July 29, 2011
great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart
1968/1969 were sad years for me. Matchbox, in an attempt to keep pace with HotWheels, changed the engineering on the axles of their cars. The new axles, designed to allow the cars to speed down HotWheel tracks, are thin and bend easily. The "new and improved" Matchbox cars were virtually useless on the dirt roads we spent hours building in the ditch at Carachipampa Christian Boarding School, Cochabamba, Bolivia, and the dirt pile in the back lot at the Iglesia Luterana El Redentor, La Paz, Bolivia. Typical of Bolivian mountain roads, ours were full of switchbacks. A favorite "trick" was to hand polish the moist earth unti it got a hard black shine. We called it "paving." My Matchbox passion ended at the end of 4th grade largely because we gave away all my cars before we came to the US for a year of furlough. The cars had changed when we returned for my sixth grade year. I continued to build roads through sixth and seventh grades, but I never liked the new axles and the passion died away. A childhood friend has suggested that my current "obsession" with designing and building model railroad layouts in the garden is a continuation of my love for engineering roads for my Matchbox cars.
I am convicted by this week’s New Testament text when I compare the things for which I have been passionate with the passion Paul had for his people who had not accepted the message of Christ. I am reminded that God has a deep passion that He wants us to also have toward the peoples of the earth. Paul was so emphatic with his proclamation of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” that he tripled his affirmation: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit…” His passion for his people was so strong that he was even willing to trade his own salvation if only they would all come to the confession that Christ is God over all, blessed forever.
Oh, Christ, make my heart Your heart and give me your desire for the lost. Amen.
July 21, 2011
all things work together for good
I began the "Life" page at my website with these questions: Why life? Can it really be that all we are is the product of an evolutionary cesspool? Are we nothing more than animals? Is the purpose of life really nothing more than “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”? Do wealth and fame really bring happiness? Is there more to life than pain, sorrow, and suffering sun spotted with a little joy? Is the little joy all we live for? So what?
Is there more to life than pain, sorrow, and suffering sun spotted with a little joy? Hmmm? I must have been in a real funk when I wrote that, but isn't it so often true that our lives really are a series of events that bring pain, sorrow, and suffering? In the grand scale of things, I suppose the following two early childhood memories are not that grand, but they were powerful enough to have left lasting impressions. They are not like the death of a brother-in-law, the death of a wife, or the death of a nephew that would later cloud my life. They are, however real experiences that at the time felt foreboding and filled me with a long remembered fear.
Both events involve great amounts of water, rain that is. The first was when I was in first or second grade. Maybe even third-it's hard to separate those years. Dad had just finished overseeing and paying for the construction of an adobe wall that fenced the downhill border of our property. The wall represented safety and security for us. Just as the wall was finished, a torrential rain swept through our little town in very rural Bolivia. The wall could not hold the wet, and the wall collapsed. A second wall replaced the first, and my memory is that our family huddled together in deep and earnest prayer as the rains continued that this wall would not also succumb to the elements and collapsing leave us vulnerable.
The second event was in a near following year. I was in the fourth grade and away at boarding school. The wide, flat valley in which the school sat must have been susceptible to flooding, the waters held back by a dam. Whatever it was the head masters told us, it inspired fear; and we, the children of the school, huddled together in our prayer groups pleading earnestly to God that the dam would hold the torrential rain waters and spare our valley and our lives.
It is these seasons of pain, sorrow, and suffering that often cause us to wonder about the presence of God. It seems more often than not that God gets blamed, but a clear reading of the Word of God should lead us to an opposite conclusion. What we find is not that God is abandoning us but that He is ever present working out His good and perfect will for us. No, He doesn't always or maybe even often answer the questions that arise from our suffering, but He does promise that the suffering death and conquering resurrection of His only and beloved Son declares our forgiveness and redemption. That very Jesus has become our intercessor pleading our case before the Father. And, no matter what the circumstances-be they big or small, there is nothing in all creation that has the power or authority to separate God's love from us.
July 14, 2011
"groaning together in the pains of childbirth"
I was born in Bolivia but arrived there before my dad. Mom and Dad had heard the call to missionary service. They first believed they would be going to China, so Dad was studying Chinese at the U of M. It was the 1950's, and the doors to China closed with the Maoist revolution. God next led them to Bolivia, and the time came in their lives to obey the decision to go. During that same time, they wanted to start a family. Mom thought she was pregnant; but her "States-side" doctor suggested the thought was only that, her imagination. Since he had confirmed she was not after all pregnant, Mom and Dad decided it was indeed time to make the transition to the mission field. It was the middle of 1957. Mom flew directly to Bolivia where she took on the job of teaching the children of other WMPL missionaries at the mission school. Dad flew to Costa Rica for nine months of language school. I was born in January 1958. Two months later, after finishing his nine month language course, Dad arrived in Bolivia. I was two months old when I first met my dad.
Mom and Dad went on to have four more children, all of us born in Bolivia. 25 years later I coached my late wife though her first delivery, a daughter; and six years after that, I stood by her side as she delivered our son.
I don't suppose any of these experiences qualify me to talk about childbirth. While the process was easy for my mom, it was not so easy for my wife. Like many women, or so I have heard, while in the pangs she vowed "never again." But with time, the pains of childbirth faded and the desires of motherhood took their place the pain replaced by the joy of birth and new life.
This life if filled with hard times and suffering, but we have a promise. Paul, a man well acquainted with suffering, told the Christians at Rome that he considered "that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." He wrote that even nature was suffering as a woman in the pains of childbirth waiting for Christ's return and revelation of His glory. Like a woman whose perspective on childbirth changes once she holds her newborn babe so we who belong to Christ, and creation itself, have something better than can be imagined for which to look forward.
That day will come, but while we wait for it to come God's Holy Spirit fills those who are His and even intercedes for us according to God's will for us.
July 8, 2011
Not...a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear
Coming down from Emerald Mountain with my very cautious and somewhat fearful daughter this morning after our sunrise hike reminded me so much of myself. I have always been very cautious and somewhat fearful especially when it comes to pain (though I am finding the older I get, the more risks I am willing to take). I remember particularly a hike I went on with a sister and two other missionary kids when I was younger (I don't exactly remember how old I was, but it had to be somewhere between 6th and 9th grades; probably on the younger side.) We were out at Coaba, a farm owned at that time by WMPL. We would visit the farm once a year for the annual conference our parents attended. As I remember it, the farm was roughly triangular in shape with two creeks/rivers converging at the point of the triangle. We often played in the nearer of the two a favorite pastime being the use of eucalyptus saplings to vault across the water from boulder to boulder. On this particular day, the four of us decided to explore the other creek, the one on the far side of the farm. The two other missionary kids were fearless; they skuttled up a face of chipped granite and followed the creek up to heights beyond where I was willing to go. I was bound by my fear of getting hurt and missed out on some of really cool sights, specifically some beautiful waterfalls (or at least that is what they told me).
Fear in the case of caution and pain is good. Fear keeps us from doing things that would hurt us. But when it comes to our relationship with God, fear should be eliminated. Fear of eternal separation from God, the "death" that is the consequence for our sin, can drive us toward a God who loves us. If we live, however, in the fear of death, then we have not had a saving God encounter. When we do have a saving God encounter, fear is removed; in it's place God gives us peace and assurance of an eternal relationship with Himself. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" What God does for us in that saving encounter is set us free from our fear by giving to us His presence through His Holy Spirit. The one who is not saved is said to be a slave of the sin that separates us eternally from God and can only find fear in considerations of eternal life. But, the one who is saved, whose sins are forgiven, is now a child of God adopted into God's family. It is an adoption that frees us from out bondage to both sin and fear and gifts us with a relationship with God in which we can even call Him "Daddy."
July 1, 2011
Wretched man that I am...
One of the vivid memories I have while sitting shotgun in a sheriff patrol car (I did chaplaincy work for a number of years) has very little to do with cop work. The deputy with whom I was riding had a call at the mall. I don't remember what the call was nor do I remember that we even went into the mall. What we did was park the car at the curb at one of the lesser used entrances to wait. What we saw was a parade of incredibly beautiful women using that particular entrance in and out of the building. I suppose one of the reasons this incident stands out to me was that the deputy later commented to another deputy about how stunning the women we saw were. But who am I kidding. I remember it well because they were stunning. And here was I, the chaplain, experiencing the same reaction the deputy had and being embarrassed by it.
There is a whole other discussion here about the beauty of the God created female form and the masculine response to it, but the fact remains that I was torn. I wanted to ogle. I wanted to savor. I wanted to completely enjoy what I was watching. And I did. At the same time I am so acutely aware of the need to protect myself and my marriage against lust (thus the embarrassment). To look and be tempted and fall to lust or to glance away and protect: this was my dilemma.
It is the dilemma of all humanity but particularly of the saved soul. Paul wrote, "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." One of the outcomes of salvation is falling in love with the "law." It has done it work of condemnation, it has done it's work of driving us to Christ, and now it takes on a new role. It, the perfect and good law of God, now becomes the beloved way of the Godly life. So I know what I want to do, I want to obey the law. But I continue to live in this world where the forces of sin continue to entice and tempt and lead me to do that which is against the law and that which I want to do and that which I love. I find that I am but a wretched man, freed from sin yet tempted and oh so often sinful. And I know Paul's anguish, because it is anguish that the freed would self-imprison, that the forgiven would sin, that the raised would fall; and I cry out with Paul, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Then it is that I cling to the words that follow, the only words I need to hear, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"