exquisiteness for his tabernacle now chooses to make my frail, fickle, decaying body his holy temple.

Amazing!

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Mother Was Right!

Remember that line your mom always said that you vowed never to repeat to your children?

“Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in the world who would love to have them.”

“Shut the door! We’re not cooling (or heating) the outdoors, y’know.”

“Don’t mumble. If you have something to say, speak up.”

“Are you going out looking like that?”

“Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.”

“Call me when you get there so I know you arrived safely.”

Okay, now raise your hand if you’ve ever heard the dreaded words coming out of your mouth. Anybody with me?

Turns out, Mom was right about most things. Funny how we usually can’t see that maternal wisdom until we join the club. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d love to find out what phrases your mom uttered that drove you crazy but have proven true. Leave a comment and tell me your mom’s words and how you discovered their truth.

As for me? I was a picky eater and wouldn’t touch anything I didn’t like. Mom always said, “Well, you can learn to like it.” She was right! I now like asparagus, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and I’m working on kale!

Your turn. What did your mom always tell you that proved to be true?

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Easter: A Fictional Perspective—Part 3

Lucius opened his eyes. How had he fallen asleep? The penalty for sleeping on duty was instant death. His breath left him as memory returned. It wasn’t sleep that claimed him. The earthquake, that…being–for there was no other way to describe it–whose appearance was brilliant as lightning, its clothing white as snow. It singlehandedly rolled the stone up the trough and away from the tomb’s entrance.

He jerked upright. His fellow soldiers around him were in varying stages of waking. Every one of them had trembled with fear at the sight, quaking harder than the earth’s tremors that accompanied the appearance. Even Tertius’ bravado failed him—his knees buckled and he hit the ground before anyone else. Seconds later, he himself had fallen in a dead faint.

He rose to his feet and moved to survey the tomb they were supposed to be guarding. The stone leaned against a rocky outcrop to the right of the tomb. He unsheathed his sword, his foot nudging Tertius as he approached the opening and cautiously peeked inside. No one was there, neither living nor dead. Had the rabbi‘s disciples truly stolen his body? He’d agreed with Tertius’ assessment from the day before—they were nothing more than a bunch of whipped curs with their tails between their legs.

Tertius stumbled toward him, rubbing his eyes as if he’d slept all night. “Who—or what was that we saw? Surely it was not of this earth.” He followed Lucius’ motion and peered into the tomb. “He’s gone! His followers are braver than they seem.”

Lucius shook his head. “Look again. The grave clothes, they’re all there. Why would anyone spend time unwrapping the linens before stealing a dead body? And look how neat it all is. Whoever did this was in no hurry.”

The centurion pushed his way into the tomb then hurried back out. “We must report this immediately. It may go better for us if we bring the news than if they hear it from someone else.” Lucius put his sword away and fell into step as the guard company made their way into the city to meet with the chief priests of the Jews.

Hours later, the officials still didn’t believe their account. The priests had listened to their report, called a meeting of elders and questioned each of the guards individually, likely hoping to find a discrepancy that would disprove their story. But they all knew what they’d seen, the fearsomeness of the event making them reluctant to speak of it. He recognized it in their eyes. Part of him hoped never to experience such a thing again while another part yearned for the odd hope it stirred in him. Had the rabbi conquered death, as was being spoken of among his followers? Impossible!

The centurion exited the meeting, a money bag hanging from his side. Heavy, by the looks of it. “These are your orders. Do not speak of this to anyone. If asked, you are to say you fell asleep and the rabbi’s followers stole his body while you were sleeping.”

Lucius and the others protested. “We’ll be killed for sleeping on duty.”

The centurion lifted his hands for silence. “They have promised to deal with our leaders if word gets back to them. Until then,” he hefted the money bag, “this should encourage your silence.”

Tertius’s eyes grew wide at the generous amount of silver placed in his hands. Lucius read the smile creasing his face and frowned. “Be careful, my friend. Wine has a way of loosening one’s tongue.”

Tertius laughed. “Who would believe it anyway? That eight Roman guards all fell asleep at once? That not a single one awoke at the noise of someone rolling away the stone and stealing a dead body? And if I say what really happened, they will surely believe the wine is playing tricks on my mind.” He held up a coin and looked at Lucius. “Join me tonight? Silver’s shine attracts some fine ladies.”

Lucius shook his head. “Are you not moved by what we saw? Something supernatural happened out there, not just this morning but over the past few days. Have you forgotten the three hours of unnatural darkness during the crucifixions, earthquakes, people who were dead being seen alive and walking around the city?” He looked for some sign of acknowledgment in his friend’s eyes. “Something happened when that rabbi died on the cross, something worth much more than a night of carousing, something life-changing.”

Tertius laughed. “Why should I want to change my life?” He juggled the coins in his hand so they made clinking sounds.

Lucius searched his eyes for a shred of comprehension. Finding none, he turned and strode away. He’d search for an answer to this mystery, and not stop until he found it. This rabbi called Yeshua held the key. He would find him. Whether alive or dead, Lucius determined to find a Way to discover the Truth that would lead to Life.

 

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Easter: A Fictional Perspective — Part 2

Lucius sank onto the stone bench. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, trying in vain to shut out the image of the three crosses. No, one cross in particular.

“Too much carousing last night?” Tertius gave him a playful punch in the arm, a sly smile spreading across his face.

Lucius looked at him through one half-opened eye and shook his head from side to side. “It’s not wine and women that make me tired.” He paused, considering whether or not to continue. No one else was around, and he trusted his friend. “I’m tired of being a soldier. Tired of killing Rome’s enemies. Tired of all the agony.”

Tertius’ face took on a sober look. “How bad was it today?”

“Two of them deserved it. But that third one. He was already half-dead when we lifted him up. He didn’t resist at all–didn’t fight us or even curse. I looked in his eyes. Not a scrap of hatred like in the other two. In fact, he looked like he pitied me. Imagine–Him pitying me!”

“How long did he last?”

Lucius rubbed his eyes, hoping Good Fridayto rid himself of the sight. “He was dead by the time we broke the others’ legs. I shoved my sword into his side to be sure.” He raised his hand in the air. “It’s odd. I’ve been dirty with men’s blood before, but when his touched my hand, in a strange way I felt clean.”

Tertius studied him through narrowed eyes, and growled, “How can that be?”

Lucius  looked at his palm, then turned his hand to look at the back. “I don’t know. I don’t understand it any better than you. But I know what I felt.” It wasn’t an outer cleanliness, like when he visited the gymnasium with its pools. No, it was inside.  Something that made him feel he need never be ashamed again.

The centurion arrived, interrupting their talk. “Lucius, Tertius, you will stand guard at the rabbi’s tomb. There is some talk that his followers will try to steal the body. Keep watch and make sure no one approaches the tomb.”

Tertius guffawed. “His followers? They all deserted him last night. Such cowards wouldn’t dare steal his body.” He tapped Lucius’s shoulder. “Come on. Guarding his tomb will be child’s play after crucifying him.”

Still mulling his experience, Lucius rose and followed without a word.

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