Thursday, February 24, 2005

Is THIS where I was going?

No wonder I avoid mirrors! Remember the first time you looked in a mirror and saw your father looking back at you? How did that happen? When did I get to be 48? Oh, I know the date involved and the physics of time, motion and aging.... but still, this is pretty scary stuff. I climb out of bed in the morning and the first thing I do is freeze a moment and say "ow!" Yes, even when I am only climbing out of bed I fail to nail the dismount. (somewhere in my closet is a Russion judge holding up a 5.5)

It reminds me of a bus ride I took in Glasgow, Scotland. I have been all over Scotland most of my life, but this was a weird day back when I was 17. I had a friend drive me into the city from East Kilbride, but he couldn't hang around. I told him I'd just catch a bus back. Unfortunately, I am terrible at reading bus schedules, so I walked to a bus stop and asked a wee old man there what bus would take me back to East Kilbride. "Ye'll be wanting a thirty three," he said. Fair enough. I stood waiting a moment and took the #33 bus. It didn't seem to be going the right direction, but I'm neither Lewis nor Clark so I didn't panic. What the old man didn't tell me was that I needed to get off the #33 after a few stops, hop on another bus, and switch from that one to yet another one before I would get to East Kilbride.

That seems to me to have been crucial information missing from our brief, but pleasant, conversation! As it was, we kept going and going, stopping from time to time for someone to get off, but no one seemed to be getting on. After awhile it was just me and the bus driver. We made one more stop and he got off! I thought, "Right! That's it! I'm getting off." I had to spend the next fifteen minutes asking people what town I was in (Darnley) and how to get back to East Kilbride (you can't). But I learned a valuable lesson:

"Don't get on a bus unless you know where it is going."

Every thought, every decision, and every conversation is a bus going somewhere. I might not have meant to end up like I did, but that was the bus I took. I could of studied anything, married anybody (work with me here), lived anywhere... but I made decisions that meant that I would now live like I do and look like I do. While my genetics were a gift from God what happened next was all my fault!

I have spoken to several vets from Vietnam (heroes all, in my estimation) who still shuddered when they remembered what they were capable of. They did their duty and did it well, but they had never thought of themselves as capable of charging into fire or tossing a grenade into a hootch. They wondered, when they looked in a mirror, who they were seeing.

Sin has done the same thing to me. When I look in the mirror I am disillusioned with the way I turned out. Not physically -- I didn't have much to work with there -- but spiritually. I wanted to be a much better man than I am. I wanted to be more serious, more studious, more kind, more -- well -- Christian. But this is how I ended up, so far.

I seemed to have strayed often and arrived somewhere I never intended to visit. Thank God I do not have to find my own way home. Someone is coming for me. He knows where He is going and how to get there. And He promised to take me with Him. Now boarding.....

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A Time To Die

Everybody has these weeks sometime in their lives. As a minister in a congregation with over 1300 members, it happens more often than anyone would like: a week where there are several deaths. It is as if God has hit the reset button, takes some people from us, and makes those of us who remain start thinking of deeper things.

We lost two of the Greatest Generation. Ed Sadurski was wounded in WW2 and came home to live a life of quiet Christian service. He is now with the Lord. Bob Utley left high school when he was 17 to join the Marines. Within months he was fighting in the South Pacific. He was there when the flag was raised over Iwo Jima. He came home, married his sweetheart, and lived a large life -- creating a sucessful business and helping to found the Rochester congregation where I serve today. He and some other brave souls saw the need and pitched in with all they had and we are living off their generosity and heroism today. Bob is now with Jesus.

Ian and Carly Henson are two wonderful young people. They work tirelessly with our youth even though they aren't long out of that group themselves! They were told by their doctor that their child, their first baby, would be born with Down's Syndrome. They said they would have the baby and love it anyway. They armored up fully and waited for the day. It came two days ago, but it wasn't what they expected. Their sweet baby died on the day it was to be born. Instead of a celebration we will have a memorial service tomorrow for the baby we never got to know. For some reason, God decided to raise this baby Himself.

We have several others on the edge, balancing there between this life and the next. My own parents are not well this week and are constantly in my prayers.

Am I down about all this? Morose? Not really. We are all on a journey and we know how it ends on the physical plane. It's an easy statistic to remember: one out of one dies. While we mourn the loss of all those who we have buried and remembered in the last two weeks, our mourning is because we have lost someone precious to us. We do NOT mourn because something tragic has happened. Tragic to us, yes, but not tragic to those who died in the Lord. If they could bring us any message, it would be one of joy and hope and anticipation.

I remember many years ago another funeral under a tent that flapped and cracked in the harsh February wind. Snow flitted in under the tent and slapped at us and the tiny casket in front of me; white with little pretty flowers in gold. This little girl, like the Hensons' child, died during birth. I didn't know what I could say to help the young couple, both in their early twenties, as we stood ready to bury their first child. The young man, barely a high school graduate, not known for saying much, stepped forward and spoke about his baby girl in a way I have never forgotten. He said that this was a gift to his daughter. She would never be hungry, or fear war, or be harmed by an evil man. She would never face temptation or be led astray by friends. She would never lay awake at night and worry about paying bills or what might happen to her at work or how to deal with a cranky neighbor. God loved her so much, her earthly father said, that He took her home to live with Him and make sure she never, ever suffered.

Remember Enoch? He pleased God so much God took him and he walked with God. Being taken was not a punishment, but a blessing.

The temporary nature of our lives is a gift. That which is limited is valuable. I treasure the calls from my daughter, the hugs from my son, and the smiles I get from my wife because there will be a last time. So.... kiss your wife goodbye today and every day as if it were your last day, your last kiss. Rejoice in today as if this were the last day you were ever going to see. Soak in the experiences of life and thank God that He has given you all this... and that He won't leave you here forever. Life and death are tough issues, but when we examine them we see that God designed it all perfectly. Again.

Monday, February 07, 2005

It's A Gratitude Thing

Here I am in Opelika, Alabama doing a Christian evidences seminar for the 10th Street congregation of the church. I drove here right after speaking five times at the West End congregation in Knoxville. I won't be home until midnight Thursday at the earliest and will have to leave again Sunday afternoon for Columbus to teach at Ohio State University on Monday.

And all of that from a guy who hates traveling and hates public speaking. No, really. I cringe when I have to go eat with people, or interact at the door, and my family has long known that I run away from any ringing phones. My version of heaven is a quiet cottage somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland with a thatched roof, direct internet connection to Amazon and Christian Book Distributors, no phone, no roads.... just me, my wife, a few parrots, maybe a border collie or two, and eternity to walk, think and read.

So why do I have a life that requires me to be in front of over a thousand people every week -- sometimes much more? Why do I make my living speaking about Jesus from the pulpit, in seminars, campgrounds, retreat centers, universities and hotel convention rooms? Simply put, it is gratitude.

Being in Alabama reminds me of a time long ago when I lived in this state for a few years. I was in my late teens and as confused an individual as one could meet. I had been raised in the church -- in fact, I was raised in the far right wing of the church. I knew the Bible forwards and backwards, was more than passable in Hebrew (but not Greek... even today), had read most of the debate books published and could be as vicious and rapier witted as any of our champions. However, I was unprepared for most of the attacks the devil would lob in my direction and it was here, in Alabama, that I had my greatest failures. Almost the entire time I was here I struggled with sin and, most of the time, I lost. It would be another six or seven years before I fully came back to Christ and deep, lasting changes were made by the Holy Spirit.

I wonder about all those I hurt back then, in the mid-70's, and whether or not my evil behavior drove them from the church; from the Lord. I have no idea where they are now or if they would even believe that Patrick changed. It is a dark spot that will forever haunt me -- the time in my life I realized just how bad a man I was and just how much I needed a Savior.

Jesus could have left me beside the road and walked on. Most of my family is on the side of the road and I have very little contact with them. Why He didn't leave me is something I will never, ever be able to explain. Whatever the reason, my gratitude for His grace is something that propels me forward each day of my life. It is the reason I put aside my desires and fears and step up to the plate again and again. I am not brave or holy or good and I do not suffer from delusions of adequacy. I know I am there because He saved me and kept saving me time and again. I cannot help but stand up in gratitude and do whatever it is that He wants me to do until He is finished with me and/or calls me home. Even if it means I have to pull up the tentpegs, stow my comfortable tent, and hit the road again.