Tag Archives: Love

Lady of Little Faith

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 WEB)

When my son Evan came to visit us in Austria, I asked him to bring me some books. Since he worked in a bookstore it was a great chance to get some reduced prices. I like sales! Anyway, I’d decided to read some of the major works I’d avoided over the years in lieu of reading theology and Christian ministry related books, not to mention the computer, radio, audio, and numerous other texts relating to my ministry.

He lugged the massive, even in paperback, copy of The Brothers Karamazov, to our home. I’d read excerpts from Fyodor Dostoevsky and references to his characters in other texts and decided it was time to take the plunge and see if I could work my way through the 776 pages of the tome. I found it fascinating how Dostoevsky rambled in his prose style. Way too many words for my succinct engineering mind. But, I still enjoyed his presentation of the people, culture, and theological mindset created in his literary version of Russia. So, I just stopped and made a note of a passage that caught my fancy.

I was in part I, book 2, when I met the monastery elder Zosima. Interestingly described, with great detail to the historical installation of elders, with that wizened presence which instills confidence in those around him. Several encounters were described which served to demonstrate his amazing, clear evaluation of those seeking his blessing and advice. Then I came to a lady of little faith. Without reiterating the depth of the text, he made the following statement, to the lady, concerning her desire to love those around her.

. . . active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a while science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment – I predict this to you – you will suddenly reach your goal and clearly behold over you the wonder-working power of the Lord, who all the while has been mysteriously guiding you.”

I wish I could take credit for such a clear statement, but alas, I can’t. While translated from the original Russian this seems a concise description of many Christians in today’s church. I was caught off guard when I realized the times I too have sought to be loving for the joy of the spiritual applause my fellow believers provided.

We, even Christians, even missionaries, like an audience that appreciates our efforts. The lady in the story confessed to seeking advice, on how to express love to others, for the joy of being praised by the elder. I like to think I’m selfless and giving fully of myself in serving others. This may be true at times. But, at other times I sulk and am tempted to stop when my ego isn’t bolstered with words of encouragement and praise.

Maybe you can identify with me, maybe not. I must confess, I was chastised when I read the sentence, “. . .active love is labor and perseverance, . . .” countered against the condemnation, “Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching.” Ouch, that hurts!

So, I guess I need to look a little more closely, even as a missionary, at the reason I do this or that. Am I being “nice” because I should, because it is Christ-like? Or, am I looking for worldly approval? Tough questions.

So, a new week begins, my mind has been challenged. We’ll see how things go. Maybe somewhere in the days ahead I’ll draw closer to my goal of loving everyone around me, as Christ loved me, even in the midst of my mistakes and, at times, wrong attitude. We have a wonder-working Lord and it is a wonder what he does in me day to day.

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Don’t Whack the Weeds

But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.’ (Matthew 13:29 NET)

Each time I read through Scripture I’m amazed at what God brings to my attention. Things which I’ve read many times will sometimes jump out like they’ve never been there before. I had that experience the other evening while reading through Matthew. I read the parable of the wheat and the weeds like I have many times before. I stopped to ask myself, “What was Jesus telling us in this short tale?” The funny thing is Jesus gives an explanation.

The more I thought about it the more I realized I couldn’t remember a single sermon I’d heard on this parable. I’m sure it was mentioned somewhere but apparently not noteworthy enough for me to remember. Often this is tied in with sending more workers into the fields but I see here an accurate description of the world, including the church and dealing with the evil which invades.

For some reason, Christians feel they need to cast their eyes across the world looking for weeds. We think these insidious plants, when found, need to be either converted into proper wheat or culturally eradicated by insuring they behave and look like wheat. Granted these damaging weeds are taking up some of the nutrients, water, and soil space that could otherwise be used by the wheat. It makes sense to us to remove the items which hinder proper growth of the wheat. But Jesus has a different approach in mind.
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Instead of weeding out the invaders Jesus says leave them where they are. Allow them to receive the same fertilizer, water, and care as the remainder of the wheat field. Now why would we leave them there? The Lord makes it clear that their removal would cause damage to the faithful wheat in the process of eradication. Apparently, we’re not very good as farmers in this process. It’s only when they’re harvested together that they can be properly separated without damage. So, the separation of the faithful and unbeliever is left to the final harvest by the reapers (angels). Only then will the true wheat shine in God’s kingdom.

I think of the damage done to the body of Christ by overzealous believers who take their understanding of God’s righteousness and attempt to forcefully weed out the evil in the world. They’re trying to pull up the weeds while their roots are still intertwined with the believer’s. I’m not discounting our call to exercise proper discipline within the church as Paul expressed to the Corinthians. After his call to expel the sinner from their midst he writes back and tempers his harsh commands in order that they show forgiveness and care so they do not cause excessive sorrow.

I also understand the admonition not to associate with those known for their flagrant sinful behavior within the church. But weeding goes directly to the destruction of the sinner and indirectly to the detriment of the faithful as our roots are intertwined. One cannot be ripped from the ground without damaging the other. Sinners are as common in a sinful world as weeds are in the wheat field. Regardless of what we try to tell ourselves we’re intertwined in a way that cannot be undone until the final harvest.

As tenders of the field we need to insure the nutrients of God’s grace, love and care are sowed throughout the field regardless of the plant. I’m convinced God won’t run out of fertilizer this side of eternity. Then we can allow God’s angels to harvest the field and separate the good from the bad. They know how to do this without irreparable damage to the plant, apparently, something we don’t do very well. We need to stop whacking at the weeds and aerate the soil with God’s grace and love. As missionaries and pastors this is our calling. Cultivate the field. The harvest we leave up to the one who knows how to save the good and toss out the bad, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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Hands

Hear the voice of my petitions, when I cry to you,when I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Psalms 28:2 WEB)

My son in law, when describing me to someone else, once said, “His gift of love is sending pictures in e-mail.” I laughed and thought of the many photos I’ve inserted in various e-mails describing serious, serene, and humorous aspects of my life and family. With family and friends living across the ocean it’s my way of reaching out. I’m not trying to impress them with the spectacular sights or places I’ve visited. Instead I’m reaching out for kindred spirits to share in my joy. I need companionship, not only in my home, with my wife, but with others.

When someone reads my carefully crafted story and enjoys the selected photos then writes back I’m thrilled. It’s not as quick wittedly enriching as sitting around the fire swapping tales but it lifts my heart and brightens my day. I’ve taken pictures of so many things my computer groans each time I download another collection from the camera.

A Charles Bridge musician. Apparently he is multitalentedThere are pictures of castles, countryside, mountains, a plethora of people from around the globe, family events, holidays, work projects and even pictures of pictures. While I sat at a bus stop, in the cold winter breeze, I looked up and was startled. One aspect of life was not part of my pictorial collection. Where were the hands and feet of the world around me? How could I miss them?

Look at your hands. Look carefully and see what they tell you about your life. As I sat, shivering slightly in the breeze, I saw an old man’s hands poking out of this jacket sleeve. They were knotty and twisted with age. His knuckles bulged from years of work and his fingers were restricted with years of change and probably arthritis.  I wondered, “What life did this man lead? What sort of work would wreck such a change to what I imagine were once youthful, smooth, dexterous fingers?”

I looked down and surveyed my hands. The smoothness which once graced the back of my hands looked like a satellite image of the alps. Canyons, valleys, and plains all worked together forming a ridge from the outside of the hand curving upward toward the index finger. The once slender fingers, which learned to play the piano at age five followed by the guitar and a number of other instruments of music, were fuller. The expansions of my wedding ring, thanks to a good jeweler, bore evidence of my expanded digits.

The tips of my left hand sported calluses from years of playing stringed instruments. A scar here and there bore evidence of accidents earlier in life. I remember slicing my hand working in the kitchen of a youth camp in Colorado. I thought it was a major accident but it wasn’t. The next day I was back washing pots and pans.

In each line, each scar, each callus, the depression from years of wearing a wedding band, the jagged edges from biting my nails, stood evidence of my life. I’m amazed when I shake someone’s hand. In that few seconds of contact I know something about a person and their life. Soft hands, hard hands, wrinkled hands, smooth hands, small, large, all tell a story of life. Faces are one thing to observe but I find myself looking at hands when I greet someone. Look at your hands. What do they tell you about your life?

I remember many hands I’ve touched or watched over the years. At a festival I watched the red rough hands of a glass blower handle the hot fluid glass with short iron instruments. They displayed the years of hard work close to a roaring fire. Still, there was the precise ability to finely craft each glob of glass into a work of art.

A little girl, all in pink, was playing with her doll on the train. Stubby, smooth, tiny hands deftly arranged the dolls hair. These same hands worked the buttons on her jacket and in excitement pointed out the window, with the requisite full body motion, at some fascinating view passing by the window.

My wife has lovely hands. They’re not quite as smooth and nimble as they were when we married but they are still beautiful and tell a story. Her soft touch on my ear or running her fingers through my hair can put me into a dreamy state of bliss. These are hands which nurtured our children, comforted me in trials, applied pressure to help healing and arose in praise before God’s throne.

There is one pair of hands I look forward to seeing. Jesus was a carpenter most of his life. He had a good teacher in Joseph. He had a loving mother in Mary. I can just imagine how his hands will look. Will they be rough from the hard years working with wood? Will they be soft and comforting from the years of touching lives to heal and comfort? Will they be scared from the pain he suffered to free me from sin and death?

Like Thomas, I want to touch those hands. I’m not looking for resurrection proof but to understand his great love toward me. How many hands will I touch today? How many hands will you touch today? What will my hands do today which might carry the message of grace and love God has planted in my life? I think its time to give close attention to the work of my hands as they reflect the work of Jesus’ hands in a fallen world. God seeks clean hands and a clean heart. Where will I put my hands today?

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Why I Hate to Work on Cars

being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 WEB)

I love my children. I always have. I always will. However, they do, at times, strike fear into my heart. Teaching them to drive was one of those times. Don’t get me wrong, they are all, so far, good drivers and I trust them. I even let them drive my car un-chaperoned. When they came back from a night out with friends; I resisted the urge to run outside and do a visual inspection for scratches or smudges. Then again, my cars are usually very old and well-worn so finding minor damage is difficult.

When Ellice was in High School she survived my driving lessons and expert parallel parking tips. She passed her test, smiled for the camera and received her first driving license. She was proud as could be.

It wasn’t long before the urge to own her own car took over and she started saving her pennies and looking here and there for something cheap, less than $1000, reliable and cool looking. The Lord prepared the way. A neighbor she knew from one of her baby-sitting jobs was ready to sell a car, cheap.

Ellice discussed the issue and had me come to make a manly inspection. I kicked the tires, looked through the windows and even opened the hood to ensure there was an engine inside. To convince the sellers I was a car expert I started the car and revved up the engine. Yep, it was a car and the motor ran. That was the extent of my expertise.

She bought the car and beamed with pride. Her first set of wheels. Freedom was within the grasp of her key chain and the world was before her. After a few months my nerves calmed down when she would roar off to meet friends or attend a play practice.

A few days after the purchase, we discovered the car had cooling problems, a major issue in the tropics. The original owners informed us they replaced the radiator, the hoses and even the blower without a resolution to the problem. On level ground things were OK. However, any uphill climb and the temperature gauge would usually rise faster than the hill. It was such a problem they reduced the price of the car to almost nothing just to get it out of their carport.

I looked at the radiator, the hoses and the fan, everything was where it should be and no water leaks were visible. It didn’t make sense. If the auto shop couldn’t fix this what made me think I could fix it? My engineering mindset just wouldn’t let this go. Engineers can fix anything!

I keep looking, scratching my head and saying “hmm” now and again as if some revelation was passing through my head. Joel was my faithful assistant, as clueless as I was. Finally, I leaned over the radiator and looked into the engine compartment while Joel started the motor. Suddenly, like a revelation, an idea came into my head.

I signaled for Joel to stop the engine. When it was quiet I walked into the house and returned with a small piece of scrap paper. Joel looked at me funny but enjoyed sitting behind the wheel with keys in his hand so he said nothing. I signaled to start the engine once more.

Tearing the corner from the piece of paper I dropped it into the engine compartment. Whoosh, it disappeared into the radiator fan. I dropped another piece of paper which quickly was sucked into the radiator fan. The fan was working. The problem was solved. The fan was blowing the wrong direction!

Joel turned off the engine and I had him crawl under the front of the car. Following my instructions, he located the wiring to the fan, reversed the wires and we did another scientific paper dropping test. This time the paper was blown back onto the engine. A short drive, up the nearby hill, proved the problem was solved and Ellice no longer experienced overheating of her car.

A couple weeks later we received a call from Ellice. The car had died. It wouldn’t start. I drove out and with the help of friends we towed it back to the house. Calling on another friend, who really did know about cars, he told me the timing belt was broken, all the valves were bent and needed to be replaced.

Ordering parts from the USA, reading manuals on car repair, and asking assistance from anyone with two hands, I embarked on the valve replacement and engine rebuilding. Two months later with bruised knuckles, grease covered clothes and lots of assistance from my neighbors we had the car going once more.

It started, but it didn’t run well. It ran rough. I looked through the books, tried this and that but nothing helped. Finally, I asked my mechanic friend for some help. He was great for advice and always willing to help anyone who at least put some effort into their own work first.

He poked, prodded and took a test drive. Then he reached through the bundle of hoses and cables he pushed a loose hose onto a connector. Now things ran perfectly. I was happy, my friend was happy and my daughter was delighted.

The car worked so well we drove it to church a couple weeks later. Then the noise started. I attempted to get the car home but it died along the way. The timing belt had come lose and bent all the valves again! This time it was caused by not tightening one bolt just right.

We sold the car, as is, to some folks desperate to fix up anything to drive. Ellice went off to college. A year later the police called about an abandoned car in my name. The folks who bought the car had fixed it, driven it and abandoned it when the tag expired without transferring the title from my name.

I traded the car to the tow yard to cover the storage fees which were due. They weren’t sure at first but figured they could sell it and come out ahead. They did. I didn’t want to see the car again. A lot of time and work went into fixing the car but in the end all our fixes turned out to be temporary.

When I fix things in my life they don’t stay fixed for long. I am glad to know God is a better mechanic than I am. When it comes to working on my life what he fixes he fixes for good! I’m looking forward to eternity. No car repairs, no lingering cancer, all our tears will be wiped away. The master mechanic will complete the work he has started me, permanently, for eternity!

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