Tag Archives: hope

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.

Good Friday – Calvary Covers it All

three crosses “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots.” (Luke 23:32-24 NKJV)

The word “Calvary” comes from the Latin word calvaria and Greek word kranion, from which we get the meaning of a skull or cranium. It was also known as Golgotha in Aramaic. While Calvary denotes the name of a geographical location, and the actual site is disputed today, the term conveys far more than just a geographical spot in history.

Back in 1934 Mrs. Walter G. Taylor wrote a gospel song titled, “Calvary Covers It All.” The lyrics she penned more than eighty years ago convey the essence of the Gospel.  She wrote, “Calvary covers it all – My past with its sin and stain. My guilt and despair Jesus took on Him there, and Calvary covers it all.”

Our past:  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our past sins. That means all of our regrets, all of our guilt, and all of our shame about the past is wiped away at Calvary.

Our present:  Jesus was despised and rejected as the Savior of the world. Instead, he was falsely convicted and crucified as a local criminal. He committed no crimes, but on Calvary paid the penalty for all the crimes of humanity, including mine.

Our future: The days of our lives are filled with uncertainty. Worry and anxiety about the what might lie ahead weighs us down and blurs our vision of the present and hope for the future. Calvary covers our future with the hope and assurance of eternal life.

Jesus’ selfless act of laying down his life more than 2,000 years ago still resonates over the passage of time and space, making a seemingly impersonal ancient historical event something more. Good Friday becomes deeply personal and contemporary for those of us who remember and believe. So on this Good Friday we remember, and are grateful that Calvary covers it all.

© 2016 Don Detrick

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.

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

At the Intersection of Our Hopes and Fears

At the intersection of our hopes and fears“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

We exist in a contradiction of emotions. Moments of great faith and courage. Moments of great fear and trembling. But between those extreme moments, we often swim in a sea of ambivalence. Tumultuous waves of fear, doubt, hate, anger, self-loathing, and cynicism threaten to drown our hopes, dreams, faith, love and peace. We search for a life preserver to keep us afloat long enough to survive.

We must face negative realities in order to survive, but focus on positive ones to thrive. What if we could find solid footing to maintain serenity in the midst of a storm of adversity? What if we could remain peaceful and calm when the waves of despair threaten to capsize our vessel? What if we could hold onto virtue during moments of weakness when tempted to compromise our values? What if there really was a life preserver to keep us from drowning in that sea of ambivalence? What if we could overcome our fears with hope?

At the intersection of our hopes and fears we find the babe of Bethlehem. During his human lifetime, that baby grew into a man who would calm storms, stop angry waves, offer the tender touch of healing and forgiveness. He would provide courage to a widowed mother, sight to a blinded beggar, a place at the table for the hungry, downtrodden and oppressed, freedom to one enslaved by the chains of demons, and tender mercy to a woman caught in adultery. Ask any one of them. Ask any one of the countless others named and unnamed in the Gospels. They will tell you. Jesus Christ met them at a moment when they were about to go under, capsized by fear. But his touch, his glance, his word made the difference. Hope.

Heaven and earth intersected in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. God came down to human level to show us his heart and compassion. Hope met fear. And hope won.

It’s not about Bethlehem. It’s about that baby boy who spans the centuries and more. He spans eternity. And his love spans the chasm between our sea of ambivalence and the solid ground of his destiny. That’s why pastor Phillips Brooks penned those words more than a century ago. We hear them sung today in shopping malls and sanctuaries: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”   ©2013 Don Detrick

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.

Easter Hope: Resurrection & Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Resurrection: Signs of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do Pessimists Live Longer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teams and Teamwork, Part Three

teamwork with graphicWe’ve been talking about teamwork, specifically how working as a team makes harvest possible from a spiritual perspective. To a certain extent, the harvest is the bottom line for the farmer, and it is also true in the church. All of our efforts at cultivating, sowing, and tending a crop are in vain if there is no harvest. Jesus made his purpose clear: “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In church teams, our ultimate mission and purpose must be in alignment with Jesus’ mission and purpose. And do you remember the importance of prioritizing purpose from the Leadership Network report on church teams mentioned in the last post in this series?

Here is another excerpt from my upcoming book, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation. In it I discuss these principles and also share more about my neighbors, Granny and Gramps Plake.

A harvest is always anticipated. No one plants a crop and expects it to fail. The investment is too great. The Bible uses the metaphor of fruit to describe intentionality. “Be fruitful, and multiply,” God told Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:32). Jesus called us to “go, and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). “The fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) describes the qualities of maturation that result from organic growth.

Blank white book w/pathWhen it comes to spiritual formation, we should expect to become fruitful followers of Jesus. At any given point in time, an organism is either dying, declining, living, growing, or thriving. The same is true for our spiritual growth. Where do you see yourself in that continuum? What would it take to change? How can you engage more fully in your own spiritual formation so you can expect to be a participant in the harvest?

Obedience to Jesus Christ opens the door for growth, and obedience often means working to bring in the harvest. It is understood that proper nourishment, cultivation, and environment are all necessary for sustained growth at every stage of development. Faith, life, and community lead to fruit, the organic result for harvest. When this is not the case, or when growth is stunted, it’s time to get back to basics. The writer of Hebrews spoke to this issue:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14)

Spiritual formation and the resulting harvest have a lot to do with sowing and reaping. If you don’t invest much on the sowing end of things, you won’t reap much of a harvest. But even a small investment can reap great dividends if we invest in the right things.

Granny and Gramps, mentioned earlier, knew the value of investment in things that truly matter. While you’d never have known it by looking at their humble home and surroundings, they were storing up eternal treasures by investing in people. They raised many of their own grandchildren whose parents had died, and their kindness extended beyond their family to neighbors and even strangers who were welcomed to partake of Granny’s meals.

Granny and Gramps were a team during nearly seventy years of marriage, up until the end of their lives. Everyone thought that Gramps would go first, even though he eventually gave up his smoking habit. But somewhat surprisingly, the spry and seemingly healthy Granny ended up in the hospital and then an extended-care facility because of congestive heart failure. I visited and prayed with them often, and was there the day Granny went to heaven. Grief-stricken Gramps went home and the next morning a grandson found him slumped over in a chair with a smile on his face. Their separation had not been long, as both were reunited at the feet of their Savior. At their combined memorial service, hundreds of relatives, friends, and neighbors paid tribute to this humble couple who teamed up to make a difference in the lives of others. (From Chapter 13: Teamwork Makes Harvest Possible, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation, Deep River Books, ©2013 Don Detrick)