Sunday, December 27, 2015

Slipping into Eternity

Last week my father breathed his last breath and entered into eternity with God at his side. He lived a good life and I am very thankful for having the gift of a good father who loved me.  Because of him I can better love my own children.  My dad wasn't a big talker, but his way of leading was by example. I remember celebrating his 80th birthday by renting a big dining room and inviting all his friends. We gave people the opportunity to come forward and share how they appreciated dad.  I was amazed at how much of a servant his life was to others.  What seems to be praised and admired these days is those who aggressively seize life and conquer the world around them in whatever their field.  But there are other heroes that are quietly serving and caring and giving of their lives for others.  This was my dad.  He didn't have much in the way of  hobbies or outside interests. He was a great gardener and loved to give away his produce!  This was actually a deep joy for him!    He wasn't really into technology and constantly checking his smart phone.  When I was with him I always had his total attention. And if you had a need,  if you were stuck, or if you just needed someone to  be there for you, well, my dad was there.   He defined and was the epitome of faithfulness.

He was also very generous, kind, gentle, patient and thankful-my dad never complained.  He never seemed to have a harsh word toward us kids that me or my two sisters could remember.  Is that even possible?  He would be the first to point me to God as his source of any goodness he had.

But above all these other things the faithfulness of my dad seems to stand out. He was married to my mom for over 60 years!   I've thought much about my dad in the last couple weeks.   I thought of the many days he drove me to school as a youth, as a teenager in high school and even a college student. He was never too busy that he couldn't drive me, and usually take me out for coffee or a meal in the process!  And on those drives of 2 miles to high school or 80 miles to college, he caught up with me. He used his service to me as a way to also spend quality time together.  This usually came in the form of some well placed questions and a lot of listening to my responses.  Many years later my mom would describe to me how my dad would wake up from his afternoon nap and ask her "where's Phil?" She would remind him that I was with my family in the Northwest.  I was always on his mind even toward the end of his life.

My dad's faithfulness to me seems very contrasted with our current state in this world.  How many people stand by each other anymore?  How many married couples stay together?  How many dads are there for their children however imperfectly this might be? Our world so desperately needs fathers like mine, who are faithful to the end.  Who reflect Jesus to a world mad with power, vengeance, betrayal, violence and death.  The fruit of Jesus' life was serving, healing, restoring and giving his life so that others could have life and live if to the full.  This is the fruit of a life well lived.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy. . . . .“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. 6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”     From the book of Malachi about a captive people

Friday, February 27, 2015

The sword, the scalpel and love

I visited a students home the other day where we practiced some English together.    I arrived on a freezing day to his humble apartment to find a tray of hot tea and dates lying on the floor for us to enjoy before the meal. When the lunch was ready he pulled a huge platter of spicy rice out of the oven that was covered with chicken, peppers and lemons.  It was delicious!  We finished this meal with more tea and cookies of various sorts.  Middle Eastern culture is amazing in its hospitality even to a stranger like me! Sadly such warmth and friendship is overshadowed by evil events that continue to dominate the news day after day.

As we ate and enjoyed each others company I noticed the green flag on the wall  above the couch.  It had white flowing Arabic script and underneath the letters was a sword.  I asked my friend what it meant and he said it was the Shahad from the Koran that one recites to become Muslim and affirm one's faith over against all others.  What struck me was the sword that was underneath the script.  It almost appeared as the base or foundation. The Saudi Arabian government added it to their flag to remind people of its military strength. The Arabian peninsula is of course where Islam was begun.

I recently got a letter from a friend in the Middle East who spoke of the situation they face today.  He is neither Muslim nor Christian, but prefers the term intellectual as he's a professor and author.  He wrote of how today Muslims "slaughter other humans like sheep by the name of Islam and, on the other hand, how intellectuals and leaders of "Christianity" arrange the slaughter of other peoples by the name of "Christ" or "National Interest" or "Prophecies"."  He is Arab, but he grieves for the plight of the Syrians, Iraqis and others whose countries have been torn apart by war and competing interests.  The sword is the means and the warped human heart the instigator.  His letter and the symbol of the sword reminded me of what Jesus said to his disciples in reference to following him;

32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. . . . 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.    39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.                Matthew chapter 10

 Jesus' mention of the sword was the end result of seeking to surrender to him. The very act of confessing Christ is to follow in his footsteps and renounce the world's way of making things right.  His own Jewish people were set against him!   Jesus never advocated violence. When the religious leaders taught "an eye for an eye" Jesus taught people to love.  When he was taken captive prior to his death, his friend Peter swings a sword and injures one of those capturing Jesus.  Then Jesus heals the man's injury and rebukes Peter  saying "those who live by the sword will die by the sword".  In this Jesus reaffirms what he lived in his life.  He was committed to people's lives being "conquered from within".  This was always misunderstood by his followers.  How can a conqueror not also be a warrior? But our eyes much of the time are on the external and not the eternal.

Christianity's founder calls his followers to surrender their lives, forgive their enemies and walk in humility.  Christ wasn't a warrior in the conventional sense, but rather one who pointed to a battle far more deadly within the human heart and soul.  When his followers lives were transformed by God, they left their swords and religious battles and fought for the hearts and lives of people! 

So as I thought of the sword another symbol came to mind.  The scalpel is a tool used by physicians the world over to cut out and remove what sickens, destroys and kills people.  If Jesus would have had a symbol to display, I think the scalpel would have been very fitting.  God is called in the Bible, the Physician of our souls who offers forgiveness and new life. Can we give ourselves new lives through our own means or even through religious means?   Jesus' very life pointed to a rejection of religion and ritual as the means to please God. Even self sacrifice doesn't cut it as their were already zealots and messiahs before Jesus.  The religious leaders of his day hated him and wanted him dead. They said Jesus blasphemed and called himself God which is why they had the Romans kill him.

 But what really bothered the religious leaders about Christ  was the fact that he pointed out the bankruptcy of their religious system.  It was a system of law and morality.  So everything was based on pleasing God and doing good.  Yet even these religious leaders who knew their Scriptures and what Moses and David wrote couldn't not live it.  Jesus called people to a lifestyle that loved both God and people.  In order to love as God loves, you need to become a new person.  This didn't fit the religious leaders system of law and control and Jesus threatened that control.  So they essentially murdered a man whose life was lived loving others.

 We as people do not have the capacity to fulfill such demands regardless of the religion offered.  This isn't an attack on Judaism or Islam, but rather an argument against those who seek to know and serve and please God that avoids Christ's way of surrender.  Whether he was God or not is not the first question.  The first thing to ask is whether you seek to please God by your own efforts.  I would encourage you to then discover who God is in both live and through the story of Jesus such as in the book of Luke.  Don't simply rely on what others say about the Bible or Jesus.  Find out yourself!

The very act of confessing our sin and surrendering our lives to him is a spiritual form of heart transplant.  He brings us from death to life, to be made new creations.  God replaces our dead and stony hearts with hearts that are new and linked with his. Jesus Christ did indeed die through state execution of the day because of the accusation of sedition against the state. He didn't defend himself but gave himself up to those who hated him. Up to the last day his followers kept thinking that Jesus would take up the sword, lead a rebellion and free Israel from tyranny.  Instead he was killed.  Not the type of hero we make into successful films!   But this crucifixion  was not the shameful death of a prophet that some say. Some even try to change history in order to "protect" Jesus' honor.  But this is what God's Word says about both Christ's death and return to life:
1When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.           Colossians  2-New Living Translation

Christ's peace to each of you as we near good Friday and Easter-or Resurrection Day!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Facing Evil and Hope

I heard  a report recently  by the BBC about Syria and the devastation it was experiencing due to the war that has been going on there.  The reporter interviewed some refugees who had crossed the border into Turkey.  Most of these people had never experienced anything like this before.  Many of them had jobs, houses and a stable life prior to the war.  Now they were experiencing total instability and loss of both loved ones and all they'd known of normalicy.  These are real people whose lives have suddenly been "thrown to the wind" and who now live in uncertainty and fear.  Not too long afterwords I heard something tragic  that was closer to home.  Young children got to their classrooms and had just settled in for a normal day at school.  Many had thoughts of the Christmas break soon to come.  Others were thinking of gifts they'd get.  Some may even of been thinking of the school subject at hand!  But none were expecting death at the hand of a stranger who came like someone armed for a war.  Twenty of these children died with their expected hopes of the future, of home and of Christmas still in their minds.

It might be likened when your hiking in the mountains and the clouds suddenly blow in and you have no chance to run for cover.  They surround you, envelop you and what was once a bright and lovely day suddenly turns black, fierce and terrible.  These dear children had a couple minutes of warning and then they were enveloped by the blackness of a creature whose purpose was to kill and destroy.  Like a black hole in space, he hated his life and was determined to suck as many into his darkness as he could.  Six heroic teachers gave their lives in this storm of death, trying to save the defenseless.

What do we do when violence becomes increasingly present more and more around us? I've thought of the parents of these little ones who must now endure the holiday and the years ahead in pain, sorrow and a deep emptiness.  The most precious to them has been taken this Christmas season and somehow they must keep going.  I've never felt so sad and emotional for any news report in all my life as I have for this one.  Repeatedly tears came to my eyes when I heard of the events of this story from a small, "safe" town in Connecticut.  We  are suddenly faced with the stark reality that this black cloud that has so long permeated other countries through war and crisis, is over us too.   The chill of fear and despair that so many people today feel needs to be talked about.  It touches all of us, similar to a country at war where no one feels safe.

There are the policy issues that loom like easy access to guns, the crisis in mental health and health care in general. Our culture is one that entertains itself watching violence.  I participate in this. And there is our history and the way we took this land long ago, and things that have born fruit as a result. Each of these things need looked at.  I think that our history and current identity is a larger issue than we might think and needs to be discussed. 

But we must not forget those we've lost and those who must try to carry on.  Perhaps some of the answers will come when we just stop and allow ourselves to feel?  Allow ourselves to ask the Giver of life why. I confess that we in the church too many times just give shallow answers and put a happy face on things so we don't have to weep with those who weep.  I don't know the answers, but I don't think that our optimism and pragmatism solve things. Nor does our technology. Distractions can't blot out what has happened and is happening around us.  We need and must feel the pain and sorrow and bleakness.  We must not simply "move on"  because in moving on we are simply ignoring the blackness and pretending it will just go away.  We must move beyond this thinking and be mature.  Evil doesn't just go away.   In facing uncertainty, fear and instability we can realize that  all our vast resources and strengths cannot deal with what is upon us now.  When we can acknowledge the truth that this thing is bigger than us, we'll see that our hands are empty.

In our emptiness, and sorrow and pain God can speak.  The God of all comfort can bring healing.  He can bring peace and perspective.  But not simply one who will solve all our problems or give us all the answers.  He does promise to walk alongside us.  "I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you."  A good part of the Bible deals with God's people while in exile.  Displaced and surrounded by a world they don't recognize.  The world they once knew and had embraced was totally changed.  What once brought security and comfort was gone.  In this emptiness they turned to the One who embraced them, wiped their tears and filled them with his undying love.  Before anything else, we need this.  Its not abstract religion.  Its not doing more.  Its being connected to Jesus who came into this world to comfort and love the broken hearted. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

carry us over

I was hiking on Jenny Lake on our vacation in the Grand Tetons this past summer. I wished it could have lasted for 2 weeks instead of a morning as it was all so beautiful around the lake. My family and I took a pretty well worn trail alongside the lake and past numerous people as we hiked. There was even a moose close to the path just eating away! It was beautiful looking out at the mountains initially, but as we hiked closer the peaks were all but hidden and we became swallowed up in the dense trees. At times we'd see hills, but the closeness of the mountains kept us from seeing their fullness. We hiked for two and a half miles and passed over a swollen river bursting with ice water from the snow above us. I loved the whole experience. Unfortunately my wife twisted her ankle and was in a lot of pain, so instead of walking back-which I had really wanted to do- we took a boat that carried us all over Jenny Lake back to our starting point. It ended up saving Angela a lot of pain.
Sometimes in life we're taken out of the "perfect situation", the dream job, the dream house, the educational track that should have led to a great future. Were "sidelined" as they say in sports and have to sit on the bench for a time. This can be a short time or a very long time depending on your perspective. It can be hard because you can feel unimportant and insignificant. You can feel lonely and wonder if your adventure is over and all you can do now is look back. I've struggled with that the last 5 years. Not always vocally but more in my head and struggling to look forward and envision with God what's next. But one thing I have done this past year is trade in my leather briefcase for a backpack. You see I began realizing that my Father had something yet to teach me and using the backpack was a reminder to me that I'm not done learning yet.
I was reading the story of Moses the other day and meditating on his situation. For 40 years he was raised up in the seat of luxury and power. But then one day it all ended. Moses saw injustice done against one of his own people. So he responded in anger to stamp out the injustice with his own injustice. Suddenly everything was taken away. All his privilege was gone and he found himself in the desert herding sheep. He was raised in a culture that despised shepherds and now he was one himself! What do you think Moses felt for the next 40 years in the desert? Probably like a nobody. He probably reminisced about those glory days back in Egypt. But God wasn't finished with Moses. He's not finished with us either. Perhaps he has us in a place where we can learn. Where we can listen. Where we can join in the work he's prepared beforehand for us to do. But we need to trust him. We need to realize that when he's taken us out for a time he does it out of a heart that loves. He wants us during these times to grab hold, climb into the boat and allow him to carry us over to where we need to be. Maybe it is something insignificant. But who are we to judge those things anyway? Instead we need to just rest in his grip. Let him carry you for a season. He's weaving something that someday we'll get to see.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What big cities can't give us!

I used to live at the doorstep to a couple big cities. San Francisco, Portland and Antwerp in that order. I love what they offer in terms of activities, creativity, architecture and opportunity. Did you know that Tokyo has 32 million people in one city! Talk about a sea of life and dynamic potential!
But whenever I leave the city and head for the hills or the sea there is something in me that opens and breathes free. I'm not usually conscience of this until my car or bike leave the city limits and then something like a tight balloon releases. I don't totally know why this is. But cities tend to reflect the works, power and ability of man. The country and wilderness reminds us of where we've come from and the vastness of the one who has made all those creative beings in the first place!

As many times as I have seen mountains, trees and waterfalls I never tire of them. It all tends to draw me in. Deep calls to deep as my father says in his book. What is deep inside of us rarely comes out in most circumstances in life. But sometimes our emotions get touched by a song, a film or a story. Other times we are drawn by some mystery that we hardly understand in the midst of our day. The deep and timeless One calls for us to come and join in. But fear and the need to control the outcomes of our lives keep us from entering into a life we are called to. How can I break free and enter in? How can I join the one who has a love that is never ending and never failing? Much like my little trips out of the city, it is acting both on impulse and plan. In these "weekends away" you begin to explore those foggy beaches and see the peaks more clearly behind the clouds. The mystery is still there but you have become more familiar and allow your heart to open. It is much less analysis and much more experiencing that takes place because the One we're opening up to is personal versus other. And this person is good. I encourage you to begin this journey. Stay open and expectant for the unexpected!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Traveling, Inspiration and my hope for this journal

I was travelling through the Columbia Gorge recently on the way home from a trip to Portland Oregon and witnessed an amazing sight. It was the beauty and depth of nature all around me. It was sunrise over the water. It was the abundance of rushing waters crashing down the sheer rock face cliffs. It was the still and peaceful ponds below. As I stopped to take it all in, you could hear a chorus of birds singing to their maker. It was early enough that they weren't drowned out by the rush of freeway noise. There was a train that roared passed but soon was gone. The birds and trees and water and wind continued their song as if it had never come. Are we like this? Rushing through life with all power and swagger yet hardly making a dent on the world. Perhaps we do make a dent through success, fame, wealth or power. But are the after effects life enhancing or simply the pollution of death? These woods and trees and immense rock cliffs above me spoke of a faithfulness of being and character. Living trees, hills and birds that both sing for joy and groan with burdens. Is this just colorful language or something more? I believe it is a reminder of the One who creates beauty and recreates these same characteristics in each of us. It is the one I love and call Father.