MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

ORDINARY PEOPLE , THE NARROW WAY AND GRACE

The MSG version of the Bible says that God has not revealed himself to the sophisticated people but to the little ones, the children, and the ordinary folks. See below in Matthew 11:25-30.

25-26 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.” (I have left out some verses that don’t affect the context.)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

‘Know it alls’ need not apply.

 

So what about theology, philosophy and the other ‘sophisticated’ means of understanding God? Well, Jesus himself was wearied by the lack of simple trust on the part of the ‘smart’ people. It’s very simple, this Gospel. Simple enough for a child.

Jesus comes as the very presence and essence of God among us and invites us to place our confidence in him for every aspect of our lives. He says to us that he is humble and being his apprentice, or student is not as difficult as might think. It is surely not as difficult as the religious leaders made it for the first century people with their 613 laws to follow. Jesus will in fact, at some point, say that the two great commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (See Matthew 22) Paul will even break that down for believers in God already when he says the whole law is summed up in ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ (See Galatians 5:14)

See living with Christ is only difficult when you leave decisions about life till the last moment instead of trust him all the time and practicing that trust. It’s a relationship, a daily connection with Jesus.

Sometimes, though, we read another passage in the Bible and get nervous about this ‘faith’ thing. You might remember in Matthew 7 that Jesus says enter through the narrow gate.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We westerners misunderstand that verse to mean that the way to salvation is through the narrow gate, like you have to have your life so in order to get into heaven but no, Jesus means something very different.

Jesus is saying that if we want the fullness of life that he offers right here and now then come to him, take that easy yoke and learn from this gentle and humble master how to best live.

When I was in the Coast Guard Academy we had a leader of our platoon who was exemplary for his apprentices. He put us through some rigorous activities and exercises and here’s the thing. He did everyone one of them with us to show us that they could be done and that this training would prepare us for the life for which we signed up.

Jesus will never ask us to do anything or live in any manner that he has not lived or understood. Remember, he is God. He is the full expression of our Father in heaven and we are asked and invited to live as he lives, in love with those nearest to us.

Let me give an example:

Here’s the wide way, the large way to live- someone curses you, gives you the finger or cuts you off on the highway. The world says, cuss ’em out, blow them off, and curse the suckers. That’s ok but…and here’s the thing (again) by doing so you and I will not learn the heart of the Father revealed in Jesus.

The world says that when someone wrongs you get even. That ‘way’ is broad and you can wander it to your delight but Jesus invites us into the Father’s heart by saying ‘forgive’.

Now the wide path is full of reasons, good reasons NOT to forgive. The narrow path along which Jesus walks has one purpose: to have the heart of the Father.

Certainly all of us will graduate to the sky. Not sure of a better phrase. And that’s fine but I for one want to live with Jesus who says to me, ‘Take my hand, I will lead you even when you don’t know where the heck you are going.’ But he has laid out the plans for our lives.

See, anybody can get married and that’s about it for most people. A vow, a ring and a few words and voila. Married. But followers of Jesus want more. They want love, a love that is shared and a love that cares deeply for the ‘other’ first.

Most anybody can build a house (well that’s arguable). Some nails, wood, a hammer and you could put up some kind of structure. But if you want to live in that home you need to follow the teachings of a master builder.

Jesus isn’t laying down a law that says if you don’t do such and such God won’t love you or accept you. No, certainly not. That’s not grace. Jesus is simply stating that living the ‘good’ ‘full’ and even ‘abundant life’ means looking for the best way to working with him, to access God’s grace.

If this life is ‘just’ about being forgiven then we can consider ourselves ‘in’. Scriptures says such in John 1:29 and 2Corinthians 5:19. But if we want LIFE a life that will last forever then here’s the little path through the woods, through the entanglements of life and the temptations for self- sufficiency. Here’s a life of love with the Father, Son and Spirit.

These folks to whom Jesus is speaking are just ordinary folks with no degrees. They are gathered on a hill in Galilee. And they were looking for a Messiah, a purpose, and deliverance. Up to now they were excluded by their world. And Jesus words become a gift to them.

By the way, the narrow way may appear difficult at times. No doubt. But not to worry. Jesus will make sure you get through. All you need is the will to find it.

 

Already Forgiven

John 1:29

 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (MEV)

So one day a friend told me he was going to visit his dying sister. He would tell her to ask God’s forgiveness for her sins. And then she could be assured she was going to heaven.

It got me to thinking that it would be better for her to simply say YES to God’s love for her. That love was revealed in Jesus Christ who has already forgiven her sins through his death. That’s what I take from John’s statement. She then would simply be trusting what has already been done for her.

Sure it would be wise for her to acknowledge ways she had disobeyed God and put up a wall between Him and her. Maybe she has misdeeds or missed deeds in her life that have been an enormous burden to her conscience. But I don’t think God needs a litany of offenses any more than did the father of the Prodigal Son.

Saying yes to God’s embrace and our desire to think differently about our future together is reason enough for much joy in heaven.

WHY THERE IS JOY IN HEAVEN.

For me the greatest single truth to be experienced in the Christian life is to know we are forgiven. Recall the story of the lost things in Luke 15. After each is found Jesus tells the crowds that THERE IS SO MUCH JOY IN HEAVEN WHEN ONE SINNER REPENTS THAN FOR ALL THOSE WHO DON’T THINK THEY NEED TO.

I took some liberty with that verse but in proper context.

I remember when psychiatrist Karl Menninger was alive he commented that most of the people in psychiatric wards could be released, freed, and walk out on their own, so to speak, if they just realized they were forgiven.

When Jesus came into the world his major focus was on telling people that God had come to them to reconcile all people to himself, to put away all enmity, to release them from an imposed spiritual bondage by self or otherwise.

Jesus came to say that our enslavement and alienation from God is over. And the folks who realized it best were those on the fringe of society. And if we are honest that is ‘us’ often times. I think of the Prodigal Son and remember how often that is ME but the Father in the story reminds me that God takes me back, forgives my rebellion and brings me to a table of celebration, and that if I am the proud older son he begs me to come to the table to celebrate the recovery of that which was lost.

There may be a lot of things in this world that do not give us peace. Even as you are reading this, your own soul may be in some degree of turmoil. But rest a moment on this thought. You are forgiven. You and I are the children of God, the beloved of God no matter how far we have run from him.

I think at times that when I am dissatisfied with life I am the prodigal taking the blessings of my Father for granted and I am off in a far and distant land where, like the ancient Israelites, I find it hard to sing the Lord’s song. But then I stop, inside of my own head, and run to the Father’s embrace once more. I am sorry to have forgotten my place in his love but then I gaze upon his only begotten son upon the cross and realize that he is there for me, for us and no matter what else happens in my life, that forgiveness is the most essential truth by which I live in a good relationship with the Father.

And every time I come back to the Father there is a party in heaven, which to my thinking means that heaven is one big continuous celebration of the forgiveness my Savior secured for me.

My sins have been sent away and the favor of God has been bestowed upon me all due to God’s own mercy. Is there anything else more important?

Perhaps if we dwelled more upon what God has done for us we would be less concerned about what we need. As the Scripture says, ‘if God did not spare his own Son will he not give us with him everything we need.’ (Romans 8:32)

And lest you are thinking, ‘what about repentance?’ well, repentance is nothing more or less than changing the way we think so that we are drawn to Christ and not towards ourselves. Someone once explained the Greek term for repentance as if we are walking in one direction and then turn and go the other way. His way.

It’s like the cell door being thrown open. Do we choose freedom or would we rather sit on our cot absorbed in self-pity over our circumstances?

I just got off the phone with Waste Management here in Denver area because they went right by my garbage I had put out on roadside. Driver said it wasn’t out there at 8 in the morning. I found myself getting angry because I put the silly stuff out there before way before 8. So I got myself into a funk and now need to heed my own advice. Once again I am the prodigal who needs to return. Seems like I do a lot of returning.

So here’s what happened. My wife gently told me that it was probably around 8 that I put my garbage out (isn’t that what I am doing here?) and maybe just missed the guy. I called the company and apologized and apologized to my wife for being so grumpy about the whole thing.

That’s what day to day life is like. But I reminded myself that I am forgiven and loved even while I am in a far country feeding pigs. It will all be all right. Thanks for reading. The party might be a bit postponed today.

 

 

 

Message for Roseburg

If I were a pastor in that little community of Roseburg, Oregon or any community that is connected to the people there here is what I would want to say:

Let’s stay with Jesus for a while. Let’s not hurry on even to a sense of victory. The resurrection is muted. We just need to stay with Jesus. Look at his body, the blood, his tears. See his weakness on that cross. Don’t turn away with some easy answer to the senseless tragedy. No, stay with Jesus. Each one of these lives, these precious souls whose death has pierced their loved ones hearts, belongs to Jesus, the Jesus who suffers with each aching heart.

Don’t rush to change laws right now. Don’t rush to blame. Don’t rush to judgment. Just stay with Jesus.

Don’t rush to revenge. Leave that to the Lord. There was none of that on Good Friday. They just stayed with Jesus, cried with Jesus, and something in each of them died with Jesus just as something in all of us dies with these young men and women, their families and communities right now. They stood for Jesus. Jesus stands with them. Their hurt is his continuing pain. Don’t rush to find the end just yet. Believe right where you are, right where your heart breaks right not. If you need to doubt or rage against heaven, go ahead because heaven knows how to bear our doubt, disbelief or uncontrollable anger. Heaven has been here before.

Just stay with Jesus right now. That’s right. Where their blood poured out it is mingled with the blood of Jesus. That word ‘Jesus’ right now is the only word we can speak.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ONLY A SUFFERING GOD CAN HELP NOW. May each of our hearts find a place where that suffering God can rest for a while.