Friday, November 15, 2019

Roots In Each Other

Our roots run into each other. Even the slightest handshake has tendrils in it. Sometimes with time they grow deep and far into each other. Sometimes they blossom in a moment. And when that being dies and is removed, some of our roots die with it. We will never be whole again until all things are whole.

"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Last Gift

In our lifetime God gives us so very many gifts. He gives us, for example, lungs to breathe. Blood vessels to carry oxygen and health to every corner of our vast body. Sexual organs that not only create the wonder of new life but accomplish it with intense pleasure and intimacy. He gives us intelligence to dream and plan and the muscles to accomplish many tasks. He gives us sleep at night after the day's labor, and the satisfied memory of what we accomplished.

But after we have barely had time to begin putting these gifts to use, he gives us one final gift: he takes them all away again.

He takes them as we age and our gifts begin to fail. Metabolism slows. Muscles deteriorate and our hands begin to shake. Skin wrinkles, eyesight dims, hearing fades. Diseases multiply. Lungs may harden and hearts may grow weak. The mind begins to lose its sharpness, or strokes may rob us of speech altogether. Our proud frame stoops and our legs shuffle as we step carefully from our sitting chair to our bed, like a gray-haired toddler first learning to walk.

This is our final gift. It is given with tears and with great love. It is a gift of death that prepares us for life. After all the pride of our accomplishments, the deceitfulness of riches, and the comforts of this world, we may be too adult to enter heaven. Jesus warned us that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

And so as we begin shedding all our giftings we become children again, even infants. We grow timid, helpless, and simply nap in his arms, barely aware at times of anything but the sustenance and our need, and the presence of care as our diapers are changed, as tears slip from eyes that try to understand, as we pull ourselves up and struggle to walk and to talk.

Here, tucked in these beds, alone at times and crying for our caregiver, we become ready. And so we are humble when we fall asleep, and humble when we wake up in a bright land in the company of the mighty. And so through the sorrow of our humiliation we become as happy as Jesus in the morning light of our Father's eternity.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Call the Dog by Name

Have you ever watched a dog for someone?  We recently did for three weeks. Overall, the dog, Charlie, was a good-natured dog. His weakness was that whenever we left the house, he sprayed pee on various objects and would poop multiple times to show his distress. We did not enjoy returning home to see what he left us. He was becoming a nuisance.

One night, however, I was taking my baby daughter to bed. She speaks four words so far: mama, dada, hi, and doggie.  But as I walked her across the dim upstairs landing to the bedroom, she heard him moving at the foot of the stairs.

"Do you hear that?" I said. "That's the doggie. Where is the doggie?"

Suddenly she called to him.


She was staring down into the dark stairwell, and she beckoned with her hand for him to come.

I was in shock.  When I told my wife the next day that our daughter's fifth word was Charlie, she was strangely moved.

"It almost makes me want to keep him around," she said. "I can forgive him a lot of things if she likes him."

I know, personally, that I spray a lot of objects in God's house and leave poop here and there for him to clean up.

But his beloved son, Jesus, takes my name on his lips. He says my name. Not only does he call my name in the darkness, he has carved my name on his hands forever. That has to count for something.

"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."

"But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."

"See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands."  Isaiah 49:16

Friday, April 14, 2017

Crawling to Father

The other night I was at a church function for Valentine's Day. I was standing up on the stage with some others, competing in a silly Family Feud-style game.

There was a rustle in the audience. I looked out and saw, crawling away from the banquet tables, my baby daughter. She was crawling towards me, a determined expression on her face. She would put her head down and crawl across the carpet, then stop and raise her head to see where I was and adjust course.  When she finally reached the stage, she started climbing painstakingly, determinedly up the stairs to where I stood at the top.

Before she could get all the way up, I stepped down and swooped her into my arms. Snug there against me in front of everyone, she looked perfectly contented, as though this was the most natural thing in the world. I held her for the remainder of the on-stage activity.

I had felt such warmth and affection as I watched her crawling away from everyone else and towards me. She had single-minded focus and would not be content until she was in my arms. I felt proud of her. She had acknowledged me before others, and I was certainly proud to acknowledge her as mine to the entire assembled audience.

"I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God's angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God's angels."

Luke 12:8-9

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Comforting the Dead

The beggar Lazarus had a difficult life. As he lay outside the gate of the rich man's house, dogs would come up and lick his sores. He had no health care. He had no power. But he had faith.

After death, he lay in the arms of Father Abraham. Why? To be comforted. Abraham himself took this ragged beggar into his arms, to comfort him. Apparently reaching heaven does not instantly erase all past sorrows. It's a process.

We also see people in heaven who are discontent, or impatient. The martyrs call out, "How long until we are avenged?". Sounds a little different than our average Sunday School images of heaven.

But this comforting of Lazarus caught my eye. The other night my 10-month old daughter woke up and began crying. I hurried to her and picked her up, and held her. Her tears didn't stop immediately. It took a little time. I had to gently murmur to her, rocking her, holding her close.

After the trauma of this life, apparently at least some of us get the same treatment. We don't forget. There is nowhere in the BIble that says we do.  But we are comforted. We are pulled from the coffin and held in much older arms, gently murmured to, understood, loved.  I wonder how long it takes to calm down and find healing?  If the Lord's presence is there, the healing process goes quickly, I'm sure, but some wounds take time.

And then one day, all this current order of things will pass away. Tears and sorrow and loss will be from a previous age, for all things will be made new. And in the ages to come he will continue to surprise us with his mercy and grace.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Three Principles for Getting Along with Other Christians

Let's be honest. Christians disagree a lot. If there was an Olympics for disagreement many of the gold medalists would be Christians.  Of course we have a good reason. We believe in absolute truth--that there is a right answer to every question.  The problem is we are far too fast at jumping to the conclusion we hold the true perspective. 

Jackie values thought over emotions, so she's likely to view weeping and shouting in worship at a local pentecostal assembly as "disorderly."  Melinda, who values relational warmth and empathy, may be too quick to judge the theologically precise sermon she heard at a local Presbyterian church as "dead and dry."

Assuming we agree on the basics of Christian faith (for example, the Apostle's Creed, which almost all Bible-believing Christian denominations generally uphold), how can we live with our differences?  There are many ways, but here are three principles I've found useful.

1) Always Remember We Have the Same Father
Whether we agree with each other or not, we have a basis for relationship. This was very helpful for me when I graduated from a conservative college and joined a missions team of Mennonites, Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and others.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
                                      -From Ephesians 4

2) Each Person Answers to Their Master Individually
So we should remember they will be judged and rewarded by their Master who knows their struggles and faith much better than we do.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
                                      -Romans 14:4

3) Look First For the Good In Others
Human tendency is to look first for areas of disagreement and wrong, but among brothers and sisters it should not be our first impulse. The verse below has wider application, yes, but it is in the context of disagreements between sisters in the church, and reminds us not to get stuck on what peeves us but look at the bigger and better picture.
 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women...Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
                                      -From Philippians 4

I hope these three principles are useful as you relate to your brothers and sisters in Christ. What other principles have you discovered for dealing with other Christians who rub you the wrong way?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Climbing Into Bed

Lay my weary frame into this raft
Rocking gently in the waves
Tuck blankets over me for the cold journey
Through long night into day
The sun blinks down and shadows rise
To fill all the world with their gaunt great wings
I push off the bank into a stream of thoughts
While in a nearby tree a cricket sings.
I have drunk my drowsy wine
My hand falls from the til;
Rudderless the raft floats down the river
To find whatever rocks it will
Be with my soul O Lord of dreams
Whatever caves I come to
Whatever face I see--
Still whisper in my ear
Til daylight dawns
And I rise again from sleep.

©, 2015