Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Fragile We Are

Death hovers like the child underfoot in the kitchen, invisible until you trip over him. Stories of death seem prevalent this week; the thirty-nine year old acquaintance, the seventy-six year old husband, the five motorcycle riders killed on the local highway. The stories seep into conversation, show up in newspapers, are whispered about at work; “Her husband died yesterday. I can’t believe she’s working today.” They remind us that we don’t know when we will get tripped up, when we will fall.

“It’s senseless death that disturbs me,” my coworker said.

“Right,” said I, “as opposed to healthy, normative, fun logical death.” Death still surprises us. It wasn’t part of the plan---was a result of the curse. That is why we fight it so hard, struggle so against it. I understand what my coworker meant. When both my friends, both named Eric (the other with a K) died it was difficult. Prayers for healing not answered for this life; cut down in their prime. Seemingly senseless, the question without easy answer.

“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Christ, addressing the newspaper accounts, the whispers and whys identifies death as a wake-up call. Repent, he says. Make a decision today. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.

The message echoes through the scriptures as we hear the Preacher say, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting; Because that is the end of every man and the living takes it to heart.”

That is why I delight in the dark red roses blooming outside my front door. Leaving for work and returning home they remind me that life has colour and sweet perfume. Possibilities abound. That too is why I enjoy my forty-five minute commute (most days). A week ago the eastern sky was bright pink, Mt. San Jacinto bathed in crimson. Yesterday two coyotes raced across the highway and into the shadow of the windmills. So I am reminded to embrace life while I have it.

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow: For soon it is gone and we fly away….So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Course Correction

Hold on while I finish patting myself on the back. There we go. I have kept my goal of posting every week save vacations. I can see the end of the year from here. Providence has added much to my plate for these last months. To accomodate new committments, Tuesday/Wednesday seem to be more realistic for posting. Look for this weeks' post Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Freedom and Bondage

“To the best of our knowledge, the New Hebrides had no Christian influence before John Williams and James Harris…Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals…Forty-eight years later, John Paton wrote, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs…”

What cause are you willing to baptize with your blood? What hill are you willing to die on? I’ve landed on a principle which flows from Christ’s dying on a hill for me. It colors my politics; it covers the steps of my days and allows blessed sleep at night. Freedom is the hill I would die on.

A severe sample of bondage is found in Sue Fishkoffs’ book Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority. “Observant Jews do not eat milk and meat together…they will not eat meat from a plate that has ever touched dairy, just in case a nano-sized speck of cheese is clinging to it for dear life.” What a way to live! Apart from freedom in Christ we all live like this. Each of us lives with the fear that some small speck of cheese will keep us from heaven, some small dark secret will open us up to public derision.

The decrees and debts against us have been openly nailed to the cross so that we can walk in openness and freedom. Paul rails against such bondage when he says, “Why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” It is for freedom Christ set us free.

Free in God it is consistent that in my politics I fight against the bondage of men. God ordains that government has two responsibilities, to protect and to establish justice. When government begins to encroach on freedoms apart from these then I will fight. If government makes rules on what my pastor can say from the pulpit we will come to blows. When we move toward socialism there will be struggle. As government seeks to limit freedom, I will seek to legitimately oppose. Government that greatly shackles mankind is opposed to the principle of freedom that there is in Christ. Whether then we are bound by spiritual legalism or earthly government we are held captive.

Freedom flowing from the crucifixion of Christ crystallizes for me the energy and motivation that directs my life. What drives you? What eats at you enough that you’d be willing to be eaten by cannibals for it?

Monday, November 01, 2010


Empty Handed

Money is stolen and people die. The resultant tailspin will kill you if these things secure your final hope. The stories you are about to hear are true. The names aren’t changed; there are no innocents. I listen to stories over coffee. Here are three of them.

An older lady in her seventies her hand steady as she holds the coffee cup though her visage is clearly shaken. Twenty-thousand dollars in one-hundred dollar bills. This is the amount of money she told me she was keeping in her house. Perhaps I should have used the past-tense instead of present progressive here as the money is no longer in her house. It was stolen. “I want to kill the man that stole it. I know who it was,” she said. She has a guy who takes care of all her household maintenance and he is the guilty party. She’s not going to kill him though, she will let Karma do that; what comes ‘round goes ‘round. She’s spent the last months feeling deathly ill. This was all the money she’d had for retirement.

“How’s life treating you,” I ask Mike as I pull a shot of expresso on ice. He reaches for the expresso over the cart that pulls his oxygen tank. I expect talk of the weather when I ask that question; talk of death startles. “My girlfriend died two months ago. She had COPD like I do. Neither of us worked so we talked a lot. Texted a lot. She had other complications. Died of heart failure. They have me on Paxil and some other meds. Helps me through it.”

We call him ‘The Cowboy.’ When he goes home he puts on a western duster, 1800’s western garb and puts the spurs back on his boots. He’s been out on disability for three months, a knee injury, hip injury and sick wife keeping him out from work. “You go to church, don’t you,” he asks. He tells me he started going to church some weeks ago. Seems that both he and the wife lost hope during the interim. He put a gun to his head and was seconds short of pulling the trigger. What saved him? He couldn’t handle the thought of her being alone.

Marauders will come and take away those things we hold dearest. It is human nature to hold tight to those things we can taste, touch and see. Guaranteed though, in this world they disappear. In the most perfect of marriages one or both partners dies. The wisest and richest man, striving after pleasure and possessions has said he hated life for, “all was vanity and striving after the wind…”

Let us drink deeply the pleasures of life while they are ours; the laughter of friendship, kiss of a lover, money in the bank (or under the mattress). Let us also remember daily that material things are temporal. We must not trust in them for our security and significance. Investing our whole heart in treasure here warrants destruction and hopelessness. Setting our hearts on heaven secures hope and eternal security. Let us be wise with our investment.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Photo courtesy of Kelsey_Lovefusionphoto's at http://www.flickr.com/photos/supersonicphotos/with/4483487579/