Time

I don’t run from myself.  I don’t wish to be someone else.  I don’t spend time trying to be other people, but the guy in my mirror keeps changing.  His glasses have changed, and he is more nearsighted.  Liver spots.  Even when frozen off, tend to find new spaces on his face.  He is getting older, but the guy in my head still talks and sounds at most 30ish.

And yet, the Christian scriptures describe God as the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Timeless.  Not subject to the ravages of time.  Hmmm.

Just sitting here, I am replacing myself.  Cell for cell, and not quite replacing each cell as wondrously as I did in my first few years of life.

I now own five toilets in three buildings.  All functioning again after yesterday’s work by Paul.  No, all five flushing again after the nice plumber came out for four hours today.  He said tree roots don’t mind “gray” water, but they don’t help toilets to flush without sending relics into showers.  My wife hates relics.   Wait, the one in the guest end of the house sounds like a small machine gun when filling, and rattles pipes in the kitchen.  So, after one more servicing, they will all be maintained.  Not improved.  Just maintained.

And yet, for forty years the Israelites making an extended, generation-wiping detour in the desert never had shoes or tents, or clothes wearing out.  Timeless.

I have pains that take longer to heal.  Some never will.  I didn’t make life choices to bring pain, I thought.

And yet, heaven supposedly tolerates neither pain nor tears.

In the last 2,000 years, we’ve left nothing unchanged, unedited: governmental forms, trade, technologies, medicine, science.  Many changes are wondrous.  Some bring bad effects.

And yet, no one has said anything as lasting, as improbable, as heart-stoppingly hopeful as a carpenter-cum-late-blooming rabbi that authorities unsuccessfully rubbed out.

Did you ever feel as if time does not make sense?  As if time itself is somehow not right?

It could be that our weirdest acceptance of the incongruous is that we take time for granted, as the given.

When it is not.

 

Nabeel, faith and noes.

Nabeel Qureshi was a most educated youth minister.  Most never attend med school, maintain the years of A’s it takes to get and stay there, and they don’t face proliferating possibilities like Nabeel faced.  He wrestled to be a doc on three continents, to retell his conversion from Islam on six continents, and encourage this newest generation’s dreams.

I suggested he write a book.  To keep it simple.  To reveal his story as a form other Muslims could follow simply.  Not easily, but distilling complex questions into simple steps Nabeel took to follow God, Allah, he thought.

He grew into a warrior.  I watched postings to YouTube and the web and laughed aloud, “Be the first on your block to merit your very own fatwah!”

Then Nabeel was married, having a beautiful child and dying of stomach cancer as Muslims cheered wildly at life’s cruel judgment.  I prayed God to heal him.  I posted one such prayer to this blog.

God said, “No.”

People apologize for God, and bend the light on the matter saying, “God healed him, He just healed Nabeel by taking him to heaven.”  Touching sentiment.  God said, “No” to healing Nabeel and extending his impact here.  Nabeel died.

How does faith look after that?  For Nabeel, watch his haunting YouTubes on our hope in Christ out of this world into the next.  Beautiful.  Courageous.  Faith-filled.  Watch them.

For me it’s a gut kick.  Worse than watching your college team get man handled by a 3A high school squad.  Having been injured to the point of dying, I know that if I choose who prays for me, I want them praying for me like I’d pray for me to live.  If you hide behind, “whatever is Your Will, Father” in some non-invested theologically secure place, then save your breath.  No one knows if those prayers get answered.

Yes.  It’s harder to pray like cheering for your team, like cheering for mom if she’s sick.  Yes, the let downs are harder, but prayers uttered in wildly cheering faith is what I hope for if it is me, my child, my wife.  Those answers stiffen your prayers for decades.  Will you ride with me?

When we get off, finally, on the other side, I’ll introduce you to Nabeel.  He cheers from the other side now, see?

 

Shocker

Greatness, it may be, is akin to thankfulness.

If you are great, popular, famous or any of the other notions we confuse together, you can’t live in front of a stadium full of people.  Sooner or later you’re home with –.  Do any of them love you for you, or do they all want or need something of your greatness?

And then you’re alone, with your greatness.  Do you even like you?  Can you enjoy hours with just you for company?

You cannot be great all the time for others.  It will kill you.

Thankfulness, may be somewhat similar.  You can be thankful for countries, freedoms, movies, God, salvation, and so on in stadiums, venues, or with a few.

When it is just you and a few, do they sense you are grateful for them, for who they are to you, beyond what they do for you.

And then there’s that being alone, again.  Does gratitude form attitudes with which you face challenges, disappointments, challenges, or life’s raw edges?

Sooner or later, greatness and thankfulness converge in private moments where either humility deepens you, or you must get back in front of someone, anyone.

 

 

Either, Or

George Whitenburg died last month.  Either he built a hugely successful law practice, raised a baseball team of kids in an industrially harmonious house, and well after retirement age had cancer, had cancer and one chemo treatment, died and is worm dirt in north Texas.

Or the God who permeated his existence, Who influenced his decisions and shaped his fierce persona to fight for the underdogs that came to him took him home to heaven rather than watch him waste away here.

Either all of George’s intellect and passion were attenuated neuronal pathways, slight changes in psychoparmaceutical chemistries and all his accumulated wisdom and genius, all his loves and memories are as good as ash — and when all who knew him are dust his entire existence will mire in meaninglessness.

Or that Lion all of us came to love, who rather than waste away walked off with the Creator who built him, and died for him, and has now resurrected him or holds him asleep until the resurrection.

I am coming to believe that one reason I am a believer is that I can’t abide the astonishing waste of an atheist’s hopelessness in the face of death.

Jodie almost died, again

It had been a long time: eleven years.  It had been eleven years since Jodie almost died.

Consider eleven years.  ISIS arose to prominence and to have many of its heads cut off.  Ossama was executed and buried at sea.  Barak Obama served as president between Bush and Trump.  Countless stars fell from their orbits passing into eternity … some at their own hands, others of natural causes.

Jodie finished high school, worked on a guest ranch, dated a few guys, became beautiful, began a career at her dad’s place, and had a profound impact for Christ on many young people passing through her home, her church, and her life.

And I could almost forget.  Forget the doctor’s warning quietly to Greg and Mitz that should Jodie live to age 12, she would have exceeded almost all expectations.

I could almost forget that each sibling and every pet, not to speak of mom and dad arose in the nights at some prodding, to find her cratering at the onslaught of brittle diabetes.

When life is too horrible, when countries fall down insanely seizing and killing any within them, when children enter life addicted to opiates, and other news drones on during CNN; I tend to move on from Jodie, who could simply slip away in a night.

I prayed for her Thursday night before bed, but did not call Mitz and Greg because, I tend to move on from all the hard and frightening things because I cannot hold them all before me all the time, all night, much less all day.

I hate things I cannot fight in this world.  I pray for them, against them, and I feel frustrated that they remind me I don’t have an answer for everything.  I don’t have a solution for everything.  And Jodie or I could either one slip into the night tonight.

So I rely on a bit of forgetfulness.  I rely on a lot of faith to move on, to move forward.  And I must remember, what an astonishing gift every day for Jodie since age 12 has been.  Every hour.  Every minute.  And see?  I seem to have as hard a time holding all that wonder before me all the time as all the unanswerable, frightening things.

So I hold a smaller number of things before me than I pray for in the morning, and make my way through my day with forgetfulness, and faith, and Hope.  All gifts from One with a hole in His hand, as if He knew how few things I can hold in my attention all day and get anything done.

A more complete story

Christopher Nolan should finally get an Academy Award for Dunkirk.  He deserves it for masterfully telling one tiny slice of the overwhelming massive story of hundreds of thousands of British Expeditionary Force (BEF) soldiers stranded on the beaches, hoping against hope for rescue while exposed to Nazi Stuka Dive Bombers and ME 109 Fighters bombing and strafing, seemingly at will.

Kenneth Branagh’s role of hopeless exposure is as skillful as Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot faced with more opportunities to save people than his Spitfire has gas to confront.

“But if not.”  Nolan tells the poignant story of one of 1,200 boats that launched from Britain across the channel to the German controlled beach to possibly survive and bring home soldiers.  The beach was broad and shallow.  Destroyers could not get close and smaller ships got annihilated.  Before the boat can be commandeered by the Navy, they launch to go do what is right.

Nolan does not touch the “Why?”  Why did so many boats go when they were not commandeered?

Evidently a naval officer (like Branagh) facing the horrific waste of 350,000 fighting men, knowing that the British thought they MIGHT rescue 40,000 sent back a cable that “went viral” and it simply had three words, “But if not.”

England was biblically literate.  Schoolboys and girls knew the story of Daniel’s three friends, confronted with a 90 foot tall, gold statue of Nebudchanezzer and a hundred thousand people bending the knee to it, who refused.  They could bow and worship God, but not bow down to a mere man.

Next to the statue,  a furnace awaited any who reused to bow, now heated seven times hotter, so that those who will put these three Jewish men in that furnace all die.  The king knows them.  Respects them.  Is furious with them, furious at the slight.  Think Hitler with the British.

And the Naval Officer says he hopes for rescue, “But if not”.  The three men facing the furious king tell him their God Can save them, rescue even from the maws of the most furious furnace any had ever seen.  “But if not” they would never, could never bow down to the king’s gods or statue.

England caught the resolve.  If not rescued, then the remnants of the BEF would remain, bloody and unbowed.  Then boats headed into the Channel’s choppy waters and loaded, and reloaded, and reloaded with soldiers.  But if not fell to them.

But if not would not be true on their watch.  So, instead of the Navy bringing home 40,000 men, Britain’s boatmen brought home 350,000.

And Hitler, who was already prepping for victory parades over France and Britain, like Nebudchanezzer turned out to be premature, turned out to be dead wrong.

At the core of British resolve, a Naval Officer had only to quote three words from a Biblical story and the effects kept chain reacting through ordinary people, until a pivotal battle ‘s outcome was completely reversed.

See?  A little detail can increase the story’s impact.   Oh, and after throwing in three, the king saw four in the furnace, and when invited out, the three emerged without a singed hair.  Evidently, “but if not” did not fall on God’s deaf ears that day either.

 

Wealth

I’ve flown to Norfolk to perform a wedding for Rachel Reon and Aaron White.  I’m staying at the Hampton in Smithfield and am amazed, again, to drive through towns that smack of history in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, and that almost all hearken back to England for their original naming.

Don’t miss the five to ten ways I am wealthy in that first paragraph.

This afternoon at two o’clock I walked into the Trinity Methodist sanctuary with Aaron and his best men to watch Rachel and her best girls walk down the aisle.  No bombs.  No sirens.  No flack jackets.  A dress she will hopefully only wear once.  Tuxes.  Flowers.  Food at the reception.  Small jazz group playing at the reception.  People travelling from around the country.  No one detained.  People smiling in photos.  No one imprisoned.  People getting to know strangers.  No one shot.  Multiple ethnic groups sitting together and enjoying each other.

Don’t miss the twenty or so ways we were wealthy in that paragraph when insanity erupted 141 miles away in Charlotesville.

And Rachel, whose parents, and grandparents have all remained married, stood looking up into the intently focused eyes of her Aaron making his promises in front of his parents and grandparents who have all remained faithful and married — and she felt blessed.  In ways she can barely comprehend.  She will return to Illinois to finish her Masters and Aaron will find employment there, and they will pursue God’s will and their careers and family — unbelievably fortunate and blessed.

And we, as Americans must all become more intentional in how we say thanks, in how we become stewards of the astonishing gifts raining down on us.

It was humid outside the church as we exited, and I almost complained as the rain began before Mark and I could get to the car.  I winced.  How quickly I brandish a whine rather than a “hallelujah” in my days.

Sometimes wealth dulls my senses, rather than sharpens my awareness of the otherness, of the other-worldliness of the blessings cascading around me.  That makes me the pauper sitting at the feast, seething at what else I want, rather than kicking back and rejoicing with those around me.

I know.  Silly.