Friday, June 9, 2017

June 10, 2017

If life had continued as we had planned, hoped or thought, tomorrow we would all be celebrating Jonathan's 31st birthday.  Perhaps right now Pam and I would be frantically cleaning the house.  Or maybe she would be in the kitchen baking a cake or in her office wrapping a carefully selected present.  We might be anticipating spending tomorrow as a family, preparing for Jonathan to come through the door with his latest girlfriend -- or by now maybe even with his wife and our grandbaby in tow.

But, of course, life did not turn out as we would have wanted.  There will be no cake and no celebration.  There will be no daughter-in-law, and no grandchild for us to play with.  And, worst of all, there will be no Jonathan.  It is still hard to accept sometimes -- still hard to believe that its not just a bad dream.  It is a reality we must try to accept again daily -- he was taken from us and he will not be coming back.

From time to time people will say, particularly of my wife, that they cannot believe how strong we have been in the face of all that has happened.  There is a part of me that wishes that were true.  The truth is, though, that we are both still frail.  If only it were possible to peel back the exterior and feel what we feel.  You would experience an unbearable anguish -- a brokenness from which I doubt either of us will ever fully recover.

For many of us the burden of life can become overwhelming at times.  For all of us, there will be days when it seems like just getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other requires every ounce of strength that we have.  When those days come -- and they will -- I hope you have a little grace for yourself.  And, I hope that you find the faith to believe that God has something better for you in the future.

It is interesting to me that great men of God, who had far greater reason to trust God than most of us do, where nevertheless overwhelmed by the stress of life.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth not only about the hardships and suffering he and others were experiencing, but also about the emotional toll it was taking on them -- they "despaired even of life." 2 Corinthians 1:8.

Moses heard God speak from a burning bush, bring plagues on Egypt, pour water out of a rock, part the Red Sea and feed the Israelites with manna from heaven -- to name a few reasons why Moses might have been unwavering in his faith, strength and confidence.  But despite all of this, Moses was rarely in a place of comfort.

In fact, despite all that Moses had seen the Lord do, the burden of serving God often overwhelmed him. One time in particular the people were grumbling about, of all things, having to eat manna instead of the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons and other things that had been available to them in Egypt. And, Moses had enough -- the burden had become too great and he asked God to put him to death!

He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?  Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?  Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

Numbers 11:11-15.

Elijah, too, had seen God do many things. In First Kings, we read about Elijah's epic battle against the prophets of Baal. See, 1 Kings 18:20-39. You probably know the story. Elijah, the lone prophet of the Lord, challenged the four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal to a kind of duel.

In the end, Elijah saw his prayers answered, as the fire of the Lord fell on Elijah's sacrifice -- burning not only the bull, but the wood, the stones, the soil and the water in the trench in the process. The four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal lost their lives that day. 1 Kings 18:40.

Yet, shortly after this incredible encounter with God Elijah was running for his life. Like Moses, Elijah had enough, and asked God to take his life.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

1 Kings 19:3-5.

In the end, though, Moses and Elijah persevered, and God honored His promises to them.  And, both of these men ultimately found themselves on the mountain top in one of the most powerful moments recorded in the New Testament.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Matthew 17:1-5.

As I write this today, it is impossible to see Pam and me on any mountain top.  It is just not a place my imagination can take me.

Yes, tomorrow will come and go.  But many June 10ths will follow.  We will still have many Christmas mornings and Easter Sundays without him.  Every milestone in the lives of our other children promise to be bitter-sweet.  We will watch his friends have families of their own, and our joy for them will be met with a tinge of sorrow.  This is our reality.

But still, we have faith.  We cannot see it, touch it, or even imagine it -- but we believe God has a better future for us.  Maybe even an unimaginably good one. 




Saturday, June 3, 2017

God


For both Pam and me the last few years have had, as you might imagine, a profound impact on our relationship with and understanding of God.  And, while I have on these pages written many times about the journey from my point of view, today I hope you are blessed by hearing from my wife's perspective.  We love you all.


By:  Pamela Crews

Below is a link to an article that a good friend, Kathryn Jankiewicz, sent to me this morning. I really think it is worth a read. I agree wholeheartedly with what she says (UNTIL she gets to the part where she says she had to invent new names for Him...but I'll talk about that later).

I think there are way too many people in the world who have turned their backs on God; people who have been unable to forgive him for bad things that have happened to themselves personally, or in the world generally, and people who have been disappointed when he failed to deliver on what they believed he promised to do for them. How many times have any of us heard, "I don't believe in God. How could a loving God allow ________"?

Maybe in the midst of pain, frustration and confusion...the things can that often leave us most vulnerable....we forget to consider that it is not actually God who is the problem. We fail to consider the fact that God, as we have each chosen to personify Him (our own perfect, individually tailored, made-to-order God who fits perfectly within the confines we each individually need Him to be, based on our own interpretations of the specific parts of the bible we choose to embrace, specific sermons that "resonate" with us, hurts we have endured, fears we harbor, and our hopes and desires for the future) is NOT BOUND to act within the confines of our understanding of who He is. 

Duh. We all say that. But are we REALLY prepared and WILLING to meet God on His terms?

Before Jonathan was murdered, I felt like I had a very close relationship with God. Very close. I thought I understood his "nature,"...that I could predict His actions, within reason, based on my level of faith and my willingness/ability to follow His commands...plus a couple of other factors which might be figured in like some mathematical equation far beyond my ability to compute. Sure, I knew that bad things happened to everybody in life...but I believed that if I simply prayed for certain things, with absolute faith, God would make them happen. Isn't that what the bible says? Turns out, "Not exactly." WHAT?!

Well, what about this thing called "FAVOR" that we are taught is one of the biggest PERKS of "joining" the Christianity club? Doesn't God save the highest paying, most prestigious jobs for the members of His club? Not exactly. WHAT!? 

But at least it comes with the best health plan. I mean, if we or somebody we love get sicks, it's pretty much not a big deal, right? Because we can just pray for healing and "if we have enough faith," POOF, a healing miracle will be delivered, right? Not Exactly. WHAT!? 

Parking places. At least we will get inexplicably great parking places and other meaningless VIP crap, right? Nope. WHAT?!

So, what's the point, really? What kind of a stupid club is this? A lot of very restrictive rules (I mean, there's not even a limited exclusion for infidelity if you get that once-in-a-lifetime invite from your most coveted movie star!) and not many take-it-to-the-bank benefits. What's the attraction? Why should I "choose" this God out  of all of the other very attractive god options out there?

Oh, I get it. It's the emotional benefit. Like, when something really bad happens, at least God will protect me from being too sad about it, right? Not exactly. WHAT?!

So what's the point? What is the return I can expect for the considerable investment I am asked to make? 

Well, many will tell you that the investment is really not all that much...despite what you may have imagined...and the main perk comes down the line...kind of like a spiritual 401K. Turns out you just have to repeat a certain prayer. You don't even have to memorize it, apparently...just repeat it after somebody else. (You can, at your own discretion, choose to put your hand on your heart or raise your arms to the sky…or not. It’s all good.) Oh, and depending on where you go to church, there will be water...either dabbed on your forehead in the shape of a cross or in the form of a complete dousing...and POOF you get excluded from going to hell when you die! Now that's something good for sure! At least the bible promises us that. Not exactly. WHAT?!

No wonder so many people are mad at God! They are promised all of these wonderful perks and He doesn't deliver! Babies are dying by the thousands! Who is more innocent and deserving of mercy than babies? There is no earthly way to excuse a God who would allow this! So we get mad. Because all too often our willingness to walk with God stops at our ability to see past our earthly desires and our limited understanding of who God REALLY is. Despite wanting to have complete faith in God, we fail too often to have faith in the reality that His ways are better than our ways. His understanding is so far beyond our ability to comprehend...and yet we try to limit him to understanding only what we understand.

God is not a democracy. He simply IS. He doesn't change with "the times." Would you REALLY WANT a God who did? His existence in our lives does not depend on our belief in Him. We are so arrogant as a society to think that we can ERASE Him because He does not conform His commands to the latest popular vote! Good luck with that. I am afraid to see how He is going to deal with this...and yet not afraid at all...because the worst that can happen is my body will die. And, as it turns out, God is a lot less interested in my mortal body than He is in my soul. And now, so am I.

So who IS God? That is obviously way too big a question for me to answer here. And I don't know…not exactly anyway. Nobody can know all of God….and I have not yet run across anybody who can give an adequate description of all that He is.  But I do know that He is not most of the things I learned from a lifetime in a variety of different churches. He is so much BETTER!

As much as I thought I knew Him before, I have learned over the last three years, since Jonathan's death, that He is not very much at all like the God I knew before. I did have a relationship with him before...but not like I do now. I understand Him more than ever now...even though my understanding now includes knowing that I will never on this earth fully understand Him, and realizing for the first time ever that I have no right or ability to predict or expect Him to do any certain thing in response to my level of faith, time spent in prayer, or acts of service. He does as He does. He blesses who He blesses at His own choosing, based on His desires, not mine. He sends rain on the just and the unjust, at His choosing, not mine. And at His time, not mine. He heals who He heals and He lets die who He lets die.

That’s not to say that I don’t still pray for things, but I pray with a different heart now. I used to use prayer as some sort of “amulet,” but now I know that although God will certainly listen, He will probably do what He knows is best instead of what I want. And I’m grateful for that…most times. (I’m still working out that “be perfect” thing.) Or He may not like what is happening either, but choose not to interfere in the evil some other person is exercising in his or her free will. I pray for healing when my friends and family are sick…but I know that no matter what my level of faith is, God may have a different plan, and I accept that. I prayed every day for my children’s health, safety and protection…and my son was still murdered…and literally just minutes after the last time I prayed those things for him. Possibly even as I was in the midst of praying.

Have I ever blamed God for not answering what I consider a VERY faithful and diligent prayer? No. And I credit that entirely to Him. Why? Because “No weapon formed against me will prosper.” I know now that that passage has nothing to do with what weak, human me might have once secretly desired…what the world thinks of as “instant karma”… smiting people who gossip about me or giving the person who cuts me off in traffic a flat tire. I know now that it means that I belong to Him and He is not going to let the part of Him who lives in me be killed off by the liar who hovers over this world and wants to turn my heart hard. He protected me even from questioning Him! In my weakest moments, I have protection from weapons aimed at my soul. That is a pretty awesome if you ask me. And there is so much more! But I can’t begin to tell you. Nobody can. Not in a way that will make it real. It’s only real when it’s living inside your heart.

So how CAN you make THAT happen? Ask Him. That’s the kind of prayer I have a feeling He likes to answer. The answer may come in ways you never imagined. And you probably won’t be fond of the entire “journey” (“The Bachelor” as given me a new found distaste for that word…and I don’t even watch it…but it’s too appropriate to leave out here)…but once God has taken root in your heart…really taken root….you will always be thankful!

So….here’s that article (which you may be too tired to read by now. Sorry). That last part…the part that I disagree with…is her decision to reinvent God on her terms, and discard His name. I understand where she’s coming from on a personal level, but I think that by using euphemisms to describe God, she may inadvertently rob somebody of the opportunity to know the one true God. There are so many different (apparently over 3300, according to her) options to choose from for one who is shopping for a god in this world.

I feel like referring to Him in terms of what she personally gets from Him instead of His name may not only give the impression (once again) that we want to believe to receive something, but that one might be safe in “shopping” for the god that best suits whatever it is they are personally seeking. Use His name. How else is anybody going to know who it really is who created the universe?

By the way, many names for God can be found in the Bible, when in doubt "Jesus" will always do.

That is all. : )