JULY 6, 2016
We had a Grace Party on Friday night.
It was the book launch for Erik’s The Seed and my Hidden Agendas. We had the event at Willow Creek (our church). Buddy Greene (Nashville recording artist), Josh Bales (a former student and a wonderful Anglican recording artist), and Peculiar People (Charlie and Ruth Jones from North Carolina who often do amazing drama and comedy for Key Life) were all a part of it. It was a fun evening and we sold a few books.
Buddy, Charlie and Ruth all stayed at our house and we loved having them. It’s always fun to be with people one has walked with for many years. We have common “war stories,” a shared vision (we all know that God isn’t angry at us), and a shared love for Christ and for one another. We laughed and prayed (mostly laughed), and Jesus joined in our laughter.
Saturday morning Buddy got up earlier than the rest of us. (Friday evening was quite long and we didn’t get to bed until the wee hours of the morning.) Buddy was still in his pajamas when he wandered out on our patio for his devotional time. That was good.
Buddy didn’t turn off the security alarm. That wasn’t good.
Since the death of Thor, our last German shepherd who is now in doggy heaven, we depend on that alarm and my gun for security. While we live in a safe neighborhood, one never knows and it is prudent to be safe rather than sorry.
What about Jesus?
Well, of course, there’s Jesus. But like the Quaker who picked up his gun as he went out the door, one never knows. The Quaker’s wife admonished him, “Dost thou not know that if it is thy time to die, God’s will is best?”
“I know,” he replied, “But dost thou not know that if it is a thief’s time to die, God’s will is best too?”
Okay, okay. I know that a more spiritual man would trust Jesus for his household’s safety. I’m working on it. When I get there, I’ll burn my gun and cancel the security contract. But in the meantime, it may be the thief’s time to die.
But I digress. When Buddy set off that loud alarm what had been a quiet morning of sleep and security turned into a time of chaos, anxiety and a fair degree of fear. It’s kind of like the old definition of flying—hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
It’s also a metaphor for life.
It’s what the rich farmer experienced when he harvested his crops and got ready to build bigger barns and retire. Jesus said that God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). Paul experienced it in Acts 9 where one minute he was fine and the next he was as blind as a bat and helpless. Isaiah experienced it in Isaiah 6 when he was in the temple singing a little Jewish praise song to God then the real God showed and scared the spit out of him. The disciples experienced it at both the crucifixion and the resurrection. It’s also what you and I can expect.
The alarm rings…the doctor diagnoses, the banker calls, the police show up at your door, the IRS letter comes, the fire burns, the secret is revealed, the friend turns, or the boss says he’s sorry but…and everything is different. Someone has said that every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it. That’s true. The alarm is a metaphor of its truth.
Someone sent me a birthday card once that read:
“Once upon a time, in the land of Fuzzle-Wuzzle, there lived a merry band of teddy bears. All day long they would laugh and frolic in the fields and valleys. Every evening they would sit down to a big banquet of honey muffins and oatmeal. After singing a round of silly songs, they would get all comfy and cozy and fall asleep beneath the magical lollipop tree. This went on for years and years…then the Battle of Armageddon broke out, and they all died. The end. Hey, do I look like Mother Goose? Deal with it. Oh, and Happy Birthday!”
How do you deal with your personal Armageddon or, as it were, the alarm?
First, you do nothing.
Post-alarm events are often things about which we can do nothing. Fred Smith used to say that if you didn’t have a solution, you didn’t have a problem…only a fact. You can hardly ever do anything about facts, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). It’s what St. Francis meant when he was working in his garden and someone asked him what he would do if he knew the world would end that day. “Why,” he said, “I would keep working in my garden.”
I know that sounds so glib…almost like a cliché. I’m sorry. I know that the “alarm” often signals very painful, dark and destructive events in our lives. That should never be minimized. Cancer, addiction, death, loss and pain don’t lend themselves very well to clichés.
Second, don’t be surprised.
Jesus told his disciples some of the bad things to happen beforehand so they wouldn’t be surprised. He then said that we live in a world where we should expect tribulation (John 16:33). Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you…as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).
The media is always referring to some disease with a high death rate. What? The statistic is one-out-of-one. Christians know the truth about the world. It’s a fallen and very dark place sometimes…well, a lot of the time. “Wars and rumors of wars” aren’t anything new…both personal and national. A Christian isn’t any happier about that than a pagan, but there is a difference. Pagans are surprised because they really didn’t expect it would happen to them. Christians aren’t surprised. Whenever someone gets hurt, no matter how it happened, it’s somebody’s fault. And in our culture, it goes to court and translated into money. Christians don’t like it, but we expected it. We know (because God told us) that the world isn’t safe and “time and chance” happen to everybody. It’s why Christians are so much more “street-smart” than unbelievers.
One other thing.
Don’t run. Just be still. Jesus meets his people in the dark. It’s what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote that Jesus had gone through everything we must face and sympathizes with us (Hebrews 4:15). No matter how loud the alarm or how difficult the road we walk, Jesus always says, “I know, child.” Not only that. He walks with us. Sometimes he fixes things and sometimes he doesn’t. But he’s there, he’s sufficient, and it’s enough. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, and shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone. We don’t have to like it and we are given permission to “cuss and spit,” but he will never leave us alone in the dark.
I answered an email this morning from a man whose life in the last three months has unraveled. He said he had a “banner” that proclaimed his relationship to Christ and now he planned to throw it away. I told him that first, he couldn’t get rid of the banner because it was forever, and second, the God who gave him the banner is a God whose power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s in our helplessness, fear, sin and weakness that we see God’s hand in power. It’s so God!
Man, this certainly is an “up” letter. I’m sure you’re feeling encouraged and blessed. (Next month I’ll write about death and the month after about taxes. (:)
Okay. Jesus told me to say something positive.
After I told someone about Buddy setting off the alarm, he commented that Buddy must have been very embarrassed. “No,” I replied, “we’ve been friends for so long and love each other so much that there was very little embarrassment and a whole lot of laughter.”
Sometimes the “alarm” is the signal that the dark and pain are coming. But much of the time it’s a serendipity…a signal of blessing and joy. God doesn’t make us miserable just for the fun of it. He sometimes calls for a party.
And ultimately, I suppose that the sound of the “last trumpet” is a sort of alarm. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1, 3-4).
He asked me to remind you.