Sunday, July 27, 2014

Murderer

Sunday 7/27/2014 6:02 AM
I had a strange dream last night that reminded me a little bit of the movie, Groundhog Day.  I was on a security detail to protect Jesus, a little like his Secret Service, but we carried no weapons.  The same scene kept repeating, with minor details that were different.  My fellow officers included Judas Iscariot, Peter and John, three of Jesus’ disciples.  In the first part of the dream we were guarding Jesus and I noticed that Judas was carrying a gun.  I intuitively knew he was going to assassinate Jesus so I told Peter and John and the three of us tried to stop the assassination.  Unfortunately, we were too late.  In the second installment of the dream Peter was the assassin with the gun.  It ended with the same result.  In the third installment I was surprised to find the gun in my waistband and I knew that the end result would be the same, with me as the assassin.  Fortunately, I woke before I murdered him.
I mulled this over as I ran this morning and a couple of scripture verses came to mind and a song.  One passage was Psalm 14:2-3, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good not even one.”  The other verse was 1 Corinthians 6:11.  In the previous verses Paul gives a list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God and then he says, “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  The song was How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, which includes these verses, “Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders.  Ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.  It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.  His dying breath has brought me life; I know that it is finished.”
I like to think that if I were alive in Jesus’ day that I would have had the courage to stand up to defend him at his trial, that I would have the courage to die with him.  In reality, my dream is closer to the truth.  My sin was what held Jesus to the cross and, rather than dying with him, I was in the crowd, calling for his death and scoffing at him.

The theme of my devotions this week has been The Power of the Gospel.  My opening prayer for the week has been, “Almighty God, may the transforming power of your gospel be at work in my life today and always.”  The good news is that 1 Corinthians 6:11 doesn’t stop with the sentence, “And that is what some of you were.”  It continues, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  The transforming power of the gospel has changed me from a murderer to a forgiven, and justified, lover of God.  Now my song is the last verses of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.  “I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.  Why should I gain from His reward?  I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.”  Praise God for the transforming power of his love and for his mercy.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Science v Christianity

Saturday 7/26/2014 6:26 AM
The modern world seems to think that science and Christianity are at odds with each other, where some even suggest they are mutually exclusive sets.  In other words, a credible scientist could never be a good Christian and a good Christian could never be a credible scientist.  I’m not sure when this belief began because some of the earliest scientists were Christian.  They began to study what they believed to be God’s creation looking for underlying order and structure and they were not surprised when they found it.
Personally, I see no such separation of my Christian faith and scientific truths.  It seems obvious to me that the universe in which we live operates according to some type of laws if it were created by an omniscient entity.  It seems much more a stretch of faith to believe that an ordered universe came to be by accident.  I’m not surprised that my body, with all of its intricate and interrelated systems, was put together intentionally by an intelligent being and made in such a way that it can adapt and evolve as the environment in which it live changes over time.  It is much more difficult to believe that all the information stored in one strand of my DNA came about by some sort of remarkable coincidence at one point in time long ago and then evolved over the course of a few billion years to what it is now.

This morning I read 1 Corinthians 1:18ff.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  I always want to try to convince someone who thinks God doesn’t exist that he does exist.  But any kind of human argument seems doomed to fail since the wisdom of this world does not bring the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God comes through faith, which is the gift of God given through the working of the Holy Spirit in a person’ life.  I should do more praying for the working of the Spirit in the world and less arguing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Can Do It Myself

Friday 7/11/2014 5:07 AM
Today I read two excerpts from different authors that caught my attention.  The first was by Charles de Foucauld in his book Meditations of a Hermit.  He writes, “You (God) give your help, not in proportion to our merit, but to our needs.”  I thought about a lot of people who I know who say that God has never done anything for them.  I usually want to argue with them that God has given them life, their abilities, their health, their upbringing, etc., to remind them that God has really done everything for them but they generally do not see it, or they refuse to acknowledge it.  There is a common saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”  But de Foucauld would argue that if I can help myself I have no need, so God would not help.  If I never acknowledge my need for God I should not be surprised when he fails to show up in my daily life.

The second quote was by Phillips Brooks, who exclaimed: “God’s mercy seat is no mere stall set by the vulgar road side, where every careless passer-by may put an easy hand out to snatch any glittering blessing that catches his eye.  It stands in the holiest of holies.  We can come to it only through veils and by altars of purification.  To enter into it, we must enter into God.”  When I was growing up I remember talking about “cheap grace” in my catechism classes.  It is a term used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship.  He says that cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance.  Sometimes I am too nonchalant about sin in my life.  I realize that I do things that are not pleasing to God but I am quick to remember that God forgives sin.  God wants to mold me into the image of Christ, which requires a change in my lifestyle and in the way I treat others.  If I am constantly consoling myself with the truth that God forgives sin, but do nothing to ask God to change my actions and thoughts, I need to question my faith.  My life should be in a constant state of flux, moving me from introspective self-centeredness to a life of freely serving others, and that requires God’s intervention and my obedience.

Coyotes

Tuesday 7/8/2014 5:08 AM
Three seems to be a number that plays a prominent role in my life, and others feel the same.  Bad things seem to happen in groups of three.  If I feel God is calling me to do something it usually requires three separate calls before I will respond.
This morning as I ran I saw a pack of three coyotes.  I have seen a single coyote before but never a pack.  As I ran I began to wonder if a pack of three coyotes could take me down and have me for breakfast and realized that they probably could do so.  That was when the worry set in.  Fortunately the pack split up as I neared them and, while two ran past me on the other side of the road, the third ran away from me about a block ahead.  As I ran I kept turning around to see if the two that had run past me were going to change direction and begin pursuing me from the rear.  I ended up cutting my run a little shorter than usual, not wanting to run down my normal dead end road by the park.  Dead end seemed to have a bit of a different connotation today.
After the coyotes left I began wondering if they were an omen and started to think about what three bad things might happen to me.  Would there be illness for me or for a loved one?  Would I, or someone I love, be involved in a serious accident?  All sorts of calamities came to mind, so much so that I was almost ready to start planning a funeral for me or someone else.
God knew I needed reassurance so the first words I read for my devotions today were from my assigned psalm, Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”  God’s love for me and his protection over me are not determined by my circumstances, even if they come in groups of three.  He is an ever-present help in trouble.

I also read an excerpt from The Soul’s Sincere Desire, by Glenn Clark.  He relates a story from Greek mythology about Hercules wrestling with Antaeus.  When Hercules would throw Antaeus to the earth Antaeus would rise with renewed strength because the Earth was Gaea, his mother.  Hercules ended up prevailing by holding Antaeus high in the air, away from his source of strength.  Clark likens this story to our lives and writes, “We, who are not children of Earth but children of God, could learn much from the lesson of Antaeus.  We too, whenever troubles cast us back upon the bosom of our Father, rise with renewed strength. …  Troubles, misfortunes, disappointments, and handicaps, if they but throw us back upon God, if they merely give us opportunity of bringing into play our God-directed imagination and our heaven-blessed sense of humor, may become converted into marvelous good fortune.  For trouble, if it merely turns us to God and hence renews our strength, ceases to be evil, and becomes good; it becomes the best thing that could possibly come to us, next to God himself.  For our growth in power and happiness depends upon the number of seconds out of each twenty-four hours that we are resting in God.”  Calamities need not be feared if they but drive me into the arms of my loving Father rather than cause me to question God’s love for me.  I pray that the coyotes of life cause me to run to my Father instead of away from him.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Herald or Hoarder?

Sunday 6/29/2014 5:08 AM
Jaci and I spent the last five days in Phoenix with my brother, Rod, and sister, Miriam, visiting with Mom and going through everything at Mom’s house, saving what we wanted, throwing away things no longer needed and getting the house ready for an estate sale in a couple of weeks.
Mom saved everything.  She had tax records for every year since 1961 with all supporting documents.  She saved medical receipts, including medications, since the 1960s.  Since Dad and Ruth had substantial health issues there were plenty to go around.  She saved the owner’s manuals to every appliance she ever bought.  All were in pristine condition.  She saved used rubber bands, paper clips, stubby pencils, dried out ink pens, empty Band-Aid containers, old razors, and more.  She had the labels from her mattresses warning that, under penalty of law, they could not be removed, except by the owner, all carefully arranged in order from oldest to newest and stapled together.  The list could go on.
For me, the saddest things were the new items we found that had never, or seldom, been used.  There was a set of dishes I only remember using one time for a Thanksgiving dinner.  We found a beautiful, well-made tablecloth that had the label still attached, probably a gift from a friend.  There was a pitcher and a matching set of juice glasses decorated with hand-painted flowers that would have been perfect for serving lemonade to friends or family on a hot summer day that had never been used.  There was an Annie Rooney and Zero children’s tea set, still in the box, that Mom had played with as a child that had been stored away, too precious for her own children or grandchildren to play with.  The list could go on.
Some of the most precious things were the boxes of pictures, hidden deep within the bowels of the closet, of Mom and Dad in their younger years when we were little or before we were born.  In all of my childhood memories Dad was sick and unable to play or move about freely.  He spent much time in bed or sitting in a chair recuperating from some illness or simply trying to catch his breath, a difficult thing when one has emphysema, as he did.  My childhood memories of Mom were of someone who was constantly caring for Dad before he died and caring for Ruth, who has cerebral palsy.  Things always seemed serious and there was little time for frivolity or fun, understandably so.  But the pictures revealed a different side I never knew existed.  In one Dad’s arms were wrapped around Mom who was leaning back into him, young lovers with smiling faces.  There was a picture of them together under pine trees in the mountains and with friends on the beach in Chicago, places I never knew they had gone.  In one photo Mom was enjoying a picnic with her children, sitting on a blanket under a tree in the front yard, seemingly without a care in the world.  It would have been nice to have been a part of that side of Dad and Mom.
The safe deposit box at the bank also contained precious things.  The jewelry included Dad’s ruby ring Mom gave him as an engagement gift, his wedding band and high school class ring, his watch, the bracelet he wore in the hospital after he was born, a string of pearls Dad gave Mom as a wedding gift, Grandma Bandstra’s mother’s ring, Grandma Hugen’s locket, and Great Grandpa’s cuff links.  There were also the letters my Dad had written Grandma Hugen that usually described his current health and the accomplishments of us kids.  Because of his poor health they were often quite serious but the letters were punctuated with occasional jokes and puns, showing Dad’s dry wit and humor.  Interspersed in the prose of the letters were constant references to God’s provision for our family through the generosity of our church family and friends and through the forgiveness of a substantial loan by Grandma Hugen.
All of those things were hidden away in closets or safe deposit boxes.  I have always felt loved by my parents and I recognized God’s provision for the family over the years but it always seemed as if I did so as an individual.  Things were seldom recognized or celebrated as a family, much less in the broader Christian community.  It is easy to be critical of people without walking in their shoes but it seems like the difficult circumstances of Mom’s life overwhelmed her.  I envision her going to her closet or safe deposit box when she was distraught in order to remember the good times and to remind herself of God’s provision through the years but she didn’t share it with me and my siblings or with anyone else of which I am aware.  Perhaps she was ashamed that she couldn’t provide everything she wanted for her family or she couldn’t deal with all the adversity she had to face on her own.   It seems as if she hoarded both the joy and the pain of her life, afraid to let others into her private world for fear of what they might think or say.
I wonder how different her life might have been had she chosen to herald the joy and pain of her life rather than to hoard it.  Imagine what would happen if she wore her double strand of pearls, Grandma’s mother’s ring and locket and people asked her about them.  She could share with them the joy of her wedding day and the love she had for my dad.  She could share the joy of being loved by her mother and the pain she experienced at her mother’s untimely death three weeks after the death of my dad and on the eve of the day we were to fly back to visit her.  She could have related God’s provision for our family throughout the years by the loving acts of family members and the church.

I want to live my life more transparently, sharing my joys and difficulties with my immediate family and with the broader community.  I want to herald both God’s goodness to me, and his grace through the times of trying circumstances, so that I can be supported in the difficulties and others can be encouraged in theirs.  I pray that God will give me grace to be a herald and not a hoarder.