Stanley Harmon Wilson: A Life Blighted and Blessed

Stanley was born in Vallejo, California in 1943. He was the first child of Beatrice and Archie Wilson and was surrounded by love. As a boy, Stanley moved a lot as Dad pastored one Nazarene church after another. The first parsonage was in Prospect, Oregon. Mom cooked on a wood stove. Milk and eggs were kept cool in a large tin box that sat in Mill Creek that ran close to the parsonage. The salary was small and irregular. Once, Dad climbed under the house to retrieve some milk bottles to turn-in so he could get milk for Stanley. Stan was blessed.

The church was poor, but the place was rich in beauty. Dad often took Stanley on nature walks through the sugar pines. Mom had been a biology major, so Stanley was encouraged to learn the names of the flowers, butterflies, and birds. Stanley’s gifts, perhaps for the rest of his life, became field guides. Stanley never lost his love of nature and books. Stanley was loved and blessed.

But Stanley was physically and socially awkward. This made him a target for bullying. He loved science but struggled with math. Teachers didn’t understand him or always know how to interpret his stubbornness—or how he could be so bright in some areas and struggle in others. Today Stanley would quickly be identified as someone with high functioning autism—what was once called Asperger’s Syndrome. Bullying and cruel teasing followed him through high school and blighted some of his childhood.

Nature became Stanley’s refuge. When Stan talked about living in Prospect, New Meadows, Wilder, Grangeville, Orofino, Pendleton and Milton-Freewater, he would talk about the butterflies and wild-flowers of each place as though they were old friends. He often marked his history according to the birds or flowers we saw together on a particular hike. He never forgot the Lewis Woodpecker and Black-chinned hummingbird we saw on the trail along the Walla Walla River in Milton-Freewater.  He was ten years older than I, so we seldom played together. But our shared love of nature bridged the gap.

Mom and Dad were patient with Stanley. Mom let him keep his pet snakes, lizards, and scorpions even though it sometimes meant finding them in odd places and times around the house. Our house always had gallon jars with holes punched in the lid, ready for the next lizard or snake Stanley caught. Once boys in my mom’s class at Myrtle Crest thought they would scare her by putting a snake in her desk drawer. She saw the snake, picked it up behind the neck, and chased the boys with it. The boys had no idea how well Stanley had trained her. Stanley was blessed by parents who loved and nurtured him.  

Stanley continued to be socially awkward after graduating from MacLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater. He was picked on in high school and had few friends. He struggled with math and chemistry, so he avoided majoring in science when he went to Northwest Nazarene College. He majored in history and took some classes Herpetology and Ornithology. A professor there, Mick Dean, befriended Stan and encouraged his love of nature. Despite some of his struggles with math and physics, Stan ended up getting one of the highest scores of any student on his history Graduate Record Exam and was in the 90th percentile in Biology. Stan was blessed with some genuine academic success.

Stanley had received notice that he was being drafted, so he decided to enlist in the army for four years. Because of all his clumsiness, he struggled to complete basic training. He trained to be a clerk typist, but never mastered typing. He enlisted hoping to go to Germany but went to Vietnam instead. Since he couldn’t type, he was assigned guard duty. The Army put him in a tower on the perimeter of the base near the jungle. They gave him binoculars and a rifle. As an avid bird watcher, Stanley was delighted, and the Army probably had never had a more diligent guard. Stanley’s letters from Vietnam were mostly about the birds and animals he had seen. After Vietnam, Stanley was also stationed in Indianapolis and near the Pentagon where he worked filing papers. Although he certainly didn’t excel at being a soldier, he seemed to do well in the structured environment. He kept every letter he got while in the Army, and the letters made it clear that he was surrounded by prayers. Stan was blessed.

After four years in the Army, Stanley enrolled in graduate school at the University of Oregon and began work on a Master’s in history. He successfully completed all his classes and wrote a long thesis. But his sponsoring professor retired, and the new professor insisted Stanley do more interviews, make all the chapters uniform in length, and shorten his thesis. Dad helped with some of the editing. But asking someone with autism to do more interviews is like asking a person with a fear of heights to go rock-climbing. Stanley never finished his thesis or got his degree, but it is unclear what he would have done with the degree. He went to work at Agri-Pac and joined the Teamsters Union. He was a hard worker but not a skilled one.  He had good attendance. After Agri-Pac closed, Stanley never managed to hold down a job for long. He was too slow or too clumsy for most jobs. He interviewed badly, failed to make eye-contact and talked a little too loud. For many years he lived with my parents and then in different apartments in Coquille and Myrtle Point. In the area of work and a career his life was blighted.

Stanley loved God and loved God’s people, even though he was never quite sure how to make friends. He had a good voice and loved singing hymns. After Teckla and I moved back to Myrtle Point in 1993, Stanley and I continued taking hikes together, sometimes to Hanging Rock, Mount Bolivar, or Iron Mountain in the Siskiyou Mountains. Sometimes I would catch butterflies, and he would identify them. Throughout his life, Stanley was surrounded by people who loved and cared for them. And Stanley, in his own odd ways, tried to show others he cared. All the birthday cards he gave were carefully selected. He faithfully sent out Christmas cards every year. When Teckla and I had only been married a few months and had little money, Stanley gave us a couple big boxes of canned vegetables from Agri-Pac.

For years Mom and Stanley did things together: senior meals, plays, concerts, and other events. Stan helped Mom stay active and probably contributed to her long life and good health. In these years Stan was blessed with someone to do things with and was less alone. For every birthday, Mom made Stanley one or two colorful shirts from material Stanley had picked out—shirts with flowers, birds, butterflies, or animals. He wore his favorite ones until they were ragged and missing buttons. And of course, he was at our house a lot and a part of our family. Stanley was blessed with people who loved him to the end.

Stanley was a bird watcher and an excellent amateur naturalist. He never engaged in the nominal fallacy, the error of thinking he knew something just because he knew its name. Although he loved adding a new bird to his life list, he never stopped enjoying just watching the behavior of a bird, insect, or animal. He saw nature as good in itself, apart from any list he kept. He taught me that careful observation was a kind of worship, a way of joining God and saying of creation, “It is good, it is very good.”

I few days ago I came across an article explaining that botanists had discovered that the western false asphodel (triantha occidentalis) was actually a carnivorous plant that got nutrients from insects that got stuck to its stem. I immediately wanted to tell Stanley and talk about it with him. He would be the only person I knew who would find this exciting. I will miss Stanley, my friend, big brother, and my brother in Christ. But I am glad that now nothing is blighted, no potential is unrealized, all is right, and all is blessed. I am glad he is taking walks with Mom and Dad once again.

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Hope Against Hope

I have held off writing on hope even though this virtue has become a constant companion/enemy this last year. Yet, nothing else comes to mind when I think of posting a blog. Life has made hope hard to write about.

In this last year, my oldest son, Peter, has come close to death at least three times. He has been diagnosed with Type One diabetes and has gone into diabetic ketoacidosis multiple times. He has been in three different ICU’s. Twice he has had to be intubated. He has lost so much weight that he looks like a concentration camp survivor. Peter faces many other challenges as well.  He is not a Christian, but we pray and hope.

Teckla has been diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. She will have to decide on a partial or full mastectomy. After surgery, the doctors will stage the cancer to evaluate how far it has spread and whether radiation and chemotherapy is needed. We are hoping for a good recovery.

My brother Stanley died last week. He was 77 and suffering from kidney failure. Teckla and I are cleaning his apartment and sorting through his possessions. It has made us keenly aware of our own mortality and what we hope for as we grow older.

Finding the strength to hope in the midst of all these trials has been hard. Even harder has been thinking through what it means to hope. Both Teckla and I have a secure hope in Christ as our Savior. Our hope for redemption and eternal life is rock solid. Our hope is anchored in truth of God’s Word and His faithfulness to us over the years.

But this side of eternity, hope gets hard. We are promised fellowship with God; that He will never leave us or forsake us. This is huge! And in some ways, I suppose, should be enough. We are not promised, however, many of the things that our hearts long for.

We are not promised, for instance, that our children will be saved. There is no biblical promise (despite Proverbs 22:6) to anchor this hope. And no matter how securely our own hope for salvation is anchored, we can’t avoid fear and heartache when we think of one of our kids being lost eternally. I know no cure for this fear and pain.

We have no promise that those we love won’t die tragically. I have good (and godly) friends whose children and spouses die. Two friends had sons in their twenties die in accidents. I have thought of this sometimes while sitting at my desk and hoping to hear Peter move around upstairs—evidence he didn’t die during the night.

Teckla and I know women who have died, or are dying, of breast cancer. We hope for the best, of course, and the prognosis seems good thus far, but we also know we have no clear promise from God that Teckla’s cancer won’t be fatal. In the dark of night this fear constricts my heart and unfurls a sad future without her. Is this fear a failure to hope?

Time can erode our hope. For many years I have hoped and prayed to see a real visitation of God on a community—a revival that flooded the community and changed the culture of a city. I sometimes despair of ever seeing this. In Myrtle Point the church seems more, not less, irrelevant. God is seldom given a thought, it seems. Of course, I have no guarantee that I will live to see the move of God for which I have been praying.

On this side of eternity hope is dangerous because disappointment can be fatal to our faith. Proverbs 13:12 observes that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. Langston Hughes captures this truth when asks, “What happens to dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” The answer is probably all the above.

Some hearts have shriveled like a raisin because they hoped God would save their marriage, but He didn’t. Some hearts are open sores because despite all the prayers desperately flung toward God, a child suffered and died or a spouse was eaten up by cancer. Some give up, hate God, and let bitterness blow apart their lives and eternal hope. For me, hope just “sags” like a heavy load. Hope on the other side of eternity can give me strength and perseverance, but hope for things on this side feels heavy.

I could just give up on hoping for things in this mess of a life. I could even make it sound spiritual by declaring that my only hope is one anchored in Jesus and the promise of an eternity with Him. But when I contemplate actually giving up hope for things this side of eternity, I realize the paradox of hope. I can’t live with it and I can’t live without it.

There is no avoiding the risk of hoping for good things, protection, healing, help, and salvation in this life. Some will come, and some won’t. We are given the Holy Spirit as a down-payment on your future redemption, but it isn’t the whole thing. Sometimes people will be healed, sometimes a miracle will happen. But all these expressions of God’s presence and power are partial—a sign pointing to our eventual full salvation and transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Giving up hope means missing these signposts pointing to our eternal hope.

I also fear that giving up hope means giving up love. How can I love my sons and not hope for their salvation, their health, and happiness? How can I keep my deep and passionate love for Teckla from hoping for her healing? How can love my community and the church without aching to see God visit us and heal broken hearts? Love risks disappointment and delay.

And as spiritual as it sounds to place every hope in eternity, to genuinely do so is to hope for death. Paul comes close to this in Philippians, when he exclaims, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (1:23—24). The rest of the letter makes clear how many good things he hoped to impart and see when he comes to them again. His love kept him hoping for things on both sides of eternity.

So I hold fiercely to my hope for redemption and an eternity in which every tear is dried and every heart healed. I hold tightly, but not too tightly, to every promise for good on this side of eternity. I pray and let my hope nourish my perseverance. I embrace the risk of love.

As a model for how to hope and yet not be destroyed by disappointment, I look at a couple grim stories in the Scripture. After David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, Nathan tells David that because of these sins, his son will die. For the next seven days David prays, fasts, and weeps before the Lord. The son dies anyway. But after his son dies, David washed, put on clean clothes and went to worship the Lord. When asked about this, David replies, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’”

Often those facing trials and fears are urged to trust God. My response is to politely ask, “Trust him for what?” The question catches some by surprise. I sometimes follow it up by asking, “For Teckla’s cancer to be cured? For the salvation of my kids? For protection from tragedy and accidents?” I think David gives the right answer. He hopes in first in the gracious character of God, and then has the courage to ask for grace and mercy.

As much as we hate ambiguity, we should love David’s, “Who knows, the Lord may be gracious.” We are called to live and pray in the uncertainty of “Who knows?” If David can hold on to hope in the face of a clear word from God that his son would die, I can find the courage to boldly pray for each of my sons, no matter how far they may wander. Because we have a revelation of God’s everlasting lovingkindness, we pray and hope for things on this side of eternity but are ready to worship if our prayer is not answered. We pray because God is good and “Who knows?”

There is also some ambiguity in the answer of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego to the threats of Nebuchadnezzar. They assert, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” But then they add, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They make clear that their obedience to God is not conditional on God delivering them. We can hope boldly and pray courageously for things on this side of eternity, but we can’t make any of these hopes the foundation of our worship and obedience.

For Christmas Teckla and I got each other inexpensive anchor pendants—the Christian symbol for hope (based on Hebrews 6:19). Teckla wears hers on a chain and I wear mine on a shoestring.  They are troublesome. When we hug, our pendants sometimes catch each other. They keep getting tangled in things—especially in the curly hair of our grandson, Ari.  

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What I Don’t Know

Some may look at the title of this blog and decide they  have no time for such a long read. Another reason to pass on this post is that it is an unpost in some ways. Instead of sharing profound insights (have I ever?), I am telling folks what I don’t know. But if, like me, you have had a curious and troubled relationship with prayer, this might help. I have discovered that what I don’t know about prayer gives me more, not fewer, reasons to pray.

I don’t know what good petitionary prayer does. I have no doubt that it does good, but I am uncertain what that good is. It is easy to see how prayers of adoration, surrender, and confession help us to grow spiritually. But don’t petitionary prayers set us up for disappointment? Spiritually, don’t they do us more harm than good as we cope with prayers that go unanswered and seem unacknowledged? Isn’t it safer to expect less of God? Isn’t it better to keep our relationship based on what God has done for us on the cross through Christ and not on what He is doing in response to our prayers?

These questions make sense to me, but we face a huge problem. Jesus invites us to ask for things in prayer—even our daily bread. He commands us to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11:9-13). In Luke 18 we are told a parable about how we “ought to pray and not lose heart.” The parable is clearly urging us to believe that God responds to persevering petitionary prayer. We can’t abandon petitionary prayer without disobeying Jesus. We must keep asking.

Except sometimes, God doesn’t answer. Of course, some claim God always answers prayer, but sometimes says “No” or “Not yet” or “Not that way.” Perhaps, but we should not assume that an unanswered prayer is an automatic “No”. God is perfectly capable of making us hear His “No” and his “Wait”.

Here is where something I don’t know helps. I don’t know exactly how much my faith or lack of it determines answers to prayer. Jesus sometimes cites a person’s faith or the faith of friends (Luke 18:42) as the reason they are healed. Sometimes a lack of faith in the person praying or the people receiving is seen as limiting what God can do. Jesus, we are told, did few miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58).

But I don’t know how to sort out how my faith, the faith of those I pray for, and the faith of the community I live in all combine to hinder or help my prayers be answered. I don’t know, and suspect we can’t know. But we can do what faith does. We can obey and pray—and keep on praying even if we don’t get an answer. Sometimes faith is a gift. I have experienced this a handful of times. Most of the time, however, it is a muscle that gets stronger as it is exercised, and we exercise faith every time we pray. It is okay for us not to know how faith works in prayer as long we keep growing in faith.

Another thing I don’t know is God’s timing. I am sometimes haunted by thoughts of all the people like Anna and Simeon who had prayed for the Messiah, looked for the consolation of Israel, but died before Jesus was born. My father died without ever seeing real revival or a visitation of God on this little town of Myrtle Point. I have been praying for a saving move of God in Myrtle Point for over thirty years. I have only seen churches close and things get worse. I doubt that the corruption of the Pharisees and the oppression of the Romans made the time of Christ seem like prime time, but Simeon had been told he would see the Messiah before he died. I have a few “before you die” promises I cling to. But regarding most things, I have no sense of God’s timing. So I just pray.

Adding to the mystery of God’s timing is the possibility that prayers are like seeds. They may disappear into the ground and do nothing for years. Our blessings and intercession may plant a seed that others water. A seed upon which God’s truth will shine in days or years from now. A minor but important truth embedded in the parable of the sower is that he threw seed everywhere—not just on the good soil. So I pray.

I don’t have much grasp on when and how answers to prayers might be hindered by spiritual warfare. The prince of Persia delayed God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer.It is interesting that Daniel mourned and fasted the same amount of time that the prince of the Persia opposed Gabriel who was responding to Daniel’s prayer. Did Daniel’s prayer and fasting help Gabriel in some way? Daniel was heard the first day but prayed 21 days. How does this work? I don’t know, but Paul says our battle is not against flesh and blood but “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So I persevere in prayer for places and people.

I also don’t understand the cumulative effect of prayers. What if the prayers of Simeon and Anna were just the final touches on centuries of prayer? What if their prayers were combined with all those who prayed before them? I think we never know when prayers hit a critical mass that opens the door for God to act. What if my prayers for Myrtle Point stand on the shoulders of my father’s prayers? Cornelius was told by an angel that his prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial before God. This declaration suggests that the cumulative result of prayers and generosity to catch God’s attention. Of course, God does not need to be reminded of anything, yet he asks us to remind him of our needs—to build memorials of prayer. I don’t know how this works or the timing of it, but I know I want to do it. Daily I lay prayers before God for my family and community, brick by brick.

And what if my prayers now are woven together with the prayers of those who have gone before us. What unknown or unseen power might that give our prayers? I don’t know. But we are told Jesus is now at the right hand of God interceding for us, so I suspect my parents are doing the same. Once, only once, I sat on the hill in the cemetery with a hand on the headstones of my mother and father. I prayed for my four sons—and looked not at the headstones but at the sun setting in the west. I asked my prayers to be joined to the intercession of my mother and father. Although I think this idea is biblically sound, I have no idea how or when it works. But I pray.

I also don’t understand the legalities of prayer. Adam and Eve’s choosing to believe the serpent instead of God opened the door to all kinds of evil—that Satan now has legal right to do. So I think the reverse is always true. Our prayers that declare our faith in God’s Word and His loving character opens the door for the God’s kingdom to come and will be done. More prayers, as acts of faith and obedience, swings the door wider. Perhaps because I am a Westerner, I don’t understand the power of blessings and curses. But words matter, so I fill my prayers with blessings.

And related to this, I don’t know how our prayers impact those rebelling against God. But when we stand before God and intercede for them, I believe we give God legal grounds to thwart Satan’s plans to destroy them. We give God just cause to show mercy to those who have earned judgment. In Ezekiel 22:30 we are told God looked for, but could not find, someone to stand in the gap so that He would not have to destroy the rebellious and idolatrous Israel. Does this mean our intercession will result in God saving our rebellious sons and daughters? I don’t know. But it helps. For the sake of my sons, I have made noise, waved my hands, and cried out to God, “Lord, have mercy and let your lovingkindness fall upon them!” I want to be God’s Exhibit B for why they should be given mercy and grace. Jesus himself is Exhibit A.

But I still don’t know how to pray when love, fear, and loss shred my heart. How do I pray when my only prayers are tears, and I can barely breathe? And no matter how much I want to hear the comforting voice of God, all I hear is my pain, all I see is the emptiness of losing those I love? How do I pray with real faith for God to save the lives of those I love, when better Christians have prayed the same prayer and seen sons, wives, and husbands die. I don’t know. But Psalm 58:8 assures us that God “has taken account of my wandering; put my tears in Thy bottle.”

I do not know what God does with my bottle (kegs?) of tears. I know He has seen me, heard me, and has not left me alone. I know my tears are precious in His sight, and I keep coming into His presence in all my brokenness and with all that I do not know. Because like Job said after scores of unanswered questions, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

 So I pray.

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But You Love Jesus, Right?

Most Christians have been alerted to lies against the love of God. This lie lays siege to our faith on different fronts. Sometimes it attacks by insisting that God could never love someone as insignificant and mired in sin as we are. Other times it attacks us through tragedy and hardship that makes us wonder why a God of love doesn’t do more to help us. This lie, though common and persistent, is easily vanquished by a clear vision of Jesus Christ on the cross, taking our place, our shame, and our punishment. The revelation of God’s love in Christ is powerful and triumphant.

But there is another more subtle lie that can attack our faith. It is the accusation, whispered low and long, that we do not love Jesus. I believe this is the lie that Jesus destroyed when He asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Peter had denied Jesus three times. He then wept bitterly. When the angel speaks to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, he tells them to “tell the disciples and Peter” that they will see Jesus in Galilee. This might indicate that Peter was no longer considered a disciple or no longer considered himself a disciple.

Peter had every reason to doubt his love for Jesus. Didn’t his denial of Jesus and cursing show how little he loved Jesus? Hadn’t he foolishly boasted that although others would deny Christ, he never would. When Jesus comes to the disciples in Galilee, he asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?”

Oswald Chambers argues that these questions by Jesus awakened Peter “to the fact that in the real true center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus.” Each time Peter answers, “Yes” and adds that Jesus knows that he loves Him. It is clear Jesus was not seeking information about Peter’s love. Each question by Jesus pierces  heart of Peter and reveals to him how much he loves Jesus. The lie against Peter’s own love for Jesus is shattered; Peter is restored and called to be a shepherd of God’s lambs.

Over the years I have seen Christians drift, run, and jump away from Christ. Sometimes their own failures and denials of Christ have caused them to forget how much they love Jesus. Other times the failures and the hypocrisy of church people have persuaded them. In bitter reaction to wounds from the church, it is easy to forget how much we love Jesus. Sometimes left or right-wing politics eclipses our love.

Even the label “Christian” can be a burden when used by those who are hateful and cruel. However, the Holy Spirit still challenges us like Jesus challenged Peter and reminds us of how much we love the Jesus of the gospels—the resurrected Christ who still asks us to love and feed his sheep.

At different times I have wanted to grab my sons, shake them (gently), and insist, “But you love Jesus!” We are often blind to our own heart. Rebellion against parents and church, or a plunge into hedonism often demands that we forget our love for Jesus. Sadly, lying to ourselves about our love for Jesus frees us to become slaves of sin.

Even after all this Peter still has a question about what God’s plan is for one of the other disciples, probably John. Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” In a time when Christians on the right, left, and bewildered middle are all waving flags and asking questions about each other, it is good to leave our questions and follow Jesus.

I say to all my brothers and sisters of various religious and political tribes, to those who wander and are (or aren’t) lost, to those rejected or just dejected, to the prodigal and the bitter elder brother, “But you love Jesus, right?”

When Peter sees the resurrected Christ on the shore fixing breakfast for the disciples, he hears John declare that it is “the Lord.” Peter’s flings himself into the sea and makes his way to Jesus. The revelation of how much we love Jesus should move us like it did Peter.

We should throw ourselves at Jesus.

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Israel First

For several years now, I have been praying for Israel first. I start and end my prayers with thanksgiving, praise, and adoration, but when I present my petitionary prayers, I begin with Israel.

I pray for Israel to be delivered from all her enemies and for Jerusalem to be made a praise in all the earth. I suspect some of my prayers for Jerusalem are also a prayer for the New Jerusalem, but I let God sort all that out.

I also pray for the gospel to be proclaimed in Israel with words, lives, and the work of the Holy Spirit. I pray for Yeshua (Jesus) to be exalted as Messiah. I ask God to gift Israel with pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and apostles. Honestly, I ask this without knowing exactly what that should look like.

I pray for the land. I have been fascinated with Deuteronomy 11:12 where God promises to take Israel to the land “that the Lord your God cares for.” God, for some reason, has loved this land even before settling His people in it. God declares that his eyes are constantly upon it throughout the year. Therefore, I pray for God to bless the land with rain, natural resources, plentiful harvests, and wise stewardship.

This is probably my eccentricity, but I pray for certain streets: Dizengoff Street and Ben Gurion Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. I pray for Yeshua to enter the lives of people on these streets. One night in the 80’s I was briefly lost on Dizengoff Street. I had wandered into a big shopping center through one door, got turned around, and then came out a different exit on a different street. I walked in the direction of the brightest lights and found my way back to Dizengoff Street, Ben Gurion Boulevard, and then my hotel. So today, I pray for the light of Jesus to shine brightly on these streets.

Praying for Israel first has enriched my walk with God. First, it has changed my hermeneutics, my approach to Scripture. I more easily see that so many of God’s promises are first to Israel in the Old Testament, but also the new. When I see the many promises of God’s faithfulness in the Psalms and prophets, I first thank God for his faithfulness to Israel. I then give thanks that the God of Israel is faithful to me today.

Second, praying for Israel first keeps me humble. It reminds me that the gospel first came to the Jews and that I am a wild olive branch grafted into the root stock of Israel. It helps me heed Paul’s warning not to be arrogant toward the Jews to whom believers in Yeshua owe so much (Romans 11:20). It vaccinates me against the virus of anti-Semitism that has too often infected the Christian faith. It saves me from the errors and arrogance of Replacement Theology that usurps all God’s promises to the Jews and applies them only to the Church.

Third, praying for Israel enlarges my heart. When I pray for Israel, my heart becomes invested in the purposes of God beyond my own needs and concerns. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I sometimes enter God’s deep love for Israel and His desire for Israel to know His Son. Sharing God’s heart for Israel, if only for a moment, draws me closer to Him.

I am not suggesting this is how everyone must order their prayers. It has, however, been a helpful habit. I believe the promise that those who bless Israel, God will bless, but I have not made praying for Israel into a lucky charm that will force God to bless me. Humility and a larger heart are blessings enough.

It is also a blessing to love what God loves. God still loves Israel and the Jews. His gifts and calling are irrevocable. He will keep His promise to make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth. God is not done with Israel and the Jews.  We are children of the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac. We should faithfully pray for family.

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Death (and Life) by Suffocation

I wish I had paid more attention to a section of Perelandra when I was a kid growing up in the church. Perelandra is the second book in C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. In it the hero, Ransom, is transported to an unfallen world where he fights a demonized character seeking to make this world fall like earth had. The novel needs more story and less philosophy, but one part struck me as profound.

In Chapter Six, Ransom complains about a kind of presence on the planet that he at first found intolerable. He describes it as feeling there is “no room.” He says whenever he felt like asserting his independence “the very air seemed too crowded to breathe.”

As a church kid, I sometimes felt suffocated. Sometimes all the rules felt like a lead blanket crushing my spirit. The pressure to conform, to be a good little church kid, was stifling. Legalism and judgmentalism sucked the air out of the room. Church tradition could render the gospel as dull as dirt.

I did find solutions as a teenager. First, I read the Bible for myself and tried to do it. Second, I met some Jesus freaks who were former drug addicts and joyously in love with Jesus and not embarrassed to say so. In fact, I was embarrassed that I was so timid about sharing Jesus. Third, I watched my parents live out their faith in hard places with difficult people.

C. S. Lewis, however, is not talking about this kind of churchy suffocation. He explains:

But when you gave in to the thing, gave yourself up to it, there was no burden to be borne. It became not a load but a medium, a sort of splendour as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well. Taken the wrong way, it suffocated; taken the right way, it made terrestrial life seem, by comparison, a vacuum.

A completely different solution is needed for this kind of suffocation: surrender. Perelandra was unfallen and crowded with the presence of God. And taken the wrong way or refused, God’s presence could be oppressive. But surrendered to the presence was life itself.

As a church kid, I experienced both kinds of suffocation. I sometimes accused the good kind of being the bad kind. At times I resisted the voice and presence of God and wanted nothing more than to get out of that stupid meeting. I would say to myself, “I hate church and all the stuffy church people.” To be honest, with only a few exceptions, most of the people were not stuffy or phony. Many were just small-town folks with silly double-knit suits and bad haircuts trying as best they could to follow Jesus.

Around age sixteen I gave into the good kind of suffocation and began taking deep gulps of God’s Spirit. It was wonderful. I led Bible studies at the high school and helped start a coffee house that ministered to teens and street people in our small town. In the years since then, I have encountered both kinds of suffocation again and again. But I have learned to say yes to one kind and no to the other. I have discovered that saying yes to God’s presence and Spirit cracks the other kind of suffocation wide-open. That too is a delight.

It is not just church kids that need to be honest about which kind of suffocation we are resisting. All the political strife in the church has given many reasons to walk away from faith in Jesus. But we desperately need to be honest about whether we are walking away from the phoniness of religion and legalism or the unbearable presence of God pressing us to forgive others, love others (even church people), and surrender to the love and will of God.

Covid-19 and the isolation it has imposed may tempt us to practice our faith free from the mess of fellowship and church. Living free of the problems and opinions of other church people can be invigorating for a while. But there is a presence of God that we will only experience as we gather as the body of Christ, a temple of living stones filled with God’s Spirit.  

It is a suffocating Presence if resisted, but “breathable gold” for those who surrender.

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Do Dat Again!

“Do dat again!” is often the joyous plea of my Ari, my four-year grandson. It may be in response to me catching him and giving him “an uggy kiss” or chasing him while singing, Teckla says, a wrong version of “Papa Shark.” A few days ago, Teckla and I took Ari and his parents to see the Festival of Lights over in Roseburg. He loved driving through the park and seeing all the lights. As soon as we got home, he said, “Let’s do dat again!”

Although it is commonly observed that children help us rediscover the wonder in the world, we seldom dig deeper into the miracle of vision and joy embodied in their love of repetition. Children, however, repeat things not out of dullness or because they are stuck in a rut. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy argues, rightly I think, that a child’s love of repetition is from an excess of life:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. The always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until nearly dead.

Indeed, Ari’s eyes and face glow with joy and energy when he cries, “Do Dat Again!” He loves a game long after I have grown weary or bored.

We saw this love of repetition in our sons when they were growing up. Anything we did two Christmases or camping trips in a row became a tradition they demanded we observe. Teckla and I were happy to oblige. We knew that traditions gave them security in a world awash with change and loss. One way to look at all the feast days and fasting days of the Old Testament is God giving His people good things to repeat that would help them know His goodness and stay anchored in His truth. Just as Israel’s traditions defined them as a people, our traditions defined us as a family.

There is something holy in the refusal to be bored with simple joys. A child is not bored because while playing the game, the pleasure of the game itself is everything. Winning the game has not yet become the only goal. There is no consciousness of how the game might win them admiration or whether they look cool while playing. Many parents have seen the sad moment when their child abandons a game or toy because of an older child mocked them for playing a “little kid’s game.” It is a kind of fall from grace—from grace of pure play.

Chesterton suggests that whole world expresses God’s love of repetition. Instead of seeing the regularity of nature as evidence of impersonal materialist world, Chesterton says it is evidence of Gods delight:

But perhaps God is strong enough to exalt in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. . . . It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Being a grandfather has helped me grow younger. I play more—even when no child is around. Children rejoice in simple things because they are seeing them for the first time; I rejoice because I may be seeing them for the last time.

Ari, however, is already learning an important truth about some kinds of repetition. Some pleasures are destroyed by our desire to repeat them. Sometimes when playing hide-and-seek, Ari is delighted when I hide in a new and unexpected place—under a pile of blankets on the couch. He is so delighted that he exclaims, “Hide there again!” I do, but this hiding place is no longer new or surprising.

Many pleasures, as C. S. Lewis points out, are best not repeated. Our insistence on repeatable pleasures leads to addiction and slavery to fleshly sins. In Out of the Silent Planet by Lewis, the earthling (Ransom) is told that a “pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered” and that many pleasures need not be repeated because a pleasure consists of the anticipation, experience, and memory. There is world of difference between a childlike delight in repetition and childish demand that pleasures be repeated—it is a difference between heaven and hell.

 Even the love of tradition can lead to misery if we demand our present experiences live up to our past. Those with lovely childhood memories of Christmas can become vexed and depressed with the failure of Christmas to live up to those golden memories. One of our family’s best Christmas memories is one spent at an orphanage in Tijuana. A childlike love of repetition needs to be joined to a child-like willingness to find goodness in what is new and different. God’s faithfulness is unchanging and his mercies new every morning.   

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Watch Me, Pa!

“Watch me, Pa!,” is the frequent cry of my four-year old grandson, Ari. Occasionally, this makes sense because he really is doing something new or dangerous, but often he really isn’t doing much at all. And sometimes I am pretty sure he is asking me to watch before he even knows what he is going to do.

Teckla and I have done a lot of watching over the years: piano recitals, soccer games, track meets, wrestling tournaments, football games, concerts. Our four boys kept us busy watching. Whatever failures we may have had as parents, we watched.

I might be guilty of pointing out the obvious here. We all know kids try to make their parents proud. But I think, the cry to be seen comes from something rooted more deeply in our humanity. To be watched is not to be alone. We long to live a life that is seen.

When both parents have died, an odd loneliness comes. While going through some dark and difficult times this last year, I have felt their absence keenly. I have no one older than I who is watching, no one with the investment of love that Mom and Dad had. My tears and laughter are my own. Even though I have brothers and sisters who faithfully pray for us and Teckla is a wonderful source of strength, faith, and love, I miss having a parent watching me.  My mom often thanked God for His “watch-care” over us. I don’t know if that is a word, or just one she coined, but I miss her and my father’s watchcare over me. 

In this loss and sorrow, I have been helped by Paul and David, both of whom lived their lives before the eyes of God. A few times, I suspect, David wished God wasn’t watching. Even when David cried out, “Where are you, Lord?” he ends up putting all his trust in God. David lived and prayed like someone seen by God. Even when slandered and rejected by believers, Paul stood boldly as someone seen and judged by God. He knew nothing escaped His Father’s notice.  

I have answered the call to watch. I am still praying daily over all my sons and their families. Watching my grandchildren grow is a joy.

And I, of course, am not alone. God is with me. His watchcare surrounds me. No matter the content of my prayers, the cry of my heart to God is always, “Watch me, Pa!” And He does.

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Every Man an Addict

With his pants around his ankles and hands clutching his chest, he staggered down the sidewalk along Highway 101 in Coos Bay. Driving home from the college, I often see the homeless and the addicts that camp in the woods or sleep under the bridges. With disgust I mumbled, “Tweaker” to myself and kept driving.

 Almost immediately, what I had just done crashed in on me. First, came the realization that the man was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone loved and perhaps mourned by others. Someone loved by God. Next, came shame for the way I had dropped the word, “Tweaker” on the guy. I used it the way racists use the n-word. It was full of superiority and dismissal.

We have used words of dismissal like this for a long time: drunk, wino, junky, acid freak, pothead, crackhead,  tweaker. Using these words are easy for me because I don’t really get addiction. I am one of those annoying people who will say, “Just stop.” I don’t smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs, so I don’t get it. Why don’t people make those they love more important than their addiction?

I have some understanding that addiction changes the brain chemistry, and until one has really felt that change, one can’t understand how hard it is to quit. This is probably why so many drug counselors are former addicts. Yet, I have friends, family, and even members of my Sunday School class who struggle with addiction. I live in a community ravaged by alcoholism and drug addiction. I can’t love Myrtle Point as God loves it unless I love addicts.

To my surprise it has been Paul’s letter to the Romans that has helped the most. In chapter seven, Paul describes what sounds like the life of an addict:

For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  . . . For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. . . .For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:16, 19, 22-23)

Addicts know, I suspect, what it is like to be a prisoner of their body. They know the war between their body and what they know is right. In chapter six Paul asserted that everyone who sins has become a slave to sin.

I may not get chemical addiction, but I get sin and slavery to sin. I get wanting to walk in holiness but having my emotions and desires war against me. With Paul, and all addicts, I can declare, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I have walked in the chains of sins and felt the shame of my inability to “just say no” to sin. I have made my sin more important than those I love—more important than the Savior I love. But it is not just me.  According to Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We have all been addicts of sin.

Paul begins chapter eight with good news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for the sinner, whether a church kid or an addict, or a church kid that became an addict. In Jesus we find love, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a new life powered by God’s grace and Spirit. We should all get this. Addicts are not alone.

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Hupomone

When you read large hunks of Scripture regularly, you see major themes that you might miss during five-minute devotionals. This last year I have been clinging to God’s word like a guy lost at sea. During this time, I keep encountering a set of words I really don’t like: endurance, perseverance, patience, and steadfastness. Jesus uses them a lot. Paul fills his epistles with them. Today’s verse was Hebrews 10:36 which declares, “For you have need of endurance.”

The Greek word for endurance, hupomone, in one form or another appears dozens of times in the New Testament. It is sometimes translated perseverance and steadfastness. The hupo prefix is a preposition that means under, beneath, or beside. The mone part means to stay. The word expresses endurance as staying faithful under persecution or under a burden.

I am a little embarrassed that in all my years of Bible study, I have never done a word study on this hupomone, a word used so many times. More alarming to me is how familiar I am with a word used only once, in Romans 8:37: hupernikomen. Here we have a huper (over) instead of a hupo (under). Paul gloriously declares that we overwhelmingly conquer everything that might separate us from the love of Christ. We are more than conquerors!

It is probably right that this word appears on T-shirts and that we can get Christian fitness clothes with it. I like the word too. However, again and again God’s word exhorts us to persevere, endure, patiently wait, and remain steadfast. There is a lot of hupomone. We get hammered with it, but it doesn’t get on T-shirts.

Let’s admit it. It is hard to get excited about perseverance. We Americans like winning and winning quickly. We prefer football to cross-country—my apologies to my son who ran cross-country. It is hard to whip a crowd into a frenzy of patient endurance. We want to win and win now.

In writing about the American West, William Styron said that in the west there are boomers and stickers. Boomers are those who move from town to town looking for better fishing, logging, and mining. The stickers grow roots and cultivate the land. Sometimes Christians can be more like boomers bouncing from church to church in search of “the anointing” or the church where they “can be fed.”

The older I get, the more I appreciate hupomone and the stickers. I have seen anointed charismatic leaders who had a lot of flash but weren’t stickers. I like the leaders who have never cheated on their wives or stolen from the offering plate. The pastors who never get fed up and get out.

And let’s admit it. We often want to get out from under stuff. We long to escape—to be free of the burden of people needing us. Lots of people will encourage you to care for yourself, avoid toxic people, push away the folks that betray you, and not let anyone use you. Then there is Jesus who with eyes wide open washed the feet of Judas and loved him to the end. Then there is Paul who poured himself out in ministry even to those who challenged his authority and questioned his love. There are mothers and fathers who love and serve their sons and daughters even when they plunge into sin. They stay under the burden of love day after day, praying with broken hearts and tear-streaked faces.

I believe we are called to be more than conquers, to be hupernikomen. We are called to be overcomers, but I believe the under comes before the over. We stay steadfast under injustice, disappointment, and the heavy burden of love. We stay where God calls us and we endure. We discover love never fails if we never fail to love. We stay under until seated with Christ over all things.    

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