He, However

These first two words of Luke 8:54 have been echoing in my heart and challenging my mind for several weeks. These words come at the end of the story of Jairus and his sick 12-year-old daughter—his only child. Jairus was a synagogue official, a man of position and respect. Yet he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and pleaded for him to come to his house.

God’s timing is terrible in this story. The crowd is huge and tightly packed. People are pressing into Jesus to touch the edge of his garment. People are being healed, but the going is slow. A messenger finds Jairus in the crowd and tells him not to trouble Jesus because his daughter has died. It is too late for Jesus.

Jesus, however, tells him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she shall be made well.” When Jesus arrives at the house full of grief and lament, he says, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.”

Luke tells us they all laughed at Jesus because they knew she had died. Unlike most of us, they had seen plenty of people die. They knew dead when they saw it. Jesus doesn’t address their laughter. Luke says, “He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child arise!” She rose immediately and was given something to eat.

The word or the idea of “however” is powerful. Some translations leave out the word “however” that the NASB uses. Other translations say, “But he” instead of “He, however.” What has captured my attention is the juxtaposition of the people’s laughter and the words of Jesus. They laugh, but Jesus says, “Child arise!” They say she is dead, Jesus, however, takes her by the hand.

Although we are tempted to scorn the laughing crowd, we must admire their respect for facts. Aren’t many of us weary of Christians that ignore facts and trust in God? I know Christians who have been looking for and praying for revival for forty years without seeing their prayers answered. Maybe we should just face the fact that we are now experiencing as much of God as we ever will until we see Him face-to-face.

I also know Christians who are still seeking a God and church that can heal the sick, cast out evil spirits, and, like Jesus, raise the dead.  The fact is this really isn’t happening much of anywhere. Most big churches still have people who sign for the deaf and have ramps for those in wheelchairs to come and go from the services. Yes, some are testifying to disappearing headaches and backaches. But facts are facts.

I keep looking for a powerful visitation of God in Myrtle Point—one that would heal and save drug addicts. But facts are facts. Most addicts don’t get better, yet alone saved. Rehab seldom works. Three addicts who once came to my Sunday School class are using again. These are the facts that laugh at my hopes and prayers.

I fear I belong outside the house of Jairus. Jesus only allows Peter, John, James, and the girl’s parents to come into the house. Those who were laughing are kept outside. Facts are facts. Let’s be realistic. Our hopes for a church like the one in Acts are laughable. It’s not just that we are far from that, many don’t even want it. God’s people can’t even cry out for revival with one voice. My experience laughs at the very idea of a church brought back from the dead and full of the power of God to save and heal.

God challenges all of us to live with and by, “Jesus, however.” Yet, Jesus is the Fact that changes all facts. I have read the skeptics and the existentialists and the atheists. I have heard the shouts of the philosophers and pundits and the rebels.  I have listened patiently to the soft voices of commonsense, moderation, and dispensations. But I can’t get past, however, what Jesus did and said.

When our facts mock the power of God, Jesus steps forward as the Fact that orders reality and brings the dead to life. When entrenched sin, addiction, and bondage seem to have hopelessly enslaved those we love, Jesus, however, can set them free. Against all the laughter of the world, the tyranny of little facts, and our own curated collection of disappointments, comes Truth himself–Jesus who takes us by the hand and says, “Child, arise!”

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Still a Long Way Off

This phrase from Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son pierced my heart with hope. We are told in Luke 15:20, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”

Many parents have watched their kids move further from God instead of closer. Some move to “a distant country” before they ever move out. I have had adults in my Sunday School classes who had kids in prison or trapped deep in addiction. But the picture we have here is of a heavenly Father who is always watching the road and sees the returning son while still a long way off.

Obviously, the father in Jesus’s parable was not an English teacher who had ruined his eyes grading essays. But even though I have poor distance vision, I understand how this father could recognize his son a long way off. This summer my son Claude and his family visited us here in Oregon. He and his wife and kids live in Illinois now, so we had not seen each other for a couple years. When we spent time at the beach, I noticed that even from a distance, he had the same walk. I knew it was him before I put on my glasses. Fathers know their sons.

Parents praying for wandering children should know that God has perfect distance vision. He not only sees them on the road; he sees them in pig land. He is full of compassion and will meet our kids on the road. I suspect God runs faster and certainly more graceful than I. His love is quick.

I imagine sin and hunger had changed the prodigal son. He had been herding pigs and eating with them. His personal hygiene was probably terrible. It would have been easy for his father to see only the ravages of sin–all that was not the son he had raised. Yet his father recognized him a long way off.

When he looked down the road, he didn’t see a sinner, a rebel, an addict, a failure, or a disappointment. He only saw his son. And he ran.

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Rhizomatic Faith

I fell in love with milkweeds in Kansas City. About a dozen species can be found in the fields and ditches. The bright orange of the butterfly-weed flashed like a neon light in a sea of prairie, but my delight was always the seedpods of the common milkweed. In the fall the big grey pods crack and release white, gossamer-winged seeds into the wind. A few lines from a Richard Wilbur poem helped me connect the milkweed seeds to my faith:

                                    Anonymous as cherubs

                                    Over the crib of God

                                    White seeds are floating

                                    Out of my burst pod.

                                    What power had I

                                    Before I learned to yield?

                                    Shatter me, great wind,

                                    I shall possess the field.

That plain and broken pods can release such beauty to the wind encourages me.

Recently, however, it has been the roots and rhizomes of the milkweed that have taught me. Several years ago I ordered some showy milkweed seeds. Milkweed plants are the sole food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar—one of North America’s largest and most beautiful butterflies. Their black and crisp orange wings fly high and far. Monarchs are amazing because of their north/south migration. They winter in Mexico and southern California, but their migration depends on milkweed for nectar and for reproduction, so I planted some milkweed in one of our flower beds.

In the beginning the milkweed did not impress. The first year the plants struggled and grew only seven or eight inches, so I moved them into the elevated growing beds that get full sun. There they grew a couple feet high but did not bloom. The third year they grew almost four-feet high and were loaded with blossoms and seeds. I have harvested the seeds and sown some around Myrtle Point.

Then came the rhizomes. This spring sprouts of milkweed came up throughout the growing bed even eight feet away from where the milkweed was last year. I have done my best to dig up and transplant the roots and long white rhizomes. To my dismay, I discovered the rhizomes going two to three feet deep into dirt. I could not dig deep enough to get it all out of my raised bed.

The good news, at least for monarchs, is that I now have about thirty milkweed plants growing along the back fence. The bad news is that every morning I must pull out new shoots of milkweed that are coming up in our beans and carrots. I have been persecuting the milkweed daily for weeks. The rhizomes are unstoppable.

Despite the bother, I admire these muscular rhizomes that push horizontally through the dirt and send up new plants in unexpected places. God has challenged me to have a more rhizomatic faith that pushes through the hard stuff, waits patiently for the rain, and produces new life in surprising places. More of my faith needs to be in the hidden places of deep repentance, gritty faithfulness, and earnest prayer.

Just as we can’t see the growth of the rhizomes, we can’t measure our own spiritual growth during hard times. It is the growth of the kingdom that comes from praying and believing when all we see is dirt. It is the ground-breaking faith of perseverance and endurance in the face of persecution. It is unstoppable. I don’t know if monarch caterpillars will ever find a home on my milkweed. It’s been several years since I saw a monarch fluttering across Maple Street. It is a long-shot—an act of faith. But monarchs are known as the wandering butterfly, so there is a chance. Like the rhizomes of the milkweed, they can surprise us with their beauty and hope.

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I Don’t Know What to Do

“Where’s doggy?” Ari asked again with the persistence of a three-year old. He had gone with us to the vet when we took Mira to be euthanized. Too filled with my own grief and choking on my tears, I had been vague and told him that she stayed “at the vet.” This time I just said, “She died.”

His brown eyes softened into sadness. He said, “I am sad. I don’t know what to do.” I told him, “Papa is sad too.” Sorrow furrowed his brow. I saw the wisdom of his declaration.

We have protocols and platitudes for the death of a loved one. It is hard to know what to do with the grief and loss that comes with the death of a dog. She was a big one—a Doberman—and has been a big part of our lives these last ten years.

She was first Peter’s dog but came to live with us because Peter couldn’t keep her where he had moved to Portland. Ari saw Peter weep today as we pulled away from the Coquille Animal Hospital. He asked, “Daddy sad?” Ari was worried and puzzled. His innocent and gentle question brought more tears and sharpened the grief we all felt.

Mira had also been mother’s dog for a while. When both Teckla and I were working, Mira would keep Mom company. Mira would jump on Mom’s little bed; sometimes leaving Mom only the edge to lie on. Mira had all the protective instincts of a Doberman; she made Mom feel safe at home. She called, Mira, her “diggity-doggity” because she dug holes in the yard. After Mom’s stroke, we took Mira to the nursing home to visit.

The last few years, it is fair to say, Mira has been my dog. We hiked miles together on the beach and in the woods of the southern coast. Two years ago, we took her camping with us at Washburn State Park on the central coast of Oregon. When off the leash in the woods, her delight in the trail became my delight. She ran with long, powerful strides and a grace that was a joy to watch.

Mornings Mira would follow me into what once was Mom’s room and is now my place of prayer. As soon as I sat down, she would nuzzle her head between my knees as I scratched behind her ears and told her she was good girl. Just being with me seemed everything to her. I grew closer to God.

Mira was eleven years old and had developed some lumps and bumps, but until this last ten days had been wonderfully active and agile. But she stopped eating. Tests showed she was battling an internal infection and liver failure. Her end came suddenly.

So here we are, in a house where powerful legs have scratched and sculpted doors. A car with dog pad and partition in the back, leashes, a harness, bowls, dog food, and the fat yellow ball she loved to chase. Clipped to my day pack is the whistle I blew when I lost sight of her in the woods. She won’t come to the whistle again. I don’t know what to do.

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Rain, Seeds, and Prayer

You see the rain differently when you have seeds in the ground. The springs rains here in Myrtle Point are different than those in the Midwest. Here the rains can last all day, sometimes for several days. Lumpy gray clouds blanket the coastal range and sag into the river valleys. Therefore, a sunny day is always a delight.

But recently, the rains brought me delight because several days earlier Teckla and I had planted our garden. We pushed our beans into the soil and sprinkled our carrot seeds. The rains brought the promise of sprouts and growth. Having seeds in the ground made me grateful for the rain.

Neither Teckla nor I are great gardeners; our garden is more of a spiritual discipline than a practical source of food. I am afraid to do the cost/benefit analysis. Jesus, however, makes great use of sowing, tending, and harvesting to illustrate principles of the kingdom. My thanksgiving for the rain was instructive.

Prayers like seeds disappear. Both are an expression of faith. And in both cases, there is delay that can test our patience. Some beans get pushed too deep and don’t sprout until the second or third rain. Some seeds don’t sprout at all. There are birds, rats, and slugs.

Prayers are seeds, but so are small acts of kindness and little expressions of faithfulness. Just as planting seeds changed my attitude toward the rain, prayers and faithfulness can change our attitudes toward the future. I do not know how or when or whether all my prayers will be answered—when something will poke out of the soil, grow, and bear fruit. But I know I will rejoice in the sprouting and share in the harvest.

By word and example, I have tried to sow the truth of God’s Word into the lives of my children. I think the rain that has nourished those seeds has sometimes come as blessings and sometimes as hardships. But in either case, I rejoice when I see them turn to God and walk in His ways. I share in this harvest.

Whenever and however God moves in Myrtle Point (or the other places for which I pray), I know I share in the harvest because of the hours I have spent interceding for God’s visitation. When we have lots of good seed in the ground, we rejoice in the rain.

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Praying Large

In a crisis our world contracts. I can best compare this to a time I almost passed out. I had just gotten over a cold and decided to hit the weight room for a hard work-out. I had been sitting on a bench in the locker-room. When I stood up, I felt dizzy and everything began going dark in my peripheral vision. I could only see what was right in front of me; everything else was darkness. I carefully sat down, took slow deep breaths, and waited for the darkness to pass.

Something like this happens in a crisis. All we see is the thing we fear; all we feel is our pain. It is suffocating. When a parent fears losing a child to sickness, disease, or even sin and rebellion, it is hard to pray for anything but the child. Their cancer, addiction, or rebellion descends on our soul like a grey cloud until the ache of our heart consumes us.

Any talk on praying in a crisis should first declare that there are times when we can’t pray—times when we have no words. It is okay to let others pray for us or to just hurt in God’s presence. When pain and fear cripple us, it is okay to let others lower us into the presence of Jesus. We can let their faith break through the roof of our depression and discouragement.

But sometimes a crisis moves like lava creeping down a hillside. A loved one’s dementia, cancer, or series of strokes can unfold slowly over months or years. It is here where it becomes important for us to pray larger than our crisis. We can’t let our heart be shut up in our own suffering.

For me this has meant deliberately and earnestly interceding for people and things not directly connected to me or my situation. Recently, I have been praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit in Tel Aviv, Olathe (Ks), and Kansas City. I also pray for a few people that I don’t know well and don’t see often. Praying larger than my crisis has helped me. Our pain can create a kind of claustrophobia—a creeping panic. Fear and pain can lock us in a small gray place, but praying beyond our crisis opens a window. I am not saying praying large vanquishes discouragement or fear, but it helps. It isn’t victory, but it has the fragrance of victory. When I refuse to let my heart shrivel to the size of my pain, the enemy loses. Just as resurrection robs death of its sting, love robs suffering of its bite.

When we refuse to stop loving and we pray larger than our crisis, we become more like Jesus who on the cross prayed for those who crucified him. In the midst of His suffering, injustice, and isolation, the heart of Jesus carried the whole world in prayer. If we follow the example of Jesus, the pain and fear that could cripple our prayer life can empower it.

Our prayer and declaration should be Psalm 119:32: “I shall run the way of Your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.”

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Weak Things

Sometimes I hate being a Christian. I grew up on Tarzan, Robin Hood, and Zorro, men of action stories. Bad guys were, well, bad and always got what is coming to them. Heroes did stuff and were men of few words. They let their fists, swords, or guns do the talking. Those were the days before Clint Eastwood learned to act, but he could tell punks, “Make my day!”

Today most the punks I face down are, to be honest, demons and sin. And even worse, all my weapons are weak things. No swords, guns, or hand grenades. I have, reluctantly, embraced the weak things God offers. Here are a few of them.

Prayer: I pray regularly, and fervently, but it feels weak. Most my prayers are for those tangled and mired in sin. Some prayers are for drug addicts I know. I don’t fully understand how my agonized prayers intersect with the free-will of those for whom I pray, but I pray. I do not feel like a “prayer warrior”—more like a praying beggar. I do some of that taking authority and standing-on-the-promises kind of praying, but I often feel as if I am acting a part.

Kneeling: I need all the help I can get, and kneeling helps me. Perhaps if I were more spiritual, I wouldn’t need the help. Kneeling humbles me. Although a weak thing with no magic, bending my body towards God helps my soul bend. This weak thing is a weapon against pride and self-reliance. Even though it is the ultimate picture of weakness, kneeling has some power.

Fasting: I do not do this well even though I have done it often. I can not report any spiritual breakthrough ever happening while fasting or because of fasting. I get hungry and irritable. And my prayers while fasting are no more energized than any other time. But I give my hunger to God as a prayer and leave it in his hands. I trust Him, but do not find fasting a source of spiritual power. That may be okay, since it isn’t about me.

Kindness: Sometimes I fight for those I love with kindness. In my experience, kindness has not changed hearts or stopped destructive impulses in others. I really have no victory stories regarding kindness. But small acts of kindness or generosity feel like lighting a match in the darkness, even when I get burned.

Perseverance: This is just putting one foot in front of another. It’s praying again, giving again, loving again. It is outlasting evil. Scripture often calls this being steadfast. It isn’t flashy. I am old enough to value this more than I once did. My heart has been broken when believers, even respected leaders, give up, plunge into sin, or just walk away from God. I have also experienced the solid encouragement of those who have walked faithfully with God over the years.

Patience: Ugh. So often this feels like letting others use you. It often means not standing up for your rights. Patience often requires that I bite my tongue. It also means doing another weak thing—waiting upon the Lord. Waiting is not a “man of action” thing. It means resisting the urge to jump into other people’s lives and fix things. Ugh.

Blessing: I would rather smack than bless those who curse me. But Jesus says to bless them. My blessings don’t seem to change them or help them. But what do I know? To quote Hamlet, “words, words, words.” Here in the west we think words wield no power. This is not the biblical view. So I bless, and ask God to bless. For what it’s worth.

Thanksgiving: Complaining has more bite. Counting your blessings seems so trite. But I have embraced thanksgiving as a discipline. It is salve for my blind eyes. It helps me see the goodness of life and the goodness of God. It keeps me from the stupid sins of greed, envy, and selfish ambition. Thanksgiving may not slay giants, but it shuts my complaining mouth.

Scripture: God’s Word has helped. Each morning I pull out two 3×5 cards and write down a verse for the day. Some are promises, others exhortations. Teckla and I read them over, maybe talk a little about them, and then stuff them in our pocket. Nothing magic happens. The card is no talisman. By the end of the day, the cards are bent and crumpled. We now have a couple fat stacks of worn cards rubber-banded together. It seems like a weak little thing to do, but it has carried us through some dark days.

Love: Paul says, “Love never fails.” Okay. But what is it that love never fails at? Did God’s love fail to bring Israel to repentance? It seems so. Could my love fail to bring all my sons to salvation? I think so. Whether one believes in predestination or not, it seems there is no guarantee that our love and prayers will move God to save our children. Love that can’t save those we love seems like a weak thing. But I still embrace love as the best thing, the most powerful thing I have in my collection of weak things. Maybe only eternity will reveal how strong it is.

Me: By now you have probably figured out that the only truly weak thing in this list is me. It is a sign of my spiritual weakness and immaturity that all these things seem weak to me. I possess no deep revelation of how powerful prayer can be or of how it is that love never fails. I think too much like the world and lack the spiritual eyes to see how powerful the “weak things” of God really are. But I am praying for that to change.

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Loving Smeagol–and Addicts

Odd, as it may seem, reading J. R. R. Tolkien has helped me love meth addicts—of which there are many in Myrtle Point. Tom Shippey’s book, J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, argues that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings addresses surprisingly modern issues even though written by an antiquarian professor of Old English. Shippey asserts Tolkien may have given us one of the most insightful studies of the nature of addiction.

It is, of course, the power of the Ring that is addictive. The Ring can capture and submerge the identity of the user. We see this powerfully in the character of Gollum. Gollum was the name others gave him when they heard him making gurgling sounds. His original hobbit name is Smeagol. Throughout The Lord of the Rings we see a battle between these two identities. Peter Jackson’s movie makes this battle come alive in several scenes where Gollum and Smeagol argue fiercely over whether to betray Frodo and Sam.

I have seen this: the drug personality at war with the God-given personality. I have eaten dinner and had polite conversation with an addict who a few months later viciously beat and robbed an old man who lived up the street. I have seen how lying and stealing to get drug money changes a person’s heart and mind. Here addicts lose their names to “tweaker or junkie”. Sadly, many meth addicts also end up looking like Gollum.

Tolkien shows the utter depravity of Gollum, while at the same time insisting that Gollum must be shown mercy. Every attempt to cure him must be made. Pity and mercy demand it. Gandalf insists Gollum is not wholly ruined, “There was a little corner of his mind that was still his own, and light came through it, as through a chink in the dark: light out of the past.” I have learned to pray that addicts will have memories of light. Teckla and I once threw a birthday party for a local meth addict. His smile was beautiful—full of light from better days.

Gandalf says, however, that Gollum “hated the dark, and he hated the light even more: he hated everything and the Ring most of all.” Frodo asks Gandalf why Gollum didn’t just get rid of the ring if he hated it so much. Gandalf explains, “He hated it and loved it, as he hated and loved himself.” Like Frodo, I am baffled why drug addicts, who hate their addiction, don’t just stop using. But like drug addicts, Gollum “could not get rid of it. He had no will left in the matter.” Addicts, I have discovered, love and hate themselves. Heaping shame on them doesn’t help.

It is easy for us to just want to be rid of addicts. Frodo’s initial response to the story of Gollum is “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance!” Frodo goes on to insist that Gollum deserves death. Gandalf agrees: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? The do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.” Later Frodo remembers these words of Gandalf and shows pity and mercy to Gollum—hoping to bring him back to Smeagol.

It becomes easier for Frodo to show mercy to Gollum after Frodo has worn the ring and has felt its power. He understands the power of addiction and the bondage of the will. As much as I may not understand physical addiction to a drug, I understand sin—especially my own. I understand Jesus’ declaration, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” My Ring and my drug of choice is what Paul called his “old self.” When he looked at Gollum, Frodo saw himself—or at least what he could become. But Frodo also saw Smeagol—the young hobbit Gollum once was.

The tweakers and junkies that wander the streets of Myrtle Point may not deserve much. Neither do I. And they all have names—given by those who love them—sometimes given by God. Under the deformity of each Gollum is a Smeagol. Mercy and pity should move us to seek their cure. We must learn to love the Smeagols who were once happy hobbits.

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Kingly Gifts

Re-reading The Lord of the Rings while going through the darkest year of my life has led me to think about the kingly gifts that have sustained me. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is in many ways a story of gifts. Some gifts are simple and others astounding in their power and beauty. These gifts sustain Frodo in his quest and help him through the darkest times and places.  When Frodo visits Bilbo in Rivendell, Bilbo gives him two important gifts: an elven sword (named Sting) and a coat of mail made of mithril. The sword glows whenever orcs are near, and the coat of mail is light, beautiful, and strong.  

Other members of the fellowship don’t know Frodo is wearing this light coat of mail under his humble hobbit clothes—the gifts aren’t obvious. When explaining the value of the mithril mail, Gandalf says, “I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the Shire and everything in it.” Gimli declares the coat of mail a “kingly gift.” Frodo is “staggered to think that he had been walking around with the price of the Shire under his jacket.” And indeed, the coat of mail, nearly forgotten by Frodo, saves his life. Here I remember some kingly gifts that have saved me.

My father gave me a love for the church—God’s people. My father, a Church of the Nazarene pastor, had enough hard times with congregations and mean folks to sour forever his attitude toward the church, but he just kept loving and serving. His heart broke for God’s wayward people, and sometimes those people broke his heart. It was often what he didn’t say that revealed his deep love for God’s people. He taught me not to pull away—to be unoffendable. The love, prayers, and practical help of the Church have strengthened my heart and given me courage. I have been less alone.

My mother gave me a passion for Jesus. She would often pray, “God, help us to have radical obedience to your Son, Jesus.” Mom believed in complete surrender to God’s will, radical obedience to God’s Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit. If I had been, lukewarm, double-minded, or a half-hearted Christian, my faith would not have survived this last year. Anger, despair, and grief would have crushed me.

John Wesley Adams, who I met at Mid-America Nazarene College in 1980, gave me an absolute faith in the authority of God’s Word. Sometimes Teckla and I would come by his office and ask him questions about the book of Acts. Wes, a professor of New Testament, would carefully explain the most hermeneutically sound interpretation of the passage—no matter how much trouble it would cause. We asked, “Do you think the account of the church in the Acts is just history or is it normative? Should the church and evangelism depend on the power of the Holy Spirit today like it did then?” His declaration that Acts is normative has changed my life and defined my quest. Wes, by word and example, taught me to have the courage to trust God’s Word.

My brother Larry, a religion and philosophy major, taught me that I did not need to put my mind on a shelf to follow Jesus. Much of this gift was indirect: conversations about metaphysics at the dinner table, books left at the house left for college, and his example. By reading widely and exploring ideas boldly, Larry made me intellectually unafraid to go to graduate school at Washington State University. Yes, I was coming from a Christian college, but because of Larry I had already read Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. I followed Larry’s example, and took two years of philosophy from a famously demanding professor. Because of Larry, I became intellectually unafraid.

My brother, Stanley, gave me a love of nature. Although ten years older than I, he would take me on nature walks around Milton-Freewater. He was a birdwatcher but knew the species of every tree and flower as well. Stanley was never about checklists or bragging rights; he loved nature for its own sake. Knowing the names of everything was just friendship with God’s creation. He taught me to see, know, and love nature. This delight in the natural world has enriched my life and made me at home wherever I go.

Far more precious than anything I inherited from my parents is the Holy Spirit—my inheritance in Christ as an adopted child. In this earthen, hobbit-like vessel is something more valuable than mithril. It is God himself living in me through the gift of the Holy Spirit. I have often wanted to cry out, “I can’t take anymore!” But God’s Spirit assures me that I am not alone and that it is not by my strength that I stand. When all the arguments of despair wash over me, the Holy Spirit speaks hope.

Like Frodo, I am staggered by the kingly gifts I have been given. And too often I forget them. In the midst of darkness and hardship, we might be surprised to discover the gifts we carry under our ragged hobbit clothes.

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Lauren Daigle, Mushroom-pickers, and Church as Staging Area

Recently I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s song “Rescue” on the radio (K-Light). As can happen with radio, her beautiful song was juxtaposed with news of the ongoing search for a lost mushroom picker. On the southern coast of Oregon, we have deep woods full of mushrooms: boletes, chanterelles, even pine mushrooms. Mushroom fever can easily lead pickers over one ridge and then another until they are lost and need to be rescued.

Daigle sings, “I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night.” We have experienced search and rescue teams that will quickly set up a staging area for the volunteers who show up to help with the search. Like the words of Daigle’s song, we send out an army to rescue the lost mushroom picker, child, or patient from a nursing home. We do whatever we must to find the lost. Daigle’s song speaks powerfully of how God hears our “SOS” and relentlessly pursues and rescues us in the darkness of our sin and unbelief.

Her song, and the news about a search for the mushroom picker, challenged me to think about ways that the local church should be more like a staging area for the search and rescue of the lost. I know it is an imperfect analogy and certainly doesn’t define every part of the church’s mission, but the comparison can be instructive.

First, search and rescue teams have a sense of urgency that the church often lacks. When temperatures are dropping, rescuers know they are on the clock and must rescue the lost before they succumb to hypothermia and exposure. Here in Coos County we have high rates of domestic, child, and drug abuse. We have high rates of depression and suicide.  We can not be casual about rescuing the lost. Urgency should muster an army and our resources.

Second, the search is intentional, united, and organized. People come together and work together to find the lost. A search is laid out on a grid so that available resources and people are used effectively. People are often paired up so that none of the searchers are at risk of getting lost or hurt.  In this county, however, it has been difficult to get churches to work together to reach the lost. If we could ever get all the pastors in the same room, we would discover there is no organized city-wide strategy for reaching people for Christ, addressing the homeless crisis, or setting free those enslaved to addiction. We are haphazard and that puts both the lost and the rescuers at risk. Our urgency should compel us to set aside our denominational and territorial differences and work together to rescue the lost and bring them into relationship with Jesus Christ.

Third, rescuers go. They don’t set in the staging area hoping that the lost wander in on their own. Occasionally this does happen, but it can never be the strategy of a search and rescue team. The staging area is important—it is where the rescuers are equipped with lights, maps, whistles, blankets, radios, and first aid kits. But if having a great staging area becomes our goal, we have missed the point. We must go.

It is true; many don’t know they are lost and do not want to be rescued. But many do know that things in their life are dark. Many have lost hope and direction. Many are crying out—but don’t know they are really crying out for God. Believers need to be a light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, a friendly voice to broken by loneliness. Sometimes we withdraw from the search thinking we searched everywhere and have cried the names of the lost until our voice fails. But with Lauren Daigle’s song, we need to declare, “There is no distance that cannot be covered over and over.” Our search and rescue mission needs to be as persevering and unswerving as God’s search for us.

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