Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God's Universe is a Perfectly Safe Place For Us to Be

There are many ways to describe the gospel: Jesus died for our sins; God so loved the world he gave his only son; Jesus gives us salvation... just to name a few. Dallas Willard has given us one of the best ways to put the gospel: "God's universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be."

That's a provocative statement because the world is a place of many terrors and there are so many things are out there to be afraid of. Society has placed upon us a supersaturation of fear and foreboding. Wake up in the morning and go ahead and pick your fear for the day: global warming, job loss, immigration, Islamic fundamentalism, drug addictions, crime, processed foods, school shootings, illness, the collapse of capitalism, political stalemates, nuclear war, zombie apocalypse... to name just a few.

My kids' high school became a focus for societal anxiety the past few days. No longer are fire drills and tornado drills enough for the modern educational institution, students now prepare for what they need to do in case an active shooter invades the school. So four days ago their entire high school underwent such training. Don't hide under tables or inside closets, instead grab a weapon and cause chaos to foil the shooter's plans. Okay, fine, now they're ready.

Was it a surprise when two days later, a note was found in the school computer lab threatening just such an attack? Police were called in, and parents were informed of this note, as the school responsibly communicated this information.

Guess what happened today? No, thank goodness, it was not an attack, but there was a great portion of the student body missing. Teachers could not instruct their students because of the low attendance and therefore students lost a day to help them prepare for next week's finals. I suppose everyone was safe in their homes, and since no one got hurt, all is fine. But I will not be convinced that all's well that ends well when fear is allowed to control us. What's tomorrow going to bring?

This is why I love this description of the gospel: "God's universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be." This truly is the message and model of Jesus. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8). God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1). Why do you worry about your life (Matthew 6)? Most Christians would be able to give the right answer that faith in Jesus frees us from worry, but at the same time most Christians don't live out this right answer as if they actually believe it.

What would it look like if Christians actually believed they didn't have to worry about their life, or what they eat, or what they wear?

What would it look like if followers of Jesus actually believed that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?

What would it look like if children of God lived in the light, instead of the darkness, and faced the chronic anxiety of the world with courage instead of fear?

I sang a great little song with a group of preschoolers this morning called "This Little Light of Mine." You know how it goes: "I'm gonna let it shine." What would it look like to let your light shine in the face of the real anxieties found in your life, your family, your community and your world?

The great thing about a living faith is that when you do let your life shine in very real situations with compassion and mercy, it makes a difference. Even one little flame can bring light to a darkened room. There will be pressures to poof it out. You will struggle internally to panic and hide and join in on the chronic anxiety... but love for Jesus will bring you inner strength to throw that bushel away.

God's universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be. The world's violence, cancers, struggles, and injustices hurt us deeply, but they are not the only reality we are part of. We are children of God, united to Christ through the cross. We shall certainly be raised in a resurrection like his (Romans 6). Face anxiety with courage and let your light shine. It will make a difference.

My kids learned a powerful lesson the past few days... I'm so proud that they have stood with courage. Christ was with them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Vortex of Faith

A week ago I had the honor to preside over the memorial service for dear sister in Christ, Marsha Dahlgren. She died on April 18 and her service was held at Our Savior's on May 4. These are the words I shared that morning with her friends and family:

Jesus teaches us: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

For the past several months I have been dwelling upon this moment… of sharing with you words of gospel as we together remember, honor, and celebrate the life of a very dear woman: Marsha Dahlgren. And in dwelling on this moment, my memories and my thoughts kept spinning around in circles. For you see, our dear sister Marsha was a person like no other. I’ve never met anyone whose mind was so eager to dig deeper and whose enthusiasm, likewise, propelled her into so many directions.

With great passion she would engage in ministry here around Our Savior’s: being a leader with WELCA, a member of the choir, an active participant in adult education programs and a leader of several of our small groups. I loved the way her mother, Odessa, described Marsha being at full attention during a worship service and taking detailed notes of the message being shared in the sermon. I would then be the recipient of those notes which always expressed praise mixed in with several lines or symbols that not even Google could translate.

I wager a few of you have received some of Marsha’s notes over the years. What a delight. What a magnificent mind of wonder.

With wonder she engaged the journey the past eight months.
With wonder she could not wait for our visits and conversations.
With wonder she accepted the generous support of the DeWitts… and with wonder she discovered an openness to vulnerability that was not always her first instinct.

In this place of wonder and grace Marsha and I over the past few months kept coming back to the word: abide. For Marsha, whose energy made the Energizer Bunny look like a snail… to abide… to remain… well, that was not always her instinct either. But the Lord placed the word upon her lap and I can just hear her deep breath of peace express the word “abide” with a smile of her face and a twinkle in her eye. For Marsha, God dwelled in the word abide and she discovered permission to simply remain. What is my purpose she would ask me… and then we would come back to the word, abide. “Ahhh… abide… yes… abide,” she would say with a smile on her face and an expression of great peace reflecting in her eyes.

Jesus said, “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” All of the chaos and fun and learnings and disappointments of a fully lived life can be wrapped up in those words: “abide in my love.”

I think about Marsha the equestrian… Marsha the biochemist… Marsha the swimmer… Marsha of Marshall Fields… Marsha the choir director… Marsha the Christian Scientist… Marsha the history buff… Marsha the Jeep Girl… and it all can be wrapped up in that word abide… the Spirit abided in our Marsha and boy did she abide in the Lord.

Again, Jesus said: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Marsha was a complete joy for this community and nothing can top her own words, some of which she journaled in this coloring book while she was hospitalized last September. Yes… if Marsha is going to journal it will be in a coloring book.

On page 20 she wrote:
“my final night here…
my care here has been excellent!
Pat & Jerry taking me home is beyond my wildest imaginations
This, Lighting Here can be a joy of friends in balance to a fear of unknown… UNKNOWN?!
FEAR = 0
faith in the ONE GOD WHO LOVES & created us… ALL.
This EXPERIENCE OF friends: Pat, Cathy, their husbands, our PASTORS, working SO hard to provide SOLACE, stability & privacy could not be a better statement to trusting the one living God, to come our way & keep us close… EACH person using their own expertise to make WHAT EVER CAME BEFORE THEM BE BETTER by FAITH… & HARD WORK… community, connection, God’s WORKTHEIR HANDS!

What a gift to this vortex of faith, that we had the opportunity to have served with Marsha… What great joy she brought to our work here at Our Savior’s.

God showered Marsha with an abundance of God moments the past few months of her life. Among the most delightful was being able to reach out and reconnect with Kevin… a dear friend. Sit down with Pat and Cathy sometime and let them tell you of all the God-moments.

And here’s a God Moment for you: that she wrote those words on the coloring book page 20, that quotes from 1 John 4:16… “God is love.” Marsha’s witness to us will be that truth: God is love… and she abided in that love. Marsha has been baptized into the body of Christ and has been promised the same resurrection life our Lord Jesus lives. Because God is love… our sister has been promised a future beyond what we see here.

But also, because this is Marsha, I cannot conclude this message with just that. Marsha’s ability to wonder took her in so many directions. I must conclude with our own dear sister’s thoughts… quotes from sources as diverse  as Henry Ford, The Apocrypha, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and a dog.

“Just when the caterpillar thought its world was over, it became a butterfly.” - Unknown

“Consult not your fears, but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but what it is still possible for you to do.” - Pope John XXIII

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” - Mark Twain

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” - Henry Ford

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.” - Francis of Assisi

“In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Example is leadership.” - Albert Schweitzer

Monday Sept. 26, 2016; 6:30am exactly; the DeWitt’s dog, Admiral Buddy puts his nose to Marsha’s door: “Follow me human, the day has begun.”

“Do not give yourself over to sorrow, and do not distress yourself deliberately. A joyful heart is life itself, and rejoicing lengthens one’s life span.” - Sirach 30:21-22

Rejoice always, dear Marsha.