Tag Archives: God

Lap Sitting

Yesterday was my mother’s 89th birthday.  She has been a resident in a memory care unit at the Woodbury Health Care Center for the past three years. We celebrated with cake, flowers and great-grandchildren. Moms 89 bday

Like many adult children with aging parents, I struggle how to best honor and love my mother at this stage of her life. Due to her many falls and dementia, my wife and I cannot take care of her at home.  Earlier in her life, when her dementia was just beginning, my siblings and I tried to talk with her about what living arrangements she would want as the disease progressed.  Like many in her generation, she did not want to discuss those issues, so my siblings and I did our best to find places that could care for her in a loving, humane way.

Now the dementia has progressed to the point where she no longer knows my name or relationship to her.  She cannot hold a conversation.  But she still smiles when I approach her and call her name.  She likes to have her hands rubbed and her arm stroked. She will occasionally look at pictures of her family. We can sing Happy Birthday together. She enjoys cake and ice cream.

Mom and GracePerhaps the greatest joy for her yesterday was holding her newest great-grandchild, Grace.  Mom did not fully comprehend who Grace was.  She could not say her name.  Yet I felt God’s grace surrounding her and us as she held her great-granddaughter.  Love flowed from each.

As I reflect on the moment, I take great hope in the knowledge that God is holding my mom in his lap.  And God is holding me and you as well.  We may not fully realize who we are as children of God, but God fully knows and cares.  God loves holds us even when we forget God’s name.  Someday God will call my mom (and me and you) home and only then will we fully know whose we are.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:12-13

Lord Jesus, hold me as your own.

Questions about Cheerful Giving

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006

Cheerful Givers at the Walk For Justice 2006 (Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7

Today I read two quotes that got my head spinning. Maybe they will spin your heart and mind as well. The first is from C. S. Lewis and it is about giving to charity.

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.” quotes at http://www.brethren.org/stewardship/documents/stewardship-quotes.pdf

The Kilns in Oxford, England

C. S. Lewis himself lived in a modest house in Oxford with his brother and gave half of his income away.  He often had house guests and cared for others  in sacrificial ways.  He walked what he taught.

The second quote from Richard Rohr seems to affirm that such financial stewardship can be a way of dying so that one can be reborn in Christ.

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all of us must die before we die, and then we will not be afraid of dying. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.  Richard Rohr Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25

Reflecting on both quotes, it made me wonder if giving can be seen as both a “painful” moment as one gives beyond one’s self (a kind of dying) as well as joyful experience where one experiences new life in Christ? Do I place too much emphasis on joyful giving when in reality Christian giving always has elements of sacrificial pain?

What do you think?

Lord Jesus, you gave your whole self for us. May we give back sacrificially to you.

The Study of the Way

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

My past few posts have focused on my backpacking journey along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Today I am writing about a different journey, a much more ancient yet comprehensive path: the Christian journey through the story of Scripture.

Like the PCT, the Biblical story is long, covering sixty-six books and nearly 2000 years of history. It has moments of great beauty, high adventure and powerful spiritual depths. And to be honest, the Bible has sections that seem tedious and overgrown, especially to the newcomer. Not every verse inspires when read. Yet the diligent study of God’s Word reaps tremendous benefit for those who stay on the path.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students

On Sunday evening, as part of our orientation to Resurrection’s confirmation program, parent of our confirmation students will place in their hand their new student study Bible. Along with other staff members, I have taken time to highlight Bible verses that have guided my spiritual walk with Jesus. Such verses as

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the coming weeks I will have the privilege and joy of leading these students through the basic story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from Creation to Resurrection and beyond. We will meet such Biblical heroes as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Pharaoh, Ruth, David and Solomon, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary and Martha, Paul. We will explore such stories as Abraham’s call, the Exodus, David and Goliath, the Exile, the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sons. This journey is so rich with wonder and meaning it will take a lifetime.

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My biggest task and joy will be exploring the story of Jesus, the Word of God. He is the core of our Christian faith and I am so thankful that he is the true guide on this journey. After all, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). My central reason for studying God’s Word is to stay on the path with him.

What Bible verse is one of your favorites? How does the Bible guide your life?

Lord Jesus, Word of God, guide me today as I seek to follow you.

Day Five: Pride Goes Before the Fall

IMG_20130818_134449_651Day Five of my backpack started much like day four: the glorious beauty of Glacier Peak surrounded me and I felt tremendous joy as I ambled down the trail. My feet felt as light as my heart. With my lightness of feet I jumped a couple of streams. I thought, “It’s going to be a wonderful day.  Thank you, Lord!”

The Cascade Mountains are a named for the many streams cascading down from the glaciers and snow fields. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many of these streams. On major rivers, there are often bridges. Some of these have been battered by the spring floods. I wondered how long Kennedy Creek would keep its bridge.

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Shortly after crossing Kennedy Creek, I came to Sitkum Creek. Sitkum is rather small and has no bridge. I stopped to consider my options. I noticed several larger stones that could be used to boulder-hop across. I also could easily wade across since it was less than 6″ deep. I did not have trekking poles and my shoes were dry. After a moment’s reflection I decided to try boulder hopping, thus keeping my shoes dry.

Sitkum CreekI loosened my pack and started across. One boulder, two boulders. . .  .

Suddenly my foot slipped and I fell into the stream. Unable to catch myself with my hands, my face slipped below the water and my head hit a rock.

I heard a crunch and felt the sharp blow to my head. I quickly scrambled up to my knees. I felt my forehead and discovered a rising lump above my right eye. I also discovered my glasses were gone, swept away by the stream.

I got to my feet and splashed across to the far side of the stream. I took off my pack and took stock of my situation. Other than the bump on my head, I had no other scrapes or bruises. I went back to look for my glasses in the stream, totally oblivious to how wet my shoes had become. Though I looked and felt all around the area where I fell, no glasses could be found. I suspected that they broke in the fall (the crunch sound I heard). Since I was packing light, I did not have a spare pair of glasses with me.

LumpAfter a fruitless search, I considered my options. I am nearsighted and usually wear glasses, but I am able to see okay without them. I could clearly see the trail, trees, stream, and rocks around me. I had not blacked out in the fall, nor was my vision more blurred than normal. I was at least twenty miles from any trail head and still forty-five miles from Steven’s Pass. So I picked up my pack and marched on.

I must say I was having a small pity-party as I hiked. “Why didn’t I simply wade in water?” “If you had brought your hiking stick, you probably would have regained balance before falling.” “A spare pair of glasses isn’t that heavy.” There is plenty of time for self incrimination walking down the trail.

For a moment I thought, “Why did God let this happen?” Then I remembered what I have so often said to confirmation students and others, “God gives us free will. He does not wrap us in Kevlar bubble wrap that keeps us from experiencing the consequences of our poor choices.” Upon further reflection, I thought it may have been God’s voice telling me to “wade in the water.”

I covered more than sixteen miles and several thousand feet of elevation change that day. I passed several people who could have helped me if I needed it. Even though I was in some of the most scenic alpine country, it was all blurry for me.

I joked to myself that I was hiking through a Monet impressionistic painting.  (Perhaps Monet’s Bridge would fit over Sitkum Creek.)

Late that afternoon, I met a younger man who was hiking in the opposite direction. After I shared with him a bit of my story, he looked at my bruised head and said, “And I was going to complaining about my blistered feet. I am going to stop my complaining right now.” We both agreed that simply being out in the beauty of creation is sufficient.

What I would have seen if I had still had my glasses.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your protection even when I fall.


Superior Hiking Trail – Day Three

The night’s rain was still dripping from the trees as I stirred from my tent. A thick fog covered the beaver pond and surrounding forest. Though it was not raining at the moment, its threat would be my constant companion.

IMG_20130530_065714_527After a hurried breakfast and fast packing, I was on the trail by 6:00 am. I was glad to have a trail since I could only see a few yards in any direction due to the thick fog. The guide book described the trail as having several scenic overlooks but I could see nothing except grey mist. I scramble up and down the ridgeline, wondering what was ahead. The hike had a surreal feel to it as I moved through the wet forest.

I was reminded of a sermon I heard in seminary. The preacher was describing a similar experience, driving along a foggy highway in North Dakota. He had to trust the road since he could not see very far ahead. He described our faith in God like that drive. God rarely gives us long-range vistas of how our life will unfold. We see only a short ways down our path of life. Our call is to daily trust in God’s presence as our guide for each step along the path.

I was also reminded of a sermon (do pastors always think in terms of sermons?) based on Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The lamp of the Psalmist was not a searchlight that could cast a brilliant beam for miles, but rather a weak oil-wick lamp that helped you see a few feet so as not to stumble at night. God does not give you a google-map direction printout that shows every twist and turn in your life, but a promise to be with you even in the fog.

IMG_20130530_091848_204Later that morning I reached the Beaver River. It was roaring full of water. There was a tent at one campsite, but no campers around. I continued on through the fog.

I reached the trailhead by Silver Bay about noon. Though it was misting, it felt like heavier rain could happen at any time. I had a choice. I could either continue on the Superior Hiking trail towards Finland MN over a section of the trail described as the most challenging in the region OR hike down into Silver Bay and check into a motel for the night.

My ankle was sore, my gear was wet from last night’s shower, and the cloud cover threaten heavier rain. I turned towards Silver Bay and the Mariner Motel. An hour after I checked in, a large thunderstorm dropped buckets of water and I was glad I had made this choice.   After all, God had given me a brain to use as well as strong legs and back.

IMG_20130530_160347_421Still I had one more day of hiking before heading home.

Lord Jesus, guide me through the fog and the rain of life.

Waiting for Patience

Patience does not come easy.

MN Public Radio Picture

MN Public Radio Picture

As I watch another April snow shower blanket my Minnesota home and as I struggle to rehabilitate a sprained ankle, I realize how impatient I am. I yearn to be where I am not. I want quick fixes and instant answers. I want to run NOW. I want spring NOW.

Yet inside I hear a different voice calming my restless heart, a true voice calling me to wait patiently.

Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings life eagles. They shall run and not grow weary (Isaiah 40:31).

Waiting is not a virtue in our American society. We hate waiting in lines, waiting for an event to start, waiting for a spouse to arrive, waiting for leaders to act. We think waiting is for wimps. After all we want ACTION heroes, not WAITING heroes.

Yet the Bible is filled with stories of waiting. Abraham and Sarah waited decades for the birth of a son. David waited years to become king. Israel waited centuries for a Messiah. When Paul begins his great description of love in I Corinthians 13, the first descriptor is “love is patient” (I Cor. 13:4).

As I listen to that inner, calming voice to wait, I realize that many things are at work. God’s Spirit is active, breathing new life into my spirit. I learn to live in the present moment, to be awake and at peace. These moments of awareness are intermittent; l slip back into self-pity. Still I wait, remembering an Objibway proverb,

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.

Spring will eventually come. I will at some point run again. But for now I wait on the Lord.

Lord Jesus, I wait with you.

Good Friday’s Promise

Jesus crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Roman did not conduct quiet executions. They wanted maximum public disgrace when they executed an outlaw. The marched the convicts out through the public crowds to demonstrate their power over the population. They stripped the criminals of all clothing and possession.

And they chose a public place where all who passed by could see their display of power. To show that Jesus was no one special, they crucified him with two other criminals.  And to mock Jesus they printed a sign over his head, “King of the Jews.” The sign reminded all that any rebellion against Roman was futile.

If you want to be king, this is the kind of throne you will have, a throne of nails with a crown of thorns. Here is the kind of royal court you deserve, two criminals who share in your crucifixion. It will be your total humiliation and the complete demonstration of Rome’s power.

But the Romans were not alone. The temple priest and others joined in scoffing Jesus. They threw back at him his words of healing and hope. “He saved others, let him save himself.” Three times the word “save” is thrown at Jesus. But no saving angels came to rescue him.

Here was the miracle worker, who at his most desperate hour, had no miracle. Here was the great teacher, who from his bloody pulpit had no word for the crowd. From all outward appearances, Jesus was defeated, destroyed and dead.

From the outside all was darkness and pain. Jesus was utterly abandoned by his disciples, his friends, his powerful deeds and words. As the crowd stared at the cross, they did not see a Godly messiah, only a miserable joke.

But something else was going on behind the scenes. And only those who come with the eyes of faith will see it.

As the soldiers, priests and others mock Jesus, one of the criminal, for reasons unknown, spoke up to defend Jesus. He reminded the other criminal that they are being executed for just reasons, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. “Have you no fear of God?” he asks.

He turns to Jesus and says “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Whether this criminal fully understood the words he spoke or not, we do not know. But Jesus had once said, “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, God will hear and act”(Luke 17:6). In many ways, this criminal echoes our prayer as we watch this battle between the powers of darkness and destruction and the power of God’s love. We ask that Jesus will remember us.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Lord Jesus, lock your promise in my heart today.


Redemption Draws Near

The Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem.

Adam Hamilton, a well-known Methodist pastor, took this picture and writes concerning it.

To the right you can see the temple mount and beyond it the old city of Jerusalem. To the left, out of frame, is the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the foreground is a Christian burial ground. On the Mount of Olives is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. To the right, just beneath the walls of the temple mount, is a Muslim cemetery. It was thought, based upon several scriptures, that when the Messiah came for the Last Judgment he would come here, hence the cemeteries. Jesus passed across this valley twice each day during Holy Week.

On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus taught in the Temple and told the crowds that his ministry was not some isolated historical event, but rather part of God’s great cosmic plan to redeem the world.

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

As you walk with Jesus this week, remember you are a participant in God’s great plan. God is redeeming the entire world, including you. Your redemption is drawing near.

What part is God calling you to play in this cosmic event?

Lord Jesus, grant me courage and strength to trust in your plan of redemption

In the Beginning

Genesis 1 starts in a conventional way, In the beginning.   Isn’t that where all stories should begin? Occasionally a novel or movie may start in the middle or end and then flashback to the beginning, but we are conditioned to think Beginning/Middle/End. If we were to start near the middle, we would wonder, “How did we get here?” Genesis 1 has no such confusion.

Genesis 1 however pushes, “In the beginning” to the Nth degree. This is not simply the beginning of a story or a life. It is the beginning of time itself. There can be no earlier beginning or start. This is the ultimate starting point and in some ways beyond our comprehension.

Genesis 1 then states that the only thing prior to the beginning is God. God precedes the beginning and is the one who creates all that was, and is, and will be. In confirmation students sometimes ask, “Who created God?” They struggle to comprehend that God is the First Cause, the Eternal One. I often respond to their question with this response: if I said “X” created God, then you would ask “who created X?” And if I said “Y created X,” then who created Y? God is at the very beginning and the first creator. In the beginning God created.

I find this opening phrase of the Bible to be not just a deep theological concept, but also an even deeper source of comfort and hope. The creation is NOT a random act of physical and chemical reactions, but a CREATION that God started for a reason. God wanted a beginning, chose to create. God did not do this in secret, but revealed this creative beginning to us in his Word. God wants us to know that He stands behind the creation we observe and live within.

And if he is the author of this creation story, then he has a purpose for us. God deliberately choose to create each part of creation, giving us significance. God stands at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of each day.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

How do you invite God into your beginnings?

Lord Jesus, may my beginnings start with you today.

Wild Life Encounters

Wild life abounds in Rocky Mountain National Park.  In the high country I enjoyed the fat marmots sunning themselves on exposed boulders while small pikas scurried around beneath them.  There were some large falcons circling on the heat thermals each afternoon and one trail was closed due to an aggressive raptor in the area.  On my recent trip, two wild life encounters stand out.

Estes Park Elk

First was an elk.  I was bicycling an Estes Park city trail one evening when I  was surprised to spot an elk only a few feet from the trail.  He was enjoying an evening meal and had no problem with me stopping and taking his picture.   Later I learned that elk are prevalent in Estes Park as fall approaches.  The residents consider them a sign of the changing season.

My second encounter was late at night.  I had placed all my campsite food inside my car, except for my ice cooler.   I figured that no chipmunk or squirrel would be able to open my cooler.  At 11:30 pm I was awaken from a sound sleep by a crash outside my tent.  I quickly grabbed my flashlight and poked my head from the tent.  The cooler was on the ground, its contents strewn across the campsite.  I stepped outside the tent and then spotted the two yellow orbs and the big brown shape staring back at me about 10 feet from the cooler.  A bear had entered my campsite.

For nearly a minute we stared at each other.  He (or she) made no moves towards the cooler or me.  I stepped back to my car and open the car door for a quick exit, but the bear still did not move.  I slammed the car door in hopes of frightening the bear.   The sound startled the bear and it took a few steps back. After a second, louder car door slam, the bear turned and dashed off into the woods.  After waiting a few minutes, I gathered up all the food from the cooler and repacked it before placing it inside the car trunk.  I did take some deep breaths and contemplated calm images prior to falling asleep again.   The next morning I discovered an empty tortilla wrapper; the bear had found something to eat.

The two encounters started me thinking about how people might encounter God.  On the one hand we might think of God as a sign of the season, a kind of wild pet that comes and goes as it pleases, of which we occasionally make sightings. Such encounters seem safe and calming, but they rarely change our behavior or lifestyle.  The second encounter was more disruptive, more awe-some.  It reminded me that God is GOD ALMIGHTY, and that awe and fear can be  appropriate responses to a God-encounter.   Such encounters can change our behavior. I kept the cooler locked in the trunk after that night.

God is the Almighty, Ruler of heaven and earth.  When the Israelites confronted God on Mt. Sinai, they were terrified and thought they would die.  “For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of God speaking out of fire as we have, and remained alive?”  (Deut. 5:26)  I fear that we might have turned God into our manageable pet, rather than seeing God as the awesome Creator of the Universe.  Perhaps we need a crash at midnight to wake us from our spiritual slumber.

In what ways is God “wild” to you?

Almighty God, break into my life with all your power and glory that I might see you as you truly are.