Friday, July 29, 2011


I have recently noticed the number of times the word “endure” appears in various forms and expressions in the New Testament. There is a whole lot of value given to sticking around through the tough stuff. In almost every one of Paul’s letters, the necessity of perseverance, of hanging in there, of not giving up, is a core value. In fact, James suggests that, with the proper attitude, we can take advantage of the winds that will inevitably blow against us  to build up our endurance. Over and over again John records the risen, reigning Lord encouraging the people in the local churches to whom he writes to endure to the end. Endurance is rewarded.

For the early church, endurance was the key to their survival. They had to keep pressing on, heading into the hard realities of life. Often persecution would come on the heals of other, more natural disasters – famine, drought, war, civil unrest – as well as the normal things that happen to everyone – loneliness, fear, family breakdown, sickness, death. Before Christ, they enjoyed status and standing in the society, had the protection of the state, sat to dinner with their family in peace. Now, and often because of their embrace of Christ, they have lost their place in the society, they are open targets for criminal opportunists, family members have turned against them. The temptation to abandon their new faith in Jesus must have been almost overwhelming at times. They have to simply tie a faith knot in the bottom of the rope and hang on – get through it – not give up – not quit. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is stick around.

Today the pressures for most of us are not as extreme, but the need for endurance is every bit as crucial. You can’t parent without the simple determination to just not quit – to hang in there with your confused teen whether or not she comes out the other end. You can’t hope to celebrate your fiftieth wedding anniversary without making the decision to not give up at various points along the way. Every job comes with its standard number of bad days, bad people, and bad situations – including the job you are tempted to switch to! Every church goes through seasons of difficulty and discouragement. Every person who is seeking to grow to maturity in Christ will encounter tough times along the way.

The key is to have an attitude that rides the contrary wind higher. But even without that kind of attitude, the secret to getting to the end is not quitting in the middle.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Studies in Loss

News of losses today – the tragedy in Norway, where scores of people, mostly teenagers at a summer camp were killed by an apparently lone gunman, fully prepared for his mission the goal of which, beyond terror, is as yet unknown, comes on top of news of the death of Amy Winehouse, famous as much for her deeply soulful voice as for the topic which catapulted her to the top of the charts – and the life which supported her expressed response to Rehab. And then there was the email which let me, as one of his many supporters, know that career missionary and playful Juan Valdez look-a-like, Steve Graner had, on Friday just after noon, succumbed to the cancer he had been battling heroically for the past few years. There is nothing that links these stories – except that each is a crying shame.

More than ninety young people, part of a larger group, gathered for a summer retreat, without a thought other than that they would live forever and be agents of change and symbols of hope and perhaps be the turning point of their nations history . . . dead, the gunman supposed to have said that what he did was a “atrocious but necessary.” Their deaths come without warning, without sign, without time. If ever innocent victims fits, it is in times like this – people with first names and futures and new loves and fragile broken hearts and dreams just beginning to solidify into reality. Atrocious doesn’t come close. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”

A young, vibrant singer of lyrics carrying the depth of longing and playful teasing lightly on top of catchy pop tunes driven by a jazz blues gospel soul sensibility carried by an earthy, gritty vocal texture reminiscent of great soul singers past – Billie Holiday, perhaps, or Nina Simone. Maybe it was the pressure of her explosive fame, or the blinding glare of the world-wide spotlight, or the terrified little girl looking for a way home again . . . but her songs became her life became her song in an destructive spiral of drugs, alcohol, relational tragedy, performance mishaps – until parody became reality. The proximate physical cause of death is currently unknown – or, at least, unpublished. But the real cause seems clear – too much life without a developed capacity for it. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”

More comfortable in the streets and jungles and on the mountain tops of Columbia than almost anywhere else in the world, Steve embodied all that it meant to be a missionary. He had a grand sense of adventure – and the life of serving Jesus was nothing less to him. He loved Columbians, and because he viewed them as partners in mission rather than objects of mission, they loved him too. Endlessly joyful and relentlessly optomistic, every cloud had a silver lining, every rainstorm had a rainbow, every lemon a promise of lemonade…  At least that is how it appeared to me. It has been years since we talked person to person – but occasional emails kept me up to date with his battles – spiritual, personal, physical. In his death, a mighty warrior for the kingdom has fallen. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”

When Jesus stood in that graveyard and gave vent to the deep pain and frustration of that place and of all those losses represented, I don't think He was just weeping for Lazarus - but for all those claimed by death, past, present, future. No one dies unnoticed by the Father. No one dies unmourned by heaven. All His children are precious to Him - those who don't acknowledge Him no less than those who do.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stuck in the Moment

The old joke has it that the turtle on top of a fence post didn't get there by himself. That is telling in a lot of ways - not least is the awareness that the turtle probably didn't have much to do with - nor desire for - where he ended up. Sometimes we are in the same place - stuck where we are, not sure quite how we got here, unable to move. And in desperate need of help.

Maybe that was the situation of the psalmist when he cried out, “I look to the hills. Where does my help come from?” When you are a turtle in the post position, there is no where else to look but to the hills! Your point of view is limited to what the geography presents before you. The question is not directed to the hills, however. It is inspired by them.

The answer echoes back from the purple mountain majesties, “My help comes from the Lord - who made this mountain and the earth it is on and the heavens the earth is in!” And now you’ve got a turtle with an attitude - an attitude of gratitude as he reminds his turtle soul of the full truth about his God. “He will not allow your foot to slip! The one who keeps you will not drift off in the middle of the night. He won’t slumber or sleep!”

As the dark night terrors give way to the blistering heat of the day, his spirits rise with the sun. “The Lord is your keeper - he is your shade - the sun will not smack you down during the day, nor the moon by night! The Lord will protect you from evil - he will keep your soul and set a guard over you wherever you go. Forever!” Bottom line, it is not over until the Lord says its over!

That provides great hope for those of us who feel stuck - paralyzed in the moment of our lives. Even in our stuckness, we are not out of His care. In fact, not being able to move - not being able to do one single thing to help ourselves - puts us totally and completely at God’s mercy. And what better place is there to be? While we may feel helpless, but we are never - never - hopeless!

And, seeing as how we are up here anyway, we might just as well enjoy the view - and its reminder of Whose we are.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Loving With All . . .

Thou shalt . . .
well - of course
how . . .

How to love
     with all my
     heart, soul, mind, strength
     when I can barely get them
     all in the same room at the same time

Each drawn to their
     own loves
     leaving integration
     to . . .
          whoever is left.

Wholeness beckons
     oh to be one
     the longing is
     all but
          to see
          to feel
          what might  be
     and to not know the
          way home.

And yet there
     in the longing
     is the answer . . .

Love God with
     all your heart
     all your soul
     all your mind
     all your strength

Love for God will be the
     force of integration

Love for God will
     draw me to Him
     to myself
     to you
          and finally

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This is the time of year when, travel experts tell us, the vast majority of us take our vacations. More people will hit the road, stand in line at airports, or hop a bus during these two and half months than at all the other times of the year combined. A bunch of us will head home - wherever that is and however that is defined - to spend our down time with extended family. Another huge group will head to a handful of “most popular” tourist destinations - Orlando, Florida being at the top of the world-wide pile. For some, summer vacation is hiking in and camping out beside a virgin stream that only they and a couple hundred other people have ever seen.  For others, a four star hotel with gourmet cuisine is the ticket to relaxation and restoration.

Regardless of where we end up, most of us are ready to come home when it is over - but not necessarily ready to go back to work. We return wondering about the old adage that a change is as good as a rest - and are convinced that something got lost in the translation. Vacations, we discover, are hard work! At least the way most of us do them. They may involve some resting - but by far the majority of us pack so much activity into our annual average thirteen days that they bulge at the seams - just like the suitcases that allow us to take it all with us wherever we go! Perhaps if we were more like our neighbors to the north, with twice as many annual vacation days, we would come back more rested. Two weeks seems to be just enough time to get somewhere and come back - but not enough time to recuperate from the going and coming! Of course, if we imitated the Italians, with an annual average (average!) of forty-six days, we might never get back to work - but that is another story entirely.

In all of this, it is probably worthwhile to be reminded that vacations and days off are, like most good things, God's idea. In fact, so important does He think these kinds of things are, that He built them into the cycle of creation and highlighted them in the Ten Words that outlined the joyous life of His people. Much of the third book of the Bible deals with holy days and festivals with their communal celebration of life well-lived under God. How we got from there to Orlando, I am not sure, but the story might help us understand why many of us have holidaze rather than holy days.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Be Still . . . And Know

How might God be pursued
     be sought
          be found?

Despairing of the answer,
      many give up

Others double their efforts,
      wearing themselves out with
      the increased demands of  
      search without

Press in
                  hold on
                                    let go

                  Exhausted in the hunt
                  For an elusive quarry
                  They stop to catch a breath

And there
                  in the stillness of the stop
                  in the depth of the breath
                  in the surrender of weariness

He comes

He, Who has been searching
                  is found.

                  giving up their
                  efforts to find
                  are, finally, found.

Those still . . .

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pledging Allegiance

I have begun to wonder of late if it is appropriate for citizens of the Kingdom of God to pledge allegiance to the flag of a nation that is not under God. The question is occasioned by the various lawsuits making their way through the courts on behalf of those who feel their rights to non-belief are trampled when they are forced to include the phrase “under God” in their national identity, contradicting their atheism. The courts have not been too comforting to the Christian community in their refusal to take the case or in the rationale for the decisions they make to retain the phrase. As nearly as I can tell, the logic for retaining the phrase boils down to this. The phrase “under God” is a cultural icon and, as such, has no inherent religious content. It is the same argument that has been used to preserve crosses on public lands and to argue for the display of the 10 Commandments in public courtrooms.

It presents a fascinating paradox. Atheists, on one side, claim the phrase is rich and full with religious meaning. Christians, on the other side, argue that the phrase is void of religious significance. I suspect that many of the Christians who celebrate the decisions are not aware of the rationale, and that those who are think the end justifies the means – keeping the phrase is worth removing any religious content it might have.

Considering the origin of the phrase and the background of its inclusion in the pledge in the mid-1950’s, the atheists appear to have the better case. “Under God” was inserted into the pledge, in part, to differentiate Christian America from atheistic and Communist Russia. Christianity was used to sharpen the differences with our enemy during the Cold War. Even then, however, it could be argued that the phrase had more political than religious content – much in the way conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or between Christians and Muslims in some of the wars in the world are more about politics than religion.

But it did get me to thinking. Does a country really want its citizenry pledging allegiance unless they are under God? Promises made that are not under God don't seem to have much likelihood of fulfillment. Of course, followers of Jesus can't make a pledge of allegiance except under God, whether the phrase is included in the pledge or not. And that is what makes them good citizens - they are under a higher authority that makes their pledge good, or even possible.