Tag Archives: death

God is NoWHere…

There is an old story that is often used in sermons. It’s one of those “brilliant Christian student embarrasses the evil snooty professor” type stories. In the story the professor writes “God is Nowhere” on the chalk board. Somewhere by the end of it the clever student rearranges the letters so that it says, “God is Now Here.”

But often it seems to me that both of them miss the boat. Somehow it seems to me that there is a tension between the two notions. Because there are times when I cannot deny the presence of God. There are times when God is so real and vibrant and true that I cannot imagine how anyone could ever deny that God is right here among us. But on the other hand, there are times when I wonder how I could have been so blindly optimistic. I look around at the pain and suffering in the world and I just don’t see how God could be so close. And to be honest I can sometimes get a bit resentful that God seems to be hiding.

But I read something online. It was another of those cheesy sermon illustrations. In this story there is a couple and the husband is dying. And the wife says, “I love you so much, what will I ever do without you.” And the husband replies, “Take that love you feel for me and give it out to the world.”

And suddenly it makes a bit of sense. If God, the Ultimate, the object of ultimate Love, were physically right here with us in the same sense as you and I are sitting in this room, then we would miss out on the very thing that God seems most interested in. God is all about our relationship with God, yes, but also with others.

So, perhaps this absence we often feel from God is God’s way of saying, “Take that love, that hope, and that devotion that you would pour out on me and spread it to everyone you meet.” Because somehow, in some strange way, that is the way that we can best experience the presence of God.


a thank-you note…

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  And for both of the people who have ever read this blog, that statement is no surprise.  I am the master of the obvious.

So, in the space between my last post and this one life has taken some strange twists and turns.  The most major twist is the subject of this post.  My mother died two weeks ago today.

About 7 years ago a doctor told her that she had cancer.  Doctors have a way of saying the most vulgar things.  They say phrases like, “It is as we feared.”  Or they say, “It’s not what we were hoping for.”  In this case the doctor used the swear-word, “Ocular Melanoma”.  The doctor said that if it spread past her eye that she would have no more than 6 months to live.  Again…that was 7 years ago.  The cancer spread to her lungs, her liver, and her brain.  But she had 7 good years.  I never saw my mother “dying.”  She lived every day of her life.  And up until the last couple of weeks she was able to do whatever she wanted to.

We prayed for miracles.  We prayed for healing.  And we saw it.  We saw it for 7 years.  The thing I never considered until recently was the fact that miracles aren’t permanent.  And I think that’s why so many people don’t believe that miracles have happened when they do.  We expect miracles to be permanent.  We want healing that doesn’t end up with us just getting sick again.  But miracles aren’t just magic tricks from a god in a box.  Miracles are always referred to as “signs.”  They point us to something else.  People who are healed…even people who are raised from the dead…they get sick and they die.  The miracle is not about that person in that situation.  The miracle is about a God who is making all things new.  It is a glimpse at a future in which the God who created the universe will wipe every tear away, and there will be no more suffering, or pain, or death.

So I can say that my mother was healed miraculously for 7 years.  And I can say that on January 5, 2o1o at 10:15 in the evening, while family and friends gathered around her singing “Blessed Assurance”, she was healed permanently.  The God of the universe reached down and scooped her up in his arms.  He wiped her tears away and said, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

In the weeks leading up to her passing there were a lot of beautiful conversations.  Hard, painful conversations, but beautiful as well.  All of us will one day face the end of our days on earth.  I hope that all of us can live a life with as much purpose, and die a death with as much meaning as Wanda Mills.  She is not here, but she is not gone.

It is easy to give in to the sadness and the rage.  We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.  But like Job, we can sit in the ashes of our life when things look the most dark and say, “I will put my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, I will not speak again.”  A friend once said he was jealous of atheists because as a believer in God we have to see meaning in everything.  And I agree with him sometimes, but not this time.  I love it that I don’t have to be happy about things that happen like this.  But I also trust that there is a God who set the Earth on its foundations.  Who dug the oceans and filled them with water.  Who hung the stars in the sky.  Who set the planets spinning in their orbits.  Who orders all of existence so that even the bad things fit into the plan.  And who put skin on.  Who became flesh and blood so that he could scream along side of us in our pain.  A God who can look at us no matter what sort of suffering we are in and say, “me too.”  And who lived a perfect life, and died the death we deserved.  And who now holds the keys to death and hell.

I am eternally grateful for a God who will say, “[I] will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…Look! I am making everything new!”

James 1:12-15 – my desire for freedom is a disco-ball-and-chain…

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:12-15

There’s nothing to do here but dive right in.  “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.”  James is big on our being grateful for our own suffering.  And with good reason.  Whatever trial comes our way is set to teach us something.  There are some trials that are not at all our fault.  There are times in which we are innocent.   There are other times that we are reaping what we sow.  There are times that we can borrow a term from Hinduism; Karma.  Cause and effect, reaping and sowing, karma, whatever you want to call the principle, it is not as simple as “I do this, and such-and-such results.”  It is more like ripples on a pond.  Sometimes I through a pebble in the pond and the ripples make their way back directly to me.  Often I’m caught up in the ripples of those all around me as well.

If I’m standing in the middle of a pond with ripples and waves crashing all around, how can I stop it?  Can I splash the waves back?  Can I fight against the ripples and make them be still?  Of course not, neither can I struggle against my own suffering and trials with any success.  The way to stop the ripples is to stand still.  Let them wash over you.  Absorb them.  This is what Christ did for us perfectly on the Cross.  He took all of the waves that we kick up with our sin and our selfishness.  He took every tsunami sized wave, and every tiny pebble-tossed ripple, stretched out his arms, and absorbed them all by refusing to fight back.  This, like it or not, is what we are called to do as well.  We cannot do it perfectly as Christ did, but we have to try. Our ability to do so will not be what saves us.  Only resting in the completed work of Christ will save us.  But the “crown of life” is promised to us when we are able to persevere.

When we persevere it will not be by our ability to “cowboy up” and “take it like a man.”  Like so many aspects of Christian life (gain life by losing it, meek shall inherit, first shall be last, etc) the way to overcome is to be soft.  Lao Tzu, although not a Christian (he probably lived about 4 to 5 hundred years before Christ), phrases this idea beautifully.  He says, “Learn to yield and be soft if you want to survive. Learn to bow and you will stand your full height.” This is what Jesus teaches us.  We are at our fullest strength when we willingly become servants.  He goes even further to say, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  We will persevere through our trials by being able to bend.  A stiff and brittle  plant breaks in the wind, but a supple and weak blade of grass will bend, and therefore survive.  When we learn this, then we will persevere and we will recieve the crown of life.  There is some argument over what exactly the “crown of life” is.  I do not know for sure, so I won’t make an attempt at an answer.  I do know this, the way to get it is to persevere under trial.  The way to persevere under trial is to be “shrewd as snakes, and harmless as doves.”

As I mentioned earlier there are times that our trials are the result of thing that are out of our control.  We are still best able to deal with this by accepting the things we cannot change, and avoiding the things we can avoid.  But the vast majority of our trials are the direct result of our own selfish desires.  We are all tempted in the precise place where our desires have us captive.  “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”  The Bible warns us again and again against desire.  We are told in the 10 commandments that we are not to covet.  We are told to mind where our treasure is.  We are told here in James that we are tempted by our desire, which leads to sin, which leads to death.

We are also warned by James not to blame our temptations on God.  James understands our first impulse is to blame someone else.  It started in the Garden of Eden.  God called Adam out, and Adam replied, “It’s that woman you gave me.”  In other words, “Don’t blame me, it’s your fault and that woman’s fault.”  C.S. Lewis talks about this very thing.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis gives a description of two people arguing.  One person appeals to a certain standard of conduct that they each seem to agree upon, “…the other man very seldom replies: “To hell with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise.” You see this over and over when people are called out on their actions.  They make excuses as to why they are special.  Tim Melton calls this “specialme-itis.” There is always someone or something else to blame.  James is aware of this, and warns us to keep in mind that our temptation comes from our own desires.  James knows the root of excuses, and the root of our desire is Lucifer’s pride.

I love the imagry James uses in these verses.  Desire becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin.  Sin grows up, and when it is fully grown it sneaks up behind you and cuts your throat.  How many deaths have I died in my own life that, looking back, I can see the moment when desire conceived sin?  How many more could I see if I allowed the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to them?  And that is the point, I think, of these verses.  We are to open our eyes to the desires of our heart before they have had time to conceive.  Allow the Spirit to show us where our treasure truly lies.  In the movie “Luther” there is a conversation between Cardinal Cajetan and Aleandar.  The Cardinal asks, “What is it you seek, Aleandar?”  Aleandar replies, “To serve God.  To serve Him with all my heart.”  The Cardinal replies, “And that is how you will be tempted.”  Proverbs 20:5 teaches us, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.  But a man of understanding draws them out.” Without drawing out these purposes, and without the perspective offered by the Spirit, even our desire to serve God will be a chink in our armor in which the Enemy impregnates our desire with sin.

The good news of the Gospel is that we have hope and help.  The great news of the Gospel is that Jesus did the hard part for us, and then sent His Spirit into the world to comfort us, and guide us.  Our job is to take hold of the justification that Jesus won, and to submit to the sanctification of His Spirit.