Monday, June 30, 2008

Giving God My Best

Currently for our faith group, we are studying the Book of Malachi. Tonight we did Chapter 1:6-14.

Talk about being smacked upside the head.

The point of these verses is the complaint God has about the Jewish Priests during the time when Malachi is writing (circa 432-424 BC). God's complaint is that the priests dishonor Him. How, God rhetorically asks on behalf of the priests. By their dishonoring of His Altar.

How do they dishonor it, they ask? God answers by pointing out to them that they have ignored the commands of the Pentateuch in that all offerings were to be pure, unblemished, males a year of age. Instead, they were accepting animals that were blind, lame, and unfit for sacrifice. God then challenges them: offer them to the Persian governor - would he accept them? Of course not. How much less, then, would the Creator of the Universe.

God challenges them again: If you continue to do wrong, will He accept an offering from their hands - pure or impure? Will He accept them favorably?

He then finishes in verses 12-14, again pointing out that the priests disdain serving the Lord, sniffing or sneering at it and calling it "a weariness". And then He curses those who have that which should be offered to Him -the best - and instead offer something which is less than the best, because (it is implied) they want to keep it for themselves.

Fine and good, I say to myself. Yay Old Testament! Yay Grace instead of Law!

But the question remains: am I giving God my best?

And what is my best? Oh, it includes tithes and offerings (as in the Old Testament), but it includes much more. Do I give my time and talents to serving God - the best, not the leftovers? If I claim to truly love and serve Christ, do I seek to do His will - the low hanging fruit, the things that say "This is the will of God:.....", let alone the stuff that takes more discernment?

More often than not, I fear, I give God the seconds, thirds, or fourths: my energy, plans and life are too often spent on myself, my job, my plans, my family, and then God - maybe, if something else doesn't get in the way first.

An easy place to start is my schedule and my energy (read sleep pattern). I honestly should go to bed an hour to an hour and a half earlier than I typically do. I know I have to get early, and I know that a lack of sleep affects but. But I don't. Why? Because I want to do "my things", and doing them is more "important" than being well rested.

Does it impact me? Of course it does - all day, I'm run down. By the time I get home, my mood is only a little less than sour - and this the typical time I have to spend with my family. Are they seeing God through me there? I doubt it.

This then are two the challenges that God has given me through this study:
1) Am I giving God my best? How often? How much?
2) To do this, I have to come to understand His will more - and seek to do those things, rather than the things that I wish to do without consulting Him.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Follow up

I am coming to see that we stay where we are until we learn the lesson we are to learn. Which would mean, of course, that if we stay in our problems, it is become in some form or fashion we are choosing to blatantly ignore the thing we are to learn.

Does this mean that those who suffer bad things that are not their fault are choosing them? No, and don't say that I said that (Yes, you there behind the computer screen). There is sin, and Satan actively makes war both against those who follow Christ as well as those who might think about it but can be turned by circumstances.

What I am speaking of is the less than life threatening situations: the annoying, the depressing, the enervating, where we hold our hands up to God and say "Why can't you fix this?" Perhaps God says back "Why won't you learn what you need to learn?"

A simple proof of my theory is in my own life is my current employment situation. Over the course of a year, I have had 5-6 telephone interviews and 2 face to face interviews. In the case of the face to face interviews, both of the seemed to go exceedingly well. And yet in both cases, nothing.

What is the lesson I think I am supposed to learn from my current job? Follow up, I think.

I am terrible at follow up. I put things in motion, then don't keep them going. I make commitments, then don't fulfill them. Why? Because it's hard, because it's boring, because it's grunt work and seems to go unnoticed.

But what I am noticing in myself is that if I am not careful, I will train my children this way as well. Nighean gheal is evincing interests in various activities, and if I keep saying "Yes, I'll look into it" and never do, she will learn the same thing as I.

The advantage to follow up? Speaking from a purely material point of view, it gets you to accomplish tasks, which will move you forward in whatever it is you are doing.

From a spiritual point of view, it teaches patience, commitment, and a hope for the thing which we cannot see now. Which is the nature of faith in God.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." - Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thought for the Day

"If I cannot change myself, I cannot change the world."
- T. Wren

Forest Fire

As if reflecting
the hungry fire below,
sunrise burns orange.

Flensing for Me

Flensing, as you'll recall from your late middle school educational period, is the activity of removing the layer of blubber from whales, walruses, or other arctic mammals both to set it aside for use and to get at the meat. Using a "flensing tool", whalers would work the whales over and pull the blubber off in strips for use later.

Why flensing? It occurs to me that this is part of what I am continuing to seek to do, both through this blog, my other writing, and my thoughts: I'm trying to cut away at the interfering layers (as Benjamin Franklin said, "What you seem to be, be really") to get down at the core of who I am and what I want. Time is limited, and I can't really afford the luxury of messing around, continuing to work at the blubber level, thinking that "someday" I'll have the luxury of doing the things that are truly important - the fact is, I really don't have anything beyond the now.

I have a sign in my office that I read somewhere that I try to look at once a day: "Why are you doing this? What is the expected outcome?"

If anything, I should be asking that question more, not less.


Dwelling where I do in Northern California, I am a beneficiary of the 1000+ fires that are going on in this region - not directly, through evacuations or actual burnings, but through smoke. Since Sunday, there has been a smoky haze around my home and all the way on my commute to my job. It's an experience I've not had before.

The only comparison I have to it is fog. The two are quite different - not just in appearance, fog being a sort of dampish grey and the smoke a sort of yellowish brown - but in the appearance the give to the landscape around them. The fog tends to conceal and then reveal, while the smoke just tends to make things disappear. Typically we can clear see 6-8 miles to the next city - now, it's difficult to clearly see a couple of miles up the road.

The other interesting thing to me is that the smoke hasn't cleared. Once it was here on Sunday, I expected it to move out by Monday. Here we are at Tuesday and, if anything, it seems to have gotten worse.

On the bright side, it makes for great sunrises and sunsets...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Will Go Sailing No More

Out among the stars I sail
Way beyond the moon
In my silver ship
I sail
A dream that ended too soon
Now I know exactly who I am
And what I'm here for
And I will go sailing no more

All the things I thought I'd be
All the brave things I'd done
Vanished like a snowflake
With the rising of the sun
Never more to sail my ship
Where no man has gone before
And I will go sailing no more

No it can't be true
I could fly if I wanted to
Like a bird in the sky
I believe I can fly
Why I'd fly

Clearly I will go sailing, no more

Randy Newman, Toy Story

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's bothering you?

Another one of the those questioning things brought on by Bogha Frois - when confronted with a down mood, she asks "What's bother you?" and then she asks "Why is that bothering you?" and then, "So what's really bothering you?". And on and on it goes.

Friends - they serve the useful purpose of pushing us and punishing us in ways that we would never do to ourselves.

And what has come out of this little exercise? Not the bottom of the hole, I'm sure, but I dredged something out.

I feel alone.

Alone, yet surrounded by people. It's an odd problem, yet one many writers far better than myself have plumbed: the idea that in modern society, we are more than ever surrounded by people, yet we are more than ever isolated.

What do I feel alone from? Those deep relationships that we all hope and hunger for, at some level.

Why? I realized that I am living a separate life. I am essentially living a form of opposite life from my family: I get up early, drive either alone or alone in essence, work all day surrounded coworkers, some of whom are good friends, but many of who are those whom we know because of convenience, rather than desire. At home, a brief time with the family as well as trying to accomplish those things that I want to do, and then bed - in theory by 9:30, although it probably should be earlier.

The other thing - and this is where my imagining comes in - is that I deeply desire the approval of others, especially others whom I think of as desirable or important. That, I realized, is what has driven my (at times) intense desire to be noticed by people whom I would otherwise not worry about: I perceive them as important or valuable or lovely or desirable, and so want them to like me. And when they don't (because, I think like me, they are often thrown together into situations of necessity or convenience rather than choice), I become disappointed or morose about the whole thing.

Is it the bottom? I don't think so, but we're digging down.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Lake Isle of Inisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

- W.B. Yeats

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taking Care of Old Business

Today I filled out the submission for my manuscript for the Writer's Edge. They will do a brief editorial check and, if acceptable, it will get sent out to a list of 75 publishers for their consideration.

While obviously I'd like some to happen, I'm just happy that I am finally doing it. This is something that I have worked on for 6 years - and I'm coming to believe that you can't move on until you finish up the business that you have already undertaken.

What happens if nothing happens? I have The Christian Writer's Guide, so I suppose that I can start submitting to publishers that didn't get the listing. Or look at publishing myself. Or, I suppose, even publish on the site.

The important thing is that this is a goal accomplished. On to the next work!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sleep and Aloneness

I made a couple of interesting discoveries today concerning fighting with depression and tiredness:

1) Not surprisingly, the importance of sleep. I have been not sleeping well for over a month. I took a bit of a nap this afternoon, and was sufficiently energized enough to complete the day.

2) Aloneness: The Ravishing Mrs. TB granted me a lack of children this evening, as I was not hungry for dinner. I did pretty mundane things: washed cars, mowed, started cutting out old lavender blooms. The interesting thing was that the longer I did them, the better I felt, more ready to come in to reface my life.

I don't think I have been made so conscious about the value of aloneness in my life (similar, I might add, to the value of just thinking in my life). In reconsidering, I have never been more surrounded by people via work, commuting, and home than in most times in my life, yet never more denied time apart from them. I've always believed I enjoyed periods of solitude; I just did not realize how much I need them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On Beans

Last night we planted soybeans and garbanzo beans. They're some of the easiest for An Clann to plant, because it's just a matter of how, rake, and then poke holes with the hoe handle for them to drop them into.

I always worry that I bury my seeds to deeply. The instructions say an inch, and I think I get an inch, but sometimes it seems a bit deeper. If they are too deep, they will exhaust their little selves trying to poke up through the dirt.

But is not that true of life and dreams as well - that we secrete them in ourselves so deeply, either hiding them from others, hiding them from ourselves, or "protecting" them from the harsh realities of life that they never make it through the soil into the sunlight?

For the beans, we'll know within a week. For myself, I think I have some hoeing and raking to do first.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seeking God.

As part of today's reading from My Utmost for His Highest:

"Seek if you have not found. 'You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss...' (James 4:3). If you ask for things from life instead of from God, 'you ask amiss'; that is, you ask out of your desire for self-fulfillment. The more you fulfill yourself, the less you will seek God. ', and you will find...' Get to work - narrow your focus and interests to this one thing. Have you ever sought God with your whole heart, or have you simply given Him a feeble cry after some emotionally painful experience?, [focus], and you will find...'"

This is interesting to me, as this is in some ways a complete reversal of both the general move of the self-help/me movement as well as some of the items that I heard this last weekend. "The more you fulfill yourself, the less you will seek God."

The line that caught my attention this morning as I read it was "If you ask for things from life instead of from God, 'you ask amiss'; that is, you ask out of your desire for self-fulfillment." This is at the heart of what I heard this weekend, let alone many of the books I have read: that we need to move boldly in the direction of our dreams, and "life" will open up the possibilities.

Which gets back to an earlier thought I had concerning the nature of goals that glorify God: what determines what we will move boldly in the direction of? If self-fulfillment is not the goal, but seeking God is, how do I effectively seek God while having to make my way in life, perhaps even pursuing dreams and goals?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Thought

A brief thought as we prepare to head back to Day Two of our getaway: If an individual or a small group of individuals with enthusiasm is far more able to accomplish anything (change the world), why do we spend so much time trying to influence the large institutions instead of encouraging and empowering individuals and linking up?

A second thought: Those with enthusiasm will, in the end, be more successful than those without it.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Up and Out

An early posting this morning - The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself are off to my birthday present, a weekend seminar from motivational speaker Marcia Wieder. The Ravishing Mrs. TB saw her speak at a conference in Las Vegas and very much enjoyed her. She got her book, which she passed on to me to read. I also enjoyed it - not that she said anything specifically different from others that I have read, but the she did have a couple of good practical ideas for moving forward on your dreams and goals.

Which is what I need. I'm getting hopelessly stuck in a rut - and part of my recent battle with my own flesh and imaginings is, I trow, simply the boredom that comes from not feeling like I'm making any progress in any other part of life.

If we work towards goals, we've far too little time to waste on sin.

P.S. Pray for Otis. He got dealt a left hook at work this week, and is fighting hard to get things back on track. Go Otis!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Garden Goings

The last of the wheat was pulled out last night. I was still having smaller heads coming up, but I've reached the point that I need the space for something else, so out it came. That only leaves a stand of rye, which seems to ripen even later than wheat - it will probably be the end of June before it is ready.

It's amazing how much cleaner and more organized the garden looks now that the grain is pulled out. The ground is turned over, ready to grow and empty - except for some surprise potatoes popping up from plantings I had done 1-2 years ago, which is a pleasant surprise. It's a form of tabula rasa - the empty slate, ready to be written on - or planted, as the case may be.

What's already planted? Onions (three kinds), garlic, lentils, the potatoes, two tomato plants, three pepper plants, okra, two brussel sprouts, Aztec Blue corn, and two kinds of meat beans: Hidatsa Shield and Anasazi Bush Beans.

Still to plant? More garlic (can't have enough garlic), more onions, soybeans, garbanzo beans, two different kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, maybe some carrots, maybe some more corn.

Question for the Day

How does one keep one's focus on one's goals when surrounded by the things that one must do?


I sit here at night, eyes burning, nose running;
I should be in bed.
But even in my state, my mind runs away from me,
going back to the old watering holes,
to places it should not be going.

I sometimes ask my:
"Is this a test from God?"
If it is, I must be doing poorly, because I fail
again and again.

If only the fire of my love for God
could burn as hot as the fire of my lust,
or come so easily to mind.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sin is in - again?

Last night, I found myself terrible convicted after our Faith group - which is a bit remarkable to me, since I'm the one that leads it. The problem is, I'm not sure what it is over.

I sat down and made a list of the "garden variety" sins that I can usually pick out pretty quickly, but nothing that jumped right out at me.

Maybe it was the book we are starting: Malachi. A fine book, which I think has plenty to say to the Western Christian church of today about outer obedience versus inner compliance, and ways that we dishonor and disrespect God. Man's sinful nature is, if nothing else, terribly predictable and unchanging.

One thing that came to my mind as I was scrambling through Scripture last night, looking for some answer, was the concept of seeking God. Do I seek God? How does one go about this? God has a great deal to say about seeking Him, both the good and the bad, the rewards and the punishments - but do I really do it, or do I just make half-hearted attempts to go through the motions based on my understanding of God's word rather than what the word really says?

Do I have only outer obedience to the form of religion, or do I have inner compliance in my heart to the commands of God?