Speaking out

September 22, 2017

I was born in 1954 so in the early to mid-1960’s, I was in elementary school. The Vietnam War meant little to me in those years.  I didn’t know anyone who was killed in that far away land and outside of my step father, who was a lifer in the Army, I didn’t know anyone who even went to Vietnam.  The only thing I really remember were the nightly newscasts telling us how many young men had been killed that day.  An interesting side note (and I confess I have no way of checking to make sure this is accurate so I apologize if this is “fake news”), in the mid 1960’s, the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam began to rise.  It was a PR disaster for the government, so they decided to address the problem.  What they did was simply redefine “killed in action.”  Unless a soldier actually died on the battle field, they were not included in the day’s casualties.  In other words, if one died a day or two later from injuries sustained while fighting, they were not included in the everyday statistics.  Is it any wonder that my generation struggles to trust the government or institutions in general?!  Yet, there are still those who hold to the axiom “America right or wrong.”  Um… I don’t think so.

In my relatively protected neighborhood in Gibsonia PA (with a few temporary excursions to Utah and Texas), I never saw a black person.  I knew little of the “Civil Rights Movement.”  Oh, for sure I had heard of Martin Luther King Jr., but he and the “Movement” meant little to me.  That being said I was deeply saddened when he was killed, as I was when JFK and Bobby were.  I never heard of Medgar Evers or Malcom X until I was a young adult.  (Do you know Malcom’s birth name?  Malcom Little.)  It wasn’t until adolescence and the “hormone years” that it began to dawn on me that the world was in turmoil.  Or at least the world I lived in anyway.  The Vietnam War was escalating.  The Civil Rights movement had made great strides, but as we know today there was and is a long way to go.  I remember naively arguing with my dad over whether we should have dropped the bomb on Japan.  I was 16 for heaven’s sake… what right did I have to judge his generation!?

In early 1972, I enlisted in the Navy. I didn’t actually depart for boot camp until November.  Suddenly Vietnam became much more real.  I am thankful that the war began to wind down about then, even though the fall of Saigon didn’t occur until 1975.  I never was in any danger of going to Vietnam but I met many who had been there.

Well, what I really want to point out here is that there was a great deal of anger and division in our country. College campuses were hot beds of dissent and protest.  Draft dodging, free sex, protest marches, bra burning, drugs and hippies were the order of the day.  And speaking to it all were the artists, the poets and the musicians.  Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Barry McGuire and many more.  I have asked this question before but… where are they now?  I don’t mean the specific people mentioned above… I mean the sages of our day.  The artists who will speak for a generation.  Where are they?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I will agree with them. I am merely asking what has become of a culture where even the artists are silent?!  I suspect it’s similar to a passage found in the Old Testament book of Judges.

Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

That sounds great on the surface doesn’t it? Everyone making their way along in life… making their own decisions… doing what they thought was right and “fit.”  But that’s not what was going on at all.  At least it is not what this passage is alluding to.  Here’s what was happening:  People were pursuing their own demented thoughts and passions.  It was every man, woman and child for themselves.  Chaos and anarchy reigned.  Why?  Because they turned away from God and there were no leaders.

We now live in a culture of “me first,” “I want what I want,” and “I deserve to have whatever I desire.” Consequently, there is little sense of community, or working together toward common goals.  And that applies to artists, musicians and politicians as well.  They are unable or unwilling to speak to the culture.  They are only speaking to whatever brings them their self-appointed interests.  It looks on the surface like it might be impossible for a leader to come in to this mess and move us in a positive direction.

So, what do we do? Well, I cannot speak to unbelievers.  I have no right or expectation to think that non-Christians will look to Christian standards to “right the ship.”  But for believers….  There are many verses to which we could look.  Allow me to mention only a couple from Philippians 2. Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  

We ought to be reading these verses EVERY DAY… especially v.3-4.  Humble servant hearts… I don’t see much of that these days.  I only see arrogant, angry, loud mouths (especially on the internet!).  I really don’t care to hear what you say you stand for or against.  DO SOMETHING OF VALUE AND SOMETHING POSITIVE!  Maybe we need to cease screaming out our agenda for a while and allow Jesus to shine through.  If you think this applies to someone else… you might need to think again.  Just sayin.

Blessings.

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Home

September 13, 2017

Yeah… it’s been a struggle to write one of these. I have several that are ½ done but I would be embarrassed to send them.  Actually if Ellen read them (my editor) she probably wouldn’t let me post them.  Some are angry.  Some are sophomoric.  Some seem to have been written by a 3rd grader (And that is an insult to 3rd graders).  Somehow my brain has just not been “into it” for the past few months.  I don’t know what that means.  This could be the beginning of a run of weekly ruminations or it could be the last for a month, two months or…  Well, enough of that.

Like you, I have met many people in my life. And I have been through the standard conversation/getting-to-know-you moments.

  • What’s your name
  • Where are you from
  • Where are you originally from
  • What do you do for a living
  • Etc.

I am always intrigued when the answer to the third question is, “Oh my… all over.” The person then goes on to tell you a story of their history and why they never stayed anywhere for very long…  father was in the military, father’s job moved him constantly, father couldn’t keep a job, family tragedy so they lived with numerous relatives…

It occurs to me that too often they really have no place to call “home.” Their current address may be “home,” but they have no place where they are “from.”  I’m not fully sure why but there is something sad about that.  E.T. said, “No place like home.”  For many of us that is true (not for all of us).  Home is the place where significant, life altering experiences took place.  Home is where mom and dad were.  Home is where siblings were.  Home is our house.  Home is holidays.  Home is old friends.  Home is laughter.  Home can be sadness but not to be lived out alone.

I spent the first 14 years of my life in Gibsonia PA. My mother and father were there (although not married from the time I was 6… it’s a long story). My sisters were there.  My grandparents lived next door until I was 7.  I had great friends here.  But when I think of “where I am from” I don’t think of there.  I think of the place I lived from the age of 14-18.  It’s odd because my mother was gone, my sisters were gone (for the most part), my grandparents were gone and my friends that I had for 14 years were gone.  But I think of it as “home” or “where I am from” because THE most significant growth in my life happened there.  It could be that for many of us that’s the case, i.e., we change and mature more in our high school years than at any other time in life.  But almost everything in my life that is important to me came as a result of those 4 years – my faith, my wife, my kids, my granddaughter…  Again, it’s “where I’m from.”

Where are you from? What are the places and events that formed you and made you who you are today?  Your story is not my story so maybe your answer is not as simple as mine.  But it’s worth pondering.

If I asked you where Jesus was from, what might you say? Nazareth?  Israel? Bethlehem?  Well in his ministry years he was from “nowhere.” Matthew 8:20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He seemed to have no place to call home. But of course, ultimately he was from His Father.  He was from heaven.  That was His “home.”

Truthfully? It is our “home” as well.  It is the place where Believers will spend the largest amount of our “creation.”  Paul in 2 Corinthians says this:

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Awaiting the New Body

5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Sometimes we wonder why this existence is so difficult. We look at the world around us and the tragic circumstances and we ask “why”?  I think the answer is fairly simple – we are not home.  We are in a temporary dwelling place.  A day will come when those who call Jesus Lord will finally find themselves at home.  When someone asks where we are from we will say “right here.”

Blessings.

Men at Work

August 16, 2017 (photos at the end)

So it’s been a while since I wrote one of these.  My last month has been a little crazy.  A few highlights:

  • July 7-16 – Ellen and I spent our vacation driving to Northern PA and then on to Illinois to see our daughter Alissa. On the way back we stopped near Grand Rapids MI for a couple of days to visit our son David I sat through an opera that he directed…  It was actually… amazing.  (Did I just say that?!)
  • July 16 – Pie and Praise at BBB
  • July 17-22 – One week of continuing education to try and figure out what I am going to preach on for the rest of the year. I wasn’t very successful.
  • July 23 –  Immediately after worship, Ben and I drove out to Muncie, Indiana.  We got there at 7:00 P. M. and loaded up my son David’s apartment (from the 2nd floor, I might add!  With no elevator!).  We then left Monday morn at 7:00 A.M. for the return trip home.
  • July 25 – Unload the U-Haul truck into our basement.
  • July 29 – 45th High School reunion.  Not a big deal except for the fact that I’m the chair of the committee.  6:30 A.M.-11:00 P.M. L-O-N-G day.
  • July 30 – Drove out to Dayton OH right after church to attend my father’s ship’s reunion from WW2.  He has been gone for 15 years but it is an honor for me to pay tribute to him and his shipmates by attending their reunion.
  • August 2 – Back home from Dayton.
  • August 4 – Drove 7 hours to NY for a short term mission trip to care for babies of teen mothers.
  • Babies, babies and more babies.
  • August 9 – 7 hours back from NY
  • August 10 – Drove to Crestfield for the completion of our Church camp there.
  • August 12 – Home again, home again, jiggidy-jig.
  • August 13 – Corn Roast at BBB

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining… just a bit worn out. 

I wanted to share with you an observation I made during my/our travels.  Honestly I must have passed at least 100 locations with road construction signs.  I’m pretty sure I saw ALL the signs there are to see!  Just a few:

  • Construction 3 miles ahead
  • Men working 2 miles ahead
  • Road work 1 mile ahead
  • Men at work 1500 yards ahead… (you get it right?)
  • Fines doubled in construction areas
  • No shoulder on the right ahead
  • No shoulder on the left ahead
  • Traffic patterns altered ahead
  • Orange and white barrels
  • Orange cones
  • Orange poles
  • Flashing signs: “Speed limit 45. Your current speed is 65.”
  • Men standing with “stop” signs
  • Women standing with “stop” signs
  • Detour signs
  • Etc, etc, etc…. ad-nauseam.

The great irony is this… I would estimate that 90% of these places had not one person working!  Not a soul was visible.  There were no trucks or equipment.  There was no visible indication that anything was going on except for the signs mentioned above.  In their defense, it was after hours or Sunday on a few (a very few) occasions. I do not write this to be critical… I have no idea how these things are scheduled.  I only ask this question:  If there are signs that say “Men working ahead” and there are no men and there is no work… can one really justify a “Men working ahead” sign?  I think the obvious answer is “NO.”  Just because there is a sign or someone calls something “work” does not mean it is indeed “work.”  Simply by definition that’s true.  I suppose it could be called “potential work” or “future work” or “day off work” or “we’re almost done but not yet ‘work’”… but don’t call it what it’s not, i.e. “work.”

Why do I say all of that?  Well, look at these verses from James 2:  14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds (works)?  20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds (works) is useless?  26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds (works) is dead.

It would surely seem from these verses that calling ourselves “Christian” without any “works” is at the very least “questionable.”  If there is no “God work” going on in your life… if you are doing nothing to further the Kingdom and you do nothing in the Name of Jesus… if you are basically living for yourself and your own self interests… then I would be VERY wary about putting yourself in the category of “Christian.”  I can hear some of us now… “Well you know at some point in the past I did ______.”  Seriously?  Outside of certain disabilities… there is no “retirement plan from Christian work.”  The short of it is this… just like the road signs… labeling ourselves as something doesn’t make us that without works to prove it.

I need to add one critical piece of information.  “Works” do not “save” us.  They only prove who we are.

So, what are you “working at” for Jesus?

Blessings

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Below are a few pictures from the past month.

Opera cast with David.  It was a Mozart comedy.

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Michael (3 years old) and me (62 years old).  He was one of the 100 babies Ellen, Rebekah and I along with 100 other volunteers looked after.

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Double or nothing.

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Best childcare worker on the planet.

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Whoops another great childcare worker

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Two of my heroes who served with my father during the war.  If you look closely you can see their ship on the back window of the truck.

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My father on the left and Ken Fidler in the middle circa 1943.  Ken is also pictured on the right in the truck photo above.

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Crestfield 2017.  Bottom far right (very small)… campers are getting younger every year!

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Corn Roast at BBB.  There were actually more people there than just Ellen.

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Traveling

 

A BRIEF TRAVELOGUE OF SORTS

There are many glorious places on the planet that I’m pretty sure I will never see.  I’m not much for touristy places and I’m not really sure how to find or trust the out of the way places that I know I would prefer so…  Anyway, Ellen and I are on vacation this week.  The main goal is to visit our daughter Alissa and her husband Nolan in Yorkville, Illinois and then our son David, a teacher at Blue Lake Fine Arts camp near Grand Rapids, Michigan.  But before leaving PA we took a pleasant 4 hour drive north and visited the Kinzua Bridge State Park in Mt. Jewett, PA.  Mt. Jewett is the site of a very high railway trestle that was hit by a tornado in 2003 causing it to collapse into the valley below.  The state then turned the site into a park.  If you have never been there and are within driving distance it’s quite spectacular.  I’ll include a picture below if I can figure out how.  You can walk out onto the trestle pictured below.  It’s just short of being as high as the Empire State building!

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Then on to Titusville to stay for the evening.  When Ellen and her siblings were young, their dad had the opportunity to purchase a caboose for a very affordable price.  He was going to have it placed in their back yard as a playhouse.  (How cool would that have been for a child?!)  When the time came to have the car shipped to their home, he discovered that the price of purchase and rail shipping was very reasonable BUT… the price to have it trucked from the rail line to their house was exorbitant.  So… no caboose.  But Ellen has always had a fascination with them anyway.  So I surprised her with the accommodations pictured below.

The Caboose Motel in Titusville is very reasonable and a really fun place to spend the evening.  There is also a train on the same property that offers 2 hour tours of the countryside.

The next day we were off to Northern Ohio to drive along the coast visiting lighthouses along Lake Erie.  Ellen has a fascination with those as well.  Hmmmm….  What’s in this for me I wonder?!?!  I guess I get to hang out with the woman who has loved me and put up with me for 42 years of marriage.  St. Ellen, I guess.  Well… back to lighthouses:

Fairport Harbor Lighthouse East of Cleveland

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This was taken from a mile or two away:

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Taken across the bay from Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky OH:

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Then a day in Toledo OH at the Art Museum.  I know, I know… what happened to my manhood?!?!  Actually a pretty amazing place with an impressive collection:

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Today I am sitting in my daughter’s house.  I wanted to show you a picture from her front door.

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And from her back door:

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“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”  Actually come to think of it… we’re in a place much like Kansas!  About an hour West of Chicago.

Thursday morning we begin traveling east again to see David.

I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue.  In case you hadn’t noticed I just figured out how to put pictures in these Ruminations!  Whoo, whoo!

My family is the joy of my existence.  I hope you can all say something similar!

Blessings.

Legality

July 7, 2017

Extremely important thought for the day:   Why is it that when crunchy things get stale they get soft and when soft things get stale they get crunchy?  It’s these kind of things that keep me awake at night.  Now you can stay awake too.

On to more important subjects.

You may have seen the recent decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court related to “disparaging trademarks.”  Don’t know what I mean?  Continue on.  Back in 2011 a rock band of all Asian men decided to name themselves “Slant.”  You might know that the moniker “slant” is an offense, for good reason, to many Asian people.  “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the band’s name, citing a law that denied trademarks that disparage individuals, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.”    So the band took the government to task and also to court.  After rulings in several lower courts and various appeals up the line the case was finally heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.  The court ruled that denying the use of the name “…offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend”.  The short of it is this… offensive names and words cannot be outlawed as that would violate our freedom of speech.

Let me respond by first saying that I would not want the job of the justices who sit on the Supreme Court.  And no matter which way they went with this decision, the future would be fraught with complications.  For example the biggest problem facing anyone making decisions about all of this would be, “Who determines what is offensive and what is not?”  Now that decision is essentially moot, since folks can say or name themselves most anything they want.  The most offensive, disgusting words are now within our reach… legally.  Whoo, whoo!  Aren’t we lucky!  Seriously however, this was a major no winner no matter which way the Court decided.

Frankly I didn’t really start this rumination to discuss Supreme Court rulings.  What I really want to say is this:  Because something is legal and or allowable, that does not make it moral, good or Godly.  Right?  There are things that are legal, but frankly are anathema.  The question is… Where do we learn to make decisions about these things?  Who teaches discernment anymore?  In particular who teaches our kids or grandkids?  Who teaches them that because the government deems something to be legal that does not mean it is good or pleasing to God?  Do we leave it up to Hollywood?  Ha, ha, ha, ha… whoops almost swallowed my tongue.  Do we leave it up to television networks?  Seriously?!?!  The internet?  Really?!?!  Do we leave it up to the schools?  I wish.  They are so frightened of lawsuits they can hardly function.  Do we leave it up to the Church?  Well, given that over 90% of our kids have little if any contact with Christian organizations that seems unlikely.  Maybe the family?  Um… do you know what “dysfunction” means?  It defines the families in which too many of our kids live.  Sadly, something inside of us says that if the government says “it’s” okay then… “it” must be okay.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH……………………………………. NOT TRUE!

In Galatians 5, Paul lists numerous things that are, for the most part, legal but are they good?  19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  Clearly, none of these things fall under the category of “good.”

Paul then goes on to list those behaviors that ALL Christians should exhibit.  We call them the “product” or “Fruit of the Spirit.”   …love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

He then goes on to say that there is no law prohibiting these things.  The same as the list above… no law.  No direction from the world.  No help from those who establish the guidelines for the world in which we live.

I’m not sure where to go with this other than to say, even those with the best intentions in the “law making business” are restricted by what the law and the world allows.  We, in the Christian community, can and must be more discerning about what is Godly vs. what is “legal.”  Please teach those in your sphere of influence what it means to do what is “good” vs. doing with is “legal.”

As stated above… they are NOT the same! 

Marathons

June 28, 2017

Last month was the running of the 33rd annual Pittsburgh Marathon.  I was never anything but an average athlete and I was NEVER a runner; short stubby legs preclude that sort of thing.  In my wildest dreams (nightmares) I could never imagine running, non-stop, for over 26 miles!  Heck, 40 yard “sprints” during football practice were challenging enough.

Do you know the origins of the Marathon?

“In a nod to Greek history, the first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran the approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to some anxious Athenians. Not quite in mid-season shape, he delivered the message “Niki!” (Victory!) then keeled over and died.”

Notice the last few words: “keeled over and died.” EXACTLY!  You would have thought the originators of the Olympic GAMES would have taken that into consideration.  But NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! I can hear the committee now, “Hey, we need some running events.  How about we include an impossibly long jog?”  Someone else chimed in:  “Remember that guy who ran from Marathon to Athens… how far was that?”  A third voice:  “I think about 25 miles.”  “Well, shucks” said the first planner.  “Let’s make it even longer then!”  “Um… didn’t he die?” the third voice intoned.  Back to voice 1.  “Well yeah, but think of how much more exciting that will make everything!”  “LET’S DO IT!” they all exclaimed.

On a more serious note, I have known too many people over the years that have treated the Christian Faith like a sprint. What I mean by that is, they have been “all into it” for a short while until they grow weary or until something more attractive comes along and then they fall away.  Christianity is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  It’s something that we are called to stick with through the good times and the bad times.  We are called to stay with it when we are weary and when we are vital.  We seek after God even when we wonder where God is. We grow old in it. We marinate in it.

Decadence on the other hand is a sprint. Sin is a sprint.  Fulfilling our every desire (selfish ambition) is a sprint.  But following Jesus… that is a lifelong commitment.

Let’s look at the word “race” in the Bible for a few moments. First, the word “race” illustrates why English can be so difficult to grasp.  We mean more than one thing by the word “race,” correct?  When we say “race” we mean either “a competition to get somewhere first” or we mean “ancestry or skin color.”  In most if not all other languages those would be entirely different words.  Clearly we are referring here to the “getting someplace first” kind of racing.

Interestingly enough: “The metaphor of the footrace seldom occurs in the OT (Ps. 19:5; Jer.12:5; Eccles. 9:11), probably because competitive sports had no significant place in the social life of ancient Israel. When a gymnasium was erected in Jerusalem by the Hellenizing (those who forced Greece culture on others) high priest Jason early in the second century b.c., the devout Jews declared that ‘new customs’ were being introduced ‘contrary to the law’ (2 Macc. 4:7-17).”

Frankly, that’s sort of the ancient version of “We’ve never done it that way before.” Or… “The organ is the ONLY instrument suitable for worship.”

The word “race” is used several times in the N.T. Take a moment to read the following references:

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

1 Corinthians 9: 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Galatians 2: 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.

Galatians 5: 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?

2 Timothy 4: 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Hebrews 12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The words for “race” referenced above are not used in the sense of defeating another runner… they are used in the sense of: preparation, hard work and endurance on the part of the individual.

When I say that Christianity is a marathon requiring much work, I am not saying that sprinters do not work hard because of course they do. It’s just that it’s a very different kind of work.  Maybe this will help to illustrate:  I can remember my football coach in high school yelling at us when we weren’t working hard enough.  He didn’t threaten us with wind sprints because we did that all the time anyway.  Do you know what he threatened us with that put fear into our hearts?  “You either start working or I’ll make you go run with the cross country team!”  Oh my goodness… anything but that!  That was too hard!

The short of it is this: Christianity is not a “feel good/short term religion.”  Christianity is a “long term/transformational religion.”  If you are into “feel good, easy” then being a “Christ One” is likely not for you.  You might want to explore some of the charlatans on television and follow them.  Just sayin.

Death

June 14, 2017

Years ago I had a friend pass away from a sudden and unexpected heart attack; he was in his mid 50’s. Naturally his death was a shock and the events that surrounded the days, weeks and months afterward were painful.  But it could be that nothing was more difficult than the phone call I made several days after he died.  I called his office to speak to his secretary (also a friend) and see how she was doing.  She was not back to work yet so the phone recording came on.  She had not yet changed the message so my friend who had died and was already buried “answered” with a pleasant message about no one being there and to leave my name and phone number and he would call back as soon as possible.  I hung the phone up with what I’m sure was a stunned look on my face and began to openly weep in my office… alone… thankfully.

This past week I discovered that my cell phone keeps all of my text messages. I guess I actually knew that but what I didn’t know was that they were taking up quite a bit of memory space.  So I spent 15 minutes scrolling back through several years of texts marking them for deletion.  In the process I came across two “conversations” with folks who are now deceased.  Can I just admit how strange that was?  And can I also tell you that going to my phone list and hitting the “delete” button for their names was agonizing.  My father died 15 years ago and I still have his number saved in my phone.  Is that odd?  I don’t really know.  I just know that it has something to do with the permanence of death.  Taking those small but final steps in saying “goodbye” for what might be all eternity is excruciating.

“Have you no hope?” some might ask. “Where is your faith?” comes from another direction.  “What about the resurrection of the dead?” a third voice chimes.  And last “What about Jesus?”  Listen.  On most days I believe in all of that… for myself.  I cannot speak to the faith of others very well.  When we talk about faith we are talking about “heart language” to a great degree.  (Yes, for sure our heads have to be engaged as well.)  Knowing or reading the heart of another is a quagmire of façades, confusion, feelings and best intentions.  I barely know my own heart on many occasions let alone the true desires and intentions of another.  I have known way too many “great Christians” who have abandoned the faith… if they ever actually had any.  Sadly, I suspect we will not find some of the “finest Christians we have even known” in Glory.  And conversely… well, you get it.  Why?  Because God is a God of the heart!  He does know us.  He sees through our façades.  He knows the truth about our “best intentions.”  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Is that frightening?  Sometimes it is.  Does God know my brokenness?  Of course, He does… even I know about that.  And anyone who knows me, knows I’m broken.  But God knows every chasm and minute, hair-like crack hiding behind the façade I put out there for others to see.  Does God know my sin?  YES!!  And like my brokenness, so do others.  But He also knows all the shades of darkness in my soul.  No one else knows that.

Do I have hope in the resurrection… yes. Do I have assurance for others… no, because I cannot know their hearts.  Thus I often find myself in the midst of a theological quagmire.  There is “hope” and there is “fear and uncertainty.”  “Hope” for those who confess Christ.  “Fear and uncertainty” for those about which I’m unsure.

Occasionally, I get asked to do funerals for folks I don’t know. Families who have no connection to a church have a loved one die and a minister gets called in; one who is totally unfamiliar to them.  These are difficult circumstances for all pastors.  How do we provide “hope” in the midst of sorrow when it seems that grandma, dad or whomever had no semblance of faith?  I cannot say with any integrity, “Have ‘hope’ because your loved one is in the presence of Jesus.”  So, what do I do?  Well, I don’t know about other ministers, but I preach the Good News of Jesus making no comment on the eternal abode of the deceased.  I allow the family to decide what they want regarding themselves and their loved one.  I don’t know if that seems cruel and insensitive, or not.  I really don’t.

Honestly, I started this rumination 2 weeks ago and I don’t know how to end it. I just know that the death of a loved one can be daunting.  Assurances, in some cases, are hard to come by.  In the end we all leave ourselves in the hands of a loving and merciful God.