Talking Bones

As I grow older, my bones grow noisier. About 25 years ago, I shattered my right knee while playing with Peter at the playground in Bandon. A surgeon rebuilt my knee with bone taken from my hip. The knee works but doesn’t have much cartilage. It complains loudly after long hikes or being twisted the wrong direction.

Bone tired. As I have aged, the other bones have become a chorus accompanying my knee. Recently I noticed how often the Psalmists mention bones. In the Psalm 6:2 David asks God to heal him because his bones are “dismayed”. David is talking about something deeper than the creaking bones of the elderly. In verse six he says, “I am weary with my sighing. Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears.” Grief can make us bone-tired as we dog paddle in our tears.  In Psalm 22 David laments that he is “poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint.”  Like David, our bones ask, “O Lord—how long?” Our bones pray.

Bone praise. Yet as deep, even deeper, there is a joy and hope in my bones. In Psalm 35:9-10 David’s bones speak again:

All my bones will say, “Lord who is like Thee, Who delivers the afflicted from him who is too strong for him, and the afflicted and the needy from him who robs from him?

Yes, despite all the triumphant exhortations to be joyful over-comers Christians exchange, we still face circumstances and enemies that are too strong—who steal our joy and would like to steal our faith. But our bones can rejoice in God who delivers us and refreshes our bones.

Bag of bones. As we age or face sickness, we can easily feel like little more than a bag of bones. Sometimes those dying of cancer become terribly thin and their skin almost translucent, like parchment showing every vein, outlining every bone. Even so, our bones can, with every snap, crackle, and pop, sing and our hope of redemption, our hope of resurrection. Our lungs may wheeze and whine like bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” but we limp toward victory.

In all our weakness, and in all our fading, the Spirit will grow stronger in us. And as we age, we get closer to the day when our bones will rattle like the bones of Israel in Ezekiel 37, and we will rise to see Jesus, face to face. Then every bone will sing, every knee will bend.

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And They Were Afraid

This is, we are told in Luke, the response of the townspeople to seeing the man called Legion in his right mind. He certainly seems more frightening before having met Jesus. He was naked, living in tombs, able to break chains and shackles when the demons seized him. But Luke’s account suggests that people in Gerasenes had been trying to control for him for quite a while. Perhaps they had grown use to this wild and tormented man and were frightened by the change.

It has always struck me as odd that the people were frightened by seeing this delivered man, clothed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and in His right mind. They are so “gripped with great fear” that they asked Jesus and his disciples to leave. It seems odd that they shooed Jesus away instead lining up all the other demon-possessed people.

But really, few things are more frightening than a person in his or her right mind. People who aren’t possessed can’t be owned. We may think it is the insane person who is unpredictable, but madmen, as G. K. Chesterton points out, live in a small and predictable world: “his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle.” Whatever obsession may possess them renders them predictable. It is the completely sane person who frightens those in charge, those with deadlines, and those with an agenda.

First, it hard to know which side a sane person is on. Sane people have the annoying habit of seeing some truth on both sides. You can’t trust the sane to stick to the party line. Sane folks have the gall to admit the other side may have a valid point. They refuse to see things through the filters provided them.

Second, the loyalty of sane people cannot be trusted because they put first loyalty to the truth. Even when a lie is expedient, practical, and necessary, the sane person insists on speaking the truth, pointing out hypocrisy, and challenging flawed logic. Sane people will betray you every time. Just when you are about to implement your proposal, some sane person will ruin everything by pointing the inevitable but unintended consequences of your project.

Third, you never know what people in their right mind might say. They don’t stick to the script. Their minds not only work, but are always working, analyzing, and reasoning. New things are always occurring to them. When your whole project depends on people not noticing or asking about something, along comes a sane person asking hard questions.

Few things are more frightening than a person that can’t be owned, isn’t possessed, and sees all things in the bright light of reason and faith. They can’t be labelled or leashed. They are free and therefore frightening.

More frightening than the man once called Legion is the man who set him free. Sadducees and Pharisees fought like cats and dogs, but both groups were afraid of Jesus. Jesus scared the Romans and gave Pilate’s wife nightmares. No man was saner–or more dangerous.

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How Grandchildren Save the World and Our Souls

I am convinced that grandchildren save the world. No matter how cynical, skeptical, and jaded we senior citizens become, our hearts still melt when a grandchild slips their hand in ours, places a kiss on our cheek, or squeaks out, “I love you, Pa!” This can generate a lot of “Aw, ain’t  that sweet!” However, I think something deeper and more important is at work.

When we look into the eyes of our grandchildren, we who are about to leave this world, are forced to care about it. We realize we have stake in the future: in the environment and climate we leave behind, and in the culture and social order. Will we leave our grandchildren a world at peace or at war? Will we leave behind a just world where both rights and liberty are safe?

For people my age there are certainly reasons for apathy or despair. I lived through the social activism of the sixties and seventies, so I am amused by those playing the “woker than thou game.” I have seen years when Democrats defended the Soviet Union and Republicans demonized it, only to see Republicans defend Russia and Democrats declare Putin the devil. My generation has lived through Nixon’s Watergate and Bill Clinton’s affairs, so we have few reasons to trust leaders. We have many reasons to dismiss all politics as pointless and corrupt.

Even more discouraging is how lukewarm, compromised, and moribund the Western church has become. The culture has become more secular and young people have been leaving their faith—at least their churches—in droves. Those who remain are caught between factions of cultural compromise and political captivity. It is tempting to pay more attention to my prostate than prayer.

But our grandchildren can, or at least should, awaken us from despair and cynicism. It is, perhaps, one the reasons people my age vote in larger numbers than young adults. It may be the reason so many retirees have (almost) a second career as volunteers in local organizations and can be seen cleaning up roadsides and parks.

Of course, one need not have grandchildren to care about the future generations, but it certainly helps. I would argue that it helps civilization stay civil. It helps us resist the temptation to secure our retirement and let the world go to hell on skateboards.  There are, of course, grandparents who essentially drop out and live for themselves. Some can be found at casinos pumping their retirement into slot machines. And certainly, the mobility of American society has made it easier to not think about grandchildren who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

But distance need not harden our hearts. During a visit to Dylan and Vanessa in Olathe, Kansas, my grand-daughter, Khloe, jumped into my arms and exclaimed, “Papa!” That is all it took to capture my heart forever. When my son Claude and his wife Katie brought their family from Illinois to Oregon for a visit, I got to see grandkids I had not been with much. As we went for walk around the neighborhood, Riyadh slipped his hand in mine. That was all it took. His trust moved me profoundly. I was not in that moment not just committed to him, but to the future.

Having grandchildren makes people more conservative, but in ways more fundamental than political. Grandparents have often lived long enough to identify what things in life are precious and ought to be conserved. This might be a river clean enough to swim in or a park safe enough play in. In our old age and even in our travels, whether we are liberal or conservative, we have arrived at a ragged patriotism that celebrates what is good about the country. Depending on the issue, grandparent activism may be liberal or conservative, but it is often more pragmatic than utopian. It seeks to preserve and conserve the common good. 

Grandchildren save the world by softening and reviving the hearts of their grandparents. They move us to care about a future that is not ours.  We are moved to leave behind a better world. They give us the strength to reject despair, and in their gentle eyes we rediscover a reason to hope. Grandkids give us another reason to persevere in doing good, loving justice, and walking humbly with our God. They save us—or at least me.    

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Praying for Wes

Recently my friend Wes Adams died. In some ways, of all the ways death has made itself known recently, his death has moved me the most. Teckla and I got to know Wes when I took a teaching position at Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Kansas. I was teaching English and he was teaching New Testament. Spouses of faculty could take courses for free, so Teckla took a boat load of courses in biblical literature and New Testament Greek. Many of the courses were taught by Wes (full name, John Wesley Adams).

When taking a course on Acts from Wes, Teckla came home one night and said, “Professor Adams seems to actually believe in the Bible and think the church today should be like it was in Acts.” My heritage was completely Nazarene, going back four generations, and I cut my theological teeth on discussions with my father about sanctification, the Holy Spirit, and what the church should look like, so I was intrigued to see how Wes fit everything into Nazarene tradition. I began sitting in on few of his lectures.

After getting to know Wes a little better, Teckla and I dropped into his office one day. I laid out my argument that there had to be more to the baptism of the Holy Spirit than just a deeper commitment. I had questions. Where is the being “clothed with power on high”? Where is the power to be a bold witness to resurrection of Jesus through signs and wonders? Was the book of Acts irrelevant to the operation of the church today? Doesn’t Pentecost promise both holiness and power?

Wes looked at me a moment, took a deep breath, then said, “Close my door.” He then explained at some length that he thought the description of the church in Acts was meant to be normative, not merely historical. It described what the church should look like today. And yes, we need both power and holiness to do New Testament church.

Now all this may sound like nothing more than an exchange of theological perspectives, but for Teckla and I it was life changing. It was for Wes too because my next question was, “What do we do to move the church closer to the Books of Acts?” Wes, a student of revival, explained that all great revivals were preceded by passionate and persevering intercessory prayer. His short answer was, “We pray.”

We did pray. Teckla and I joined the Friday night prayer meetings Wes was leading at the college. I had never been a part of such passionate crying out to God for revival. Some prayer meetings began at ten and ended with the morning light. Oddly, this all felt like a return to early Nazarene faith of my grandfather and great-grandfather. In those days they called such meetings watch night services or “tarrying” prayer meetings. The old idea was to “tarry” until “clothed with power from on high.” Older Nazarenes called it “praying through.”

And it was in these prayer meetings where I first prayed for Wes Adams to be healed. Wes at age sixteen was in a car accident that left him a partial quadriplegic. For Wes, believing that Acts is normative for the church could never be merely theoretical. After all, chapter three tells of God using Peter and John to heal a man lame from birth. How could Wes teach that we should pray for revival like that in Acts without letting folks pray for his healing?

So, for the last forty years, I have prayed for revival and prayed for Wes to be healed. In fact, I have never been able to separate the two. I am certain Wes fully expected to be healed in this life. Others I suspect shared this conviction. I never heard anything from God promising his healing, but I never felt released from praying for him. However, I think Wes walked close enough to God to hear anything God had to say about not healing him.

I do wonder why God had so many pray so long for Wes and yet never healed him. I do know, and heard Wes say, that for a quadriplegic he lived a miraculously long time. He was certain that all the prayer had extended his life and ministry as a teacher. Although true, this really doesn’t answer the question. Why didn’t God just tell Wes and others that his calling was to minister from wheelchair the rest of his life?

It helps some to note that Paul and some other authors of the New Testament thought Christ was about to return, probably in their lifetime. They seem certain in several places. The teachings and parables of Jesus encourage living as though Jesus could appear at any moment. God has been content to let the church continue to think, really for thousands of years, that Jesus is about to return.

It is also likely that God wanted to bless Wes’s message of revival and intercession with the authority that came from practicing what he preached. He gladly allowed people to pray for his healing year after year—knocking and knocking on God’s door, humbly asking for the healing touch of Jesus. I have often felt if Wes could persevere in prayer and faith while in a wheelchair, I could muster the faith to keep praying. If Wes could be unrelenting in his intercession for revival, how could I abandon this vision?

While talking with my father the summer before he died of cancer, I saw tears appear in his eyes as he said, “My greatest regret is that I have never been part of a real revival and a moving of God’s Spirit.” Like Wes, my father died without ever seeing what he had prayed for most of his life. However, because of the example of my Dad, and Wes (a spiritual father) I have never stopped praying for God to clothe his church with power and purity. Both Wes and my Dad are like those men of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:13: “All these died in faith , without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance,”

Teckla and I are sixty-eight. Her recent battle with breast cancer, and the deaths of brothers and sisters in Christ, have forced me to think about the possibility of dying before I see real revival break loose and before I see my prayers for my sons answered. Have all my prayers for Wes, for revival, for my sons been wasted? I have heard no thunder from heaven but feel the hum of the Holy Spirit in my veins saying, “No.” I am certain Wes and my Dad would say, “No.” I am confident that God’s Word says, “No”.  Every prayer is heard, every tear treasured.

Of course, I still have many unanswered questions. There is so much we don’t know about how intercession in this age prepares us for ministry in the next. We probably can’t fully grasp how obedience in the darkness makes us servants God can trust in the light. Intercession now may prepare for intercession with Jesus. We are told that right now Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. I suspect Wes and Dad are interceding with Him.

It is also true that Jesus has called upon us to pray for things that we don’t see happen in our lifetime. We called to pray for God’s kingdom to come, but in many ways it hasn’t. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, but we do not yet see heaven on earth. Have such prayers been a waste or misguided? Of course, not. But what do we do in face of so much we don’t know about prayer and God’s delays in answering it? 

As Wes said forty years ago in his office at Mid America, we pray.

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Gone, Forgotten, and Remembered

One of the platitudes slung about at funerals is that the dead person will live on in our memories. It is mostly, or eventually, a lie. The people with the memories will soon die too. Of course, there may be those good, evil, or rich enough to have books written about them. And some may leave behind books or buildings with their names attached. But even this rare event is not really an example of people remembering who you are—your personality and inner reality. Most of us will have no biographer except God.

Last summer my brother died. I was surprised by different layers and sources of grief. The most surprising loss came as I thought of the many memories of my parents and our life together that were gone. Who could I talk to about Mom and Dad and our camping trips on the Oregon Coast? Losing Stanley was like losing Mom and Dad again.

My brother, Larry, and I talked about this. He is five years older than I and shows signs of hanging around a while. I felt keenly how much of my identity is tied up in the stories and shared history of our childhood together. Losing those who know our stories can untether our identity. We have a deep need to be known and are unsettled when we lose those who know us best. Losing Stanley has made me treasure my friendship with Larry. He knows me.

A problem people my age face is that many who know us have died or will die soon. Often the people who remember us have either died or moved away. Yes, grandchildren will carry memories of grandparents, but they will remember them only as indulgent, sometimes grumpy, gray heads. Some stories may get passed down, but soon all the memories are gone.

For years I have walked the dog in the cemetery up the hill from our house. The broken stones and untended graves are reminders that eventually we are all forgotten. It is interesting to note that about Shakespeare, the most successful and famous of authors, almost nothing is known. We have his works but even the best scholarly sleuths have a hard time detecting much about Shakespeare from his plays and sonnets. Whoever he was is forgotten.

If living on in the memories of others is our only hope, we should despair. But there is Jesus, a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We are perfectly known and perfectly loved by Him from womb to tomb. Right now, who we are is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Paul speaks of a day when all that is lost is restored and all that is hidden is revealed:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:13)

All who have known us here, even those who know us best, only know parts of us. Most of us fail even to know ourselves accurately. It is hard to sort out who we hope we are from who people say we are and figure out who we really are. But in Christ, we are truly known and who we are (or have become) will be fully revealed only on the day we see Him face to face. When all who know us are gone, God who knows us best remains.

If at funerals we celebrate the life of a person who has died, imagine the celebration when in the twinkling of an eye we see Jesus face to face and are changed into his likeness. It a wonderful paradox of our faith that when we become the most like Jesus is also the day we become our true selves.  All the hidden inner glory of hard obedience, tearful prayers, an unnoticed sacrifice will be visible. All is glory, and we are remembered.

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Little Pilgrimages

Going on pilgrimage seems like an Old-World act of piety. Unlike the United States, Europe has many holy places to visit. Here in the West, with its wide-open spaces, every pilgrimage is a road trip. We also have a shortage of saints and places where saints have done miracles and appeared to people. Of course, we have those people called “snow-birds” who head south to Arizona every winter. The sun may be the attraction, but most of these gray heads don’t bow to it.

Nonetheless, here in Southern Oregon I have discovered myself going on little pilgrimages each year. The objects of my pilgrimage have not been cathedrals, holy relics, or the sites of miracles. Each year I trek to where wildflowers bloom or trees grow. This last week I went to a beach front in Bandon where cream-cups and baby blue-eyes bloom. In March I will make one of my many treks up to Euphoria Ridge to see the magenta beauty of grass-widows in bloom. In May I will be back to see the fawn lilies bloom.

Up the coast a ways, near Cape Perpetua, is a giant Sitka Spruce that I have been visiting since I was four or five. The last time I was there I watched some of my grandchildren crawl around its enormous roots and then wade in the creek nearby. Up past Powers is a trail to Big Tree where several of the biggest white cedars in the world grow. The trail starts at Elk Creek Falls and is uphill all the way through old growth forest and sword ferns, but I still make this pilgrimage once a year. Every few years I make the hike to Mount Bolivar, the highest point in Coos County, and to the to the top of Iron Mountain. At the top of Iron Mountain grow Brewers Spruce, a graceful tree with weeping bows that move gracefully in the wind. These spruces grow only on the mountain tops of the Siskiyou peaks, so every pilgrimage is an ascension.

Lest you think these pilgrimages are merely a response to Oregon’s abundant natural beauty, I should add that I also did this when living in Kansas City. I visited places along the Little Blue River where I knew jack-in-the-pulpits grew. In the spring I fellowshipped with bluebells at the head of the Longview Lake trail. When there where still railroad tracks between Red Bridge Road and Grandview, I walked to Dominion Christian School and greeted the prairie larkspur and evening primrose. In March I visited blood-root that bloomed bright white in forest along Blue Lake.

I cannot testify of pilgrimages ending in miracles or revelation. Nor do I have any impressive ritual to perform at each site. However, I am often on my knees or even prostrate before these wildflowers as I take a picture. Although my only worship is close attention to the design and beauty of God’s creation, these pilgrimages are a means of grace to me. Attention is love and the fruit of every pilgrimage is thanksgiving and a deeper love of my Creator.

In Europe those who had visited the sacred places in the Holy Land were called palmers because they carried back palm branches as evidence of their pilgrimage. I sometimes carry back a cone, seed head, or rock—not to prove anything but to remember the peace and grace of a holy place.

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The New Year: The Humility of Hope and Arrogance of Despair

On New Year’s Eves, we look with hope toward the coming year. But sometimes, we look ahead and can’t see any reason the coming year will be better than the last. Few things are sadder than beginning a new year with no relief in sight—no signs of hope. It is easy to let despair come in and extinguish even the embers of hope.

But this is an instance where what we don’t know can save us. The writer of Psalm 71 declares:

But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness, and Thy salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them.  (v.14—15)

The stubborn defiance of the phrase “But as for me” resonates at a time when news and media blasts us with bad news and the next wave of the pandemic. It is counter-cultural to hope. One of the bases of our hope is the recognition of how much we don’t know. We do not know the sum (literally, number) of God’s righteousness and salvation.

God is always working behind the scenes—working in small ways, in gradual ways, in hidden places. God sets ambushes for those we love.Our hope is not in what we see God doing; our hope is in the character of God. Our hope is also in the power of God to go where we can’t, to speak love and truth to those who won’t or can’t hear us. We must humbly declare that we do not know and cannot see all the ways God may work in the coming year. Our humility opens the door to hope.

Despair can masquerade as humility. It can present itself as down-to-earth realism. But the arrogance of despair is that it looks at the slice (big or small) of reality that is discouraging and declares it all there is and will ever be. It is okay to be discouraged because we have not yet seen what we have hoped and prayed for. But we must always live humbly, admitting that at any moment everything could change. Light could break through the darkness. What do we know?

We have all heard the stories of those who have gotten lost and disoriented in a blizzard and in the morning are found dead a few yards from their cabin. If they had only kept moving forward and kept hoping. We never know how close or far we are from a breakthrough. We never know how close or far a loved one is from salvation. We don’t know what goodness God has stored up for us in the coming year, so we humbly hope. We do know our God is good, and His mercy is over all His works.

We hope because we have seen how in a dark time of human history, a light shone over a humble manger. Angels sang, and despair’s lies were vanquished. The hope of the world was born.

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Emmanuel: God with Us

Because of the difficult and discouraging time Teckla and I have faced these last few years, understanding the nature of God’s presence has become crucial. We are not promised much more than His abiding presence this side of heaven. He has not promised us freedom from suffering, sickness, persecution, or poverty, but He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has promised us fellowship with Him and the strength to escape or resist every temptation and to endure every trial.

Yet God’s presence with us is unlike the presence of others. First, He is invisible—at least for most of us, most of the time. As I have written recently in other posts, this makes the common exhortation to “just follow Jesus” or “keep your eyes on Jesus” too simplistic to be useful—even though ultimately true. Second, God doesn’t engage in much of the dialog we would normally expect of a friend. I encounter believers who claim to have this kind of back and forth with God, but their claims usually fall apart when carefully compared with actual dialog where questions are posed and answered. As soon as I give such folks five or six questions to ask God, they explain it doesn’t work that way—which is exactly my point.

The problem for the believer is that because God is invisible and often silent, His presence looks a lot like His absence. Of course, the beauty and design of nature can declare His existence, but this is not the same as evidence of His abiding presence. And the Bible can comfort us with the promise of God’s presence—but a promise is not the thing promised. God’s Word is beautiful love-letter to us, but a letter is not the person.  

Often people respond to such questions by pointing out that we are called to walk by faith and not feeling. Yes, our faith that God is with us can comfort us. But this is the comfort of our faith, not the comfort of His presence. Such faith could comfort us even if God did not exist—a point atheists are quick to make. So how do we experience the comfort and grace of God’s actual presence with us?

Much of the answer is found in John chapters 13—17. In this long discourse Jesus is preparing His disciples for his own departure. He promises that the Father will give them the Holy Spirit, a Helper, “that He may with you forever”. He assures them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (14:16,17). Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (16:13). Jesus presents the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as the main way in which God will continue to make the presence of Jesus manifest in the lives of His disciples.

And yet I and many other believers do not find the Holy Spirit wonderfully chatty. Often the leading of the Holy Spirit is felt by the absence or presence of peace. But it is hard to sit down and talk things out with the Holy Spirit like we would with a friend. And despite much asking while sitting alone in prayer, my requests to be filled with Holy Spirit seem to get undetectable answers: no dreams, visions, trances, angelic visitations, revelations, or prophetic messages. And in case you wondered, I am open to every Holy Spirit experience in the holiness, Pentecostal, and charismatic catalog: entire sanctification, baptism of the Holy Spirit, fullness of the Holy Spirit, the second blessing, or even a third one. In other words, I am not one seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit while denying that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit are for today.

After one of my recent posts, a friend messaged me and asked when I most often experienced the presence of God. She suggested that it might be in nature, but I replied that it was when looking into the eyes of a person who needed Jesus. This realization pointed me to an important truth about my experience with God’s presence. I have experienced God’s presence most often and most powerfully when loving and serving others.

Part of the problem is that I am an American and a Protestant, and I therefore approach serving God and walking in His Spirit as an individual rather than a member of the Body of Christ.  In Jesus’ farewell discourse in John there is a second emphasis that complements the promise of the Holy Spirit. Again and again, Jesus exhorts the disciples to abide in Him by keeping his commandment to love one another. In other words, the abiding presence of God comes in the context of us loving one another and serving one another. This corporate emphasis runs against the individualism that shapes much American and Protestant spirituality.  

Another problem is that we often approach church as the place our personal spiritual needs are met. We can read reviews of churches like we do restaurants—to find one that fits our taste. But in the New Testament, the church is presented as central to our experience of God and His presence—not an option. Paul places all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the context of the Body of Christ when it gathers to build up one another. It is significant that many of those gifts (see I Corinthians 12:8—10) involve God communicating with His people.

We often take Paul’s exhortations individualistically, but so much of what is written in Paul’s epistles are written not to individuals but to churches or the Church in general. Yes, we are individually to be filled with the Spirit, but it is not just our bodies that are the temple of the Holy Spirit—the church is “a holy temple in Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

Perhaps I am asking God to do individually for me what He desires to do within the context of the church loving and building up one another through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God withholds, except in extraordinary circumstances, the full ministry of the Holy Spirit because He wants us to need each other and seek the ministry of the Holy Spirit from each other. He is not real interested in how gifted I am when sitting alone at my desk. And God may have much to say to me but wants to say it through the ministry of the Body of Christ.

Here is another reason I think this may be true. During this last year when Teckla has faced cancer in both breasts and our son, Peter, has come near death multiple times, we have had many unanswered questions. We have had to make some hard decisions. Doing all this with Covid-19 restrictions has made it even more difficult. We have often not heard much from God in the midst of this crisis. However, we have found Emanuel, God with us, through Rosalie who faithfully drove Teckla to her radiation treatments in Eugene for three weeks—two and a half hours each way, and through Petra who would take Ari to school some mornings, and Phil and Erin who would pick Ari up and watch him until I got back from work. We heard the love of God through brothers and sisters in Christ who blessed us financially as we struggled with bills that piled up. We felt the love of God in the prayers of our pastor, Joshua, for our family.

If someone asked me where God was when we were facing these many hard things, I would point to the church. Once one of my sons has asked, “Where is God? I don’t see Him doing anything for me.” I would patiently point out some blessings that seemed to have God’s fingerprints on them, but eventually I would just say, “He is right here in me, your father, who He led to adopt you, love you, and never give up on you. What you think is my kindness, is His.” Once, I heard a person in the church,  who had just been given money to avoid eviction, complain, “I just don’t see God doing anything in my life.” When it was pointed out that God had just kept him from getting evicted, his face lit up and he exclaimed, “I had never thought of it that way!” Most of us need to see God’s presence as something He desires us to experience in the context of the Body of Christ.

The reasons why we don’t experience God’s presence and hear His voice more clearly in church has multiple causes: a failure to love deeply and entangle ourselves in each other’s lives, a failure to embrace the full ministry of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and a failure to do church in ways that nourish the ministry of every member of the Body of Christ. Each of these would deserve another post (or chapter).  

But of this much I am now convinced, God is with us, and we experience more of His presence when we are with each other. I think God is so committed to doing things through His church that much of His presence and His voice is missed if we go it alone. Yes, God is with me, but will most often be experienced as Emmanuel, God with us.  

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In Praise of Parsnips

I threw seeds into the growing bed this fall. The carrots had been pulled and weeds hoed. While cleaning out my brother’s apartment, I had found some old packets of radish and parsnips seeds. I am not sure why Stanley had them—he had never grown either and had lived in an apartment for the last five years. No telling how old the seeds were.

But rather than throwing the seeds in the trash, I threw them all in one of my growing beds. From the looks of the growing bed—only the parsnips grew. To my surprise, they flourished in the cool autumn days. I discovered parsnips thrive in a winter garden and are best harvested after the first hard frost.

I am a haphazard and indolent gardener. I did not plant the parsnips in rows and did not thin them to enlarge the growth of their white roots. I have never eaten a parsnip, so I have no idea of if they can be made palatable. Some people complain they are bitter. I have read they are best roasted.

But my growing bed is full of their greens which after today’s winter storm hang over the sides. The large leaves flapped like green flags in the gusting wind. I am not searching for a metaphor here. I like the fact of parsnips—that they flourish in the cold, that they offer the bare garden rich green leaves. They are a riot of green in the cold margins of the growing season.

They come, in a sense, from a bad family—except for the carrot–it is mostly an inedible family. We have wild cow parsnips here in Oregon that grow like weeds along the coast on foggy headlands. These wild parsnips have edible, but bitter roots. A few members of the carrot family, like water hemlock and poison hemlock, are deadly.

Like turnips, parsnips do not generate much excitement. However, because they grow through the winter, they can save the lives of the desperate and starving. They grow when and where other food won’t. Like janitors, they go to work when everyone else has gone home.

Because I am a romantic (often to my dismay), my moods swing with the seasons. So I am always encouraged by plants (like witch hazel in the Midwest and myrtle wood trees here) that bloom in the winter and vegetables that can be harvested from frozen ground. I suspect I am hungry for hope, but I will try the parsnips in January.

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Why I Don’t Write About Teckla

Teckla has pointed out that she is seldom the subject of my blogs. It is true. Teckla, and our marriage are hard for me to write about. Here are a few reasons.

First, our lives and hearts are so intertwined that it is hard to know where I begin and she ends. I know this idea sets off alarms in some. But it shouldn’t, here. Teckla and I are one not because one person’s identity has extinguished the other’s. I can’t say how much of our oneness is natural compatibility, some probably. I believe we have one heart mostly because we have poured out our lives, love, and energy in one direction. We passionately love Jesus, and for 43 years of marriage we have sought God’s will above all else.

Secondly, our relationship has been embarrassingly good, and honestly, I don’t want others to feel bad. Thus, we aren’t qualified to give much marriage advice. And I am old enough to know that marriages completely different from ours can work well. Ours may not even be typical for good marriages. For instance, we don’t fight–ever. One glance from her blue eyes will let me know if I am speaking or acting out of something other than love. Her desire to please Jesus in all things has made it hard for us to find things to fight over. Neither of us has had “to put our foot down” because our feet are always moving toward Jesus. I know this all sounds sappy, and I know many marriages that have weathered fights, and are perhaps stronger because of them.  But I have no war stories about our marriage. Marriage is supposed to be hard, something you really work at. I am embarrassed that ours has been easy.

Third, our marriage is easy to misunderstand, especially if you are quick to slap labels on things. For instance, from the first days of our marriage I have told Teckla to do whatever she believes God is calling her to do. She has a degree in social work, so she has always had the skills and opportunity to go to work. However, most of our marriage she has sought to serve others by just loving the people God brings into her life. That has meant having people live with us, adopting four boys, leading worship, working at the Pacific Pregnancy Center, and leading Bible studies. It has often meant living on one salary and doing without many things.

Here is where it gets confusing. Teckla submits to me as her husband. Terrible, huh? She would tell you that I have provided spiritual and practical leadership in our life together. We are not, it seems, the 50/50 partnership so popular today. I am 100% committed to serving and loving Teckla as Christ loves the church. She completely trusts my leadership, but it never feels like I am leading because we are one. Anyone who knows Teckla knows she is smart, strong, and courageous—not less of a person because she is married. So, do we have a traditional marriage or a modern enlightened one that allows the full expression of individual identities and callings? I don’t know. Both, maybe? Our marriage is, without doubt, wonderful.

Teckla and I have a relationship that sets us both free to pursue every dream and vision God puts into our hearts. The controlling question in our life has been “What is God saying and where is He leading?” We strengthen and encourage each other in the pursuit of God. It is hard to overstate how wonderful this has been and continues to be. We have never had to worry about dragging each other into God’s will. We walk together.

Teckla possesses virtues that are hard to capture in words. She has a simplicity and purity of heart that I find supremely beautiful. Much of this was revealed in her approach to our wedding. With the help of her mother she made a wedding dress. She asked for no engagement ring—just a couple wedding bands. Before the wedding we gathered sunflowers from beside the road in Walla Walla and my parents brought ferns from Myrtle Point. We made our own floral arrangements. We went camping on our honeymoon. All our life together we have lived simply and treasured our ability to delight in simple pleasures like a walk on the beach or evening around a campfire.

Another thing which makes it hard to write about Teckla is her humility. Humility is much misunderstood as weakness or meekness. But in her it has majesty—the grace of a queen kneeling. She is a servant and it is hard to capture in words how precious and rare that is. She has little patience with the idea that she should only do things that express her calling or gifting. She serves—always with excellence and diligence—when she sees a need. Even better, she does it for Jesus and because she loves people. She is willing to serve in the hidden place and do the hard things. This makes her as exquisite and beautiful as the rarest gem. Words can’t capture the wonder and beauty of her heart and service.

Teckla is heroic. She loves sacrificially. She dies daily to selfishness and puts others first, sometimes to my annoyance. As she battles cancer, something that would give most of us license to focus on ourselves, she has continued to love and give. I have seen her work hard and long at becoming more like Jesus in areas where she has heard God asking for change. This kind of long obedience produces holiness but doesn’t make a good story. She is always growing spiritual and is one of least “stuck” Christians I know.

This already sounds more boring than it should. Our love for each other has all the intensity and passion of a windswept headland on the Oregon coast, the waves exploding skyward in a wild storm. There is also a tender devotion that blooms in acts of kindness throughout the day. We would always rather be with each other than anyone else. Although we are fully able to enjoy time with other people, we are never seeking to escape each other. We always ache for each other when apart. This too is embarrassing and certainly is not how every marriage must be. It is, however, wonderful that our love for each other burns stronger and brighter each day, even in the darkest of days.

And here is an important reality that is hard to put into words. As we have aged and seen those we love die, Teckla and I have glimpsed eternity. Because the reality of being absent from the body and present with the Lord has captured our hearts, Teckla and I find ourselves more than husband and wife—we are brother and sister in Christ. We are fellow sojourners seeking resurrection and eternal fellowship with Jesus.

Writing about Teckla is like trying to paint the air I breathe. In ways neither of us can see, we have shaped each other’s values and identities. We have been better together. It is even hard for me to separate the goodness of God from the all the blessings that have come through our marriage. The love, joy, and purpose we have discovered together is just another way that the goodness of God has overflowed into our lives. They are one. We are one. 

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