She’s In Deep Muck. I Call Her Buttercup.

A shudder jolted through my chest. My pupils shrank. Heartbeat raced. “What was that?!”

A black mass surged up through the crusty layer of the pond-sized manure lagoon, then disappeared. I stared in disbelief. I waited. Nothing.

The manure lagoon is the collection reservoir for a year’s worth of barn cleaning. An old tractor tire fashioned into a plow and mounted on a skid-steer enables me to push manure, daily, from the alleyways of the elevated cow-shed to the lagoon 100-feet below.

Muck, manure is a valuable, recyclable commodity for a dairy farm. In the Fall, the liquefied compost is pumped through pipelines and injected into the soil of the surrounding fields, capturing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fertilizer for this sustainable agricultural practice.

Minutes later, after fumbling for my phone to alert my boss to the urgent situation, three more desperate lurches of panic confirmed that it was a 700-pound yearling Holstein heifer struggling for the embankment, thirty feet away.

She’s in deep muck. I call her Buttercup. The effort exhausted her. She sank.

Lush green pasture surrounds the lagoon during early spring days like this one. Buttercup should have been laying in the deep green grass, barely visible, chewing her cud. Instead, she waits, submerged, except for her air gulping muzzle, in a horrible pit, fatigued and hypothermic, needing rescue.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. Do you, like me, feel a shockwave go through your chest, your gut, when you realize it’s not just Buttercup that gets herself into a horrible pit? Listen to the words of the Psalmist who understood our condition:

I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3, KJV)

My boss and his son liberated Buttercup. It’s a gospel-like story. A father sent his son out to the end of the appendage of the arm of a backhoe extended out over the lagoon, to place a halter on Buttercup and pluck her to the safety of solid ground. She shall flourish.

So, too, shall we. Once again, God’s top-down rhythm, drawing us to daily repentance, breaks into the Barnyard of Heaven. God Cleanses Us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, so many times you have brought me out of a horrible pit. Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to rescue me, save me repeatedly, and set my feet on a rock. I sing a new song to You. I sing my praises to my Savior. Amen.

Photo Credit: Mire and Clay

 

A Sinner Walks into a Church

I love God’s rhythms. Maybe seasonal rhythms, cow, or sparrow rhythms I notice around the Barnyard of Heaven. Or, especially, rhythms I participate in with others at a church service. The rhythms we take part in which shape our loves.

No need to tell me what you really love? Just show me your rhythms.

I can’t pinpoint when I fell in love with the ancient rhythms of a church service beautifully orchestrated by my pastors. It simply grew with repetition. Maybe it was the crescendo I felt moving me in a Gospel reenactment toward the climax – a meal with God.

Maybe it was the discovery that God was working inside the rhythms, top-down, to transform my heart. A worship service wasn’t a place for me to explore creative new ways to express myself to God, though I did. It was more like a dance between lovers where neither partner feels compelled to impress each other. But oh, the intimacy flowing between us!

After hundreds of repetitions, I’m still stunned by the order of the first two elements of the ancient rhythms passed down by our spiritual fathers. First element: God Calls Us. Second element: God Cleanses Us.

What?!

Shouldn’t these elements be reversed? God knows, and I know, that I’m dragging myself into church a sinner, poor and wretched, weak and weary, sick and sore. But that’s okay. I join my fellow worshippers with a greeting of peace, recite together a Psalm, pray, sing a song and hymn of praise.

Then, God cleanses us as we confess our sins corporately and individually, punctuated by a scriptural reminder of God’s promise of forgiveness.

Gone are the days of trying to perform, behave ourselves, or pretend we’re not filthy. He wants us. He wants to hear our praise. But leave the cleansing ‘til later. He’ll get to it. He’ll be the one to do it. He’ll take a basin and towel and wash our dirty hearts. Whoa!

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17, KJV)

Prayer: My beautiful, dynamic, loving, Triune God. I hear Your call to worship. Your acceptance of me is astounding. You call be by name. I respond to that call with praise. Thank you for cleansing and healing my body and soul. Amen.

Photo Credit: Pharisee and publican

Gaspeth

Psalm 143:6   I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.

(From the Translation of the great English Bible, set forth and used in the time of King Henry the Eighth, and Edward the Sixth, in The Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

Gaspeth!  There it is! There’s the word I’ve been looking for.  In a snapshot, a word picture of what my relationship with God often looks and feels like.  It’s like a Deep Breath of Remember, only quicker.  More paralyzing.  Desperate.  Maybe without exhale.  What any good trusting relationship with God should look like.

We all have dreams about our good life.  Hopefully we get glimpses of the good life smack in the middle of hardship and suffering.  Paul did:

2 Corinthians 4:8-11  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

Here’s part of a story, still unfolding, to illustrate my new found appreciation for an obscure word that gives voice to my soul.

My soul gaspeth

It’s what I do when the criminal investigators invite my son to join them in their unmarked police car for a ride to the station.  They have a few questions.  It’s what I do when, out of curiosity, I pull up the online local newspaper and see a posting, “Police ask for help identifying suspected arson,” accompanied by a surveillance video.  I click >.  And there he is.  My beloved youngest son carrying a gas can down the hallway of the Christian School he’d attended.  The school my wife worked at for nine years as secretary.

It’s what I do when my pastor sits in my living room with a shocked mom and dad, listening to us groan.  Listening to our deep ache gushing forth in tears, questions, fears.  Stunned at our crumbling world.  He prays for us.  Prays for our son.  Reminds us of something I hadn’t thought about much.  Our core identity.  In God.  Beloved son – beloved daughter of God.

It’s what I do when the officers return and my son struggles out of the backseat in leg shackles.  A thick leather belt around his waist with one-foot long chains connected to his handcuffs.  He stands, quivering, trying to find a way to make it all go away with his final drags on his final cigarette that, because of the chains, he has to stoop forward in order to reach to his lips.  He had the guts to confess to the early morning crime.  And for good measure, also confessed to setting the same school gym on fire two years previous.  Now, no longer an unsolved mystery.

It’s what I do.  It’s what my son does when I speak redemptive words gracefully prompted by my pastor.  “My son, there’s nothing you can do to diminish the love God has for you.  There’s nothing you can do to diminish your mom’s and my love for you.”  I call these redemptive words because they bought us, delivered us, out of the grip of despair, hopelessness, shame.

My wife and I hug him.  Hug him hard because it feels like it might be the last time.  There’s a price to be paid, you know.  Hearings.  Pleas.  The slammer.

It’s what I do when, having bled a father’s grief watching television news flashes and front-page headlines, I sit staring in numbness out the window.  I witness the strangeness of black storm clouds roiling in the eastern sky suddenly burst into a blood redness as the sun sets.  Not red on black, or black on red.  But, red in black.  Like liquids mixing.  Suddenly redemption bursts into the story.  Blood redemption weaved into the same tapestry as life’s darkness.  Redemption’s bloody.  There was a price to pay, you know.  Hearings, beatings, nails, thorny crown, curse, death.

That very blood redemption story was carried by ministers of the gospel into the heart of the prison.  Straight into the heart of my son.  Along with a message from an entire Christian School, students, teachers, faculty, “We forgive you!”  More redemptive words.

Especially during times locked alone in his cell, throughout his years of incarceration, my son learned to hear and rely on that Redeemer’s voice that speaks, “My beloved son.”  His soul learned to gaspeth.

It’s what we do, years later now.  Time served.  Prison navigated, survived.  Mom, dad, son after a church service.  Gospel preached.  Redeemer worshipped.  My son turns toward us and says, “I need a hug.”  We hug hard.

Deep Breath of Remember – Barnyard Liturgy (Part 2)

Through gospel-driven liturgy, our worship can calibrate our hearts.  Information won’t do that.  Christian worship is designed to bend our hearts back toward God.  We can’t think our way out of wrong desires.  Rather than being an expressive endeavor, God calling us to worship invites us into a space where He gets ahold of us and re-shapes our fundamental loves.  Historic Christian worship invites us into the gospel story anew.  We gather around the Word and the Table to re-inhabit the gospel which converts our imagination in ways we may not be aware of.  This spiritual transformation is our sanctification.

We’re image-bearers called to tend God’s flourishing world, much like from the story in Genesis 1.  Our liturgies within our work environments shape us.  They impart a vision of how we define the “good life.”  There are many rival liturgies trying to capture us with a picture of what we want to live toward.  We need new liturgies, new habits, new routines and rhythms to bridge the gap between what we think of as our “good life” and what we actually do.[1] http://trinitybozeman.org/sundays/sermons/?sermon_id=203

My work environment happens to be labor on a dairy.  As my love for God’s liturgy practiced on Sunday’s grows, and as I discover my qualification for responding to His call to worship is to feel my need for Him, I find that I profoundly feel that need the other days of the week.  So, welcome to my version of Barnyard Liturgy.   Like you, my work is partly satisfying, permeated with unexpected joys, and mostly a crucible for the shaping of my identity.  I share my stories with the hope that you will grow in awareness of your liturgies practiced in a cubicle, tending the kids, selling real estate, caring for the elderly, teaching at the University.  My hope is that we will grow toward having our identity shaped in God and God alone.

[1] These thoughts provided by James K. A. Smith, Christ and Culture Lectures, “You Are What You Love.”