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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The Leaky Pool

Our swimming pool leaks, badly. It is an in-ground pool, fifteen by thirty with a vinyl liner that has been replaced multiple times over the years. We are losing at least an inch of water each day. The end where it is leaking is about seven feet deep. I have tried to apply different patches to no avail; it is hard to hold my breath long enough to get a patch to stick. The bottom of the deep end is badly wrinkled, and the vinyl is brittle. This liner is done, but replacing it is expensive, more than we can afford right now.

This is all depressing, especially during a hot summer when we are staying home a lot. It is not a fancy swimming pool and came with the house when my parents bought the place in the sixties. It is a pain to keep clean and chlorinated. It has sucked up hours of labor over the years. Yet, the thought of losing it pains me. Letting it dry to a green puddle in a deep hole seems terrible.

My response initially was to surrender and let sun and leak empty the pool. But instead, I have run water into the pool for several hours each day. I have seen that when I can’t have the best, I sometimes grab the worst. I do this in anger and discouragement. The cost of the water doesn’t really compare to the cost of a camping trip we can’t take this summer. I run water into the pool and water table.

The bottom of the pool looks terrible—wrinkled and green with algae that can’t be cleaned off. The wrinkles are spreading. Clearly this is its end. Nonetheless, Teckla and I have gone swimming with our grandson dozens of times this summer. We mostly stay in the shallow end which we have kept clean. Ari, our grandson, has had a blast and is getting good at dogpaddling around. I hope we are making good memories for him. I have told Teckla that any day I go swimming with Ari is a good day. His laughter is everything. And as a fitting crown to the summer, we had a young boy get baptized in the pool in August.

So we have lived with a leaking pool and the most temporary of solutions. We are squeezing as much fun out of this summer as we can. Even if the pool is filled in because we can’t afford a new liner, we have grabbed some golden memories. We have redeemed the time.

We have not rejected what is good because we can’t have what is best.

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Nudge, Nudge

Along many Oregon beaches creeks run across the salt and pepper sand into the ocean. Recently, my grandson, Ari, and I were floating his toy boat on the small stream at the Kitchen Beach in Bandon. In most places it was only four or five inches deep as it carved its way to the crashing surf. The red and blue boat would float a little way and then ground out on the sand along edge. Ari or I would nudge it back into the rippling current and it would bob along happily until the current left it grounded again. We kept nudging it seaward.

I’ve read a couple volumes of systematic theology on the Holy Spirit, but I think this experience has given the best understanding of what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit. This says more about me than the value of the books I read. And it is probably God’s commentary on my experience, not my insight, that is instructive. You can judge.

First, walking in the Spirit is more than obedience. The boat was always in the stream bed, even when twirling in an eddy or aground in the shallows. The biblical images that express the Holy Spirit are wind and water, things that move and flow. Obedience is essential; it keeps us in the stream bed of God’s will as revealed in His Word. But walking in the Spirit is more. It means moving in the current, not stuck in the shallows.

Second, it is important to discern where the current is strongest. The river boat captains about which Mark Twain wrote knew every snag, sand bar, and rapid. They knew where the current was strongest. They could read the waters. For us this means sensing what gives God delight. On the beach, I looked for where the ripples of the current caught the sun. The beauty revealed the current. There was glory in the light. It took a lot of nudges to get the boat down the creek and into the ocean.

Third, only nudges were needed because I was fully committed to the stream and its direction. Graciously, God sometimes nudges us back into the current of His Spirit, but I suspect God wants us to be more than plastic boats. Like experienced riverboat pilots, we should learn to avoid the snags and sandbars; we should steer ourselves into the current of the Spirit throughout the day. The current, like God’s grace, does most the work.

For me this means nudging my thoughts and emotions into what God’s Word declares. It means choosing to hope when things look hopeless. It means choosing kindness over bitterness. Compassion instead of judgment. When I nudge my heart and my mind toward the truth, I soon feel the current of God’s Spirit.

I have gotten better at discerning when I am stuck or swirling in an eddy. Time spent in God’s Word has made it easier to make course corrections. Daily time in God’s Word has helped me quickly identify the lies and the compromises that I need to avoid. It is easier to swing back into the current of His Spirit when steering by His Word.

There is joy in the current. Being grounded in the shallows is both boring and depressing. We were created and redeemed to flow with the Spirit of God. We were made to move and feel the wind in our face. Prying ourselves out of mudflats steals our joy.

It feels like grace when the current catches the boat and moves it toward the roar of the ocean, one nudge at a time.

 

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Key, Pa!

In the dialect of Ari, my three-year old grandson, “Key” is “Thank you.” I have no idea why, but Ari’s gratitude is often expressed with a sweet, “Key, Pa!”

How much quiet joy his “Key, Pa!” gives me has been instructive. His simple gratitude is like pure gold—few things are more precious to me. What Ari says, almost without thought or effort, gives me such delight.  I am a shallow person, so I imagine God values our expressions of gratitude even more. One of the most surprising expressions of our humanity is our power to delight God with our gratitude.

A second lesson from my response to Ari, is that his “Key, Pa!” always makes me want to do more for the kid. I suspect this is also God’s response to our thanksgiving. Ari’s sweet gratitude immediately makes me think of other things that he would enjoy. Sometimes I get creative or just silly. I think our gratitude, even for small things, can release God’s creative love into our lives—and perhaps even God’s playfulness. Yesterday, Ari’s request that I play with him had me riding a stuffed dinosaur as I roared and chased him through the house. There was no point, no dignity, and great fun.

Some days it seems that God underlines Ari’s “Key, Pa!” I am old; disappointments grow on my heart like barnacles. There is no end to the list of could’ves and should’ves. It is easier to count the losses than the gains, the dreams broken instead of realized. It is easy to turn a jaundiced and cynical eye on the dreams of others. So I need Ari to remind me that gratitude is the key to so much–to relationship and joy. Ari teaches my heart to say, “Key, Abba!”

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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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