Unforgettable Beauty

And I will give him a white stone and on the stone a new name. ~Jesus

There is a flower that lives above tree line in the Rocky Mountains that has captured my heart for almost forty years. It is a flower that can be difficult to find. I shudder at the thought of how many times I might have trampled this rain-drop sized flower under the lugged sole of my boot and have been none-the-wiser.

I’ve sat at 13,000’, chest heaving, trying to gasp every ounce of oxygen out of the thin air and, while on that tawny carpet of alpine tundra, head between my knees choking back mountain sickness, spied the Lilliputian pinwheel of blue petals and yellow pistils smiling at me in the shadow of my size fourteen hiking boots.

They come from the genus Myosotis, which in Greek means, “mouse ear.” In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.” Because the Alpine forget-me-not flourishes on the tundra where the winter wind and snow blow with a fierce intensity, they never grow larger than the top button on your shirt.

In all my years of trekking at altitude, I am filled with wonder when I find this shy flower. And often when I fold my 6’4” frame and kneel down to get a closer look, I whisper something only God would hear, “I see you, little one.”

What has struck me over the years has been how such delicate beauty could survive in such harsh conditions and I marvel at a Creator-God who would plant it in such inaccessible places. I have no idea how many times I have found the flower and thought God is delighting in his creation. Or to paraphrase Anne Lamott, “God is showing off.”

Showing off to whom? I would be the only person to see it. How many millions of little blue, mouse-eared flowers are never seen by any sentient earth-bound being? He must have made those for His own delight. This is so unlike me. I do virtually nothing for the sake of beauty alone. I never prepare a sermon and want to preach it to an empty church. I never write an essay or a story hoping no one will ever read it. Any beauty I might try to create, I want to share with others. I want someone to say something laudatory about my art.

But my ego is fragile, and I am trying to be larger than I am.

Each flower is the same, at least it seems so from my naked eye. Doesn’t God get weary of the sameness of His creation, no matter how heart-poundingly beautiful it might be? I guess the short answer is, “No.” He keeps on doing it season after season, mountain after mountain, flower after flower.

Monotony is my enemy—because I am human, and monotony makes me vulnerable to sin. Perhaps it was monotony that made the forbidden fruit look not so forbidden. Maybe it was monotony that caused King David to look at a bathing beauty. And just maybe it was monotony that made the Pharisees fail to see the Creator-God walking and re-creating in their very midst.

Monotony makes me antsy. So, I distract myself with trivial pursuits.

Not God.

G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Beauty is a reminder of the “appetite of infancy” that is at the heart of our Creator-God. I find myself valuing it, wanting to possess it, and desiring to create it. There is something about beauty that takes us to the place of the innocent delight of being a child. And perhaps it is in that wonder of delight we step into, if for but a moment, another garden coming down from heaven at the end of days.

So, you don’t know my art? Perhaps you don’t know my name. No matter. Each time I marvel at the beauty of a bashful flower, I remember that it is but a taste of another garden where I will receive my new name.

I will not be forgotten, and neither will you.

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The King and his Son

There once was a king who loved being king. He liked sitting on the throne and making decisions. He liked living in the castle; he liked the symbolic functions of his office; he liked visiting the towns and villages of the kingdom and meeting his subjects; liked the authority and power because he could use them to help his people.

Not only did the king like being king, but his people all over the kingdom praised him for ruling so benevolently and wisely. The people knew they could trust their king to do the right thing for them and for the kingdom, and they were right. Because of the king’s wisdom, the kingdom was prosperous and peaceful.

When the king’s son was born, the people put on a great celebration. Now there was an heir! The people knew the king would be a good father and that his son would someday be as great and as wise as his father.

The king loved his son more than his own life. His greatest joy was to spend time with his son. Each evening after the day’s duties were done, the king would go out into the formal gardens behind the castle and play with his son. The thought of those times with his son often made the hard task of ruling a little easier. Sometimes when he faced a difficult decision or had to settle a dispute or complete a project, the king would think, “When this is over, I can be with my son,” and he would smile.

One day the king’s son got lost. It was one of the most tragic days that ever passed in the kingdom. He didn’t mean to get lost. The loved his father as much as his father loved him, and those times in the evening with his father were the happiest times of his young life.

But one day his father had a really busy day and was late for their daily meeting in the castle gardens. So the boy decided to explore. He went on an adventure. There certainly wasn’t anything wrong with that, except this boy was very little and very young, and nobody had told him how easy it is for a little boy to get lost.

It happened before the boy knew it.  He was just walking and thinking about his father when, looking up, he found himself deep in the forest behind the castle. Nothing looked familiar. He was confused and turned around. At first, he was calm because his father would come soon and find him, but, as he waited, he began to see things in the shadows and hear things moving in the brush and he began to panic. Then he began to run. But he didn’t know which way to run. But the more frightened he became the faster he ran. All the while he was running away from the castle. His clothes caught on broken limbs and tore. A couple of times he fell in mud holes, and once he cut himself on a jagged rock.

Eventually the little boy wandered into one of the villages of the kingdom. To be perfectly honest, by that time he looked more like a little street urchin or a beggar than a prince. He would go up to someone on the street, and grab their coat, and pull on it and say, “Mister, I’m the king’s son. Would you help me get home?”

“Sure you are, kid” the man would laugh, “ And I’m his wife.”

“But you don’t understand. I got lost, and I can’t find my father,’ he would say to another.

Most folks simply ignored the little boy, and those who didn’t ignore him laughed at him. Pretty soon the little boy was forced to beg for pennies just so he could buy bread to keep from starving.

Meanwhile, back and the castle, the king spent many sleepless nights looking for his son. He looked everywhere he knew to look, but the boy was nowhere to be found. By morning of that first day the king suspected that someone had kidnapped his son and feared that we would never see the boy again.

The king called all his armies together, and told them what had happened, and sent them into the kingdom looking for his son. He offered great rewards to anyone who could give him information leading to the discovery of his son. But to the king’s great sorrow, the little boy was not found.

Hours blended into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. The little boy was no longer a little boy; he had grown into a strong young man.

At first he really had thought he was the king’s son, but so many adults had told him differently that he began to think maybe it had all been a dream. After all, adults know those kinds of things. As the years passed, he forgot about the castle and about his father.

Then the young man began to run with the wrong crowd. Murder, stealing, rape—nothing was beneath him. But he was still a prince. If you are a prince (even when you don’t know it), it shows. Eventually the young man became the leader of a gang.  He was meaner than all of his friends. He murdered the most. He stole the most. He raped the most. Years after he had left the castle and his father, the king’s son had become the most wanted criminal in the kingdom.

Then one day, through a strange set of circumstances, the king found out that his own son was the kingdom’s most wanted and notorious criminal. At first he couldn’t believe it, but the more he checked, the more it became clear that he had found his beloved son, and in finding him, the king faced a terrible dilemma.

The king loved his son, but he was also just and fair. He knew if he released his own son who had committed terrible crimes, he would need to release all the others who had committed crimes. That was unacceptable.

And so the king’s son was arrested and brought before a judge who condemned him to be executed for his crimes. The verdict was just. The king’s son was thrown in a dungeon beneath the castle where he had once lived to wait for his execution.

On the night before the young man was to die, the king made his way to the prison beneath the castle. Opening his son’s cell, he walked in and sat on the bunk across from his son. The king sat there a long time looking at his son before he spoke.

“You are my son. Did you know that?”

“Yeah. Someone told me.”

“Have you ever wondered, over these years, about your parents?”

“Sometimes, but I had a good life, and it wasn’t that important.”

“Well, I have never stopped wondering about you—where you were and what had become of you. You have never been out of my mind and heart.

“My son,” the king continued, voice trembling with emotion and tears running down the age lines in his face, “I loved you with a great love, but you became lost. I did everything I knew to do. I sent out my soldiers; I offered a great reward; I have never ceased to search for you. But now it has come to this and tomorrow you are to die.

“But, son, I have decided to allow you to go free.”

With those words, the old king got up and walked out of his son’s cell into the crisp night air.

The young man went over to the cell door and tested it.  WELL, WHAT DO YOU KNOW?  THAT OLD MAN LEFT IT OPEN.

The king’s son quickly grabbed his coat, threw it over his shoulder, and with a cynical smile said: “That stupid old man!! He thinks because he has set me free, I will come back to his castle and be his slave. Well, he is more senile than I thought.” And with that the young man disappeared up the stone stairs and into the night air.

Some two weeks later the king’s son found out what price his freedom had cost. On the day of his scheduled execution, the requirements of the law had been met. His own father had taken his place—he had died that his son might be free.

You probably have some questions: What did the son do? Did he return to the castle and become king? Did he accept his heritage? Did he even care about the price his father had paid for his freedom? Did he decide to obey the law?

I’m not sure because, you see, you are that son.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

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The Taxman Cometh

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  Luke 18:13

With the scolding stares of everyone on him, he doesn’t even dare to lift his eyes from the ground. He stands cowering in a corner, looking at the cracks in the cobbled stone. He knows all too well everything that’s wrong in his life. He knows everything he is and everything that he isn’t. He knows everything he’s done and everything he’s left undone.

This guy is a traitor to his own people. He is someone who gets rich by keeping his neighbors poor. What kind of character and values does a person have to have in order to do that? This guy knows. First-century rabbis would give you a “get-out-of-jail-free-card” for lying to a Tax Collector.

To get the full impact of this story in our context think of the Taxman as a Grand Wizard for the KKK or as an abortionist Doctor.

The Taxman would have been going to one of two daily worship services that happened at the temple. One that happens at about sunrise and one that happened at about 3 p.m. Both of those services in the outer area of the temple would have begun with the priest sacrificing a lamb on the altar as an atonement for people’s sins and to signify for them God’s mercy.

That’s what this tax collector would have been looking at when he was praying. He sees the sacrificial act of the slain lamb, he sees the shedding of blood, he hears the declaration of atonement and he realizes that it was for his sin that nappy-clad little lamb was killed.

“I need that,” he says.

Scriptures say that Jesus was the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world. To give us the approval that we long for and could never find on our own.

It is often so difficult to live with the truth that we are loved by God and we don’t have to perform to gain that love.

I like the way Henri Nouwen says this in his profound little book Life of the Beloved,

Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”

These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it’s easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection.

The deepest truth about this Taxman was that he was loved by the God of the universe without having to perform for it.

It is true of you, too.

When my oldest son, Cole, was thirteen he went on his first backpacking trip with a wilderness program I was leading at the time. Being the preacher’s kid and an awkward 13-year-old with older boys made for a painful week for Cole. He kept feeling rejected by the cool kids.

He was in a tent with the older boys trying to fit and they kept teasing him so much that he finally left that tent and came to mine.

He said, “Dad, they are so mean to me!  It’s like they don’t care.”

I said, “I know, son.”

He kept looking out of the tent in the direction of the group of boys. Then his head would drop, and he would stare at his hands. Every time laughter would erupt from the group of boys, he would look out of my tent door. He wanted to fit in and be there with those boys.

I remember watching him and thinking, “You are so loved, son. Can’t you feel my love? If you would relax in my love it will mark your life. There will come a day when you will forget those boys’ names, but you will never forget my name. Let my love fill you up right now.”

I squeezed his shoulder, patted him and said, “I love you, son.”

He looked out the tent door towards the laughing boys, sighed heavily and said, “I know. Let’s play some cards, Dad.”

Some of you need to stop looking out of the tent and look up to the Father….you are loved with an everlasting love.

So, may this good news free you from your paranoia that you have to do anything to gain the Father’s love. Live your life from the wonderful story that you are the beloved of God.

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A Conflicted Pastor

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. Genesis 3:15

Almost twenty-seven years ago the phone rang, and a familiar voice said, “Pastor, this is Dorothy. The doctors say Don won’t make it through the night and he is asking for you.” I told her I would be right there. I got dressed, put a ball cap on, brushed my teeth and jumped in my jeep to head to St. Joseph’s hospital in downtown Denver.

Don was a thin man when he was healthy; his respiratory illness had withered him still. He reminded me of the actor Hume Cronyn. He was a kindly and soft-spoken man. I never heard a cross word come out of his mouth. He and his wife were faithful, loving, and loyal members of the church. They were favorites.

But after all the prayers, and all of the steroid treatments, Don’s lungs were filling with fluid and growing weaker by the day, and then the hour, and now the minute.

As I drove downtown my mind raced for words of comfort: verses of scripture, lines from hymns, prayers I might offer. I asked God to give me words to help. I felt a need to be infused with wisdom beyond my years and answers beyond my education.

Somewhere on the drive down Sixth Avenue, a snake of a thought entered my brain. I don’t know how it got in there; maybe it had been there all along and just needed the warmth of this pastoral moment to stick its head out of its hole. But slowly and surely it slithered its way to the forefront of my mind and curled up there as if to give warmth—or maybe to take warmth in a reptilian way.

“They didn’t call anyone else, Joe. They only called you. He wants you to help him pass through to the other side. See, you are somebody.”

If you read that again, you can hear a hiss.

I felt a swelling in my heart. I felt pride. I sat straighter in the seat. I hung my hand over the steering wheel and did my best to look cool and official in the darkness of that early morning drive to the hospital. No one was there to see the swelling of my chest or tilt of my head. It was just me, that hissing thought and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

How could I siphon off the energy from this tender moment and use it for ego-enhancement? I was disgusted with myself. At the parking lot and with every step to the glass doors and inside to the elevator, I prayed that God would forgive my macabre and inflated sense of self-importance and the fleshly arousal at the death of a saint and replace it with something to say or do that would help bring comfort.

My breath grew short and shallow; my mouth went dry as I entered the room. The hum of machines was muted, and the smell of the hospital was stringent. I was filled with awe. My ego was hiding in its hole; after all, it is a coward in the presence of eternity, and death was ripping a portal into that eternal realm right there in the room with Don. Soon the Holy Spirit would scoop up this saint and take him home. This is no place for the trivial.

I prayed the only words that came to me, “Father, help us.” I couldn’t remember any scripture, hymns, or poems. My head was an empty vault. That’s all I had. I repeated it over and over. “Father, help us. Father, help us. Father, help us.” I put my arm around Dorothy and held Don’s hand until his chest quit rising and falling and he died.

We stayed in the room as long as the medical staff would allow. Then they asked us to step outside in the harsh light of the hospital corridor. We walked to the little side room where various members of the family were waiting and weeping. I told her I would inform the prayer chain at church and we would begin the planning of meals. She nodded and thanked me for coming and went to each family member—one by one—and they hugged and wept.

I watched from the hallway as an outsider now. It was okay. Don was in better hands and so was Dorothy.

My friend, David Hansen, has a marvelous line in his book, The Power of Loving Your Church, that I placed carefully in my journal: A pastor is a parable of Jesus Christ, pastors deliver something they are not: Jesus.

Inside my heart is a toxic cocktail of grace and ego. I am a needy pastor who needs to be needed. And, at the same time, a dispenser of the grace of the living God.

For the life of me, I do not understand why God chooses to use such dirty vessels to dispense the balm of Gilead—but He does.

So, if you can stomach your own ego and be willing to show up, flawed though you are, it might surprise you who shows up with you. I’ll give you a hint, he crushes the heads of hissing snakes.

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Imago Dei

When I was a boy and we lived in the mountains of Colorado, my dad built a home 9 miles outside of town. My mom wanted a yard with grass, so they hauled in rich, black topsoil and dumped in front and back of the house.

One summer my dad left clear instructions for my brother and me to spread that dirt so that he could plant grass seed and mom could have a green yard. Then both my mom and dad went to work in town.

What did my brother and I do all day unsupervised? Played. Anything but move the dirt. There was a song popular on the radio during those days by Paul McCartney, one of the Beatles, called Uncle Albert. There was a line in that song that perfectly described my brother and I’s dirt moving activity. Every time it came on the radio, we felt pangs of guilt.

“We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert,
But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day.
We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert,
But the kettle’s on the boil
And we’re so eas’ly called away.”

Since the primordial days of Adam and Eve, mankind has failed to steward the good earth and haven’t done a bloody thing to care for creation. In fact, due to the sin they brought into the world, the entire creation was coming unraveled at the seams.

It is woven into the fabric of the universe that life without God will devolve into chaos. All you have to do is survey your own life and see the periods of time when you didn’t walk with God—chaos. Look at what happens in our country when we try to do life without God—chaos. Look at Washington D.C. and see life without any regard for God—chaos.

In fact, it is an axiom of Kingdom-life: Where ever you see chaos, God is absent.

Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:33,

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.

And, less we Christians become too smug, our faith teaches us that even when we are most sure that we’re right about something, we’re never free from mixed motives.
The religious right and the religious left are absolutely convinced that they are 100% right about all issues. And when you are 100% convinced about anything, you stop listening. And when you stop listening, those with whom you disagree become your enemy. And the creation of enemies begets violence—in either word or deed.

That is corruption. That is chaos. That is anti-God.

All of us could use a big dose of self-honesty. Self-honesty is catching yourself lying to yourself.

I like the way Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes the heart of humanity,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The worst person you can think of was created as an image-bearer.

From a literary perspective, one of the things we know about story-telling is that if you make your antagonist pure evil, they will cease being real. If you make your protagonist, completely pure they will cease being real. Even the literary world knows that no one is purely one thing or another.

You see it depicted in literature and film all the time. It happens in the Infinity Wars when you get the sense that Thanos is conflicted about destroying virtually everyone in the universe. You see it happen in Star Wars when the villain Kylo Ren seems to be deeply conflicted by the idea of killing his father, Han Solo.

In Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Faustus has an ambitious nature. Despite being a respected scholar, he sold his soul to Lucifer by signing a contract with his blood, in order to achieve ultimate power and limitless pleasure in this world. He learns the art of black magic and defies Christianity.

After he sells his soul to the Devil, Faustus suffering from an internal conflict where he thinks honestly about repenting, acting upon the advice of “the good angel,” but “the bad angel” or the evil inside him distracts him by saying it is all too late.

Eventually, the resolution comes when demons take his soul away to Hell, and he suffers eternal damnation because of his over-ambition.

I went to a church growth conference 25 years ago and the speaker said that we pastors should never let our worship leaders lead the congregation in songs that are written in a minor key. The worship service should always be happy, high-energy, upbeat and happy, happy, happy.

There is a very descriptive Hebrew word for that kind of thinking, “Bullbutter!”

I have enjoyed a song called recently, O the deep, deep love of Jesus! It is written in a minor key. Why? Because life is not always happy, happy, happy Mr. Church-Growth-Guru-Guy.

Even though the reality is that you and I have darkness running through our own hearts, that is not all that is in our hearts. Jesus is also in our hearts. Jesus and His love.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward,
to thy glorious rest above.

And so, my friend, may you remember that no matter how big a mess you see on the news and in the mirror, the love of Jesus demonstrated on the cross is vast, unmeasured, boundless and free.

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Finding God’s Will

To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere. ― C.S. Lewis

I have come to believe that contemporary Christians do not have a good working theology for discerning God’s leading in our lives. I blame our consumer-oriented culture that is bent on selling us what we are not aware we even need. And I point my boney finger at the prosperity Gospel on the airwaves and which lines our Christian bookstores. They, in essence, say that God’s will for you is health, wealth and a career trajectory that always points up and to the right.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his execution he pleaded with God to come up with an alternative plan for redeeming and restoring creation. Heaven was silent. Yet he walked in full obedience to God’s will without the companion of joy, peace or happiness. The clouds didn’t part and the angels didn’t begin to sing like a choir at any time when Jesus was in the Garden.

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. Hebrews 5:8

Obedience is hard.

The author Frederick Buechner has a famous quote that has helped me a great deal to think deeply about the ache in my heart and the immediate need I find in my sphere of influence.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  ― Frederick Buechner

Clearly, simple obedience to the imperatives of the Scriptures are the starting point for God’s calling and being in God’s will. But after that I feel as we grow in our maturity with Jesus he expands our field of view to look at our desires (deep gladness) and a specific unraveling of the created order (world’s deep hunger) to see where they intersect.

For instance, the deepest gladness I receive these days is when a ministry leader will join me on the sacred journey of soul care. What I am seeing in this church moment is an unraveling of the lives of ministry leaders due to the lack of seasoned guides to walk with them through the rugged topography ministry life.

Thus, I’ve found my calling. That means that in addition to shepherding my beautiful mountain church, I am privileged to shepherd a few shepherds as well.

So, what are some good guidelines for hearing from God? These have proven helpful for me.

1. Open Doors

Sometimes a door opens before me; sometimes a door closes in my face, but God often uses these to get my attention to something he is saying as he teases me to follow him into the future.

2. Holy Nudgings

Something deep inside me resonates with the open door. Some itch is aching to be scratched and the opportunity before me looks like a bristle brush. It is deeper than a want. Wants are surface felt-needs. God leads me through the deeper ache of soul-desires. I try to discern the difference.

3. Biblical Precedence

I don’t take one step through an open door or take one swipe at that inner itch if I can’t find something like it that parallels the ancient scriptures. Part of the reason we have the old stories is to give us a reliable roadmap for how God has led his people in the past.

4. Godly Counsel

When I’ve vetted the opportunity, discerned whether the itch is a want or a desire, and been informed by the Word of God then I verbally process my findings with godly people who have my best interest at heart. If they don’t corroborate the narrative I sense God writing in the first three guidelines, I slow down and rethink. I don’t keep looking for someone who eventually agrees with my narrative. Their role is to help me objectify what I am hearing. Spiritual friends always help me hear God’s voice.

I have learned that as I walk moment-by-moment with the rabbi from Galilee while listening to his quiet voice, then seeing where He wants me to go is clearer even if it’s not always easy.

But at least we will be together, and that is somewhere.

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Who Are You Hiding From?

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

When I was a little boy, my brother, sister, and I asked my father how God made the world. Specifically, having just moved to Colorado from Texas and living in Colorado Springs, we wanted to know how God made the mountains.

We were sitting on the front porch of my Grandparents home facing Pike’s Peak and my dad knelt down beside my grandmother’s flower bed, took his hands and squeezed a rugged line of dirt up into a small little mountain range. Then he looked up at us.

My little brother said, “Oh.”

God made this good earth and he built it in such a way that mankind could, not only survive, but flourish here. Part of that flourishing included giving us the mission or purpose to care for the earth and to have daily fellowship with God.

And then, after creation was complete and God made the first man and woman, He began to take these wonderful walks in the cool of the afternoon with them. Nothing speaks to intimacy, in my mind, then that imagery of a long wandering walk with God in creation.

From deep within the love and safety of that intimacy, our Creator basically said, “There are no rules here, save one. Don’t eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil it is toxic for your soul. You weren’t created to experience evil.”

Enter the serpent. And we’re told the serpent was more cunning than anything else in the garden. This literal serpent was a symbol of the Evil One—a perversion and intruder into the goodness and beauty of God’s world.

So, the serpent slithers up to the woman and slyly temps her. He does so by mixing a cocktail of a miss quotation and deception.

My friend Helen Presswood told me about a song she wrote called Satan’s Song about this scene and sent me a few lines:

Come waltz with me,
dance to my tune.
We could make merry
night, morning and noon.
God wants a puppet
to dance on His string.
I’ll make you a goddess;
you’ll know everything!
Come waltz with me,
dance to my tune.

When the serpent made his pitch, he literally said that if Eve would but eat of the sweet fruit she would be a god. That sounded pretty good to her. See, the sin underneath all sins is the sin of pride.

Our fundamental problem is that we want to be as gods. We don’t want to be made in God’s image. We don’t want to know God. We want to be God. We want to be the center of our own universe. And, tragically, in our effort to be God, we become alienated from God. When you and I try to be more than human, we become less than human.

As the story unfolds, Adam and Eve suddenly realize they are naked and feel exposed. They are feeling what we all feel when we realize we have seen our humanity for what it is and God for who He is—shame.

They run for cover.

Now the ancients, as well as you and I know, that shrubbery cannot hide humanity from Deity. But here is God calling into the dark of the garden, Where are you? This is the first sermon of God to a vandalized world. God comes looking for us before we even are looking for Him.

The response of God is not to rebuke us or incinerate us, but to come looking for us. Do you see the love and humility of the God who created all things, but stoops to come to us and feigns ignorance by asking Adam, Where are you?

Jesus told a sad story about two sons who tried to hide from their father. The younger one fled to a far country and hid in bars, bordellos, and pig pens. The older son stayed home and hid in the field, in the barn, and around the supper table. But both hid from their father.

There are always bushes close by in which we can try to hide from the One who calls our name. Theologian and author Richard Rohr has said, Religion is one of the safest places to hide from God.

When we mask our cosmic loneliness with deeds that produce shame and guilt, God comes looking for us. God is looking for humanity, even when we are not much looking for Him.

God keeps pursuing us, even when we run from him. Even while we are hiding in the bushes of our own shame and guilt. God pursued us until Jesus of Nazareth became naked on a tree outside the camp to undo and overthrow all of our darkness, guilt, and shame forever.

We used to sing a song when I was a kid that had these lines:

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling O Adam come home.

So, dear friend, may you see the tree of Jesus and hear God calling you—even when you’re hiding in plain sight.

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