Spring! Finally Here.

April 22nd?  Really?
April 22nd? Really?

Our winter here in South Dakota has seemed to drag on a bit further into spring than I would have expected.

It is our first spring in the states in over five years and so I have been looking forward to it with some excitement.

In Turkey, I always relished that first morning that I was able to comfortably enjoy our balcony for my morning routine of journaling, reading, prayer and quiet.

The birds singing, the air crisp and the feeling of fresh air a marvolous reminder of the beauty of this world.  I’ve been looking forward to that moment here as well.

We have a nice back patio too and I’ve been getting it ready; sweeping off the leaves, cleaning the winter grime from the few pieces of patio furniture we have, and waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting seems to be a theme in my life.  I’ve been back in the states now going on ten months and I’m still waiting to feel settled, to feel like I can settle.

I came across a quote from Paulo Coelho the other day that seems to mark my progress.

Waiting is painful.  Forgetting is painful.  But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.

Perhaps a little melodramatic but it in some ways gets to what I’ve been working through these last months.

For now I wait and hold to Charles Stanley’s words:

The Scriptures contain many stories of people who waited years or even decades before the Lord’s promises came to pass. What modern believers can learn from the patience of biblical saints like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul is that waiting upon the Lord has eternal rewards.

This morning I ventured out to the back patio for my first morning outside in the fresh air this year.  It is supposed to be 78 degrees today.

Spring is here.

Box Cars in Waiting

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Do they tire of ceaseless sitting,

of knowing their created purpose –

hauling loads –

yet remaining unused, unmoved,

unhitched from the engine that will move them?

Have they seen the schedule,

the timetable of upcoming action?

And do they know – in their waiting –

the calling that awaits?

Waiting without knowing –

a most difficult task.

4/22/2013

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More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 8.46.06 PMI just received a free copy of Jeff Shinabarger’s new book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity.  My receiving it free highlights one of the true advantages of the digital age – advanced copies of books are virtually free to give away and help spread the word.

I am excited about the book.  The endorsements and table of contents get me very excited. Living simply is a topic rich in the history of my personal journey and one that was put far back on the shelf when we lived in Turkey.

I’ll write a proper review when I finish it.

You too can get a free copy of the book if you would like.  [Click here to get yours.]

Now that we are working to settle back into life in the states, simplicity – living more with less – is a value I’d like to recapture and I am hopeful that this book will be part of that journey.

We’ve enjoyed nearly six months house sitting a grand home but will be moving into a new home at the end of the month.  We are looking forward to getting into our place that we can take a bit more ownership over, even as we rent to begin with.  We just today got a package in the mail filled with packets of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

Very Exciting.

[Sorry for the long intervals between posts.  Life is a bit crazy and I’m working really hard to develop the business over at The Everyday Language Learner.  I’ll try to be a bit more regular]

Go and Make Disciples . . . Really?

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I’ve been thinking a whole lot about discipleship since returning from Turkey.

As I read through the scriptures and read the biographies of those heroes of the faith who we esteem I am haunted by the suspicion that perhaps we are missing something.

I’ve read again and again that passage we call the Great Commission and will share it here:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

A few observations:

First, I am always stunned by the admission that some doubted.

Some Doubted!

Jesus is alive and some doubted.  Out of the very men who walked with Jesus for three years and watched his crucifixion and then got to witness the resurrection – some doubted.

It seems pretty clear that God can handle a little doubt.

Second, Jesus gives them the command to go and make disciples and then a second part to that command – teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Okay.  So going and making disciples is no longer optional.  Jesus commanded it.

Third, Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make converts.”  “Go and get people to say the sinners prayer.” “Go and invite people to your church.”

He said, “Go and make disciples.”

So now I am left to wrestle with that.  Am I making disciples?  And what does that mean?

I am still working through what exactly that means, reading the scriptures and praying and trying not to rationalize my way out of hard answers.

But it is not optional.

Defining Rural Church

One hundred years ago, America was largely a rural nation.  In fact, by some estimates, 90% of the population of the country would have been involved in one way or another with agriculture and with the growing and harvesting of our food.  Today that number has dropped to somewhere between 2% and 5%.

Our country has changed significantly in the last 100 years, not the least of which is our move away from the agrarian ideal.  So too has the church changed, and in particular has the rural church changed.  Kent R. Hunter in his book The Lord’s of the Harvest and the Rural Church published in 1993 defined the rural church this way:

A rural church is a congregation of Christian people who live an agriculturally oriented life-style.  It is a church made up of a people group who belong to the agriculture community.

By Hunter’s definition, I am no longer sure if there is such a thing as a rural church.  When I look at my own congregation I see a changing demographic that can perhaps be categorized into three groups.

  1. Those currently involved in agriculture.
  2. Those who grew up in families involved in agriculture but who are no longer involved in agriculture themselves.
  3. Those who have never been involved in agriculture.

Fifty years ago, group one would have been the majority of the congregation.  Today, group two is the majority and I suspect that in another 20 – 30 years, group three will be the majority.

And so as this shift continues, I wonder if perhaps Hunter’s definition is no longer helpful.  Churches in small, rural locations after all still exist and have far different needs, challenges and opportunities than their urban counterparts.

Is a new definition needed?

I am not one to worry about definitions but I am concerned that we have not fully realized and understood the change that is taking place.  I’d like to continue to explore the topic and will continue to reflect on Hunter’s book as I read.

What I would really like is to see a conversation taking place.

Please feel free to leave your comment and to pass this article on to your rural friends.

You can find The Lord’s of the Harvest and the Rural Church at Amazon. [affiliate link]

Book Review: The Lazarus Life

A good story offers a window to peer through in order to see something we could never come up with our own.  A great story ignites something within us that can’t be ignored and will never be forgotten.  A good story informs us.  A great story changes us.

Author, pastor and spiritual director  Stephen Smith outlines the journey of spiritual transformation through the story of Lazarus in his devotional book, The Lazarus Life.  Using Lazarus as his plumb line, Smith draws parallels to our own life, a life he believes should be marked by transformation.

Smith says, “The life offered by Jesus, taught to us by Paul, and experienced by the early church, is a life of transformation.  It is deep-down change at the DNA level of our souls.  It is a life that comes only from Jesus, who identifies Himself as the only life we need.

Lazarus of course is the brother of Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus who hosted he and his disciples at their home, who listened to his teachings and watched his miraculous acts of healing and power.

In the story Lazarus falls ill, so ill that Mary and Martha believe the only way to save him is to send for Jesus, who they know from personal experience as a healer.  As their friend, surely he will come.  But Jesus doesn’t come right away.  He lingers on where he is at and Lazarus dies.

Days later and after Lazarus has been in the grave four days, Jesus finally comes.  Reading the story from our perch in history, we know what comes next.

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Through Lazarus’ journey from death to life, Smith introduces the reader to the idea of spiritual transformation.  By leading us into the drama of this particular Biblical narrative, The Lazarus Life acts as a guide that will help readers like me to understand what spiritual transformation might look like and what we might need to do in order to enter into it.

Smith breaks Lazarus’ story up into different stages of the journey.  These of course are not hard and fast stages, but rather a way to talk about the sometimes messy work of transformation.  It made it possible for me to read a chapter a day and to pull from each chapter helpful ideas and insights to think about and meditate on.

It also allowed me to sink into the Lazarus story, to slow down and watch the plot unfold and put myself in the place of the on lookers, of Mary and Martha and of Lazarus.

This proved incredibly helpful as I have always read the story knowing the ending.  This robs the story of much of it’s power.

  • Mary and Martha must have faced severe disillusionment, discouragement and fear.
  • Lazarus died.  His body had begun to rot and as he stepped out of the grave, the stench of death must of stepped out with him.
  • After Lazarus had been raised, the Jews began plotting his death.

Transformation isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t always lead to a life of ease and tranquility.  Smith reminds us that “authentic transformation is always messier than we expect it to be.”

Transformation is rarely easy, but in the end, it is always good and it is always best for us and leads to the life of abundance that Jesus promises.  Stephen Smith makes that fact abundantly clear and offers a helpful guide on the journey in The Lazarus Life.

A Few Quotes From The Book

Waiting on Jesus is not a passive act.  Waiting on Jesus is soul work.  As we wait, we relinquish control, surrender our wills, give up our false hopes, and realize that if anything is going to happen at all, it will have to be  God’s doing.

Here’s a simple truth: God can use any circumstance, any tragedy, any wronged heart as an instrument for our transformation.  No tomb is dark enough, no situation hard enough, no life broken enough that God cannot use it as fodder for the fire of transformation.

The rhythm of Jesus’ life is the rhythm of a transformed life:  a time of activity followed by a time of reflection.  Both are vitally needed.

We get one life but many opportunities in this one life to get it right.  To live a transformed life is a life-long privilege.

Hey, those links to the book above are affiliate links.  They don’t change the price for you if you’d like to pick up a copy, but I’ll make about 7% from Amazon.  If you are in the Freeman, South Dakota area of course you can borrow my copy.  Buy The Lazarus Life.

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The Fogs of Life

My morning respite.

Sunday morning I awoke to the train rolling through the small town of Dolton just a half mile south of the farm with persistent warning blasts from its horn.  It was 4: 30 am and I drifted out of a dream and into the living room to peer into the darkness in search of understanding.  The engineer kept blasting the horn, again and again as if the cows had gotten out and wandered onto the tracks.  But it was not cows he was worried about, it was fog, a thick, wet fog that clung to the earth and shrouded vision in its grasp.

A few hours later and after a bit more sleep, I worked my way into my morning routine.

  • Start the coffee to brewing.
  • Drink a class of water.
  • Make a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for first breakfast.
  • Grab my satchel with my books and journal and head to the Adirondack chair in the flower garden.

As I stumbled out the back door, coffee in hand, I was met by the soaking blanket of fog that had earlier slowed the train.  I was glad I’d thought to bring a towel for the chair was soaked with beads of fog formed moisture.

I settled into the morning, pulled my book and journal from my bag and set back to take in the view with a sip of hot coffee.  I stared into the cloud of white around me, discerning naught but the outline of the machine shed on the far side of the yard.  It sat a ghostly apparition in the distance beyond which nothing could be seen.

The land was hung in white darkness.

Life has seemed shrouded in fog as of late.  Many decisions yet to be made remain unclear, remain unanswered.  I see shapes of what the future might hold, but nothing is clear.  Our future is a shadowy outline yet to be defined completely.

The farm wrapped in fog.

The fog of life leaves me at times worrying if I’ll find my way.  I can move forward, one gingerly step at a time, always checking to see if I’ll recognize landmarks that will lead me further, or I can wait.  I can sit and wait and be still until the fog lifts because, fog always lifts.

One gift of the waiting is the seeing of new things, things unseen when moving quickly through life.  The yard Sunday morning was pockmarked with white spider webs coated in a sheen of fog induced dew.  They were there the day before and perhaps I’d crushed more than a few traipsing back and forth across the burned up lawn, but I’d never noticed them.  The fog, both by stopping me in my tracks and by accentuating their presence, unveiled them.

One of many such spider webs.

How About You?

Sometimes in the fogs of life we must set out as best we can and work our way toward an ethereal destination that only becomes clear as we move forward.  At other times, we need only to rest in the cloak of darkness, looking and listening for the beauty that can only be found in the waiting.  And sometimes it seems we do a bit of both.

That is where I find myself now.

How about you?  What has life surprised you with when you’ve set out into the fog or when you have waited for the fog to lift?

Lemons to Lemon-ade

If you haven’t heard already, much of the Midwest is in a severe drought.  Two summers ago, our county in southeast South Dakota received nearly 30 inches of rain in the months of June, July and August.  This year, we’ve felt the cooling touch of just under two inches.

2010 was abnormal in the greatest sense of the word.  Nothing like that has ever happened before and no one really expects anything quite like that to happen again.  But droughts are part and parcel for the course of a South Dakota farmer’s life.

The last big drought was in the 80’s.  Farm Aid took off then though many lost their farms.  I am no farmer, nor did I grow up on a farm.  Raised in rural Kansas though, many of my friends were farm kids and now I’ve married into a farm family and so I’ve grown to understand at least a bit of the life of a farmer.

One thing I have learned for sure is that farmers, for the most part, are long on faith.  They plant a crop with no real guarantee that anything will come up, or if it does, whether or not it will produce a crop.

This year is a the type that puts that faith to the test.  The corn came up but then the skies locked up, withholding the rain needed to fill out the cobs, which now resemble mutated dwarves of the corn they should be.  There will be no bumper crop this year.

And so with the bald news of a ruined crop, the farmers in the area do what farmers do best.  They move forward, make some hard choices and begin to cut their corn into silage.

Silage is ground up corn – the whole plant – which is covered and left to ferment and which makes a nutritious feed for cattle.   Cattle prices are up, there’s not much grass left in the pastures and the price of corn is going up too.  So silage makes a lot of sense.

When bad things happen those who can make the most of it and move forward will often come out ahead.  

We can’t make it rain, so there is not much else to do.  We just got to take the lemons life hands out and do our best to make lemon-ade

Life’s like that.