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American town reports another day of harmony and peace.

There’s a headline you won’t see anytime soon, right?

And why is that?

Because it doesn’t sell. Turmoil, unrest, conflict – that sells. Citizens happily living together? Not so much.

The pockets of violence, of racial unrest, of social-fabric-tearing protest, are really pretty limited in the overall landscape of life. But you’d never know that from watching the news.

Most of us just go about our business, showing kindness and respect to our neighbors, regardless of creed, color, or socioeconomic background. That doesn’t sell newspapers. But it does speak very well of much of our society.

Here was our day yesterday:

– My wife prefers to buy meat at a smaller supermarket in town. People of all sorts of backgrounds and races shop there (Franklin has a significant number of Hispanic and African-American residents). She remarked again yesterday how people greet each other by name, and chat, and really enjoy the shopping experience together.

– While we were at the community pool, an adorable little African-American boy, teeth chattering from the still-chilly water, pulled himself up on the side of the pool and just starting talking to us. Like it was perfectly normal. Which it is.

– My wife and I visited Arrington Vineyards for a wine tasting that evening and we were blown away by the sight of hundreds of people peacefully and happily picnicing on the lawn, listening to jazz and enjoying some wine by sunset. All races and ages; no tension or discomfort.

ArringtonV

I’m not naive; I know we still have a long ways to go in this country with our various divisions. From time immemorial there have been tribal, racial, religious, and regional tensions leading to oppression and wars – on every continent, and in every age. But all across this land there are people living in freedom and harmony and mutual respect. I see it (and practice it) in my business. I see it in our schools and neighborhoods and churches.

I see color. And I see color-blindness. Lots of it.

Community picnics don’t make headlines. But they do make a wonderful portrait of the melting pot – imperfect, but moving forward – that is America. Millions of us – every day – get along just fine, thank you very much.

There are people with a vested interest in portraying the United States as some uniquely horrible place where hate-filled people are continually putting the screws to every sub-group ever identified. And we have our ugly corners; no doubt. But every so often, we need to turn our attention away from the conflict, and enjoy the beauty that flourishes in this land founded on principles of freedom, opportunity, and equality.

We are a blessed people.

—–

P.S. Ugly, negative, and racist comments will not be approved to appear on this post. Because that’s precisely the point.

First of all, there IS no “secret” to a long and happy marriage. What I’m gong to tell you here is no secret at all.

Compatibility is hugely important. But it’s not enough.

Communication is absolutely critical. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to an enduring marriage.

Caring is crucial. People flourish when cared for – but that’s not the whole story.

Put aside the Hallmark cards with all the gushy romantic sentiments (I’m not against romance, by the way). When undesirable items are hitting the fan, here’s what it comes down to:

Commitment.

  • Loyalty when the grass looks greener elsewhere.
  • Staying put when illness (mental or physical) creates ongoing distress.
  • Self-sacrificing endurance when covenant promises override convenience.

Like all long-married couples, my wife and I have had plenty of challenges. Two imperfect and broken human beings navigating through life will always have rough waters to get through.

But with all of our flaws, we’re commited. And because of all of our flaws, we need to be commited.

Commitment fuels self-giving love, it drives (even uncomfortable) communication, it provides a firm foundation when everything around – including feelings – is being shaken.

My wife knows what a mess I am. She sees my high-maintenance insecurities; she knows my quirks and short-circuits and uptight-ness and imbalances. And, like her mother before her (and my mother before me), she sticks by her man. Not with starry-eyed reality-denial. But with loving, loyal commitment.

A man can tackle just about anything if he knows his wife is WITH him for the long haul.

(And does it ever help to have a sense of humor!…that was the first thing that attracted us to each other, actually. A shared, warped sense of humor. Which has helped keep us sane throughout).

So, a word of advice to my sons. There are millions of pretty and charming women out there, gals who can turn your head and make your heart beat faster. But when it comes to a marriage partner, look for a family and personal track record of commitment. Loyalty lasts long after beauty fades.

That’s one not-very-secret secret to a long and happy marriage.

SandyW_34y

(of course, sometimes beauty doesn’t fade at all!!!)

Three weeks ago, as I got off an airplane in Newark NJ, I unexpectedly suffered a minor stroke. I recovered quickly but there were definitely some lessons learned – not only for me, but for all of us (here’s the story: A Scary Moment in Terminal A).

However, there was another lesson learned which I’d like to share on this personal blog. And it has to do with what God showed me about Himself through the kind ministrations of one very special nurse.

The first two days (Tues. and Wed.) in Morristown Medical Center were somewhat confusing, as the initial testing was inconclusive about the occurence of a stroke (had to wait for an MRI that kept getting delayed), plus there was some instability about my room situation. The care was certainly professional; but I was feeling anxious because I wasn’t getting answers – about the diagnosis, about the pending MRI, and about whether I’d be able to leave on my scheduled flight at the end of the week.

Enter Nurse T____________ (I won’t use her name, because I’d like to think that this story actually describes the care and concern of thousands of nurses who aren’t individually praised in any blog post).

Nurse T____________ came to my bedside Thursday morning and listened to me. But she did far more than that….she took immediate, personal action.

– She pushed to make the MRI happen immediately – and it did.

– She pro-actively interacted with (chased down!) the doctors to start getting some answers.

– She heard my concern about the possibility that my release might not correspond to my son’s work schedule, and said, “Well, I live around there, and if he can’t drive you, I will!”

– She noted that I’d had a headache from lack of coffee that morning and said she’d take care of that the next morning. And sure enough, as soon as her shift started that next day, she delivered me a cup of Starbucks that she bought just for me.

– She kept me informed about the entire process, but also kept her twinkling-but-sharp eye on my activities since I am probably not THE most compliant patient around. It was actually comforting that eagle-eyed Nurse T____________ wasn’t going to let me get away with anything…

In other words, she became my advocate – and not only me, of course, but all of her patients on the floor. But – she very much took a personal and pro-active interest in my well-being and exuded warmth and supportiveness along with professional competence.

The effect this had on me? I finally relaxed. I was in good hands. The right person was on my side, helping navigate the bewildering world of the hospital setting. I didn’t need to feel like it was up to me, in the midst of my confusion and ignorance, to make everything happen.

This care became an unexpected source of joyous mediation for me, as I realized that I was catching a glimpse of the heart of God. Here are some of the texts I sent to my wife during this time:

Nurse1

Nurse2

Nurse3

Nurse4

Nurse5So, for all of you nurses out there – including Nurse T____________ – a profound thank you from your patients who value what you do, on the floor and from the heart. And if you are a servant of Christ serving in a hospital setting, you may never know how God may reveal Himself through you. The stroke, I’d just as soon not repeat. But the rich vein of love and truth that has warmed my heart as a result – I’ll treasure that forever.

Welcome!

What is God’s disposition RIGHT NOW, to you who are reading this, whether you are a Christian or not?

Oddly enough, we can find the answer by looking back 2,000 years or so ago.

Welcome! welcome

I confess that it is taking me many years to get this through my thick skull.

Like Adam and Eve, my sense of uncleanness and distance from God make me want to go hide in the bushes.

A messed-up man like me, welcome in God’s presence?

Yes. When Christ died on the cross, a mighty symbol was demonstrated to the world, in the tearing apart of the veil in Jerusalem’s temple.

As Charles Spurgeon writes in his classic Morning and Evening (April 19):

When Jesus died, the sacrifices were all finished, because all fulfilled in him…the atoning blood which was once every year sprinkled within the veil, was now offered once for all by the great High Priest, and therefore the place of the symbolical rite was broken up. No blood of bullocks or of lambs is needed now, for Jesus has entered within the veil with his own blood. Hence access to God is now permitted, and is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus.

Access to God is now wide open. Any may come, at any time, as they are, resting solely on the sacrificial Lamb who removed every barrier of uncleanness and hostility and distance.

Even MY innumerable sins don’t disqualify me. An ocean of love is sufficient to bathe in.

We can run and try to hide, because our darkened hearts believe that God’s heart is darkened as well. But it is not. Otherwise He would not have come to seek and save those who are lost.

Even the most defiled prodigal sons and daughters are welcomed home. With open hands and an open heart.

Image credit: aopsan via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have to confess that, by nature, I am more of a transactional than touchy-feely-relational guy.

Not uncommon for those of my gender (for a good laugh, see this video, which “nails” it ;>)

What I often find, however, is that I end up with a transactional view of God. The gospel can become a series of transactions.

Repent and believe, and you will be saved (transaction).

Become a believer and you’ll get a ticket to heaven (transaction).

Pray and God will answer (transaction).

Now, in fact, the Bible is full of these statements, but we’re not meant to view God and ourselves as some kind business entities. God isn’t merely doing things, offering things, and telling us to do things. He is not a dispensing machine.

We’re in a very personal relationship with Him. He shares life and light and renewal with us, and all of that is wrapped up in Jesus Himself. We are wrapped up in Jesus Himself.

He has condescended, and continues to condescend every day, to enter our world. To dwell in our hearts.

The great “transaction” of the gospel is that we exchange all of our filthy sins, our accumulated guilt, our powerless works, for….a Savior. Not just for salvation. We turn from self to Jesus Himself.

God hasn’t just saved us. He has Jesus’d us. He daily Jesuses us. If we are His son or daughter, He is Jesusing us right now.

We don’t need mere transactions, even from an all-powerful and benevolent God. All manmade religion is formed of the fabric of transactions. Christianity is Jesus as noun, Jesus as verb, Jesus as all – above all, and in all.

O Lord – Jesus me today.

I’ve been spending time in recent mornings poring over the apostle Paul’s remarkable letter to the Galatians – specifically, meditating on the theme of sonship.

The thread of the idea of sonship runs throughout the New Testament – maybe it’s not one of the most prominent themes by volume of word usage, but I can’t help concluding that it is, in fact, a dominant theme of the entire gospel.

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came to redeem and re-create fallen people, and make them God’s sons (and daughters).

So why has this amazing truth been so hard for me to digest over the years? I mean, really digest on the level of emotions. Having and enjoying a conscious relationship of sonship with my God.

Why would I hold back from a loving Father? What’s with the nagging, overarching feelings of dread and doubt that have seemed to swirl in my heart despite such clear teaching? If I’m a beloved son, why don’t I feel like a beloved son?

I see others who so easily take in these bright beams of gospel light and rest, at peace, knowing that God’s smile is not faded, fickle, or dependent on today’s state of mind. I always been jealous of such brothers and sisters.

After all, are my children any less my children, any less loved, on any given day? Is not our father-son relationship something of enduring permanence, simply because…it just is?

The fact is, I think we all tend to worship a God partially carved in our own image, and much of the Christian life is spent unlearning this idolotry, and replacing these defective God-pictures in our hearts with truth. Some think God is unrelentingly harsh and live in cringing fear. Some feel that He is so full of gushy-love that holiness is way at the back of the bus. Maybe our internal “wiring” and past experiences have much more to do with our view of God than the Bible does.

I’m a systems-thinker. I am compelled to figure out how things proceed from one thing to another, how things fit together – I ask questions and poke and prod and try to understand inter-relationships. Undoubtedly, this is why I gravitated, early on in my Christian experience, to theological studies. Figuring out God’s truth, His plan, His…(here’s where the trouble begins)…system.

God and truth as system.

Systems have outlines and connections and flow charts. Systems have right and wrong. Systems don’t have…heart. Systems don’t have children. Systems don’t dive into the messiness of live and embrace returning prodigals.

No wonder it’s been taking me so long to absorb sonship. I’ve preached sermons on it. I’ve known the theology of it. I “get” how sonship fits into the redemptive purpose (system).

But what I really need is to learn to be a son.

I love springs.

You’re going along, hiking in the woods, and all of a sudden you see water seeping – or flowing – out of the ground. It’s fascinating – how does that happen?

In simplest terms, when a (perched) underground water table meets the surface of the ground (almost always there’s a slope involved – see image below), the water has no choice but to flow out. Spring water then flows downslope until it joins with a valley stream.

spring water table

When the water table is pure, springs are a wonderful place to drink – especially during a long walk. If you’re not thirsty, a spring is a nice curiosity; but when you’re parched, it’s a huge bounty.

As long as the water table is recharged via regular rainfall, the spring won’t run out – it just keeps flowing. You can stick a cup under there, you can put a barrel in, you can sit and bathe in the discharge basin, you can drink all day long – you’re not going to empty it out. It just keeps flowing.

This is why God’s grace is compared to a fountain. No matter how desperate your need, no matter how unclean your sinfulness – the spring of God’s cleansing mercy is ever-flowing, ever-fresh, always available. You cannot exhaust the resources of the God of the universe.

spring water

Your thirst – your need – is finite, even though great. God’s grace is infinite.

Let us drink deeply today. And tomorrow.

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