If Only

A couple weeks ago Teckla and I decided to take Ari on a hike along the bluffs north of Shore Acres. The trail meanders through shore pine, Sitka spruce, and Douglas fir. It looks out at the distant horizon where the blue of sky meets the blue of sea. The distant barking of seals and sea-lions drifts over the waves and the cries of gulls and oyster catchers echo off the cliffs. Waves curl and explode against the rocks in fountains of white glory. The beauty is stunning.

It is also dangerous. Although fences protect careless hikers in some places, there are long stretches where a wrong step could kill you on the rocks far below. Therefore, it seemed prudent to have a talk with Ari, who is seven, about the dangers. We explained, “We want to take you on this beautiful trail, but we must be able to trust you to obey. This is a place where disobedience could seriously hurt or even kill you.” I then added, “We can have many adventures together if I can trust you to obey.”

Perhaps you have seen a parent get a child’s attention by kneeling and placing a hand on each side of their face. In this moment God seemed to do that to me and say, “Mark, that is true for you too. If I can trust you to obey, we can have many adventures together.”

I am at an age or place in my life where kids and dogs inspire most my sermons, so the next Sunday I preached at the Coquille Church of the Nazarene on “Obedience: The Great Adventure.” I took as my text Deuteronomy 28 where Moses tells the Israelites all the blessings they will experience and all the adventures they will have if only they will obey God.

Of course, the big lie, as old as the serpent’s lie in the garden, is that obedience is joy-killing. It is the slander that God and his commandments are withholding something good and exciting. Believing this lie, many of God’s people choose wandering in the desert over the adventure of taking the promised land from giants. In the church, this often means defining obedience as a list of the things we don’t do. It is a kind of dull legalism that takes no risks and goes no further than the edge of the Jordan.

On Sunday mornings when we were praying for the morning services, my mother often prayed, “Lord, give us radical obedience.” It is something we should all pray. Many, I think, have abandoned the church out of boredom—not unbelief. Radical obedience can restore the adventure of listening to God and following Him with unflinching faith. The church, paradoxically, can become a safe place to have dangerous adventures. It can be base camp for ascents into the mountains of God.

Ari did great on the hike, so there will be more adventures. What dangerous, thrilling, and beautiful trails might we hike if only God could trust us to obey?    

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“Can Jesus Carry Me?”

While hiking on trails along the bluffs of the ocean, our grandson, Ari, lifted his arms and asked, “Will you carry me, Pa?” He is six and about sixty pounds and my knees are bad, so I said, “Sorry, you have gotten too heavy, and I have gotten too old.”

He then asked, “Can Jesus carry me?”

I quickly said, “Yes,” just because it seemed so wrong to say no. After all, we have all those paintings of Jesus carrying lambs. And we have the popular story of footprints in the sand with the lesson that where there is only one set of footprints is where Jesus carried us. There are hymns too. 

Ari stopped in the middle of the trail, lifted his arms, and said, “Jesus, carry me.” I don’t know if he was being funny or really expected Jesus to grab him. I kept walking and mumbled, “Jesus probably wants you to use the strong legs He has given you.” Ari’s hands came down and he quickly caught up.

Either Ari is profound, or I have the spirituality of a six-year-old (or both), but Ari has put his finger on one of the complex problems with the language we use to talk about God. Often our language is imprecise, sometimes metaphors taken too literally, sometimes literal stories made too metaphorical.

I often find this is true about the exhortation to give all our burdens to God. Like Ari, I just want to stop in the middle of the trail and say, “God, I give you all these burdens to You. I will let You write the checks, call the doctors, get social security, sign us up for new health insurance, and repair the car.” Often the exhortation to give our burdens to God is followed by a warning not to take the burdens back once we have laid them at the feet of Jesus.

But taking back our burdens and getting busy is exactly what we all must do unless we end up like Ari, stuck in the middle of the trail waiting for Jesus to carry him. I have heard eloquent sermons on not being anxious and casting all our cares upon the Lord. After one of these, I asked the pastor, “How do you avoid being anxious about your children and grandchildren?” He bluntly answered, “I don’t know.”

I have usually not been anxious about myself or my finances. I am confident in God’s care for me even though I believe His care does not deliver me from all the evils of this world like sickness, wicked people, and my own foolishness. But I do not have the same freedom from anxiety for family and friends who might step out from under the protection given by God’s love and wisdom. 

Throughout his letters, Paul expresses concern and sometimes even fear (Galatians 4:11) for his spiritual children. In Romans 9:2 Paul says he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for his Jewish brothers who refuse to believe Jesus is the Messiah. In II Corinthians 11:28 Paul speaks of facing “daily the pressure of my concern for the church.” His concern for others seemed to be a calling, a gift, and yet still a burden—one that could not be given away. I suppose we could rebuke Paul for not giving all his burdens to the Lord, but such a rebuke feels foolish. I distrust any idea that makes me more spiritual than Paul.

Paul, who embraces “unceasing anguish,” also tells us in Philippians 4:7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice.  Paul urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In I Peter we are told, “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because he cares for you.” I have tried but failed to do this well.

For about the last four years Teckla and I fought daily to keep our son, Peter, alive. He was in and out of ICU’s all over the state—sometimes intubated and near death. We could not, like Ari, stop in the middle of the trail and say, “Carry me, Jesus. Here, you call the ambulance this time.” In anguish we often debated when we should over-rule Peter and call the ambulance before he was willing to go. This was not a decision we could hand-off to God. Although I have clear conscience concerning Peter, he might be alive if I had called the ambulance the night before he died instead of the next morning. In addition to all this, of course, was our concern for his spiritual health. Were the knots in my stomach and emotional exhaustion because I had “taken back my burdens from the Lord”?

We prayed constantly, but our prayers seldom lessened our fears for Peter. In prayer we gave God our burden for Peter, but it did not lighten our burden. Although I have only gratitude and thanksgiving toward God, it is also true that we put Peter into God’s hands and Peter died. Yes, it could be that Peter’s death was somehow the working out of some divine providence and wisdom. Or in the war that God wins in the end, this may have been victory for the enemy. Whatever the case, there is still something complex and paradoxical about asking Jesus to carry Peter and Peter dying. I hope in the end Peter, like Ari, threw up his hands and asked Jesus to carry him.  

So what then? First, as Ari discovered, our language about being carried by Jesus and casting our burdens on Him is metaphorical. What we often mean and probably even what Scripture means is that God gives us the strength to carry our burdens. We are given the assurance we are not alone and that He is at work seeking to save, heal, and help those we love.On occasion, there may be a supernatural intervention like the one in Acts when Philip was transported by the Spirit from one place to another, but usually obedience is a long slog.

Second, God calls into the paradox of constantly rejoicing in our salvation and constantly sorrowing for those who are lost. We are set free from anxiety about ourselves, so that we can fully give ourselves to the care of others. We lay down our burdens so we can share in God’s. We are invited, even privileged, to join in the sufferings of Jesus who was a man of sorrows because of the depth of His love for us.

I still pray that Jesus will carry Ari—and all my other wonderful grandchildren. I also ask God to strengthen their legs and hearts to run after Him all their days. 

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Climb, Climb, Up Sunshine Mountain

The blessings of God are fresh every morning, but these days so is the grief. Teckla and I are sorting out stuff and hauling things to the dump, so every day we come across things that belonged to Peter: clothes, guitars, drumsticks, even an accordion he hadn’t yet learned to play. Waves of sadness and loss wash over us as we realize there is no reason to keep most of this. Pieces of our hearts are carried with each load to the dump.

This daily grief numbs us to much that should delight us. As is often the case, one of the points of my last sermon pierced my heart. I had asserted that one evidence of loving God is how much we delight in Him, how much we enjoy his presence, treasure His nearness. Yet even as I proclaimed this, I realized I had lost my delight in God. I could follow and obey commandments—another sign of loving God—but my soul took no delight in Him. There was no dancing—just one foot in front of the other. I was and still am a spiritual trudger with an empty heart.  

And as is often the case with those who grieve, I have struggled to find delight in ordinary things. Peter’s death seemed like such a resounding victory for the enemy, I have had no fight left either. I should be tenaciously fighting for the ordinary joys of life but feel too exhausted. I have hope, but it is all anchored in Jesus on the other side of my grave. Such hope, although theologically sound, has not helped me face each day with joy and purpose.

But I have been helped by two unlikely allies—Christian mystics and a Vacation Bible School song from my earliest years as a child in the Pendleton Church of the Nazarene. Many Christian mystics believed that our love of God was like ladder where our contemplation moved from earthly things to heavenly things until our soul could delight in the contemplation of God himself. This idea simply recognizes that delight in creation should lead to delight in the Creator, and delight in the Creator should lead to His Word. Delight in His Word should bring communion with His indwelling Spirit until God Himself is our delight.

Peter’s death knocked me off the ladder.  I feel like a spiritual stroke victim learning to walk again.  I have found myself at the bottom of the ladder, so I have been learning to delight in small things. As unspiritual as it may sound, I have delighted in potatoes from my garden, catching salamanders and crawdads in the creek, the smoothness of a rock on the beach, and voice of many waters in the roar of the ocean. A step up has been delight in the smile and hugs of grandchildren—such an irresistible delight. I have made, as St. Ignatius urges, my five senses a way of climbing from grief to joy.

And in all this I found myself singing the old VBS song, “Climb, Climb, Up Sunshine Mountain” even though my face is not “all aglow”. I am climbing up to “where heavenly breezes blow”. I am turning from “sin and doubting” and “looking to God on High”. It is indeed a climb, and I am out of shape, but wildflower by wildflower, potato by potato, smile by smile I am learning to delight in God and feel again the winds of His Spirit.  

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Can We Dig Him Up?

Ari asked this as we stood at the edge of his Daddy’s grave. Peter’s gravestone had not yet been placed, but I knew he had been buried right next to my brother, Stanley. This was the second time Ari had asked. Several weeks ago, Ari asked, “Is it legal for us to go dig up dead people? Can we dig up my daddy, your mommy and daddy and give them hugs?” I explained the whole thing about the body being in the grave and the spirit being with Jesus, but it is a lot for even an adult to grasp, let alone a six-year-old.  I also assured him that digging up dead people was not legal.

Ari’s question is a good one. Despite all our talk of death being a natural part of life, death feels wrong. The loss of those we love remains a tragedy, and death, an enemy. I still miss my mother and father. I have especially missed having them pray for me and my family in the midst of heartbreak. I miss their wise counsel and deep compassion.  When I see a new bird or unusual butterfly, I miss being able to share that with my oldest brother, Stanley. It all feels wrong. And it is. Like Ari says, we should be able to hug them.

Scripture is on Ari’s side. Paul makes clear that death is a result of sin (Romans 5:17). In I Corinthians 15:26 Paul declares, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” Death is an enemy— and not an enemy we are commanded to love. We were created to be eternal. Love is made to endure. We should not comfort the grieving with assurances that death is natural and, as Disney preaches, is part of the great circle of life.

Here in Oregon the push to celebrate death as a natural part of life is especially strong and widespread. It is driven by a concern for the environment and our healthy celebration of nature. Oregon is offering more ways to compost the body or even wrap our remains in the roots of tree-ball, so we “live again” through the tree’s growth. I don’t object to any of these practices, and I think it wise not to plant people filled with toxic embalming fluids. But none of this should diminish our instinctive conviction that death is wrong and an enemy.

Even though believers are not comforted by the naturalness of death, we are not without comfort. As believers in Jesus, we believe not only in resurrection but in reunion. Recently, Ari and I sat together in our little leaky hot tub talking theology. It is one of the few times he is still enough for a conversation. Ari asked me when he would see his daddy again. I explained that when we die, we go to be with Jesus and that I believed his daddy was with Jesus. His response was, “I want to die, so I can go see my daddy.” I said, “Me too!” However, I went on to say when we die is up to God.

Ari got excited and his eyes big when I explained that someday Jesus was going to return with all those who had believed in him and that we would all be together. On that day, I explained, God would make all wrong things right and all ugly things, beautiful. On that day all death would end and there would be hugs. With some sadness and a lot of wisdom, Ari said, “I want that to happen soon.”

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Failing Peter

In my last post I said Teckla and I had failed Peter in many ways. A couple of people kindly insisted we hadn’t, so I think I should clarify. Some may think this sense of failure is the guilt parents often feel when a child dies. It may be some of that perhaps, but I am not conscious of any feelings of guilt. It is more a feeling of weakness and helplessness. 

Teckla and I hoped that we could live a life so full of God’s Spirit and the goodness that Peter would return to the faith in Jesus he had as a child. For some years Peter did pursue the Jewish faith and studied orthodox Judaism, but he seemed to desert this faith these last two or three years. Yet, he remained vaguely spiritual—if not Christian. We wish the light of Jesus was stronger in us and could have pulled him out of darkness and addiction. Our example and our lived-out faith were not enough.

We also hoped that our faithful, deep, and steadfast love would draw Peter back into the light and love of God. We often hoped that his own love for Ari would give him the strength overcome self-destructive behavior and addiction. Our love, it seems, was not enough to nudge Peter closer to Jesus and further from destruction.

Perhaps we failed to love Peter wisely. We gave him both tough and tender love—but never knew at any moment which kind of love was needed. Because he struggled with Type One diabetes and addictions, we often did not know which kind of love would keep him alive. We stumbled and fumbled around in the darkness, hoping something would help–sometimes only hoping we weren’t making things worse.

Like many Christian parents, we have been alternately encouraged and hammered by Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. One is tempted to conclude that if a child does depart from it, then parents have failed in their training. I have certainly seen many adults return to the faith of their childhood. But if this proverb is true in some absolute sense, we must conclude God failed to adequately train Adam and Eve. Three years of discipleship by Jesus himself was not enough to save Judas. Even Peter, part of Jesus’ inner circle, denied Christ three times. Jesus washed the feet of Judas before the last supper. It seems that love was not enough.

I suspect our failures are the failures of all parents whose children go astray. Love isn’t always enough. Even miracles were not enough for many who saw Jesus in the flesh. The more miracles the Pharisees saw, the more they sought to kill Jesus. Teckla and I are not being flogged by all the “if onlys” and “should ofs”. But we are humbled by our inability to rescue Peter—we are painfully aware of our weaknesses.

When Jesus grieved over Jerusalem, he expressed my heart toward Peter:How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” Every fatherly bone and muscle in me wanted to gather Peter in my arms and present him safely to Jesus. In the face of all my love, gentle persuasion, and communication skills, Peter would not.

However, God has not left me without hope. A few weeks after Peter’s death, my brother Larry called and said that during prayer for our Peter and our family, God put the word “deliverance” into his heart and mind: deliverance for Peter and perhaps for us. Another friend, Cynthia, from Nebraska said that as she prayed, she felt God say, “Peter is okay. He is with me.” I strongly felt that at Peter’s memorial I was to share from Romans 7:34: O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” At his death, Peter’s body was quite literally ravaged by his diabetes and addictions. He was indeed wretched. Pastor John, who began Peter’s memorial, read from the 34th Psalm which includes: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy with joy and their faces shall never be ashamed.” The night before he died, I stood in Peter’s room and prayed a desperate and heart-broken prayer for his salvation and deliverance. I now believe God answered that prayer.

God has assured me that Peter’s death was also his deliverance. I believe at some point Peter turned his heart toward God and cried out for help. My love and my arms were not enough to gather up Peter, but the strong arms of Jesus have lifted Peter up, taken away his shame, and made him radiant.

I still, and always will, grieve his loss. I grieve for all that could have been. I grieve for Ari growing up without his father. But I do not grieve as one without hope. Peter had a tattoo on his foot from The Lord of the Rings: “Not all who wander are lost”. I have been given the hope this is true for Peter.  

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Deep Waters

The older I get, the more I love (and perhaps need) this story about fishing (Luke 5:3—8). Peter, James, and John had been fishing all night with no luck. They had taken their nets out of the boats and spread them out to dry. Jesus hopped into Peter’s boat and used it as a pulpit, perhaps taking advantage to the natural amphitheater of the shoreline and the way sound travels across water.

We need to be careful about who we let into our boat. Jesus can change everything. Before this day ends, Peter will be leaving his nets and his boat to follow Jesus around for the next three years. Peter will see the glory of God on the Mount of Transfiguration, deny Christ three times, preach to, and convert, thousands on the day of Pentecost, face persecution, go to jail, and eventually, history tells us, get crucified upside down in Rome. Peter did not merely let in few theological propositions; he let the living Christ, the Son of God, come into every part of his life. Nothing was ever the same.

This also a story about letting Jesus speak to us in our weariness. Jesus tells Peter to push out into the deep water and let his nets down. Peter explains that they had worked hard all night and caught nothing. And Peter had just sat through the sermon Jesus had given to the people. Peter had every reason not to do what Jesus asks.

Sometimes our weariness makes it hard to obey. We often feel, perhaps justly, that we have earned the right to rest. Regarding those we are called to love and serve, we can feel we have done more than our fair share of giving and serving. We, after all, have earned retirement. We grow tired of hoping and helping.

Sometimes we grow weary praying for wayward sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends. We may labor for years, hoping to see their hearts soften and their lives healed.  We do the hard work of loving the hard to love. For some of us, pushing into the deep water means obedience even when we have lost hope. It means loving and serving those whose grow harder and move farther, not nearer to God. It is often obeying when we have lost all hope of catching anything.  

Not only did Peter have to push past his tiredness, he had to push past his reason and expertise.  Peter, John, and James were, after all, professional fishermen. They knew when to fish and where to fish. If the fish in the Sea of Galilee, called today St. Peter’s fish, behave like many fish in our lakes, they usually aren’t found out in the deep water.

Today we certainly have a vast array of academics that argue for the foolishness or even toxicity of the Christian faith. In a sense, every person who puts their faith in Jesus is pushing into deep waters intellectually. The current of our culture is certainly working against faithfully following of Jesus. Many Christians have reasoned their way out of faith and out of following Jesus.

And Peter’s own immediate experience, fishing all night and catching nothing, argues powerfully against what Jesus is asking him to do. Like Peter we all have our own story and set of experiences. Every Christian must resist the temptation to make an idol of their experiences. The older we are as believers, the more we are tempted to obey our experience instead of the voice of Jesus. When I teach students how to argue for a solution to a problem, I warn them to be ready for the old geezer objection: “we tried that in 78; it didn’t work then and won’t work now”. I don’t know how old or experienced Peter was at this time, but he was experienced enough to know when to fish.

I often pray for the sick to be healed. I do this because I think it is something Jesus asks his disciples to do. I have seen only few people immediately healed. I have seen some who weren’t healed experience the tangible presence of God when I prayed, but if I based my theology of healing on my experience, or lack of it, I would stop praying for the sick. It is just too disappointing when I pray and nothing happens. I keep doing it because not doing it feels like disobedience. Praying for the sick with some expectation of them getting better is, for me, deep water.

The third, and most important point, is that Peter also said, “but at Your bidding, I will let down the nets.”  This isn’t a story about working hard even when exhausted. It is about listening to the voice of the Master even when our expertise, experience, and weariness might shut our ears. It is about always having our heart tuned to His voice. In our discouragement and exhaustion, do we still have ears to hear his bidding?

This story is mostly about obedience. A while back when I was bone-tired of loving someone who was completely unresponsive to my love and seemed unable to exit a cycle of self-destructive behavior, I read John 13.  As Jesus is getting ready to wash the feet of the disciples, John comments that Jesus “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This included Judas, who Jesus knew was going to betray him. This slapped me up the side of the head as a call to love the hardest to love, all the way to the end, even though I was weary beyond words. I am waiting for the full net.

All obedience without hope pushes us into deep water.   I have good friends who have lost children to fatal accidents. They have no answers to the hard questions they still carry in their hearts, but they have loved and served God faithfully. They have weathered storms, and at the Master’s bidding let down their nets in deep waters.

Since I preached this sermon at the local Presbyterian church, our son, Peter, died. Teckla and I had many promises from God about how He desired to bless and use Peter. Despite years of prayers and love, Peter said no to these promises. Or perhaps we did not hear what God was saying and put words in God’s mouth? Regarding Peter, we fished all night and caught nothing—or at least it seems. These are deep waters, and our weariness is deeper than our bones.

In the days before Peter died, we did all we could to help him battle his diabetic keto acidosis. He had gotten back from the emergency room but was still unable to keep anything down. We cleaned up his vomit and brought him drink after drink to help him stay hydrated and to flush out ketones. The night before he died, I checked to make certain he had everything he needed and then left his room. I took about four steps and came back into the room and stood at the foot of his bed. Broken and weeping, I prayed aloud desperately, “Jesus, help Peter. Pour out your grace and mercy. Save him. Heal his body and soul. Come help Peter.” The next morning, I found him on his bed struggling to breathe. I called the ambulance, but it was too late. He was so thin, nearly skeletal, that the EMTs easily carried him to the gurney.  He died of heart failure on the way to the hospital.

I do not know if any of my prayers for Peter were answered that night. I don’t know if that last cast of the net caught any part of Peter’s heart. I don’t know. These waters are dark and cold. I do not know why God asked us to adopt Peter—in too many ways it seems like we failed him. There is so much I don’t know. And not knowing too easily becomes not caring—growing numb with grief and unbelief. We loved Peter to the end.    

But no matter how long the night and how empty the nets, I must obey the master’s bidding. I must cast nets in deep waters and try not to drown.

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Heaven and High School

As we age, I think we not only go through a second childhood, we also experience a second high-school. I suppose I am thinking mainly about those who found high school difficult and depressing.

My four years of high school seemed like they would never end or never get better. My grades were terrible, and I felt on the outside looking in. And there was always a swirl of drama about who liked who, who was cool and who wasn’t. A kid could only rise to fame with a touchdown or game-winning shot in a basketball game.

Although I knew it would end, I couldn’t really imagine life after high school. College was an abstraction. I had been a lazy student with low grades, so college was something I would try but was not a grand dream. High school, even my senior year, was my whole boring world.

Old age, with talons of cancer and memory loss, have swept down upon us. Teckla and I have both had surgery for cancer. Our calendars are filled with doctors’ appointments. We live in a swirl of drama about the results of this blood test or that MRI. We see no end in sight, no hope of things getting better. Age and disease have laid a long siege on our bodies. Heaven and resurrection seem like abstractions.

Most of my students at the college are freshmen, and many are away from home for the first time. After the winter break, I ask them what it was like to go home. They always comment on how different everything was even though they had been gone only a few months. Many experience what I did. Almost immediately after graduation, all the drama and misery and cliques of high school ceased to matter.

I remember walking through the streets of Myrtle Point on my first winter break from college and hearing someone call out my name. Rod, who in all our years together in high school had never talked to me, wanted to know how I was doing. It was clear that the cliques and divisions of high school no longer mattered. In fact, lots of things got turned upside town. Suddenly, nerdy kids completing college degrees were celebrated while state champion athletes quietly went to work in the lumber mills.

I know that a moment after my death, my graduation from this present misery, all this drama, fretting, and hopelessness will be turned upside down. The pointless will be woven into purpose. The low, neglected, and forgotten will be exalted. Misery will become glory. My trudging faithfulness and endurance will be treasured. All that seemed endless will be an interlude of hardship before an eternity of blessing.

Recognizing all this should help me more than it does. It is, nonetheless, good to say out loud again and again. Right now, I want my headache to go away.

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An Experiment

What I don’t know about WordPress could fill a black hole.

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Washing Paws

It rains a lot here in the winter. Our Doberman, Pharaoh, is a long-legged, big-pawed horse of a dog, so when he runs through the backyard and skids to a stop, he tears up the grass. Most of the backyard is now mud. He also has dug a deep hole under the azalea bush and thrown dirt everywhere.

He sleeps on the back porch which has dog-door to the backyard. The porch needs to be swept and then mopped almost every day. He spends most of the day indoors when we are home. We tried letting him stay in the house at night, but he left too much to clean up in the morning. He also chewed-up about anything he could reach—including the books from the many bookcases. He chewed my Bible and ate some of Psalm 18 (which did not improve his behavior). He now has a nice bed on the back porch, but tracks in a lot mud.

So most mornings I must carefully wash his paws. In fact, it is often the first thing I do. I take him a short walk to the telephone poles and fire hydrants. We then walk through the wet grass to get some of the mud from his feet. On the porch, I have a paw-washing jar with warm water and a little soap. I wash and then dry each paw before letting him in the house. We have been doing this long enough that he stands still and lets me scrub each paw.

Paw washing has become a small sacrament for me. It is a spoonful of grace that sweetens the morning. Tending to Pharaoh first pulls me out of myself and is a gentle reminder that the day is not about what I get but what I can give.

And perhaps there is a distant echo of Eden and the work of tending the garden. In serving animals before ourselves we get something right about our purpose and calling. We discover we are most ourselves when least focused on ourselves. Farmers who get up in the dark to feed their animals experience this grace when they finally sit down for breakfast. Mothers who take the worst pieces of chicken so the kids can have best know this. Tired grandparents who bend stiff joints to play with the grand kids on the floor know this. Jesus too.

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The Nazarene Thing and Melted Butter

I didn’t know my grandfather well. As the youngest of my three brothers, I got to know grandpa mostly while a college student at NNC. He and Grandma Jewel live on Ivy street—a short walk from the campus. Even so, I didn’t hang out much at their house except when my parents came to visit. I could have learned much.

My Nazarene roots go deep. Grandpa’s Mallalieu’s Dad was William Columbus Wilson who had started some Nazarene churches in California, worked with Phineas Bresee, and briefly was the fifth general superintendent in the newly formed denomination. Grandpa had pastored and worked as a dean, registrar, and speech teacher at Nazarene colleges. My own father was a third generation ordained Nazarene pastor.

I only listened to or understood a few of Grandpa’s stories. Grandpa Mallalieu had seen the good, bad, ugly of the church over the years. He had no illusions and many stories about battles with legalists within the denomination. Although growing up in a new denomination that preached heart holiness, grandpa had many stories about the ugly behavior of some leaders.

There is one story, however, that has always stuck with me even though the details are fuzzy. Grandpa had a wonderfully wrinkled face—not the small wrinkles of a prune but something more like a plowed field. And when he told this story, his wrinkles came to life. The story was about an evangelist coming to his church to preach two weeks of revival services. The first week attendance was low and the people wooden. On Saturday, my grandfather and the evangelist were discouraged. Together they walked out to the center of a vacant lot near the church. One of them picked up a stick and made circle in the dirt. They told God they would not leave the circle until God gave them a fresh outpouring of His Spirit.

Together they prayed in this vacant lot—taking turns crying out to God for more of His presence and power in their lives. Suddenly, Grandpa said, the heavens opened and God poured out His Holy Spirit on them like melted butter. I remember Grandpa’s glistening eyes, the catch in his voice, and the tears in the creases around his eyes as he spoke. The second week of revival services, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully—with many seeking salvation or rededicating their lives.

Perhaps this story resonates with me because of my own experience in high school. It was the height of the Jesus movement and the local Methodist pastor had brought a Christian rock band that played at the high school and at the local church. The pastor had opened her home to the kids after the concert. God’s spirit was moving and kids were getting saved. One of the members of the band, The Brethren, asked me if I would like to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I had been saved as a kid in a Nazarene Church in Walla Walla, and I had made many trips to the altar to get that second blessing, sometimes called sanctification, but I was always open to more of God. The young guy with shaggy hair put a hand on me and prayed. Immediately, a warm electric cloud settled upon me. Electricity seemed to dance on my face. The band member said, “You can speak in tongues if you like.” I did, but it was the burst of joy coming out of me that I remember most. I could not stop smiling.

Although serving in the Nazarene church here in Myrtle Point for the last 30 years, Teckla and I have not been members of the denomination since the 80’s. We both, however, deeply value that the Church of the Nazarene has called people to live holy lives and has nourished a hunger for God that makes us cry out for more of His Spirit. As an outsider that loves the denomination, I hope Nazarenes never forsake or crowd out their defining emphasis on seeking and a deeper cleansing and a closer walk with God. I hope their is always room for melted butter.

My life has punctuated with four or five “melted butter” and “electric cloud” moments full of holy joy. To be honest this is not just a Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, or charismatic thing. It is a longing for something more than an intellectual consent to a collection of theological propositions.

It is a God thing—a hunger for God himself upon us, in us, moving and working through us.

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