Sunday, October 26, 2014

Who Misses Whom?

28 years since the call.  And there have been other calls in the past three decades as well.  Some were expected (if that really describes it) and a few caught me completely by surprise.  All of them created a hole of some sort ... an empty spot that you really never fill.  Oh, the images in my mind take on a "softer" quality over time, but at the core they remain as mileposts of loss.  But lately, I've begun to wonder if they miss us as well ...

I think the answer, though it may be tough for many to hear (I include myself in this "many") is, "No.  They don't miss us."  Now, don't hear what I'm not saying.  I'm not saying they have no knowledge of us.  I'm merely pointing out that as they stand before the Presence, little else is of tangible consequence.  They have moved beyond what C.S. Lewis called the Shadowlands ... why would they even think to look back with any sort of regret or longing?

No, friends, it is we who are left who do the missing.  And if anybody tries to tell you he or she does not miss a loved one, even one known to be in the Presence, that person is in denial or flat-out lying.  I've got friends with living parents who are suffering from diminished capacities who know the "real person" is still there and they still grieve for what they see.  It's just part of being human and still living on this side of what is yet to come.

When Jesus' good friend Lazarus died, our Brother wept.  He did so out of human grief and also because Mary and Martha were grieving.  He explained the nature of Life and Resurrection (take out the indefinite article "the" in his response from John 11:25 and you'll see what I mean) in terms they couldn't deny yet failed to grasp.  And it's because they missed their brother, not because of any lack of faith.  Frankly, it's Lazarus who got the raw deal - he had to die a second time.

The Crooked Path is a mortal walk, but there is a sunrise over the last hill we can anticipate.  We grieve now and miss those who have left.  28 years later, I still miss Dad and would give most anything for even an hour's chat.  But he doesn't miss me - he's in the Presence and that's far too overwhelming and glorious.  I just take heart to know I'll see him again.  I know he still loves me even now and would be proud of the man I am becoming.  For now, that's enough to get me through another year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Simple Kindness and a Smile

I had the opportunity to put a smile on somebody's face this week and I took it gladly.  It really doesn't matter what I did, but I can tell you it was unexpected by the recipient and it did cost me something.  But it also put things in perspective for me, and perspective combined with serving kindness to somebody is a very good thing.

As we made the decision to take the action, my wife reminded me we had seen something far more selfless on one of our favorite TV shows.  One of the contestants gave his earned advantage to another to the tune of $20K.  Now, I'll probably never be in that position, but the way it came about had the effect of restoring a little faith in humanity.

Now, ultimately, our humanity is what does us in.  But in the midst of all that, we have a Savior who shows us far more than a simple kindness.  He gave up his all to show us an everlasting kindness that offers true and permanent change.  In embracing what he gives, we have the opportunity to reflect that gift out into a world that needs our Redeemer desperately.

As I walk my Crooked Path, may I often take time to show simple kindness - and also the faith that I reflect in those acts - to many who I encounter.  That is, after all, something we are called to do ... and the smiles we get in return are worth it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Empty Hands

We offer nothing - keep that in mind at all times.

The thought came to me this week after some conversations with people and a bit of ruminating on the subject.  My past definitely plays a big part in this, so it can get a little complex and perhaps even convoluted at times.  But if I strip away all the noise and back-chatter, I'm left with who I am and what I bring ... and the answer to that is nothing.

What I'm talking about is my relationship with God through Jesus.  It starts with nothing - an absolute soul-wrenching emptiness that can nearly drive a person mad.  Yes, there is that image of the Creator at the core, but I do everything I can at that point to snuff it out of existence.  And yet I can't, because I have no power over it - I am nothing.  It's at that point where the regeneration, the prevenient grace comes in and kindles that image flame.  Like a dreamer awakened from a tormented sleep, I reach out with these completely empty hands and accept the grace freely offered.  That "transaction" starts a process of relationship.

Now I'm in this relationship - however I came to it really doesn't matter - and I still bring ... nothing.  This gives entry to the biggest, most joyless lie in all of Christianity.  Somehow, our own desire (dare I say need) to bring something to the relationship causes us to formulate a bunch of rules, regulations, lists and other impossible standards that we spend more of our relationship time looking for more "transactions" that will bring us some kind of spiritual gain.  And I'm not intimating that holiness or obedience are bad things.  I'm just saying that they are always secondary - a natural offshoot if you will - of the relationship and done in a responsive way.  They don't put stuff in our hands ... those hands remain empty.

Empty hands, my friends, are a good thing.  If we look at two Gospel stories (the woman coming into Simon's home and the woman taken in adultery) we find two people terribly aware of their empty hands.  And in holding out their hands, they hear words of love such as "forgiven the greatest loves the most" and "neither to I condemn you - go and leave your life of sin".  Those are some powerful gifts from the Master - and they leave those women with full hearts and empty hands.  These weren't some emotional call from a preacher to walk an aisle.  They were people who, when presented with that kindling flame from God, knew they were loved beyond all love they had known before.

As I walk my Crooked Path, may I glory in my empty hands.  They are a clear indication that I have a Redeemer who requires nothing tangible of me to keep the relationship pure, giving me the freedom to respond with all I have because of his unending love.  He emptied himself so that I could have his fullness - not my own. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

First Place

"Dear Children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts."  (1 John 5:21, NLT)

It's a lesson we've heard since the first Sunday School class we attended.  God wants to have first place in our hearts.  Nothing else is more important.  We've sung songs about it, seen flannelgraph (just shows how old I am), and memorized verses like this one.  But somehow, somewhere things changed ...

As I find myself staring at my 2nd half-century, I want to ask the question again.  What, other than God, am I letting have the top spot in my heart; what really is my focus?  I think the truest answer comes with some introspection and that rarely comes easily.  So if I'm going to write about it, perhaps I need to dig just a little deeper.

Sure the multiple translations that render this verse as something about watching out for idols are good.  They are certainly faithful to the original intent, but I think the Beloved Apostle, sitting in exile on Patmos, had something a little more personal in mind.  Once again, I find that richness in the way Eugene Peterson frames the final words of 1 John in his transliteration The Message:

And we know that the Son of God came so we could recognize and understand the truth of God - what a gift! - and we are living in the Truth itself, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This Jesus is both True God and Real Life. Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles. (1 John 5:20-21)

That's what John was warning the early church about ... "clever facsimiles".  And that's what I need to look out for as well when I examine my own heart and life.  I'd never overtly put something else in first place - but I might subtly do that.  It might even look like "serving God" when it really is filling my own ego.  And it happens when I forget the awesome nature and love that redeemed me in the first place.

So as my Crooked Path winds through my 2nd decade, I want to keep the my Father in my sight and my Divine Brother closer than ever.  And I want to do it in such a way that it leaves no doubt who holds first place in my heart.