Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Jesus Did Not Have Pets

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place to pray.
Mark 1:35

I often get up at first light to go sit in the yard, read my Bible, pray, and watch the sun rise.  Life is wonderful but exhausting, and this "mountain top" time is very important for me to get my head on straight at the start of the day.  Jesus often did the same thing, we're told.  And of course there are all those song writers who come to the garden alone, and who love to live on the mountain top, and who rest them in the thought of birds and trees and skies and seas...so I feel like I'm in pretty good company.

Six a.m. finds me fixing myself a cup of tea in the dark kitchen, being very sneaky so as not to wake up my wife and daughter.  The Puppy hears me moving around and asks to go out.  She is not trained to stay in the yard or come when called yet, so I take her out and slip her leash over the garden fencepost.  Then I go back in and finish making my tea.

Having accomplished this, I head outside, put the Puppy on her tie-out so she has some room to run and play while I study and pray.  We have an unfenced yard, so for now the tie-out is a necessity.  I set up a lawn chair for myself near the Puppy--she barks if I don't keep her company--and go back inside for my Bible and cup of tea.  Before I can make my escape, our Hunter Cat appears and loudly asks to be let in.  I oblige, then grab my tea, head outside, and settle comfortably into my lawn chair.  The sun is just starting to touch the mountains.  The beauty is soul-enlarging.

I get up and go back inside to retrieve my Bible, which I have forgotten on the table.

Arriving back outside, I untangle the Puppy's tie-out from the the lawn chair.  I set the chair back up, sit down and open my Bible.  Today's reading is a particularly rich passage that I have been anticipating digging into.  The mountains are glowing, as with an inner light, and my tea tastes even better than usual as I take a deep breath and begin to read.

From inside the house, I hear the Hunter Cat letting me know that she is out of cat food.  This is nothing short of pet black-mail, and I'm pretty sure she knows it:  If the pets aren't kept quiet, my wife and daughter will wake up, and in addition to three crazy pets I'll have two grouchy girls on my hands.  So I rush inside, fill up the food bowl, express a few quiet but heart-felt opinions on the the Cat's vocal performance, then go back outside to my quiet time.

I untangle the Puppy from the lawn chair.  Most of my tea is all over the lawn.  The Puppy looks very sweet and innocent with tea dripping off her nose.  But my Bible is unscathed, the mountains are still beautiful, and the birds are in full voice.  I get comfortable and begin to read.  So much to unpack in this passage of scripture...

Our Special-Needs Cat arrives at the back door and clamors to be let in.  His finding the house on his own is something of an occasion, so I rush open the door, cringing at the noise.  The Puppy, upset by all this coming and going, begins to whine.  I go inside with Special Needs Cat, who is now complaining that he can't find the cat food.  I place him next to the bowl, and he happily begins eating.  I express a few quiet but heart-felt opinions about both his ancestry and his mental capabilities.

The Puppy is yipping, in that shrill, peel-paint-off-the-walls voice that can only be made by a puppy at 6:15 in the morning when the family is sleeping.  I rush back outside and untangle her from the lawn chair.  

I sit down to read, just as the Hunter and the Special Needs Cat both decide they want back outside.

I get up, put down my Bible and what remains of my tea, and get out of my chair, careful this time to place everything outside puppy range.  I thoughtfully eye the .22 rifle hanging over the door as I let the cats out.   I return to my lawn chair, get set up with my Bible and remaining sip of tea.  The dog is still whining, so I put everything down, throw a few sticks for her, scratch her ears, and tell her in a quiet but perhaps less-than-heartfelt way what a great puppy she is.  

About the time she finally calms down and I get set to read, the Cats--first Hunter, followed by Special Needs--begin parading back and forth just outside the Puppy Perimeter.  The Puppy, who loves chasing cats more than she loves life itself, goes berserk.  It takes me every ounce of Christian patience not to follow suit.

Five minutes later:  The Cats have been chased out of sight, the Puppy is happily eating dirt or chasing bugs or whatever puppies do.  And I, having expressed several less-quiet but no-less-heartfelt opinions about the possible origins and eventual destination of our pets, am once again settled down in my chair.  The sun is high now, and I am ready at last to enjoy some focused quiet time.

"GOOD MORNING, DADDY!!  CAN I COME OUT AND PLAY?"

Jesus didn't have kids, either.

...

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Parable of the Irrigation Ditch

This is not my ditch.  This is a pretty ditch.

"...by grace you have been saved, through faith..."  Ephesians 2

Summer has arrived at Casa Wilson, and that means a lot of things:  Naps, long walks, longer runs, play time with the Badgerling, lots of outside work, and occasionally, time to think.  Lately, while drilling screws, cutting firewood, and setting irrigation dams, I have been thinking about grace, faith, and works.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about those things.  But after twelve years or so of growing hay, I don't think it's all that hard.

We live in the middle of a big hay field, and every year we have the grass mowed and baled.  We keep a few bales for the garden and the chickens, but we sell most of it.  It's fairly easy money; it feels good to know our land is productive, and there is nothing like the smell of a fresh-cut hay field.  It's the smell of life, the smell of growth, the smell of money.

Of course, the thing that makes it a hay field, instead of a patch of dirt, is water.  And here in Wyoming, water is rather hard to come by.  That means irrigation.  Our water comes out of Baldwin Creek about a half mile away, flows through a series of ditches, and if all goes well, it eventually reaches our field.

Now, Baldwin Creek flows out of the mountains a few miles north-west of here.  It is a reliable body of water, and even in drought years it never goes dry.  So if the field doesn't get irrigated, the problem lies with the ditch.  There is a lot that can go wrong.  Sometimes the ditch gets clogged up or choked with weeds; often it gets diverted elsewhere.  Sometimes the problem is that I don't set the dams correctly, so the water doesn't get where it needs to go.  And sometimes I just get too lazy or too busy to get it done.  But assuming everything works, the water leaves the ditch and flows onto my field.  Then it can start doing its real work:  Making the grass grow.

The grass is nourished by water.  That water comes through the ditch.  The result is a good hay crop.  By water.  Through the ditch.

Pretty simple.

God's grace--his goodness, his mercy, his beauty, his blessing--is reliable and sure, never running dry even in the hardest of times.  Like the water on a hayfield, grace makes us grow, makes us useful and beautiful, gives us what we need to endure hardship.

God's grace is the water.

But God does't force himself on us.  Even though he sends rain on the just and the unjust, blessing even those who don't acknowledge him, his saving grace can do its work only if I choose to let it into my life.  Faith is a relationship, a way of life, an ongoing choice I must make to trust and obey, even when I don't understand.  That faith is the conduit by which God's grace can reach the dry spots of my being, making the barren ground grow and produce.  Doubt, disobedience, distraction, bitterness, laziness, greed, and such things can block my faith, creating dead areas which God's grace cannot reach.

Faith is the ditch through which God's grace can flow.

Thus, Paul tells us we are saved by grace, through faith.  Of course, there is a sense in which my faith saves me (Matthew 9:22), just as it would not be wrong to say that the ditch waters my hay.  But don't confuse the ditch with the water.  The real action is in God's grace.  It would be absurd for the grass to take credit for the water, likewise the ditch.  The ditch is just a conduit, and the grass can only respond by growing and producing a crop, just like I planned for it to.

Reading on in Ephesians 2, Paul puts it this way:  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God--not by works, so no one can boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to do."

God's grace flows though my faith.  The result of this gift, when things go according to his plan, is a further gift of good works.  It would be absurd for me to take credit for this; I just get to enjoy it.

By grace.  Through faith.

This really isn't that hard, is it?

Of course, there is a lot more to it than the water and the ditch:  The quality of seed with which my field is planted; the fertility of the soil; the control of weeds and pests; the role of time and patience, courage and hard work.  But Jesus already covered those things much better than I could.

There is nothing like the smell of fresh hay.  May your faith be unobstructed; may you be drenched in God's grace, and may the field of your life be productive.