Sunday, May 22, 2011

The World did not end

The World did not end.

That is normally not news, but today it will be and I’m sure my blog is only one of millions with the same title.

In case you’ve missed this obscure bit of news, Harold Camping, an 89-year-old Christian entrepreneur, predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011.

That was yesterday. We’re still here.

Some of us are disappointed. Yes, I count myself in that group. Let me think about my two options.

1.     Heaven for eternity, tomorrow at six. Get your ticket. Don’t be late.
2.     Life continues on Earth, with inflation and war and famine and tough interpersonal relationships. And bad blog posts.

I’ll take option number one, thank you.

With those options, you’re probably agreeing with me. Maybe not.

Yet, as I drove down the road on this sunny, hot and humid morning, coming back from First Church (that’s another story) I looked at all the cars on the road and thought of all the people driving them. Then I thought of the people who got up this morning to realize the world did not end.  Then I thought of those who didn’t get up this morning. It struck me.

For a lot of people, the world did end yesterday.

I don’t know them, but that doesn’t matter. For those who survived the loss of a loved one, part of their world ended yesterday also.

So Mr. Camping wasn’t totally incorrect. He was wrong in scale, wrong in method, wrong in the advertising campaign. Earth is still here. God didn’t come back.

Yet some people went to God.

You were right, Mr. Camping. The World did end yesterday. Just not for us. Not yet.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Single Verse to Live By

Micah 6:8 NKJV
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 KJV
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Micah 6:8 is probably my favorite passage in the Bible. In a single sentence God gives us His requirements for our behavior. I won’t say the rest of the Bible is commentary on that single verse, for surely the Bible teaches us more than how to conduct ourselves; it also gives us insight into God Almighty.  But for behavior, this sure sums it up.

Some versions state to "seek justice", or to pursue the law as written by God. Seeking justice can be easy. We’ve all been wronged at some point, and we all want to see wrongdoing punished. However, justice is to be tempered with mercy. Not so easy now.

Remember that Jesus showed us mercy when we deserved none. When people stumble, when they blatantly disregard good behavior, we can (and often do) point out the action. Let's remember that "all have sinned and fall short" and show mercy to everyone, including ourselves. Mercy is usually harder for me.

Finally, we are to walk humbly with our God. He leads, for He knows where we should go. When He speaks, we listen. When we speak we remember that He loves us, but deserves our respect as the God of the universe. Though we should tremble before Him, though we should fall on our knees, our very faces before Him, He wants us to walk humbly with Him. That should be enough to make us humble.

Justice, mercy and humility. Great men and women are made from these qualities. They are the legs of a three-legged stool. Two alone won’t lift us up; we need all three.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Frau Chronicles

One of the central aspects of my life in the last eleven years was my wife’s mother. For the purposes of this blog, my wife will be referred to as “Darling” and her mother as “Frau.” The reason for the former is clear, if you are a fan of Disney movies. I call her mother Frau because I once tried to refer to her as “Mom.” It was during an early conversation and I was smiling when I said it. She was not smiling when she responded. She clearly stated she was not my Mom and I could call her Mrs. (Darling’s maiden name goes here).
From that point onward I did not give her a title when we spoke. She reciprocated. However, whenever I referred to her in other company I used the term “Frau” which is fitting since she migrated to the US from Poland via Germany shortly after WWII.
At some point in our relationship I had issues with Frau, mostly small and of little significance. But I had to find some way to combat the annoyances. Talking to Darling on these issues often just upset her. Frau is her mother, after all, and Darling loves her mother. So, in the style of writers since the beginning of writing, I simply wrote about the issues. Sometimes well, sometimes not.
After a while I had a small body of documents concerning Frau, our relationship, and life itself - not enough for a book, but quite a few.  These collectively became known as The Frau Chronicles (at least in my own mind).
Frau died last December, just before Christmas. I remind Darling that if Frau had not lived with us for almost ten years, she would have died years earlier. Darling’s almost constant care and a temperature-regulated home certainly added years to Frau’s life. They might have removed some from mine and Darling’s, but there is no way to prove that beyond conjecture.
Before the funeral our Pastor asked for stories of Frau from all her children. I sent him a number of bits of The Frau Chronicles. He said he enjoyed them. He didn’t use them in his eulogy. That says something about the stories, so you’re warned.
So it occurred to me, there is no better place to put The Frau Chronicles than here. On a page of their own. All at once. In bulk. Enjoy

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Africa Mission Trip

In the middle of March, 2011, my wife and I went on a mission trip to Africa. How this came about deserves its own post, and will probably get it. A few weeks after we returned, though, the pastor who led the trip (Pastor Don – bless his heart) asked me to say a little something during church. He said I could talk a “couple minutes” and I understood what he meant. I wasn’t supposed to give a sermon. I’m not a pastor.
It never works out that way, though. I put together thoughts about the trip and they encompass a book. So, even pared down, they took more than a couple minutes to convey to friends in our church. Essentially, though, this is what I said, changed a bit for the blog.
And it is fitting that it would be the first post in the o-dark-thirty blog, since there were many, many o-dark-thirty times during the trip, and since.

I could talk about how God whispered to me to go on this trip, and how He overcame each of my objections, in astounding ways. But God won, and that’s not really a story that you don’t know.
I could talk about the flight over, but it’s a haze in my mind, with memories of Pastor Don and Darling talking to people about Jesus Christ, but that’s not news to anyone here either.
I could talk about meeting Pastor Muhoza Lewi, and if I accomplished nothing else except meeting this modern-day Moses, that would be enough. But there was too much. The stories of a man who sees things in this world that others do not would encompass a book. Besides it’s his story, not mine.
I could talk about the Genocide Memorial, a testimony to the evil in the hearts of men on the same scale as the Holocaust against the Jewish people. Or mention the final thing I heard in that memorial – a video of a young girl who saw her family brutally killed in front of her, saw men murder her two little sisters in a manner that cannot be described because it burns at my heart. Her plan to destroy these enemies was so fierce I shuddered, and I wouldn’t be able to do it. She forgave them through the power of Christ. But I can’t talk about that. I still try to wrap my head around the genocide and cannot do it.
I could talk about the eight extraordinary people who traveled with me.
I could talk about Pastor Don’s unwavering commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his untiring efforts to help people in a land where hope is scarce.
I could talk about Shelly and her bubble machine and how her consistent smile brought joy to all the children she met, and delighted each of us as well. Or how, with a servant’s heart she made sure Pastor Don never worried about receipts or the mundane and how she always checked on each of us to make sure we were doing okay.
I could talk about my lovely bride, who hugged everyone and lavished the love of Jesus Christ on everyone she met, in a physical way. No one was safe from her hugs, and no one wanted to be. Or how I saw her pray over a man who was embroiled in evil and I watched that darkness lift from him. That’s another great story, and you’d love it. I’m a lucky man.
I could talk about Candace, and her sharp eye for details, recording this different world around her in her notebook with powerful words. At one point she jumped up and danced with the singing women.
I could talk about Andrew and how he saved the day a number of times with his guitar and his honest desire to truly know these people, these brothers and sisters we were visiting. They liked the guitar, but they really went wild when he added a drum sound when he was playing.
I could talk about Amanda, whose sweet nature and loving care touched each of us on the team and each person we visited. Her smile alone communicated that she, and all of us, cared for them. Her quiet tears at some of the harder things we saw, like the sea of hungry widows and orphans, or the shadows of what happened in the Genocide Memorial echoed our hearts as well. She was a treasure to us all.
I could talk about Dee and how she ministered to the needs of the widows, bringing them the hope of Jesus in a land of darkness. How in a land where widows and orphans have few women champions, she stood tall and offered them a vision.
I could talk about Sherry and her love for all the people we visited, and how she got up and danced with Pastor Lewi’s father. Or how Sherry came down one morning and said to us “I feel like I’m an onion and God is peeling me away one layer at a time. If He keeps this up, pretty soon there won’t be anything left of me.” And after we stared at her for a second she lit up like a lamp. “Oh, that’s where I want to be, isn’t it?”
But these aren’t really my stories to talk about.
So I thought about my story. This was a trip to a foreign land, a trip on two levels, physical and spiritual.
I could tell you how I prayed unceasingly for God to tell me why he brought me to this Dark Continent. Or how I got to tell people “Imana irabakunda” or “Mungu anakupenda” which means God loves you in two different languages. How a man in a small village loaned me a Kenyan-Rwandan bible and I read John 3:16 to them in Kenyan-Rwandan. I didn’t know the words, but we all know God’s heart and the language didn’t matter.
I could tell you the story of how God sliced my heart open at the Genocide Memorial. How He tore at me as I looked over one-room mud huts with no electricity, no water, no bathroom and saw starving widows and orphans as far as my eye could see.
I could tell you how God woke me with a message and how He used that. Or that I got to preach, which was pretty cool. I could tell you of the attack of dark spirits against my soul and how Satan got the upper hand, but went a little too far. Or how the entire team prayed together with Don’s leadership and strongholds in our lives were torn down. I could tell you these stories, but I’m not entirely sure what to say about them. I’m still working on them in my mind.
I could tell you how I found a CLEAN SHIRT in my suitcase, put it on that last day and felt almost clean for the first time in two weeks. And then I spilled something down the front of it.
And then it occurred to me. There is a story that is unique, and I want to share it.
We were on the flight home, finally, and I’m sitting there next to Darling just grinning and humming. We stop in Entebbe and are delayed for a bit, and I keep grinning and humming. And they turn off the air conditioning and I keep grinning and humming. And there are other delays and we still have over thirty hours of travel ahead of us, and I’m still grinning and humming. And Darling turns to me and says “You sure seem happy.”
I replied. “They can delay us, they can stall us, they can shut off the air conditioner. I don’t care! We’re going home.”
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s the attitude every single Christian needs to hold dear to our hearts. We need to keep smiling when this world pounds on us and delays us and makes us sweat. Because we’re on a journey, and our destination is home, with God Almighty. This is just the trip. We’re going home!
But no more Fanta Citrus