God’s Delight

“The Lord your God is with you,

the mighty warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

 

In the midst of disaster, natural or man-made, God is with his people. We can count on him to save us. He is our victorious soldier home from war after defeating the enemy that tried to harm us.

He delights in his children. He loves us even though we often mess up and end up in trouble. We bring him joy and make him so happy.

There are times when, out of love, he must discipline us, but ultimately it is to bring us to reconciliation. His loving discipline is not meant to drive us away, but to bring us into an intimate, loving relationship.

He sings a love song over us like a husband rejoicing over his bride, or a daddy rocking his little ones with lullabies.

Standing Out in a Crowd

Crowds – I love being in them, except when I don’t. I mean, I love being where the action is, unless the action isn’t what I’m into at the moment, then I long for solitude. The crowded streets of New York City energize me, but when my feet get sore and my body gets tired, nothing feels better than walking into a quiet hotel room.

This morning in my Bible reading, Psalm 107:7 said, “He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.” In the Old Testament time, a city was a refuge from the wilderness. A city was where you found safety and security. Finding yourself isolated in the desert was usually a death sentence. But today, for many of us in 21st century affluent suburbia, the city represents the opposite: crowds, crime and poverty. A crowded city is the last place we would want to settle.

Then I read from Matthew 9:35-36, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus had compassion on the crowd.

Rarely do I experience compassion in a crowd. When I’m trying to get somewhere, a crowded highway brings out rage in me, not compassion. It’s only when I stop and realize that little old lady driving 55 in the left lane of I-64 could be somebody’s sweet grandma, then my compassion can finally start to rise in me. I have to put a face on someone in the crowd for me to find compassion. But Jesus had compassion on the crowd.

I believe Jesus had compassion on them because he saw the individual faces within the crowd. He knew their stories and backgrounds, that they were harassed and lost. He knew his purpose was to redeem them and to give them hope and a future.

So I’m going to try and stop painting crowds with a broad brush. I’m going to try and remember the crowd is made up of individuals whom God loves. Whether it’s a crowd of democrats, republicans, atheists, Christians, Muslims, gays, Mormons, unions, Catholics, you-name-it, they’re all individuals for whom Christ had compassion. So much compassion that he was willing to die on a cross. The least I can do is to get to know them as individuals instead of judging them as a faceless crowd.

Herding Cats Through the Streets of New York City

Every year I lead a mission trip to New York City. And every year, we have an incredible experience. We serve the Lower Manhattan Community Church in the Battery Park City/Tribeca area of Manhattan as well as help out at the World Vision Storehouse in the Bronx. Our friends at both ministries are a joy to work with. We are blessed to have such wonderful ministry partners. They are making a difference in the Kingdom work in New York City.

But I feel the need to whine share about the great challenge I face each and every year when leading this mission trip. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “herding cats,” well, that’s exactly what I have to do with my team through the streets of New York.

Last week our team was invited to Ryan and Brittany Holladay’s place for dinner. Ryan is the Pastor at LMCC. We left the hotel together, walking the half block to the subway station in order to catch the R train to Brooklyn. I led the way, walking at the same pace as most of the senior citizen’s of New York. The other male in our group of eight was at my side. As I turned to head down the stairs, I looked up and saw one of the women on our team following close behind. We made eye contact, so I continued my descent into the bowels of the subway system and proceeded through the turn style.  And there I waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, I saw my wife’s beautiful face appear on the subway steps. Her expression showed a sense of relief as well as a desire for revenge all at the same time. I smiled and waved. She ran and got the other wandering missionaries and then joined the rest of us on the subway platform.

I apologized, or at least I thought about it, and then we made our way to a wonderful evening of food and laughter. I realize I’m writing this at my own peril, but I thought it would be fun to theologize about it on my blog. Now I’m quite certain that some of the team members will come up with a totally different interpretation, so I invite them to share their honest, yet grace-filled thoughts in the comment section below.

Here’s my take: We are all on a journey in a strange land. We love the land but we realize we are not natives, we are aliens. And as aliens, we realize we need direction on our journey or else we will lose our way. So we must always keep our eye on our leader for we know he is just up ahead, leading us to a destination where there will be a celebration banquet filled with joy and community. BUT, if we get distracted, if we don’t pay attention, if we get too involved in our own little conversations or we become preoccupied with all the strange people and sights, we run the risk of missing the train. And that wouldn’t be good.

Big Grandma: Little Grandma

I suppose since both of my grandmothers have passed, I can now safely confess my nicknames for both of them. As a kid, I thought of them as “Big Grandma” and “Little Grandma.” I only told Little Grandma about my secret nicknames, since I figured she’d be okay with it. But I never got around to telling Big Grandma.

My Grandma Wideman was Big Grandma. She was soft and fluffy. I remember getting rocked by her as a small child. Why this stands out to me, is because it wasn’t in a rocking chair. Big Grandma could rock with the best of them, no rocker required. Snuggling up against her was like being enveloped in love. She loved through her hands, whether it was a caress or a swat, you knew it was all love. She ministered to her kids and grandbabies whenever there was a fever or upset stomach; Big Grandma always knew what to do.

Then came the time when Big Grandma was the one that got ill. Parkinson’s ravished her body as she slowly deteriorated through the last decade of her life. Big Grandma became tiny grandma, frail and dependent on those whom she had served and loved. Big Grandma showed Big Love to everyone she knew, no matter their size or stature.

Little Grandma was a farmer’s wife. She gardened, took care of the chickens, fed table scraps to stray animals, and had breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table everyday right on schedule, unless Grandpa had a hankerin’ for a burger in town. She would cook up a spread fit for her king and then dine like a pauper to keep her beauty queen figure. She was stylish with matching purse and heels every Sunday at church where she took her place at the organ. She taught all her children and grandkids to love music and play the piano. She ministered to her kids and grandbabies by taking pictures and filming home movies.

Little Grandma lived a long, healthy life, I suppose from eating all that organic food she grew on the farm. But then at the age of 91, she was ready to join her husband and family who had gone before her. She was dressed in her finest, her hair beautifully coiffed and she was happy to go Home.

 

 

Grandpa: Truck Driver

My truck-driving grandpa lived life the same way he smoked his Lucky Strikes, unfiltered.

He died a month before my fifth birthday. It was the first time I learned smoking could kill you. It seemed everyone was just discovering this in 1963.

Before the cancer, he was a husband, father and grandfather. Most everyone respected him, or should I say, they feared him. I was too young to really fear him as much as just awe him.

While I don’t remember any conversation I ever had with him, I do recall family times together. He would greet his grandkids with a smile and a tousle of the hair, that would last as long as we behaved. But as soon as we got too loud or out of control, the bad mood would start. As a small child I was able to recognize how the climate changed in the house whenever he was around.

He kept his teeth in a glass and smelled of Absorbine Jr. His ears stuck out like the opened doors of his 1949 Carryall-Suburban.

As I got older, my dad and his six siblings told stories about grandpa that made the hair stand at attention on the back of my neck. Stories of a different man than I ever knew.

While I didn’t know him well, this is what I do know about my grandpa, the truck driver. He was smart enough to marry Kate, who birthed him seven great kids and kept them clothed, fed and generally healthy during the Great Depression and WWII. He was blessed to have three sons become preachers and two more become deacons, in spite of the fact he never once took them to church. He had two beautiful daughters who grew up to be strong and loving wives and mothers who could spin great stories and make everyone feel loved and accepted.

Grandpa was a flawed man with very little to his name, yet he still recognized the importance and value of family. While it’s true we may pass on some of the sins of the father, let’s not forget, we can also pass on some of the blessings as well. That’s a lesson every grandpa needs to learn.

Grandpa: Farmer

My grandpa was part of the last generation of great American farmers, before they went all soft and high-tech. He and his wife, Gert reared four strong and handsome children on their family farm. A sanctuary of rolling hills and river bluffs in the Mississippi river bottom he and his brother cleared off with an axe, a saw and their four calloused hands. A six-room house built with hand-honed bricks made from the sand out of the creek running through their lower pasture. The red dairy barn covered in tin-roofing, flanked by a sentinel stone silo  and surrounded by a family of mismatched  stone and frame sheds and well-houses.

Through the eyes of his admiring grandson, I thought the farm was as much a part of him, as grandma was. They all went together. Their own sacred trinity.

Grandpa was a weathered old barn, always open to friends, as well as a variety of stray animals and hobos walking the tracks down by the river. He was a massive old silo that stood strong as he weathered floods and droughts through years of changing seasons. Grandpa was formed out of the same sandy soil that provided the home for his family; a fortress against the elements and evil of his day. He was honed and chiseled by Life, bearing the scars and marks that only served to make him stronger.

Grandpa also had his soft side as well. Whether it was his twanging out love songs to his sweetheart while driving into town for an ice cream, or letting his granddaughters give him a makeover and pedicure, he was always a gentle touch with his girls. He was a man of faith, who prayed for rain to fall and floodwaters to recede and taught the men’s Sunday School class for several decades at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

Today, as a grandpa myself, I see the old man looking back at me while I shave. I see his wrinkles and scars, his same thinning hair and expanding belly. I pray I will see the same godly qualities as well.

Politics: Going on the Offensive

Am I the only one who has really close personal friends in both political parties? Or maybe I should ask it this way, am I the only person who  doesn’t like offending some of my really close personal friends who vote differently than me? I recognize my tendency to be a people-pleaser and that I often come across as milquetoast in my comments because of it, (I am seriously working on this issue through a 12-Step program), but for the life of me, I don’t know what someone, who posts strongly worded hateful jabs at a group of fellow citizens, hopes to accomplish.

When I see the volleying back and forth of insults and verbal violence on Facebook, I just say to myself, I’m so glad I have dual-citizenship. Yes, I’m a grateful American, and I’m glad that we have the freedom to speak our position and our beliefs, but I’m also a citizen of the Kingdom and I believe that citizenship should trump the former.

I believe being a Christian means that I show grace and humility to others. I am to love my neighbor as myself. Maybe that’s part of our problem; maybe we don’t love ourselves enough. Our maybe we think loving ourselves means self-entitlement or self-assertion. Jesus said it this way, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

When I come across some of these hateful comments, I think, where’s the love? The humility? There’s so much venom and hatred in some of these statements. One of the things I realized I needed to give up in my 12-Step program was “talk” radio. I used to listen to it all the time, but then I became aware that it was triggering bad behavior in me. When I listened to the venom coming from the radio, it would bring the venom out in me. It would generate anger in me. Why? Because, for one thing, listening to this stuff all the time was making me afraid for our country’s future. I had gotten caught up in all the fear mongering. I was becoming fearful, and that fear was making me angry at those people and policies the radio commentators were convinced were the cause of the problem. But here’s the thing, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

So, like I stated earlier, I’m glad I have dual-citizenship. My hope does not lie in a political party or in talk radio or even in the American government. My pursuit of happiness is not limited to my American citizenship. I have met many Christians in other countries who appear to be much happier than us. And I’m talking about countries like China, Kenya, Cambodia and Russia. As an American and a Christ-follower, I am called to be aware and active in both citizenships, but I am called to put my hope in Christ alone.