Category Archives: Perspective

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.

 

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 7

Road Less Travelled Spring trees roadway 3 forks area 4-15-15In 1916, Robert Frost published a poem titled, The Road Not Taken. It helps to illustrate the fact that life really is a journey and that we have a variety of options. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by. / And that has made all the difference.” Jodi and I both love that poem, and the many parallels to life that can be drawn from it.

Sometimes the little choices we make in life that really do make all the difference. Had it not been for a mutual friend, or the fact that I chose to attend a particular church youth event as a teenager, I might never have met Jodi. Naturally, we seldom realize the importance of those little choices and decisions at the time. Because we never see more than a small snapshot of the entire roadmap at any one time, we are prone to be shortsighted. That makes it even more important to stay close to Jesus and walk with him so he can show us the way. It can be a tall order.

The Apostle Paul reflected on this challenge in 1 Corinthians 13:12. He wrote, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now” (nlt). Here he contrasts our present blurred vision with the future clear revelation in heaven. When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see everything else with clarity. Even in this life, the more clearly we see Jesus, the more clearly we will understand the meaning of the here and now.

The Easter story provides the foundation for our faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. Before the resurrection came death and despair. Jesus’ followers were scattered and shocked. You can read Luke’s version of the story beginning in Luke 24:13. All of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The disciples of Jesus were in hiding. There was serious talk of disbanding their group. They were about ready to close the door on the New Testament church for the last time. Little did they know that they were really only forty days away from the grand opening of the church doors on the Day of Pentecost!

Without Jesus, they couldn’t go on. Their hopes were crushed, their dreams shattered. As far as they could see, their leader was gone. But was he? Strange reports from some of the women and a firsthand account by Peter told of an empty tomb, grave clothes lying wrapped as though the body had just evaporated from them, and an appearance by angels announcing a resurrection.

As two friends walked on the road to Emmaus (a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem) they discussed the situation. We know the name of one, Cleopas (possibly a male form of Cleopatra). His name meant “the glory of being called a father.” A name like that would identify him as a leader. Obviously both Cleopas and his companion had been closely associated with Jesus and the twelve disciples. Perhaps they were part of the larger group of seventy that Jesus had sent out.

We don’t know why they were walking to Emmaus. Maybe they lived there. Maybe they were escaping Jerusalem for fear of losing their own lives. Maybe they just wanted to walk and talk and try to sort things out in their minds. Whenever we have problems, it helps to talk things over with a friend. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest miracle and the greatest event in history. Yet, from day one it has generated a lot of questions—for many people more questions than answers. That’s the way it is with miracles. Reason asks questions. Our mind wants a resolution to our questions, our hearts want ato believe for that which seems impossible. Faith simply believes the impossible is possible.  Keep believing.

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 5

Seaside beach grassy sandy foreground 4-11-15When do most people buy a home or business security system? They do so after they or a neighbor have been robbed. The feeling of being violated breeds an environment of distrust and a sense of urgency. An event motivated us to ask questions and discover solutions so we can take action. Why?  Because something  happened to us that is out of our control. We believe we can get back in control and establish a sense of security by installing a security system.

Whenever something traumatic happens to us, we ask questions in our quest to regain some sense of meaning and security. And our biggest questions usually are God-sized questions that we would like Him to answer. And the biggest question of all is, “WHY?” The why questions always accompany challenges and remain the most lingering and persistent questions. It is a persistent question because it is a question about insecurity and angst – feelings we all experience. We long to make some sense out of events that shape our lives, and gain some sense of security in the process. So we long to know why.

John records a situation where Jesus and his disciples passed by a man who was born blind (John 9:1-7). This disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Their question revealed a common belief – almost like the idea of karma. If something bad happens, then it must be somebody’s fault. Jesus set the record straight – this man was born blind for God’s purposes, not because of something he or his parents had done.

While we are looking for somebody to blame, Jesus is looking for somebody to bless. But when something bad happens to us, long after we have answered the “who, what, when, where, and how” we still seek understanding, thus we ask “Why?” Our insecurity screams out for something secure to provide stability to calm our chaos of emotions.

After the death of their brother Lazarus, when Jesus did not arrive as requested and anticipated, Mary and Martha asked, “Why didn’t you come when we needed you?”

In the next post, I’ll explore how Jesus responded to their inquiry. He never did directly answer their question. What he did do turned their demand into delight and their grief into gratitude.

But until then, remember this:

Your best security system is Jesus! 

 

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 4

Sunset Snoqualmie River looking west from Meadowbrook Way SE BridgeJesus is the master teacher. He often taught by asking questions, and sometimes answered a question with a question. So what was Jesus teaching us when he asked the ultimate question of suffering?

Jesus’ final words on the cross reflect the over-arching question of the human race, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” If Jesus could ask God such a persistent question, I think we can honestly do so as well.

The answer may not be what we expect—but silence is an answer. Silence does not mean God is hard of hearing. It often does mean that we are not prepared to listen, or hear the real answer. Or it means that we will understand later.

Someone said, “Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” So we search for answers and keep moving forward. Often, the understanding does come later as we gain more clarity to the sequence of events. As the picture becomes clearer, the meaning of our pain, suffering, or questions becomes evident. Or not–either way we must learn to wait and trust and learn.

In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus is in the process of washing the disciples feet. Peter does not understand why Jesus would do such an undignified and servile task. He asks, “Lord are you going to wash my feet?”

We can be sure Jesus was not just doing this because he didn’t like the disciples’ dirty, stinky feet and wanted them cleaned up. There was a deeper reason, and the Bible tells us the sequence of events, even details like the timing of the last supper, a basin of water, and a towel.

Peter’s question was a plea for understanding mixed with a bit of embarrassment and indignity that Jesus would do such a thing. This scenario remains a good reminder for us when we question God’s dealings in our lives, wonder if He cares, and ponder the big “Why?”

Jesus responded to Peter’s question with this very important principle – one that we would all do well to remember:  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7 NIV)

Now. Do not understand. Later. Will understand. This sequence applies to learning about almost everything. Foreign concepts at first seem incomprehensible to us. Later they make perfect sense once we understand. Good teachers know there are no “dumb” questions, especially at first. And Jesus is the best teacher.

Jesus did not scold Peter, and he did not embarrass him. He also did not fully explain or answer all of Peter’s persistent questions. But Jesus did establish this principle that applies in so many situations of our lives:  Life can be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.”  In other words, our perplexing questions about today may well give way to understanding later when more of the picture is revealed to us.

Until later becomes now, we have to keep believing and exercise our faith when we do not see or understand, and wonder, “why?” After all, that is what faith consists of, “The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 3 “Perspective”

Clock magnifying glass Face value. That has to do with perspective. At first glance, all we see is what is visible at the moment, and from that particular point of view. We may assume or make a value judgment from that perspective, concluding that what we just observed tells the whole story—all there is to it. That can be a big mistake. In fact it can be a blind spot to us, because if we took the time to discover a different point of view, it might make all the difference.

I have more than a hundred old clocks, all more than a century old, and of all shapes and sizes. All have mechanical movements of some kind. Some are weight driven, some are spring driven. Some use a pendulum, and some use a balance wheel to maintain momentum. The mechanics are different in each, but the dynamic part is similar – they keep the clockworks moving.

What is the purpose in all this mumbo jumbo about clocks?  Regardless of how they operate, all clocks have the same major purpose:  to tell the accurate time of day. When you look at the face of the clock, you expect to see the correct time. Clocks line the tops of the bookshelves in my office. I seldom keep them all running—they are just for decoration and display. So they all register a different time of day. I often tell people when they look at the clocks and ask which clocksone is telling the correct time, “They are all correct, twice a day!”

To go beyond the face value, you have to take a second glance. Beyond the face, there may reside a complex system of machinery. This is true not only for clocks, but for people, and organizations, and families, and neighbors, and even cultures. To rightly understand anything requires closer examination beyond a casual glance and quick summation.

When a clock stops keeping accurate time, the problem seldom lies within the face. Something deeper is causing the problem, and requires more careful inspection. It may be something as difficult to detect as a speck of dust in the wrong place or as obvious as a broken spring. It may be the result of an overzealous owner drowning the works with a well-intentioned baptism of WD-40 that has gummed up the works. Whatever the cause, the clock is stopped and as Newton reminds us, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Until some outside force repairs the problem, the clock will not start ticking again on its own.

What is keeping you from getting off the verge and moving ahead? Have you just accepted at face value your own analysis? Self-examination is generally a good thing, as is self-awareness. But self-diagnosis is often a tricky business, and may lead to disastrous conclusions. Some things are better done with assistance to help us see ourselves as others do, and examine our blind spots. While you might attempt to brush your hair without a mirror, shaving without one could result in some nasty nicks on your face. It may be time to get a second opinion, to let someone else take a closer look.

Whether you choose collaboration, consultation, counseling or coaching, soliciting another opinion can help you gain perspective, and get you off the verge. How difficult is it to admit and say, “I am stuck”? What is keeping you from doing so? Whatever it is, your answer to the previous question may be the one thing keeping you from moving forward or the catalyst for your healing.

James instructs us, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT) If confession of sin is a key to healing, perhaps confession of our other failures or frustrations may do the same by providing a different point of view as we open up and become vulnerable to another person. Their perspective could be just the thing to get you off the verge and start ticking away into your preferred future.

A Tribute to My Father

Howard Detrick ca 1936 - 20 years old

Howard Detrick ca 1937 – 21 years old

(Originally written for Father’s Day 2002)

Last Sunday my sister and I checked our 85-year-old father into the hospital.  He was very ill, with a temperature of nearly 104 degrees, yet his hands were blue and he was shivering from cold.  “Yes, he is my father.  Medical history?  Bypass surgery more than a decade ago, prostate cancer, slight stroke last year.  Yes, he has been here before, and yes he is taking his meds.”

As I sat next to his bed while my father was being x-rayed, poked and examined in every conceivable way, my heart was filled with a thousand thoughts and memories.

“Do it again, Daddy!  Please!”  He took me up in his arms and swung me back and forth like an old-time logger working a misery whip saw.

With his huge hands wrapped around my tiny body, he sang in his baritone voice, “Swing the little birdy in the tree, in the tree, in the tree.  Swing the little birdy in the tree, sing, sang to Donnie, whee!!!”  When he said “Whee,” he threw me up in the air toward the ceiling.  I thought I would explode with a delicious combination of giggles and fright.   I loved that game and over the years I saw my dad do the same thing with my own three children.

Another time, another place.  Dressed in my blanket sleepers, with a quilt wrapped around me, I was watching my dad fix the broken motor on the mechanical chicken feeder.  Mom was gone to a meeting for the evening.  I was in his care and too young to understand that the health and welfare of his livestock was the key to our family’s survival.   His hands looked so big to my four-year-old eyes, big enough to fix anything.  Big enough to carry anything.  Big enough to protect me from anything lurking in the dark shadows of the chicken house.  “Daddy what are you doing?  Can we go back to the house and watch television?  Daddy, I’m thirsty.  Can I have a drink?  Why can’t I help you?  Daddy, do I have to go to bed?”

It was the first time I can remember wanting something so much.  I needed that red Radio Flyer wagon in the display window of the Western Auto store.  It was just like the one Timmy had on the “Lassie” television show.  Lassie and Timmy had such a good time playing with that wagon and hauling around everything important to a young boy.  I had a collie like Lassie, too – and I just knew she would be as smart as Lassie if only I had a red wagon.   “Daddy, can I have that wagon?  Please, daddy?  Shep and I would love to play with that wagon.”

Then I remember becoming very sick.  The doctor came to our house and said I had rheumatic fever.  They poked me with needles and hooked up machines that watched my heart.  Dr. Bump said that I had to stay in bed for a long rest until I got better – but he also said I might not get better.  I was very weak, and had to take the most awful medicine that my dad coaxed down my throat with a mixture of applesauce and sugar.

One day dad came home from town.  He had been to the Western Auto store.  I was lying in bed on the sofa in the living room.  “Donnie, look out here on the porch.”  I’m sure my heart really fluttered because there before my eyes was the brand new Radio Flyer red wagon!  “It’s yours and you can come outside and play with it just as soon as you get better!”

With help from the Great Physician, and motivation from my dad, after six months I was able to go outside and play with that wagon.  My earthly father and Heavenly Father worked together to provide my healing and I have never suffered a heart murmur or any ill effects from the disease that had threatened my young life.

As I sat and waited, more memories came.  I was ten years old and an insurance salesman stopped by the house on his regular rounds.  He was always trying to sell dad a different policy, but he was always treated like a friend, invited into the house for a cup of coffee and a piece of my mom’s pie.  In fact, pretty much everyone who came by was treated the same way.  From the ubiquitous salesmen, to the field agent, to the preacher, no matter how busy my dad was or what he was doing, it was momentarily laid aside for some polite conversation and some of my mom’s ever-available dessert.  My parents had the gift of hospitality and they passed it along to their children.  It is part of our inheritance – their legacy to us.

Although not old enough to participate in the conversation on that day, I was old enough to eavesdrop and understand much of what was being said.  I knew times were hard and things were bad on our farm, but until that moment I didn’t realize how bad.

“We lost thousands of chickens ready for market during that last hot spell,” my dad was saying.  “Besides that, the price we pay for everything keeps going up, while the price the co-op pays us keeps going down.  I don’t know how we are going to make the mortgage payment and pay the bills, let alone buy another insurance policy.  I just don’t understand it.  You try to live right and work hard, and then things like this happen.”  His voice trailed off.

That day I grew a little bit and learned a lot more.  I’d never seen my dad cry before, but there were tears in his eyes and his voice trembled as he talked to the insurance man.  I’d always seen my dad as invincible, never afraid of anything, able to pull us through any situation.  But that day I learned that he was vulnerable to discouragement and I needed to do what I could to help pull our family through some tough days.

As they usually do, circumstances improved in time.  Now I was thirteen.  Dad and I were riding in the truck, going to McMinnville to buy supplies.  “Son, you’ve worked like a man this summer.  We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without your help.”  My dad was a man of few words and even fewer words of praise.  As if he had reached his absolute spending limit on such extravagances, he next did what he normally did as we rode together.

“Oh I want to see Him, look upon His face.  There to sing forever of His saving grace.  On the streets of glory, let me lift my voice.  Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice!”  On the seat of a tractor, or the seat of a pickup truck, my dad always sang.  He loved the old hymns and gospel songs.

But my mind wasn’t on the song; it was on his words of appreciation.  To tell you the truth, spending most of your summer daylight hours at the controls of a tractor isn’t exactly torture for a teenager.  But at least for a few moments, I felt vindicated; like I’d paid my debt to the family for all the times I’d been a slacker and complained about life on the farm.  A little bit of praise goes a long way to improve a thirteen-year-old boy’s perspective on life.  But that wasn’t all.

“Hey, where are we going?”  Instead of pulling into the feed and farm supply store, we were parking in front of the local Honda motorcycle shop.  I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.  I couldn’t believe it as we walked in together and I saw my dad plop down cash money to buy me a Honda 90.  I wouldn’t have been happier if someone had given me a million dollars!

Fast-forward another five years to 1973.  An eighteen-year-old high school graduate is spending a hot August day loading his car with most of his worldly possessions.  He has seldom been outside of his own state.  But tomorrow he will leave this home where he has spent his entire life and begin the drive to Dallas, Texas.  There he will attend a Bible college he knows only from a catalog he has pored over and prayed over.

“Son, I know you’ve got to do what you feel called to do.  You do your best and stay in touch.  But I want you to know there is always a place for you right here if you should change your mind.  You might be able to use these.  I can remember my dad using these same titles in the ministry, studying them for his sermons.”  He handed me two brand new books:  a Matthew Henry commentary and a topical Bible, both purchased (by him for me) from a traveling Bible salesman.

I was shocked.  I knew dad really wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the family farm.  At the very least he had encouraged me to get a back-up profession like a teaching degree or perhaps even go to law school after college.  But that day he gave me a precious gift – the gift of affirmation and the freedom to go and be the person I believed God was calling me to be.

Ten years later I was packing again – this time a moving van.  Jodi and I were leaving behind our home church where we had spent the past four years as associate pastors.  In fact, for the past six years we had lived and ministered close to the home place with both of our parents nearby.  Kristi and Mark were born during this time, and Jana was in the hopper.  Now we were moving to Toledo, Oregon – a new church assignment.  Even though I had more details to take care of, more boxes to pack, and more furniture to load, I took a few moments and drove out to the farm.

I wanted to see my dad.  More than that, I wanted his blessing.  Over the past years, our relationship had grown and in the process I’d grown to appreciate his friendship and advice.  Now I was moving his precious grandchildren more than a hundred miles away.

As usual, he was busy at work when I arrived, but not too busy to talk.  We walked and talked and did a few chores together.  “You know, I talked to the District Superintendent a few years ago about you.”

Trying to hide my surprise, I said, “Oh, you did?”  I couldn’t imagine my dad having a conversation with the Superintendent of the Oregon District of the Assemblies of God, and certainly couldn’t imagine him keeping it a secret for the past few years.

“Yes, I was over at the District Office to fix the roof for them and as he was showing me the leaks, he was talking about you.  He said he thought you’d be pastoring one of the greatest churches in the Northwest one day.  And I agreed with him.  Son, I know we’ll miss having you around here, but I think you are doing the right thing by going to Toledo.”  Once again my father gave me words of affirmation, a gift I have since treasured through some rough moments in the ministry.

“Mr. Detrick, we are going to have to keep you overnight and run some more tests.  Your lungs are clear, but your heart is going in and out of a fibrillation and there are some other things we need to check out.  Maybe your son here can gather your things and the nurse will move you down to another room.”  The doctor’s pronouncement brought an end to my trip down memory lane.  But it did not diminish the admiration I felt for the old man we were wheeling down to room 130.

Stricken by the poignancy of the moment, and the reversal of our roles, I was reminded of Malachi’s prophecy.  When I was a boy, I really didn’t understand my father.  I saw him as a good provider, but a workaholic.  And I’m not sure he always understood me – especially during my longhaired teenage years.  But over time, and by the grace of God, my heart has been turned to his heart and his heart has been turned to mine.  That’s really what our Heavenly Father wants from all his children as well.

As if you couldn’t tell, my father has a giving heart.  That’s how he has always expressed his love, by giving selflessly, expecting nothing in return.

But over the past few years he has grown to express his love in other ways – hugs, and kisses, and the precious words, “I love you.”  As we were leaving him behind in the hospital room last week, his parting words were for his ailing bride of 63 years.  I knew part of the pain he was feeling at that moment was his inability to be at home to care for her: “Be sure and tell your mother how much I love her.”

POSTSCRIPT: Father’s Day 2014

Howard & Madeline Detrick 50th Anniversary Jan 2, 1989

Howard & Madeline Detrick 50th Anniversary Jan 2, 1989

Little did I know when I wrote this twelve years ago, that both my mother and father would be in heaven within six months.  I am thankful I was able to deliver this tribute to my father personally, and see the tears in his eyes as I read it to him.  Up to this point in their lives, my parents continued to abide on the same farm in Newberg, Oregon where my dad had lived for 75 years, since moving there as a boy in 1927.  Although their health was failing with age, they still lived independently, Dad still drove, and they made it to church every Sunday.

Within a few days of writing this, my mother was hospitalized and placed in intensive care.  A combination of cancer, diabetes, and low sodium levels left her in a near comatose state.  Dad had recovered somewhat and drove to the hospital daily to sit by Mom’s side. One day, the nurses came into the room and found Dad slumped over in a chair.  He had suffered a stroke. So within the course of a week, my parents went from living independently to being hospitalized–and they never came home. Because of the severity of their health conditions and their need for constant care, they were moved from the hospital into a care home.

Although this was a difficult time for our family, two poignant memories stick out in my mind.  First, after Dad’s stroke, family members gathered around his hospital bedside.  The doctors did not know the severity of the stroke or the prospects of recovery. Nearly 86 years old, Dad was in a very weakened condition and in a comatose state. We knew he might be able to hear us so a number of us spoke to him and told him how much we loved him and prayed for him. Then, our youngest daughter Jana said, I want to sing to Gramps.  She began to sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.”  As she did, the most amazing thing occurred—Dad started to sing along!   We all joined in and then began singing, “Amazing Grace.”  Although his voice was weak and trembling, he didn’t miss a word.  Nor did he open his eyes or show any other sign of being cognizant.  When the singing stopped, we all stood in amazement and tears, while Dad slept on.  He didn’t really awaken until days later.

Mom and Dad shared twin beds at the care facility. Mom went to heaven on August, 28, 2002. Before she died, Dad crawled into her bed, and gently cuddled next to his bride of 63 years. He was so sweet as he stroked her forehead and hands, and repeated, “I’ll meet you in the morning, on the other side. I love you and tell all the family I’ll be coming soon.”

A few months later, on November 12th, Dad went to be with the Lord and to see those family members who have gone on before. I spent the night sleeping in the room with him the day he died. Although he has been gone for nearly twelve years now, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about him and his impact in my life. They say that grown men are just little boys in a bigger body. Even today, when I close my eyes, I can see my Dad holding me, a little boy in his arms, swinging me way up high as I giggle and say, “Daddy, do it again!”

Originally written June 18, 2002, Postcript June 15, 2014 – Father’s Day © 2014 Don Detrick  

Christmas Contradictions

“Merry Christmas!” Greetings exchanChristmas Contradictionsged and acknowledged with a glance and perhaps a contrived smile. After waiting in line at checkout and then waiting in another line for the checkers at the door to draw a squiggly line through our receipt, perhaps what we really mean is, “Let me out of here. I’m tired of waiting in lines, and feeling claustrophobic from the crowded aisles. I’m tired of driving in circles to find a parking space, and then needing a GPS to remember where I finally parked!”

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like life is full of contradictions, especially at Christmas. We hurry up to have a little time to slow down. We exchange greetings with strangers and sit silently with members of our own family that we have lost touch with. We make small talk when we are deep in thought about what we would really like to say. We spend too much on gifts nobody needs while worrying about how we will pay for it all. We talk about the weather outside and hide the storm brooding inside our hearts. We celebrate peace on earth and goodwill toward men while our countenance shoots daggers at the person who pulled out in front of us or stole the only remaining parking spot we had already claimed as our own from two rows away.

Yet if we slow down long enough to reflect on our motives, I suspect we will discover something at a deeper level. We really do have good intentions. We really don’t wish harm to anyone. We really do have deep longings for connection, for peace on earth and peace at home. We really do want to be generous. We just don’t slow down long enough to drink deeply enough from those wells of meaning to find satisfaction or significance in our hurry, worry, and scurry. The end is somehow lost in the means. Our actions contradict what is truly in our hearts and we are left spent—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The empty feeling we are left with contradicts all of our good intentions.

So remember this, sometimes it feels like everything is about to fall apart when in reality things are just about ready to come together. Surely that is how Joseph and Mary felt when they could find no room in the inn, or when they were forced to escape to Egypt, or when people called their son illegitimate. Hardship and heartache walked hand in hand with happiness and hope.

There often exists a contradiction between our circumstances and God’s divine destiny. Being happy is not incongruent with being harried or hassled. And unfavorable circumstances do not always lead to unfavorable outcomes. Three eternal things make the difference: faith, hope and love. If you can anchor your heart and actions on these, and take a little time to reflect on what is really important, while examining your motives behind your actions, you will minimize the contradictions and maximize the intended consequences.

Merry Christmas!  ©2013 Don Detrick

Moments of Mystery – Part 1

Moments of MysteryYou’ve heard it before, “Inquiring minds need to know.”  Does that describe you? Do you collect bits of trivia because you never know when the information gleaned might come in handy, like when you are a contestant on Jeopardy and need to formulate a question to the answer, “The leading cause of toenail fungus in Southern Hemisphere sloths.” Have you developed skills, such as eavesdropping or jumping to conclusions just because you are intrigued by what you don’t know? Do you love a mystery and enjoy speculating about whodunit before that information is fully revealed?

Maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum, and don’t feel a compulsion for speculation.  When others drone on about personal details you did not ask for, you are not embarrassed to say, “TMI, that is more than I want to know about that subject!” You believe that life’s perplexing questions block your path often enough, without intentionally trying to stumble upon more of them.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between the two extremes, striking a balance between being inquisitive and being contented to mind our own business. Yet there is something to be said about a sense of wonder and mystery. A four year old’s constant barrage of questions about who and what and why and where and when may reach the point of annoyance, but you can’t help admiring their quest for understanding. The world is opening up to them and their mind is beginning to grasp for answers, thus their questions pepper us with pleas for an explanation to all things observed in their environment.

In the age of information, we expect instant answers to every inquiry and problem. Knowledge our parents might have spent hours gleaning from searching card catalogs and library shelves we discover only a click or swipe away. If Google doesn’t know, Bing might, and Siri will be glad to answer, even if she provides nothing more than comic relief. “How far is to Lincoln?” you may ask while driving a Nebraska highway.

“There are four restaurants nearby that serve ling cod,” she replies to your question. Grrr…

To solve a really perplexing puzzle takes time. Gleaning valuable skills and insight requires years of intensive study and practice. You can’t become a board certified brain surgeon by taking a three week online class or watching a couple of YouTube videos. The same is true for any worthwhile pursuit. So why do we sometimes expect our journey with Christ will only lead us on happy trails filled with light and road signs every mile or so explaining our precise location and the exact conditions ahead?

Is it possible that the road of suffering might provide moments of mystery for our benefit? Could those dark shadows from the threatening storm cause us to cling ever closer to Jesus? Might our faith muscles stretch and develop through the twists and turns of an uphill climb when we don’t know exactly what lies around the next bend? Could the mystery of those moments cause us to speak with a little less certainty about our own ability and instead trust more fully in God’s? And is it possible that we are better for those mysterious moments because we can now encourage fellow travelers to keep climbing, keep pursuing, and keep moving forward because we have felt the hand of the Good Shepherd leading us through the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death?

Inquiring minds need to know, yet there are times when no easy answer comes. Ask Jesus. His plea, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was met with silence on earth. Yet you can be sure it was heard in heaven. He understands the moments of mystery you face. And you don’t have to face them alone.

Summer, Sunlight, & Surmising

Summer Sunlight Surmising2Today is the first official day of summer, although you wouldn’t know it here in our part of the Pacific Northwest. The clouds concealed the sun all day, the temperature is in the low sixties, and rain threatened to upset summer solstice celebrations. But no worries! We NW natives know enough to ignore the calendar. Summer arrives when it decides to on its own leisurely schedule, usually after the 4th of July. And it is worth the wait.

I love summertime. During the summer months, an open window at our house is better than playing a “sounds of nature” CD. That open window channels a soothing symphony of birdsong indoors, performing from dawn’s early light until the twilight’s last gleaming. Compared to the winter’s moaning wind and the staccato beat of rain against the glass, I’ll take an open window in summer anytime.

Summer days mean more daylight hours to work harder and play longer. More sunshine means more colorful growth of plants and flowers. Melons, nectarines and cherries – rare gems in the wintertime diet – are as common on the table as sand on the beach in summer. Wildlife, camouflaged by fall and winter’s muted colors, suddenly appear with the summer sun. Bunnies, squirrels, deer, and elk frequently visit our community, along with an occasional bear. Accompanied by their young, they provide a visual testament to the circle and cycle of life’s seasons.

And the aromas of summer are something to die for. Backyard barbecues produce a savory, smoky appetizer every time you take a breath. Berries, roses, and freshly mown lawns or hay all blend together to form a fragrant medley that satisfies the senses. Summertime provides a glorious palate of sounds, sights, and smells, forming a delightful contrast to the stark gray of winter.

In our part of the world, summer slips away pretty fast. Winter means cold and rain, resulting in rust, mold, mildew, and mud. Thus, summer is a season of restoration – a few frenzied months of growing, cleaning and painting to erase the stains of winter before it once again becomes an exercise in futility to do so.

In the same way, summer is a good time to make a careful examination of our souls. Our lives pass through seasons as well. Sometimes the winter’s blast leaves behind marks that endure much longer than they should, scarring our souls and hardening our hearts in the process. The light of God’s Word reveals the wounds in our souls; much like the light of summer reveals the marks winter left behind.

Summer is an excellent time to bask in that light and reflect on life in a more leisurely fashion. As we do, we may notice that sometimes we need restoration because of marks we ourselves have made. We run the red lights, crash and burn. Other times, we have been burned, wounded by others or circumstances.  Either way, we need restoration.

Rainy days come, even in summer. Life often brings discouragement. Circumstances can get the best of us and rob us of our contentment and joy. This is not unexpected. In fact, when speaking about difficult circumstances Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33 NKJV)

But did you ever notice how much happier people are when the sun is shining?  Many people believe that an absence of sunshine, particularly during dark, winter months, can lead to depression. There is even a clinical term for this: SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. In simplest terms, the prescribed therapy is more exposure to light.

Light affects our bodies’ melatonin and serotonin levels. These chemicals carry messages to the brain and affect our moods and sleep. Melatonin is associated with darkness and helps us sleep. Studies have shown serotonin is associated with sunlight and helps us feel calm, alert and happy.

Like the summer sun warms our spirits and makes us joyful, the Son of God brings us joy by His presence. John wrote, “God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all.”  (1 John 1:5 NLT) So while I wait for sunnier days beyond the official first day of summer, I enjoy the anticipation and bask in God’s presence. Summer is coming, and I can hardly wait!

Tradition: A Slippery Slope

Slippery-SlopeTradition is a slippery slope. We grasp for a handhold and cling to some treasured memory or memento, fearing what might happen if we let go. So we hold on for dear life, not realizing that not far below lies the firm soil of present reality, the best place to safely chart a path to the future.

I am basically a traditionalist. I love history, antiques, and stories from the past. A visit to my office will show you that. But these things must be kept in perspective or they can easily become shrines to what used to be.

Nostalgia always clouds opportunities in the present with the foggy memories of prior success. To worship at the shrine of the past is to plant the seeds of tomorrow’s harvest in the dry, sterile soil of yesterday’s dust. Those seeds might survive as relics in a museum, but in that environment, they will never produce life.

Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for traditionalists, not because of any disrespect for the past. As the, “Alpha and Omega” Jesus had the clearest perspective any human being could possibly have on the past, present, and future. He understood the limitations of viewing time only through our own lens of the present. Jesus criticized traditionalists because of what they enshrined: adherence to a set of rules only they were empowered to interpret and enforce, rather than valuing a vibrant relationship with the living God.

That’s the problem with religious tradition. With the best of intentions, we may wish to preserve a valid object or practice that brought yesterday’s blessing, without realizing that our efforts to do so will be no more successful than Israel’s efforts to preserve yesterday’s portion of manna. Those objects and traditions held over from the past can easily become idols, and distract us from worshipping the living God in the present.

Of course I’m not talking about abandoning our Christian heritage, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, or orthodox doctrine. I am talking about our tendency to consciously or unconsciously promote our own version of the past above those non-negotiable elements of our faith and practice.

A healthy view of tradition values the past for what is was. We learn from it, and move forward. We choose not to live there because we can’t. Those moments are gone forever. It was, but today is and thus is full of promise by acknowledging and accepting the present, and by planting our feet in and sowing seeds in the soil that now exists. We cannot live in a constant state of reminiscence without detachment from reality and eventually becoming critical of everyone and all things contemporary. As R.T. Kendall once observed, “The greatest opposition to what God is doing today comes from those who were on the cutting edge of what God was doing yesterday.”