Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Hope: Resurrection & Reconciliation

Easter hope Resurrection & Reconciliation - PorcupineThe German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. He said, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.”[1]

But winter does not last forever, and in the Spring Easter warms the cold heart with hope. Christ provided us an alternative: to forgive each other for the intentional and unintentional pokes we receive. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have hope. Forgiveness, kindness and compassion are at the heart of the Gospel. Even in the face of injustice and sinful arrogance, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of anger and hate, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of war and violence and death itself, Christians must have hope. That’s what Easter is all about: hope for resurrection and reconciliation.

The Civil War was the most un-civil period in American history. It is hard to imagine the hatred, animosity and strife, not just between the states, but also between families and friends and neighbors.  620,000 American soldiers on both sides lost their lives in battle or as a direct result of the conflict. To place that in perspective, we must realize that the entire population of the United States at the time was a little over 30 million – thus over 2.0% mortality from the bloody war! All told, there were more casualties in the Civil War than in all wars America has fought combined from then until now.

During the war, half the men of military age in the state of Iowa served in the Union army and more than 12,500 of them died and more than 8,500 of them went home with serious wounds. The devastation in the south was even worse. Ten billion dollars in property damage – 40% of its livestock destroyed. The state of Mississippi spent 20% of its budget on artificial limbs for the wounded in 1866.[2]

In 1913, the Federal government held a fiftieth anniversary reunion at Gettysburg. It lasted three days. Survivors of unspeakable atrocities bivouacked in the old battlefield together, swapping stories, and looking up old comrades. They had witnessed the worst of the human race, but now these aged soldiers and one time mortal enemies came together for a final memorial meeting.

The climax of the gathering was a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch as the Union veterans took their positions on Cemetery Ridge, and waited as their old adversaries emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge and started forward toward them across the long, flat fields. Philip Myers, (who witnessed the event as an 18-year-old) wrote, “We could see not rifles and bayonets but canes and crutches.  We soon could distinguish the more agile ones aiding those less able to maintain their places in the ranks.”

As they neared the northern line, they broke into one final, defiant rebel yell.  At the sound, “after half a century of silence, a moan, a sigh, a gigantic gasp of unbelief” rose from the Union men on cemetery Ridge.

“It was then,” wrote Myers, “that the Yankees, unable to restrain themselves longer, burst from behind the stone wall, and flung themselves upon their former enemies. . .not in mortal combat, but reunited in brotherly love and affection.”

“It was,” says Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Union hero of Gettysburg, “a transcendental experience.  A radiant fellowship of the fallen.”[3]

“A radiant fellowship of the fallen.” With all due respect to those Civil War heroes, that also seems a fitting description for a community of believers in Jesus Christ. Though fallen in sin, we are picked up and redeemed in Christ.

If members of the Civil War could discover reconciliation and forgiveness, surely we can find hope through reconciliation for the uncivil way humans—friends, strangers and family members alike—sometimes treat each other. And on this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let’s not forget what He said on Good Friday as He suffered unjustly at the hands of those He created:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 22:34 NIV)

Maybe the quills of broken promises and broken lines of communication have popped your balloon of hope. Maybe things just haven’t turned out as you expected.  Jesus rose from the dead so our hopes and dreams could be resurrected and we could be reconciled to him and to each other.

Jesus Christ is unique for two miraculous reasons: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. As fully God and fully human, Jesus suffered as no man ever suffered, and on the cross took upon Himself the sins of the world. His resurrection from the dead offers hope for the future and makes possible reconciliation for us all. Isn’t that a better choice than being poked by porcupines?



[2]The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric & Ken Burns.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1990   pp. 398-404.

[3]From Ken Burns, The Civil War Video series Vol. 9.  http://hardtogetvideos.com/civil_war.html

Resurrection: Signs of Spring

Resurrection - Signs of SpringI saw it this morning, a lone neighborhood rhododendron protesting the stark dormant landscape by unfurling its pink and ivory petals. Against all odds on this dark and rainy day, it victoriously displayed the inevitable triumph of resurrection. Though all outward circumstances indicate winter still maintains its frigid clutch on the landscape, the rebellious rhodie down the street courageously emerged to reveal its delicate beauty, despite the cold. And despite the biting wind and rain, I watched famished bumble bees, laden with pollen, battle one another for the sweet nourishment it offered them following months of impoverished hunger.

As I write this afternoon, another late winter squall fiercely peppers my window with raindrops like bullets from a machine gun. Although the official announcement of spring  is only a few days away, today the coming of spring seems a long way off–except for the memory of this morning’s lone rhododendron. Like a brave sentinel, it boldly maintains its post within enemy territory.First Rhodie lower res large 3-16-13 Petal by petal it unfolds to reveal a spectacle so gloriously un-winter like that I threw caution to the wind and rain, jumping at the chance for a photograph. In the face of possible damage to camera or equipment, I gladly took the risk in exchange for a permanent reminder that winter does not last forever. Knowing the unpredictability of our Pacific Northwest weather, spring may not truly arrive for a couple of months. In the meantime, the photo is a vivid reminder of spring’s inevitability.

Last week another photo opportunity reminded me of the same principle as I captured a shot of a rose bush with emerging leaves next to dead and decaying blossoms from last season, alongside a bright red rose hip (top photo). That rose hip, like the emerging leaves, serves as a reminder of life. For some reason, possibly having something to do with our bumblebee friends, that particular blossom was pollenated. So unlike its dead neighboring blossoms, it has become pregnant with seeds, and grown fatter over the winter months. Unless pruned by the gardener, it will soon open to scatter its seeds, spreading life. Death and life. Winter and spring. We can’t have one without the other.

During this holy season in the weeks leading up to Easter, we are reminded of resurrection hope in the midst of challenging, wintery circumstances. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). But before a resurrection, there had to be a death. The sunshine of Palm Sunday gave way to the wintery shadows of the Holy Week. The weather changed when the passionate crowds turned icy in their fickle rejection of the King they had warmly welcomed days earlier. And the entire world seemed captured by winter’s frigid, dark embrace, culminating with the seemingly not good crucifixion on Good Friday.

Can you imagine the questions peppering the minds of Jesus’ followers? They had no familiarity with machine guns or bullets, yet the questions must have relentlessly pounded at the window of their souls. Mary no doubt was reminded of Simeon’s ominous prophecy given years earlier, “a sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). She wondered, “Why my son? Why now?”

For the disciples, the last three years were re-lived, revealing persistent questions. “Where are the miracles now? Why are we powerless to do something? Why doesn’t God do something?” Where was the glorious revelation of the Heavenly Father, like the voice they heard at Jesus’ transfiguration? Why was His booming voice, “This is my beloved Son,” silent on that day? Why did darkness cover the face of the earth, like the dark questions brooding in their hearts and minds, enveloping their hopes and dreams in disappointment and fear? Why only shadowed silence?

“Why?” always takes precedence as the most persistent of all questions when things go awry. And it persistently remains the most troublesome question. Why did Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken by God – that seems the conclusion when winter covers the landscape and winter’s chill seems permanent. For the disciples it must have generated even more questions. Had God forsaken them? Is that what they had signed up for, given the last three years of their lives for, to be forsaken by God?

During times of winter questioning, it is best to remember the words spoken in an earlier season. The words of explanation, words of comfort, words of hope, spoken to give us perspective on the days ahead when our gardens are currently overflowing and beauty abounds. To remember, we must listen in the first place. What had Jesus told them earlier that would have explained these tragic circumstances? What has He told you, that might sustain and offer hope during a bleak winter storm? What did you learn in the light that you must remember in the dark?

Virtually every birth comes at a painful price. Whether the birth of a human child, or the birth of a dream, birth pains are part of the deal. So why do we endure it? That question trumps the question of pain and suffering. Why does the rose scatter its seeds in the spring? Why does the gardener plant tender young plants into cold soil on a dark and rainy day? Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because of the hope. The hope of new life, eternal life. The hope of something better. The hope of an entire landscape filled with warmth and beauty. The promise of a bountiful harvest.

Thus Jesus went to the cross. He endured the winter of suffering, so we can enjoy the spring of resurrection. That doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles here, or questions. It does mean we can courageously rise above them, like the rebellious rhododendron down the street. And maybe we can provide sweet sustenance to nurture a famished friend. Signs of spring are all around us. Sometimes you must search for them, or create them yourself, but they are there. Hope springs eternal. And eternal life brings hope. ©2013 Don Detrick

 

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

What to Say When You Don't Know What To SaySilence is golden, and there is a time to be quiet. But at other times knowing the right thing to say at the right time is even better. The writer of Proverbs says, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (Proverbs 25:11, New Living Translation) There have been times in my life when the kind words of a friend (or even a stranger) bolstered my sinking spirits as I grasped them like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Having spent most of my life as a pastor, walking beside people through some of the toughest moments of their lives, I felt the tension between the need for silence and the need to say something spiritual or intelligent (when I did not feel either) during a crucial moment. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, a word sincerely spoken can make a difference. So, for what it’s worth, here are some simple words I’ve collected over the years; phrases to sincerely say when you don’t know what to say.

  • “May I pray for you right now?”
  • “I am here for you, my friend.”
  • “I have complete confidence in you.”
  • “I am your biggest fan!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “You do that really well.”
  • “How are you, really?”
  • “What you said helped me.”
  • “Where would you rather be right now, and what would it take to get there?”
  •  “What is stopping you from. . ..”
  • “It is amazing the way you. . ..”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I am so sorry.”
  • “I’m cheering you on.”
  • “I appreciate the way you. . ..”
  • “Tell me about your:  day, job, kids, etc.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I still love you.”
  • “God is big enough to. . ..”
  • “I am really proud of the way you. . ..”
  • “You’re really growing.”
  • “Could you come to:  dinner, dessert, coffee?”
  • “I missed you.”
  • “I’m so happy for you.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “That must have been very difficult for you.”
  • “I’ll be glad to!”
  • “You have a way of making people feel special.  Thanks.”
  • “What is one thing I could do to help relieve some of your stress?”
  • “I’m not sure I would be doing as well as you are.  How are you making it?”
  • “I admire the way you. . ..”
  • “Is there something I can pray with you about?”
  • “You are really making a lot of progress!”
  • “I’ll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing. Is that OK?”
  • “I treasure the moments we get to spend together.”
  • “Thinking about you always puts a smile on my face.”

I am sure you can think of your own favorites to create a silver basket full of golden apples for a friend in need. Sometimes words are not necessary, like when a hug or a shared tear do a far better job of conveying how much you care. But there is nothing wrong with being prepared for those times when you struggle to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.

Do Pessimists Live Longer?

Do Pessimists Live Longer“Thanks for noticing me” defines Eeyore’s typical negative self-image and outlook on life, but he might live longer than his more optimistic cohorts in the hundred-acre wood. At least that would be accurate if you accept a news release issued a few days ago by the American Psychological Association. The report indicates a study showed that older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead. [1]

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.[2]

While the study allegedly showed a more realistic perspective on life’s expectations may be safer in the long run, it misses a bigger question. Who wants to spentiggereeyored their days listening to, living with, or working alongside a companion like Eeyore? Tigger’s enthusiasm might get him in trouble, and his frantic pace might cause an accident or two along the way, but he surely is a lot more fun to be around than the depressed donkey. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Bible’s cast of characters far outnumbers Winnie the Pooh’s friends in the hundred-acre wood. But among those biblical personalities one can find multitudes of both positive and negative individuals. Some are prone to be one or the other, optimist or pessimist. We see that early on in the biblical narrative, as the jealous and angry pessimist Cain murdered his more compliant and presumably optimistic brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). The positive Job worshiped in spite of horrific circumstances, while his negative wife urged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

More often though, both descriptors could characterize the same person at different times. Multitudes of biblical characters were both/and when it came to personalities and perspectives. And circumstances often dictated their positive or negative response. Their outcomes however, depended largely upon their attitude of faith and hope in spite of adverse circumstances. Here are a few brief examples:

  • Faithful Moses triumphantly led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, but failed to enter the Promised Land himself because of an angry act of disobedience.
  • The shepherd David became a hero as he single-handedly defeated the giant Goliath with a slingshot, but his biography also shows times of discouragement, depression, and defeat. Read Psalm 55 as an example.
  • Elijah fearlessly faced the prophets of Baal, but ran in fear from Jezebel.
  • Peter walked on water, but also denied the Lord and dejectedly left the ministry to return to his fishing business.
  • Paul could describe his own wretched sinfulness, but also declared he could, “do all things through Christ.”

For each of these individuals, it would not be fair to judge their entire lives by a few events, and there are countless others with similar shortcomings. The examples I cited are only a small glimpse of what would become the big picture and final outcome of their lives.

We are seldom defined by a single action or moment in time. But repeated actions and attitudes become patterns. Those patterns then characterize our perspective and resulting behaviors, as well as the perspective others view us by. Better to focus on things that will matter, than trivial pursuits. Better to focus on the positive than the negative. And better to focus on the eternal, rather than the temporal.

Paul wrote that there are three eternal things: faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is easy to consider these three virtues as abstract platitudes. But they become concrete when coupled with faithful, hopeful, and loving actions. We should never underestimate the power of our attitudes because they govern both words and behaviors. These eternal elements become the building blocks of a significant life, one that is characterized by the positive, not the negative.

Frankly, I have a very personal reason to question the results of the study. German blood runs through my veins. Detrick used to be spelled Dietrich before my ancestors a few generations back Americanized the spelling of the name. My maternal grandparents were German-speaking Swiss who immigrated to this country a century ago. If my family is any indicator, we could naturally tend to be a pessimistic bunch. We are prone to toggle between, “Thanks for noticing me” and, “You better notice me, and I don’t mean maybe!” In any event, it is interesting that the study which concluded pessimists might live longer took place in Germany with only German participants. Hello! Does anybody besides me think that might make a difference and skew the results?

Even if the study is correct, would you rather live a bit shorter life and be happy, or live longer and be a grouch? Thankfully we have more choices to select from, like this sound advice from the writer of Proverbs:

“My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:1-6 New Living Translation)

Regardless of your ethnic background or personality type, you can decide to control your attitude. So choose to take the path of faith, hope, and love. It might just be the best formula to increase your days. At least it will bring more loyalty, joy, and kindness to your abode, and make the environment more pleasant for the other residents you meet in your own hundred-acre wood. You will be thankful you did, and they will notice you, too—in a good way. Long live the optimists!

Seasons Change

Seasons ChangeYesterday March came in like a lamb as I observed the first blossoms on a flowering plum tree. This is an annual spring rite of passage for me as I eagerly anticipate some sign of winter’s icy grip loosening upon the landscape. Normally I catch a glimpse of a blossom in February, this year things seemed a little late.

If you are like me, you’d like to be able to control the schedule. Yet just as we cannot control the turning of the hands on a clock, so we cannot control the turning seasons in nature, or the seasons of our lives. Seasons change. Someone wrote, “The foliage of spiritual journey changes through our times of turning as well. But what remains, what abides, is that place where our lives join to Christ.”

Our ever-turning and ever changing lives can find a point of reference in the words of that great hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness. . .there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not. . ..”

Human beings are prone to twists and turns in our minds. As these thoughts tumble around in our cranium, we make decisions that result in twists and turns in our journey through life. We may follow the path we believe will lead us to the fulfillment of a specific dream for a time, only to discover there is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Disappointed by our miscalculations, we formulate a new dream destination, and chart a new course in that direction.

These detours in our journey are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, without the inspiration of a dream we may have little vision for the future, and low levels of motivation to move beyond where we sit. While some enjoy the stability of a comfortable life in familiar surroundings, others chafe to move on. For them, being stuck in one place eventually triggers fermentation of the soul as the frustration of being stuck turns into despondency. Feeling trapped by their circumstances, they turn their attention to a new challenge and chart a new course toward that elusive goal.

Eventually, many come to believe that success in achieving the dream is an elusive goal. Losing confidence in their own abilities, and losing hope as well, they resign themselves to what Thoreau described as, “The great mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” Our disappointments, late arrivals, twists and turns can seem to veil the joy of the journey if we allow them to block out the light of the sun.

It is easy to get lost in darkness and shadows. But the clear light of day shines light on our path to navigate the twists and turns along the way. Although I’m taking a bit of liberty with the context, 2 Corinthians 3:16 provides a great reminder of our marked point of reference, “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Twists and turns need not deter nor detour our journey. As we keep turning toward the Lord, we reflect more of His image. Thus, some may catch a glimpse of the Lord through the light we reflect. Better the Lord’s light than our own shadow side. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.”   (2 Corinthians 3:18  TLB) Seasons change. We encounter twists and turns along the way. But like those first blossoms of spring, we can be reminded of the hope and light of the Lord when we remember to always turn toward Him.