Sunday, February 28, 2016

I've shared a few childhood memories on this blog.  This is one that I may regret.  But I'm in my mid-fifties and my motives to impress have receded with my hairline and sagged with my waistline.
 I recall how my Mom would gather my brother and I every night to kneel by the couch and say our prayers before bed. At 5 minutes in, we were anxiously swaying to and fro on our knee caps, occasionally doing the one-eyed squinty peep to see if Mama had settled into the "lounging" kneel which signaled the circumference of our supplications would extend to 4th and 5th cousins. She was one of this would take awhile.  At 10 minutes in, my younger brother had usually surrendered in silent battle to the sandman.  He would lay there in a contorted fashion that testified he had done his best to maintain a posture of reverence to the very end.  At 15 minutes, our pools of drool would puddle together like liquid mercury from broken thermometers. Then, at some point, Mama would utter the words, "in Jesus' name", which triggered a series of involuntary, yet instinctive,  muscle contractions that somehow jolted our bodies back into the kneeling position just in time for the long awaited "Amen".  Then... it was our turn. My brother and I would quickly name off each family member and friend as if brevity would invite an early release. Notta.
 We owe our mother such a wonderful debt that we can faintly repay.  But I always held back one prayer for the privacy of my bedroom.  I recall asking God for super powers...understandably a young child's fantasy. I can't recall exactly which powers, but flying certainly was one.  The troubling part was that it didn't stop there.  I included in my petition that He needed to create monsters in the world so that I could defeat them... big monsters. I'm not sure what that says about me.  But what was the point in having super powers if there were no monsters to defeat?  I was a big Ultraman fan. However, I'm not sure why.  Ultraman  never showed up until most of Tokyo's power grid was in the dirt.

How wonderful to be so childishly naïve as to not realize that we have enough monsters already. Godzilla is easy enough to pick out as he is tearing down power lines and such.  But satan can be much more difficult to recognize. He is a beautiful master of disguise.  How naïve for us to not realize that we need the supernatural power of Christ in our lives everyday. 
I know I may read like I'm handling my loss swimmingly.  But there are moments and minutes when I feel I may drown. That's inevitable. I was warned by others how it would be. But whatever your monster may be, we can't let those moments and minutes become hours and days.  No matter who you are someone relies on you to be a light for them...although you may not even be aware you are being watched.  Don't hesitate to summon that power of Christ as we can not fight these demons alone.  And I mean that quite literally.  I mentioned before how I was an agnostic about God, don't be an agnostic about satan.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I've been pondering a kind of mystery.  A couple of  weeks ago I stood broken hearted before my church family and thanked them for their prayers and support during Whitney's illness. But mostly, I thanked them for what they were to her in all the years prior to her sickness...examples, watchmen, advocates. As I scanned the congregation I was taken back by the realization that I was standing before a legion of broken hearts.  Granted, we have all buried loved ones.  But then there is that spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend that leaves a permanent emptiness in our heart....a vacant room with neatly folded memories, familiar aroma and undisturbed bed, perpetually tucked and unslept.  So, I do not presume to have borne a greater loss than any other. However, every parent knows that losing a child is the dread fear... as ancient as Eden.  It is the nightmare that wakes us to watch for that soft rise and fall beneath Ninja turtle blankets or to send a pointless text just for the comfort of a response.  It's bone deep...third degree, like your home is burning down all around you, cauterizing bloodlines, consuming your future and leaving no plan or dream unscorched. The story of Abraham and Isaac points to even God's acknowledgement that the loss of a child is the pinnacle of human fear and pain.  However, He didn't provide the "ram in the thicket" to take Whit's place. The nightmare came true.

Now the mystery... how is it that I am at peace with God? Not only at peace, but on more firm a foundation than ever? Did I forgive Him? Can I forgive God?  I'm not sure that's a question that makes sense as if, in His perfect love, He could require forgiveness.  Or, is there a subconscious mechanism at work that recognizes I must be at peace with God if I am to "go to where she is", as King David lamented?  Frankly, I don't think the answer has anything to do with "I".
   I recall a piece about how Dennis the menace once got a cookie from Mrs. Wilson and mentioned to his buddy, Joey, that he must have been especially good to receive such a reward. Joey smartly responded, "Mrs. Wilson gave you the cookie because she is good." God gifted me something I neither earned nor deserved. He gave because He is good. I didn't ask for it. My prayer was for healing. Asking for peace would have seemed like...well, a lack of faith--to some. I'm not sure I even wanted it as anger can be an effective, yet costly, alternative fuel. But I thank Him with all that I am for that gift of peace.  I know what it is to not feel the presence of God. And I know what it is for Him to draw close.  But peace is only a description of a state of being. What is the source of that peace? Throughout my life I've witnessed this phenomenon through the living testimonies of Christians who transformed sorrow into resolve...despair into determination. I'm not suggesting folks who are not Christians have not found ways to deal with loss. But as mentioned before, we Christians must find purpose in our loss and  peace with our God, as well.
Without exception, all answers relating to our relationship with God are found in the Bible...a source within itself from which countless streams flow.  Someone once wrote that 95% of what God wants to say to us is already written down.  However, that would leave 5% to revelation in some form. But, even in that, we will find a trail leading back to the Source.

 The "Love Chapter" in Corinthians ends with the words, "these things remain: faith, hope and love". Therein lies my answer, the wellspring of my peace!  Paul's letter to the  Colossians describes "the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven". God gave me hope that morning when Whit's doctor gave us the hopeless news. For the first time in my life, my heart made a genuine turn toward Heaven. I think Whitney's already had.

Looking back, I am surprised how small a role the promise of  Heaven and the threat of Hell played in the story of my adult Christian life.  The "New Testament" of my faith was influenced almost purely by the Gospel, the idea that our lives do have an ultimate purpose, and that love, good and justice will ultimately prevail. Once I believed, I followed.  It was as simple and as complex as that. Anyway, if God did not deliver on the Heaven part, I'd be none the wiser. I've been working shiftwork for 35 years so eternal rest with a snooze button set for every 10,000 years sounds not too shabby sometimes. But we can live through the prime of our Christian lives without extending much thought past social security.   Maybe we too closely relate it to death...or to the possibility of Hell. Maybe we are busy building our own little version of heaven...easy enough in a prosperous society.. But maybe part of it is that we find it hard to visualize Heaven beyond pearly gates, streets of gold, and  angelic harps leading us into long hymnal sessions. Actually, almost all hymns--which I love--are about getting to Heaven.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside.” It's that "conventional" part that qualifies his statement as worthy of quotation. I've seen many a preacher's fireball fizzle after about 10 minutes of a sermon on Heaven. Just as this post may be fizzling in its effort to offer anything new on the matter.

 Anticipating Heaven can be like booking a cruise far in advance. I recall my first cruise just a few years ago. Understand that I get seasick watching the Bubble Guppies. So, actually paying to suffer at sea for four days never made my top ten list of places to go on vacation.  Nevertheless, I must admit that I was pretty excited when a group of friends asked if we wanted to book a cruise set for the following Spring. I guess a cruise, not on my top ten list, had kinda made its way onto my bucket list. Plus I was smuggling enough dramamine to be the El Chapo of Castaway Cay.  But after a couple of weeks, thrilling daydreams of embracing Mickey--as he would surely recognize me from our brief encounter 40 years ago--and not sea-barfing on his mouseketux began to wane. However, months later as the date neared for our bon voyage, that excitement began to rumble again like an awakening appetite...from which I gained 11 pounds.

 Sometimes I think it is only the very young and the very old who genuinely get excited about Heaven. As children, visions of Heaven and Hell play vividly in the Genesis of our faith.  I actually recall being just as terrified of Heaven after seeing drawings in Bible tracts depicting millions of eager onlookers watching every detail of life stories play out on a massive drive-in movie screen. I'm not sure what thought was more distressing, folks I would be spending "forever" with eye-feasting upon me playing air guitar in my H.R. Puff'n Stuff underwear or the eternity it would take to watch everyone's life roll by in black and white. I recall wondering if they would skip the sleeping parts so as to save time. Bible tracts, as intended, can leave quite an impression on a young mind.

But back to the "faith, hope and love". I get the "faith" part. I have faith that Jesus is the Son of God, He died for my sins and was resurrected on the third day. I walk by faith but that faith is rooted in an event from the past. I get the "love" part . We love each other and we love God. We operate in love as it is kind of a now thing.  But what about hope?  It was significant enough for God to inspire Paul to place it in category with faith and love. But we can treat hope and faith like a combo...the fries with our burger, respectively. After all, "I have faith that you will be healed" has a lot more beef than "I hope you are healed". We might not back up for the fries, but we'll risk a U-turn if the burger ain't in the bag.  Well, I have circled around for McD's fries.  On a side note, this combo does not have a shake...but that's another story.
If  faith is rooted in an event from the past, and love is in the now, then hope extends to us from the future. Not the concept of future as being any point in time after this moment, but try to consider the future as an event, as well. And that hope takes on a greater significance if we consider it as important as love and faith as it relates to our spiritual and psychological well being. After all, it is the source of our love and a life line for our soul. Hebrews 6 calls it an anchor for our soul. And all anchors have lines attached. However, there is one at the end of the Georgetown Jetties that didn't have one. My bad. I just tossed it out there. It had more hang time than  Micheal Jordan. Enough so everyone within laughing distance could see it. But it sunk so fast...

What God really gave me was the realization that when my faith--at times so frayed with life's nicks and cuts it is barely able to secure my ascent-- is braided through and around love and this hope that is a heavenly lifeline anchored in God, looking down looses its perilous fear and looking up reignites a childlike awe and  expectation. It becomes somewhat like Solomon's "three strand cord that is not easily broken". This heavenly hope is invincible. While all other hope is vulnerable, no one can take this hope from you or damage it in any way. It is a gift to us. It is ours to give up.  I've come to realize that the joy many Christians display so soon after the loss of a loved one comes from that renewed hope and love for Heaven as God reveals a glimpse of His gift for them. And a glimpse it all it takes of such a splendor.

 But that treasure is there to be discovered without going through the pain and loss. As mentioned in the previous post from Corinthians, “ no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him".   Now, I still haven't offered anything beyond Shaw's "conventional conception". But consider the next verses,

 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
   The first application of these verses would point to the mystery of God's preparation of grace and forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.  But thankfully, His Word leaves some things to our interpretation and imagination. Consider the let down if we discovered that Paul's thorn in the side--an inspiration for countless sermons relating our own spiritual weaknesses--actually resulted  from a tumble in the briars.  I'm not gnostically suggesting that Heaven is anything other than what the Bible says it is. I'm just saying it is much, much more. I would like to believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that each of us would have a unique, personal vision of what our Heaven would be... just as unique and personal as each of our relationships are with Him. You are not a "congregation" to Christ. The Bible tells us Christ has gone to prepare a place for us...for me.  So, naturally, the Bible offers limited explanation for something not yet fully prepared. And, while those efforts may well include the construction of your own personal mansion with all kinds of gold plated stuff, I trust the real preparations are going on all around us toward insuring our loved ones are there. That is our Heaven. My God, that is my Heaven!

But without the Spirit of God living in us we can not get beyond the "conventional concept" of heaven and realize the present significance of genuine eternal hope.  I like that quote about 95% of God's revelation for you is already written down. But as for the other 5%, we must test the spirits--as the Bible warns--where things are "revealed" to us by anything other than His Word.  Everyone loves a mystery. And  here His Words invite us to seek, to discover your mystery of spiritual revelation about the things He has prepared for you...grace, forgiveness, and a new home without vacant rooms.   If we look around the smoldering embers of what used to be our life, God will reveal that shiny picture frame in the ashes--somehow unscathed by the flames--that ignites within us that hope that restores our knowledge in Christ that we have not lost, and that we can grasp the scope and power of the Resurrection that defines our faith, and say out loud, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"!

  Whitney is my glimpse of Heaven.  Now, I consider Heaven everyday...every time I think of her.  Know that my Savior, Jesus Christ, is my first and foremost...but I'm sure He will be ok with Whitney doing the introductions.  God did not provide the ram in the thicket. But He did provide the Lamb on the cross. What a Mystery, indeed!