Monthly Archives: May 2015

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 12 – The Top 10 Most Persistent Questions

Mt St Helens 7-9-11 PSYou don’t know what you don’t know. And you will never know exactly how another person feels or the depth of their personal suffering. I’ve spent almost 40 years of my life as a pastor and counselor. During those years I’ve empathetically listened as people have poured out their hearts and told me their stories. Some are horrific, catastrophic, or tragic beyond belief. All are filled with emotions from violent anger to shocked bewilderment. While the people and stories are all unique, the questions articulated remain very similar and all are a variation of what I’ve been calling life’s most persistent question, “Why?”

“God wants to build character in our lives,” I once mused to a young father with three children who was mourning the loss of his wife from cancer.

“I don’t need any more character,” he shouted at me. “I need my wife back!”

Ouch! His explosion reminded me of the then-recent eruption of Mt. St. Helens (pictured above almost 35 years after the explosion).  I was a young pastor and just trying to make sense myself out of his tragic circumstances. Parroting what I truly believed, but without any comprehension of his own incredible grief, my words, that were intended to soothe and answer, simply applied salt to his wounded heart. I’ve learned a few things about suffering myself since then and would never make such a statement under similar circumstances today.

Based upon many such encounters with grieving souls, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most persistent questions. Much has been written about them, and I seriously doubt what I might say will shed any additional light on the topic. But by their very nature, they persistently remain the questions that cross generational, societal, and geographical boundaries. They are universal questions, asked by all people in all places at all times. And in one way or another, they are also questions considered by the ancients and recorded in the pages of the Bible.

While there are personalized versions of every one of these, the general questions are universal.  And when asked in a real-life situation, every one of them are typically accompanied by a pretext. For example, “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?” or “God answers prayers for other people, why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Here are my top 10:

10.   Why would a loving God send someone to hell?

9.     Why doesn’t God prevent corrupt leaders from coming into power?

8.     Why doesn’t God put an end to all suffering?

7.    Why does God allow innocent children to be victimized and harmed?

6.    Why doesn’t God heal everyone who asks?

5.    Why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?

4.    Why does God allow evil?

3.    Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

2.    Why do evil people prosper?

1.    Why do the righteous suffer?

Before you quickly attempt to provide pat answers to these questions, consider the fact that these questions are consistently universal and ubiquitous—they appear everywhere at all times. If our philosophical and theological answers were adequate to explain the human condition on a level beyond the intellect, wouldn’t people stop asking them, and have stopped doing so years ago?

And please remember that they are posed in the midst of great turmoil of soul and spirit, typically generated by circumstances that have destroyed the fabric of human decency and order. They are not questions that inquire or call for a philosophical or even theological dialogue, although that sometimes occurs and may be profitable. No, these questions are more like a rhetorical shotgun blast, an interrogation generated by an internal explosion of angst and turmoil of the soul—triggered by external circumstances beyond our control.

These are questions that at the same time demand an answer, while not really expecting any single answer to sufficiently explain the catastrophe of a broken life and heart. So, how do we respond? How should we respond? And what do you think about the questions themselves? Are there other questions you would add to the top 10? I’d love to hear what you think, and I’ll share my thoughts in a later post. I will tell you this, Mt. St. Helens is proof that time may bring beauty out of the most explosive of circumstances. It takes time, but time alone does not heal all wounds. Ultimately, only Jesus does that.

Remembering Memorial Day

Don Detrick at David Brainerd GraveI like to visit cemeteries, like this old one in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I visited the grave of Pioneer American missionary, David Brainerd. I know that seems odd to most people. But there is something about visiting a cemetery populated by reminders of the past that makes me more aware of the present. And I always enjoy the history provided there, causing me to reflect on the legacy I might be able to leave behind, or not, depending upon what I do today and whatever tomorrows I have left on this earth.

As a boy growing up in rural Oregon, Memorial Day meant noisy boat races in the nearby Willamette River and a ritual my parents carried out as a sacred duty. They called it “Decoration Day” as it was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would enter our yard and garden to pick the flowering white blossoms of the snowball tree, pink peonies, orange and yellow day lilies, red rhododendrons or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” These cut flowers were carefully arranged in Mason jars and off to the cemetery we would go. My parents would reminisce on the way there and back about relatives I never knew except what I gleaned via those conversations.

Today, many Americans have no idea why we celebrate Memorial Day, viewing it only as a reason for a 3-day weekend.  I once asked an Israeli cardiologist who was a resident at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles what he thought about living here. He replied, “I don’t understand your Memorial Day. In Israel it is a very sacred and serious day when we remember those who have died and given their lives for our nation. In America, it is a huge shopping day and sale.”

Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of remembering the many heroes who lost their lives during the Civil War and other wars in which the United States has been involved. All told, more than 1.35 million lives have been lost in America’s wars since our nation’s beginning.  However, for many people, Memorial Day is also a time to honor all loved ones who have passed on before us.

The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, and the only one fought on our own soil, with more than 625,000 killed on both sides. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans – the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared it should be May 30. It is believed the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered on the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other Washington officials presided. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day. The Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave – a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom for many families is to remember their departed loved ones by visiting cemeteries and cleaning up tombstones, or laying flowers or decorations on graves.[1]

Why do we need a special day to remember the dead?  The answer is simple – it is too easy for the living to forget about them.  Speaking of the dead, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “For the memory of them is forgotten.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:5b NKJV)  He goes on to say, “Whatever they did in their lifetime – loving, hating, envying – is all long gone. They no longer have a part in anything here on earth.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:6 NLT)

While dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today we know that to a great extent it was the resolve of President Lincoln that brought an end to both the Civil War and slavery, thus creating a “new birth of freedom.”  The United States of America still exists today because of the principles set forth in a graveyard dedication speech, the Gettysburg Address. Thus it is fitting for us who remain in this day to remember and show honor and respect on this Memorial Day in 2015–and maybe visit a cemetery to pay our respects. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

[1] Some information taken from “The Origins of Memorial Day” from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs office of Public Relations at http://www.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm.

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 10

Highway to sunset Farm Road Springfield MO 5-2-15On the road to Emmaus, Jesus took the time to offer an explanation to his two questioning friends who were searching for an explanation, for a reason behind all the events they had experienced. He understood the sorrow and disappointment they felt, the loss that had blinded their eyes with tears and dampened their hearts with grief.

“Jesus quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining what all the Scriptures said about himself” (Luke 24:27, nlt).

Jesus is a gentleman. He patiently listened and explained. They had an engaging conversation. As they walked, they approached their destination. He did not invite himself in for dinner. He will not force himself on anyone. He will respond to an invitation, though. He waits patiently for each of us to invite him into our heart. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” (Revelation 3:20, nkjv).

Cleopas and his friend invited Jesus in and he joined them for a meal. Jesus wants fellowship with us. He wasn’t angry with them. He loved them and was concerned for them. As Jesus blessed the dinner bread, they suddenly understood. Their eyes were opened and they immediately knew who he was.

Along with that revelation came something unexpected. God is always doing things we don’t expect. He vanished out of their sight. But even though they couldn’t see him with their physical sight, their spiritual eyes were opened. That is what happens when we journey with Jesus; we walk by faith, not by sight.

An encounter with Jesus changes everything. They had seen the Lord and their emotions went from confused sadness to elated gladness. Excitedly, they told each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as he explained the Scriptures to them as they walked down the road.

When we can’t clearly see the road ahead because our vision is blocked by tears or by the tangled web of weedy circumstances, we must focus on Jesus. Once we see him, he gives us vision for the road ahead and shows us the way. He can turn our “Why?” into “Why not!”

I don’t know which lonely Emmaus Road you may be traveling. But I am sure that Jesus is with you, even if you don’t see him or recognize his presence. And when Jesus accompanies us on the road less traveled, it makes all the difference.

 

Mother’s Day Reminiscing

Madeline Detrick late 1970-early1971 Cropped PS

Mother’s Day is always a time for reflection about three of the most important women in my life. The first is my dear wife, Jodi Detrick. Jodi is, in my humble opinion, the most wonderful mother in the world as she nurtures and cares for our three dear children and three precious grandgirls.  No woman could be a better counselor, confidant, coach, or cheerleader. My family treasures her love, warmth, optimistic attitude, encouragement and sense of humor. I am blessed to call her my loving wife. She is a treasure to me and our family.

Louise Dunlap is the second lady on the list, and I’ve called her “mother” for more than four decades. From the time I was a teenager in the days before she became my mother in law, she has always been a positive influence in my life, and her prayers have sustained me through the years. Now in her 80’s and battling health problems, I appreciate more than ever her courage, faith, and optimism in handling whatever life throws at her. She always sees the best in others and believes for the best outcomes under any circumstances.

And whenever I reflect on Mother’s Day, my thoughts naturally gravitate toward my own dear mother. Although mom went to heaven more than twelve years ago, I still think about her most every day. She had the greatest single influence in shaping my young life and I am forever grateful to her and for her persistence in loving me, praying for me, believing in me, and encouraging me to be all that God wanted me to be. She gave me the best advice I’ve ever received:

“Keep your eyes on Jesus.”

She also taught me that you could, “catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar,” although I never understood the benefit of fly catching.  But I digress.

When I close my eyes and reminisce, nostalgic memories flood my heart as I recall things like accompanying her to my nearby home town of Newberg, Oregon. We’d climb into dad’s Oldsmobile on our Sunnycrest Road farm, and enjoy a leisurely conversation during the short ride to Nap’s Market, a frequent destination.

Nap’s wasn’t just a place to buy groceries, it was a place to experience life in a small town. Mom carried on conversations with everyone she met in the store. She knew everybody, and never met a stranger. At Nap’s a glance by the front door let you know who was coming and going in our small town. The stories were simply told with posted obituary notices on the door accompanied by the birth notices in our local paper, The Newberg Graphic, whose masthead read: “The only newspaper in the whole wide world that really cares about Newberg.”

I wasn’t that interested in conversation, comings and goings, or reading The Graphic. My eyes lingered on every colorful item of junk food, candy bars which were a nickel a piece or six for a quarter, or the brightly labeled soda pop—all were vying for my attention. What conversation I did make was trying to convince mom to indulgence my craving for a sample of what my eyes were seeing.

The journey through Nap’s culminated with Mom catching up on the latest news with her friend JoAnne Richards at the checkout stand as JoAnne carefully read the price tag on every item, and punched it into the old cash register. Leaving Nap’s together one day when I was old enough to carry the paper bag of groceries, I remember her saying, “I spent $5.00 for that bag of groceries.  I can remember when you could really buy a lot of groceries for $5.00!”

I remember being by her side and playing with my toys or a young friend when she went to the weekly Women’s Missionary Council meeting at church. There she chatted and prayed with the ladies while they sewed and made quilts for the missionaries.  I remember feeling out of place as a little boy in the J.C. Penney store women’s department.  I remember hiding in the middle of the round racks of dresses until mom was finished shopping there.

I remember going to Rutherford’s “dime store” with mom and seeing all the wondrous things inside.  I remember buying her a blue and silver bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume for Mother’s Day one year.   I remember the parakeets in huge golden cages and the smell of fresh popcorn, tanks full of goldfish, and tubs overflowing with turtles.  I recall spending many wide-eyed moments walking on those old oiled wooden floors with my mother, begging her for another quarter to spend so I could buy a balsa wood airplane with a rubber band propeller to go along with the silly putty, pixie stix, bubble gum, or super ball I had my eyes on.

Times change, but one thing remains the same:  we always need our mothers.  If your mother is still living, honor her on this Mother’s Day.  Both you and she will be glad you did. And be sure to thank her for her contributions to your life.  If your mother is young, cherish her youth and beauty.  If your mother is old, remember this quote:

“If one wants to see genuine beauty, he will find it in the tender lines that sacrificial love has drawn upon a mother’s face.”   

And if your mother is no longer living on earth, you will appreciate Kristina Keenan’s reminiscence and reminder to us in her brief piece below, “Finding Her There:”

Every year my birthday followed the same ritual.  My mother would come to see me, on that late fall day, and I would open the door.  She would be standing on the step with wind swirling leaves around her feet.

There would be a chill in the air, and in her hands she would hold my birthday gift.  It would always be something small and precious, something I had needed for a long time and just never knew it.

I would open this gift from my mother with great care, then I would tuck it carefully away with all my heart’s possessions.  How fragile these gifts were, from my mother’s hands.

If my mother could come to me today on my birthday, I would bring her into the warmth of my kitchen.  Then we would have a cup of tea, and watch the turning leaves press themselves against the windows.

There would be no rush to open my gift, because today I would know that I had already opened it when I opened the front door to find her there, with the wind swirling leaves around her feet.

http://www.chickensoup.com/book-story/52568/finding-her-there

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 8

Sunset rolling farm fields Portrait along Hwy 90 near Ritzville WA 4-29-15On the Emmaus Road, late afternoon shadows lengthened as Cleopas and his buddy were walking along and asking questions—probably rhetorical questions. They may or may not have expected answers, but they needed to ask the questions. Their questions represent the dilemmas many of us face in the journey of life:

  •  “What are we going to do now? What is going to happen to us?”
  • “If He did rise from the dead, how did he do it?”
  •  “Why did this happen to a good guy like Jesus? He didn’t deserve to suffer like that.”

The Bible says “they communed together and reasoned…” (Luke 24:15, kjv). The Greek word for “reasoned” is suzeteo and means “make a thorough investigation.” These guys wanted to know what was going on. They were posing the questions of suffering that everybody asks at one time or another.

First, we want to know “What happened?” or “How did this happen?” This is the quest for details. We want to understand fully the whole story. Like hearing the news of a friend’s sudden death, we want to understand how it happened. Was it an accident or a sudden illness? We want to know who, what, when, and where. Details of information will be passed back and forth to satisfy our need to know.

Second, “Why did this happen?” This is a more profound question, and one that consistently persists. Once we know how, we want to know why. The “why” questions are always the most difficult, indeed they are life’s most persistent questions. They often defy solution. We search for reasons. Like Cleopas and his buddy, we investigate and seek answers, even though they often can’t be found in the here and now.

  • “Why did Jesus return to Jerusalem if He knew people wanted to kill him?”
  • “Why did Peter deny Jesus?”
  • “Why did Judas betray Jesus and then kill himself?”
  • “Why didn’t Jesus stop the people who were killing him?”
  •  “Why didn’t we all stick together?”

When we are troubled, it is helpful to remember that Jesus walks with us on our journey of life. He is never distant or far away. While these disciples were walking along and trying to figure things out, Jesus drew near to them. During troubled times we may think God is a million miles away. Panic sets in when we feel abandoned. We don’t usually make good decisions when we are in a state of panic or fear. And fear makes a poor lens for viewing life. It distorts reality and magnifies problems. It makes God appear to be far away while trouble appears to be next door.

Jesus is as close as the mention of his name. The Bible is full of promises about God’s nearness and comfort during our times of sorrow and grief. The journey may get rough at times, but Jesus will strengthen our faith as we recognize his presence and trust the promises of Scripture:

  • God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
  • God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:27)
  • For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, nkjv)
  • … surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
  • Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, nkjv)

Never forget:  Jesus is bigger than your questions, and as close as the mention of his name.