Monday, May 12, 2008

Pavement on the Road to Hell

I boarded a plane one day from Calgary to Denver and sat down by one of the nicest people you could expect to meet. He worked for Caterpillar and actually took a demotion because he found he was spending too much time away from his family in pursuit of money. He was cordial, pleasant, humble even, interested in other people … and, apparently, utterly lost.

At the end of a conversation about spiritual matters during which I shared my own story and a couple of favorite truth analogies, I said something like this to him: “Someday God is going to knock on the door of your heart, and it will require faith on your part to answer.”

For maybe the first time in the conversation he disagreed with me.

“No,” he said, “I don’t see it that way. At the end of the day, I believe a life well-lived will not be rejected.”

Since he had felt free to disagree, I reciprocated.

“No,” I said, “I’m afraid you are mistaken. That’s the greasy-$100-bill approach,” I replied, referring to an earlier metaphor I had used that goes like this:

If someone approached me and said, “Gary, I would like to do something really special for you. I want to give you my ranch. Here’s the deed, titles to the vehicles, all the equipment, buildings, cattle and horses … it’s yours! Enjoy!”

If that happened to me, I said, I had two choices: I could accept it as a gift, or I could refuse it.

The only other option, to pay for it, was way beyond my means. And if I dragged a greasy $100 bill out of my wallet and said, “Here’s 100 bucks, I can’t take that for nothing,” I would be insulting the giver.

So it is when we try to earn God's favor. We can never muster enough goodness to earn that favor. We must receive it as a gift, or reject it. Our highest effort cannot possibly begin to earn it.

That payment has already been made. 2000 years ago. As surreal as it may seem, on a Roman cross just outside the gates of first-century Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth provided the unique payment for the sins of the whole world for all time ... including yours ... including mine.

So, while a well-lived life is a goal worthy of anyone, to rely on such a life to earn a good standing with God is folly.

Maybe that's what Jesus was talking about when he said: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” (The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 43-45)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

When Innocence is Crushed


That's the only word for the story about the man in Austria accused of incest. After the news first broke, I can't bear to read about it any more

That story is only one of the worst in the daily accounts of the abuse of God's gift of human sexuality.

Someone not convinced of the ultimate goodness and wisdom of God might be tempted to question what he was thinking about when he granted to man the ability to beget life. When God gave man that privilege, he gave away enormous power. Power for good, and power for evil.

(That's much different, by the way, from the ability of animals to procreate. Animals don't give birth to a soul made in the image of God. Only people do that.)

God is eternal and I am not. If my puny perspective fails to grasp what He has in mind, should I be surprised? Some day I will know even as I am known. Some day we will see what God already sees about this. Just not yet, not here.

In the meantime, we Christ followers are called to bring His blessing and healing and reconciliation to the world. Wherever there is brokenness, we can bring healing in His name.

There is plenty of brokenness in the communities of the North Pacific Crescent. Sexual abuse, for example, happens way too much in so many of these communities. For obvious reasons, it's almost impossible to get statistics about it, but anyone who works in these environments knows the stories.

Too many young girls live in dread of the night. Too many bedrooms have no doors. Too many children know so little of real childhood.

It's hard for outsiders to understand the damage done by sexual abuse. Years after the last night of horror, people are still suffering. Marriages cannot survive, families struggle. The function of entire communities can be crippled by this reality.

But that's not the end of the story. Jesus has His people in some of these places. His powerful love is bringing a difference.

One of the best examples of that is a program called Hearts Going Toward Wellness. Alaska Native leaders dreamed it up and are leading the way. Check it out at

It's our privilege to participate.

Yours, too. Ask me how.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

No Ordinary Life

Last week Valerie and I drove all the way across Oregon and Idaho to visit Bruce and Flo Walters. It's 720 miles from Boring to Rigby, a very short distance to honor two extraordinary servants.

The neighbors probably wouldn't use that adjective to describe Bruce and Flo. After all, they live in a nice but non-descript double-wide manufactured home on an treeless street and drive an old Toyota sedan. They wear every day clothes and eat every day food because they are every day people. But if the neighbors could see them through the lens of the Kingdom of God they would never call them ordinary.

Bruce and Flo raised their family in Idaho before going to Alaska to settle into a small community 330 crow-flight miles from the nearest road. They went simply to offer their lives to people.

When they arrived, they were given a house to rent. Flo, like any nester, wanted to start by cleaning it up, but Bruce said Let's wait for a couple of days. Dust flying out an open front door at the end of a broom would say "This house is dirty" and he didn't want to offend the community.

Of course a little dust was nothing new to Bruce, or his bride. He was an Idaho sheepherder. He grew up in the hills and benches above the Snake River and, like a certain king-to-be of Israel, lived most of his life with sheep. Like that Israeli shepherd, he killed a bear that was raiding his flock, and the .22 pistol he used to do it was more powerful than a sling only by degrees.

That had been their life, but God called them like he called Amos, from tending sheep to offering a life to people. And they went. And they served that little community, and two or three others, through 13 years of obscurity in Alaska's desolate wilderness. The gift of their lives brought help and love and grace to some very dear people, dear to the Walters and dear to Jesus Christ.

Now they are back in Idaho in retirement. The living room of that little manufactured home displays a simple wooden plaque expressing the love of those remote Alaska communities.

Bruce and Flo still live pretty much in obscurity. But they have many friends in many places, whose embrace now is all the more dear to them since they found out, about a month ago, that Flo has stage 4 cancer.

None of us knows our days. Only to God is the future clear. That's how it works: He knows and loves, we trust and obey. That He would stoop to work with people at all is something very profound. But He does. He uses the most ordinary people.

He used Hannah, the barren wife of a polygamist, to provide the priest Samuel who rescued his people from moral collapse and became one of the most prominent leaders in the history of Israel.

He used Simon of Cyrene ... and went out of his way to identify him ... to carry the cross upon which Jesus of Nazereth died to purchase salvation for the world.

He used the youngest son of Jesse, a redhead despised by six older brothers, to kill a giant and deliver his people and become their greatest king, the benchmark for all the long line of royalty. He was a shepherd, like Bruce and Flo. About him the scriptures testify that "David ... served the purpose of God in his own generation ..."

That's how God works. And because he does, in the economy of God, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.

And as Bruce and Flo would be the first to say, it isn't about us anyway ... it's about the King.

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.