Posted in Different Moments, Uncategorized

S’more.

I sit back in my generic blue camping chair, admiring the flames as they begin to crackle. Their orange tongues just barely flicking up the surface of the larger wood now. Within a few minutes, the logs are completely engulfed in fire, preparing the logs for the process for which they’ve been set ablaze – s’mores. But everyone knows you don’t cook a marshmallow on a raging fire. You cook it slow, roasted while carefully hovering over the surface of the coals that have seen enough fire to whisper their memories to the sweet sugary fluff suspended over their heads.

For now, we wait and we watch.

We listen to the sounds of cicadas bellowing overhead, inviting us to incline not only our ears, but our eyes in their direction. So up we look, gazing into the overarching umbrella of the upper leaves, swaying to and fro with the evening breeze. The cicadas, are there tens or thousands? Loud enough to drown out the worries of an earlier hour, and yet also loud enough to keep you from thinking clearly about tomorrow. All we are allowed to be aware of is this present moment. The sunlight flickers from some distant dusk still trying to promise it will return again tomorrow, but the light is too quiet to hear above the shadows of this moment.

We take a deep breath, and close our eyes.

Sight becomes unnecessary for now, as the sting of the smoke begs us for some brief respite. We smell the fire, and think for a split second about the need to do laundry later. We push such thoughts aside – they are not helpful here. Exhaling slowly, eyes closed, in this moment we’re able to enjoy the cool breeze tempered by the rising flames nearby. We feel warmth, even as we are cooled. The cicadas screaming such a noise that anywhere else would be instant annoyance, and yet here and now it is a late summertime symphony, with front row privileges.

We turn our attention again to the flames.

The wood is dry enough to embrace the fire quickly as family, welcoming the flames deep within, and crackling in ways that evoke a thousand previous campfires all at once. A sound that in many other moments would stir fear and rising anxiety – here in this place, finding a glad reception as memories of gathering close to beloved friends and family are stirred. Turning through pages of mental Polaroids, the album turns to reveal bales of hay with more friends than should be safely balanced, somehow comfortably positioned with smiles warm enough to make the pumpkins seem spiced.

As time passes, the mature coals beckon to be used as God intended.

I load the marshmallows, fatherly skills expertly developed for such a moment. They are loaded one at a time, two, three, four for this round. I watch the youngest child too excited to let dad help, plunge her mallow straight into the flames, with shrieks of delight. She doesn’t care for culinary perfection – she wants to see the flames, taste the burn among the chocolate graham, and return to playing with fireflies in the grass. Her older sisters have learned to trust their father, and the value of a well-roasted marshmallow. Turning my tines slowly, almost too far from the source to be perceptively active in my endeavor – nevertheless, heating from the outside in. Showing no external signs of heat absorption, time passes. The white turns slowly as I consider the source of heat actively. After a time, you notice the mallow begin to droop, until it seems destined to fall right off the metal fork. Dipping dangerously close to the heat, I caramelize the exterior just enough to give a roasted identity before offering one to each of my girls who stand nearby, plates ready. S’more one. S’more two. S’more three. One mallow left, and no more plates beckoning to be filled. Smiling, I gently remove the expertly roasted marshmallow myself – no graham or chocolate required.

I’ve discovered my mouth is large enough to fit an entire roasted Jet-Puffed Marshmallow safely.

I enjoy the thin shell-like exterior on my tongue, before closing my mouth slowly. The gooey center oozing in every direction, I examine it slowly to satisfy my pride. Yes, I determine. It was roasted fully to the center, leaving no solid center behind. I smile, slowly enjoying the sweetness until all has been swallowed. The cicadas are now singing a song of appreciation for such adept roasting abilities. The sun has disappeared long ago, and the bats are now noticeable in the dancing light of the flames still leftover. I place another log on the fire, breathing slowly while the smoke flows momentarily in another direction. Tomorrow there is more to do.

But for now, I believe I’ll have s’more…

Posted in Different Scriptures

Zacchaeus: The Sequel

When the loving presence of God arrives in Jesus, it transforms our lives with a Love-Driven Justice that bears fruit for generations, for the sake of others…

I want to imagine a story we’ve never read before (because I wrote it recently). It’s a story of some early Christians visiting the city of Jericho many years after Jesus had been resurrected and gone to be with the Father. They heard there was a ministry there that needed to be encouraged, and so they made arrangements to visit and see what God was stirring in that place.

As they arrived in town, they began simply by asking where they might find the leaders of a movement known as “Balm from Balsam”.  Balsam was a very expensive product produced mainly there in Jericho, and it was a ministry that helped to ensure that those people profiting from the sale of Balsam gave support to workers who previously hadn’t many rights.  It was widely known that the Balsam trees in the area of Jericho produced a large amount of profit – most of which was taken by Rome, but some of which also lined the pockets of powerful people in the Jericho area.  The slaves who were forced into labor to extract and preserve the balsam juices and wood, however, often lived in horrible conditions, and were seen simply as tools to attain more product.  

The story was, years ago there was a man named Zacchaeus who had his life dramatically changed when Jesus came to visit his house.  Followers of Jesus had heard the story over and over again, and they had seen it in the lives of others, but the story of Zacchaeus had always been a bit of a mystery beyond the day Jesus shared a meal with him.  Different versions of the story existed, but they all seemed to agree – the heart of Zacchaeus was dramatically changed after that visit.  Zacchaeus gave away more than half of all his possessions and finances – paying back all of the people he had defrauded over the years, 4 times whatever he had taken from them.  This was not a simple matter, as he had been a meticulous record-keeper. He knew exactly how much he had overcharged so many people, and how his entire household had benefited from the money that had been taken.  

The story goes that the Jews in that area already hated him for overcharging taxes all of these years – and when he went around town handing out money, they began to actually fear him.  He was accused of being possessed by a demon, since it was the only way some people could make sense of such a dramatic change, and a seeming disregard for his own financial state.

Not only that, but Rome began to want Zacchaeus dead as well.  He’d been charged with treason over and over again, but somehow continued to slip through their grasp.  As soon as he began to charge people honestly for their taxes, Rome began collecting less and less money from the region of Jericho.  He demanded that all of the tax collectors who served under him be honest in their dealings, and he would check their records to make sure no one was being unfairly treated or oppressed.  He found one tax collector under him who continued to line his own pockets by over-charging people – and fired the man from his position. That man went over his head to Rome, and came back declaring that Rome had put him in charge now as the new chief tax collector for the area.

After he lost his position, Zacchaeus offered himself as a sort of “financial advisor” still, helping people to calculate what they should owe the empire, and stirring all kinds of controversy when he helped people stand up and demand financial transparency and accountability. After a while, he and his family went into hiding, and it was rumored they were traveling to share the gospel. But after years, when this new movement, protecting and promoting fair wages for Balsam workers started, people began to wonder if some son or grandson of Zacchaeus had returned to Jericho. The people who helped to run it were so meticulous in their record keeping, it certainly sounded like the man himself was somehow returned.

Sure enough, after a few conversations with other trusted Jesus-followers, they located the grandson of Zacchaeus.  He was sitting at a desk, and in front of him were ledgers of the names of local workers in the Balsam industry.  He explained that he begins each new day by praying for these workers by name – because they are usually treated as if their name doesn’t even matter.  He makes note of whether they have been baptized as a follower of Jesus yet, and prays for opportunities to share about Jesus with them.  He then devotes himself to working and serving their interests however he can.  When the visiting followers of Jesus  asked him why he works so hard to do such work each day, he simply told them the story he’d heard of his grandfather many years ago…

Luke 19:1-10

As we look at the story of Zacchaeus, we find a bit of a mystery. It’s hard to put a finger on when or how the heart of Zacchaeus was transformed. We don’t see an obvious gospel presentation. There was no altar call. There was no physical blindness or lameness, and then a healing that transformed his heart. We simply move from Zacchaeus in a tree, curious to know more; to Jesus welcomed as a guest in his house, to Zacchaeus declaring a transformation of heart by his tangible responses of repentance.

Was it simply the fact that welcoming the presence of such LOVE is enough to bring New Life?  Was the indwelling presence of Jesus that came to break bread – transformational in ways that made Zacchaeus a completely New Creation – even before knowing all the truths and vocabulary to describe what had happened?  

Is it possible that, even if you aren’t sure who Jesus is – inviting the presence of His Love into your home and life can bring transformation to your understanding of self, of God, and your ability to Love others in a new and Just way?

Is it possible that simply bearing the loving presence of Jesus in the midst of your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and wherever your day takes you – is enough to transform those environments for His glory?

The Loving presence of God in Jesus inherently brings redemptive righteousness (rightness/justice). Will we notice Jesus today, looking into our eyes, inviting us to welcome Him into new areas of our lives?

Posted in Different Scriptures, Spoken Word

Luke 15:1-7

We see the mighty shepherd
Rejoice over His sheep
He sings over His flock with Love
Where no predators can creep

But sometimes He shifts His focus
To one whose wandered away
They didn’t stay within the flock
Or listen to what He’d say

His Loving heart compels Him
To go and seek the one
Even after much time has passed
And setting of the sun

His work He won’t have given up
He continues to pursue
No matter whether the sheep turns out
To be a lamb, a ram, or ewe

His eyes filled with emotion
He looks wherever He can
For losing even a single sheep
Wasn’t in His plan

The other sheep grow restless
Safely in their pen
They stamp their hooves indignantly
For the Shepherd to return again

We’ve heard the illustration
Perhaps one too many times
For we too quickly dismiss the fact
We may not be the ninety-nine…