The Heaven’s Are Telling – God’s Good Gifts of Creation

img_9190Sometimes, a person just needs to get away, to get a different perspective on the world. I’ve spent a couple of weeks recently doing just that. It is strange how one begins to think different thoughts when you’re away from your normal environment. The beauty of God’s artistic hand leaps out at you when the scenery is not a part of your daily life.
img_8454 I was able to visit the Redwood Forests of Northern California with their extraordinary width and height. I was in awe of these ageless trees which have lived through centuries of change, while only growing taller and stronger.
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The coasts of Oregon reminded me of our connection with the rest of the world. Water that splashes on the Oregon coast, has also circled the globe. From Mount St. Helen in Oregon to Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park, the sheer beauty of God’s creating hand is ever present. Along the way, were the gardens which carved out of old quarries and repurposed as gardens. img_9178
All of this reminded me of the joy God finds in the creation. God acts with extravagance, sprinkling the world with color, variety and incredible places of delight. img_9971
Many people will say that they feel closest to God when they are in a natural setting. I think it is because we know that in some way we are people of the earth and water, the sky and sea. The pulse of a wave crashing on the shoreline, is like the beat of God’s heart in our hearts. We look to the stars and see a divine hand at work, awed by the vastness of space. And yet, we are reminded that God is mindful of us. Our little lives have a place in this vast universe, which we do not understand, but know to be true. The world around stands as a testimony of God’s presence and God’s loving hand in our lives. The psalmist put it this way, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” Psalm 19:1img_8697

The Gift of Setting Boundaries

Vinyl-Fence-Picket-5-lgPokemon Go has raced around the globe since it was launched in July. My daughter tells me, not only is it a great way to get exercise, it’s also a way to meet people who are visiting the same Pokemon Go hot spots. Churches, parks, monuments, gyms, Senior centers, overlooks, beaches, museums, national memorials are all places’ one can find a Pokemon character. But, like all good things, there are limits to be learned. Preoccupied players have crossed barriers they ought not to have crossed. Some have walked into police cars, fallen off cliffs, wandered into ponds, irritated Veterans at memorial parks and forgotten to be attentive to sacred space.

Boundaries exist for a reason. Boundaries define what is ours and what is someone else’s. The Bible warns, “Do not move the ancient boundary stone.” (Proverbs 22:28NIV) Boundary lines keep peace between nations and neighbors. Boundaries in relationships create space which is essential to healthy relationships. We may not name them as such, but we know when a boundary has been crossed.

I grew up on a small fishing resort in Southern Minnesota which included cabins, boats, and a restaurant. The restaurant was a gathering place for the neighborhood. Our business was only a few years old as I grew up, started shortly after my birth. From the beginning, even as a small child, I learned from my dad that when it came to boundaries, “The customer is always right.” While I loved my father that was not a good means to learn about healthy boundaries. The way that played out in my childhood was a boy named Gary. Gary would come out each Sunday afternoon with his grandpa. His grandpa would be playing cards in the restaurant area and Gary would be back in our living quarters playing with us. I use that term loosely. What Gary would really do, is dig into the toy chest and pull out every toy, spreading small toys over the entire house. Inevitably, he would head home and we were left with the mess. We groaned whenever we saw him walk through the door. Not only did he make a mess, he was also a bully. If we complained to my mom and dad about Gary, we would be reminded that Gary and his grandpa were customers. There appeared no boundary Gary could not cross. My parents never set limits on his behavior. Nor did his grandfather. One Sunday Gary started a fight with my brother. When the fight was over, Gary had broken my brother’s collar bone. I remember my brother in pain, nursing his shoulder, and my upset parents as they headed off to get medical care. I don’t know what was said, between my parents and Gary’s Grandpa. Some new limit was made. A boundary was set. His grandpa continued to come out every Sunday afternoon, but Gary was rarely seen after that

There is a place and a time to set limits on what we will allow. The apostle Paul, writing to the people in the area of Ephesus, used the term “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) He knew that no one can live in community, without speaking truth, setting boundaries and respecting the physical and emotional space of another.

Jesus Doesn’t Give Our Politics a Pass on Loving our Neighbor

The Domes, Milwaukee Mitchel ParkWe seem to have found our lesser selves this election cycle, forgetting our guiding principles as a nation. In a season of distrust, anger replaces reason. Emotional barrages are launched towards groups we disagree with. Resentment masquerades as wisdom. Facebook posts taunt anyone who doesn’t agree with our viewpoint. Comments on news sites sling hate. Our digital world allows us to express our opinions sometimes openly, often anonymously, and too often viciously. With our rhetoric we blind ourselves to the realities in other people’s lives and their very real pain.

In the midst of this summer of discontent I believe people of faith have a special responsibility to create safe spaces for conversation and places to build bridges of understanding. We need to be the people who remember that when Jesus told us to “love one another” and to “do to others what we want done to ourselves” he didn’t give our Facebook and Twitter posts or our anonymous newspaper comments a pass on that.

Instead we are called to be the people who bridge rivers of distrust and cross oceans of false assumptions. We are to be people who listen and hear – who allow space for conversation, dignity and respect . . . Creating places of empathy and understanding even as we stand, polar opposites from each other. Of all people, faith communities must model respect and dignity as we talk to each other.

Three weeks ago, a riot on a bridge in St. Paul MN turned into a place of violence as police were pelted with fireworks, rocks, bricks, glass bottles and chunks of concrete. The riot crew out of a demonstration over the death of Philando Castile, who died during a traffic stop. This week, on that very same bridge a different crowd gathered. There was no plan, only an urgent need as a young woman climbed over a fence, planning to jump onto I 35W. Some took hold of her T Shirt, others reached through the chain link fence to grab hold of her. Construction barrels were pushed into the busy highway to divert traffic. Police arrived. The fence was pulled back and cut through. A young woman, who believed that no one loved here, discovered how many people cared. Together, police and community pulled her through the fence to safety. Afterward people lingered celebrating a life saved together.

John Wesley said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite.”

Why God,  Why?

Why God, Why?

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These past weeks have brought us news of one tragedy after another. Tragedies, however they strike, leave us shattered. We ask the questions of why. We wonder how God can let such terrible things happen to people we love and care about. We wonder at the aftermath of a truck rolling into a crowd in Nice France and the devastation left behind. We worry about the country of Turkey and the consequences for an average person after an attempted coup. Closer to home, our cities are filled with unrest. A long hot summer looms ahead. Police fear for their lives after a second sniper attacks. Our system of law and justice becomes more fragile. In our personal lives heartaches rip the heart in two.

“Where is God anyway?” It comes, that question, when life deals us a bitter blow. “Why? Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver who killed my friend. . . .Or the spread of cancer in my child . . . why didn’t God make my marriage work, when I prayed so hard?” “Why did my child get mixed up in drugs?” “We loved each other, why did my spouse die so young?” Would that there were easy answers to these difficult questions. The more I experience of life, the more convinced I am that there are no easy answers to life’s griefs, disappointments, and sorrows. I am equally convinced that God cares, that God is with us in each and every tragedy, that God does not leave us comfortless. Believing that and feeling that are, of course, two entirely different situations.

My oldest son was just shy of three years old when I discovered that he was gone. In the distance I saw him riding on his little red tractor. Gathering up my 18-month-old son, I began the chase. The problem was, I was seven months’ pregnant. With the added weight of my second son, I couldn’t run faster than my older son was scooting. The best I was able to do was to keep him in sight. The race had gone on for about three blocks when I saw him heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old son on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and with less baggage go after his brother. I remember how my younger son started to cry. I’m sure he felt that I was deserting him. What he didn’t know was how much he was in my thoughts, as I pursued his brother. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to leave him there. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want him left by himself, even for a few minutes. Nor, could he know how very worried I was about him. He didn’t know that my heart was aching for him.

What we believe in faith is that some day we will understand this life with all of its unfairness. To say that it is God’s will a child dies of cancer, a drunk driver kills someone, a marriage fails or that anyone gets messed up in drugs seems to me blasphemy. It’s equally evident that God doesn’t protect us from life’s hurts. I once heard the theologian Henri Nouwen say, “The good news of the Gospel is not that God has come to take our pain away, but that God has come to be with us in it.” The apostle Paul says it another way, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

No, I don’t have the answers for “Why.” But this I know, God sticks by us, in whatever place we find ourselves in. May that be your strength and your hope.