Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Stormy Weather

With family in Indiana and Virginia, I've spent countless hours driving between the two states, over the Appalachian mountains. To my frustration, it always seemed to rain or snow.

It wasn't any different as I headed east one fall afternoon. It was miserable weather for a long drive alone and I grumbled and complained appropriately. My mood was still pretty sour as the clouds started to break up and the late afternoon sun began to peak through.

I crested a hill with the sun right behind me and it lit up the rolling hills below. The trees, in full autumn color, burning with brilliance as their wet leaves shimmered like diamonds. The reds, oranges, yellows and greens were the most brilliant I have ever seen. I repented of my grumbling and humbly drove on, in the awe of the gift I'd been given.

Sometimes, the only way to beauty, to wonder, is through struggle. I would appreciate cresting that ridge on a normal fall day. It would be lovely and I would say so. But there was something more beautiful available for me.  God wanted to show it to me. Share it with me. But it want't going to be possible without a drive in the rain.

So much of life is that way. There are things God wants to show us, things he wants to give us, places he wants to take us but we cannot get there without struggle. It is only later, after the storm, when the clouds lift and the sun breaks through that we get to experience the wonder.

The hard thing is we don't always get to see the beauty. I have made that drive in the dark with snow and ice, hoping only to get my family safely to grandma's. I never saw a hint of wonder and asked only, why the God who calms the storm let that one rage.

I'm not sure I know how to answer that question. What I do know is the most beautiful people I know, the deepest, the most real are the ones who have walked through struggle. Struggle with loss, with pain, with scripture, with God.

They are people who have been poured into a crucible and come out shimmering. They are people who have cried out to God and heard him whisper, "I have something more beautiful I want to show you." And they have trusted him. Through their hardship, they have experienced the wonder of God so profoundly, they now reflect it.

I wonder how God would respond if I said to him, "I want to be a person like that. I want my soul to be beautiful." I wonder where he'd take me. I wonder if I'd have the courage to follow him into the storm.

Monday, August 22, 2016

When the Church is Like Trump

As I've watched the election process over the past twelve years (it feels like it) there’s something I’ve noticed about Donald Trump.

As I have heard him recount interactions with various people and members of the media, he’s said something I’ve never heard a politician say,“She treated me really unfairly” or “He was really unfair” or “They really weren’t nice.”

The responses bewildered me because the way he had been treated was really no different than any presidential candidate walking through the normal vetting process.

Then it hit me. Donald Trump has never been treated fairly. He’s a child of privilege.

A while back I was listening to a Christian speaker talking about America. He described the shifting American culture and the persecution of the American church. He listed a couple of stories that were troubling and which bothered me. Still as I listened, I was a bit bewildered because what I heard sounded no different than the struggles of a Christian, "walking through the normal vetting process."

Then it hit me. We, the American church, are children of privilege.

Donald Trump has been so preferred in his life, he doesn't recognize fairness. When you have been habitually preferred, to be treated fairly is unfair. The reason you can't ask hard questions is, no one ever has.

The same is true of the American church. For over 200 years we have had the privilege of being the dominant religion and the dominant culture. When other ideas and cultures are thrust into our multicultural society it makes us uncomfortable. And we confuse loss of privilege with persecution.

I understand things are changing in the U.S. And I understand it can be uncomfortable and may even lead to a period of persecution. What I also understand is if our culture is shifting away from our values we shouldn't take a hard look at the culture, we should take a hard look at ourselves.

Why hasn't the church shifted the culture in America? Why does its impact seem so insignificant? Worse, why hasn't my life changed the neighborhood I live in? Why haven't I reached the guy next door?

Friday, August 19, 2016


Nancy and I were recently at a wedding for our friend Jenn. It was a hot summer day in Colorado’s Ridgeway state park, in a little amphitheater overlooking a picturesque lake with the Rockies towering all around. Idyllic is too weak a word. 

The picture doesn't do it justice
Sometimes, Jenn can run a bit… late. This day was no different. So Nancy and I had lots of time to chat up the other guests. After a bit a lady walked up with her two little girls, maybe 8 and 5 years old, the youngest shoving popcorn in her mouth like a chipmunk who’d just finished a 40 day fast.

The girls were bright, beautiful and played easily together as mom had duties taking pictures. What captured me was the engagement of the youngest. She sat close to me and talked to me like I was the nice uncle who lived next door.

She talked about her toys, games, the popcorn she was eating and the ants who were dragging away the pieces she dropped. At some point she became fascinated with my floppy camo hat. She took it off and put it on. She put it on Nancy’s head. She put it on the lady sitting next to Nancy. Then the next lady. Then the guy next to her.

Now, it’s pushing 90 degrees and I’ve been wearing that hat all afternoon. I sweat like a glass of ice water. I was a bit anxious about her putting my hot hat on the heads of perfect strangers, many of them women who I know spent more than 3 minutes fixing their hair for a wedding.

But here’s the deal, she wasn’t anxious at all. Nor were the people she was trading the hat with. No one scolded her. Everyone laughed and sat patiently with it and waited until their turn was over. I sat and watched in wonder.

Here was a little girl, uninhibited by the strangers around her and unafraid. She was a girl raised in safety.

The world is not a safe place. Some of us learn quickly, people can cut us. Sometimes our bodies, sometimes our souls, but the lesson is the same, people can’t be trusted. She had yet to learn the lesson. And it was more beautiful than the scenery surrounding us.

She was inhibition free. Unconcerned with what was proper or improper. Why? Because somewhere deep inside she understood, “This is a safe place. This is a place where I can be me.”

For so many that's not true in the Church. And that's heartbreaking. And I wonder for how many, that's not true of me.

True safety is found in strength and vulnerability. The power to refuse the floppy hat. The willingness to embrace it. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Cheese is Off the Cracker

The other morning I was making my version of an Egg McMuffin. I had the English muffin in the toaster oven, one half with cheese the other ham, baking nicely. The toaster oven dinged and I went to take it out.

When I tried to remove the half with cheese, it slipped between the grates and the cheese ended up on the bottom of the oven. I sighed in exasperation, tried to take it out, but couldn't. I realized the oven had a false bottom to remove crumbs easily, so I slid it out. The cheese slid off and onto the hot oven's surface. I yelled at it.

I grabbed a nearby butter knife and tried to get it out, but again and again it slipped off and continued oozing. I threw the knife hard on the counter and walked out of the kitchen. It was over. I was undone. The cheese was completely off the cracker.

I've been mad at everything lately. I've yelled at Nancy. I've yelled at coworkers... during our department devotions. I have zero tolerance for BS. Zero. Songs on the radio, Facebook posts, even a local ministry talking about their impact, I hear them and think angrily, "You're so full of crap!"

But here's the deal. Anger is a secondary emotion. It comes from somewhere, some other emotion. In my case grief.  I've written already how, after a 15 year journey, the weight of Mom's loss has surprised me. I was ill prepared.

I realize now I'm running. Filling my days with things to do, the radio, TV, filling my head with anything to avoid thinking about Mom's last days. Her last breaths. The images cling to me like the stench of old sponge that's been in the kitchen sink to long. And I can't wash them off.

It's not wrong to be angry. It's part of the grieving process. And sometimes it's the most godly response we can have. We just need to be sure we understand where the anger is coming from. Only then can we work through it, or point it in the right direction.

Fortunately, Nancy and my coworkers love me. They know I'm struggling. They have given me permission to not be OK.

When I walked back in the kitchen my muffin was waiting for me on the table. Nancy had cleaned things up and assembled it nicely. When your cheese is off your cracker, there is no greater gift, than people in your life who don't yell at you to clean up your mess. Instead, they love you enough in that moment to wait with you and when you're ready, help you reassemble the broken pieces.

Monday, July 11, 2016


This is adapted from my talk at my mom's memorial service. 6/29/38 - 7/10/16

We’ve known this day was coming for a long time. And for a long time, I knew I wanted to share some things about Mom. Then I knew I didn’t want anything to do with it. Because every time I began to think about it I couldn’t figure out what to share.

Do I tell you about her childhood? The oldest daughter of two girls. Her dad a bi-vocational church planter. He pastored, painted, worked as a carpenter, built churches and worked hard and required the same from his girls.

Do I tell you about mom’s servant heart? The selfless years as a wife? Raising children, then grandchildren? Teaching Sunday school? Serving in church leadership?

Do I tell you about her gentile touch? She read somewhere that everyone needs 8 hugs a day to survive. She believed it. She was never afraid to lean in and grab your hand. To caress and comfort. And in my case, to correct.

Do I tell you about her wisdom? The people she met with. The people she challenged. The people she counseled. The number of people I heard her on the phone with or who sat at our dining room table sipping coffee? The number of times that person was me?

Do I tell you about her wit? Her playfulness? Her willingness to put a pot on her head and march around like a soldier because that’s the game her grandsons wanted to play? Coming down to their level to elevate them to hers?

Do I tell you about her commitment to relationship? How they were the most important thing to her? How she taught me maintaining them is worth sacrifice?

Or do I tell you about her 15 year struggle with Alzheimer’s? A third of my life. A quarter of her marriage. The gentleness she maintained? That she never got mean? She never cussed at Dad. The words weren’t in her. Do I tell you about her single greatest fear as she faced it? That she might somehow damage to the name of Christ.

I decided not to tell you any of those things. Because I need to write about who she would want me to write about.  Her Jesus.

You see, the thing about Mom is, the reason she was who she was, is because her life was a reflection of Jesus.

Like her he was a selfless servant. Walking teaching, preaching and feeding those who followed him. How often when he was tired was he pursued and gave more. Like her he reached out and touched, the sick, the lame and even the lepers. His touch brought healing and gave life.

Like her his wisdom brought comfort counsel and correction. And it was available freely to the sinner and the saint. The Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s available to us.

Like her he was a lover of children. He elevated their status and called them to him. And I’m sure they were times full of wit and laughter.

Like her he was committed to relationship. God, coming from the limitlessness of heaven bound by creation and the limits of a body, for his children, his people for us, for you, for me, for her.

He also knew a relationship with us would mean sacrifice, one he was willing to endure. A price had to be paid for our sinfulness, our rebellion. And he paid that price and faced it like she faced her fate, with grace and gentleness.

I can’t tell you about mom today, because Mom didn’t like to be talked about. She never looked to be elevated because she didn’t want to be seen as the source, only as a mere reflection of Jesus. And if she was here today, she would tell you if her life and any impact on yours then praise God. Because he is the one who served you, touched you, laughed with you, comforted you, counseled you and chased a relationship with you. He is the one who died for you. He loves you and he is enough for you. He is enough.

He was for her. He can be for us too. And he is for her still. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Muslim Care

With Mom in her final days, we've set up a family rotation at the nursing home, to sit with her throughout the day and make sure she's comfortable. Nancy and I showed up over the weekend to spell my sister. While we were sitting chatting Jill said, "Have you met Salina? I love her. She's fabulous!"

Salina is a weekend nurse who pulled a double both days, so we had a lot of engagement with her. If you've ever had someone in the hospital or a nursing home, then you know they can be pretty bleak places. They always seem to be understaffed and you have ragged nurses trying to keep up with demanding patients. 

Finding a nurse who is a star is like finding water in the desert. It's life giving. 

It didn't take me long to see what Jill liked about her. The first time I met her, she came in to take care of Mom. She spoke to her, patted her, cared for her, stroked her hair and kissed her before she left. It was some of the most loving attention I've ever seen provided by a care giver. 

Salina is a Muslim. 

She came in and out throughout the day, always smiling, always gentile and affectionate. When Nancy was alone, Salina took her half hour break with her and they talked about faith, traditions, her pilgrimage for the haj, why Christians don't wear head coverings when the Bible tells us to, all kinds of things. She told us how she prays for Mom and she's sure mom will be in heaven. 

And this is the thing I wish Christians in America would understand. Muslims are people. They want to live their lives, find love, raise children, live long lives and die well. Do they have a faith base that is different from ours? Yes. Do they wish the whole world believed like they do? Yes. 

And so do we. 

The problem with Islam is it is a faith with people who are hateful, vengeful and wicked. Guess what, Christians seem to have the same folks in our ranks. If you don't think so, go ask a homosexual. 

If you are a Christian who believes Muslims all over the world should be carpet bombed, you have a big problem because, 

"I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Over the weekend, Salina was perfect. And we should seek to be the same. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Violent Grace

My sister showed this to me today. I guess I wrote it for a devotional at some point. I don't even remember. Still, it's a piece of the journey we have been on with Mom. A journey that's coming to an end.

Matthew 27:31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his 
own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

There are a lot of things you can get used to when you live over seas:  the
food, the culture, and even the lack of a Wal-Mart. But, what you never
quite get used to is your distance from family. This hit us particularly
hard two years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. 

Over the past two years we've watched as the disease has begun to slowly and
relentlessly steal the person Mom is. I can't think of a more evil ailment.
There's no chance of recovery, no medicine that can stop it and no hope of a
dignified death. In a deliberate and methodical way, it will turn an
intelligent, compassionate woman into a child unable to care for herself. 

Strangely, this viscous disease has reminded me of God's love. God's plan
for our salvation was just as deliberate, just as methodical and just as
painful. Matthew describes for us how the creator of the universe, full of
power and majesty, the One to whom angels sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," was
stripped, beaten, laughed at and spit on. Christ was so determined, so
persistent in his pursuit of you and I that it cost him his dignity and his
life. He loved us so much, no measure was too extreme.

The account of Christ's death is difficult to read. It's especially
difficult when we consider all of it was an act of love by a God, who
possessed the power to end it, but more desperately longed for us to return
to him. A God who considers you more important than his dignity.

As you battle life's bitterness and brokenness remember you are
deliberately, powerfully and relentlessly loved.

Jeff Ingram  2/04

So ruthless he loves us so reckless his embrace
To show relentless kindness to a hardened human race
The joy that was before him on the man of sorrows face
And by his blood he bought a violent grace

A Violent Grace
Michael Card
2000 Mole End Music