Abiding in winter.

wintertreesI was having a rough day yesterday, so I took a walk. I read somewhere that Smith Wigglesworth did a one-hour prayer walk each day and it seemed to work well for him, so off I went. I was crying out to God – well, whining really – but doesn’t “crying out” sound so much more spiritual? So there I was, crying out to God, when I felt like He asked me a question. Now I don’t often write about hearing from God because it’s a little uncomfortable for me. Not because I don’t believe God still speaks to people today, but because there have been times when I thought it was God and guess what? It wasn’t.

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I’m pretty Old Testament about the whole speaking for God thing. I haven’t come across any “oops” clause in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. It’s a bright line rule and I’m okay with that. Who wants their statements misquoted or taken out of context? As anyone who has played a game of telephone can attest, humans are notoriously sloppy communicators. Just look at the first specimens – God told them not to eat from the tree and they immediately turned around and told the serpent they couldn’t eat or touch the fruit, Thus Sayeth the Lord. And we all know what happened next.

I’m going to go off on a little rabbit trail here {you’re surprised, right?}. Some people say God doesn’t require as much accuracy when it comes to speaking for Him since Jesus came. I’ve never heard them clarify exactly what an acceptable track record would be, which makes me nervous. I mean can you just swing away and get credit for trying, like in T-ball? Or do you actually have to get some hits under your belt if you want to stay in the lineup? What if you’re going strong and then have one bad inning? It happens.

If you have any insight into New Testament prophecy standards, please enlighten me. I’m serious. God knows {I mean, there’s a high probability He knows} that I could stand to chill out…just a bit.

Anyway, as I was walking and crying out and wondering why my life is so not like Smith Wigglesworth’s, I felt like God asked me a question. What I seemed to have heard was “What season is it?”

Is that a sufficient hedge? Swing and miss, or foul ball?

What Season Is It?

Now that’s a question I’ve never thought to ask myself. It’s not like I’ve been out of the job routine so long that entire months have vanished without my being aware of it. A few minutes maybe and possibly half a day here and there, but not weeks on end. Nevertheless, I did actually have to think about it. I’m in Southern California right now, which must have been at the end of the line on the fourth day of creation, because they don’t have seasons here.

Ok. Winter. It’s winter. I know…move on already.

And then it hit me. I have been wanting lush grass to sprout beneath my feet and for all the trees to appear in full bloom. But winter growth happens on the inside and only when there’s been serious pruning beforehand.

I love fall in Washington DC. But it doesn’t last long and though the demise of fall is the same each year, it always takes me by surprise. One day the trees are covered in their brilliant red and orange outer garments. Then a storm rolls in and the next morning they’re completely bare. Nekked. Suddenly you can see all the chipped paint and cracked moldings on the brownstones.

Leaves cover a multitude of flaws. Just ask Adam and Eve.

So it’s winter. And I feel a little exposed. I’m not seeing signs of life and I don’t like it. Any progress that might be happening now will take months to manifest.

I have two choices. I can “cry out” for three months and live dissatisfied until the blossoms reappear. Or I can cooperate with the season I’m in, celebrate the pruning and honor invisible growth.

This is not a small thing. God said {of this I am sure} that seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter would not cease as long as the earth remained. On the fourth day of creation, God put certain boundaries in place, which man has attempted to violate with impunity ever since. I have to wonder whether in our Christian attempts to restore the boundaries of marriage, gender identification, respect for fellow humans and the beginning of life itself, we are missing something. We work right along with the world at a feverish pace trying to force dormant grass to grow and deciduous trees to bloom no matter the season. And when nature doesn’t cooperate, there’s Photoshop.

Maybe we’ve got things turned around. I mean what if we actually lived within the boundaries of God’s seasons? What if we intentionally curtailed our activities at certain times to strengthen the inner man? Wouldn’t the blossoms be so much more abundant in the spring? And wouldn’t the summer fruit be that much sweeter?

These are not rhetorical questions. Even as I write them, I have doubts. I mean, I have big, bold, busy plans for this winter. Plans that will fall by the wayside if I don’t step it up and make something happen. But that just doesn’t feel right. And it doesn’t at all resemble life as a branch on Christ’s vine.

The branch that abides bears much fruit.

I am fascinated with winemaking because it involves so many disciplines: agriculture {more accurately, viniculture}, chemistry, art, marketing, and more. Vintners know that getting good grapes in the fall requires hard pruning the prior winter. It doesn’t seem logical to cut away all that growth so capable of producing fruit. Nevertheless, it has to go.

grapevine in winterWhen I think of being a branch for Jesus, this is not exactly what I have in mind.

This poor thing looks abandoned, awkward, a little despondent…and just what a grape vine is supposed to look like in the dead of winter. If it wasn’t cut back, you’d fault the grower for his negligence.

You can berate those sticks for not bringing forth abundant fruit; you can send them to Joel Osteen; you can surround them with motivational posters. They won’t bear fruit out of season. Period.

But if those branches simply hang out on the vine for a few months, something wonderful will happen.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve listened to on the law of sowing and reaping. We love that principle in part because it involves so much of our own doing. We get to bustle with activity as we plant the seeds and then we wait impatiently {i.e. busy with ourselves with other pursuits} until it’s time to break out the scythes and baskets and pull in the harvest. While it’s definitely satisfying to see the fruit of your labor, I’m wondering if maybe we focus too much on the work of our own hands.

Where’s the sermon on the seed lying in the ground or the dry branch on the vine?

Can you even make a three-point sermon out of abiding in wintertime? 1) Get your limbs hacked off. 2) Stop whining. 3) Stay put. No take-away action steps for productive believers. So not seeker-sensitive.

But what if there is another law at work? The law of boundaries and seasons…of abiding and resting…of hanging out with the Branch while He prunes the vine and husbands it, growing it to maturity so it will bear good and lasting fruit.

Maybe I’ll have to write that sermon myself someday.

SOPA

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge fight brewing over the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA (H.R. 3261). The stated purpose of the bill is “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by combatting the theft of US property.” So far, so good.

The trouble is, we haven’t been able to enforce US property rights against creative Chinese entrepreneurs who think it’s a brilliant business strategy to reproduce True Religion jeans and sell them back to status-conscious Americans for a fraction of their retail value.

To “solve” that problem, SOPA targets US companies that host or link to foreign websites that market products to US consumers. If a foreign entity is accused of infringement, US service providers and search engines must disable access to the offender’s website within five days. Due to DNSSEC and other acronyms I know nothing about, it is possible that SOPA could inadvertently close down or otherwise impede access to other sites that are perfectly legit.

However, the crafty drafters of SOPA are a step ahead of their would-be detractors. To quell any doubt, the bill opens with congressional findings {spelling out the intent of Congress if—or in this case, when—the bill is challenged in court} to clarify that “Nothing in the Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.” See, it’s all good. Ron Paul can rest easy now.

This so-called finding reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone you are, you aren’t.” Now that’s a timely reminder for Members of Congress in general—but I would add that if you have to go out of your way to tell someone your bill is constitutional, well…enough said.

Our laws already prohibit online piracy. The Department of Justice can go after Google and GoDaddy if they are intentionally facilitating infringement. Domestic entities are not the culprits here. I’d love to punish the bad guys, but I’m not sure it’s wise to impose new mandates on US companies that are incidental to the problem.

A few years ago, following reports of lead paint in toys imported from China, Congress passed a bill that imposed draconian lead standards on domestic manufacturers of children’s products. Nearly every Member of Congress voted on the law and then happily went home to tell their constituents they had done something to protect children. Except they neglected to read the fine print. In fact, the law does nothing to prevent the illegal and unethical conduct of foreign companies. It just makes life that much more difficult for American business owners who are finding it virtually impossible to comply with the new provisions.

Let’s hope SOPA receives a little more scrutiny.

The whole issue raises some challenging questions with respect to life in a global marketplace. Intellectual property is important to us because we are a nation founded on and unified by ideas, not artifacts. Awhile back, I had a professor who lamented America’s lack of quality culture, while pointing to the unique cuisine, garments, art and music that are defining elements in other nations. For the record, this was someone who bought coffee every day for a month from McDonalds—while in France. But I digress. In any case, my professor completely and tragically missed the absolute genius of the American experiment.

Ideas matter. Germans are rich in culture, but what good did it do them to march off to war to a good soundtrack when their ideas plumbed the depths of wickedness? I could care less if our national food is the hot dog and our contribution to art is Jackson Pollock {sorry fans}. We possess something no people group in history has ever even attempted: a nation founded on the notion that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that government derives its just power from the consent of the governed.

Now if only we could get the Chinese to pirate those ideas.

Five women.

5women2

The first disguised herself as a cult prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law. The second was a common street hooker who harbored enemy fugitives in her home and then lied to the authorities about having committed a treasonous act. The third belonged to a culture that burned their children alive. The fourth was a newlywed when she had an affair with a man who later arranged to have her husband killed. And the fifth was a teenager who was engaged to be married but then became pregnant by someone else. Her fiancé agreed to marry her anyway so the baby would have a father, but planned to divorce her right after the wedding.

Characters in a trashy reality TV show?

Hardly.

These are the leading ladies in the lineage of Jesus. They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. But these women were hand-selected by God to bring forth His own Son to save humanity from our sin. While the “good” women in the family tree went largely nameless, these five are explicitly mentioned in the opening paragraphs of God’s New Testament to humankind.

I love that He weaves the most unlikely among us through His redemption tapestry.

Update.

My writing project is underway. It’s going pretty well, but I have to confess that I’m having a harder time than I would like staying focused. I basically have the attention span of a tsetse fly and for that I blame Congress.

For the past five years, work has been synonymous with gulping from a fire hose and now I have to learn how to sip from a glass.

I’ve also had some technical hiccups. The blazing-fast internet service that was supposed to be up and running two days ago wasn’t – and as much as I love Starbucks and their free wifi, I was hoping to be working from home by now. Plus my cell phone broke a few days ago so I’ve been battling with that company’s customer service department to get them to attach my old number to the new allegedly smart phone I purchased, but to no avail. They were able to give it a new number, complete with the area code of a state I’ve never lived in, and now they seem perplexed that I’m not a fully satisfied customer.

I’m pretty sure this is all nothing more than a desperate and possibly conspiratorial attempt by the tech companies to keep me from browsing the results of the Iowa Caucus. Did I mention I’m having trouble staying on task?

Technical challenges notwithstanding, I see that Bachman is out, Rick Perry is reevaluating his campaign and my man Santorum is making his mark. I know I’m a little cranky because of the whole not being connected to the human race thing for the past week – still, I am confused how Rick Perry rose to become a serious contender in the first place. Gov. Perry says his comments alluding to secession were made in jest, but there are certain principles so fundamental to who we are as a nation that even the suggestion of violating them is distressing. I would put the preservation of our Union at the top of that list.

There are critical differences between a union and a confederacy and in the debate over states’ rights and a proper view of federalism, I feel like the distinctions are not articulated clearly enough.

A confederacy is a group of states held together by a contract. Wikipedia defines it as “an association of sovereign states.” If one state breaches the contract, the other states may not be thrilled, but the association can more or less happily go on.

A union is a covenant relationship that creates a new entity greater than its individual elements – like a marriage. If one state unilaterally walks out on the relationship, the entire union is dissolved and the nation as we know it is no more.

America is a union. We are not a confederacy.

Americans in 1864 understood the ramifications of secession. In his second Inaugural Address, a somber Lincoln reflected on the beginning of his turbulent presidency:

“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Why did the war come? If talk of secession is simply an expression of dissatisfaction with the workings of the federal government, why did we fight a four-year Civil War that scarred the soul of the nation and left 600,000 Americans dead? Why not just let South Carolina {or for that matter, Texas} go and forge a “new birth of freedom” with the remaining states?

Because we the people are in covenant with one another. For better or for worse.

The concept of a Union based on covenant is uniquely American and distinctly Judeo-Christian. Why so many believers would rally around Gov. Perry without seriously challenging his statements regarding secession is beyond me. I’m not questioning the sincerity of Perry’s faith or impugning his character. I’m just saying he has some explaining to do. And I wish the church demanded a bit more of our political {and other} leaders. That’s all.

As for the other Rick – I loved Santorum in the Senate and will never forget the day he cleaned Barbara Boxer’s moral compass during the debate on partial birth abortion. I still don’t understand why he didn’t get more traction earlier on in his campaign. I once asked some friends who understand politics way better than I do what they thought the problem was and they said Republicans are still upset that he lost his Senate seat back in 2006. And that is why I will never understand politics.

Also, Santorum speaks in complete sentences, which may explain why he hasn’t been as popular as other candidates who equate conservatism with lower taxes and leadership with take our country back.

With the Republican field thinning, it is time to weigh the remaining candidates carefully, looking past the gloss to pose the hard substantive questions. Justice and righteousness are the foundation of the King’s throne and were once the basis of our civil government. We should be insisting that candidates explain their views of justice – not just asking about whether they can ease our pain. Potential presidents should be held to a high standard of personal and public righteousness.  Times may have changed, but the standard hasn’t.

Campaign slogans may make for good bumper stickers, but they do nothing to resolve economic and geopolitical crises. “Anyone but Obama” will not do. In California we were so desperate to remove one former governor that the recall campaign mantra was effectively “Anyone but Gray Davis.” And look how well that turned out.

“We can succeed only by concert. It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.” {Abraham Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, 1862}

Now, back to my writing project…