Friday, June 20, 2008

 

Are you rich or are you poor?

Rich or Poor?

In the Beatitudes, Jesus states “Blessed are the poor” or “Blessed are the paupers.” He also states in the Gospels that it is difficult for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Have you ever wondered at the juxtaposition of those two thoughts?

I know the traditional interpretation of both sayings, and I am aware of the devotional literature that surrounds them as well. What I want to consider for a few moments today is the abject difference between the two.

The poor are blessed, but the rich have a difficult time entering God’s kingdom.

Why?

Most of us have been “poor” at some point in our lives. Oh, we may not have been as poor as the poorest of the world, but we had to do without due to our lack of means. Maybe our stomachs even growled and our heads hurt a little bit from hunger. Perhaps we even had to bypass the purchase of a particular item we desperately wanted or even needed. Yes, we have known some form of poverty. Did we feel blessed? Really?

Did you feel “happy” during those times of poverty? In all likelihood, we looked forward with some measure of pleasure/joy to the day when we wouldn’t suffer such setbacks. We prayed and wished for a time when we would have abundance and would not have to “do without.” We didn’t feel blessed, we felt miserable.

Some of us today are rich, or at least, we aren’t as poor as we used to be. We can pretty much get what we want or need when we want or need it. We don’t have to “do without” unless we choose to do so. As an example, I recently took my family to Walt Disneyworld, something I could never have done when I lived and worked in Waco, TX. I am no longer “poor"! Do I feel far from the kingdom of God? Do I feel unhappy or a lack of blessing? Not really.

What could Jesus mean then? Was he just speaking rhetorically or do these words tell us something important?

I think it is Matthew who says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” as opposed to simply “Blessed are the poor.” I like what Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest.

“The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man—the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our arrogance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to him as paupers and receive from him. ‘Blessed are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility—I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says—Blessed are you. That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works. . . . Jesus Christ never asks us to decide for him, but to yield to him—a very different thing.. . . If I know that I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says ‘Blessed are you,' because it is through this poverty that I enter his kingdom. I cannot enter his kingdom as a good person, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.”
In other words, as long as I think of myself as offering some gift or blessing to God, I cannot receive his free gift or blessing. Unless I recognize the poverty of my own will and spirit. the poverty of my own abilities to give God anything he needs, I cannot humbly receive what God has to offer. Like a little child, I must recognize my limitations in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. "Rich" people like us think we can buy or earn what we need or want, that somehow we can give God something without which he cannot possibly accomplish his plans. "Rich" people think that God needs them on his team, that God is "lucky" to have them on his side.

God says that the kingdom of heaven is for those who realize that they cannot enter on their own abilities or initiatives. God reserves blessing for those who know they do not deserve it. Faith in Christ starts with futility in self. To the degree that I think I can save myself, to that degree the blood of Jesus is ineffective for my salvation. If I think I can save myself, why do I need God? God's grace is free to those who realize their need for his kindness (it is his kindness that brings us to repentance, right?)

Thanks be to God for the grace to enter! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift in Jesus Christ!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 13, 2008

 

In honor of Dad for Father's Day

My father passed away in August 2004. It happened just before I moved my family 1300 miles from Texas to Virginia. I wrote a little piece about my dad and posted it here shortly after we moved to Virginia. In his honor and to celebrate Father's Day, I'd like to post it again.

Thanks for reading!

I have been thinking this morning about memories. You see, my father passed away in August 2004, and for some reason thoughts of him have been central in my mind recently. I’m afraid I’m losing him.

Let me explain.

My dad wasn’t very active the last few years of life. Due to his own lack of proper care for his physical body and a host of problems with illness, the primary memory my children have of their grandfather is dad sitting in a big lounge chair watching TV and occasionally waking up long enough to tease them.

My children did not get to know my dad. Oh, my dad was never the most active guy in the world (I think I know where my own lack of activity comes from!), but he didn’t sit around a lot as I remember it. Dad coached baseball, football, basketball, if it had “ball” in the title, he learned it, played it, and probably coached it. My dad cared about folks that no one else wanted. He loved kids, even his own. I once saw my dad kick a field goal from the 45 yard line (that’s a 55 yard kick, if you didn’t know!). I was in high school then, so dad was probably in his mid-40s. He could kick the ball further than the place kicker on our team.

I remember looking for dad’s vehicle to pull up at the football practice field. I don’t know if he knew that I saw him, but I looked for him to show up so I could perform for him. Dad didn’t get real excited about sports (that was mom’s job!), but you could tell when he was enjoying something. He had this infectious grin and mischievous smile that would literally light up his face. I heard that for almost 10 years after my younger brother graduated high school, dad would make his way to the practice field and sit in his car and watch the players go through their paces. For me, his watching was a comforting presence that reminded me that he was there if I needed him. Oh, I’ll admit that I didn’t “need” him as much as he would like, but it made me feel real good to know dad was there.

I miss him.

Sometimes in my work here, I think that dad is sitting in heaven, in his heavenly lounge chair, watching his boy perform. Oh, I’m not blindsiding running backs and quarterbacks any more, but I can’t help but think that dad is silently cheering for me. He sits there, intently studying me as I pace a classroom or teach a class or grade a paper. When I make a particularly brilliant play, he smiles that smile. Even when I don’t do so well, dad looks approvingly on his boy. I can see him, sitting there, big glass of sweet tea on the table, a smile in his eyes, and joy in his heart. I want to make him proud, and I think he knows that.

My last words to my dad face-to-face were spoken around Easter of 2004. I don’t remember everything we discussed, but I remember putting my arm around his shoulders and looking into that face. His eyes were a bit dimmed by senility due to old age and strokes. But somewhere in those eyes I saw the place kicker kicking a field goal from the 45 yard line. I remember saying this to him, “Dad, I love you. I’ll see you later.” At his funeral in August, the pastor asked me to pray at the grave site (actually, my mother asked me to do it). As I walked away from dad’s coffin, I touched the lid and said, “I love you, dad, see you later.”

I miss him, but thank God I will see him later. If you father is alive, call him up. Tell him you appreciate him and love him. Memories are great, but I’d love to have my dad here to hug again. He’s much better off, but I need his smile. Dad, I love you. See you later.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 

Missing my friend . . . Steve Huisman

Two years ago on June 12, Steve Huisman went to be with the Lord. I don't know why his death is heavy on my heart this year, but it just is. I miss my friend. I have so many things to share with him, so much to ask, and I need his honesty.

I miss Steve more than I can say.

Two years ago, I wrote the following note in memory of Steve. I read it again today and it brought tears to my eyes. I want to share it with you all again as a reminder of how important good friends are. If you have a friend like Steve, call that person today and thank them. If you don't, I pray that God will send you one soon.

Sorry to be so melancholy!

Here's the post in honor of my friend:
Steve Huisman.

Most of my readers will not recognize that name, although a few may think they know it.

Steve was a very good friend of mine. In fact, he was one of the best friends I ever had.

Steve died on Monday (June 12, 2006) in a plane crash. He was flying a plane in Florida that encountered some mechinal problems and crash landed on Davis Island. Steve died when the plane hit a home and caught fire. His co-pilot and the one person in the home survived.

I don't want to dwell on how Steve died. I want to describe how he lived.

Steve was a man that seemed at times to operate on an almost visceral level of honesty. He was unafraid to admit exactly how he was feeling and what he thought, especially when those thoughts and feelings pertained to his own spiritual status.

Don't misunderstand me, he was not a negative person. He was just quick to recognize his own fallenness and struggles. And by his honest admission of his fallenness, he elicited from others a confession that often bordered on sacramental.

Steve was my hero.

I would never have completed my Ph.D. if not for Steve Huisman. He was working on a correspondence course when he called me one day. He asked how the dissertation was going, and I confessed that I was struggling and didn't think I'd finished. Oh, my lovely wife was gently prodding me, the members of the dissertation committee were doing their part to help me out, but I just was not motivated.

Steve had a great thought--"Leo, how about we call each other at 6:00 a.m. to update each other on our projects. It will be good for us and provide a source of accountability."

Promptly at 6:00 the next morning, he called me.

For about two years after that my early morning conversations with Steve were opportunities to admit my fears and my failures as well as times to rejoice in milestones and accomplishments. He never judged me when I had a bad day or week. He gently encouraged me to press on. He laughed with me when something funny happend, he celebrated with me when things got done. He walked with me, and by being there he pushed me to finish.

When I graduated with my Ph.D., I neglected to tell him how much his encouragement had meant to me. Two weeks ago he called me here in VA. He was in FL and just wanted to talk. We talked about an hour about our families, our lives, our Lord. We laughed, we kidded each other, we prayed for each other. He told me that he wanted my wife to speak to his wife. As we were passing the phones, I cleared my throat and said, "Steve, I wanted to tell you how much your friendship means to me. You were God's instrument to help me finish my dissertation. I never adequately thanked you for that." I told him all the great things I loved about him--his acceptance, his honesty, his gentleness even when he corrected me or pushed me to discipline, his gut level love for other people that was evident in my life. I sang his praises, I think I embarassed him.

I told him I loved him.

Little did I know it would be the last time we would talk on this earth.

Steve went to be with the Lord in that plane crash Monday, but he left an awful lot of good stuff behind. His life is still having an impact on others even though it has ended. His diligence to serve God and others has left the world a better place. His love for his wife and children have instituted a legacy that will no doubt bear great fruit. His ongoing desire to be the best he could be for God's sake continues to motivate those who knew him to a deeper intimacy with God through Christ.

Steve was not a Bible scholar, but his life exemplified a clear understanding of the biblical call to follow Christ. He was a friend. He was a godly man. I miss him.

God, how I miss him!

I hate this fallen world of ours, but I know that it isn't home. Not completely. It is a way station. None of us are on this earth forever.

I still miss Steve.

41 years is not enough. I only knew him about 13 or so of those years.

He was a tall drink of water, a missionary kid with a love bigger than the world. He was the kind of guy you could trust to watch your most prized possessions. He had my back, he was my mighty and marvelous comrade. He helped me slay dragons and rescue damsels. Now I have to contemplate life without one of my wing men. Steve loved flying only slightly less than he loved God and his family. He loved to be in the air. Someday, I'll look up in the air and see him coming with Christ. It will be the ultimate flight, and it won't surprise me to see Steve acting as the pilot.

Death has invaded my life again. I can't imagine how his wife and children feel. I feel like I've been punched in the stomach, like I've lost something that cannot be replaced. I can almost hear Steve saying "I'll call you in the morning. You're going to make it! Hang in there!"

Thanks Steve, for all you gave us. Thanks to God for sharing Steve with us for 41 years. I'm crying now and feeling like I'm rambling, so maybe I better stop.

Live today like you have no tomorrow. Hug someone special and tell them you love them. Life is fragile, my friends, but God is strong. God is still in control, even though the world seems to spin crazily out of orbit.

Hang in there! With God's help, we're all going to make it!

Thanks for reading!

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