Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Step into the Garden

How does a young man keep his way right? By conducting his life according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

“Charlie” Beatty was a medium to small man. Wiry. Bronzed skin. His face handsome, serious and wrinkled. Steel-gray hair with streams of silver on each side of his head. He spoke deliberately, with precision.

When Charlie prayed, it was always on his knees. Sometimes stretched out, on his face. He never prayed silently. Always out loud, even when he was alone. If you were in earshot, you could hear him plainly.

As “Minister of Evangelism,” Charlie had an office in our church. A large, old, beautiful church that, a few years later, burned to the ground from an arsonist’s torch. I happened to walk by his office early one morning. I heard Charlie praying in his office, through closed door and frosted glass. I could hear him plainly. He was praying for me. No doubt, he knew I needed such prayer.

His memory holds a special, honored place in my heart.

I was twenty years old – a mere child. Yet Charlie sought me out when I was but a few days old in the faith. He invited me to meet with him regularly. I needed to be “discipled,” he said. So every Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m., we met – for never less than an hour, and often for as much as two.

During these times we talked of my life and experiences as a new Christian, mostly. He showed interest in me. He asked non-threatening, but penetrating questions. Non-threatening? Seems a foolish notion. Charlie didn’t have a threatening bone in his body. He made me feel like I actually mattered. A new experience for me.

And then, Charlie would have me memorize Scripture. Not randomly, but with design and purpose. Each Saturday morning, he would have me quote, with the Scripture references front and back, the verses I had learned that week. Then we would review the verses I had learned before. Every Saturday it went like this. Week after week, after week, for more than a year.

After we talked for about an hour, Charlie would get up from behind his desk, come around to the two chairs sitting in front of it, and get down on his knees. That was the signal for me to do the same. Charlie would pray first, most of the time. Then me. Together, we prayed maybe thirty, forty minutes.

Then we went to “The Park Pantry,” a local restaurant for breakfast; the Word of God, safely locked in my heart.

That was fifty-five years ago.

I look at where I have been in life since then. I look at my life now and I ask, what did those times with Charlie Beatty mean? How did they help mold and shape me into what I am now?

Honestly, I am not sure.

All I can tell you is, it’s still going on. Each day the word of God speaks to me. Each day I enjoy “coffee with God.” Sometimes I think I am less of a Christian, less of a disciple today than I was then. So much life has happened.

Charlie is a young man again now. He is like I was then, only infinitely wiser. He is in a place now where the disintegration of years have no effect. He is up there with Dawson Trotman, the man who started “The Navigators;” a man Charlie greatly admired. He is young, just beginning his life in eternity. I am old in earth years. My bones ache and I weigh too much. Still, I wonder if there are places in heaven where Charlie can get down on his knees and pray? If there is, I wonder if he still prays for me? Lord knows, I need it now as much, perhaps more than I needed it then.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Step into the Garden

You can go on and on about your beliefs, but if they have little or no influence on what you do in your life, they can hardly be called "beliefs." They are meaningless.


Are you talkin’ to me? Are you talkin’ to me?

Ever wonder why some sayings and phrases become cliché’s? Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. They always contain some element of hard-nosed truth, some bedrock, common-sense verity, and the way some deal with that truth, to keep from being blinded, or perhaps seared by the light of that truth, is to relegate it to the smallness of a cliché. That’s a good thing. Isn’t it? We can deal with what we think small and irrelevant.

The picture of Robert DeNiro looking into a mirror talking to himself and pointing a gun at his image is magnificently ridiculous. But that is how you and I look when we get arrogant with misguided and unfortunate notions, or even with the truth. Arrogance is a deceptive contagion.

Are you talkin’ to me?

For DiNiro’s character in Taxi Driver, this was no cliché. He used that gun to murder several people. The final scene, his head shaved except for a Mohawk strip careening over its nakedness, pistols discharging, women screaming, Travis Bickle sits down on a sofa and dies, a smile on his lips. He has embraced and is comforted in his own evil.

Are you talkin’ to me?

* * *

Emotional feelings follow in the train of our patterns of thinking. If we think about something long enough, intensely enough, our hearts will soon follow. And then, conversely, our reason is impacted and influenced by our feelings. It becomes a dark, vicious, category five psychological vortex. Psychological debris whirling through our minds. Reason and emotion bounce off one another, shaping and massaging one another, and in the process, shaping and massaging who we are, and what we become. Behavior is dramatically coerced. Annoyance engenders hatred and hatred becomes madness.

What I think and believe in my heart of hearts is going to come out. It is going to evidence itself in how I experience life. It is going to shape my world view. I cannot hide it from others, I can’t even hide it from myself, and I certainly can’t hide it from God -- who I am, what I believe, what I become. The mirror reveals all.

So what we believe, what we think about is ultimately going to be as evident as the color of our eyes, the gait of our walk, what we wear, or how we comb our hair. You can see it. You can see it for yourself. All you have to do is look in the mirror.

Are you talkin’ to me?

A voice somewhere in the epochal, almost undiscernible reaches of our soul returns an answer, “Yes,” it responds, “I am talking to you. Go ahead look at yourself in that mirror; see yourself for the absurdity that you are. What you are looking at, once you realize how ridiculous it is, becomes the gateway to your redemption. The path to wholeness lies beyond. Think about it. Let your emotions react to it. When your cheeks are wet, and the vortex subsides, lay down your pistol and come to the God whose feelings can be touched; moved – even for your absurdity.”

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Step into the Garden

So, array yourself with the full armor of God, so that when evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground no matter what comes.

Evil can be staggering.

You can call it “Satan,” if you like, or “the enemy,” or the “devil,” and thus personify it. It makes no difference; evil is still evil.

There are three sources of evil as I see it: Satan and his emissaries, then there is you. You can be evil. I don’t need to remind you of that . . . my apologies. Finally, and by no means least, there is me. I can be as evil as you. Sort of like choosing up sides and smelling armpits.

It is an interesting observation, perhaps even a compelling observation, that we all have the need to blame Satan, or others for evil deeds. It is painful to look inside ourselves, but that is where we find the greatest evil of all.

It is this third source of evil with which we have the most trouble.

The survival instinct – so called, may have a legitimate function, but it can also be, and often is, our worst enemy. It is impressive, the lengths to which we will go to give ourselves comfort. Our consumerism, our secular ethic, our need to entertain ourselves, our seeking out of palliatives to assuage discomfort; these things often spring from less than pristine motivations.

In a word, it is the evil within ourselves against which we most need to armor ourselves.

There was a time in my life when I did seminars. A lot of them. The seminars were week-long affairs where I would speak no less than four times a day for 45-60 minutes per session. In between the lectures, I conducted hour-long small-group sessions. At the end of the day, I was tired. By the end of the week, I was exhausted.

One time, at the close of one of these days, I made the mistake of complaining of the soreness in my lower back. People responded by gathering around me, laying hands on me, praying with the view toward asking God to cast “the demon of the sore back” from my body.

It worked.

I went back to my lodging, got a good night’s rest, and behold, the next morning, the demon of the sore back was gone!. Unfortunately, at the end of the next day’s sessions, it had returned with a vengeance. This time, however, I managed not to complain. A very sensible part of the “armor of God,” is the common sense of eating right, exercising and getting enough rest. Still, even common sense has its vulnerabilities.

So, what did I take away from that little episode?

First, lest your amusement misguide you, I learned to appreciate the love, care and concern others had for me. These were kind, good people who meant well.

Second, I learned – at least partially -- how to engage and manage evil. It forced me to find a place where I didn’t have to protect myself from evil. A place of rest and renewal.

Many years ago, I enjoyed jogging. Through the mountains, hills and valleys, and along the pebbled beaches of Catalina Island in California. Tore up my knees – a painful annoyance for which I pay dearly today. Do you suppose this is what Paul meant when he said, “bodily exercise profiteth little?” I wonder if he liked to jog? Clearly, there are downsides to everything.

You can tear up your knees jogging, get an ear infection swimming, strain a muscle lifting, or sprain an ankle playing tennis, but I have never heard of anyone hurting themselves while seeking God’s presence, or enjoying the warmth of his love.

There are those who do mean-spirited, brutal, evil things to others, all in the name of God. Jim Jones comes to mind, David Koresh, Osama bin Laden and those who disrupt the graveside services of fallen soldiers. Isn’t it amazing how manic and fanatical human wickedness can become when one does it, ostensibly, in the name of God!? You can certify yourself. Those who do such things have not sought God, and have no part with him. They are an embarrassment to God, and an embarrassment to his people. What they do is a massive contradiction to his nature.

So, the psalmist speaks. He speaks of dwelling “in the secret place of the most High,” and “abiding under the shadow of the Almighty.” It is a place, if you can wrap your mind around that, a place where God “covers you with his feathers.” It is a place -- a place “under his wings.” Jesus employed this same imagery when he cried out to Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews used it when he spoke of “entering God’s rest.”

What a place is this! A place of complete security, and comfort, refuge and safety. A place defended by the wings of the Almighty! A place where his truth is my shield. A place of absolute trust and rest from attack.

In such a place, what need is there of armor? His wings are my armor. In such a place, I need not fear even myself.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Step into the Garden

Your hands made me and formed me;

Michelangelo’s painting of God and Adam in the Sistene Chapel has always intrigued me. I like it because it depicts the creation of the first man, from the finger of God.

In terms of what actually happened, I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that man was created by God in his image.

I love this truth, that I am created in the Image of God. Image denotes properties of visualization. I look like him. God made me to look like him. I find this exciting.

Now I read that “his hands made me and formed me.” How exquisite the intimacy this implies! It is as though God is the Holy Artisan, and I am the clay. He begins with a misshapen lump and goes to work. The lump begins to take on a form. It begins to resemble the Artisan. God is making me to look like him! With each turn of the Potter’s wheel, I look better and better. Soon, I emerge a finished piece, perfect in every way.

Then comes the kiln. There is a curious reality about kilns. No matter the heat, or the trial by fire, God is still the Master Artisan doing the work, making me to look like him. He knows exactly how long to leave me in there and just where to set the temperature. And the wonder of it all is that I emerge a thousand times more beautiful than when I entered.

But this isn’t about the kiln. This isn’t about the heat and the flames of life. It is about the fact of his hands, and how with meticulous care and artistry, they formed me, and made me to look like him.

Now about that picture on the right . . . ok, so maybe God needs to try again.

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