Saturday, May 17, 2008

'We Are Now a Family'

Meet Elizabeth ("Izzy") Jacobson, the daughter I adopted at her request during our church's recent Covenant Pines Family Retreat.

Like Shawn Erickson, already noted, Izzy approached me early on, thinking of her father who had obligations that kept him home while we were away. "I miss my dad," she said, with that wonderful smile of hers. "Will you be my father this weekend?"

Would I ever! What a honor! Who could resist? Far more was involved than even Izzy knew. Christians are a family beyond our families, offering each other comfort, home away from home, the sense of security we all need from life's beginning to its end. Bryan J. H. Leech, a retired Covenant pastor out west, celebrates that reality in his wonderful hymn, "Come, Share the Lord" (The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No 568). "No one is a stranger here, everyone belongs.... We are now a family of which the Lord is head; though unseen he meets us here in the breaking of the bread....

Izzy took me in as her father, and I took her in as my daughter, all because of Christ. And the weekend secured us both in our human longings--she for her dad and me for my children. Thank you, Izzy, for being who you are and allowing me to be someone special for you! God used you to minister to me, ministering to you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Depth, Height, and Perspective

To discover, in many ways, is first to rediscover. Visioning the future requires being fully aware of the past. Redemptive change, so much needed in this world, must be rooted in the things that remain--that have stood the tests of time and human history. Christians are not spiritual orphans, devoid of memory. They are children of an eternal Father whose mighty acts in history are the sum and substance of their being. Every incentive we may propose to move us forward must be rooted in perspectives beyond our own.

Samuel H. Miller puts it well: "To lose the Bible is to lose more than a book; it is to lose the order of magnitude in which our lives grow to greatness. To lose a tradition is to lose more than a tradition; it is to lose depth, in which we may be strongly held against the storms of the present. To lose the myths and symbols which seem so inexplicable in contemporary terms is to lose more that stories and things; it is to lose a wisdom we are incapable of articulating without the assistance of ancient strugglers with realities greater than words and mightier than reason.

"It were well," Miller concludes, "if we spent one-tenth the time and attention we give to the flotsam and jetsam of the daily paper on the profoundly rich wisdom of the past.... The present, after all, can scarcely be understood in terms of itself" (The Great Realities, Harper, 1955, pp. 18-19).

Surely we cannot live in the past. Nor need we. But to cut ourselves off from it in the present, especially in moving toward the future, is unimaginably short-sighted, not to mention prideful. The Pentecost first promised in Joel, chapter 2, when "your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" was fulfilled when the Spirit of the risen Christ descended on the earliest Christians (Acts 2). And we should not forget that it happened when they "they devoted themselves to the apsotles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

To move toward the heights we all long to see and achieve, we must learn again to live in the depths with God and his word, where eternal perspectives abound.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

'A Little Child Shall Lead Them'

Meet Shawn Erickson, by his designation at Salem's recent Family Retreat "My Friend." But he is more than that. He is also, as are all of Salem's children, a living reminder that we who are older have much to learn from receiving and engaging our young.

Shawn is a Pietist, even though he doesn't know it. His love for God and people is incredible. All of a sudden, in the first hour or so of our retreat, he came up, hugged my leg, and said with all the transparent love that flows through his being, "I miss you!"

I just couldn't resist his genuine, unaffected smile. And warmth flowed from his spirit. "I want to be your friend!" he kept saying. "Could I also be your Opa?" I asked at one point (the Dutch/German term for Grandpa). "No, I don't want you to be my Opa," he retorted, with a sudden seriousness. "I just want you to be my friend!"

Two days seldom allow time to really bond with someone else, but they were more than enough in this case. It was friendship at first sight between us, the kind God supplies--uncomplicated by questions we often raise before opening up to others. And Shawn was God's witness, showering me with endless grace. We sat together at meals and in chapel while I was preparing to speak on "God beyond Us," and "God within Us," and "God between Us," and "God beside Us." At one point, gazing out the chapel window he said in wonderment, pointing with his index finger, "Look at that Pine tree!" While ministering to others, Shawn was thus ministering to me, just by being himself.

I felt led in our final session, following Communion, to call him to the front. No hesitancy there, to be with his friend. He was totally unaware of what I had in mind, which was to let him pronounce the Benediction--thus to bless others as he had been blessing me. I swept him up, turned toward the people, asked him to raise his arm high, and repeat after me. Normally quiet, even shy in voice, I was amazed at how he belted it out, not as if basking in the attention, but simply in obedience to the promptings of his friend: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you his peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Very few left that session unmoved. And Shawn, nearly an hour later, while sitting beside me at our final brunch, was still wondering--like Pietists wonder when they have sensed the mystery in sacred things--"Why did you lift me up?" My answer was simple and direct. "Just so that you could bless the people, as God has used you to bless me!" "Oh," he said, seeming satisfied. "O.K." Oh, to be that childlike!

Stroking my face before we said goodbye at table, Shawn gently told me one thing more. Looking very serious, though clearly not wanting to hurt my feelings, he said, "You're old!" When I protested a bit to that, "No, I'm not! I'm still a little boy, just like you," he seemed relieved, and ran off to embrace someone else.

This is a friendship worth pursuing. I have a feeling that God has something special in mind for this boy, wherever life takes him and whatever he ends up doing.