Monthly Archives: January 2013

My One Haunting Question

424568_4112495902031_671544537_nThree short days ago, I lost my dear friend.

In the blink of an eye, he was gone.

Ken left behind a beautiful family… and SCORES of friends. 

We’re talking thousands here. Literally. Tens of hundreds of precious people, the overwhelming majority of whom are kids — students, teenagers, middle/junior high and high school students — whose lives will never be the same. This because at some divinely-appointed moment-in-time, their lives intersected with his.

I do take some solace in the fact that Ken died the way he lived. Full throttle, loving life, breezing down the highway on a crisp Winter’s day, probably singing if not praying, with the wind at his back and a wide open road at his front, bright blue skies glistening above him, and his beloved motorcycle sputtering beneath him.

Ken’s dear wife posted this on Facebook: “When he left on Sat. I told him ‘be careful and the cops will be out’. His response was ‘Yes, dear’. The kiss and he was gone.”

He was gone.

Gone from her; gone from so many, many of us.

One freak accident, in one brief instant, frozen in time, that changed everything.

That was Saturday. I am writing this on the following Tuesday. Trying desperately to process that one logic-defying, reason-tormenting, faith-testing, emotionally-draining question… Why?

Why Ken?

Why him?

Why now?

And coming to no conclusions.

Having given so much to so many with so much left to give to so many others, Why?

Why Ken?

Why him?

Why now.

It simply does not make sense.

Look, I’ve been a pastor for over 30 years, and over that span of three decades I’ve done my fair share of funerals. I’ve worked for a funeral home. I was the go-to-guy when accidents like this happened, to make what is called in the industry, “the removal.” I’m supposed to be desensitized to this sort of thing. Part of the circle of life right? You’re born, you live, you die. I get that. I have always gotten that.

But never have a I gotten that when it’s a guy like Ken.

You’re my friend, right? At least, if nothing else, we’ve briefly connected on this website. So I can be honest with you, yes? As I ever-so-briefly descend into the nether-reaches of my sometimes darkened mind?

OK. How’s this for honesty? You want names? I could give you names. I want to give you names. But I won’t. Frankly, I don’t want to be sued. But I could tick off for you more names than I have fingers or toes on which to count them. Names of those who over the years, from my frame of reference, live to torment people. As they travel the well-worn sod of this troubled world we share, these unnamed individuals leave in their wakes the wreckage of broken lives — family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends or acquaintances — people whom they have gleefully destroyed. Used. Abused. Mistreated. Taken advantage of. Damaged in some way. And then wadded them up and threw them away. Without so much as giving it a thought.

Some of them even ride motorcycles. 

And yet, like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going, and going, and going; pouring ever more blood on their already red-stained fingers.

Why?

I know it doesn’t sound very pastor-like to suggest that the world would be a better place — a bit brighter and a far more joyful place — if certain individuals made an early exit of this life and went to their just deserts. (Yes, that is the correct spelling. 1 “s”; not 2.) So I won’t suggest it. (Even though you just gave me your permission to be honest.) 

But I will suggest that less than 72 hours ago, this little blue ball of a planet of ours got a little dimmer, even as Heaven got a bit brighter, when Ken departed this world and entered the next.

Look up Ken in the dictionary and you’ll probably find these stunningly inadequate definitions: Hero (the real kind; not the media-manufactured kind); Father-figure; Role model; Bright and shining example of Christ-like love; Humility personified; Faithfulness; the Fruit of the Spirit on constant display; Real, Genuine, Authentic, What you see is what you get; and Boy-What-A-Laugh.

Why?

Why Ken?

Why him?

Why now?

Frankly, if it’s any consolation, I know that the psalmist who wrote, “So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! (73:16); I know that Job who wrote, “Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? (21:7); I know that Jeremiah who wrote, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?” (12:1), and I know that other biblical writers who wrote down their equally troubling thoughts, each, in his own way, asked the same haunting question as me. And received the same non-answer.

No, I have no answers. I do not know “Why?”.

Perhaps I don’t need to know. God owes me no explanations. Even though it makes no sense. 

The only sense that I can make of this otherwise senseless loss rests in this promise: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

Yes! Indeed! He’s got it all figured out. Even if I don’t. In other words, He knows why.

Further, I know that James 4:14 is a fact of life. Words written by Jesus’ half-brother, no less. Having lost his sibling to a cruel and senseless Roman execution for a crime  (blasphemy) that Jesus did not commit, James words ring ever so true: “What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears.” In other words, neither God nor life grants any guarantees. 

And yes, there is coming a day — sooner rather than later, I think; sooner rather than later, I hope — when we will finally say a final “Goodbye” to ever having to say “Goodbye” again.

There is coming a day (and for my dear friend, Ken, that day came last Saturday), when God “will wipe every tear from (our) eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4).

So maybe I’m just a wee bit selfish when I allow myself to be haunted by the question, “Why?” Or a tad bit jealous that Ken is riding his bike on golden streets up there while I’m still pounding pavement down here. Or both.

All that being said, on Saturday the soundtrack of Heaven reached a joyous crescendo, while our Earthly sonata sounded somewhat muted for our loss.

Obviously, I am still processing the un-processable. Still pondering the un-ponderable. Still seeking answers to unanswerable questions. You know — questions like… Why?

Why Ken?

Why him?

Why now? 

Any thoughts?

 

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On Jodie Foster’s “Coming Out”…

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My heart goes out to Jodie Foster.

In case you’ve missed it, the blogosphere has been all-a-twitter today about whether or not this Hollywood icon “came out” (sort of, as one writer put it) last night on the Golden Globes.

Did you watch it?

After receiving the coveted Cecil B. DeMille Award, Ms. Foster gave a — some have said “rambling,” others have said “tear-jerking,” still others “brilliant” — acceptance speech in which she made some statements that most commentators have commented was her “coming out.” That she finally admitting what so many say they already knew. To wit, Jodie Foster is gay.

Now, before I go any further with my comments, let me be clear. I am not here to pass judgment on Jodie Foster’s sexual orientation. It is not my purpose to debate the merits or lack thereof of gay marriage, in case that comes up. I seek not to engage in a dialogue about whether or not she and her former lover (Ms. Foster did declare in her speech — not once, but twice — “I am single.”) should together raise her two children (to whom she gave birth, though the identity of their “father” remains a mystery). Those are discussions for another time and place.

In this discussion, it is my purpose to isolate one phrase, not even a complete sentence, but a particle of a sentence — 16 words out of a speech that totaled 1124 words. A statement she made at the very end of her six minute forty second speech, while many — in the crowd gathered in the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, along with millions of others watching on their flat-screens around the world — were still trying to figure out exactly what she said, and what she meant by what she said. 

A scant few words that, it appears to me, were completely missed by the overwhelming numbers of people who wrote, blogged, commented on, talked about, or responded to this speech.

One phrase that, IMHO, gave us the rarest of glimpses into the soul of Jodie Foster.

The heartfelt plea that caused my heart to go out to her last night.

She ended her speech with this transparent, blatantly honest, and gutsy admission, “I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely.”

“I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely.”

To which I wanted to shout, “Yes, Jodie. Spot-on, Jodie. Don’t we all?”

You see, I’m not looking at Jodie Foster, the award-winning actress. When I look at Jodie Foster, I do not see a lesbian. I certainly do not view her as a gay activist with a militant agenda. What I saw last night — whatever she meant by, and whatever her purpose in giving what others have dubbed as her “coming out” speech — was Jodie Foster, a person. A human being. A woman. An individual who got up in front of her peers, on national/worldwide television no less, and gave an impassioned, heartfelt cry. A plea that sprang from the depths of her profound, and-now-self-admitted, loneliness.

“I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely.”

Pause and ponder that for a second, will you?

Now for a heartfelt plea of my own: Please resist the temptation — if indeed you are so tempted — to suggest something like, “Well, of course she’s lonely. She’s a lesbian.” Or, “If she was a Bible-believing Christian she wouldn’t be lonely.” Or, “How could she not be lonely since she’s rejected God from her life.” 

It is not for me to be Jodie Foster’s judge, jury, and executioner.

But more to the point, over the years I have talked to thousands — yes, thousands — of straights who are just as lonely. Would you believe me if I told you that I have talked to thousands — yes, thousands — of Christians, of both genders and all ages, who have quietly admitted to me that they are profoundly lonely?

I can tell you of a psalmist who would wholeheartedly “Amen” that question, a biblical writer who admitted this, “I am like a lonely owl in the desert or a restless sparrow alone on a roof” (Psalm 102:6-7). Sounds pretty lonely to me. And I have no reason to suspect that he was gay.

I can tell you of an apostle who, at the end of his spectacular career — as a pioneer missionary, church planter, author, and speaker — faced death, and did so all alone. Someone who in his loneliness cried out to his son-in-the-faith, Timothy, begging him to leave Ephesus and join him in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). This because all of his friends, with the sole exception of Luke, betrayed or abandoned him.

Here’s the thing: Jodie Foster has had her own illustrious career. A career that spans 47 years. A childhood prodigy who first took to the stage and screen when she was only three years old. An actress of immense talent who skyrocketed to the top of Hollywood’s A-List. Someone who commands, if the estimates that I read are at all accurate, some twenty million dollars per movie.

Jodie Foster has it all — fame, fortune, talent, beauty — everything that should make anyone happy. 

Yet she’s lonely. 

Yes, last night, at the Golden Globes, Jodie Foster “came out” all right. She came out as someone in significant pain. Desperate to be heard, understood, and genuinely loved.

Yes, I know that God hears, understands, and genuinely loves us. Loves me. I get that. And for that I am eternally grateful. You can rest assured that I will never discount that.

But last time I checked, (and I say this with all of the reverence in the world) God is not in the habit of giving hugs.

He needs people, you and me — our arms, our hearts — to do it for Him.

There are times when I (like you, I rather suspect) feel lonely, disconnected, abandoned and betrayed. Times when I just need a hug.

And so does everyone around us. 

We are surrounded by them, every single day. Those who are not heard, who aren’t understood, and who feel so disconnectedly and desperately lonely.

Each of us, every single one of us, at times needs an open heart, a listening ear, a heartfelt hug, a handshake/grip on the shoulder/squeeze of the arm/or my favorite: a fist-bump of understanding, a smile of acceptance, a note of encouragement, a gift of love that expects nothing in return, a text message that clearly communicates that somebody cares, a simple statement that sounds something like this: I love you, spoken by someone who sincerely means it.

Look around you. They are everywhere. People who are — just like me; just like you I rather suspect — lonely.

People despairingly in need of a gemstone of genuine care when all they see is a world of rocks. Thrown at them. A rock of an unkind look, a careless word, a cruel criticism. Thrown by insensitive individuals. Stones that hurt when they hit.

Yes, a gemstone of genuine care.

Jodie Foster needs one.

I need one.

You need one.

A gemstone of genuine care.

Which motivates me to want to give one — a gemstone of genuine care. To try to become a better person, a much-more sensitive person, a caring and compassionate person. Someone who is less me-focused, and more others-focused. Someone who sees and hears and understands and encourages and comforts another, in love, without expecting anything in return. 

Someone who is willing to give of myself to someone just like Jodie, whom last night I both heard and understood.

Someone who is willing to give of myself to so many others in my world who are living their own lives of quiet desperation, just like Jodie.

Care to join me?

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Can You Even Begin to Imagine???

mary:jesusMothers, think back to what it was like when you gave birth to your firstborn child – the fears, the insecurities, the feelings of inadequacy.

Now imagine that when you did give birth, it was not in the clinical cleanliness of a hospital room or birthing center.

Imagine you were in a cave, dark and alone, unsanitary to the extreme, no nurse, doctor, or midwife to help you, and you are all of 13 or 15 years old, in what was essentially a foreign country, away from your family, with only your fiancé to help you.

Add to all of that the political climate of the world Mary was living in – a world of crushing oppression fueled by a brutal and barbaric military occupation.

Furthermore, if we discover nothing else from the birth narratives in both Matthew and Luke, we at least learn this: There are some people in this world who are without a doubt the very incarnation of evil.

Such was the power of Rome, and so was the person of Herod.

From this point on in all four Gospels, every miracle that Jesus performs, every lesson that Jesus teaches, every person whom Jesus meets, every action that Jesus completes will all be done under the watchful and wary eyes of Rome, the imperial power to whom Herod had sold his soul.

mary2With that in mind, can we even begin to imagine the world into which Mary gave birth to her son?

You will learn so much more about that world as you listen to this podcast.

You can hear it by clicking here, or through the podcast player on the right. Enjoy!!!

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Psalm 2 — A Paraphrase

Jesus rules the worldTonight a dear friend of mine asked me for a copy of my paraphrase of Psalm 2, graciously telling me that it was a blessing especially for her dad. So here it is with my prayer that it will also be a blessing to you. 

Why are the nations of this world in an uproar? Why are the people of this world planning and plotting and conniving such worthless plans?

The world’s leaders have set themselves against God and are determined to defy Him in every decision they make.

But God will not be mocked. His ultimate rule in the world will not be shaken. Indeed, He will make a make a mockery of them as He declares for one and all to hear, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” (And I would add, not by the vote of the people, but by the divine appointment of Almighty God.)

To My Son I say these words — words that the world had best never forget — To Jesus I say, “You are my Son. Today I have begotten You. Just ask, and I will give You the nations as your inheritance; the four corners of the world are Yours to possess.

“The day will come, sooner rather than later, when You will break them with a rod of iron; You will dash them to pieces like pottery.” 

So to every world leader I say, “Serve the Lord with reverent fear. Rejoice at your God-given privilege, yet tremble in His holy presence. Bow your knee and kiss His Son’s hand, fully submitting to Jesus’ sovereign rule. Otherwise, if you don’t, you run the risk of kindling the fire of His wrath that one day will destroy you.”

 

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