Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Greatgrands spend an afternoon at Grandpatty's

   Yesterday, my daughter Rebekah and my grandson Dean; my niece Emi and her children Mac and Eliza; my niece Tracy and her youngest Jack came to visit at my Step-mother's house. My sister and I have been here since our Dad died last Wednesday. The 4 great-grands, 2 grands, and 2 step-daughters brought a bit of joyful chaos into GrandPatty's house for a few hours. It was welcome... reminder of the perpetual life force of the family.
This morning, in a much quieter house, Ginny and Patty and I sat at the breakfast table discussing thoughts triggered by the upcoming meeting we would have with the pastor about what we want to be shared in the funeral for my Daddy. The focus will be on John 14, where we hear Jesus encouraging his disciples in the face of his coming death. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God also in me.....I will not leave you as orphans. "
We have had a good day as we have drawn strength from the words of Christ and as we move forward knowing that though we grieve the absence of Daddy's physical presence, the reality of his eternal presence is wrapped up in the promise Christ. Evidence is in these children and in the comfort we have know this week. The Counselor has come and taught us truth. There is peace. And love lives on.


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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Groaning Faith

I tried to listen to the words that Celestin Musekura spoke on that Sunday morning in 2003. I tried to grasp the possibility of a triumphant faith growing out of a groaning, grieving faith. He spoke of the war in Rwanda that had claimed the lives of his mother, his father, his brother, his sister, his niece, his nephew and so many more. How could he not groan in the midst of such loss that seemed like abandonment by the God he trusted?

Celestin used the example of Habakkuk to tell his story. Habakkuk was a prophet who spoke into history during the reign of  King Josiah over Judea. A Brief Summary: The Book of Habakkuk begins with Habakkuk crying out to God for an answer to why God’s chosen people are allowed to suffer in their captivity (Habakkuk 1:1-4). The Lord gives His answer to Habakkuk, essentially stating, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you” (Habakkuk 1: 5-11). Habakkuk then follows up by saying, “Ok, you are God, but still tell me more about why this is happening” (Habakkuk 1:17-2:1). God then answers him again and gives him more information, then tells the earth to be silent before Him (Habakkuk 2:2-20). Then Habakkuk writes a prayer expressing his strong faith in God, even through these trials (Habakkuk 3:1-19). (http://www.gotquestions.org/Book-of-Habakkuk.html)

The struggle in the mind and heart of Habakkuk is the story of humanity. We want to understand. We want to know why.  Many times when it seemed justice was not being served or life seemed seriously wrong, I, like Habakkuk, have gone straight to God's throne. I take seriously my right of access granted by the price Christ paid and brazenly go with my mouth full of reasons why certain circumstances may not be in accord with what I expect of a righteous God. Many times, I say, "But, You said in Your Word..."  I boldly speak, hoping that I might some how call Him to change the things that cause me or one I love such pain or confusion or fear. These time may have come after I tried to “do it right”, secretly, in some part of my self, wanting to influence God with my goodness. Whatever my motivation for going, I firmly believe that God has always welcomed me.

In Habakkuk’s day, God chose to use the unrighteous Babylonians to bring judgment on the apostate Judeans. Even though the Babylonians were arrogant and worshiped their own strength, they were sent to overwhelm Judah. Does this make sense? The prophet cried out, “Oh Lord, are you not from everlasting? Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?" The American Heritage Dictionary defines treacherous as "those willfully betraying fidelity, confidence, or trust…those not to be relied on; not dependable or trustworthy; dangerous".

I have argued that God adjust his actions to my perception of what should or shouldn't be. I have wrestled and pleaded, reasoned and even demanded until exhausted. And I have never doubted I was heard.  But most often God would not leave me stuck within my own demands. Instead, He would wait until I was spent...until all my demands and arguments had been presented. Then, exhausted of all effort to make God fit into my perception, I, like Habakkuk, would withdraw and take a passive stance on the watchtower. “FINE, THEN! Say what you want. Do what you want. I’m too tired to deal with this. I’ll just wait.”

Then, I would begin to hear. Then my eyes would begin to see. Then, in the watching and the waiting and the emptying the revelation would begin to be seen. Then, with my mouth emptied to silence and my hands pried free from the demands for what I believed so important  I would be freed to surrender my misconstrued right to be God and take up my place rightly related to the Maker of the Universe.

In the story of Habakkuk we hear these words: “Then the Lord replied: Write down the revelation…it awaits an appointed time.” It would  be sixty-five years later before the prophecy given to Habakkuk would be fulfilled. God calls us as He did the prophet to faith…“Though it linger, wait for it.” The promise is made but the battle goes on. The cruelty and greed of the Babylonians are given full expression. Judah is taken into captivity. Violence and destruction of land, people, and animals ravaged the souls of God’s chosen ones. Yet, the call to believe rings out,“Though it linger, wait for it”.

Was this a senseless display of God’s power and authority? Was it just to break the people of His own making so that He might have more control? It seems so. The temptation to yield to the cynicism seems totally justified.

What makes the difference between faith and cynicism? I believe a choice must be made. It is a choice to declare God is not a man and I am not God. It is a choice to cease striving to be God. It is a choice to turn and look and wait for the One who promised.. It is a choice to step away from self into what we cannot see but what our souls have heard of. It is a choice to trust in the One who spoke. It is a choice to believe in the One He sent and who will come again. It is a choice to be the sheep, not the Shepherd.

Habakkuk chose prayer as his expression of that faith.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
            I stand in awe of your deeds,O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
            in our time make them known;
            in wrath remember mercy
 During a hard stretch when I so wanted to give way to anger and give up fighting the pain in my soul and dive headlong into unbelief, I entered the sanctuary for a Wednesday evening Lenten service. I was holding hands with cynicism when the Spirit of God spoke gently to my soul. “I want you to choose to trust. “ This quiet voice in my ear was so personal and so real, yet fearing I would later think it was my own mind’s fabrication, I grabbed a pen from the pew and wrote it on my hand, “I choose to trust”. I have heard of your fame. I choose to trust. I stand in awe of your deeds. I choose to trust.
 Though the fig tree does not bud
            and there are no grapes on the vines
Though the olive crop fails
            and the fields produce no food
Though there are no sheep in the pen
            and no cattle in the stalls
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
            I will be joyful in God my Savior
The Sovereign Lord is my strength
            he makes my feet like the feet of a deer
He enables me to go on the heights.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Come Down Pride

Come Down Pride

"A short communion with the unseen and eternal prevents the soul from ever being again so completely the slave of things of sense and pride." Phillips Brooks

“Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life." George Arliss

I stood with some friends in the sanctuary at Blacknall Presbyterin Church after the memorial service for the mother of our friend Janet. The conversation was mostly about everyday things and our children. I asked Jeff if he had gotten much gardening done that morning. His face lit up as he spoke of walking through his backyard with his coffee in hand and marveling at the signs of hope that he saw there. At this time of year we are watching and waiting and believing as we begin to see the hope of new life awakening as the days grow warmer and the light increases. My winter of hibernation is almost over.

Just the other weekend my sisters and my brother with our spouses spent the night together at our family's lake house. We built a fire in the fireplace and grilled burgers and watched home movies from our childhood. We cried and we laughed. Just being together seemed important. The next morning my sister and I took our cameras out into the yard  under a bluebird sky and took some pictures of the birthing of this spring's gifts. It has been a hard winter for us and the desire to see tangible signs of hope was great.

In the middle of this deep winter season past, my siblings and I, with our step-mother, crowded into the small examining room with our father to hear the latest results. It had been a year since my Daddy had been diagnosed with inoperable gall bladder cancer. We knew what the doctor was going to say. Instinctively, we had know for weeks but we silently moved through the season of Advent and then gathered as a family after Christmas. We knew the past year had been a gift. We knew that eventually we would have to hear this news. The cancer that had been kept at bay for 12 months was now on the move.

And then we turned and received the news just a few days later that was just as heart moving. Our daughter Rebekah is pregnant, expecting her second child on my Daddy's and my son's birthday. Once again the cycle of life invades my present reality. And this takes me back to 1971, the year my mother died suddenly in the summer and my sister and brother-in-law came home to live with us as they moved through a time between college and what was to come next. My sister, Ginny also came bearing my father's first grandchild. Tracy was born into our family in the middle of our grief, bringing new love and life. Her new life was a healing balm in God's hands as He massaged the place of loss in our souls.

Though my father's body gives way to the the ravaging enemy of cancer and it is so very hard to watch, there is the assurance of what is not seen. I know by faith that there awaits a new body that is eternal. Just as the winter is a time of unseeing, so is approaching death. Yet, this new grandchild will remind us that love lives on. Humility grows out of the surrender to the eternal flow of life out of death, bringing hope out of loss. And in our surrender to that which is greater our pride comes down.

This Lenten season has found me hungering for the light. The fasting that I normally choose in this season has instead been given to me. The turning from to turn toward has felt more like I have been taken by the hand and turned around and now I am being pushed forward in a direction I did not, would not, choose. Daily I watch and wait. "There is a time for everything, a time to live and a time to die."  We live in time and within time we find beginnings and endings. There can be no life without death and no death without life. And then we of faith hear of and cling to another reality...the resurrection. Pride yields to humility. Life rises out of death. Love lives on and peace comes stealing slow.

Peace comes
Stealing slow
Falls like
Silent snow
Swing down
Sweet and low
Peace comes
Stealing slow

from Peace Comes Stealing Slow. Kate Campbell

Friday, March 5, 2010



"If one wishes to eliminate uncertainty, tension, confusion, and disorder from one's life there is no point in getting mixed up either with Yahweh or with Jesus of Nazareth."
                              Andrew Greeley

"I grew up expecting that a relationship with God would bring order, certainty, and a calm rationality to life. Instead, I have discovered that living in faith involves much dynamic tension."
                              Philip Yancey
Psalm 126
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion
      we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter
      our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
            "The Lord has done great things for them,"
The Lord has done great things for us,
      and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
      like the streams in the Negev,

Those who sow in tears
      will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping
      carrying seed to sow
will return with songs of joy,
      carrying sheaves with him.
from Ezra 3
The Levites took up their places to praise the Lord...With praise and Thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
            "He is good;
             His love to Israel endures forever."
But, many who had seen the former temple wept aloud...while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping....

There is much in all our lives that have us experiencing this Holy tension. There are many reasons to weep as we grieve in the midst of loss, death, brokenness, change, uncertainty, confusion, and dysfunction. And at the same time, in the other hand, we who believe hold joy that grows out of the faith given to us in the life of Christ.

On a hiking trip in the N.C. mountains I tromped through the woods, squatting down every few yards to examined the first wildflowers of the season. I marveled at the simplicity of the lesson spoken loudly through the tiny growth amidst the grey brown of the tension between winter and spring. What I saw had not been there even a week prior. What had been had died back many months before. Yet,the root remained alive, but unseen, for all the winter months. But as the days grew longer and the sun warmed the earth, at such a time as was right, the mystery of life out of death was awakened. What I saw was not what had been there last year. It was something new...... yet growing from the same root that had given life to what had come before.

We who live in the middle of this tension between what was and what will be...weep and rejoice...It is right to do both...and to do so loudly for God is good and His love endures forever.