My Need; His Peace

Peace I leave with you: (my own) peace I give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. …(Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.) (Jesus) John 14:27 Amplified

There is a reason why the last sentence of this verse is highlighted in my Bible: I do it so often!

It happened again recently—right in the middle of our summer’s best weekend.

We were hosting a rare family reunion. My brother, sister-in-law and their whole family had come from the Washington, D.C. area. So unusual was their visit that our second son and his family took precious time from moving to a new house to join us.

And it was great. Pastor McDevitt was right: families are a gift from God—especially when they work together as they’re supposed to. There are few things better than spending time and having fun with people who know you to the bone and love you, anyway.

But hosting the event threatened to take me into full “Martha mode”–you know, “distracted by all the preparations…” (See Luke 10:38-42.)

I woke up far too early one morning, running logistics in my head. Where was I going to seat everyone? Did I have enough plates and silverware? What about drinks…and glasses? Were all the food bases covered? Round and round my brain went, like a hamster on a wheel.

Those of you with big, casual families are laughing at me right now. But I came from a small, formal one. My Mom would get into such a swivet about “entertaining” that she didn’t do it very often. And I could swivet right with her.

But I really did know better. It was my family, after all, and I could see how I’d had Help all weekend—as He quietly unraveled one knot after another, exchanged our plans for His better plan. God would help me now, too.

Then the enemy started me beating up on myself for not having enough faith to live what I knew. Sheesh!

It took me an hour to pry my hands off the controls and tell Martha and her demons to go back to sleep.

Sure enough, it all went fine. My son and my nephew’s wife cooked the dinner; everyone had food and drink and seating and fun. I could even relax and enjoy them enjoying each other!

We live in the peace Jesus bequeathed us when we do what He says: let go and believe the words of the old hymn:

“All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided/Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 8, 2019.

A Lesson from My Dog

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

She had no idea.

Three years ago, almost to the day, our rescue dog, Misty, arrived on the plane from Texas—a quivering, pile of red-brown fur huddled in the far corner of an airline crate. Knowing how noise-averse she is, how frightened she gets when faced with the unknown, I can only imagine what that plane ride was like for her. She landed at the airport completely shut down, terrified beyond terror.

Little did she know, when we finally managed to coax her out of that crate, she was stepping into doggie heaven. Unlike the hostile streets of Fort Worth where they found her, she would be safe and warm and well fed, with a clean comfortable place to sleep. All her needs would be met for the rest of her life. Never again would a hand be raised to her in anger. All she had to do was hang out with a couple of old people all day and go for easy walks in the dog park.

I looked into her trusting brown eyes this morning, saw that happy, wagging tail and said, “You had no idea three years ago and I couldn’t tell you. You were too busy being afraid.”

Then I heard that Whisper in my heart.  “She was just like you are, child.”

Ahh. I knew immediately what He meant.

You see, I’m at the stage of my life when I’m ever more aware of its end. I’m watching my friends weaken; losing them, one after another, knowing someday it will be my turn. But I don’t know when or where or how. It’s enough to make a barely-reformed control freak panic.

I’m like Misty climbing into that scary-looking crate in Texas: terrified of the trip ahead, afraid to trust, not knowing the end of it will be wonderful beyond my imagining. There’s no way God can explain it to me; I wouldn’t understand it if He could.

Misty came from a world where people called her, leashed her, then abused and abandoned her. Why should I have been surprised when she ran from me, hid when I offered to take her on a walk? Only now is she beginning to come, tail wagging, like every other dog I’ve owned.

Trust takes time for broken dogs. People, too. Yet trust is what it takes.

To the extent that I’m willing to trust God and believe His promises, I can be free of fear.

At last.

FATHER GOD: Thanks for the lesson. Help me remember it when the doubts come. Amen

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 11, 2019.

The Gift of Forgiveness

…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV

What are you giving your Dad this Fathers’ Day? How about something that will cost you nothing…except your pride and your need to be right? Something worth more than all the shirts and fishing gear and steak dinners put together? A gift that can yield you both peace into eternity?

Forgiveness.

Most of you know my father was an alcoholic. “Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (vs. 31) echoed through our house on many nights, sending me under the covers, trembling in fear.

But he wasn’t always like that. When he was sober, he shared my love of history and a good story, enjoyed singing funny songs to make us laugh, cherished his beloved football and baseball games—first on radio and then TV.

I never knew which man was walking in the door at the end of the day.

I now understand things I didn’t know back then—how my great-grandfather had abandoned the family when my grandfather was little, leaving a sad legacy of men not knowing how to be fathers. How my father was forced by the Depression into a job (in sales) he was completely unsuited for, how he fought down the fear of rejection and failure every day in order to make a living. How he worked in a milieu saturated by alcohol, one in which a man was measured by how well he could “hold his liquor.” How admitting he couldn’t and getting help to overcome it was more humiliation than he could bear.

Knowing how life wounded him helps me forgive him. Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who knows a few things about forgiving a toxic family, says “Hurt people hurt people.”

Life in this broken world wounds us all. We all then do things which hurt other people—usually the ones closest to us. We all fail to live up to the potential God created in us.

That’s why Jesus came.

On the cross I believe He took all our failures, imperfections and sins upon Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God pours His blessed balm of forgiveness on my wounds, offers me love and healing and acceptance without condition.

How can I then refuse to offer that same forgiveness and love to my father?

My Dad never repented. It doesn’t matter. My Dad never asked for my forgiveness. That doesn’t matter, either. I forgive him as God through Christ forgave me.

So we are both free.

Forever.

FATHER GOD: Through and because of Jesus, I forgive my father for his failure to be the Dad I needed. May my children forgive me. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 16, 2019.

 

Amazing God, Amazing Love

This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice… 1 John 4:9,10 NIV

I had a faith-affirming experience last week.

On our way to Salt Lake City, we listened to “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel. I was blown away.

Now you have to understand that, though I live in a family of scientists, I’m not one. I took what little I learned in high school 60 years ago, boxed it up and tossed it in the far corner of my mind, telling myself science was “not my thing.” I now realize I was afraid that learning more would destroy my faith.

I needn’t have worried.

For now, as Strobel shows in many interviews with highly respected scientists in different areas of study, the cutting edge of scientific research is pointing toward God, not away from Him. They now believe there was, indeed, a moment, nick-named “the Big Bang,” when the universe was created. What’s more, the incredible complexity of the universe in general, the fine-tuning of the parameters of life in particular, leads them to the conclusion of an Intelligent Creator.

We call Him God.

Just the small glimpse these scientists give of His wonder leaves me gasping and groping for words. How can such an Awesome Being notice me at all, let alone love me?

“That’s why I came,” whispered the Voice of Jesus. “That’s what the cross was for.”

Ahh. Of course.

We can never understand or explain the magnificent Mind Who created the universe. But we can understand Jesus Who, in the words of Paul: “…taking the very nature of a servant, (was) made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7,8

Why did He do this? Why would this amazing God humble Himself enough to take on the problems and limitations of human life? To be born as a helpless baby? To grow up subject to the care and instruction of fallible human parents, to become tired and thirsty and hungry? Even, as John Eldredge points out, to walk everywhere? Why should God allow Himself to be betrayed and rejected, to suffer on the cross, taking on the full forces of evil, sin and darkness?

For love. For love so amazing it should drop us to our knees in awe.

LORD JESUS: When I doubt Your love, remind me Who You are. Point me to the Cross. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” April 7, 2019.

 

 

He is Faithful

He (God) Himself has said, “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. (I will) not, (I will) not, (I will) not in any degree leave you helpless not forsake nor let (you) down (relax my hold on you)! (Assuredly not!)” Hebrews 13:5 Amplified

Last Sunday, our church celebrated the fulfillment of this amazing promise…and we didn’t even plan it.

As the service began, our pastor’s wife, who is also the choir director, prefaced their anthem by reminding us that it’s five years since our pastor was at death’s door.

He had gone to Minneapolis for surgery—a tricky procedure, but one we weren’t terribly worried about. Tricky procedures are almost commonplace these days.

Almost.

Sadly, this one went awry, leaving our pastor in a coma which lasted nine long days, while we wondered if he would wake up at all, or what he would be like when he did. His family kept vigil at his side while we waited for the email updates and fell on our faces in prayer. How well I remember the day we learned he had opened his eyes, when he talked, when they got him up walking for the first time. It felt like a miracle.

It still does.

For it was a dark time for our congregation, too. Our former pastor had just retired and moved to Choteau to care for his elderly mother. This man was scheduled to take over. Whatever would we do now? We felt helpless–like sheep without a shepherd.

But we were not. God did not fail us or leave us without support. He provided some great pastors to fill in—including one who went on to be our pastor’s fulltime associate. The church pulled together and became closer than we ever had been.

Now, five years later, our pastor stands before us—preaching, teaching, leading as he was called to do. He has even been strong to manage on his own for months at a time. Now, we all rejoice that we have just called a new young pastor, enthusiastic and full of energy, to share the load.

Our pastor has lived to minister among us, celebrate his childrens’ weddings, welcome four grandchildren into the world—including the latest, born just this week. And she was delivered by my own daughter-in-law!

It was, as the French say, “a good moment.”

As the choir sang the song that sustained our pastor’s family during that dark time, we remembered…

And rejoiced.

FATHER GOD: You are faithful. You do, indeed, keep Your promises! You will, indeed, never fail or forsake us. We are, indeed, grateful. What a wonder…and a joy. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” February 24, 2019.

 

 

 

God’s Christmas Gift

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 RSV

Christmas is over—really, truly over. Last week, I packed the much-loved decorations back in their boxes, hauled them down to the cellar, stacked them away. I’ve done this every year for over 50 years but it never gets easier. Or more fun.

Someone wrote that taking down Christmas is like saying good-bye to a beloved old friend.

When I allow my soul to wail like a kid after a birthday party, I lose sight of God’s Christmas gift, the one all this celebration is about, the gift given for today, tomorrow and all eternity:

Jesus: God with us.

In the person of Jesus,

God: the master and creator of the mind-blowing universe, the One Who names the innumerable stars (Isaiah 40:25), Who is so beyond understanding that He identified Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 2:14)…

decided to dwell among and with

Us, His frail and struggling beings on a tiny planet in the far corner of His vast creation. With you. With me.

To reconcile us to Himself. To show us the Way. To give us eternal life.

It’s called the Incarnation.

Max Lucado, in his wonderful book, “Unshakable Hope,” sums it up like this: “The star maker, for a time, built cabinets in Nazareth.”

Wow. Selah. (Pause and think carefully about that.)

Why did God do it? Out of love—incomprehensible, unfathomable love. But in order to lead us, He had to become one of us.

Listen to Lucado again: “Had Jesus simply descended to earth in the form of a mighty being, we would respect him but never draw near to him. After all, how could God understand what it means to be human?

Had Jesus been biologically conceived with two earthly parents, we would draw near to him, but would we want to worship him? After all, he would be no different than you and me.

…So human he could touch his people. So mighty he could heal them. So human he spoke with an accent. So heavenly he spoke with authority. …All man. Yet all God.”

Adjectives fail before the wonder. And, what’s more wonderful yet: the Incarnation is as true now as it was in that manger long years ago, as true this morning as it was on a tender candle-lit Christmas Eve, surrounded by friends and family.

God with us: the one Christmas gift we can’t lose, break or box away. The one that shines bright—forever.

FATHER GOD: You love me. You are with me. Right now. Right here. Amazing. But true. Amen.

To be published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, January 20, 2019.