Uniforms, waving flags, men in formation, salutes. Cheering multitudes, church bells, military flyovers, royalty. For some reason that I was at a loss to articulate this morning, these were the images on the computer that made me choke up discreetly as I sat next to my wife on our comfy green sofa. I felt my heart swell, a lump rise in my throat, a chill run down my spine. Goosebumps rose on my arms. My hair stood on end. And all of this, over the broadcasted recap of a silly fairy tail wedding. Ach, how embarrassing. How mortifying. How unmanly. How bizarre—!— or was it?

I can honestly tell you that I care about as much for the royal family and their affairs as I do that the moon rotates at 10 miles per hour compared to the earth's rotation of 1000 miles per hour, or that in China, its dark shadows are not seen as a man, but rather "the toad in the moon." Yes, it’s true, I care that much. So why the almost tears? I thought about it as I drove to work this morning. Here are my tentative conclusions.

1)    God has awakened in my heart the knowledge that I’m part of a kingdom.
I’m part of a kingdom because I’ve acknowledged the right of a King to rule my life, and that King is Jesus! That acknowledgment, that submission, is rooted in my heart, which is why Jesus says The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here [it is]! or, lo there [it is]! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20,21). The kingdom of God is any time and place where the right of Christ to rule is acknowledged by a human heart. And with that acknowledgment comes a life of walking in the Spirit, living by faith in the power of your King, rather than a life lived according to the rules of this world, by your own power. My heart has been awakened with the knowledge that I’m part of a kingdom.
2)    My kingdom heart connects with kingdom imagery.
My heart resonates with kingdom imagery. Prancing war horses, pageantry, towering castles, knights and their adventurous quests—I heart these things. Seeing these things awakens something in my soul. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I think we Americans have a kingdom complex in general; I think we’re all secretly jealous of England’s monarchical history. Why else would we feel the need as a nation to erect our own ‘royal families’ like the Kennedy’s? We’re jealous of royal bloodlines and lineages that stretch back through history and into the fantastic mythologies of Camelot. We may have won our War of Independence, but we’ve lost the war of romance to England’s royal past. And so… millions lived vicariously this morning through the storybook wedding of William and Kate, tuning in secretly at absurd and rediculous hours for just a taste of what kingdom life must be like. But I get a taste every day. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28). ‘Are receiving.’ Every day I experience life in the kingdom of God!

3)    My kingdom heart yearns for kingdom celebration.
I also think we’re all secretly jealous of England’s big party. There’s a wedding party going on, even though the wedding ceremony itself is long since over. The whole country, the whole United Kingdom has been invited to celebrate the royal wedding. And that’s what really pulls at my heartstrings; the royal symbols of celebration. Trumpets blaring, wind, snapping the flags, cheering, feasting. The festivities, the party, with troubles forgotten, stresses left behind, the common stuff of life, swallowed up with that greater reality of kingdom joy.  Every day I experience the kingdom of God, I am receiving it into my life in ways that matter and make a difference to the world around me. And yet… I do not experience that kingdom in its fullness. Still I am surrounded by the common stuff of life, the sicknesses and disease, the death, the disappointments, the failures of others and myself. I live here caught, halfway in-between the already and the not yet, but I live here by faith in the Son of God. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” and I am confident of this, that there is a wedding yet to take place for my King, a party yet to be held at the end of time, and my wedding invitation words it this way—
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! 
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:6-9)
And something in my heart swells, something in my throat catches, something in my soul longs for that day of pomp and circumstance, and I finally stop trying to hold back the tears.

Surrounded By Grace,


The man sat behind the wheel of his parked car, wiping sweaty palms on his jeans. He looked again in his rear view mirror, in time to see the Highway Patrol officer getting out of his cruiser— and neither of them was happy. The driver let out a final, loud sigh of resignation before rolling down his window to hand the lawman his license and registration.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were driving sir?” the patrolman asked professionally, accepting the small stack of documentation.
“Yes,” the man muttered, hanging his head in frustrated shame. There were times he’d been pulled over for ridiculous reasons and times he should have been pulled over and wasn’t, but this was neither of those times. This time, he’d been caught red-handed doing 70 mph in a 55 zone, and he knew it. He was guilty as charged.

The officer was quiet for a moment. He could see lines of fatigue on the man’s face. He noted the slumped shoulders. And, oddly enough, he felt bad for the man.
“I’ll tell you what,” the highway patrolman said, glancing around quickly and handing back the paperwork—“Why don’t you just have yourself a good day. And… slow down.”
The driver’s head jerked up suddenly in a disbelief that turned quickly to gratitude.
“Wow, really? Seriously? Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated again, scrambling now to close his glove box before adding to himself, a little louder than he meant to— “YESSS, mercy triumphs over judgment! There should be more police officers like that.”

By this time the officer had already begun heading for his cruiser, but, at these last few words, he winced and stopped in his tracks. “Well now,” he said, turning around slowly, “I really wish you hadn’t said that…” the driver froze— “…did you just thank me for showing you ‘mercy?’”
Sensing trouble but not daring to offend his benefactor, the driver of the car nodded an enthusiastic affirmative.

The officer was clearly troubled now and seemed to wrestle with whether or not to take the matter any further. Finally, with a look that betrayed a guilt of his own, he spoke.
“How do you understand the idea of mercy?” He asked, somewhat cryptically.
Taken aback, the driver thought furiously for some answer that would end this nightmare and get him back on the road.
“I don’t know,” he stammered, “I guess it’s sort of like love. Loving people are merciful people. Mercy is letting people off the hook.”
“So let me make sure I understand you,” the officer repeated for the sake of clarity—“Me, sweeping your guilt under the rug like I did just now, is ‘mercy?’”
“Yes?” The driver asked, eyes wide and hopeful.
“No.” The officer replied with a sad smile. “No, it isn’t mercy at all… it’s something else entirely.”
Now the driver was mystified.
The officer explained.

“We may call it a lot of things— like compassion, or having a heart, offering forgiveness or even showing mercy, but really— the hard truth is, if a crime goes knowingly unpunished, if nobody pays for guilt, it’s not love, it’s not justice, and it’s not mercy, it’s another thing altogether—it’s leniency. Leniency is never the same thing as mercy, because leniency ignores justice by excusing guilt. Leniency literally makes excuses for the guilty party so no one has to admit wrongdoing. You were tired. You had a long day. You were provoked. You didn’t have a healthy family life, were plagued by dyslexia and your parents named you ‘Jarvis,’ or whatever— so it’s not your fault— don’t worry about it. Leniency makes excuses for the guilty party. But mercy… well, as a sub-set of love, mercy is a sacrifice—it’s always costly to the one who dispenses it, it’s always inconvenient. Leniency excuses guilt and ignores consequences. Mercy forgives guilt by bearing the consequences of someone else’s actions. Leniency is never the same thing as mercy, because to make it mercy, someone’s gotta pay.

An unexpected whimper escaped the driver’s tightly-pressed lips. His eyes had begun to glaze over. Undeterred, the highway patrolman continued.
“You said you wished there were more police officers like myself, but if you understood that what I almost did for you wasn’t loving at all, that it wasn’t really mercy, but leniency, you’d be glad there aren’t more officers out there being lenient—it would be a much more lawless world. A good officer of the law doles out justice indiscriminately. That’s the most fair thing. The problem is— I also want to help you out, because… I’ve been in your shoes.”
The driver swallowed slowly, hardly daring to breathe.

“I do feel compassion for you,” the officer concluded, “but to keep that compassion from turning into leniency, there’s only one legitimate thing left for me to do.” And with that, the officer pulled out his ticket book.
“Wait, what are you doing?” the driver cried in alarm.
“Justice,” replied the officer, eliciting a moan from the man—“and mercy,” he added, signing his own name as the guilty party on the speeding ticket. “Have a nice day sir— you’re free to go.”

GOOD SOIL ~ 4/3/11

The screen door opened with a pleasant creaking, stepping aside like an old friend to welcome me back from another time. The small room was quiet and still, row upon row of hardcover journeys, washed in dust-mote rays from a sandpaper sun. I remembered it then as it remembered me, a cathedral of words and ideas, people and places, each made for the other and strung along with syntax care— let no man rend them asunder!

Standing there, at the threshold of story, I read the shelves for memories. Down and to the left, a beloved collection of Bill Peet gems still promised their gentle humor. There, in the middle, the strange wit of Shell Silverstein beckoned. To the right, past a low-set row of glass-shuttered windows, a faded stack of Nat Geo’s cast an aging shadow on a complete series of tattered Hardy Boy adventures. I stood there reading my past.

For the first time since entering I was aware of the roar from a throaty, hand pushed lawn mower and, looking out the window, glimpsed it and its operator laboring methodically up a steep slope. It was my roll call, my soundtrack for reading those lost days growing up, and here, still, the piper played. All these things I noticed upon entering the simple library of my youth. But before all these there was the smell.

They say smell retains the strongest of memories. Each scent as we breathe it, each whiff of our lives, hitched fast to a thought, tucked snug in the vast filing slots of the mind, hermetically sealed and accessed again only by close simulation. Words have a smell, and the smell of words is like that of a rainforest— rich, musky, heavy like the damp of a soil that spawns giant trees. It was wisdom I smelled, and age, the smell of life, preserved for the coming on a page for the heart. I smiled as I smelled.

I smiled at the memory of story-time, there within those walls. I smiled For Whom the Bell Tolls, and wondered again Where the Red Fern Grows. I smiled at the memory of study hall, tempted by novels more novel than math. I smiled at the memory of knowledge pursued, and its detour when love walked in. My book eyes were hijacked by an auburn-haired girl; her smile stole my studies that day. I smiled at the thought of her smile.

The library girl is my everyday story now; we were married once upon a time. And every day since has unfurled like a fern, the tale of our happily ever after. Storm pages come, as do forest fire ones, and we turn them each one at a time. But we choose to read, in the life of the other, what we hope will be read in our own. And we trust for the happy ending, even when, on the cover, things looks grim.

Somewhere a door slams and I’m back in that room, holding a book, one of my favorites-- The Biggest Bear. I’ll read this to my children, I say. I won’t deny them their own memories, but— for now at least— their stories will begin where mine has been seeded, here in the soil of this library.
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~