Not One Sparrow

Sparrow

Early one morning last week on the way to the office I was traveling at 45 mph on a two-lane road. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, two small birds flew from the grass and trees on my right, directly into my path. One flew at an altitude that allowed it to continue its flight. The other one flew directly into my right front fender and fell to the ground.

This was not the first time my vehicle had accidentally and unintentionally become an instrument that terminated the life of a living creature. Over my 59 years of driving experience, I’ve hit other birds and a few squirrels. Transparency requires me to confess that willfully and intentionally I have also sent a few rattlesnakes to their eternal destiny. Scold me, if necessary.

The day of my encounter with the bird in question turned out to be the same day of yet another school shooting. This one was in Santa Fe. Not New Mexico. Texas. Frankly I don’t recall ever knowing there was a Santa Fe in Texas. It’s just a few miles south of Houston, my hometown. Sadly, Santa Fe is now known around the world as the site of a willful and intentional eruption of evil activity resulting in the death of eight students and two teachers.

As soon as the bird fell to the ground I remembered the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Matt. 10:29

And when I heard the news that ten people had died that day, I immediately recalled more of Jesus’ words in almost the same breath: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28

But the words that have stuck with me even more poignantly are these: “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:30-31

Is it possible to compare the life of a human with the life of a sparrow? No way. In God’s eyes, all living creatures have value. But Jesus says the intrinsic value of human life far outweighs that of many sparrows.

That’s why many more tears are shed when a human dies, regardless of the cause of death, than when a sparrow dies. Yet God’s love is so magnificent that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father.

Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels

Canadian_pointer

This is purported to be a true story by an author named Catherine Moore, found in my file. It’s longer than my normal articles, but worth the time to read. It was untitled, so I created the title above.

“Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!” My father yelled at me, “Can’t you do anything right?”

Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle.

“I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving.”

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it. But later that same day I saw him outside, alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctors’ orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband Dick and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done. It was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and called each mental health clinic listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, “I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.”

I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens.

Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs, all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons – too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen, a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.

Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. “Can you tell me about him?” The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. “He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.” He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. “You mean you’re going to kill him?”

“Ma’am,” he said gently, “that’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog.”

I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. “I’ll take him,” I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. “Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!” I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. “If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it!” Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. “You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!”

Dad ignored me. “Did you hear me, Dad?” I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him.

Then, slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night.

I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.

Then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” “I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel,” he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle I had not seen before: The sympathetic voice on the phone that had just read the right article; Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter; his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father; and the proximity of their deaths.

And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Now you know why I titled this story “Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels.”

God bless your day!

Reformation 500

Luther95theses

Next Tuesday, October 31 is the day we’ll observe as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Many Christians, especially we Lutherans, have been anticipating this day for some time.

The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the central truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord.

Here’s a brief summary of the Reformation and its primary causes:

  • In the late 15th century the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
  • The sale of “indulgences” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
  • The slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
  • Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
  • Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by unforgiven guilt and sin.
  • In a thunderstorm during which Luther’s traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
  • He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
  • Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came primarily from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by what Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke biblical truth to the church’s power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
  • Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
  • He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
  • Asked to retract his writings, Luther simply stated: “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, for I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
  • Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his beliefs.

The assertion that salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own doing was the primary catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. That truth is the essence of the Christian faith still today and I pray that will continue till Jesus comes again!

Dealing with Church Bullies

Church PewsLast week I shared an article by Thom Rainer identifying nine traits of church bullies. This week’s Perspectives focus is another article from the same author, who now moves “from descriptive to prescriptive.” Highlights of his article are below. To view the entire article, go to http://thomrainer.com/2015/04/nine-ways-deal-church-bullies/

How do we deal with church bullies? How do we prevent bullying? Here are nine suggestions:

  1. Fight bullying with the power of prayer. The most common targets of church bullies are the pastor and church staff. Ask humbly for people to pray for them daily.
  1. Seek to have an Acts 6 group in the church. Check out the manner in which the Jerusalem church dealt with murmuring and complaining.
  1. Have a high expectation church.Higher expectation churches tend to be more unified, more Great Commission focused, more biblically defined, and more servant oriented. High expectation churches don’t offer an environment conducive to bullying.
  1. Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies.Bullying thrives in a church where the majority remains in silent fear of church bullies. Bullies tend to back down when confronted by strong people in the church.
  1. Make certain the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.Many churches have ambiguous structures and lines of accountability. Bullies take advantage of the ambiguity and interpret things according to their nefarious needs.
  1. Be willing to exercise church discipline.Church discipline is a forgotten essential of many churches. Bullies need to know there are consequences for their actions, and church discipline may be one of them.
  1. Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.Bullies often are able to push around less qualified people who have found themselves in positions of leadership.
  1. Have a healthy process to hire church staff. A unified church staff is a major roadblock for a church bully.
  1. Encourage a celebratory environment in the church.Joyous churches deter bullies. They like somber and divided churches.

Church bullying is more widespread than we often like to admit. Actually, last week’s article was forwarded to more people than any Perspectives article in a long time. That’s an indication that the article hit home with many of my readers, who very likely have encountered a church bully.

As stated last week, I encourage you to remember that church bullies, like you and like me, are “poor, miserable sinners” for whom Christ died. They, too, are in need of the forgiving and life changing grace of God.

Accordingly, our goal should not simply be to “run off” church bullies from our congregation, but to seek and pursue ways of helping bullies become blessings! That will not always work. Yet while such an endeavor is easier said than done, it’s certainly a worthy effort to consider!

A non-Mom speaks about Mother’s Day

Woman 1Late last night I saw this article. It’s worth sharing, even as a second Perspectives article on the same day: http://timewarpwife.com/open-letter-pastors-non-mom-speaks-mothers-day/

An Open Letter to Pastors (A non-Mom speaks about Mother’s Day) by Amy Young

Dear Pastor,

Tone can be tricky in writing. Picture me popping my head in your office door, smiling and asking if we could talk for five minutes. I’m sipping on my diet coke as I sit down.

You know that I’m not one to shy away from speaking my mind, part of the reason you love me (mostly!), so I’m guessing that internally you brace yourself wondering what might be next.

I set my can down and this is what I’d say.

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman.

Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Last year a friend from the States happened to visit on Mother’s Day and again the pastor (a different one) asked all mothers to stand. As a mother, she stood and I whispered to her, “I can’t take it, I’m standing.” She knows I’m not a mother yet she understood my standing / lie.

Here’s the thing, I believe we can honor mothers without alienating others. I want women to feel welcome, appreciated, seen, and needed here in our little neck of the body of Christ.

Do away with the standing. You mean well, but it’s just awkward. Does the woman who had a miscarriage stand? Does the mom whose children ran away stand? Does the single woman who is pregnant stand? A.w.k.w.a.r.d.

Acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering.

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

Commend mothering for the ways it reflects the Imago Dei (Image of God) by bringing forth new life, nurturing those on her path, and living with the tension of providing both freedom and a safety net.

I know I might be an unusual one to be speaking about Mother’s Day; but maybe that’s why so many talk to me about mothering. I’ve got the parts, just not the goods.  Thanks for listening and for continuing to mother us in a shepherding way. Even though I’m a bit nervous to come on Sunday, I will be here. But if you make us stand, I might just walk out.

Warmly and in your corner,

Amy

This article is a wonderful reminder of the importance of pastoral sensitivity at all times, especially on occasions that may not be as joyful to some as to others. Thank you, Amy! God bless you!

Immigration

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

In recent months attention has been given in our country to the tens of thousands of people, including many children who are making their way to our border. Seeking admission as immigrants, many of them come from countries in Central America, where life is, in many ways, not very good. In addition to poor living conditions, violence is prevalent in their homeland.

An Associated Press article this week stated: “The U.S. government announced Monday that it will soon close three emergency shelters it established at U.S. military bases to temporarily house unaccompanied children caught crossing the Mexican border, saying the flow of illegal entries has declined and capacity at other shelters has been expanded. Since Oct. 1, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been apprehended crossing the border. Administration officials have said as many as 90,000 child immigrants could cross the border by the end of the budget year in September. ”

While the dilemma facing our country is probably a whole lot more complex than most of us realize, two issues come quickly to my mind:

  1. The freedom they seek is not free. Somebody has to pay for the food, clothing, shelter and education needed to survive and to thrive in our country. That burden falls mostly on the federal government and/or the communities in which these modern day immigrants ultimately settle. Some communities simply say they cannot afford to bear that burden or that they do not want to be responsible for the care of illegal immigrants.
  1. Immigrants are children of the heavenly Father. Simply to turn them away, many miles from the homes and families they left, is difficult to reconcile with biblical injunctions such as the words of our Lord Jesus himself: “I was hungry and you fed me…I was a stranger and you welcomed me…As you did this to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 5:35, 40)

There are many considerations to this dilemma in addition to the two mentioned above. The issue of immigration has legal, moral, biblical, humanitarian, spiritual and emotional components.

If there were an easy solution, someone would have suggested it by now. To ignore the problem, hoping it and the children at the center of the controversy will simply go away, is irresponsible.

Individual Christians, who are also law abiding American citizens, have something to say and many things to do. Let our voice be heard! Let our love be seen! Let God’s grace abound!