This is the Day

Halloween

What to do with Halloween?

Halloween is a popular holiday celebration in the United States. In some circles, both children and adults dress in costumes as princesses, policemen or pirates. They attend parties where games and edible goodies abound. Children may even visit the homes of their neighbors uttering the familiar phrase, “Trick or treat” and receive a piece of candy.

In other circles the day is used to honor evil. People dress as ghouls and goblins, attend parties, drink alcohol and carouse, or even call upon demons or Satan in worship.

Cats and bats, spiders and pumpkins abound in stores, on posters, and as yard decor. As I understand the Bible, all these were created by God (Genesis 1:11-12, 24) for His glory. Man may take these creatures of God’s good creation and turn them into symbols of pagan ritual or belief, but that doesn’t make them objects of evil to avoid or demonize.

So it is with October 31st.

Every day is a gift from God meant to honor Him. Every day of every week of every year belongs to Him no matter what anyone calls that day or how he uses it. Rather than shunning a given day as evil or Satan’s high holy day, I’ll sing with the Psalmist, This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). Today is a day unto the Lord (Romans 14:6).

Happiness is a Fog

happy

So much of our world is constructed around the idea of happiness. Reaching this state has become the goal of living. It’s also a reason some of us have accepted the otherwise unacceptable … “Well, if it makes him happy ….” But happiness is a fog; the slightest disturbance of the air causes it to vanish.

Harmon, an atheist, explained to me that the reason for his existence on earth is to make others happy. He believes that we are here on earth to perform simple deeds of compassion or kindness to alleviate pain and suffering and create a degree of happiness.

Acts of charity are much needed in our dark world, but being happy doesn’t truly change anything. Suppose you give a homeless man one million dollars and make him the happiest man on earth. No more worries about buying his medicine, what he’ll eat, what he’ll wear, or where he’ll live. After thanking you he crosses the street and is killed by a bus. Happiness exists as a kingdom of the temporary.

If making others happy is transitory, maybe Harmon’s deeds of kindness are meant for his own happiness. But his works of charity were at times rejected, or even abused. A new coat for a street person was traded for a bottle of booze. Harmon’s selfish pursuit of personal happiness didn’t last, but quickly turned to disappointment.

Do we strive to achieve the temporary, knowing that it will be reduced to nothing at any instant, or is there greater meaning and substance to our existence on earth? Is there a reason for life which extends beyond the moment? Is the meaning of life as purposeless as the blink of happiness?

The Bible describes the saints in Heaven singing a great chorus: You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will and for Your pleasure they exist and were created (Revelation 4:11).

God created and placed you here for an eternal reason: to recognize Him as your Creator and to bring Him glory and honor and power because He is worthy.

The Evolution of Death

evolution

Evolution is a doctrine of death. It is a universe where only the fittest survive. Over millions and billions of years, countless billions and trillions of creatures were born and died, unable to adapt to changing circumstances, each one waiting to see if he or she might have the appropriate mutation to evolve to the next level. Life is a waste.

It’s no wonder human life is no more valued than that of a dog or an old growth tree. It’s no wonder people act like animals and murder one another. It’s no wonder suffering is seen as a waste. It’s no wonder life has no lasting purpose or reason beyond being momentarily “happy” and people advocate for suicide.

Christianity gives life purpose. Each creature and creation exists for a divine reason with a purpose to fulfill. Nothing is wasted by the Creator – not even our sufferings.

The Bible reveals that God even keeps track of every tear that rolls from the human eye (Psalm 56:8). He is aware of every sparrow which falls dead from the tree (Matthew 10:29). He numbers every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7) and names each star in the universe (Psalm 147:4). His is a universe of life, designed and created with a purpose for everything and for everything which happens.

A philosophy of hopelessness is devised and desired by the world; the God of the Bible offers life and purpose in all things.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” … He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him  (John 10:10; 1:10-11).

Just Still Me

There are times when I feel so alone and lost.     It could be in church or in the mall
with a thousand other people staring,
or in the thick stillness of the night.

I feel so small as the storms of my life rage
with such cruel and undeserved fury
that I’m tempted to just let go and disappear
in the wind and the rain and be gone forever.

How do I say that I need you?
How do I let you know that without you I’m nothing?
How do I scream in fear without saying a word
and yet know that you hear me?

What I need is to be in your arms.
I long for the calm and care that only you give me;
To know that as the roller coaster plunges, I can hold you tight
and you’ll hold me; and we’ll never let go.

When the winds howl, the rains pelt as tears down my face,
and I feel that all is lost, and “never” is here,
you don’t need to still the storm,
just still me.

Peace, be still (Mark 4:39)

The Biggest Changes

downsizing

The biggest changes in my life are about to occur. These changes will affect not only me, but every member of my immediate and extended family and every friend. It will no longer be possible to keep what I have and have known. Everything I’ve known, been, and worked toward for the past 50 years is about to be altered by events beyond my control.

After 20 years living in my home, I’ve been working hard at downsizing my belongings over the past few weeks. While I’ve seldom used or even remembered that some of these things exist, there are multitudes of memories attached to them. Every item is carefully considered before adding it to a box for charity, for Ebay, for the trash man, or for storage.

Buried in a box of vitally important things, I found a 30-year old cassette tape of my mentor singing and playing the piano; another of a sermon he preached for me. Emotions washed over me at the discovery, but I don’t know where to find a cassette player anymore. The memories are still locked here in my mind, even without the cassette tapes.

I’ve repeatedly reminded myself that the value of my life isn’t determined by the things I have or had. Things may elicit memories, but the things aren’t the memories. Nor do the things define who I am or the value of my life past, present, or future.

The days ahead will be difficult in many ways with challenges yet unseen, but the clarity of an emptier house is a fitting picture of my renewed clarity of purpose and life.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

A Response About Brittany Maynard’s Suicide

Brittany-Maynard-Assisted-Suicide

As a pastor for 30 years, while most Americans have separated themselves from the suffering and reality of death, I’ve sat at the bedsides of many as they’ve died. I’ve held their hands, stroked their hair, sang, prayed, and waited. Some feared death, while others feared the pain and uncertainty of death. None of them should have suffered; but herein lies one of the great truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Christianity has a different view of life, suffering, and death, than the world-at-large. We see a divine purpose in these “temporary” and “light afflictions” of a temporary life compared to what eternity brings.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis know something of my past. I was raped until the age of 11 and then lived with night terrors for more than 20 years after. After a car accident 8 years ago, I’ve lived with the agony of brain trauma that leaves me without control of bodily functions, any memory, and could end my life at any time. Three years ago I lost my job, my career, and nearly everything I possessed because of a spiteful individual. Are any of these sufficient reasons to end my life?

How much suffering is sufficient to warrant self-death?

For you who are Christians – should the apostles have killed themselves rather than suffer the pains of martyrdom? The Reformers commit suicide rather than be burned at the stake for the truth of Scripture? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom taken their lives rather than suffer in the German concentration camps for their faith in Christ and their opposition to the Nazi atrocities? Pope John Paul II not insisted the debilitating effects of his Parkinson’s disease be lived out in public so others could see that suffering was not a pariah to be shunned.

What of inspirational speakers Joni Eareckson Tada who became a quadriplegic, Dave Roever whose body was terribly deformed after a grenade he was holding in Vietnam exploded in his hand, or Nick Vujicic who was born without arms or legs but has learned to live on his own and minister to others facing extreme physical disadvantages?

And what about our Lord Jesus? Surely the Father could have ordained a plan of redemption through death without His extreme suffering that left Him tortured beyond recognition as a human being at the cruel hand of the Roman Empire. Christ knew the suffering He would face – yet He faced it rather than take His own life by suicide.

Suffering is not something anyone desires. No child grows up saying, “I can’t wait to suffer the pains of life!” But this is the reality in a sin-fallen world; yet there is hope beyond this world for those in the life of Jesus. The promised hope of Resurrection is the Christian answer to suffering. This is a hope those without Christ do not understand. This is a hope dearly held in the Judaic-Christian faiths for the past 4,000 years which has stood in  opposition to suicide.

More than 750 Oregonians have asked the State to facilitate their deaths since 1997. None of these people garnered world-wide or even local) attention. None of these people are remembered for their suffering or their suicides. They each kept the private decision to end their lives private. Brittany Maynard made her choice public. While we all sympathize with her, we don’t all agree with her. Her suicide is not a question of “choice.” The legal ability to make this choice was granted to her by the voters of my home state. What we challenge is the morality of that decision.

The Suicide of Brittany Maynard

Brittany-Maynard-Assisted-Suicide

Brittany Maynard plans to kill herself in the next seven days, hoping to “pass in peace.”

A life apart from God imagines that the here-and-now is the extent of human existence. This non-Christian philosophy both cheapens and ignores the hope the Bible proffers of eternity. Without an eternal perspective, difficult circumstances often lead to hopelessness, an emotion common to the human experience.

My home state of Oregon was the first in the world to officially provide government-sponsored suicide. A short time ago, Brittany Maynard moved herself and her family to Oregon to die on her own terms before her life becomes what she believes is a shameful and embarrassing dependence upon others for her most basic human needs. She was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor earlier this year. Who doesn’t feel deep sadness and compassion for her? This is a tragic story from every angle.

Suicide is about grasping for control over uncontrollable circumstances. Brittany will die with the help of the State of Oregon or of natural causes, but she will die one day – as will we all. Death is one of the few certainties of life.

This 29-year old doesn’t want to be remembered for what she may become in the final days of her suffering, but that suffering can be an example of humility, love, and grace. It’s also an opportunity for her family to demonstrate their unfailing love for her.

We live an a society that selfishly despises the thought of suffering, but in her death, this young woman will be remembered for who she is and how she lived – not the pain of her suffering. Neither suffering nor pain define who we are, but it certainly shapes who we are.

Mrs Maynard wants to die on her own terms. She wants to be in control until the very end. Suffering isn’t part of the plan she has for her life or her family – but suffering is a vital and very real part of the human experience … and of death. We pridefully think we “deserve” a certain kind of life or length of life, but every day of life is a gift to be appreciated and lived for what it is: good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow. Living includes suffering and our suffering should never be thought of as a waste. Jesus, the Man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, didn’t count His suffering as wasted (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 12:2).

According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether in life or by death (Philippians 1:20-21).

Deception

deception

I was leaving to spend the weekend with my dad and I wasn’t happy. I was unhappy about having to go, but I was also unhappy with my mom.

Before leaving for the weekend, I made a series of short poems, each containing a clue to another poem I’d hid somewhere in the house.

No sooner had my siblings and I left, I felt terrible about what I’d done. I knew that my trick would hurt her feelings, but it was too late to do anything.

When my mom discovered the first poem, she thought it was going to be a fun adventure. She thought she’d track clue by clue to discover some wonderful treasure. Instead, the last poem was simple but not very creative: “I HATE YOU.”

It was a cruel game I’d played with her feelings and her mind. I’d deceived her with words.

The Apostle Peter warned us false teachers who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord…. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words (2 Peter 2:1, 3).

Righteousness Exalts a Nation

ballot

In the past weeks I’ve been reminding my congregation of two important facts:

(1) Pastors who are not urging their congregations to vote, and vote responsibly as Biblically-minded citizens, are negligent of their pastoral duties; and believers who do not vote are disobedient to God, for we are commanded by Jesus to Give unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and the things that belong to God, unto God (Matthew 22:21).

(2) Christians must be informed on issues and the character and beliefs of candidates on the ballot, and then vote as Christians – not as political partisans. If we as salt and light, do not speak as the voice of morality and godliness in our land, who will?

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people (Proverbs 14:34, NIV).

I Beat His Mommy

big stick

The door to my church office slammed open against the wall. There stood a woman, hands formed as fists, yelling, “I knew you were a fraud. I knew there was something that just wasn’t real about you.”

Behind her stood my son, only about 4-years old, and frightened at what he was caught up in.

This woman routinely came by the church to clean or do odd chores, but her real motive was to spend time with Daniel. She delighted in my son.

I asked what she was yelling about and she explained. “Daniel and I were talking and he just said, ‘My Daddy beat my Mommy.’  I knew you were a phony.

Daniel ran and hopped up into my lap and blurted innocently, “And you beat me too!

Daniel went on to explain that a few nights before, the three of us had been outside, and as parents often do with their young children, we were racing. I ran faster than either him or his mother could run. I’d indeed “beat” them both.

How dangerous it is to make assumptions, even when based on what we believe is the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.” What Daniel had said was true, but it wasn’t the whole of the truth. A judge must know the whole of the truth before making a decision.

Jumping to conclusions is not an Olympic sport, nor should gossip be the sport of God’s people.

The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity … out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so (James 3:6, 10).