I am not ashamed

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

clothesline [klohz-lahyn] noun 1. a strong, narrow rope, cord, wire, etc., usually
stretched between two poles on which clean laundry is hung to dry. 2. A way to cut
your power bill AND your waistline in half. (“in half” may be exaggerating a bit…)

IMG_0967

Other than hitting a lick or two at writing a book, it was quiet here at the “Lizard Lounge” this past summer. (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, as it quite possibly means I haven’t done diddly squat around here—except for the laundry. (Those are my clothes in the picture above.) All is not lost, though—the most mundane activities can often inspire a blog post.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

I have a clothesline—and use it regularly instead of the clothes dryer. (I also wash dishes by hand and don’t use a dishwasher—on purpose.) So there.

Oh, I hear you thinking, What are you, some kind of hippy, tree-hugging, off-the-grid, antiestablishment, pinko commie liberal prepper? If God had intended us to NOT use the clothes dryer He wouldn’t have created Bounce fabric softener sheets. And don’t get me started on the dishwasher thing…

(Hey, now—that’s uncalled for.) Hear me out. Consider this:

  • Clothes dryers use a la-hot of electricity.
  • Hanging out the laundry burns calories. (not pointing fingers or anything, but…)
  • You can’t beat that fresh (and free) great-outdoors smell.

So there are more reasons TO use a clothesline than to NOT use one. Especially for me.

And now for the rest of the story…

Band of Brothers

bob

Random guitar riffs, bass runs, and drum licks echo throughout the large room in a cacophony of band noise. Occasionally John will kick off a pattern on the drums, Luke will pick it up on his bass, and they’ll run with it for a few bars, but for the most part it’s all random bits left-over from everyone’s former band days, none of it in the same key or rhythm. (Since I’m the odd man out as far as having no former band days, I’ll occasionally throw a little Beethoven piano sonata into the mix, just to add to the joyful noise.)

Six of us—Kenny, Kurtis, Mark, Luke, John (all we need is a Matthew) and I, the “Band of Brothers”—rehearse every Tuesday night in the same room where we’ll be leading in worship the following night for the Wingman men’s Bible study. Once sound levels are finally set and everyone settles down to practice, we do the most important thing we can do to ensure a good rehearsal…

“Let’s pray it up.”

And now for the rest of the story…

Fuego

fuego

The flames leapt hundreds of feet in the air, an enormous fiery tongue licking the sky as it darted from the peak of the volcano Fuego—“fire” in English; a tongue dead set on devouring and dispelling the darkness of the Guatemalan night. Beauty and destruction shared the stage as great, glowing jewels of lava streamed down the slopes of the cone-shaped behemoth, molten necklaces forged in the heart of the earth, destroying any- and everything in their path.

Barely a day earlier, our team of tourist missionaries had put the finishing touches on 14 homes built for the same number of families in the small village of Trinidad, a village lying squarely in the shadow of that fire-spewing giant. But not to worry—no villagers or their new homes were harmed in the making of that dazzling display of geological pyrotechnics. In fact, the Guatemalan locals no doubt had a “What—that again?” attitude about the whole event. Our vans and trucks filled with mission-trippers, though? Just the opposite. Any sense of personal space was all but abandoned as everyone piled to one side of the vehicle, noses vying for a spot to press against the windows, transfixed by the nighttime spectacular we were allowed to witness as we made our way back to the mission house after distributing food, clothing, and the love of Jesus to 300 families.

It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And now for the rest of the story…

The Web

The Web

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… 1 Peter 5:8

As spider webs go, it was spectacular – elegant in its construction and beautiful in its symmetry. The silk formed a perfect, dizzyingly tight spiral radiating out from the center, each concentric circle intersecting the spun spokes anchoring the impressive construction to the exterior frame of the rather large window. It was truly a marvel of engineering.

The weaver, herself a marvel, was nowhere in sight, tucked away in the shadow at the corner of the window frame, waiting patiently for just the right vibration on a gossamer strand of the lethal lattice.

Interestingly – and key to its deceptively benign function – the web all but disappeared in the afternoon sunlight, leaving nothing but the reflection behind it of the trees and shrubs surrounding the house in the window glass. If one were not paying attention, one could easily dive headlong into the viscid clutches of the fine-spun thread…

The dragonfly darted through the trees, performing aerial maneuvers sure to shame the most accomplished pilot, as much a virtuoso of flight as the weaver was at creating a web. It lit, seemingly weightless, on the tip of a tussock grass plume, lacey wings spread wide, its prismatic body shimmering against the bluish-green stalk. After a moment’s rest, it took flight again, continuing its tour of the yard.

It eventually veered in the direction of the house, straight toward the window, stopping a few inches from the glass. It hovered there for a few seconds, its beating wings a blur as it hung in mid-air. Maybe it saw the alluring reflection of, as yet, more unexplored trees; maybe it saw a reflection of itself and decided to investigate the intruder. Whatever the reason, it suddenly awakened from its suspended reverie, made an imperceptible adjustment to the bearing of its wings, and dove toward the window.

And now for the rest of the story…

A Mighty Fortress is my Garden

Fort veg

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” a piece about gardening and God. I hope it grows on you… Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Something you should know: I love fruits and vegetables. You can open my refrigerator or poke through the fruit bowl on my kitchen counter any time of the day or night and find peppers, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, melon, or sweet potatoes. (But please don’t come poking through my house at night, especially if I don’t know you’re there; that’d just freak me out. If you absolutely feel as though you must, however, would you mop before you leave? I’ve been a little busy.)

A while back, my church decided to spend time in prayer and fasting, and the Daniel Fast, where you only eat fruits, vegetables, and grains for 21 days, was presented as an option. Eating fruits, vegetables, and grains only? I don’t call that a fast; I call that last night’s dinner…

And now for the rest of the story…

Strength Training

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Although I’m pretty protective about giving out my main email address, it seems that somehow the purveyors of substances promising to make me buff or tuff or virile enuff have managed to get ahold of it. Unsolicited messages fill my Spam folder; messages trying to sell me something that’ll boost my testosterone or flatten my abs or make me Semper Paratus (Always Ready) just like the U.S. Coast Guard. Should I ever want to short-cut my journey from zero to hero, somebody out there will gladly sell me a shot or a pill that’ll do it.

Although I’m not into any of that (I ab what I ab), judging from the onslaught on my email Inbox, there are apparently enough desperate folks out there who are to make those grammar-poor messages worth the trouble.  (Sorry – had to get that dig in. I loved this subject line on one of them: “Be the man you’re lady has always wanting.”)

The desire to be all that and a bag of chips is nothing new, though. We can trace our aspirations for superiority back to our first ancestors in the Garden if Eden. (And they’re both equally at fault. Eve may have taken the first bite, but it’s not like she had to wrestle Adam to the ground and cram that apple down his throat.)

Ever since then, we’ve been trying to get through life under our own strength, whether through ingesting something, paying somebody to listen to us, or by any number of methods of making our rabid libidos go pitty-pat – all the while ignoring the true source of strength.

Several times in Isaiah’s writing (40:29-31), he declares God as the supplier of strength:

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I love that verse, don’t you? I take great “strength” from it. (nyuk nyuk nyuk) Strength seems to be in short supply amongst my social set: work is hard, money is tight, and the car is making that funny noise again; kid number one has an event on one side of town while kid number two has to be on the other; the laundry is piling up and dinner is not going to cook itself.

But right here in Isaiah, God says He will give us strength, doesn’t He? Yay. I could stop right here and we would all get a warm fuzzy and hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah.” But I don’t think that’s the story the Lord wants me to tell, because I’m pretty sure that’s not the whole story of this verse.

Honestly, I struggled with writing about this verse, because it seemed too easy. I love the thought of soaring like an eagle and running without breathing hard, but is that all God is saying through Isaiah here? That He’ll give us the strength to get the clothes folded before we pass out?

I don’t think so – at least not to me.

Admittedly, I catch myself taking verses out of context and hearing what I want to hear. “OK,” you may say. “At least you’re getting it from the Bible, right?” Yea, but that doesn’t give me a pass to not ask the Lord for wisdom in order to get the full meaning of His words.

We love to quote uplifting “life verses.” We want to hear preachers preach about blessings and prosperity and “I know the plans I have for you.” And it’s wonderful to take comfort in God’s word – it is. Even here in the midst of Isaiah’s most dire predictions and warnings to the Israelites – warnings of being taken from their homes and hauled off to a strange land – God promised to send them a Savior. We want to bask in God’s love – and there’s plenty to bask in – but we don’t want to think about the price we may have to pay as the recipients of that love.

I can’t say that I’ve paid much of a price. I have it pretty easy. I have a good job and a sweet little house and a dependable car. I can go to the grocery store and not think twice about what I’m putting in my cart. I have a good reputation with friends and coworkers, those “saved by grace” and those “not so much”. I have a great church where I fellowship with folks who are like family and a big grand piano I get to play in our 2000+ seat, wifi-enabled, high definition camera-equipped sanctuary.

And none of that is threatened because of my faith in Christ; none of it is at risk because of the moral and spiritual stand I take.

But…

What if it were? What if Jesus doesn’t return soon and the declining moral and spiritual climate in our country finally hits bottom? What if those friends and coworkers stop being tolerant of my relationship with Jesus, writing me off as a religious nut because I don’t have a TV or refuse to go to movies because they espouse a world view that’s diametrically opposed to that taught in the Bible? What if I risk losing my job because of something I say here on this blog, or – maybe sooner than we think – take a chance at getting arrested by simply praying in a public restaurant before a meal? What then?

Will I proclaim God’s truth anyway and trust in Him to give me the strength to endure? Or will I just keep quiet and eat at home?

These changes in attitude are not just happening in the world at large. I have an evangelist friend – a Godly, truth-proclaiming man with a heart for those who are lost and in need – who says that he’s no longer invited to speak at some churches because the pastors there say he’s too straightforward. What are those church leaders afraid of? That their church members might finally hear the truth? That they’ll lose numbers or full offering plates or bragging rights?

Not to be an alarmist, but Paul warned us about this. In Romans 1, he said:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

(Created things like big houses, expensive cars, fame, entertainment, leisure…)

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil

(I just saw a headline for a review of a new video game that read “Raunchy new game is sweet.” The description of the game goes on to say: “There’s a cringe-inducing scenario set in an abortion clinic. And more.” Oh good – more; because poking fun at abortion isn’t entertaining enough.)

They disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Sound familiar? If we love the Lord totally – heart, soul, and mind – and serve Him with no reserve, this is what we’ll be up against. And if not, we might need to examine our heart, soul, and mind.

I sometimes think about the apostles – almost all losing their lives for the spread of the gospel. “But that was then – this is A-mur-i-cuh, land of the free, home of the brave.” OK. While I don’t know of anyone in this country who’s lost their life for their faith, I’m watching Christian-owned businesses in the headlines even as I write who may well lose their livelihood because of it.

Can the worst-case scenario be that far behind?

So where’s the application? Where’s the transparency I’ve always tried to maintain when I write? What’s happening in my life that’s causing me to need God-sized strength? Where is the growth moment?

There isn’t one – yet. But the Lord must have me writing about needing strength for some reason. For my first draft for this post I really did plan to end with a chorus of “Kum Ba Yah” (figuratively speaking). But again – not the story I was supposed to tell.

Maybe this is written for you – maybe it’s for all of us who truly call on the name of Jesus. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced to be incinerated because they refused to compromise their devotion to the Lord. Would you have done the same if you were in their situation? Would I?

I don’t know – but I have a feeling I’m going to find out what the need for God’s strength really feels like if Jesus’ return is delayed much longer. I haven’t had much strength training; but, then again, neither had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before they were tossed into the fire. Gives the phrase “trial by fire” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

So back to Isaiah 40:31… God definitely promised to give us strength; but strength to endure to the end after paying the price of true discipleship – not strength to do the laundry.

I’m not eager to have to pay too great a price but I want to be if that’s God’s calling for me. I’m not there yet – but, by the grace of God, I will be.

Will you?

Heavenly Father, I don’t know why you’ve called me to write this – I had much rather write about gnats or TV shows or iPads. But this is the message you laid on my heart, and you don’t owe me an explanation. If I’m the only one who reads this far, then I’m still certain your purpose for these words will be fulfilled.

I’m not ready for the trials – you know that. But I want to be ready. If your plan for me tomorrow is to walk through the fire, then my plan needs to be to get used to hot feet, because I am yours, bought at a price.

And if I haven’t thanked you sufficiently today for paying that price, then please forgive me – I owe you everything I am or have; which will never be enough, but it’s all yours.

Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.

Amen.