Tasting the Goodness of God

bible.com/72/psa.34.8.hcsb

So what comes to mind when you see this verse? Can God be tasted, or is that what God intends for you to take away from this verse? And how do you combine both the idea of refuge with the perceptions of taste and sight?

Many a time, David sought refuge in caves. For him, a Cave was a place of safety. It was hidden, inaccessible but to the ones who know where the caves are. As a boy, he probably spent months exploring the caves while out keeping watch over sheep, looked for caves that he and his sheep could take refuge for the night. This became for him a metaphor for the protection of God.

So what does a cave taste like? Maybe our understanding of what this verse means needs to meet its context. Are there odors so powerful you can taste? And would those odors, associated with safety and comfort arose those feelings in you whenever you smell them?

As we approach Autumn, I begin to smell these things again. Burning wood, Pumpkin Spice, autumn leaves, baked pies and roasted meat. These are smells of comfort, safety, and family. Our senses are reacquainted with home and our anxiety resets when we feel safe. Like David, we feel the surrounding reassurance that everything is going to be ok. Why? Because we are in the presence of God.

Wherever you are, taste. Wherever you are, see. Take in the world around you and be reminded of the goodness of God. He is a certain and steady refuge for the weary of heart.

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The New Normal

Sitting at my computer looking through email. Reminded me of an earlier time, a different job, different names, but me still sitting and looking at my screen. I have been sitting in this spot, doing exactly the same thing since I started in ministry. It made me long for those days, those friendships and relationships I used to have. Made me wonder if I would ever have them again. Yeah, I get wistful sometimes.

From 2001 to 2009, I ministered in a Christian Church in Clarks Hill, Indiana. In Clarks Hill, IN, I was close enough to touch Lafayette, where much of my extended family lived. I could be at my parents’ house in 20 minutes. In 2009 I was asked to resign that position, which left me and family without a home within just a few weeks’ time. With God’s help, we had a call from a church in Palestine, Illinois, a former Disciples of Christ Church where they welcomed our family. We stayed there until early 2012 when we moved to our present location in Morehead, Kentucky.

At times, it hits me. Why did God move me so far away? I miss my family, being able to see my uncles and aunts, my parents and my brother. I wish I could be with them, spend another cheesy birthday party or family meal, especially when those feelings come over me.

But this is the new normal. Family is now a phone call away. I live four hours from my parents, and sometimes I feel very alone. Working in an area where extended families live together “up the holler”, I miss the validation that comes from family, to know that you matter to them.

I see families every day trying very hard to tear themselves apart through drug and alcohol use, abuse and divorce. I see men and women destitute because they don’t have any family. Why? Because they’ve destroyed every relationship they have. Their own family will not take them in, not again. It crushes me to hear that, every time.

But true family isn’t about blood, or surnames. It is about our common relationship with Jesus. Even folks who’ve lost everyone still have a family in Jesus. And this is a family that will stick closer than a brother.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
(Mar 10:29-31)

What’s Your Number?

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In my line of work, I deal with families who lose loved ones, sometimes without warning. In the process of treatment, utilizing all of our knowledge to resuscitate using drugs, physical techniques (like CPR) and others,  we connect patients to heart monitors, which count their heartbeats per minute. Usually 70 is a good heart rate but at those times, any heart rate is preferred to none.

But it struck me that the number of beats our heart makes is a definite number. It has a definite beginning, and a definite end. It begins when our little hearts begin in our mother’s womb, and end, sometimes on an E.R. treatment bed. If a person truly wished to discover this number, it is probably possible. But it is a number God already knows.

Let that sink in. God knows the number of beats your heart will make, He knows how many you have left. He also knows what you’ve done with each of them. If God numbers our hairs (Matthew 10:30) would He not know our heartbeats? Consider the following:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1Sa 16:7)

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
(Jer 17:10)
And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
(Act 15:8)

When I witness an unexpected death, I grieve with the family. None of us know when our beats come to an end.  Many times we can’t predict it, let alone prepare for it. I am reminded of a movie, called “In Time” that came out in 2011. In the film, people stop aging at 25, but have a clock on their arm to tell them exactly how much time they have left. They work for time, and barter time to pay for things, instead of using money. Though the movie failed to perform at the box office, it pointed out the innate human desire to know our time. If we knew when we would die, don’t you think we would be better prepared for it? Or if we knew our death was near, would we go out and run up our credit cards and live like royalty?  Could you imagine a world where you knew exactly how much time you had left to live? Seems to me this is information we are better off not knowing. Besides, I believe we have something better.

I think about the impact my death would have on my family, or theirs on me. Death can come so suddenly and destructively, it just leaves devastation in its wake. That’s why I praise God that I serve one who conquered death, that rose from the grave, and offers me hope for the same.

I know that when my number comes up, He will be standing there, arms outstretched, saying, “Welcome Home!” For when I die, eternity is laid out before me, and I will never die again. “For it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:1) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Joh 3:16)

It is that hope that helps me help others in the midst of their tragedy. And I am grateful to God for His indescribable gift!

On this Father’s Day

IMG20040When my grandfather died in 1989, it was a Saturday in December. Dad had worked all night the night before and was sleeping when the phone call came. I picked it up. It was mom, who was at the hospital. She said to wake Dad up and have us all come to the hospital. I woke him up, but he rolled over. I told him Mom wanted us to come to the hospital. He said ok, and fell back to sleep. I left the bedroom. He woke up fully a few minutes later and coming into the living room, confirmed what I’d said, and we all rode up to Lafayette, to Home Hospital, where my grandfather was. When we arrived, I heard crying, and looking into the room, saw my uncles, my mother, and my aunts weeping around the bed. Grandpa was lying there with his jaw open. I remember seeing his jaw just hanging open, which was just unnatural and wrong. Part of me knew he was dead, he’d had prostate cancer for about a year, but it felt wrong to see him so utterly still. It was the first time I’d really seen anyone dead before. I didn’t know how to feel, or what to think. I just felt numb. It was weird to see my family, who normally would be laughing and talking together just weeping and holding each other. I didn’t know what to do or how to react.

Sometimes, I still don’t.

The closest I came to crying over him was at his funeral, when someone was singing, and nudged my emotions to the surface. If I had known him better, or longer, I probably would have been more distraught. But all I could feel was numb. Every December 26th I remember him again on his birthday. I remember waking up the morning after Christmas and having breakfast with him before we had to go home. But what tears me up now more than ever is what he could have told me. Whether or not we was proud of the direction my life has taken, or what he would have thought about my family. I don’t know why I care what he would think, but I do. He was always quiet in his praise of others, and I guess I am hoping I would make the cut.

I need death to be more than the grave, but a New Beginning, for my grandpa and for everyone else’s. I need to death to be temporary, not permanent.

There are two things going on at the cross, one explicit in the gospels, and one implicit, which is expounded in the letters.

  1. The death of Jesus Christ was a horrifying event (What we see)
    1. The manner in which the gospels records Jesus’ crucifixion is actually matter-of-fact, told in passing, as if the gospels’ audience were well-familiar with this manner of execution. Mark 15:25 (NIV) is typical, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” The word employed in the Greek is stauroo. There is no reference to the nails, the “tree” or to the manner of how the nails were fixed. The only reference to “nails” in the New Testament is Colossians 2:14, where Paul employs the image of “nailing” to nailing (proseloo) the law to Jesus’ cross.
    2. The gospels focus on what Jesus says from the cross, and what the crowds say to the crucified Jesus. The manner of Jesus’ death, that is, slowly losing his ability to breathe, adds unseen drama and urgency to Jesus’ words.

     

  2. The death of Christ Jesus was a atoning event (What we know)
    1. The gospels hint at this in the rending of the Temple veil, a sign that the way to the Holy Place (if you were familiar with the placement of the veil) is made clear upon Jesus’ death.
    2. The letters too add to the weight of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – namely Colossians 3:13-14, “. . . He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” And Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The letters stress that Jesus’ death on the cross was a means of God saving sinners from eternal punishment for breaking the Law and satisfying the wrath of God for sin. Romans 5:9, “Since we have not been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

Why it matters

  1. So what? Why do we care about this? Because we abhor senseless death. With every fiber of our being, we strain to find reason out of chaos. When a father or mother dies, we look for a reason. Maybe it was the cancer, maybe it was the hospital. Maybe it was “his time” or “God needed another angel” but we strain to find a reason for things when they cut to our heart. We strain because we cannot accept that God would allow someone good to die for no reason. Many of us shake our fist at God, even to deny He exists, or at least to hate him because we cannot reconcile a good God with senseless death.
  2. Of anyone on earth, Jesus’ death was the most senseless. He had committed no sin. He had no regrets, no family members he was on bad terms with, no one he owed money. Jesus had everything to live for. Yet on that night in Jerusalem, he was arrested, arraigned in a kangaroo court, and murdered in front of everyone.
  3. Over and over again, Jesus repeats that it was exactly God’s will that he go to the cross. Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but thine be done.” He knew he was going to die, knew the greater purpose for which he died, and still prayed in the garden to avoid it. Why? Was it because some part of him screamed that he didn’t deserve it?
  4. But the death of Jesus Christ changes how we look at death. His death was infused with purpose and meaning. Every facet of his death throes we examine in detail looking to uncover fresh meaning. From the significance of the promise of paradise to “it is finished” we keep finding new ways to see this very old story. Why do we do this? Because I think it helps us understand why our grandmas pass away, and our grandpas. Our moms and our dads, even our children and grandchildren. We need the death of Jesus to mean something powerful and significant to bring meaning to the deaths of those we dearly love. We need this story to be true. The world tells us we are pinning our hopes on fairy tales, but I don’t remember Cinderella dying for me, or Rapunzel’s grave to be found empty, or the seven dwarves testifying to their dying words that Snow White is risen. We find the faith in Jesus Christ tested and tried and found true. We find that meaning plastered all over the New Testament, both for him and for us. Each and every death isn’t an end, but a portal to a new and eternal beginning. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find hope for our own loved ones who have passed on, and an urgency to declare Him to those who haven’t accepted Him. Perhaps we are better informed than the lost for those who die without Jesus, and ought to grieve more.

Do you see? As the gospels show us the death of Jesus, which we can relate to and understand, the New Testament show us its meaning, which we cannot know without the Bible. Each baptism is a reenactment, each death a harsh reminder, but each day we live in Christ, a new creation and a joy to know we have our hope in Him. It is a hope that we will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. Now you will be faithful with much.” The death and resurrection of Jesus make it possible for us to believe that death, though harsh, isn’t the last word.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

(Heb 2:14-15)

November Meaning

Before we get into the Christmas season, and start taking about Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds, we need to look at what November means. November doesn’t have all the lights and tinsel. November is about home. There is the Homecoming, the homemade pumpkin pie, and the family coming home for the holidays. November is about coming home. It can be a time of great gladness and great sorrow. My family lost a family member this year. And there will be an empty place at the table. I doubt my story is unique.

But November also reminds us of great sacrifice. For the original thanksgiving was celebrated at great personal cost to Gov. William Bradford and the colonists of Plymouth Rock. It is a story that deserves to be retold as part of our nation’s history and religious heritage.

The Pilgrims’ story begins as their religious sect is marginalized in English society. Their stance on morality and virtue are too strict for some, and they are persecuted. They move to Amsterdam where any religion is welcome, but they find the morals there too loose, and are afraid their children will emulate them.

The make the decision as a congregation to emigrate to America, the newly discovered land where the English King has little power, and the English Church has little influence. Their chartered ship, the Mayflower, sets sail in the harsh North Atlantic, and finally sets sight on the Massachusetts coast that fall.

Their first winter was cruel, with cross after cross erected on the hill outside of the settlement. It is not an easy thing to be a settler in the new world, and it is not until they make some peace with the Indians, through the help of Squanto, that they are able to make any success.

The story of the pilgrims as we remember ends with the celebration of Thanksgiving in their first good harvest in the new world. Around their table was welcome one and all. It is this celebration that most people remember, not the sacrifices and lessons that preceded it. But this distant mirror of the marriage supper of the Lamb may yet remind of our celebration with the Son of God when at last our labors are done.

And maybe those two stories, of our family griefs and joys, and the sacrifice and faithfulness of the Puritan pilgrims, at some point intersect and intertwine, because our struggles are the same. Could we find in their story hope for our own? If we understood the faith of those pilgrims, perhaps we will find courage ourselves.

Tangled Webs

“What a tangled web we weave . . .”

Children are a blessing from God, in their proper context. “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5a) Especially grandchildren, for “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” (Proverbs 17:6) Now that the Mrs. and I are expecting our fourth child, I see the worth of this little passage. Our prayer is that the next one, a boy if the SONAR is right, is born healthy like his brother and sisters.

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought kids were to follow marriage, not precede it. (I can hear you thinking, “here he goes again”) Now if anyone is keeping track, no one yet has taken me up on my offer to marry for free. Although, I have heard rumors that I’ve been pretty mean to unmarried couples. I’ll admit, my bark is worse than my bite. But have you stopped to consider that maybe we’ve been too easy on these kids having kids?

That’s really the shame of our permissive society, when the words “I’m pregnant” are not given in joy, but as a threat. When are children a threat? When free-living and irresponsibility comes to a screeching halt. Children are the end of fun, the end of happy-go-lucky. They are the beginning of responsibility: midnight feedings, trips to the doctor and the teacher, more groceries, more bills, more heartache when they stray.

We’ve already had three, so it’s not like we don’t know what to expect. Babies cry, smell, spit-up, and my personal favorite, the single-most eye-opening sound they make, bleegch! I have been sound asleep, but when the little one makes the “Bleegch” sound in the middle of the night, I have been known to instantly spring into action. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but having upset stomach spill out over the sheets wakes you up faster than a pot of coffee.

The adults who spawn a child have to make hard choices. It used to be when the girl got pregnant the man responsible was obligated to marry her, so that that child would grow up in a two-parent family. Sometimes I long for those days, for those and for the days when a man established himself, by getting a job and a house, before he proposed to his fiancé. These are standards people used to grow up with, because then, the focus was on stability, security, and having a strong family for a strong nation. Nowadays, kids are often passed off to grandma, or to friends, so that the fun and the parties and the sex never stops. Shame on anyone who treats his child like yesterday’s newspaper. And the Bible warns that that kind of attitude will come back to you ten-fold. A child who is rejected by his parents can’t cope with it. They seek anyone who will listen to them, and often find the wrong friends. End result? They become more foolish than their parents. And this is where the real heartache begins. The Bible says:

“To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool. . . . A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.” (Proverbs 17:21, 25)

“A foolish son is his father’s ruin.” (Proverbs 19:13)

“Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” (Proverbs 19:18)

This proverb is a reply in a way to God’s Law – “Anyone who curses his father and mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.” (Leviticus 20:9) It may sound harsh, but God knows that the stability of any society relies wholly on the ability of parents to teach their children respect for their authority, and thus for all authorities. Any child who curses his father or mother will be a threat to the whole, and must be dealt with severely, as both example and as prevention. Children may seem like an inconvenience now, but someday they will be a doctor, or a lawyer, making policy and law while you are sick, old, and frail. Is it any wonder that the current generation in power is considering euthanasia as a possible way to “dispose” of the elderly? Where do you suppose that attitude came from? From the parents who were too busy to play with their kids because they had to make all the money to buy the big house and fancy car. They “disposed” of their kids with the Daycare, or somesuch. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? If your kids are a “burden” to you, just remember, someday they will make the decision whether or not to pull the plug. Someday they will be president, or they will be making the car you drive. Do you want to drive a car built by a kid who has no respect for his boss?

Children are the wealth of a home, and the Bible clearly teaches this. A man with many children can count himself blessed. We are breaking down our society with every child born out of wedlock. God bless those men and women who marry into families with children and make it work. We witness the destruction of our nation when children don’t know who their fathers are. For what ties do they have to the past, to patriotism, to anything, if they have no ties to their own fathers? Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you know a young man or young woman who is lost, without a father or a mother, then can I ask you to step in and take some responsibility for that child? Your future depends on them, whether they are yours or not. They need you, because they need a godly man or woman to show them what God is like. Consider it a mission to bring that person to the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Christ, but be the living example for them too. Show them the love that they are desperate for.