Tag Archives: Faith

When Circumstances Eclipse Our View of God

 MAIN THOUGHT:  We should not allow the circumstances of life to obscure our view of God’s power and goodness.

The Old Astronomer, by the British poet Sarah Williams: “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

Monday, August 21, 2017 will mark an event that most of us will never again experience in our lifetime, a total eclipse of the sun – even though it will only be about a 90% eclipse in our viewing range. This has not occurred across such a large part of the USA in more than 100 years. And it will not happen again on our planet until 2020 in South America.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is in the correct daytime position to completely block our view of the sun, leaving us in a shadow of darkness. Here’s the deal – the moon is not very big, in comparison to earth. In fact, the earth dwarfs the moon in size, as it would take more than 80 objects the size of our moon to fill the mass of planet earth. So compared to the size of our sun, the moon is tiny, almost like comparing the head of a pin to a mountain. Our sun is so large, that it could easily contain a million planets the size of earth.  Thus, it could contain 80 million objects the size of our moon.

Yet tomorrow morning around 9 a.m., our moon, that comparatively tiny object, will completely eclipse the light of the sun, an object 80 million times larger than itself. It will do so because of perspective. From where we stand, it will appear to be dark, but that is only because we will be in the shadow of the moon, and it will only last about 2.5 minutes at its longest duration in the USA.

Many stories exist in history of people panicking in terror when a solar eclipse suddenly brought darkness upon their part of the world. Ancient people thought that perhaps a dragon was eating the sun and they made loud noises to try and scare it away. Eclipse events became fodder for legends and myths sparking fear and panic about disaster and death.

One time in history when we know the exact date of a solar eclipse was May 28, 585 BC, when two Greek armies, the Medes and the Lydians, were fighting a battle. Suddenly a complete solar eclipse turned day into night, and the stars appeared. The armies immediately stopped fighting, and taking it as a sign that the gods wanted them to lay down their arms, they declared a truce. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took the eclipse tomorrow as a sign that we should stop fighting each other on planet earth, and we did?

What we will all experience tomorrow is a metaphor for what often happens in life, when circumstances suddenly remove the light, causing us to lose vision and clarity that robs us of courage and plunges us into a pit of darkness and fear. How do we respond when the lights go out and shadows eclipse our vision of God and rob us of hope?

2 Kings 6:8-23 tells a story about the prophet Elisha and a time when circumstances seemed to block the vision of God’s providence and protection.

8  Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.”
10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.”
14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.
19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.
20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?”
22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.”
6:23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

What do we learn from this story?

  1. God knows the plans of the enemy and regardless, He can provide for us and protect us.
  2. We do not always see everything – the eyes of faith are required to see how God is working on our behalf behind the scenes.
  3. When we have opportunity, we should show mercy to those who mean to harm us.
  4. When we choose to believe, God can change our circumstances.

Never doubt in the darkness what God has told you in the light. Even if your circumstances seem to eclipse your vision of God’s provision or protection, keep believing in the light and choosing the path of light until you break free of the darkness. God has a bigger plan to thwart the works of darkness to accomplish His will and purposes. So don’t allow unbelief or circumstances to eclipse your vision of God.

Darkness is always temporary. The solar eclipse will result in less than 3 minutes of total darkness. Remember, He is working through your dark circumstances and the light is still shining somewhere, ready to burst through the shadows into a bright future.

Between Your Head and Your Heart

Sandhill Crane on nest ground view vignette 4-30-16 Swaner Preserve Park City UTI posted this photo today on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, taken last weekend at a wildlife preserve in Park City, Utah. This picture of a nesting sandhill crane, so perfectly camouflaged by its bullrush surroundings in the marsh, almost didn’t happen. Except for one thing: before hitting the trail with camera in hand, I stopped by the visitor’s center. The very helpful young student at reception responded to my inquiries about the birds in the area and asked me if I planned to go to the tower observation deck on the third floor.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t even know that there was an observation deck on the third floor – another good reason to ask questions and listen. She proceeded to tell me that there existed a pair of nesting sandhill cranes in the marsh that most people never see, because they don’t know they are there. She handed me a handy enlarged photo of the marsh – a bird’s eye view taken from the observation deck – with a big red X marking the spot where the sandhill crane nest sat.

The photos of the cranes are something I will treasure and share with others. And something I would have completely missed because of their marvelous camouflage had I not taken a moment to stop and ask a question, and then followed the student’s directions. The 90 minutes I spent there were moments when I sensed the glory of God and his marvelous creation. All the more amazing because I discovered this place right next to a huge shopping complex designed to provide for the masses of people who visit the area to ski, enjoy the former Winter Olympic sites in the area (2002), or attend the Sundance Film Festival. We had eaten lunch there the day before and I had no idea the nature preserve with sandhill cranes and more than 50 other species of birds I would spot the next day was just a few yards away.

I read something today that I think touches on the fringe of where many people are in our culture who are spiritual seekers. Like me, they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know that God is near, and that he may be speaking to them through the wonders of life and His creation. For them, I pray that the truth of Hebrews 11:6 will become reality to them: “Any person who comes to God must believe that he exists, and he rewards those who diligently seek him.”

That is where faith begins – often with a feeling in the heart that you cannot argue with. It just is there, evoking a sense of wonder and awe, touching the depths of a soul you intellectually aren’t sure you possess. Between the heart and the head. Only about 18 inches, but within that space grow the seeds of faith God plants along the way, creating a hedge to bridge the gap between faith and reason.

Even those who describe themselves as atheists (as this author did at one point in his life, although if you read on you will discover he was raised in a conservative Baptist home), eventually find themselves torn by the dilemma between what their intellect says and what their heart tells them. Whether to follow the wanderings and wonderings of their heart leading them to worship God, despite what their head tells them.

This article takes some wading through to discover the gems by the author, a man battling with cancer, also a Yale professor, who states: “I believe that the question of faith—which is ultimately separable from the question of “religion”—is the single most important question that any person asks in and of her life, and that every life is an answer to this question, whether she has addressed it consciously or not.” And this piece was published in “The American Scholar” of all places:

The American Scholar: I Will Love You in the Summertime – Christian Wiman
Between the rupture of life and the rapture of language lies a world of awe and witness
THEAMERICANSCHOLAR.ORG

 

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)

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 3

Eagle soaring closeup Skagit County 3-26-15“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”       -Isaiah 40:31

Wait. How we hate to wait! The word may spark anxiety in your heart, but the grieving process takes time. And that flies in the face of our “why wait?” culture and personal orientation when it comes to relief from pressure, anxiety, or desire of any kind.

Whenever you suffer a significant loss, you grieve. And the loss may seem insignificant to others or inconsequential in the big scheme of things. But if it was a big deal to you, if it made your heart feel pain, if it left you anxious and afraid, then you are facing grief. And working through the stages of grief takes time. You will get better. I know, you’ve heard it before. But you will get better. YOU WILL GET BETTER!

Denial. Anger. Bargaining.  Depression. Acceptance. How this process of grief plays out, and the length of each stage differs from person to person. It takes time–you just don’t know how much time. But you will get better. YOU WILL GET BETTER!

If you have read this far, you might think I am over-simplifying things, and if you are grieving your mind may have already circled back to the “Why?” question again. Well, you’ve come this far.  Why stop now? There, I did it–found another use for that most persistent question. And how about another?  Why not? Why not, indeed?

Why not learn from a fellow traveler on the road of suffering who had his share of disappointment–both giving it and receiving it. His name was Peter – and yes he is the one who cursed and denied that he had ever heard of Jesus (after promising that he would never do such a thing) at the moment Jesus needed him the most. Ouch!  Like I said, he understood disappointment. The Bible tells us that following that stellar performance, Peter went out and “wept bitterly.” This was such a big deal that both Matthew and Luke reported his bitter tears in their Gospels (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62).

When Peter speaks about suffering and disappointment, perhaps we should listen. Many years past that painful event, Peter, who had been transformed by Pentecost and the working of the Spirit in his life over time, shares some advice for fellow pilgrims who wonder, “Why me?”

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.  (1 Peter 4:12-19 NIV)

So did you catch what Peter said? I understand that he was writing to first century Christians who may have been facing persecution and even martyrdom for their faith–unlike anything most westerners are likely to face today. However his words provide meaning to all people in all places for all time.

  • Don’t be surprised by suffering.
  • Rejoice in your relationship with Christ.
  • Don’t think you are suffering for Christ if you are just being a jerk.
  • You may be suffering, “according to God’s will” despite those who theorize that God always wants you to be happy.
  • Commit yourself to our Faithful God.
  • Continue to do good.

This begs the question, “Why is it so difficult to apply this to my life?” Let’s begin with baby steps:

  1. What surprises you about your situation? The word “incredulity” means, “I can’t believe this happened to me!” What would it take for you to get over your shock that it did happen?
  2. What blessing can you discover to rejoice about today?
  3. What can you do to commit your ways to God? I like to pray and personalize these verses from Psalm 37:3-5 “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.” (NIV)
  4. What is one good thing that you can do right now as a next step toward “continuing to do good”? Go for it. You can do this!

And always remember:  When you think you won’t, YOU WILL GET BETTER! Have a great weekend. After all, why not? More about life’s persistent question and another relevant story about Peter next week.

What Does Love Look Like?

Jodi Dunlap Detrick ca 1972 croppedThe pretty girl with the long brown hair to complement her beautiful eyes first caught my eye, but soon captured my heart. She lit up every room she entered with her bright smile, vivacious personality, and ability to make every person feel like they were welcome and noticed. Her genuine concern for and interest in other people endeared her even more to me.

Our shared values and goals in life forged a bond that wasn’t just physical attraction or emotional feelings or intellectual stimulation, although it was all of those. Fundamentally, our bond was spiritual. The title of a song at our wedding described our commitment: “Each for the other, and both for the Lord.”

On this Valentine’s Day four decades later, I would suggest that our spiritual bond has been the most sustaining component of our relationship over the years, and it has shown me what love looks like. “What does love look like?” is perhaps life’s most persistent question. Here is what I believe:

Love is colorful. When you love, you see in vivid color, not “fifty shades of grey.” Love is light, and it dispels darkness, making the colors pop. When viewed through the eyes of love, even the dark and shady corridors of life lead us to experience rainbow moments when the light of our love and God’s love penetrates the darkness. What a joy to discover nuggets of gold revealed in the shadows and silver linings in the thunder clouds! The clouds change with the winds, and knowing that, we believe in the blue sky principle: they always follow the rain, and the rain brings flowers and growth because:

First flowering plum blossom 2-14-15Love is beauty. Not the kind of beauty that wins contests, but the beauty of acceptance and forgiveness when you have disappointed your beloved for the umpteenth time. Love is the beauty of presence when the “for better or worse” vow seems to have landed decidedly, at least for a season, on the worst side. Love is the beauty of knowing that regardless of whether we are richer or poorer, sickly or healthy, we are together. Believing that together we are better, despite our circumstances, is the glue that holds our love and marriage together. Love is the secret formula that makes every wrinkle and grey hair that comes with age more beautiful in the eyes of our beloved. And that is a beautiful thought that puts a smile on my face because we also know that:

Love is laughter. After forty years together, we share an entire secret volume of funny experiences and laughing out loud moments that rival any comedy routine. Learning to laugh and dish out our hoarded reserve of joy during the moments when life is not funny, when our plates are full of worry or sorrow—that is nourishment for the heart and soul. Love means not taking yourself too seriously, and learning to laugh out loud, both together and separately, knowing that “this, too shall pass.” And tomorrow, or maybe a year from now, our tears will be gone, and we will laugh again and realize that our greatest fears never materialized because:

Love is hope. The pictures love paints, filled with color, beauty, and laughter, provide vision for a brighter future–the hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and next year will be better than this one. Growing up on the farm, my family were “next year” people. No matter if the crops failed us this year, “next year” dad always said, would be better. It was that optimism that kept my mother and father together on a farm for more than 63 years, keeping their vows, “until death do us part.” A hopeful vision inspires optimism beyond our own ability to manipulate or manage circumstances because:

Love is faith in someone bigger than us. Love looks like having the faith and patience necessary to move the impossible mountain in our path, even if that means removing it one slow shovelful at a time. It is believing that regardless of the odds against us, with God our odds are better. It is believing that no matter how many oppose us, with God we form a majority coalition. Love looks like spending time together on our knees so we can walk the distance. It means facing a crisis with a Friend who is closer than any human could ever be. Love is faith that God is bigger than any problem we face. And love means believing that God is love, and catching a glimpse of His face every time we see someone exhibiting God’s love toward others.

What does love look like? I love the Apostle Paul’s description:

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”   –1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT

So on this Valentine’s Day, when I ask, “What does love look like?” the answer is found in the face of my sweetheart, the most Jesus-Hearted Woman I know. Jodi Detrick, thank you for being the same bubbly girl I first fell in love with so many years ago. It is a joy to journey through life with you. I love you with all my heart.

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.

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.”

Crossing the Gap

Crossing The Gap - CaterpillarIt requires courage to cross the gap from where you are, to where you want to be.”

“Donnie, the neighbor called and our cows are in their pasture.” That meant round up time for this young cowboy. And it was not a welcome call. Getting those critters back to their home pasture often proved to be an exercise in futility. Growing up on a farm, I never saw a fence our cattle could not eventually find a way through. After all, fences break and the electricity sometimes goes off.

But there exists a sure way to stop them from seeking greener pastures that works in certain situations. For some reason, cows are afraid of crossing a gap or slotted surface. That’s why you’ll see cattle guards on bridges or crossings in cattle country – just slotted planks with space between them that keep them safely within the boundaries of where they are supposed to be. They take the place of a gate that would need to be open and shut every time a vehicle or person passed through. Sometimes even lines painted on pavement serve the purpose. Even though there would be little actual danger from them jumping or trotting across, they stay put because cattle somehow perceive danger in crossing that obstacle, even if the grass is greener on the other side.

In contrast, the above photo I took shows a caterpillar crossing a gap in the concrete on his way to who knows where. He was making good time, and the gap did not slow him down one bit. Relatively speaking, the gap in the concrete was larger to him than the gap a cow sees in a cattle guard. No matter to the caterpillar. Whether guided by instinct or a simple need to find something to eat far from the barren pavement, the caterpillar did not mind crossing the gap.

It got me to thinking. Am I more like cattle, or more like caterpillars? I’m glad it’s not completely an either/or proposition because frankly I would not care to be either one. Yet how often am I hindered or stopped altogether by some gap in the road that distracts me from my true destination? While I’m not suggesting a reckless strategy, how often does fear of the unknown keep me from moving forward?

How about you?  Are you known for prudence and counting the cost, or do people see you as an adventurer, undaunted by gaps in the concrete, clouds in the sky, or rain in the forecast? More importantly, how does God see you, and how do you view yourself?

Prudence and counting the cost are both biblical virtues. However, an excess of caution can lead to a shortage of progress. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. To move forward requires some risk, but do you want to spend the rest of your life resting where you are—especially if God has given you a vision for something more? What will happen if you stay where you are? What might occur if you venture forth and cross the gap between where you are where you want to be?  What would it take to make a decision to cross the gap and venture ahead? What would it take to bridge the gap once you decide to do so?

It requires courage to bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to be. My wife, Jodi knows this. She excels at life coaching where she helps people cross crucial gaps because she has done so herself. My heart will be swelling with pride as I watch her at commencement exercises this weekend at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. Because I know as she crosses the line to receive her doctoral diploma, this accomplishment occured because she courageously crossed many gaps to get to this point.

Don & Jodi Wedding Cake 6-8-74 PSWe married as teenagers, and she worked full time as a dental assistant so I could finish Bible college and enter the ministry. With her many gifts and skills, not to mention her winning personality, she could have had a career of her own. Instead, she chose the career of staying at home and being a mother to our three children and helper to me as an unpaid assistant pastor. Her imprint is clearly seen on our children’s lives, and the lives of hundreds of others to this day through her life, ministry, coaching, and writing for The Seattle Times and her new highly acclaimed book, The Jesus-Hearted Woman.

How did she get from where she was to where she is today? After our children were off on their own, she courageously accepted a call to serve as leader of our network’s ministry to women. Then, without a college degree of her own, she began a decade long journey filled with books, classes, papers, lectures, books and more books to read in pursuit of those degrees. And she did so with disctinction, having been chosen among her fellow seminarians to be one of the commencement speakers.Don & Jodi Detrick 5-2-13 lower res

She will be crossing the line this weekend as Rev. Jodi Detrick, D.Min. with a 4.0 GPA in her doctoral classes. She crossed a lot of gaps to get from where she was to where she is today. Gender gaps, educational gaps, economic gaps, and age gaps did not deter her. She enjoys coaching others who benefit from her own experience of gap crossing. And if you notice, as she takes her place with her fellow graduates this weekend, you’ll see me smiling broadly. I couldn’t be more proud.

Persistence

Persistence - pansy in concrete w copyrightI did a double take when I saw it. A single yellow pansy blooming in the driveway. Certainly nobody planted it there, yet somehow a seed took root. And there it was, its sweet pansy face peeking up from a crack in the concrete. I had to stop and take a photo of a literal “bloom where you are planted” story.

How often do I complain about how the present location isn’t ideally suited to take root, bloom, and produce? Or maybe the timing isn’t right. Or maybe I just don’t have enough time. Besides, everybody knows you can’t grow pansies in concrete cracks. Of course, weeds seem to flourish there. But here was a pansy staring me in the face and reminding me that against all odds, and even without ideal circumstances or conditions, blooming is indeed a possibility. The flower’s beauty and contrast with its harsh concrete surroundings was both stunning and defying the logic of my conventional wisdom.

Persistence. Patience. Possibility. These are the makings of everyday miracles. Stick with it. Don’t give up. And don’t stop believing. What do Olympic athletes have in common? Certainly some degree of natural skill and ability. Beyond that, they stick with it. They don’t give up. And they don’t stop believing they can win. In spite of the daily grind requiring long hours of practice, blistered bodies, bruised egos, and tired muscles, they persevere. And the most persistent usually take home the gold.

The same could be said for virtually every worthwhile pursuit. You could become proficient in a foreign language by studying a few minutes a day. Every day. For a long time. You could become a good pianist if you take lessons every week, practice 30 minutes every day, and do so over an extended period of time.

You’ll need to up the ante if you want to become a concert pianist, and very few do–really want to, that is. Because if you just want to a little, it won’t happen. You have to want to a lot, and then act accordingly. Persistently. Consistently. For a very long time. Despite less than ideal circumstances. Despite distractions. Despite sacrificing personal comfort.

What do you want to do? What is keeping you from accomplishing that dream? Persistence. Patience. Possibility. You can do it. You can find freedom from your circumstances and limitations. Just look at the photo of the pansy emerging from its concrete prison and let your dreams bloom right where you are planted. God, who specializes in making the impossible possible, can help you overcome adversities that you cannot conquer on your own.

It’s not an easy road. Easy roads are paved with good intentions and filled with potholes of adversity. Easy roads have weeds growing in the cracks. The road less travelled is paved with persistence, patience, and possibility. The potholes of adversity are still there, but the traveler choosing that route might just be greeted with the face of an unexpected pansy along the way.

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